Ice on Fire

by the Night Writer

Patience/Nikita.

Patience/Nikita.

I like hats, but most hats don’t like me. That is, most hats aren’t a good look with my over-large jug. Broad-brim fedoras work well; and I can get by with a flat cabbie-cap, but ball caps, stocking caps, Panamas, Trilbys, pork-pies – all pretty much end up looking like a wart on a pumpkin when I put them on. One of our first days in Prague, though, I saw an older guy wearing a boiled-wool hat like the one above, and I immediately thought that that style could work for me – and keep my ears warm. It took awhile to find one (I don’t know what the style is called) but I found this one in a Christmas Market in Prague, and they even had one my size. I scouted around another day or two to find the jaunty red pin like I had imagined in my mind’s eye.

Both of my daughters, however, have heads for hats; just about anything they put on looks good – even my over-sized ones. This hat is no exception. When I said I’d bought a new hat, Tiger Lilly gave an “Oh, Lord” roll of the eyes. When she saw it, though, she said, “Hey!” and put it on, and it looked so good on her that I almost didn’t want to wear it again. You can see what I mean in the photo, taken at the Prague bus station as we waited for our ride to Ceske Budejovice. When she posed for this on a gray day, the surroundings and the history I’ve felt here in the Czech Republic suddenly reminded of the old Elton John song, “Nikita”, from 1985. It’s actually a fairly mediocre video – not to mention that it gave people the impression that Nikita is a woman’s name (not the case in Russia), but it’s evocative of the last stages of the Cold War. The weather has actually been warmer than usual here, but if I have to war with the cold this winter, I’m ready.

(As a side note, the “Nikita” in the video is Anya Major, who was the of the famous Apple “1984” ad.)

Czech reality

by the Night Writer

The first and longest part of our stay in Prague is almost over. On Sunday we’ll start off on a southerly sojourn through Austria and Italy before taking up residence again in Prague in early January. Before we start the next leg of our trip I thought I’d tie-up some random notes and observations from the past month.

Kings of the road

The trams, or streetcars, are plentiful here and the system works pretty well. It takes a bit of effort to get the feel for the map (and the language) as I’ve shared before, but these are the easiest way to get around, with the three Metro (subway) lines being your best bet for covering longer distances in the city.

On the streets, the trams have undisputed right of way everywhere they go. As a driver or pedestrian you could dispute it, I suppose, but the physics really aren’t in your favor. An interesting thing, though, is that the trams, which run on rails embedded in the cobblestones and asphalt streets, don’t use bells and lights to announce themselves at stops. They show up without fanfare, in front of an audience that is expecting them. Contrast this to the Twin Cities where the light-rail trains have all the bells and whistles when stopping or pulling away – and yet some folks there lately seem to find it hard to keep from getting hit by these. Personally, I like the quieter approach. There’s a tram line about 100 feet from our apartment where I “work from home” each day. Trams pass by about every 10 minutes, and from the fifth floor I find the rumble actually kind of comforting.

Will I see you tonight, on a downtown tram?

Will I see you tonight, on a downtown tram?

If you really want a sense of power, though, you just need to be a pedestrian. The drivers here are conditioned to give pedestrians all kinds of room. The law, in fact, is pretty strict: failure to give right of way to pedestrians will get you 4 points on your license and a fine of 2500 to 5000 Kc (about $100 to $200). If you accumulate 12 points in a year you lose your license for at least a year. There are times when I’ll approach a “zebra” crossing on the street and will pause while still on the sidewalk to let an approaching car go by – only to see the car come to a stop in the middle of the street to let me pass, and all without a shaking a fist or flying a finger at me. Next to having people jump up and offer me (and my cane) a seat on the tram or subway, this is the most amazing thing I’ve seen over here.

Speeding can get you 5 points and a 5,000 to 10,000 Kc fine, but if you really want to get in trouble just drink and drive. The acceptable blood-alcohol level here is ZERO. As in 0.0. If you have from .1 to .3 percent alcohol per millilitre BAC (which is, I think, essentially what you get from cough syrup) you get docked 3 points and have to pay 10,000 to 20,000 Kc. Go over the.3 threshold and its 6 points and the same fine, but you also risk losing your driving privileges for a year, regardless of points. Refuse to take the BAC test and it’s a 7 point charge and a 25,000 to 50,000 Kc fine. Perhaps the drivers are all so careful around pedestrians because they realize that if anyone on the streets is drunk it’s likely the person on foot!

