Thursday, June 10, 2010

Preservation Monday

On Monday we headed out in a bus the size of a city block to the suburbs of Prague. We went to a preservation/depository unit.
This is a place where they are engaged in different preservation activities. They grow a lot of plants to use for dyes to repair inks and colors in manuscripts and old books. No new inks or dyes here.

As I mentioned before in 2002 Prague suffered through the worst floods in 500 years. This facility is one place that they have been working on the damaged books from those floods. There are microfilming areas, digitization equipment, and preservation experts.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Czech bus drivers

Wanted an outgoing individual who likes to travel and meet new people. Resourcefulness and nerves of steel a plus.

This has got to be the intro on the job description for a Czech tour bus driver. We have had some great ones this week. On Monday we had a bus the size of a city block to head into the suburbs of Prague. Our driver did a U-turn in the middle of our street stopping traffic on both sides. Which consisted of 2 trams, a line of cars and a few buses all people going to work. He had to avoid parked cars and pedistrians as well as not hit a curb or any random buildings. He did it. The moment was priceless. The people on the tram were stunned. All sitting there shell shocked at this huge bus with maybe 25 people on it blocking traffic during rush hour.

This guy had to have balls the size of Jupiter. He also drove like we were entered into the Monoco Grand Prix.

The end of the week we had the same bus driver. Different from the first one. He took us to Moravia and back(10 hours round trip same day) on what has got to be one of the worst highways in Middle Europe. I thought 95 was bad! First of all there were more trucks than I have ever seen. Apparently this is a big shipping road into the rest of Europe. But it wasn't designed for it and the constant friction and punishment wears down the pavement. So it was a jolting ride for all. Bags falling out of overhead racks, tea cups tipping over. Noisy as all hell too.
And it rained. Not in Moravia of course. Just most of the way there. So lots of fun.
I don't think the bus windows came with defoggers 'cause the driver had napkins to wipe the front windshield off periodically so he could see.

We ripped through Prague at the end of the trip. I think the guy had a date or something because we didn't go that fast on the highway! These guys must all take the same driving course. This week we have gone through tunnels like we were on a roller coaster, we've barrelled around roundabouts in a bus the size of a small country, parked in close spaces and charged up our street. Got us in right when they said we were going to get in. Gotta say this for Czech bus drivers, they get you where you are going on time. Almost to the second. Even with traffic. It's wonderful. Scary but wonderful.

School work

Today we had lectures again. After all we did come to learn about libraries and librarianship. Today it was more on the modern and technical side of libraries than the history of libraries. A lot about IT and technology since the Velvet Revolution. How the information profession has changed some and what is being done in preservation and digitization here.

They are really active in digitizing old books. Since the floods of 2002 where books and even libraries were wiped out they have taken that ball and run with it. Some materials are unique, and they experienced similar problems in 2002 that Florence experienced in 1966 with the floods. Like in Italy, many cultural institutions here are built near the river. The Klementinium is mere feet away from the Vlatva and the water washed right into the library there. Since it's a Jesuit college from the 1400's there were lots of stuff that got hit. The '02 floods were the worst in the Czech lands in 500 years, so this is really new for them. But at least the technology and the experience is here to help. Unlike in Florence.

The Academy of Sciences now is working on a digital registry so that other places here will know what's been digitized already and not duplicate a work. And they are putting all their theses and dissertations in electronic form. It wasn't done before and with some plagaurism problems at university levels they want to make things available and open so that it's harder to get away with academic fraud like that.

One thing they haven't done and are still working on is total automation for libraries. Some of the university collections aren't cataloged and the access for researchers just isn't there. It's part of the Communist legacy. Access wasn't a big part of what they did.
Some places like the Municipal library of Prague is automated, but others are just working on it. Especially in the larger universities like Charles University and the National Technical University. Because they are split up into different faculties(like schools) and have specialized libraries for each area, it reminds me of the school and departmental libraries at Yale, they haven't merged together in one large central library and have everything available.

One lecturer today believes it's a legacy from the Communist era where information was the enemy. I know that in some cases in the past if you published material that was decreed harmful to the state, both the writer and the librarian(or archivist) who gave you access were legally liable and could go to jail. That's a hard legacy to overcome in only 21 years.
The Czechs are very literate and creative though. In Middle Europe no one has a higher literacy and reading rate than the Czechs. In fact they are one of the most literate people in Europe only behind Scandanavia. So they are making great strides in righting the wrongs. Librarianship is becoming a more popular and prestigious career now than in previous years which is good sign and bookstores are all over the place. One of the most popular places to be in Prague is the Municipal Library. They have amazing circulation numbers. Something like 15 books checked out per user and tens of thousands of users per year.
So good times ahead.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I don't think I've talked much about the food here. Always important food. Czech food is really very good. I was worried before I came, because the guidebooks mentioned a lot of pork and bread. Pork isn't my favorite meat. From the descriptions I thought it'd be very heavy food. And to be honest it is. Just in a good way. And I have found out there's not a lot of veggies or salads here.

