Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cesky Krumlov etc. etc.

Sorry for random jumbled order of pics -

Scotty prepares to deliver the death-blow

A heavily-cropped Halloween shot - too much cleavage for the net!

Cesky K from above

This beautiful little gorge was right by the road - but we had to scramble across inhospitable terrain to even find it - nice work making us do it, Greg

The castle at night

The Gregster makes a new friend

Cesky K framed by an opening in the castle walls

Me and Laurie

Me and Sonj up at the castle

Looking down at the Vltava curving around Cesky K

The Cesky Krumlov goat - ah ha ha ha I love this photo sooo much - wish I took the original, but alas, it's a photo of a poster at the castle - but it is an authentic CK bridge the goat's on

A young couple in love high above Cesky K

I love the light in this picture - for some reason it really makes me think of a Brueghel painting,. this for example - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Brueghel_the_elder_-_winter_landscape_with_a_bird_trap.jpg

The Cesky Krumlov painted tower

My other squirrely friend

This way for Kafka

The man himself

Me as the Halloween wench and Al the sexy vampire. Yes, you're correct, we do have EXACTLY the same makeup on.

Woah, blusher overload! Ah fondled by the incredibly hot Brandon Flowers... I mean, Scotty. Doesn't he look pretty in his eyeliner? Pity he squirmed like a little baby girl while I was putting it on him! PS there's the rip in my costume which would only get worse in the course of the evening.

Priceless... I've got Scotty just where I want him, but he's straying (note location of hand). Al seems quite content in a Scotty/Carolyn sandwich there. Drunk, moi? Never!

Me & Carolyn were the only ones to really make an effort, the rest just went with crazy makeup. Sonj, Scotty, Carolyn & Al with his patented "it's Halloween, I'll run around with my mouth hanging open" look.

Don't worry, he's a fully qualified breast inspector, I checked his credentials... PS wait until you see my version of this photo - no matter what Scotty may tell you, he's intent on head-butting me boobs. I also love Al's shocked expression here.

At Cesky Krumlov. Ah, oh so pretty. Whose idea was it to bring Greg, though? Yes, this was the best available shot of the boy...

Some interesting chairs at CK

Open your heart to the leaves, my child

Couldn't you just see Sonj in a lovely leaf snow-globe?

Scotty following the principle, "if you love them, set them free"

My eyes! My precious eyes! Greg tries to fend off the rampaging leaves...

Hello all, someone other than my mum has noticed with 'alarm' (not really) the lack of blog entries in the last couple of days - most unusual, I admit. Have been super busy doing fun things, so here's the scoop:

Thursday - went to the Trades Fair Palace, which houses the National Gallery's collection of 19th and 20th century art - mostly Czech, although a lot of Picassos, from the boring analytical Cubist phase... Some interesting pieces, but definitely not the best gallery I've ever been to. Plus it's overwhelmingly massive - once I was in I fully understood why there was an option to pay for single floors rather than the whole deal. I did like that there's a Czech cubist painter called Kubista... I also walked 3 kms out of my way trying to find the place. Last time I try to navigate by following supermarket signs, grrr.

Friday - visited the big graveyard not far from where I live (PS, have been in the hostel, or 'hovel' as it's affectionally nicknamed, for a solid month, with a few brief interruptions!) and found Kafka's grave in the Jewish graveyard. The best part of it was that the sections and plots are numbered, so they actually gave you the coordinates of Kafka's grave ha ha. It was also really pretty, tons and tons of trees everywhere, and everything looks fab at the mo with the autumn colours and falling leaves. They also have these weird little cubbyholes where people put people's cremains. Some of them were all decorated - one even had a mini christmas tree in it (when's the last time that person's ashes were visited?). On Friday night we had to relocate to another hostel with Laurie's friend who's visiting from Berlin. Sigh... When I removed my suitcase from Carolyn's yesterday it was (I reflected) the sixth time that I had trundled it up or down the road from her place. Ah c'est la vie de la travelleure. Yeah, I made that last word up.