Gun laws

While the policie cast a hard eye on driving infractions, the Czech Republic is pretty laid back about gun ownership. They don’t have a Second Amendment here; gun ownership is as mundane a right as owning any type of property, and if you are a citizen and can pass a background and proficiency test similar to those in Minnesota, as well as a medical exam, you can get a permit that both allows you to purchase a gun or guns, and to carry them around with you. A reported 48% of the population have these permits. The deaths from guns ratio is at 2.0 per 100,000; not the lowest in Europe where many countries prohibit private ownership (but lower than Switzerland and France), but hardly blood running in the streets. The permits are good for 10 years, but there has been talk in Parliament of reducing this to 5 years.

The Czechs actually have a very long tradition of owning firearms, going back to the 1400s when the Hussites defended their religious freedom (very effectively) against the Pope through the use of firearms. The Czechs are actually credited with coining the word “pistol” (pistala) in those days, which roughly translates as “hand cannon”. There are only two times in history where private gun ownership has been forbidden here: under the Nazis in WWII and under the Communists until 1989.

“Ya can’t take our freedom! Well, maybe.”

Folks here still remember the yoke of Communism on their necks and in their living rooms, and since the 1989 Velvet Revolution their laws and outlook have been strongly in favor of personal liberty. You can see it most obviously in the bars and restaurants, which are usually full of cigarette smoke. Calls for laws to ban smoking have been repeatedly shot down over the years (not necessarily by the gun owners) but they keep coming back. Editorials this week have been supporting these laws and railing against “the tyranny of private interests over the good of the public.” No doubt for the children. Similar bills are in the works to limit the types of fuel you can use to heat your home, and to give the government more latitude in monitoring all electronic transactions.

AnonymouS Coffee. Motto: "Wake Up!"

AnonymouS Coffee.
Motto: “Wake Up!”

Great food, and affordable

Even if they’re a bit smoky, the restaurants are good here (and there are often “no-smoking” sections for those who choose). We haven’t had a bad or indifferent experience, food-wise, since we’ve been here. Everything has been tasty and usually pretty affordable. Even the nicest places we’ve eaten at have been priced at about what we’d spend in the U.S., while we often find good food at great prices. The other day my wife and I stopped for lunch at a place near our apartment. Their lunch specials were a 3-course meal: two fried cutlets, boiled potatoes and coleslaw salad for me; grilled tenderloin medallions, fried potatoes and slaw for her – for just under 200 Kc each ($8). On top of that, the delis, bakeries and coffee shops have been fabulous and also affordable. When Tiger Lilly did her research on cost of living, she wasn’t wrong about the Czech Republic.

Mala Strana cafe.

Mala Strana cafe.

We’ve also eaten very well in our own kitchen. The butcher shops and markets have displayed beautiful looking steaks, chops and chicken breasts – and these have tasted better than what we eat back home. I don’t know what they’re doing (or not doing) to it. The cuts aren’t as lean or as well-trimmed as we’re used to seeing, but the taste is excellent. And the bacon! Ah, the bacon…

Excuse me, where was I? Oh well, you might not be able to spell or pronounce it over here, but if you can get it into your mouth you’ll be very happy.

A little help?

An article last week in the local English-language newspaper cited a study showing that Czechs are among the least generous, least helpful and least likely to volunteer among all the peoples of the world. (No. 1 in all these categories was Myanmar, FYI. The U.S. is typically second or third in these rankings). This is not to say that the Czechs are hostile or unusually rude; just exceedingly indifferent. As good as the food and prices are in the restaurants, for example, you’re not likely to find a waiter or waitress who cares much about your experience (except the guy who served us today at the Italian place, but I think he may have been the owner).

Again, they’re not going to spit in your food, or shove it at you, but they’ll disappear for long stretches of time, which is a problem if you want to order another drink or even pay your bill. Restaurant service is just a small sample, of course, but it was interesting to read the findings of the global survey. I really don’t have a handle on why this is; if it’s a cultural hangover from the post-war era or what. Certainly the drivers and tram riders are quick to conform to certain standards, but whether out of courtesy or fear of large fines, I don’t know. I suspect it will take a long time of living here and talking to people to gain any real insight. For now, then, I just note it and move on.

The country has been adamant about not taking in refugees, and the Czech president, Milos Zeman, has been very outspoken about it. The country did agree to take in some refugees, but only Christian ones. (Even as another study shows the Czech Republic as the most atheistic in Europe. I do have some thoughts on what is behind that, which I’ll share in a later post that I’ve been working on for some time).

Anyway, we’ll be leaving Prague on Sunday. First we’re heading to a lovely spot in southern part of the country. I’d type the name, but it’s one of those that WordPress can’t comprehend the alphabet. We’ve been referring to the place as “Beetlejuice” between ourselves. We’ll move on from there to Graz and then to Trieste for Christmas. Then we’ll stop in Verona on our way to Turin where we’ll spend the week around New Year’s. When we return to Prague we’ll move into a roomy, remodeled attic – that features an elevator!