Case in point. Lunch on Sunday at the Hrady(castle in Czech) was Czech cab driver's goulash garnished with ham. It came with bread dumplings(which are amazing) and a slice of cucumber, a slice of tomato and some lettuce and carrots curls. In case you are wondering cab driver's goulash is like pot roast with a really nice brown gravy. I think onions were involved....but only the Czechs would garnish a beef dish with ham. Honestly where else do you see that?

And they FRY cheese. Yes, I have heard of fried mozzarella, but here it's a main dish. Usually a sandwich and served with french fries. I haven't had it. I just can't bring myself to do that to my cholestrol levels. I can barely look at it on a menu without feeling my arteries seize up.

I've had chicken with boiled potatos and potato pancakes cooked with bacon inside(really really good) and the ethnic restaurants are very nice too. Italian all over, a few Irish pubs, an Indian place near our hotel and a Muslin vegetarian place that had great pita bread and goat cheese.

But for the most part we've been frequenting places that specialize in Czech food. The grilled sausage on Monday was wonderful. Now that was a sausage! With a dark mustard and some fries and more cucumbers I was fine for the rest of the day.

Breakfast is the only meal I find disappointing. Lots of meats. And stuff I tend to consider lunch meat. Ham and salami for instance. And the steamed hot dogs to go with the scrambled eggs. Not something that's appealing at 7 am. On the other hand the bread and cheese here are great.
They have these rye bagettes in the morning that just rock. And they sprinkle them with large grained salt too. YUM. Add some Camembert and a pot of tea and some granola cereal and I can go most of the day. Although I would kill for some Greek yogurt, local honey and some fresh fruit.

I know they sell it in the store here. But it's a challenge being functionally illiterate. I could guess, but it's scary. The only yogurt I recognized was Activia, so I passed. It was terribly sobering at the bakery case. I wanted a few pastries for the morning, but had no clue what was in some of the turnovers. I was betting heavily on apple, but I know the Czech word for apple(since those are easy to spot) and this sign was different. I settled for a pain au chocolate and some type of croissant instead. I never realized how hard and confusing it would be to survive in a place where you have only the barest bones of the language. It's been a learning experience. One that I didn't expect.

Honestly go into market where the language is all different and there's not an English sign and try to buy stuff you'd eat or like. It is really tough. I bought what I thought was turkey meat in the deli case last Friday. Nope. Ham, from another area in the country. And if you thought there were only one or two kinds of salami you are sadly mistaken. There are more kinds of salami here in one deli case than I knew existed on the whole planet. All are amazingly good. What the Czech does to pork is mind blowing. Pork knees, pickled sausage, ham, salami, name it.

Then they have dumplings of potato. Bread dumplings are for the meal, usually to soak up gravy, while potato ones are sweet. They usually smother them in fruit. One is served in a blueberry sauce with cream. Another kind is where the fruit is wrapped in them. They make the dough, add the fruit, steam them and done! They are especially easy and good in the summer, I've learned. Not seen sweet potatos here. What could be done with those! But they don't seem to be traditional like potatos are, although both are New World things, so not sure why one and not the other.

Poppy seeds are really big as a sweet here too. They grind them and mix it with sugar. It looks like dirt. Really. We had another dumpling dish(not as good as the blueberry one, but I love blueberries) and it had all this dirt on it. It was poppy seeds. It was good, but daunting at first. Then there were the danish at the public library tour. One looked like it had mud in it. But again poppy seed paste. I mean it was black. Good though.
As Barbara(our fearless leader) said “I haven't met Czech food I didn't like.” it might have something to do with the Irish and Scottish part of my heritage though. Potatos, bread and meat. Probably encoded on my DNA somewhere.

Monday, May 31, 2010


It was nice to sleep late and relax today. I started later than usual since it was a weekend. I think I left the hotel at 10 am. I had checked the Mass schedule at the Church of Our Lady Victorious and found that the regular Czech Mass was at 10 and the English Mass was at noon. So I planned to go to English Mass and then go up the castle and look around.

The first challenge was finding the church. It's in my guidebook and there is a map, but I'm not that great with directions. Those math skills again. It was easy enough getting to the Charles Bridge and crossing it. It was early enough and raining just a bit that the tourists weren't out in force. It's been a busy weekend with the tourists. Prague is apparently a hot European weekend deal. I've noticed a lot of wheeled suitcases, and more horse drawn carriages since Friday.

The artists were just setting up on the bridge while I crossed it. I took my time walking along the river as well. I didn't have to hurry since I had plenty of time for the noon Mass. It was nice to stroll along the Vlatva in the morning. A few people were out walking their dogs(lots of dogs here in Prague) and some just walking.

I poked into a few shops, mostly window shopping, along the route. Saw some really ugly clocks and a massive antique vase that someone should have smashed years ago, but hey that's my taste....Had some cute antique dog figures and some highly tempting tea cups(handpainted)catch my interest, but luckily the place wasn't open.