Saturday - up bright and early (7 am, yikes!) to catch the bus to Cesky Krumlov with Laurie, Christina (Laurie's friend), Scotty, Sonja and Greg. Sonja and Greg were late getting there and the bus almost left without them (Greg's fault, doubtless). The journey was as uneventful as you'd imagine - oh, until the bus rear-ended a car, of course. Although it was a minor prang, no injuries as far as I could see, we had to wait on the side of the road (with the bus actually blocking the lane and causing a giant traffic jam in this little blink-and-you-miss-it Czech town) until the cops came and investigated, including taking photographs and using one of those wheely measuring things to see how far the bus was from the side of the road, how near to the zebra crossing the crash occurred, and other arcane bits of useless information. After that, despite the bus being perfectly fine, I'm sure, we had to wait until another (and less comfortable bus, at that) arrived from parts unknown to carry us the rest of the way, an hour behind schedule.

Once in Cesky Krumlov, we went to the church, wandered up to the castle but didn't go inside (Czech 'castles', well, based on the one in Prague and now the one in C.K., consist of fortified palace complexes rather than single buildings, so you are able to go up and wander about without paying to go in anywhere) then went on a guided tour at night with a guide who was sweet but very nervous and answered most questions with "I don't know, I will find that out but now there's no time". We had a yummy dinner at a vegetarian place and then made a half-hearted attempt to party the night away before everyone came to the conclusion that bed was actually a much more attractive option at that stage.

The next day, Laurie and her friend went back to Prague early, to give Christina a chance to see some of the sights of Prague. The rest of us spent all day wandering about and generally behaving like 12 year olds (Greg's influence) - scrambling over fences and along river banks, exploring an abandoned shack up on the hill (made that much more frightening by the true-crime stories Scotty had regaled us with in bed the night before), having fights with piles of fallen leaves,and playing two-on-two soccer with a ball we found in the park (me and Sonja against the boys - and it ended in a draw, way to go!). Lots of fun! We decided to take the train back to Prague after our little bus adventure on the way to C.K., which was almost a disaster as well, since when we changed trains at Cesky Budejovice we knew we'd have to run to get seats, but it turned out the train blew right past where we were standing and stopped at the far end of the platform, so there actually weren't enough seats let alone the chance for us to sit together (people were actually sitting in the corridors). However, like the cunning bears we are, we nabbed a table in the dining car, and for the modest outlay of a pot of tea each (hot chocolate for me), enjoyed the ride in far more style and comfort than if we had actually managed seats in the main carriages. The train still managed to arrive back in Prague an hour late, but oh well - we had fun on the way, playing games and chatting etc.

Monday - went to my first ever Halloween party, outfitted as a wench (so yes, not very different from my usual wardrobe). It was fun, but what started at the beginning of a night as a small hole in the (insanely uncomfortable, plastic) bodice of the costume expanded through the evening into a large hole until eventually Grace took it upon herself to basically rip off the entire front of my outfit - thanks, love! Was meant to take it back today, but haven't quite managed to figure out a way to fix the thing. Will have to find needle and thread somewhere and practice my abysmal sewing skills, methinks!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Culture Clash

Differences between Kiwis and the less fortunate members of our global community:

