Saturday, 9 July 2016

Czech Republic – The ultimate A to Z (D-H)

Dobry den!

This is part two of my A-Z of thoughts on living in the Czech Republic for the last three years. Enjoy!

D is for…dumplings
Honourable mentions: Davis Cup, Divoka Sarka, Dame Jidlo

Food, glorious food. The Czechs love it and so do I: a match made in heaven!

A standard Czech meal

The Czech classic Svickova - I can feel my stomach groaning at the sight of it

Typical Czech cuisine seems to be along the lines of the British stereotype of ‘meat and two veg’, with the notable difference that one of those ‘vegetables’ will be dumplings or bread and that the other ‘vegetable’ will rarely be green. Hearty food and very enjoyable…if eaten sparingly. I don’t think I could take too many consecutive days of eating that much red meat and bread.

An example of variety on a Czech plate: two types of dumpling and two types of cabbage!

Klobasa - Czech sausages - are omnipresent when the weather is nice 

Luckily, there is plenty of other choice if you fancy something different. Prague is an international city which has a wide variety of cuisines available. Markets and festivals will bring alternative and global foods close to your doorstep. There are also some excellent fine dining restaurants which you can go to (on a teacher’s salary, they’re definitely a treat), such as Sansho and Cestr.

This is brik, a staple from Tunisia. It hasn't become globally popular for a reason - it's not that nice...

A soft-shell crab slider from Sansho 

Before I move on, there is one food I haven’t really seen outside the Czech Republic which I will miss terribly, though my arteries will be thankful. Smazeny sýr, or fried cheese, has been my favourite comfort food for the past three years. An actual block of cheese, deep fried. It certainly put a smile on my face many times.

A deep-fried heart attack

Heavy Czech food, washed down with a heavy Czech beer

E is for…expat life
Honourable mentions: EU

The variety of cuisines available is just one example of it being quite easy to live in Prague as an expat. Sure, there are times when you question why on earth certain things happen in the Czech Republic or whether supermarket staff take extra training to make sure they don’t smile at any point. Ultimately though, living in Prague is easy and comfortable.

Want a drink you’ve heard of before? You can go to Starbucks or Costa Coffee. Want a taste of home? You can go to Marks and Spencer or The Candy Store. There’s even a proper fish and chip shop! Even though our wages seem low when compared to teachers at home, we were still able to do all that we wanted to due to the low prices in the city and beyond.

There’s quite a big expat scene. Admittedly, I could have done more to make friends with people outside of school but there were still plenty of events which had the expat vibe. Prague is also major enough as a European city to bring famous bands and important sporting events to the city.

Attempting to read Scottish poetry at Burns' Night

Celebrating winning the PBS Quiz Night - our team won it twice

I guess the main barrier can be the language, particularly outside the centre of Prague. My lazy argument was that generally people want to practise their English and I want to learn a language which can be used in more than one country. There were some times when this attitude failed me, particularly in local supermarkets, but generally younger people I came into contact with spoke enough English to have a conversation or understand the message.

An advert for one of many companies offering English courses

Many places in the centre will have signs in multiple languages

Any grievances we’ve had pale into background noise when compared to the issues we had at times in Kazakhstan and any future issues that are sure to arise when we move to Malawi in August. Living in Prague has thus been pleasant and very comfortable.

JzP - the home of much expat life

Flying our country's flag at the European Indoor Athletics Championships

F is for…festivals
Honourable mentions: fancy dress, food

There’s always something happening in Prague. It is a vibrant and fun city with festivals happening seemingly at every turn.

A local band playing at the Troja burcak festival

Hundreds of people at BurgerFest

Generally, the festivals we went to involved food. It’s a chance to sample different world foods or stuff your face with loads of desserts. And there’s always a Burger festival somewhere…

Coconut ice-cream at the Ice Cream Festival 

Enjoying the fare at BurgerFest

I actually really enjoyed the Czech festivals we visited, particularly the burcak festival in Troja. It was a lovely atmosphere both times we went.

The stunning setting of the Troja festival - central Prague is in the distance

The most spectacular, however, was undoubtedly Signal. This festival of light was incredible to witness and difficult to comprehend in how the patterns were created.

The light show at Namesti Miru

A spectacular display in Old Town Square

G is for…geocaching
Honourable mentions: Glow-in-the-dark golf

One thing I’ve converted to over the last three years is the idea of geocaching. I was sceptical of this ‘treasure hunt with your phone’ at first, mainly because I was introduced to it by a couchsurfing student who had flown to Kazakhstan from the UK simply to ‘go geocaching’. I still think that was bizarre but now think it is a great way of exploring different parts of a city.

The geocache in the John Lennon Wall
There are hundreds of geocaches in Prague which will take you into many areas less travelled by tourists. I took a school trip on a geocaching adventure a couple of weeks ago and we found five within a few kilometres of our school, which is a fair way west of the historical centre.

H is for…hrad
Honourable mentions: hockey, hiking

Hrad actually has two meanings in Czech. One is linked to politics, with the idea that it centralises power in the hands of the president. The current President of the Czech Republic is a man called Milos Zeman, a leader who has sought closer ties with Russia when all surrounding states want greater EU integration. Within Prague, he is not a popular figure.

You can tell whether Mr Zeman is in country or not at the more commonly known ‘Hrad’: Prague Castle. If the flag is waving, the big man is around.

Prague Castle is one of my favourite places in Prague, possibly because I know quite a lot about it. Those free walking tours you find in tourist hotspots are an excellent way of discovering more about a city and its main attractions. I took one specifically for the castle and learnt many hidden secrets about it, which you can read in more detail here.

The western entrance

The view of the castle and cathedral at night: stunning

The western entrance is also one of the sights I visited most in my time here as this was part of my regular running route. I would always take a few seconds to appreciate the view of Prague from the nearby wall.

The near view is of Mala Strana, with the river in the middle distance

That entrance also has my favourite sign. The story goes that the Holy Roman Emperor at the time refused to give his architect more funding with which to finish the castle. As a response, he changed the spelling of the tribute from ‘anno’ (year) to ‘ano’ (a ruder word for rear end). Then he fled, understandably.

Within the castle’s grounds is the ridiculously photogenic St. Vitus Cathedral, which is a lovely, cool escape on a hot day.

The main entrance to the cathedral

Sure, the guards may not be as polished as those outside Buckingham Palace (they certainly can’t keep staring straight ahead, anyway). However, the castle is a reminder both of Prague’s powerful past and its popular present.

You can get very close to the castle guards

The cathedral soaring above the castle complex

Love you all


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