I took the stairs down into the Kampa area, as the Church was right off the Kampa streets according to my reading of the map. I saw some signs and landmarks I recognized. The Lennon Wall for one, and a few European embassies. As well as a restaurant. I knew I wasn't lost, exactly. And quite by accident I found both the Mandarin Oriental Hotel of Prague and the church I was looking for.

The Kampa park is a really nice place to spend some time. There was a very cute terrier mix running around with his owners. Had to be a West Highland terrier crossed with a larger terrier somewhere. Was way too big for a pure Westie, but very friendly. Came up to me and grinned at me. Like dogs sometimes do. Then ran off and caught up to his/her owners. Not a lot of leashing here. But the dogs are extremely well behaved. So far.

Kampa is also known as Prague's Venice because of the small canal off the river. It's a nice ritzy, but not snooty area. There are places to sit and think and look at the river and flowers.

I found the Church and caught the tail end of the Czech Mass. So about 10:45. The organist was pulling out all the stops. The first thing that hits you about this church is Baroque. Even if you don't know the style you know exactly what it is. The pictures over the mini altars weren't just pictures, they were oil paintings. Every place had gilt. Very ornate. The main altar had 2 twisted gold pillars. The ceiling had coats of arms on it and the altar rails were all marble. But the shrine for the Infant of Prague took it to another level. Silver and gilt statues flanking the case. Orchids and roses, lilies and carnations in glass vases were ranged around the altar. A crowned angel(?) at the top of the altar guarding the case this tiny wax statue was in.

It's a big deal. Photos were being taken, which I kinda have a problem with....seems wrong to take pictures in a church. The church tries to limit what can and can't be done while services are going on, but it's hard. Since the shrine is on the right hand side of the church and not tucked away in a nook somewhere there's a lot of traffic. And the little museum and shop is carved out of the sacristy. They are fundraising to fix that. But they emphasize that it is first and foremost a place of worship. Not a tourist place only.

English mass took me back to my childhood. The full deal with the organ and choir. They sang some of the prayers and chants. Even heard (for the first time) the Kyrie elesion in a Mass. I mean they did it in Greek as well as English. Very cool. Plus they killed on How Great thou art for the Eucharistic hymn. Czech music! They had all parts of the Mass. Which I remembered from being a kid. It was the feast of the Trinity so we heard how we are finite and how the important things we can't understand will be explained. (cause the Trinity isn't easy to understand)

Then the religious tourists came in. Photos and crowds. Crammed up the aisle right before communion. The most interesting guy was the American in shorts and a David Ortiz Red Sox shirt. He could have at least saved the shirt for another day. Nothing like screaming out American tourist in a Baroque European church. He didn't stay long. I don't believe he even said a prayer. Just looked and left.

After services ended I headed up the hill. To get to the castle there's only one way to go. Up. No matter which route you take you go up. I walked up a side street and halfway up there were stairs. I really don't like stairs anymore. My knees hurt. But the cardio is great. I think they are getting easier. Our hotel has stairs. And while the number says 4, it's really the 5th floor.

To explain Prague Castle, it's a complex, not just a building. There's galleries and gardens, the royal palace, the cathedral, churches, and now where the President of the Czech Republic lives. Probably administration too. So it takes longer than a few hours to see it all. I really wanted to see Golden Lane, but it's closed for renovations. : (. As you can imagine there are guards. Real ones. With guns and military orders. Not just police and tourist security.

I checked out the line at St. Vitus and skipped it. Saw the Royal Palace and St. George's. Had lunch in the garden and then walked back down. Stopped at a gelato shop along the way and I saw a print in an old book store that I think I want.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


A group of us, Patty, Louise, Judy, and I, planned a trip to Terezine, which is an hour away from the city. Terezine is an old garrison town founded by the Hapsburg Emperor Joseph II. In German it is Theresienstadt. It has a long history as a prison, a fortress, and a military town.
The most famous prisoner held there was Gavrilo Princip, who died in Cell 1 in 1918. The cause of death was listed as TB, but considering the conditions....Princip was the man who finally managed to kill the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 thus starting the First World War.

I found that cell very unnerving. The way it was lit and just the feel of it.

Terezin, is more well known than just as a place for long dead assasins. Terezin was the Nazi version of a Czech concentration camp. While never a death camp per say many people died there of beatings, malnutrition, disease, and neglect.

As a fortress dating back to the 18th century it was uniquely adapted to Nazi uses. It was first used as a police prison(Gestapo) for patriots of the Czech homeland, outlawed parties(Communists mostly), resistance fighters and some POW's. People from all over the world were held here. Australia POW's, Czech patriots, Soviet Union citizens, religions that the Nazis disliked, and of course Jews from the area. The small fortress was first a political prison. People who were 'dangerous' or broke the rules of the Jewish ghetto in the nearby town ended up in the Small Fortress.