The Reverend Mother, btw, found a GREAT room for Tiger Lilly to rent. It’s a 16 x 16′ private room in a larger apartment, about one block from Wenceslas Square. She has a view of the Museum out one window and a private, tended garden out of another, and it’s just within her budget. I’m sure she’ll share more details at some point, once she finishes her program. Her certification course has been very intensive and eats up nearly every moment of her free time. Getting out of town is going to be good for all of us!

 

A man’s gotta eat – and shop

by the Night Writer

I’ve learned from previous overseas trips that you really don’t need as many clothes as you might think you do. When weight and space are prime concerns then two or three pairs of pants and 4-6 shirts (depending on how much you think you’ll sweat) can last you more than a week (and sometimes two) between launderings. If you have regular access to a washing machine you could get by with less. Since I was limiting myself as I packed for this trip, I naturally chose only my most favorite shirts based on color and comfort. (I was also limited by having to pack 8 pairs of Tiger Lilly’s shoes and boots into my bag, but she is staying a lot longer than I will be.)

The problem with this strategy is that since my most favorite shirts are the ones most likely to be worn, they are also the most likely to be worn out. For some reason, I don’t notice a frayed collar or sleeve when I’m at home – and neither does my wife. When we’re sitting in an airport, or on a train, however (and not in the vicinity of a George Clooney billboard), I am somehow more likely to become the object of her attention. First I may hear a little gasp, followed by a tactful pause. Then, “Dear – maybe you shouldn’t wear that shirt out in public.”

“But, I like it,” I’ll say, in a small voice.

“I can tell.”

The upshot of which is that I’m over here in Europe with few presentable garments for my upper body – and no gypsy tent-makers in sight. This might explain why my wife is so content to leave me in my tower rather than have me mingle with the public. The thing is, as I get more accustomed to the stairs, I really like getting out on the streets of Prague – especially if I’ve been cooped up in the apartment for a couple of days. Last night when we hit the streets (under cover of  darkness) I felt like a puppy turned loose in the yard, eager to sniff everything. While we were out we noticed a clothing store near the apartment, and a visit there made a good excuse for getting out at lunchtime today to see what they might have in my size. I scored two nice-looking cotton shirts for 200 krona (about $8) each, and my wife picked up some sweaters at a similar price.

That mission accomplished we went to lunch at a place called Polévky, which means “Soups”. (I wonder if they’ve trademarked that)? The Reverend Mother and Tiger Lilly discovered this place the first week we were here, and they make a great chicken and tarragon soup in a tomato base. I got mine with a big wedge of bread, about the size of a large pizza slice, filled with cheese.

The first soup is the chicken and tarragon; very savory! The other soups are, roughly translated, "beef in cream", "bean and nuts in cream", "cream of mushroom" and "potatoes and mushrooms".

The first soup is the chicken and tarragon; very savory! The other soups are, roughly translated, “beef in cream”, “bean and nuts in cream”, “cream of mushroom” and “potatoes and mushrooms”.

There is another cafe close by as well, “The Beach Cafe” that I’m going to try. The lettering on the window invites you to “sit in their pleasant surroundings” and they offer “daily breads”, stuffed baguettes, cutlets and…oh, ick…fried cauliflower. Sometimes you’ve got to live dangerously when you’re on the streets.

Beach Cafe

Here are my new shirts – cheap, but the collars and cuffs are pristine. (Diet tip: try converting your sizes to centimeters, big boy.)

shirts

The Reverend Mother goes to Fatherland

by the Reverend Mother

Friday morning John and I left Prague by train and traveled to Osnabruck, Germany, which is the home of our erstwhile exchange student, Nicole, and her family. They made us a lovely dinner and we spent the evening talking and laughing and communicating as best we could. They invited us to spend the night at their house and in the morning served us a fairly traditional, and delicious, German breakfast of bread, meat and cheese. It was great to meet them and see how typical Germans live.

Nicole took us on an abbreviated tour of her town and showed us the sights, one of which is the Witches Walk. If you were accused of being a witch you invariably ended up in this narrow alley and were led to the river where weights were applied to your legs and in you went. If you died you were vindicated and not guilty of being a witch. How one could survive this treatment is beyond my limited capacity for understanding, but if you did survive you were clearly a witch and summarily dispatched by some other method.

The Witches Walk, Osnabruck, Germany

The Witches Walk, Osnabruck, Germany. (We don’t think that’s a witch, though.)

What was very fortunate about this trip is that Osnabruck is only 87 miles from, Petkum, the town where my great-grandparents lived. The family name was Weerts, and I had contact info for a woman, Julia Weerts, with whom I am third cousins – our great grandfathers were brothers. We made plans to meet for lunch in Emden which is the larger area of which Petkum is a part.

