Monday, 18 July 2016

Czech Republic - The ultimate A to Z (W to Z)

Dobry den!

This is the final instalment of my A-Z based on living in the Czech Republic for the last three years.

W is for…wafers
Honourable mentions: walking, winter

Amongst the beer and other tacky souvenirs in Vaclav Havel Airport you’ll find a box with a disc-shaped wafer on it called Kolonada. These oversized snacks (admittedly you don’t generally eat a whole one on your own in one go) originate from the spa town of Karlovy Vary.

Big Kolonada!

Karlovy Vary
Before arriving, I would have assumed that Prague would be the most expensive place in the Czech Republic. However, I now think that dubious honour goes to Karlovy Vary.

The promenade in Karlovy Vary

One thing you don't have to pay for: a pretty view
It is a place of glamour and splendour, aside from the horrific tower block that soars up towards the northern end of the town. Part of Casino Royale was filmed here, lending further credence to its claim to be a powerhouse of cinema. Its famous film festival has been running for over fifty years.

The hotel in Casino Royale - in the film they say it's Montenegro

007 pose in front of Casino Royale hotel: check...
In spite of this, I didn’t get the happiest vibe from visiting Karlovy Vary. There are more vibrant cities, prettier spa towns and generally better places to spend your time in the Czech Republic.

Karlovy Vary: nice but nothing spectacular

X is for…Xtreme Rafting

Yes, it’s spelt wrong. Good luck finding a suitable word beginning with X. For Kazakhstan I used xenodocheionology, which I still have to look up every time I see it. Anyway, using ‘Xtreme rafting’ gives me a chance to tell you about the Czech Republic’s crown jewel: Cesky Krumlov.

Cesky Krumlov: picturesque 

A view of the historic town centre from the raft
Rafting – the extreme part is ironic, it was sedate enough for my parents to enjoy – along the Vltava as it bends through this historic town’s centre is beyond pleasant. Beers in hand, enjoying the sunshine and the stunning old buildings – bliss.

A booze cruise through Cesky Krumlov was a great way to end
the first year of living in the Czech Republic

Enjoying a family rafting trip on the Vltava
If you visit Prague any time in the future, be sure to include time – and proper time, not just an in-out flying visit – to visit and raft through Cesky Krumlov.

Y is for…Yam-Yam

Yam-Yam is a Thai restaurant found in multiple locations across Prague. I’m not sure if they do it any more, but when we first went there it had a section called the ‘Hell Menu’. Even my teenage upbringing of a vindaloo (followed by sticking my head in the freezer) every Saturday night hadn’t prepared me for the six-chilli effect of this food. I slurped my way through half of the soup and about a couple of litres of water.

Grung Tab Tom Yam - my Kryptonite

The other food Yam-Yam provide is really nice, and it’s one of the many restaurants I’ve enjoyed visiting in Prague. You’re spoilt for choice, here, as I’ve mentioned before. Amongst the plethora of Czech restaurants you can find anything from Korean to Mexican, and just about any other country in between.

Enjoying high-class food in Sansho

One of many meals in Budvarka, my favourite Czech restaurant
If you fancy dining in, Prague has an online company called Dame Jidlo which works in a similar way to Just Eat in the UK. This time last year, I would have said it is a brilliant scheme. In the last 12 months, however, we’ve had plenty of problems with them, particularly delivering our takeaway curry.

Curry - much better and reliable when ordered in a restaurant

Speaking of that cuisine, I’ve been informed that Malawi has ‘the best curry in Africa’. I’ll be the judge of that…

Indian food from Pind

Z is for…Zdeněk

Undoubtedly my favourite Czech name. Pronounced Zden-Yek, it looks and sounds…ugly. I wanted to give it a better reputation, so when we rented a small Škoda to drive around the west of the country, Zdeněk the car was born.

The beloved Zdenek, made by Skoda as (probably) 90% of cars are in the Czech Republic

Driving here will be viewed as easy and a pleasure when viewed through sepia-tinted eyes as our car runs into problem after problem in Africa. The roads are good, traffic isn’t too bad (unless you’re trying to leave Prague on a Friday when many others go to their cottages in the sticks), the country is small enough for you to drive anywhere in a reasonable amount of time: what isn’t there to love?