According to our guide(Louise hooked us up with a tour group from Boston who had a great guide) the conditions as a prison worsened as time went on. Food became rationed, more and more people were crammed into cells together, heat was not turned on, and bugs and disease became rampant. The cells were very humid and with only 15 kg of fuel per week, you could turn on the stove once or twice a week at most. Not enough to dry out the air and kill the bugs. Plus all those people sharing a toilet.

One of the old barrack cells we saw would have between 80-90 people in them at once. It was probably constructed for 20 or so men max. The Jewish cells were even worse. About 1/3 the size of the barrack cells. Indeed they weren't even made for humans originally. The Jewish cells were horse stalls. They would pack 50-60 Jewish people in those tiny rooms at once. You couldn't sit down or move.
The only window was always closed(for escape prevention I guess) and the only oxygen came from a tiny hole in the wall near the door. People suffocated because the air couldn't circulate fast enough and they were all crushed together.

Any medical attention came from Doctors who were prisoners themselves and supplies had to be smuggled in from the town, by sympathetic guards and workers. Those people risked their lives to help any in the fortress.

We saw the shower room and the delousing station. Once a week you were allowed one 5 minute cold shower. You removed your clothes and tried to kill the germs, and lice that infested them by using steam and pressure in the machine. If it worked right your clothes were clean for a while. But they were still wet and so were you, when you put them back on and went back to your hideously overcrowded cell.

But there was time to visit with other people. To learn news, say hello to relatives and find out if others were alive. The shower time was a shining moment of hope for the prisoners there.

Some of the prisoners feared the showers at first, because they often were disguised as a gas chamber in other camps. Not in Terezin. The Nazis were building one outside the fortress but it was never finished. The Red Army liberated the camp first. Although the forced laborers from the camp did everything they could to sabotage it before it was done.

As the war went on and more Jewish people came to Terezin the barracks in the town filled up and they were sent to the fortress. At the end of the war it was estimated that nearly 60,000 people had been packed into the whole town of Terezine, which maybe was built for 12,000 people.

We went through the old Austrian tunnels which had been blocked up during the war. Very cold and spooky. The tunnels were part of the defense of the area. They could flood the moat and still control the waterways and be safe in the tunnels to defend the area.
They come out onto the execution range of Terezin. The Gestapo used to use it as target practise, but that didn't last long. One of the group members was a survivor of Terezin. He had been forced into the ghetto at the age of 21. He had a hard time in the tunnels, but to come back even years later had to have been hard.

I know just seeing some of it was hard for me, and I didn't live through it.

And life didn't get easier after the war was over. With the overcrowding and more refugees arriving everyday and the Nazi administrators fleeing the place was in chaos. Epidemics were rampant. Typhus, dysentery and typhoid were three major disease that ripped through the camp.

Here's the link to the Terezin Memorial website.

So a very heavy day. I'm glad we went, and it's something we won't forget, but it wasn't a fun thing.
I will be posting all the photos of Terezin, probably on Facebook. If you want to see them all.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Weekending in Prague

Well, we finished our first week of classes. It's really nice to have some free time. While so far it has been great, it's tiring, and not a lot of time to do touristy things. I haven't yet stormed the Castle, gone to the Loreto, OR the Church of our Lady Victorious(where the Infant of Prague is) or seen the Mucha exhibit. I have yet to go to a concert, but I will. Plans for the weekend are to go to Terezin on Saturday with some of the class, and then on Sunday find a Mass schedule and tour the castle.
I'm looking forward to 'storming da castle' and going to Mass. I'm not sure if I will go to the Loreto or the Church of our Lady Victorious. But I'm leaning toward the latter. I know the Mass schedule there, and they have it in several languages. Mass in Czech would be challenging to say the least. I can barely say thank you correctly in Czech. Although with Mass I know WHAT they are saying.
So probably go for the English Mass at noon then hang around to storm the castle.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Czeching out the local scene

I am falling in love with Czech wines. I have had 3 or 4 white wines and 1 red. All were really nice. Drawing on my vast knowledge of wines gleaned from 2 hours at Vinopolis in London, I have determined they are more fruity than dry. The whites were clean and the scent and the taste were pretty balanced. It's quite a nice surprise. One thinks of beer, which is really good, but the wine is also well done.

I have to find a good liquor store and get some to bring home. They remind me more of the German and Alsatian wines I like than the more popular Italian pinot grigios.
I have some names of the wines I drank, and liked so am going to look for those. Sometime in the beginning of the week I think.

Zlaty Koruna

Today we got up early. On the bus at 6:45 am. Heading to Southern Bohemia in search of medieval monastaries and walled island hill towns.
Found both. After a few hits of tea and some bread and cheese the switch was thrown. We got a great lecture on rare Czech manuscripts dating from the 14th century to the 18th century.
The curator kept pulling more books out for us to look at and explained all of them. Herbals, and atlas, facsimiles of music books written for the coronation of the king in the 1100's. Books bound with other older books that were really part of the trash heap, but historians now find most fascinating.

