Valentine's Holiday in Prague

February 18, 2011

The view from our room on the sunny day of arrival

Finally - we made it to Prague! Visiting the Czech Republic has been on our must-see list from the moment we moved to Europe. Aside from hearing all the rave reviews, I must admit I had a bit of a more personal reason for going - my family history. Not knowing much about that side of my family, I was told my maiden name was of Slavic origin. As someone whose ethnicity was often questioned (I was once asked if I was of Asian decent - as a 6-ft-tall blondie, yeah, that makes sense) and was always missing that 'where I came from' element in my life, I was curious to see what I'd find here.

Aww, flowers, champagne and fruit my honey had waiting for us

When we arrived on that beautiful Saturday morning, it was crisp and sunny. After a bit of relaxation from a hectic morning rushing to the airport, and enjoyment of the fruit and champagne my husband ordered for our arrival, we set out to explore the city. We tend to be the kind of travelers that just meander and get a bit lost (often unintentionally) rather than embark on tours and museum visits. I'm sure we missed some major landmarks, but this is the way we like it.

The amazingly detailed & designed buildings...

..and beautiful colors reminded me a bit of Barcelona

Now, I'm not much of a history buff, but the oldness of the city showed itself in every blackened facade and crumbling walkway stone. It was very clear how touristy this city is with the juxtaposition of what was preserved and what was abandoned. While I saw some of the most beautiful architecture I've ever seen, it was impossible to ignore the equally abundant run-down, broken and graffiti-covered buildings on nearly every corner. Perhaps part of it was the weather, but this gave the city a heavy, almost depressing quality.

The Cinderella-esque spires of the Týnský chrám, or Church of Our Lady before Týn

Day two meant more city sight-seeing, only this time with a constant light snowfall. While it made for a magical setting, it was tough to stay warm enough all day on foot. This was our second Valentine's holiday spent in snow and I've decided that next year we might have to fly south and enjoy a sunny, island break from the dreariness of winter. I'm definitely a convert to actual seasons, but have found one can get quite restless after a few months of persistent grey landscapes and frigid temperatures. 

Old and new architecture come together

Despite the freezing temperatures, we decided to brave the cold and trek up to the Prague Castle. I have since found out this is the largest castle complex in the world. Beyond just it's imposing shadow on the river, the views overlooking all of Prague are amazing.

The iconic Charles Bridge (Karlův most) and beyond, Prague Castle (Pražský hrad)

The rooftops of Prague

The changing of the guards, & the rather unwelcoming gate, at the entrance to the castle complex

On our walk around the neighborhood of the castle, we were assaulted with tourist traps left and right. One of the most basic was the ubiquitous Starbucks presenting itself just as the cold got to be too much. Luckily, we discovered this great little stand right next to it that offered not only hot Glühwein, which sadly has long-since disappeared with the holiday markets in Germany, but the most delicious sweet pastry called Trdelník. Wrapped around a rotating stick, it's grilled and then rolled in sugar and nuts. This might have been my favorite Czech discovery. 

Hmm, Starbucks or Czech specialties ... tough decision

In a somewhat unorthodox decision, we decided to spend Valentine's day on a train out to Kutná Hora to see the kostnice Sedlec, also called the Bone Church. Aside from giving our feet a rest on the hour ride out, we knew it was a one-of-a-kind place that we couldn't miss. This Roman Catholic chapel is unlike no other, as it's decorated with bones of over 40,000 people who died in the 14th century plagues and the 15th century Hussite wars. 

The bones are quite a spectacle

From the descriptions and photos online, it paints a very macabre and frightening picture of this place, but honestly, it's more awe-inspiring than anything. I didn't find it to scary or creepy. Unlike anything else, it was definitely worth the visit. 

The chandelier is made with every bone in the human body

The artist's name in bones in front of his massive handiwork

After a day looking at the remains of dead people, we did have a more traditional Valentine's plan - a seven-course tasting menu dinner. At first I was a little apprehensive about such an extravagant meal, but I got over that as soon as the first amuse bouche melted gloriously on my tongue. It was such a notable experience, I plan to dedicate an entire post to it, so stay tuned!