Driving in a foreign country is a great way to have fun and improve your marriage at the same time. We were only 12 minutes late and I only drove on the sidewalk for one block. A successful trip! Julia was waiting for us outside the restaurant and was able to assure me that, yes, what I thought was a sidewalk, was indeed a sidewalk. We lunched and chatted about family things, and about the area which was originally part of the kingdom of East Frisia and, according to Wikipedia, has been inhabited since Paleolithic times.

Cousins: Julia and Marjorie

Cousins: Julia and Marjorie

After lunch we drove over to Petkum for a tour. We walked around the church yard to check out the gravestones and found one with my mother’s maiden name, Weerts, as someone’s middle name. That was quite exciting as in Germany and other European countries, due of the shortage of land, graves usually only exist 30 years and then the stones are removed and someone else is buried in that spot. For this purpose folks are buried in biodegradable coffins.

The Catholic church in Petkum, about one block from where my great-grandparents lived.

The Catholic church in Petkum, about one block from where my great-grandparents lived.

The church was built in 1750. My great-grandparents moved to the U.S. in the 1890s, but my grandfather was born in Petkum, and was no doubt baptized in this church.

The church was built in 1750. My great-grandparents moved to the U.S. in the 1890s, but my grandfather was born in Petkum, and was no doubt baptized in this church (It was the only game in town).

Given her birth date, Taka Weerts was likely a cousin of my grandfather.

Given the birth date, Take Weerts was likely a cousin of my grandfather. (My sister, Carol, would know for sure.)

Julia’s father had given her the name of a street, Fischerschörn, on which my great grandparents had lived. We found it, and although there were some very old houses on it, her dad was certain that the one we wanted had been demolished. Still, the feeling of being on the same streets trodden by your forebears is a seductive phantom nostalgia. If my great grandparents hadn’t decided to come to America in the late 1800s this could have been my home town.

The street where I might have lived.

The street where I could have lived.

Julia and I explore the short street where the ancestral home was.

Julia and I explore the short street where the ancestral home was.

From there we walked less than a quarter mile to the top of a dike from which we could see the North Sea in the distance. I spoke greetings from America to the local sheep who were grazing on the nearby hill and they ignored me. They are unmoved by foreigners.

The sheep alongside the dike were more interested in staying out of the wind than chatting with foreigners.

The sheep alongside the dike were more interested in staying out of the wind than chatting with Weertses.

 

Julia and I climbed to the top of the dike; a horizon that would have been know to my grandfather.

Julia and I climbed to the top of the dike; a horizon that would have been known to my grandfather.

From there we looked to the North Sea, and toward America. How many times did my great-grandparents do the same before departing?

From there we looked to the North Sea, and toward America. How many times did my great-grandparents do the same before departing?

We made our way back to Emden and sat in a coffee shop for a while and spoke of many things. Julia gave us lovely gifts including a pair of tiny steins with the Emden symbol of “The Angel on the Wall”.

The official emblem of Endem, "The Angel on the Wall."

The official emblem of Endem, “The Angel on the Wall.”

 

Tiger Lilly’s Prague vlog

by the Night Writer

Tiger Lilly has been terribly consumed with her certification class. The program started out fast on the first day, and has steadily ratcheted up the pace and the amount of work since then. The classroom part is only the beginning; she has hours of work to do once she gets home each evening. Frankly, some of the requirements appear to be unnecessary to the job at hand, but it’s their program and they’ve been doing it for some time. I think Tiger Lilly will be alright, but it’s a good thing she has her mother around for freak-out sessions. It leaves little time for blogging, though.

Fortunately, the program is just four weeks – and she’s now more than half-way through. In a way, I think the freak-factor is a good sign; it means she’s being challenged, and in every step of her education she has overcome each big, hairy challenge and emerged on top.

She did take a little time over the weekend, though, and created this neat little video-log, or vlog, about her arrival in Prague. Not all of her vlogs will appear on The Night Writer; she reserves certain things for family and close friends, but I’m happy to be able to share this beautiful piece with you. For one, I think you’ll enjoy it. Secondly, I think it was therapeutic for her. It’s entitled, “On Beginnings”.

Eatin’ good in the neighborhood (we think)

by the Night Writer

It’s not hard to get something to eat here. There are numerous stands and take-away places along the well-traveled routes where we’ve seen some amazing pizzas and calzones, as well as things that we can order by pointing. This evening Tiger Lilly brought home “box kebab” – gyro meat, fries, and cole slaw all piled in a carton similar to Chinese take-away; just 75 koruna (Kc) each ($3). It was a great meal, about as much food as in a Chipotle burrito, but at less than half the cost. I washed mine down with an ice cold “Bud”:

Budweiser Budvar beer, from the Budweiser brewery operating in Bohemia since the 1300s.

Budweiser Budvar beer, from the Budweiser brewery operating in Bohemia since the 1300s.