It's a beautiful place. Zlaty Koruna means the Golden Crown in Czech. It started out as the Holy Spiny Crown and became so wealthy with the villages and lands and rents that it was known as 'golden' Was decommissioned in the 19th century by Franz Josef II and went through many other incarnations. Steel factory, private library, parish church, school.

During our monastary tour we all had to wear slippers over our shoes. It was fun to see us all sliding around in these oversized slippers trying not to fall out of them.

The artwork in the place was amazing and interesting, considering the order started out very asetic. Then changed. First no one could have meat then only the sick, then as a treat, they they had it on a regular basis....

Cesky Krumlov

After we left Zlata Koruna we headed to the island hill town of Cesky Krumlov. It's a UNESCO site and very touristy, but overall amazing.

Our hosts took us to lunch at and we had chicken and pickled vegetables and potatos. The food here is very potato and meat heavy, but amazingly good. As was the Czech wine I had.
Most everyone had beer, but a few people enjoyed the real sugar in the Coca Cola. After lunch I found a gelato stand and wandered the town. Being a Bohemian fortress town there are lots of hills there. I walked up the castle there, but didn't go in. I'd prefer to see Prague castle instead. And to be honest I was more interested in shopping. I found a nice teapot, some lace and looked in all the jewelery store windows. There is a LOT of amber and garnet here. Plus some interesting jewel called Moldovite from a meteor or something. It's only found in the south of the Czech lands.

All the streets are cobblestones, so it's a bit hard on the feet. Not to mention the angles of the streets. The views are really nice and as it's an island town a lot of the restaurants have terraces that sit on the water.

We met our hosts at this really interesting medieval house that's a traditional Bohemian restaurant. Very good food. The potato pancakes are awesome here. And there was this blueberry dumpling dessert thing that defies words.
I am learning poppy seeds, potatos, blueberries, pork and cabbage have been staples of Czech food for centuries.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


We were in lectures at Charles University Library Science Faculty today. The actual school is in the suburbs of Prague so we took the subway there.
Very steep elevators and they move very very quickly.

We had an overview of the library school and how many students there are (616) overall. They issue 3 degrees here at Charles University in Library Science. A Bachelor's, a Master's and a Ph.D.
We then moved to Czech history. Our guide from yesterday was our history teacher. We got about 1000 years of history in an hour.
It's really interesting. Well the way Vaclav told us it was. Political backroom deals by the church, fraticide, arranged marriages, religious wars, Nazi and Communist occupations, uprisings and censorship, violent crackdowns(Prague spring anyone?) and then finally freedom.

We learned about digital librarianship here and a new project that just got approved by the EU to convert 19th century Bohemica into digital format. And we learned about the marginalia in some of the older manuscripts.

We then headed to the Libri Prohibit to see the banned writer books. After 1968 many authors were banned outright. Didn't matter what they wrote, they couldn't be published. So they wrote their own stuff in secret and typed them in multiple copies to distribute. Which was highly illegal. It's one reason Vaclav Havel was in jail in the 1980's.
Some stuff was banned not because of the author but the translator. Like Shakespeare translated into Czech.
Fascinating. Yes I am a geek.(or intellectual badass...)
No photos, sorry...was on a mission to find a European battery charger. Blew a fuse in the hotel trying to plug in my American charger. Found one!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday afternoon

We took a break when we crossed the Charles Bridge. Lunch, wine, relaxing. I had garlic soup with croutons. Yum. And Czech wine. I really like Czech wine. Sort of smooth and dry but just enough fruit to not be pucker-y like a chardonnay.

The garlic soup was good. It was a cool day to start with so it seemed like a good idea. And it wasn't too heavy. I have been seeing a lot of meats and potato heavy stuff on menus. Which is good. I love potatos and bacon. I mean hello, Irish ancestors! But not for today. Downside is my breath smells like garlic, but tough.

We took the tram up the hill to the Strahov monastery library. The tram is cool. A bit like the T in Boston. Except they are more relaxed about paying. You buy a card, they check it on occasion. You have it, sure. You don't...uh-oh.

Strahov was great. The old books and the art. They are renovating one hall of the library, so we saw the Theological Hall...I felt right at home. It was amazing. THey have some interesting artifacts as well. The monks collected all sorts of stuff so it's like a museum too. Dried sea life, shells, armour, weapons, and cannon balls. And narwhal tusks and penis. Those were fun.
I think my two favorite things were the portable library desk. It is a desk and the chair folds down to fit inside and on the other side was a mini stepladder to reach the books.
And the second thing was a huge book holder that turned. You placed your texts on it and could spin it so that you were reading what you need to interpret the texts. I know a few exgesis classes that would want that.
The librarian at Strahov had to have me explain exegesis, but he got it when he knew what I was talking about! He laughed and agreed that's what it was for.