One of the many amuse bouche from Valentine's dinner - lobster risotto fried in coconut with Parmesan foam

Our final day in Prague brought the sunshine back just in time to snap a few glorious photos before catching our plane home. While I wish the sun had stuck around a little more, the city was a gorgeous one that was worth touring in rain or shine (or snow!). 

Just another ornately gorgeous building

The Astrological Clock and Týnský chrám

I had high hopes of being able to at least speak a few words of Czech whilst there, especially considering my Czech heritage, but a language filled with so many consonants and so little vowels proved too big a challenge for my western-language-filled brain (case in point, the word for 'Thursday': čtvrtek. Seriously?!). In the end, I felt satisfied I was able to mumble a few 'thank yous' (Děkuji - "Dye-koo-yi"), if only after hearing the correct pronunciation from several Czech people. Phew! And I though German was difficult.

Partly in an effort to feel connected to a heritage older and more definable than just 'American', I had also hoped to see some resemblance to the people of this country or names similar to my maiden family name. Other than a pair of almond eyes here and a high cheekbone there, I found less of myself in this apparent country of my origin than I expected. Perhaps it's due to the globalization that has taken hold in so many more countries than just the United States, but it seems harder and harder to identify oneself with only one country or culture. As someone who is becoming more of a global citizen herself, I can't help but feel both saddened at the lack of a true 'home' - in the sense of location, culture and heritage - and excited at the prospect of learning and adopting ways from around the world.    

Flying into the sunset, we headed home...
until our next adventure!

*Daily Drop Cap by Friends of Type via Jessica Hische

Valentine's Puppy Love

February 11, 2011

Happy Valentine's day! As we head to the Czech Republic for a long holiday weekend, I'm leaving you with something that fills my heart - dogs. As the masters of unconditional love, these precious pets are the best representation for Valentine's day I can imagine.

Inspired by a Design Crush post that made me melt, I thought I'd post some of my very favorite doggy pics from folks I know and spread the puppy love for the holiday. Who says Valentine's has to be about people? Dogs show their love in so many ways; to quote my favorite literary dog, Enzo: "I only have gestures."

Hope these warm your heart!

A very special thank you to all my friends who shared their precious pups!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Ice Hockey - German style

February 09, 2011

I was so excited when a friend proposed we all go to a hockey game the other weekend. Hockey was pretty much the only sport I actually enjoyed watching back in the states (although my better half has shown me the redeeming value in S.F. Giants baseball - namely the garlic fries, hot nuts and beautiful view). In a new country fixated on Fußball, this was quite a find.

Pee-wee team was the pre-game entertainment 

I expected the game experience to be a bit different than what I was used to with the San Jose Sharks, but it surprised me in the ways it was. First off, it's important to understand that Löwen Frankfurt is not a Bundesliga team, but a club team. I'm not entirely sure when they went bankrupt and fell out of the league, but apparently the fans demanded a return and so here they are, working their way back. I'm just thankful their new colors are black and orange, as opposed to the previously heinous hot pink and turquoise.

Those aren't lighters (..or an iPhone app)

The other team was delayed, so we enjoyed a mini-game from some mini players to fill the time before they arrived. Once the teams were there and accounted for, the formalities began - such as the national anthem. And the fireworks. Yeah, you read that right. Apparently instead of holding up a lighter - or the even safer virtual version - these fans felt it necessary to show their support in the form of lit sparklers. At first I was bummed no one notified us of the hockey-fireworks exception, then I realized how far we were from an emergency exit. 

Game on!

Not surprisingly, there was not much shenanigans on the ice. I had heard German hockey was pretty tame and I'd heard right. No fighting, no checking, not much aggression to be seen. Near the end of the game, when the score was pretty close, the other team stepped up a bit, but still nothing like the NHL.