If we venture to a restaurant most places have menus in Czech and English. The lunch menu at the restaurant closest to our apartment (and my most likely lunch spot if I don’t “eat in”) is only in Czech, however – and neither of the waiters speak much English. It was a bit of an adventure, but the food was delicious.

As a result of that experience, though, I decided to create a little cheat sheet on my phone of common foods and terms for future use.

(Note: I haven’t figured out yet how to make WordPress import a letter with the little Czech hat over it. Therefore, where you see the ? in the middle of a word, look to the letter immediately before the question mark for the actual letter, then picture a little hat on top of it. Generally, the hat adds a “ya” sound to the letter, except for c’s and s’s, which could be “sh” or “ch”. 

Meats

hove?zí – beef

Jatra – liver

kachna – duck

kur?e – chicken

králic?í – rabbit

rizek – steak

sunkou – ham

vepr?ové – pork

 

Style

grilovaný – grilled

pec?ený – baked

smazžený – fried

uzene – smoked

varene – cooked

 

Pasta

Noky – gnocchi

 

Veggies

listový sšpenát – spinach

brambor – potato

r?epa – beet

zelí – cabbage

hribkach – mushrooms

okurka – cucumber

 

Other

vývar – broth

nudlemi – noodles

knedlík – dumpling

krkovicka – neck

maslem – butter

Stehno – thigh

sýr – cheese

syrovu – cheesy

svíc?ková – tenderloin

omackou – sauce

hranolkami – French fries

cervene – red

chléb – bread

houskovy – bread

rýže – rice

Tatarka – tartar

c?esnek – garlic

 

Dessert

c?okoláda – chocolate

dort – cake

Medovník – honey cake

slehackou – whipped cream

I’ll keep my eyes open for the králic?í and knedlíks, and stay away from the jatra and r?epa!

Christmas Market, Opening Day

by the Night Writer

You can have your Black Friday. In Prague everyone was waiting for the official opening of the Christmas Markets, and today was the day! Old Town and Wenceslas Squares, plus a few other areas (including Prague Castle for the first time this year) will host these open air markets from now until the first week of January, and while the crowds were huge today, they didn’t feature the Black Friday Frenzy in the States. Here, people of all ages had child-like looks on their faces as they took in the lights, the Christmas tree, and all the festive vendor huts.

There were the sights – the 30 ft. Christmas Tree with LED tinsel, the artisan crafts hanging in the huts, and the gaily lit squares. There were the sounds – shouts and happy greetings in numerous languages, laughter, the oohs and aahs of the children (and some adults), a choir singing, an orchestra playing. And there were the smells – sizzling pork and roasting chestnuts, hot baked pastries, spiced wines and hot chocolate. If only there were was an app for my phone to let me capture the aromas!

Earlier I shared a photo of the tree being strung. When we arrived this afternoon, the tree was lit and waiting!

Earlier I shared a photo of the tree being strung. When we arrived this afternoon, the tree was lit and waiting!

The food is one of the best parts of the Market. The scent of these hams roasting over a wood fire would draw you in from blocks away, but you don't have to go blocks - more stands are just a few feet away.

The food is one of the best parts of the Market. The scent of these hams roasting over a wood fire would draw you in from blocks away, but you don’t have to go blocks – more stands are just a few feet away.

Hot sausages are also available to warm your insides - or just your hands.

Hot sausages are also available to warm your insides – or just your hands.

Of course, sometimes hot meat, hot drinks and hot pastries aren't enough to keep you warm. In those instances, it's good to have an exothermic as your father! (But you also need to alert for pick-pockets.)

Of course, sometimes hot meat, hot drinks and hot pastries aren’t enough to keep you warm. In those instances, it’s good to have an exothermic as your father! (But you also need to be alert for pick-pockets.)

Trdlo is the local pastry specialty - strips of dough wrapped around a rotating metal spindle to bake, then rolled in sugar and spice and glazed over an open flame. Flaky and delicious!

Trdlo is the local pastry specialty – strips of dough wrapped around a rotating metal spindle to bake, then rolled in sugar and spice and glazed over an open flame. Flaky and delicious!

Even with the sun having gone down, the reflected lights from Old Town square still cast a glow in the skies.

Even with the sun having gone down, the reflected lights from Old Town square still cast a glow in the skies.

The Old Town Square Christmas Tree in all of its glory!

The Old Town Square Christmas Tree in all of its glory!

Life (and limb) in Prague

by the Night Writer

We’re settling into our routine here. We’re all up for breakfast together before Tiger Lilly heads off on her morning commute (a tram and a walk) to her certification program and I shuffle over to the desk to log-in to another day of working from “home”. The two biggest projects on my plate right now are with our European offices, so it’s convenient to be in the same time zone with them for a change. The Reverend Mother typically starts the day scouring various resources looking for an apartment or room that Tiger Lilly can rent (and afford) after earning her certificate, and then she’s off to explore the tram lines and coffee shops, and pick up the daily groceries.