  • The rumours are true: North Americans really can't operate the sophisticated technology of a knife and fork simultaneously. I was happily eating away when Carolyn said "Oh my God, look at how she uses her knife and fork!" I was the star of the dinner table. Then she had a go and literally couldn't do it. Weird. I actually saw someone who shall remain nameless chase a piece of pasta to the edge of his plate and then use his finger to push it on to the fork. There's where a knife would really come in handy.
  • Americans all seem to think that 'kiwi' is an insult, no matter how often I assure them it's not. The American guy from the hostel made a good point though - you wouldn't go around calling people 'Japs' or 'Frogs' or whatever, so they think 'kiwi' comes into the same category.
  • None of my friends can understand the difference between my 'e' and my 'i' sound. We have endless conversations along the lines of: Me - "So I was talking to this Czech girl" Friend - "Wait, a chick girl?" Me - "No, Czech, Czech, like the country we're in..." They tease me a lot about my accent (they all have normal accents, dammit) but I think this is a situation where they literally can't hear the difference between the sounds. FYI, 'pokies' for 'slot machines' is also very amusing to Americans. And they don't say 'mince' or 'I can't be stuffed'. Learning things all the time.

In a culture clash of a different sort, I went to the Museum of Communism yesterday (at the suggestion of the brilliant Heather). The exhibits were okay, but my favourite bit was a short film they showed made up of archive footage. It was really moving to see Soviet tanks and massive demonstrations in Wenceslas Square, a place I know so well, but which is obviously so different from those days. There was footage of a crowd just standing there doing nothing, then all these riot police just started jogging towards them, and when they got there you could just hear the people start screaming straight away as they started beating them... It all seems a long time ago, but of course most people I see walking around on the streets would have experienced Communism to some extent... Obviously I knew that, but it makes you think a lot more about it being a reality.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Night at the Opera

Saturday night we had a 'quiet' one in at the hostel with two American guys who were staying in our dorm, Barrett & Mike, who were pretty cool. In fact, Laurie, Barrett & I ended up going out at 6 am and coming home at 9.30 haha. We went to one of the infamous 'herna' bars, dodgy locales on every corner where, so it was rumoured, you could fulfil all your gambling, drug, and prostitute-related needs. Maybe we went to the wrong herna bar - we were the only ones in there and it was perfectly fine. The gambling part was true, though.

That night (Sunday) I went out to the opera - yes, the post title wasn't a sarcastic ode to my stop-out behaviour. Me, Jo, and Elishka got our cultural fix at a performance of Aida. It was pretty cool, the theatre was really nice. For pretty much all of the first half we had no clue what was happening: I picked up the occasional word from the Czech subtitles and Elishka speaks pretty good Czech, so in the mini-intervals between acts we tried to piece it together, with average results. In the proper interval we got a programme, which helped a lot. I liked the big choral numbers, some of the solo/duo songs were a little dull, but all in all, it was a good experience. There was even at least one song I'd definitely heard before - what a culture vulture!

Monday was another quiet day. Most stuff (museumy-wise) shuts down on Mondays in Prague. (Cesky Krumlov trip fell apart, btw, but this weekend for sure.) So I just went shopping, got some gloves and a scarf and chilled. At night, me, Laurie and Scotty made dinner and watched Grease (Scotty had never seen it before, gasp!) & Sonja, Greg, and Carolyn turned up later, which was cool.

Oh yeah, before we got the movie we went to this photocopy place so Laurie could photocopy some stuff for her lessons. It was so funny, when she went to pay she accidentally gave the woman the wrong change. The woman stood there saying '85' in Czech, and after a moment, Laurie sorted it out. But the woman just stood there with her hand out, and printed a receipt, pointing to the total, '85'. Laurie counted it again - definitely 85 - still the woman kept standing there. I counted it - 85. This random customer who was next in the line counted it - 50, 60, 80, 85. Finally the woman said 'It's fine' and put the money away. Ah, the bizarrities of the Czech Republic. Was it because we were English-speaking, because she was an ass, because she was trained up by the Communists to make everyone's life a series of small frustrations? We shall never know, but it was amusingly weird...

Saturday, October 21, 2006


The museum at night

Down by the banks of the Vltava at night

As seen in TGI Fridays, Andel

Yes, even unemployed bums like Fridays...