#16 - a fan-favorite

Even though the team wasn't as gung-ho as the teams I was used to, the fans certainly made up for that. Every time there was a goal, the same celebratory song was played, to which everyone sang and clapped along. And after the song was over? Then came a sort of call and response, of which I only came to understand the bit where the announcer says "Löwen" and we yell "Frankfurt." The one call out that did give me a moment's pause was when they'd cheer for yet another goal made by #16 - Schwarzer, who was affectionately referred to by fans and announcer alike as "Blackie." Yes, Schwarz means 'black,' but my overly-politically correct American self couldn't help but cringe. 

Political incorrectness and pyromaniacs aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and look forward to more in the future. €2 sausages and €3 beers don't hurt either.

 *Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Dreaming of Paris...

February 04, 2011

Paris...who doesn't dream about Paris? It's a magical city, full of that 'je ne sais quoi.' I, for some reason, have been fixated lately on going back to the city of light. Perhaps it's the new painting I received as a Christmas present, straight out of a local antique dealers window I passed on a daily basis. Perhaps it's that one of my new favorite bands is from Paris and is playing several shows there this summer.

Or perhaps it's just that I've been dreaming of a 'girl trip' since making a bunch of very international girlfriends last summer and feel it's about time to make that happen. No matter the 'why,' I believe when it comes to Paris, it's more just a matter of 'when.'

Laduree macarons and La Maison du Chocolat - I'm headed your way. I swear, I am...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Great Expectations

February 01, 2011

Expectations are a funny thing. Usually, I have lots of them - I am a Virgo, after all (or, at least I was...?). Surprisingly, I only had a few with regards to moving to a whole new country: we'd learn the language, settle in and start having kids in the first year. Well, the language continues to be a challenge (again, see Mark Twain's The Awful German Language), we're as settled as anyone can be without guarantee of long-term residency or a working dishwasher, and kids... well, couldn't be the furthest thing from my mind.

So here I am, newly renewed visa and nothing to do. Well, not nothing. I'm learning that the trials and tribulations of housewifery is not all it's cracked up to be. As someone who's struggled against the generational upbringing of cooking mainly out of can, actual cooking of real, fresh food is mostly new to me and as result can end up with me in tears and/or in a fit of rage. Thank god I have culinary expert Frau Dietz to help me though my cooking disasters and ridiculously ignorant kitchen questions, and my husband of course, who makes sure I have wine while cooking at all times. 

Cooking, cleaning, Themalbad visits, coffee and chocolate dates with other housewives/expats and a little self-inflicted torture, otherwise known as teaching myself more German, is what I've got on the agenda in the coming weeks. Some days, I go into a little panic over where my 'career' has gone, but mostly, I just revel in the fact I get to stay in flannel jammies till noon if I want. Life could be a lot worse. 

The one thing I didn't expect, and frankly could do without, was the winter funk that sets in after the holidays. I don't think I really noticed last year, as we had just moved over and any funk I experienced I chalked up to the whole 'oh-my-god-we-just-moved-to-a-new-country-where-I-don't-speak-the-language-and-holy-crap-is-it-cold-here' thing. This year, after my parents' departure and an amazing holiday season, things just seemed so much more...empty. 

I'm convinced this is mostly withdrawals from the amazing Christmas markets, the ubiquitous Glühwein, and most of all, the sun. Sure, it peeks out every now and then, but when accompanied by freezing temperatures, it doesn't do as much to lift dreary winter spirits. I at least take heart in knowing I'm not the only afflicted with this feeling of general malaise. Fellow expat blogger Frau Dietz is focused on being optimistic, while Resident on Earth just posted some beautiful, albeit dreary, photographs from January that show undeniable proof of what's to blame for this much-shared feeling of borderline seasonal depression.

Thankfully, it's now February and we're one month closer to sunshine and warmer temperatures. This month for us also means a much-anticipated trip to Prague. We've been planning to go to this amazing city for over a year and are finally making it happen. While the weather will undoubtedly be even colder than home, at least we will be in an amazing new city, taking in all we can and reveling in this amazing European life we live. Ahhh, I'm feeling better already... 

And so I look forward to the beautiful year ahead...

Experiencing winter funk? These things are making me smile right now: a story of a new expat being pregnant in Paris, the world's landmarks reflected in bubbles and the most amazing dog pics I've seen in a long time. Enjoy!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische