Friday, December 28, 2007
Date Night #9 - December 28th & 29th, 2007
Temperature: High 32 °F / 05 °C, Low 26 °F / -3 °C
Location: Aria Hotel, Prague
For the first time since Kyler was born, we snuck away for a night. Once again, courtesy of my visiting parents-in-law, "Tayta" and "Jiddo", we had free and very reliable babysitting! The Aria Hotel sits just 100 yards down the road from the US Embassy in Mala Strana - Prague's historic "Little Quarter." Because it's so close to work, I've made many a reservation at the Aria - for others. It's always received good reviews, so we thought we'd give ourselves an early anniversary getaway while the gettin' was good... and the Aria didn't disappoint!
The Aria is all about music. When you check in, you're handed not only an electronic key in the shape of a Treble Clef, but an iPod, loaded with hours of tunes. Each floor of the hotel is themed after a different genre of music, and each room is set up in honor of a composer or performer who was instrumental (get it?) to that genre. We had the Gypsy Kings room - celebrating Salsa music. Fluffy robes and slippers, down comforters, a PC, and a plasma screen TV made it really easily to settle in for the night. The library downstairs, just around the corner from the home movie theater offers a wide variety of books, DVD's and CD's that you can enjoy during your stay.
... there's more to this post. Click here to keep reading!With music from our iPod playing through the pro quality speakers, the bed looking warm and inviting and the weather outside looking pretty chilly, we almost didn't want to leave for dinner! Eventually, though, we managed to drag ourselves out into the cold to the "At the Knights of Malta" Restaurant just down the street. As with many restaurants in this part of town, the Knights of Malta occupy the ground floor and cellar of a house down one of Mala Strana's many narrow alleyways. Good, Czech home cooking, priced on par with most places in this tourist area (1000 CZK / $60 for two meals + drinks.) Their wild boar was fantastic and made the foray out into the cold well worth it!
We returned to the Aria for desert - and to soak up the ambiance of the Music Salon, sinking into red leather chairs by the fireplace as a piano/saxophone duo improvised on jazz standards. Breakfast the next morning was served in the Winter Garden - a fabulous spread of breads, cheeses, meats and my favorite - French Toast, topped with whipped cream and smothered with fresh berry sauce. To make it even better - between wrestling with Tayta, and reading books with Jiddo - I don't think the kids even missed us!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Temperature: High 23 °F / -5 °C, Low 21 °F / -6 °C
Location: Palladium Mall, Prague
Erin's parents are in town for a Christmas visit. What does that mean (apart from new playmates for the kids to wrestle with?) - more Date Nights for Erin and I, of course! Tonight, we headed downtown to the shiny new Palladium Mall off of Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky). It's so new that Google Earth still shows it as a construction zone! The mall is currently the largest in the Czech Republic - with nearly 200 stores, close to 30 restaurants and cafes, and the foundations of a 12th century palace featured on the ground floor! As tempting as the five floors of glistening shopping opportunities were, our goal tonight was one particular corner on the top floor. Being an upscale shopping center, the Palladium doesn't have a food court. Rather, the top floor of the mall is the "Gourmet Floor" with restaurants which are kind of half-way between "real" restaurant and mall fare. And there - beneath flowing white cotton streamers, and ornate lamps, we find what we've been looking three months to find here in Prague... good hummus!
The El Emir restaurant is one of the newest entries to the Prague dining scene, and let's just say it's the best Lebanese food we've ever tasted in the Czech Republic. Of course, it's also the only Lebanese food we've ever had here! Needless to say, being in Europe, our meal was a tad more spendy than a night out at the Automatic Restaurant in Muscat. But when hummus hit the table and we dipped in with fresh khubz (arabic bread), we knew we'd come to the right place! Believe it or not, it was some of the best chickpea these hummus snobs had ever tasted! We quickly progressed through the cold mezza - tabouleh salad, stuffed grape leaves, and more; to the hot mezza; to the mixed grill, topping it all off with thick turkish coffee. So - here we were, Americans speaking Arabic to a Tunisian waiter in a Lebanese Restaurant in the Czech Republic. Fantastic!
Oh - by the way... if you happen to be looking for yarn or other "notions", Erin has discovered her new favorite store in Prague. Filium, on the ground floor of the mall, sells all types of yarn - and best yet - you can actually browse through it yourself - rather than having to ask the not-so-friendly counter clerk in your best Czech to pull down a skein from the shelf.
Hummus and yarn - in one night! I'd call this date night a success!
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Temperature: High 42 °F / 5 °C, Low 32 °F / 0 °C
Location: Old Town Square, Prague
We walked right into the pages of a Christmas fairytale tonight when we stepped into Prague's Old Town Square. The twin gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn tower in the night sky above us, windows at the very top of the turrets orange eyes watching the scene far below. Usually, the tower dominates the square. Tonight, though, a massive tree draped in red and white lights steals the show.
The square is like the Christmas Song come alive. Shoppers dressed up like Eskimos to ward off the winter chill wander through rows of decorated wooden booths topped with bright red roofs. We pick up a bag of real live chestnuts - roasted over an open fire in a corner stall. On the stage below the tree, Yuletide carols are being sung by a children's choir. The stable on the side of the square has already packed up for the day, the sheep and goats carted away to a warmer spot for the night.