Yesterday, after checking my emails (Moscow: you will receive your letter of invitation in 12 business days. I'm meant to start work in 13 business days. Hello?) I went to complete my circuit of the Jewish Museum synagogues + the Old New Synagogue, which is administered separately. You actually have to buy a ticket to go to all 6 Jewish Museum sites (4 synagogues, town hall + graveyard), you can't pay separately for them, so a smart bunny goes to them all in one day, but a stupid bunny goes too late in the day and only makes it to half of them and winds up paying twice. Ah well...

Anyway, first up was the Old New (it was the New Synagogue, then a newer one was built, so it became the Old New). As I was leaving, a shrill American woman (sorry, Yanks, but some of your number float about reinforcing the stereotype) opined loudly "You just walk in there and, boom, two minutes later you're done". It's definitely tacky to hold forth on the subject within earshot of the place, but the woman has a point... The Old New is very old (13th century) and atmospheric, but in contrast to the excellent Jewish Museum sites, there's not a lot going on in there. And the ticket's reasonably pricey. However, I did note that my ticket said the proceeds went towards social events for Holocaust survivors, which is something I can get behind.

Next I went to the Spanish Synagogue, so called because it's built in the Moorish style. And it's fricking gorgeous - nice on the outside, but amazing on the inside. Imagine a mosque, but with a repeated Star of David motif, with every bit of the walls and ceilings decorated, but in such a tasteful and beautiful way - definitely a must see if anyone's ever in Prague. The exhibits in the Spanish and the Maisel Synagogue (the next one I went to) cover the history of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia (actually I went to them in reverse order, but oh well), which is really interesting, although there's a lot of information, so possibly doing all the synagogues in one hit could induce museum fatigue. There's also an exhibit of synagogue silverware upstairs in the Spanish Synagogue. See www.jewishmuseum.cz & click on 'Exhibitions' for a few photos and a bit about each site - sadly photography isn't allowed in any of the synagogues, but there's a couple to give you an idea what it looks like.

In the evening, Scotty, Laurie, Carolyn and I went out to eat at TGI Friday's (how appropriate). Don't blame me, I was held hostage by the North Americans... Actually the food was really good, in your standard chain restauranty way (overpriced though) and every night they have a different cocktail on special, which is always good news. After that we went to Lucerna, the 80s disco, which was so much fun! I haven't been to a club for aaages, but it was good time had by all. You know how whenever you're in a club and a cheesy 80s number comes on, everyone gets all excited? Basically it was that all night. Plus they had the videos up on a huge screen. Me and Scotty got our groove on, Laurie and Carolyn not so much (or at least not while I was watching). Finally left about 3 am - I didn't want to go home!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It's official!

I faxed my contract off to Moscow yesterday - haven't heard back, so I'm hoping it got to them okay, but they take FOREVER to make a move on anything, so odds are okay. They better have got it, considering it cost a monumental 150 crowns to fax three pages. That, to put it in context, is an average-to-pricey main meal at the sort of neighbourhood restaurants. A night in the dorms at our hostel costs 220 crowns.

On the other hand, I went to another art gallery yesterday, at the Sternberg Palace - old masters, basically. Before I went in, I asked the price of the audioguide. "In Czech?" the woman asked - woohoo! My sentence of Czech passed the test. But I had to fess up, "In English". "Pet set koruny". I put the money on the counter. "Ne, ne padesat koruny, pet set." Not 50 crowns, but 500 crowns!!! (I'm quite good at numbers, provided things don't go above 100...) Now, 500 crowns can get me two nights at the hostel, a gyros (kebab) for lunch at Pizza Roma (mmm, gyros) and a bottle of water. Not bad for NZ $35... So if you're not splurging on crazy things like faxes and audioguides, you can live quite comfortably here in Prague, which is why I'm not flat broke yet.