Grocery shopping is a daily occurrence. The refrigerator in our apartment is small, for one thing, but that’s not much of an issue. Urban life without a car changes your habits and perspective. Driving to the store and loading a week’s worth of groceries into the trunk isn’t an option; your hunting and gathering is limited to what you can – or are willing – to carry. Fortunately, small convenience stores really are convenient, positioned near your tram stop and easy to walk in and out of quickly on one’s way home. My wife and daughter make most of the trips out of the apartment on a daily basis, and they are embargoing my sweet tooth. As a result, I’m down 5-7 pounds since arriving here (which is also due to the fact that when I do go out I usually end up putting two or three miles under my feet – and that there’s no elevator to our fifth floor apartment).

Our apartment building, Záh?ebská 3, in Prague 2. Generally the #11 tram stop is right around the corner, but sometimes it comes right to our front door.

Our apartment building, Záhrebská 3, in Prague 2. Generally the #11 tram stop is right around the corner, but sometimes it comes right to our front door.

The stairs are not as intimidating as they were at first since it has been demonstrated that I will not, in fact, die while climbing them (so far). I amuse myself in the process by noting when I reach “the Crocs floor” which is half-way and marked by the pair of Crocs on the mat outside an apartment door, and also by guessing what everyone’s having for dinner. (Hmmm, fish on the second floor; is that goulash on the fourth?)

The trams are numerous and cover the city well, but we still end up walking quite a bit (see the 2-3 miles reference above, which is about half what my wife is doing). One of the reasons for all the walking is that it is so hard to tell where you are! Even if I map out our exact walking route in advance, it never looks the same down on the street as it does on Google. One problem is that there are very few “grids” here; most streets meander (urban planning wasn’t highly regarded in the 13th century), and the streets change names every couple of blocks. When I want to cheat and check my phone to figure out where we got to this time the signal is usually blocked by all the high buildings. We’ve logged quite a few steps back-tracking.

Getting to the Hard Rock Cafe for Thanksgiving dinner was a typical exercise in "WTF Navigation": from our apartment the Metro station was "2 blocks to the left, four blocks to the right, 2 blocks le- wait a minute, that doesn't look right." We made it on time, though, because we left early. We enjoyed the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, though, and all the music videos.

Getting to the Hard Rock Cafe for Thanksgiving dinner was a typical exercise in “WTH Navigation”: from our apartment the Metro station was “2 blocks to the left, four blocks to the right, 2 blocks le- wait a minute, that doesn’t look right.” We made it on time, though, because we left early to allow for misdirection. We enjoyed the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, though, and all the music videos.

Everyone lauds the public transportation system here for its efficiency and convenience. And it does a good job – if you can access it. There are multiple tram lines criss-crossing this un-gridded city and a lengthy trip may take a couple of transfers to get to where you are going. The trouble is, the metro (subway) and tram maps don’t show the streets where you will find the stops or stations. The tram stops often have a street name, but finding that street can be a challenge, as I’ve noted. Aside from the challenges from geography and geometry, there is also the vocabulary.

You want to be sure that when you board a tram or tube that you’re going in the right direction. The way you do this, as in London, New York, Rome, Madrid, etc. – is you look for signs in the metro or on the front of a tram listing the end destination. When we’ve traveled in Spain and Italy, the “foreign” words usually had common roots with English so we could wrap our brains and tongues around them. Here I think the vowels were all confiscated by the Communists and the remaining letters are all dressed up with jaunty little hats tipped at different angles. It’s like trying to read a message of nothing but emojis or emoticons. My trick to remembering the name of the place at the end of the line (or anywhere along the line I need to stop or transfer) is to turn the name into a nickname that I can pronounce in my head. For example, the name of the western terminus of the Metro A-line is Nemocnice Motel (actually one of the easier ones). The Reverend Mother calls it “Nice Motel”, but my nickname for it, given our wandering adventures, is “Finding Nemo”. Feel free to browse the metro map for yourself if you’re not afraid of your eyes getting bloodied.

The "Astronomical Guitar" in a display case at Hard Rock, modeled after the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, of course, which features statues of the 12 apostles rotating past windows at the top of the clock at the striking of each hour. If the guitar were played, I'd expect statues of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and others to roll by.

The “Astronomical Guitar” in a display case at Hard Rock, modeled after the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, of course, which features statues of the 12 apostles rotating past the windows at the top of the clock at the striking of each hour. If the guitar were played, I’d expect statues of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and others to roll by.

If you want to know the REAL secret for getting around the Prague public transit system, here it is: bring a cane. In general, the natives here are…well, I wouldn’t say “rude” exactly; more like “indifferent”. They’re not hostile, but often are not helpful. The exception is when you board a crowded tram, bus or metro line with a cane. Immediately an able-bodied person will jump up from his/her seat and point you into it, even if it’s not a Green Cross handicap seat. And it’s best to move fast because the tram/train/bus drivers peel out as soon as the doors close, and it’s not a gentle departure. You best have your butt in a seat, or a grip like an orangutan. Otherwise they’ll sweep you up at the end of the day like so many old Communist leaflets. It’s weird being on the receiving end of such consideration (especially when I used to enjoy “surfing” from a subway strap), but much appreciated!

The Old Town Square is getting ready for the Christmas Markets to open this weekend. One of the highlights each year is the lighting of the Christmas tree. The lighting ceremony has been canceled this year because of terrorism concerns. The tree will be lit, but the time won't be publicized. We happened by after lunch today to see them getting the tree ready. Normally this square is the most wide-open in the city and continually features street performers. For the Christmas Markets, though, the area will be filled with stalls such as the one at left, creating an outdoor mall offering copious quantities of hot meat, trdlo pastries, mulled wine and grog, and gifts and crafts of all kinds. Should be magical.

The Old Town Square is getting ready for the Christmas Markets to open this weekend. One of the highlights each year is the lighting of the Christmas tree. The lighting ceremony has been canceled this year because of terrorism concerns. The tree will be lit, but the time won’t be publicized. We happened by after lunch today to see them getting the tree ready. Normally this square is the most wide-open in the city and continually features street performers. For the Christmas Markets, though, the area will be filled with stalls such as the one at left, creating an outdoor mall offering copious quantities of hot meat, trdlo pastries, mulled wine and grog, and gifts and crafts of all kinds. Should be magical. {That’s the Church of Our Lady, btw in the background of this and several other of our photos.)

These two towers show up in the background of a few of our photos as well. Here's the whole building; it's the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

These two towers show up in the background of a few of our photos as well. Here’s the whole building; it’s the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

 

A newbie in the Old Town

by the Night Writer

Tiger Lilly arrived on Thursday, a bit wrung out, and we really haven’t had the opportunity to do any sight-seeing as a family until today. Photo documentation is below. The weather is finally cooling down a little bit, but it was still mostly sunny on Saturday. We’ve been enjoying the weather and the off-season “crowds” which makes it easier to get around but with still enough people to add some buzz.

Speaking of buzz, we discovered that cannabis candy is for sale in the convenience stores here, and a package of cannabis tea is in the kitchen cupboard of our apartment. We haven’t partaken, but it’s an interesting contrast. Similarly, there appear to be no open-bottle laws here; I’ve often noticed people walking down the street with bottles or cups of beer.

We had lunch at an Italian restaurant today, just off of the Old Town Square. We knew it wasn’t going to be a bargain, but it was close, we were hungry and it was just across the alley from the Museum of Chocolate, which suddenly shot up to the top of our “to-do” list. Of course, the restaurant was in an old, old building, mostly made of stone. The upstairs “dining” room held three tables, and we were directed downstairs to a much larger eating area. The dimly lit stone stairs spiraled down between old stone walls as if we were going to the catacombs and I suddenly had the creepy notion that a devious old guy was just ahead, urging me to “Try the Amontillado!”

Instead I had a very nice Pilsner beer. The CR is known for its beer because the soil of Bohemia is ideal for growing excellent hops. While we stayed at the hotel earlier this week I had a very crisp and refreshing beer called Staropramen that was very tasty. While I tend to favor ales after my days in England, I have decided to try the local offerings and compare – especially the unfiltered beers which don’t travel well and need to be enjoyed right here. I had a Kozel with my dinner tonight and it was similar to Staropramen, but a little maltier. I have a Pilsner Urquell (the most popular brand) and a Gambrinus in the refrigerator right now, awaiting their turn. I did have a sobering moment today, though. The Czech name for the Old Town is “Staromestska”. I wondered if “Staro” is the Czech word for “Old” – and if in my praise of Staropramen I was unknowingly honoring the local version of “Old Milwaukee”. I’m gonna go brush my teeth now. In the meantime, enjoy the photos of Tiger Lilly’s first tourist day.

Three years ago my daughter first started thinking about moving to Prague. It's a long way from a pipe-dream to a lead-pipe cinch, but - lo and behold - here we are. The first couple of days since she arrive in Prague were full of activities related to her program, finding groceries and learning how to get around. Today we really got to to some sight-seeing, which of course started with the Old Town Square. Here I bought her a hot honey-wine to officially celebrate a dream come true.

Three years ago my daughter first started thinking about moving to Prague. It’s a long way from a pipe-dream to a lead-pipe cinch, but – lo and behold – here we are. The first couple of days since she arrived in Prague were full of activities related to her program, finding groceries and learning how to get around. Today we really got to to some sight-seeing, which of course started with the Old Town Square. Here I bought her a hot honey-wine to officially celebrate a dream come true.