After leaving the monastery we had great views of the city. Which reminded me of Edinburgh castle actually. Being so high up and seeing all of the area.
Some of us walked down back to the hotel. We did stop for wine. Martin, one of the coordinators, knew a place. It's very good wine. So we did Happy Hour Czech style.
And of course we found a gelato shop. I had nutella gelato. Oh yummy. But the strawberry was good yesterday too.

I found the John Lennon wall. I had read about it, but didn't think I'd see it. Very cool.

Tuesday morning

Today was a late day. Got to sleep until 9 because we had a walking tour of the city. We met our guide at 10:45 and then proceded to walk all over the city. We did take a tram to the Strahov monastery as it's all uphill.

We saw the Astrological Clock in action and learned the history of it. It was built in the 1400's and more than 70% of it's parts are original! The apostles march, the statues move, the seasons and zodiac signs are shown. And there's a modern part too.

We went to the Basilica of St James, which is an amazing Baroque/Rococco church. It also has a mummified arm hanging in chains. Fun! The legend is that a thief tried to steal from the church and the Virgin Mary grabbed his arm and he was so terrified he left the arm there...

We walked all over the city. Our guide knows all the hidden alleys and short cuts in the area so we bypassed some crowds.

Some of the house signs he pointed out were very interesting. Instead of numbers(that was the Hapsburg invaders) they used pictures on the houses to tell people what house and what occupation they were at.
There are gold snakes and violins, stone bells and statues of the Virgin Mary. The double headed eagle and gold rings.
I liked the unicorn and the medusa head best.(two different houses) Each means something. The bells are for the bell makers and the snake for a pharmacy. The unicorn was a place where Jewish intellectuals used to gather.

First day of class

Today was my first real day in Prague. As you all know I am not a morning person. So to be ready at 8:45 was a bit tough, especially after so little sleep the past few nights.

But after tea and breakfast the switch was thrown. Although I would have killed for some Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. Lots of meats and cheese on the breakfast buffet here.

We got a tour of Charles University and a history lesson. As Charles University went so did Prague. They are intrinsically linked. The ideas at the university flowed to the city eventually. Karlos IV founded the University with the idea in mind that Prague would be a cultured educated capital of Europe. Very far thinking and generous was Charles IV.

The university area is amazing. Very historical and artistic. One thing we learned was that during the Communisit times here the socialist were anxious to promote the Czech ties to the West rather than the East. Being Catholic rather than Orthodox. Having ties to old Germany going back to the founding of the university and the idea of a democracy. Our lecturer told us that to the socialist image was everything and that's why they kept the old buildngs up and functioning in the same conditions rather than making them over or tearing them down. (Money was a factor too)

We got our photo taken outside(no Larry wasn't in it) then split up to wander. Some of us were still a bit jet lagged. I went to lunch and touring with a few other people from the class. It rained a bit here on and off.
We walked all the way across the Charles Bridge and looked at some of the art and jewelery set up there.
The Bridge Band played Ellington's It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing and the vocalist sang it in Czech. Good but funny to hear it in another language while recognizing what it was.

Had dinner and our "official" welcome on a boat tour on the river. It rained. Hard. But the riverbank sites are beautiful. The lock was fun. Some of the sites reminded me of Edinburgh actually.

More from my first day in Prague

After lunch and walking around(we saw the Charles Bridge and crossed about halfway before returning to the hotel, we got down the business. Check in to the hotel, finding places to eat and navigating some in the city block we are on. Meeting people. We had a class meeting about 8. They gave us our packets and the final schedule. If we had any questions, where to meet and some advice. It was good.

The really exciting part was the Czech Hockey team. They played a final game in some world hockey final against the Russian team. They beat the Russian 2-1. The horns woke me up. It seems like every horn in Prague on a car works. They were still yelling in the streets this afternoon about it. I think it's great I was here for it. Kinda like history in the making.

One of the program coordinators told us that it was a big deal for the country and it was especially nice to beat Russia. Think big bad Yankees vs the lowly Tampa Rays. And it's a hockey nation here. There was a celebration in one of the squares that had the team and lots of drinking and people. I saw part of it while coming back to the hotel this afternoon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Good bye England Hello Czech Republic

Packed again Saturday night. I came to the realization that I have to ship stuff. There is no way in hell I can carry this stuff home let alone things I'll buy. Saw serious jewelery and glass. Plus a cute teapot in metal. And just got to Prague!

The people in Claridge's deserve some sort of medal. Really. I mean the turn down service was amazing. No candy on the pillow though. Slippers by the bed, music on, warm towels. Bed plumped just so. I had to take a photo of my room doorbell. It was one of my favorite parts of the room. How many hotels have a doorbell for each room? I am seriously in love with the place.
Went to the concierge before dinner and told them I needed to get to Gatwick and what time. Nixed the hired car thing. It was just a little too expensive for me. So they got a cab for me and it was there at 5 am. Joy. Yes, I am not a morning person. They called me twice for a wakeup call right on time! Which is what I asked for. I made it right to Victoria and hopped the Gatwick express. 20 minutes to the terminal. That was the last easy part of this leg of the trip.
Line for Easy Jet was horrendous. I got in the line right before 6 which they recommend. The check in for my flight opened at 5:40 am. By 7 am(when they closed check in) I was still in line. They kept on calling flights when they closed then checked everyone in. Waste of time and human resources. Plus the line got shorter, but the line didn't move when that happened.