The beautiful Czech countryside

There is certainly a lot to love about living in the Czech Republic (I really hope they don’t change their name to Czechia). Three years have flown by and I’ve enjoyed something on every single day. I also think that living in Prague has brought me back towards preferring a European lifestyle after the time I’ve spent living in Asia. Perfect time to move to southern Africa, then…

Ready to fly to the next adventure!
Love you all


Friday, 15 July 2016

Czech Republic - The ultimate A to Z (S to V)

Dobry den!

The penultimate part of my A-Z of the Czech Republic from the three years I have happily spent living there.

The ice-cream trdelnik - don't believe the hype!

S is for…skiing
Honourable mentions: Sparta/Slavia, Segways, Signal

As I’ve said before, the Czechs are very sporty by nature. This desire isn’t dampened when the snow starts to fall, indeed it is magnified. Skiing and snowboarding are immensely popular.

Goggles optional, the rules are a bit more relaxed here!

They’re also drilled into children here from a very young age. It’s always a sobering moment when a three-year-old zooms past you without any ski poles. In spite of that, I’ve certainly improved as a skier. Going on the school ski trip and spending four days on the slopes definitely helped.

Some people still aren't completely sold on the skiing idea...

My Year 6 children welcoming me onto the ski trip in the nicest possible way...

The main ski resort is Spindleruv Mlyn, in the northeast of the country. Being significantly cheaper than resorts in nearby Germany, it is often packed with both local and European snow-lovers. Though probably nowhere near as picturesque as the Alps, it has some nice views from the top.

The crispness of the trees is beautiful on a clear(ish) day

The runs get bumpier in the afternoon, adding an extra degree of challenge

I can’t see myself skiing anytime soon in Malawi so I hope that I retain the skills I’ve polished in the Czech Republic and can put them to good use in the future.

The view from one of Spindler's higher lifts

Apres-ski will also be missed

T is for…trdelník
Honourable mentions: trampolining, tourism, tennis

One of the stranger foods eaten in the Czech Republic. Well, eaten by tourists in the Czech Republic, anyway. I’ve never seen a trdelnik away from the centre of Prague.

This is a trdelnik. Not a real one, obviously.

For those uninitiated, a trdelnik is a holey spiral of dough cooked over a fire which is then caked in cinnamon and sugar. It is incredibly sweet and is a must-have, though I was less impressed with the latest version which is shaped more like a cone and contains ice-cream. I think they taste much better when just cooked, i.e. really hot – having ice-cream inside them negates that, as well as making it  bit harder to peel off little bits.

The...ahem...'traditional' cooking method

The ice-cream version, which starts melting out of the bottom soon after purchase

The stalls sell it as a traditional treat, and buying it from ‘wooden’ huts containing the ‘fire’ certainly lends itself to that idea. The fact that it was invented in Slovakia and has only recently exploded as a ‘thing’ in Prague is forgotten. As for the ice-cream version, there’s no way that has been made for centuries, though admittedly that isn’t given the ‘traditional’ treatment.

A trdelnik vendor in the Old Town Square Christmas market

Just look at that mound of sugar it's dipped in!

Let’s stay positive, though. Though terrible for your teeth, they are really nice!

Perfect when dawdling through Christmas markets

U is for…ukulele
Honourable mentions: any pub starting with Ů

One of my resolutions at the start of 2014 was to learn a musical instrument. A proper one, not a triangle. After a bit of research, I learnt that a cheap and supposedly easy one to learn was the ukulele. At the end of my first year in Prague, I took the plunge and bought my very own four-stringed noise creator.

Yes, they really are that small. Perfect for travelling!

I’m so happy I did. Maybe others who’ve had to endure me learning various chords and practising songs would have a different opinion but I do enjoy strumming away as a way of relaxing and taking my mind off more serious things.

It seems the new uke also gives me us the ability to fly on an invisible magic carpet...

I used it a lot in school as well, even performing ‘The Lazy Song’ with my class on stage. The impact on them must have been positive – two of the girls I taught last year clubbed together to get me a SpongeBob Squarepants ukulele as a leaving gift.

My two mini-axes

If you’re thinking of learning an instrument or want to try something a bit different, I’d highly recommend getting one!

See, people love it really!

V is for…Vietnam
Honourable mentions: visitors, volleyball

Might seem a strange one when reviewing the Czech Republic, unless you’ve read my previous blog about this.

One of many in Prague

Immigration is a hot topic all around Europe. The Czech government made the news for the worst possible reasons last year when it emerged that they were tattooing numbers on migrants entering their borders.

Our local potraviny, the owners of which were Vietnamese.
Hannah swears she didn't graffiti her initials there...

Data from 2012 states that there are just under 450,000 immigrants in the Czech Republic, with Vietnamese representing the third largest foreign populace. Like the old stereotype of every British corner shop being run by someone from South Asia, it seems like every potraviny is owned by someone from Vietnam.

The Czech equivalent of a British 'corner shop'

Having a variety of nationalities and ethnicities adds culture and flavour to Prague, making it a truer reflection of being an international city. Markets on the outskirts of the city, such as SAPA, provide immigrants with a reminder of home, not to mention great food at cheap prices.

SAPA market in distant Prague 4, where I found kimchi for the first time in the Czech Republic

At a time when freedom of movement across Europe is under threat, it is always important to remember the benefits that immigrants can bring to a city and a country. After all, I’ve been an immigrant for the past three years. I haven’t learnt the language but I feel that I have contributed in a positive way towards the country’s present (by buying lots of beer, amongst other things) and future (helping to shape the lives of children who might become important people in the country’s next generation).

Pho, one of Vietnam's staple foods

We are all immigrants and have been warmly welcomed by Prague
 Love you all


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Czech Republic – The ultimate A to Z (N-R)

Dobry den!

Here is the fourth blog of my A-Z of thoughts on living in the Czech Republic for the last three years. Enjoy!

N is for…New Year
Honourable mentions: Namesti’s

New Year in Prague was a loud, lovely affair.

Carl and I watching the fireworks from Petrin, which had a great view over the city for the fireworks

It seems as if the whole city buys fireworks and unleashes them on the evening of December 31st to illuminate the darkness and bring in a new year with a bang.

Fireworks in the capital, taken from Petrin

Fireworks in the capital, taken from Petrin

O is for…OpenCard
Honourable mentions: Outdoors, orloj

I’ve mentioned in a previous post how easy it is to live in Prague. A major factor is the public transport. It is amazing.

Expansion is happening all of the time - this metro stop opened on our doorstep soon after arriving, making getting into the centre very easy!

Buses, trams and metros run with brilliant regularity. If we missed the metro to take us halfway to school, another would arrive about two minutes later. If we missed the bus for the second half of our journey, another would be leaving within four minutes.

An old-fashioned tram glides through Wenceslas Square

Getting around the city is also incredibly cheap. Buying an OpenCard allows you unlimited use of the three types of transport for a whole year. In our first year, this cost Kc4,800 – at that time, about £130 or just under $200. In spite of this, a lot of people were abusing the honour system and not buying tickets. The government thus reduced the price to Kc3,600 – a fraction over £100. For the year. Considering how much money is spent on transport in London, even with an Oyster card, will suggest to you how fantastic a deal this is.

The OpenCard - a cheap and vital part of Prague life

The amazing (and mostly modern) public transport is just another reason why living in Prague is so comfortable.

A metro on the charge

P is for…parks
Honourable mentions: Prague, Pivo, Parties

Prague is a very green city. The actual centre of the city is surprisingly small, meaning that the greenery is relatively close to the main attractions.

A park in the botanical gardens

A view in Divoka Sarka

Some of the parks are easily spotted. Looking west across the river, it’s impossible not to see Petrin looming over that side of Prague. Looking north, meanwhile, will show you Letna, sitting atop a steep cliff face. The views from both are breathtaking.

The view of Prague from Petrin

The view of the Vltava from Letna - probably my favourite in all of Prague

Walking through these parks brings a sense of tranquillity and calm. Though many people use these parks, it’s possible to take one turn and feel alone amongst the towering trees. Unless you’re near Letna’s beer garden, of course. On a sunny day it is always packed; the least you would expect with the combination of summer weather, cheap beer and a stunning view.

Walking through Petrin

This small walkway is just under Prague Castle

A lovely park rarely seen by tourists is Divoka Sarka, which was close to both our house and school. Again, like the others, it always has people cycling or running through it, yet you can easily find a peaceful spot.

A lovely view in Divoka Sarka

The leaves are particularly lovely in the autumn

After spending two years living in the steppe where just about any blade of grass was artificial, it’s been great to be able to spend time in natural outdoor environments such as these parks.

The view from the eastern end of Divoka Sarka - the large building is the communist-style Crowne Plaza

Q is for…questions

Apparently, the average teacher gets asked something approaching 400 questions each day. Having taught particularly inquisitive children and encouraged them to ask questions over the last three years, I shudder to think how many questions have been directly my way whilst working for the Prague British School (PBS). A lot of those are probably, “Can I ask you a question?” At least most children I taught no longer say, “Can I go on toilet?” I say most – you can’t change them all.

A shot from our graduation ceremony in 2016

The PBS team - I'll miss them a lot

Working at PBS has been a brilliant, challenging and infinitely rewarding experience. Wonderful children, awesome colleagues and a very supportive leadership team have all come together to make me a much, much better teacher. As you’ll see from the pictures, I’m now happier to dress up more than I ever have been in my life!

Me probably mocking one of my children at graduation

The granny who danced to Gangnam Style in the 2013 Christmas panto

Being at a school like PBS isn’t just about lessons. From leading residential trips to writing and directing shows, there is always something interesting and worthwhile happening on top of the usual daily routine. In addition to enjoying it immensely, getting my PGCE and QTS whilst doing all of this and so much more has made this a very successful time.

A prop from my first Year 6 show about the Simpsons moving to Prague

Looking festive at the Christmas Extravaganza

Job satisfaction is vital in life. I loved just about every day of the three years in Prague and being at PBS was a major reason for that.

Dressing up as our mascot, Mr Whiskers, during our Year 6 show in 2014 

A leaving message from a child I taught in Year 3 and 4 - many more are at home

R is for…running
Honourable mentions: rohlik, rafting

In Astana, my running was confined to a treadmill for many months of the year. A great thing about Prague has been the chance to run outside year-round.

The tangible reward for running 42.195km - a marathon

Whether it be in the parks mentioned previously or getting the reward of a beautiful view from Prague Castle, running in Prague has been a pleasure. Even running in the city is nice, not to mention good agility practice for dodging the tourists and their selfie sticks.

Getting ready to run in Prague city centre at the start of the marathon

My proudest achievement of these three years was completingmy first marathon here in 2014. It was a wonderful experience, painful for a long time during and after but something I can cherish for a lifetime.

My highlight of the marathon was being able to run across the Charles Bridge without the fear of crashing into a tourist

A very happy day to reminisce about

Lots of races are organised in Prague, allowing the opportunity for plenty of competitive running. I also managed to break the 40 minute barrier for 10 kilometres here in Prague’s famous night run in 2015, a feat I’m flabbergasted I achieved considering I’d spent the afternoon eating cake and drinking wine at a school picnic.

Preparing to run in the night 10k

This was at about 8km - I almost threw up shortly after but managed to finish in 39:45

For those who think running on its own is boring, there are other races starting to come to Prague. Earlier this year we did a Spartanrace, involving numerous obstacles which involved other skills (those involving strength just seemed downright unfair to me, possessing pipe cleaners for arms).

Handling the mud and water in the Spartan 

Feeling a little more warrior-like - not much, admittedly - at the finish

A group of us also took part in the Colour Run, a 5km jog around a lovely park during which your Daz-white T-shirt would turn a variety of colours, celebrating the Indian festival of colour: Holi.

The Colour Run isn't to be done as a race...

The goal: to get as much colour on your t-shirt as possible!

They are expensive – I think €50 was the average for those three races listed above – but if you’re running outside, the training is free and the experience is very gratifying. Once you’ve recovered, of course…

Love you all