 
So...three years of planning, working, saving - you'd think she'd look happier now that she's here. Or it could be she just wants to try on the "look" to fit in. What could possibly cheer her up?

So…three years of planning, working, saving – you’d think she’d look happier now that she’s here. Or it could be she just wants to try on the “look” to fit in. What could possibly cheer her up?


 
Oh, well...of course!

Oh, well…of course!


 
Next to the Chocolate Museum we found this painting commemorating, not the discovery of the new world, but the discovery of chocolate (well, the natives discovered it first but didn't have good IP lawyers.)

Next to the Chocolate Museum we found this painting commemorating, not the discovery of the new world, but the discovery of chocolate (well, the natives discovered it first but didn’t have good IP lawyers.)


 
The gift shop at the museum has its own homage  to that great, historic moment.

The gift shop at the museum has its own homage to that great, historic moment.


 
As we were leaving Old Town Square we had to step aside for an anti-fur protest march. My wife mused that she should have had her fur coat on. As she did so I noticed that she was standing right outside the Kafka Cafe.  Not exactly "Kafka-esque" but it was kind of funny.

As we were leaving Old Town Square we had to step aside for an anti-fur protest march. My wife mused that she should have had her fur coat on. As she did so I noticed that she was standing right outside the Kafka Cafe. Not exactly “Kafka-esque” but it was kind of funny.


 
Prague has often stood in for Berlin in the movies, especially in WWII films. Today the corner outside our apartment building was blocked off as a film crew shot a "Nazi rally." The name of our street and our building number were covered over with German signs. Tonight the filming goes on - we can see the bright lights and hear the shouting of the actors from up here in our apartment. I don't know if it's for a movie or a TV show, but it would be both fun and weird to be watching a show sometime and to suddenly say, "Hey....!"

Prague has often stood in for Berlin in the movies, especially in WWII films. Today the corner outside our apartment building was blocked off as a film crew shot a “Nazi rally”. The name of our street and our building number were covered over with German signs. Tonight the filming goes on in the street right below our windows – we can see the bright lights and the guy swinging a smoke machine, and hear the shouting of the actors from up here in our apartment. I don’t know if it’s for a movie or a TV show, but it would be both fun and weird to be watching a show sometime and to suddenly say, “Hey….!”


 
One of Prague's many names is "The City of 1000 Spires". Here are just a couple of them in the distance. It's one of the cool things about being in a city like this; even the ordinary street scenes can surprise you with sudden history, art and architecture.

One of Prague’s many names is “The City of 1000 Spires”. Here are just a couple of them in the distance. It’s one of the cool things about being in a city like this; even the ordinary street scenes can surprise you with sudden history, art and architecture.


 
There's just the one castle, though (that I know of). It does tend to work its way into photos, though.

There’s just the one castle, though (that I know of). It does tend to work its way into photos, though.


 
The Powder Tower, at the periphery of Old Town Square, and the place where the Kings of Bohemia started the procession to their coronations.

The Powder Tower, at the periphery of Old Town Square, and the place where the Kings of Bohemia started the procession to their coronations.

To the tired wanderer

While the Night Writer family hasn’t been writing much here the last few years, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been writing. Tiger Lilly in particular has been prolific, posting stories, poems, photos and art on a site that shall remain nameless. One of her poems that appeared there awhile back seemed especially appropriate as she caught up with her mother and me in Prague on Thursday. Here it is:

To the tired wanderer

I.
If you haven’t found a home yet,
Don’t worry.
It doesn’t matter if it’s been ten days or ten years.
Sometimes home is just that rock by that one river in Indiana
Where you sat and watched the sunrise after the long and awful night
When your wallet was stolen and your boots finally wore through
From all the rain and the mud and the burrs that wouldn’t leave you alone.
Sometimes you will feel like there’s a weight
Attached to the back of your tongue,
Dragging down into your throat
And choking all of the words you might have said
(or might not have, anyway).
We all need to leave sometimes.

II.
It’s all in how you move forward.
Do you buy new boots and break them in,
Accept the blisters and stretch out the leather,
Until it seems like you never stopped at all;
Or will you trudge on bare foot
Because the dust is in your blood
And the ground belongs to your sole?
Or maybe stop and stay for while, rest for a while,
settle down for a while,
Shake the road out of your hair
And turn your head from the vast horizon that stretches before you—
There will always be places you’ve never seen—
And remember that just because you’ve stopped
doesn’t have to mean you’re done.
The movement is in your soul, wanderer, whisperer,
Little firework, little not-my-own,
You belong to the movement of the world:

III.
But
Someone should have told you
That the world will go on without you.

Fitting in