I had to pay a fee to get my bag on the plane. I was 5kg over the limit. Now that's a story. Got in line to check in and the guy weighed my bag. Checked me in and then told me to pay over across the terminal. With less than 40 minutes to get on the flight this isn't inspiring....Go over, wait in another line until some guy going to Greece haggled with the service rep. Then the traffic control person cuts the line for someone else going to Prague. So I say Hey, I was here first and I'm going to Prague too! He gave me my boarding pass and let me pay.
So I hustle to the departure gates and race down the jetway to stand in line again at the departure lounge with everyone else. (gotta work on the cardio)

Slept some on the plane. The neck pillow that Robin gave me is great. Just hard to pack. Landed here in the Czech Republic. It's a lot easier than you think to get through customs and all. The program people met me and helped me navigate the Czech money and bus. The bus stops a few blocks away from the hotel, but I had good directions. So I didn't get lost.
Didn't know that the streets are all cobblestones. Nice and very pretty, but butt busting to ride on. Not to mention pull a suitcase.
Met some of the people at lunch. I really don't like potato salad, but the chicken was good. Drank a whole bottle of sparkling water. After all the wine at Vinopolis I was dehydrated.
We walked around after lunch a little. Lots of people here. Started part way across the Charles Bridge. It's lovely. So far I am enjoying it. But it's only my first day.

Not so the hotel. Sort of a come down after Claridge's I will say. Hellhole would be strong.(but not inaccurate) I had to chastise Larry for his comments. But that's Larry. There's only one plug. Sigh. Stinky with cigarette smoke too. That's one thing about Prague is many people smoke. Glad I brought the Febreeze to freshen the room.

Lunch at the Borough

After wallowing for a few hours in the splendor that it is Claridge's Hotel, I headed out for some London fun. Since the last time I was in London I had strep, going to Vinopolis was out. Alcohol and strep throat are NOT a good mix. So that was first on my list of things to do.

I also thought eating before wine would be a good thing. So I headed to the wonder that is the Borough Market. It's like a farmer's market on steroids. When I say there's everything there, believe me....Produce, tea, coffee, meat, eggs, bakers stalls. Then there's wine and sangria stalls. A chocolate shop, ostrich eggs and burgers. Spices and corn tortilla flour and stuff I missed. Samples everywhere. Yummy chicken curry, amazing truffle oil and vingear. I had a ricotta cheese and spinach roll with apple strawberry juice and a chocolate brownie. (The juice was amazing. Bishops has to do that for the season)
Wandered around and talked to people which is always the most fun. Bought some tea grown in Ceylon organically, and orange olive oil. It's made with the oranges someway. Great dressing for salads. And the chocolate. I shouldn't have gone in that shop. Really good stuff.

Sat by the river for a while and added to my collection of pub names. Found one that is supposed to be one of Shakespeare's old haunts. They know that Pepys sat there and watched the Great Fire of 1666 and wrote in his diary. (See literary reference!)

It was such a nice day in London. One of the first nice days they had had so far. Everyone was out. Took some great photos---see?(well on the next post...)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The most wonderful hotel in the world

Okay, maybe overstating it a little, but not by much...

I finally achieved a dream of mine. I booked a night at one of my favorite all time London spots. Claridge's. Ah....Paradise in Mayfair. Or pretty damn close to it.

From the porter(they aren't bellboys here) to the concierge to the two bartenders everyone was concerned about my well being. The doorman, who is dressed in a coat with tails and a top hat asked me if I was checking in. They took my luggage into the hotel by it's own door. A hidden luggage door! At the reception desk they sped me through the process. Claridge's doesn't have that 'No we can't check you in until 2.' that you see in other hotels. A room was ready. I got a tour. I made it to my room at the same time as my bags. There's a couch in the elevator! And an elevator operator.

The room itself is sublime. Small yes, but it's not like I am throwing a dinner party in it, (but they will do for you if you want.) There's laundry services, wireless, modem hook-ups, a high speed wireless port. At the real wooden desk they have an outlet plug for 110v and 220v. Both UK and US. I didn't even NEED an adapter for the laptop. To charge it. I love this place.

The closets are just amazing. There are drawers with leather handles. A safe for my valuables, And all fully mirrored.

The bathroom is a place I want to live. Marble. Black and white of course. Being art deco. Best tub I've seen in ever! Heated towel racks, wonderful toiletries...a phone and two marble shelves. Plus a shaving mirror. I never knew my pores were that big. But let me tell you putting on makeup is a snap with that baby.
I can swim in the tub. And it fills so fast....almost had a little overflow...
But the marble surround caught most of it. There are two showers in the tub. One is that particular British innovation a hand held shower hose. Which makes it great for rinsing your hair. The other is pure heaven in a bathtub. A rainfall shower head. As wide as a dinner plate. Luxury indeed. They have floor length terry robes with the hotel's signature C in gold. And slippers!

But what blows my mind is I have a doorbell. For my hotel room. I don't even have one at my house!
And 4 buttons. One for the maid, one for the waiter, one for the valet and one for privacy. Turns on a light on the doorbell that the staff know I don't want to be disturbed. Amazing.
Larry and I were very happy here. I knew when I had come for tea that it was a place I wanted to live when I grow up. Now that I have experienced Claridge's for myself in full measure, I know we were meant for each other.

Went to dinner at the Claridge's bar. Lovely. Great food. Butternut squash soup, roasted duck breast with potatos and greens, seared halibut with goji berries and lentils and foie gras with figs. Yum doesn't begin to describe it. And a pear and hazelnut dessert. Little rolled up tubes of carmalized sugar with hazelnut crème. YUM squared. Oh and I had a mojito royale. Mojito with champagne and of course the amazing Marco Polo tea with dessert. Found out that it's supplied by Mariage Freres tea company of Paris. No wonder I love it. High end luxury tea. My mom taught me well. Thanks!
Great guys at the bar. Very entertaining and talk about talented. It was like watching theatre. Flirted with them and vice versa. Part of their job.
Met someone from the Kuwait investment group. Even got a business card. He wanted to know if I know some guy from Morgan Stanley. No, sadly. But very nice and courteous. People there always are. I think it's the atmosphere of pure civility.

Blogging from the field

All in all getting to London was fine. Not saying there weren't problems. First was finding the bus station. It's not well marked, but that's what information desks are for.
Had to wait in a long line. And it was a Friday. In the summer, when the Mets were playing the Yankees. So traffic....

Drove around JFK for a while too. But I expected that. Everyone else with a flight time around mine was freaking out. But to be fair they were going much further away than Europe.
Waited in line for what seemed like forever to check in. As the minutes ticked away those of us in line realized we were going to cut it close, so we asked one of the traffic directors about the 3 bag drop windows, the 2 premiuem economy windows and the 1 economy window with the longest line that wasn't moving at all.
They got us moving. They had to ask who was on the 6:15 flight and sort us out.
Got through security 10 minutes before my plane boarded. And of course they boarded my rows first. So I barely had time to use the bathroom before getting on the plane. Next time I fly Virgin Atlantic I have to spring for premium economy. Not just for the extra lines too. Free newspapers and larger seats.
Let's just say no one's legs are that short....

Couldn't wait to get off the plane. And not just because I wanted to get to my hotel.
But that's the next installment.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I haven't bought jeans in years. Mostly cause I am seriously picky about them. Have to be 100% cotton denim. Which in women's jeans you don't see anymore. 98% cotton and 2% spandex is not the same. Jeans aren't supposed to stretch. They are supposed to mold and support. And last forever. That was the point in the 1890's. Miners, cowboys, sailors wanted solid pants that weren't expensive.

And let's not get started on the cut. All I can say is some of us are not short waisted and long legged.

Why does fashion trump tradition? Jeans with a skinny leg or a boot cut that are low waisted only fit like 1% of the population. And then you have to buy the new fashion jeans. They are good for date nights, but not working in the garden, mowing the lawn, going to class or just hanging out. Although with the other ones you will hang out, but not everyone wants THAT view.

Did they think that alienating people who have been faithful customers who can't find their jeans anymore was a good thing?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Elephants on parade

Checking on twitter to see what the ash cloud from Iceland was up to, and saw a tweet regarding London.
Since I'm staying in London for a day I am all excited about touring and hitting new sites. Vinopolis for one.
But here's a bonus. Elephants! I love elephants. Honestly more of an African elephant fan than Asian, but hey that's just me.

They have this summer set up for elephant statues(in case you thought I totally lost it) that are all painted and set up in areas. There's even a map.
There will be elephant photos coming soon.

Saw a few baby elephant statues. Some right around my hotel. I liked Penny for your Thoughts best.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Prague backstory

For those of you who may not know why I am going to Prague here's a little history.
I heard about studying overseas from a classmate and jumped on that bandwagon right quick.
I had some tough decision making when I thought there would be a trip to Oxford as well as Prague. Love Oxford. But Prague is cheaper(20 koruna to 1 USD.) and I've never been to the Czech Republic.
Those were the deciding factors. That and the fact that there will be slightly different views on technology and freedom of information in Prague than in England.

So I planned the trip by hanging out in the travel section of Barnes and Noble. I talked to people who had been there. After all people are your best resources. And everyone had the same reaction. You'll love it.

I harassed the UNC people about the website and the prices. I wrote the tuition check in December and started hunting for flights.

So now I have one week to go.

Prague visit.

I'm headed to the Czech Republic for a class. Watch this space for a post or two in the coming weeks.