Anyway, it was a nice little gallery - I reacquainted myself with Durer's The Feast of the Rose Garlands, back in its rightful home, plus there were some Brueghels (one I even identified as such before looking at the card - go the art historian!), an El Greco, a Goya, some Holbeins, a nice Lucas Cranach pere, a Rembrandt... etc. Some others that were cool without being 'names' as well - unfortunately I often really like some of those ones, but they're never considered worthy of inclusion in the booklet or to be printed on postcards etc., but oh well.

After that, I went to the wine bar where Jess & I met this Czech girl who had travelled quite a bit in NZ. She'd given me her number, but I'd always been too busy during the course to catch up, and since then we'd both had various commitments coming up all the time so we couldn't get together. So that was nice, and if the weather's good early next week we're going to take a trip to Cesky Krumlov together, which is a cool medieval town, which is supposed to be like a mini-Prague.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More 'facts' you couldn't give a toss about

  • I've said it before, but my recent foray into Vienna has reinforced how abnormally cautious I've become crossing the road, due to my time in Prague. I swear, if any good Czech thought he could get away with it, nothing would please him more than running down a pedestrian who's legitimately crossing at the lights. I do a complete, full-circle sweep of the road (yeah, still haven't quite got the knack of the drive-on-the-right deal) before gingerly inching out one step at a time. Ironically enough, by the hostel I've been inhabiting for the last 10 years there's an intersection without zebra crossings - what do those manic Czech drivers do? Nine times out of ten they stop and wave me across. But at the lights? It's their civic duty to try and kill me, or at the least to get a good laugh watching me scurry.
  • The Czech government is in a state of sad disrepair. I don't really understand it thoroughly, but from what I can gather, they have an MMP-style system and their last election in July resulted in a stalemate, so there's been a caretaker government since then, which recently lost a vote of no confidence, so I don't really know what's next. There are some sort of elections (for the Senate?) going on at the moment - you see posters, mini-rallies, people handing out flyers etc. And now here's (perhaps) the reason why the Czech political system is screwed. One such flyer-hander-outer accosted me the other day and started politicizing at me. I did my best 'neste Cheshka' (not how you spell it, but it's full of tricky Czech letters - and it means, for those not fluent in Czech [pause to laugh hollowly] 'I'm not Czech'). He said something else to me in Czech that I didn't understand. Then he repeated in English, "If you're from the EU, you can vote." Excuse me? What kind of crazy country allows someone who's been there for (for all they know) five minutes, clearly can't understand a simple sentence in Czech, and knows basically nothing about the country's politics, to vote in their elections? Is that the case Europe-wide, or is this the true secret of the nation's political woes?
  • I've pretty much never seen a metro station where all the escalators are working. Either the Czechs are fiends for escalator maintenance, or they have the world's crappiest escalators.
  • I can get a paperback here (or, as it happens, in Vienna) for pretty much the same price as I can in NZ. That kills me - I would expect to be paying a premium here for English-language reading material, so what's New Zealand's excuse? Those of us who actually read have to support the rest of you morons? Even at reasonable prices, my book 'habit' is liable to send me broke. Ah, how I miss the days of the library...
  • The number one is fiendishly difficult in Czech. Although I lack enough grammatical knowledge to use it correctly, I infer from my study of Russian that there are three gendered forms - jedno, jedna, and jeden, plus it inflects according to case. So I pretty much try to avoid using it at all. But every single freaking time you ask for something in a shop "I'll have a sandwich, please" - they ask you, "one sandwich?" grrrrr! I think it's because the Czech language has no articles (no 'a' or 'the') so you're literally saying "I'll have sandwich, please". But still - I'm pretty damn sure that if I wanted two sandwiches or fifty sandwiches I'd specify. So quit it!
  • Who's obsessed with blogging? Not I!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

In front of the scenes at the museum

Today I thought I'd do my civic duty and get a little culture at the museum. Big mistake. The National Museum in Prague is one giant yawn-fest, let me warn you! It's pretty much an unreformed old-school museum, full of acres of glass cabinets containing different rocks or bugs, stuffed animals and bones. Plus it's mostly all in Czech - sure, I can figure out what a purple rock called 'ametyst' might possibly be, but, for example, Czech 'granat' is not granite, but (as a myriad of souvenir shops has taught me) garnet - so who knows what some of the other rocks translated as?
They made slightly more effort to tart up the prehistoric section - bilingual labels! (luckily, since a stone axe looks pretty much like any other lump of rock to me) and a weird bit where you went into a 'cave' and were confronted with a mirror covered in 'blood', in which you could see a cardboard caveman poised to throw a rock at you - is this the end of young Gwan? I briefly pondered, before the general crappiness of the effect dawned on me.
The palentology section didn't appear to have any dinosaur bones in it, although I could be wrong as I breezed through very quickly, since by that stage, I was, as my 'little buddy' Laurie would say, beginning to hate my life. At least in the stuffed bird collection, New Zealand got a chance to shine. There were (sadly enough) three stuffed kiwis and a giant moa took pride of place in the middle - although it was unfortunately not locked in a grudge match with a giant eagle...
The saddest part was the exhibit of a pretty battered-looking Greek vase, which was deemed important enough to have a long sign in English next to it, explaining that its purchase and restoration - along with the fact that this vase was the most significant addition to the archaeological collection since 1950. Having just come from the Kunsthistorischesmuseum in Vienna, where there are literally dozens of Greek vases, most in much better nick, I found this quite a poignant statement about the museum's collections. Perhaps I should just be pleased that I went and contributed my 60 crowns to the upkeep of the place, rather than wishing I could be bludgeoned over the head with a blunt object as a cure for massive boredom.

Monday, October 16, 2006

At Vysehrad

Last week we went up to Vysehrad with a couple of the students - home of some lovely views of the city, some ruins, and an old and notable graveyard - it seems a Czech national sport to outdo each other with the fancyness of their graves.
It's supposed to be (I think) the oldest part of Prague, where the first castle was before Prague Castle was built. I'd been up before with Jess, but it was cool to go back with a couple of locals.

God (?) emerging from a sea of ivy

The 'weeping widow' grave

Scary woman looming out of a grave

Freaky grave at Vysehrad

The gang up at Vysehrad: (Elishka's friend), Laurie, Jo, Me, Anna (student), Greg, Ivana (student). 2nd row: Dan, Elishka, Sonja, Eva (student), Scotty

View of the Vltava, with some of the ruins at Vysehrad

Yet more photos

Nick and Greg the uber-talented music man

The morning after - camping out on Carolyn's floor

Filth - our flat on the day we moved out. To be fair, people came to ours to drink and then left the after-effects for us girls to live with...

Foozball at the rock club

Foreground - the ostensible subject of the photo, one of my students. Background - the actual subject of the photo, scary Rasputin man who just sat in the corner of the club all night

Greg launches his plan to stamp out smoking by making it as camp as possible... strange boy

Me and the Gregster - I swear ALL the guys have those caps

Greg taking his absinthe like a man

Laurie playing with the green fairy

Grace, Zoe and Laurie

Hmmm... which of the CELTA-ites have taught in Asia?

More happy snaps

Last days of CELTA

My TP Group - Carolyn, Lauren, me, Mark, Scotty (plus Nick who's gone missing) - we taught together and observed each other's lessons

Me, pretending to be a teacher (so, pretty much like the rest of the month) - I'm teaching 'supercallifragilisticexpialidocious'. Note the insane hair.

Carolyn, Alasdair, Sonja and Grace - on the last day we had to stick things on our backs and then write nice things on everyone else's

Scotty assumes the position

Alasdair and Grace playing the back game

Dan, Scott, Mark and Rosie - probably pretending to pay attention

Sonja, Laurie and Jo

Nick and Rosie

Carolyn and Lauren at CELTA HQ

Nick and Zoe in our lovely flat

At the (evil, but with amusing menus) Red Onion