The aroma of roasting ham wafts through the air, pauses, then mingles with the steamy tang of a cauldren of svařák (hot wine). Pastry chefs roll out tubes of Trdelnik - a Czech pastry coasted in sugar and crushed almonds). We can't resist the crepe hut - and come away with a delicious triangle of folded pleasure - dripping in chocolate sauce. We finish our progressive dinner at the ham roastery, where the vendor cuts a hunk of ham off the spit, slaps it on the scale, and serves it up along with a hearty roll and a dollup of horseradish.
... Click here to continue readingChristmas ornaments, candles, nativity scenes, gloves, hats and wooden toys feature in crowded booths in between the food. These vendors are equipped for tourists too - "sprechen sie Deutsch? Italiano? Francais? Enlish?" they ask passing shoppers.
As we pass the stage, the choir is just finishing up for the night, and amid the throngs of Christmas shoppers, just below the glistening lights of the Christmas Tree, we make a discovery. In a makeshift stable at the base of the tree lies a nativity - a silent reminder of a tiny event, so many years ago.
Among the hubub of a busy census, searching desperately for shelter from the cold, a travel-wearied man supports a woman who's clearly pregnant. They've been on the road for days, making the long journey from Nazareth, 120 miles to the North. They didn't hop on the train or drive down in the family station wagon. Most likely, they walked... and walked... and walked some more. You know, I bet the booths were out in Bethlehem the night they arrived! Vendors from all over town, setting up shop to take advantage of the sudden influx of tourists registering for the census. I doubt there were any Chestnuts or Trdelnik for sale that night though... hummous and flatbread probably took the place of crepes at the food stalls in Bethlehem. All the hotels are full. Door after door displays a "no vacancies" sign. Finally, though, away from the chaos of the marketplace, the weary couple find a corner of solitude... in a stable on the outskirts of town. And none to early either! All this walking has taken its toll, and the baby just isn't going to wait any longer. A feed trough is hastily converted into a cradle... a stableboy brings in a bucket of water... and in a moment... amid the smells of an occupied barn, a stone's throw away from the crowded marketplace... a King is born. A King who ruled no lands, commanded no armies, and overthrew no occupiers. A King though, whose birth is still celebrated around the world, and even here, in what's possibly the most Athiest country in Europe... by choirs of kids, stables full of live animals, and nativity scenes in town squares.
Among the hustle and bustle of the season, amidst the Christmas markets, the singing choirs, the throngs of shoppers and shelves of ornaments, take the time this week to pause... and listen. And maybe... just maybe, from the nativity in the glow of the Christmas tree, you'll hear the faint cries of the babe in the manger 2000 years ago that got all this excitement started.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Chillies are hard to find in the Czech Republic. Strudel? Dumplings? Goulash? No problem - the shelves are packed with the necessary ingredients. But if you're planning to make curry, why that's something different entirely! Fortunately, a recent visit from my folks in the UAE brought us a fresh shipment of chutneys, spices and pappadams... just the things you need if you're going to put on a Curry Night in the Czech Republic.
As we put the finishing touches on beef curry, brinjal salad, coconut sambal and kiri hodhi, one of our new friends, a seminary student from Andra Pradesh in India, asked me if I had ever heard of Don Rubesh. As it turns out, Don is my grandfather. "You're Don Rubesh's grandson??" Johnson exclaimed, "I can't believe I'm eating dinner in the house of Don Rubesh's grandson!"
Click here to read on . . .
If you're from the Indian subcontinent, it's very likely you've heard my grandfather's name. Almost half a century ago, joining forces with Back to the Bible Broadcast (one of America’s most popular Christian broadcasters) Don pulled together a team of South Asian Bible teachers, musicians, and studio technicians, and pioneered the work of Back to the Bible - Sri Lanka. Before long the Broadcast was blanketing South Asia with programming that was both Biblical and indigenous, timeless and yet culturally relative. Don was in many ways, the father of Christian radio on the Indian sub-continent. Today many of the region’s foremost Christian leaders will testify to the formative role Back to the Bible played in their spiritual growth. Johnson is one of them - having committed himself to full time Christian Ministry after listening to a sermon on Back to the Bible. He's now in Prague - studying to be a theologian, and will take that passion and knowledge back to his homeland.
Back to the Bible has been a part of the Rubesh family for three generations - a BBB-sponsored visa is responsible for my growing up in Sri Lanka (and developing a taste for curry). If you're interested in reading more about Back to the Bible and finding out how you could invest in a ministry which has touched so many lives - including that of our new friend here in Prague, please let me know!
Friday, November 23, 2007
She was with us for our weekly 'family fun night'.. We went to the Prague Castle, saw the changing of the guard, and walked across Charles Bridge (see above photo-- Kyler isn't in it since he was helping me take the shot). The next evening, for our date night, Kevin and I went to the Crocodile Cafe for coffee and sweets. (Sorry, no photo!)
Thursday, November 22, 2007
With the highest peak at 1600 meters, the Czech Republic's "Giant Mountains", tucked away on the Czech Republic's northern border are not exactly gigantic compared to the nearby Alps. However, they are close, and they do have Ski Areas! We scheduled lessons for the kids and I, and hit the road bright and early Thanksgiving Morning. Grandpa and Grandma Rubesh had visited the weekend prior, so we had already filled up on turkey, stuffing and plenty of leftovers. Thanksgiving meant a day off work to head for the hills!
Skiareál Herlikovice is just 2 1/2 hours away by car - to the Northeast of Prague. When you're heading East, the trickiest part of the trip is just leaving the city. A journey to the east means either winding through narrow country roads to our North, or driving through downtown Prague. After about an hour of stewing in traffic, we started making good progress. The landscape started turning white just outside of Jičín, as we slowly gained altitude. The Ski Area is located just outside the town of Vrchlabi (try to pronounce that one three times in a row!)
A luxury ski resort Herlikovice is not. However, it did have the basics - a bistro selling hot dogs and hot chocolate for al fresco dining, a couple of ski lifts, and some good instructors - who spoke English! Suiting and booting four while keeping a baby happy is not a relaxing experience. However, 8 boots, 8 skis and 8 ski poles (the kid's favorite accessory) later, we headed toward the ski school. As it turns out, we had rented equipment from the spot closest to parking, but farthest from the ski area proper... fortunately, Kyler's new winter-hardy stroller has a bit of cargo space!
Two kids suited in about 5 layers of clothing, baby sleeping in the stroller, wife off skiing. What's the one phrase you're really not looking forward to hearing? "Daddy, I have to go Pee Pee!" Off we tromped to the decidedly communist "Hotel Eden" - dark dingy corridors, aging carpet and peeling paint. Fortunately, we quickly found the communal toilets, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that each stall came complete with free toilet paper! Appropriately relieved, the kids settled down to a DVD in the back of the 4Runner while I built a snowman and Kyler snoozed.
Did we have a good time? I'll let you decide - check out the following videos before voting!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Temperature: High 36 °F / 2 °C, Low 30 °F / -1 °C
Location: Lucerna Palace - Wenceslas Square
You don't often come across a statue of a saint sitting on the belly of a decidedly dead horse. Believe it or not, that's exactly what hangs from the ceiling in the lobby of the Lucerna Palace Cinema, just off Wenceslas Square. Having opened in 1909, the cinema boasts being the oldest operating cinema in Europe. The single screen theater, seating 500, is truly stunning. Until the velvet curtain opened and the Dolby Digital Surround Sound kicked in, you could almost believe that you'd been magically transported back in time to 1929, when "Show Boat", the first "talkie" movie premiered here. We made ourselves comfy, settled down and spent a couple hours learning about the life of Jane Austen in "Becoming Jane".
I thought the movie flowed a little like a Jane Austin novel... introduce a slew of characters speaking thickly-accented English (no - the Czech subtitles did not help) through a very slow opening 30 minutes or so, and then spend the rest of the movie figuring out who was who and what they were up to. Not a bad way to spend a date night though - and this was the first movie we've gone out to see since this summer in Oklahoma City. Tickets were 120 CZK / US$7, but there was no popcorn... so we had to settle for sneaking in a Bratwurst from the corner hot dog stand!
We rounded the night off with a visit to TGI Friday's for a good, American style hamburger. Delicious, messy, and well worth the trip! We'll have to remember to bring our own drinks in next time though - the 1/4 liter bottles of water just didn't do justice to the thirst worked up by a sausage and a Jane Austen movie. Free refills? Forget it!
Monday, November 12, 2007
For those of you who are not "Star Wars" aficionados, the Jawas are little creatures who roam the sands of the desert planet of Tattoine (Luke Skywalker's home). They specialize in "collecting" things in the desert, and then fixing them up to sell. Erin had to promise Jad that she would do some research and get back to him with an informed answer.
Yes - our summer of "reculturization" in the US has paid unexpected dividends. Through cousins, friends, ads on TV and McDonald's happy meals, Jad and Danna's mustard seeds of Star Wars knowledge of Star Wars have blossomed into a full-fledge mountain of interest. Good vs. Bad. Space ships. Aliens. Princesses and swashbucklers. How could you not be interested? So - via YouTube and borrowed DVD's the kids have begun watching carefully selected snippets of the movies. Those of you who are fans will no doubt recognize the picture above as a recreation of Luke's initial Jedi training aboard the Millenium Falcon, wearing a helmet with the blast shield down to test his ability to sense to "the force".
Anyway - in this age of digital video and creative kids, we're pleased to present the first of what I'm sure will be many Star Wars interpretations. An X-Wing fighter has taken construction in our playroom today, and Kyler sounds a wee bit like Yoda these days... so I'm sure there will be more to follow.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
We gobbled down our breakfast, threw on some "snow clothes" and headed outside. Jad now knows how to make snowballs and throw them at his Daddy. Danna specialized in tasting snow... snow from the sky, snow off the grass, snow off the driveway... you get the idea. Fun stuff! Unfortunately (for us snow-lovers), the snow had been rained away by the time we headed out to church, but this bodes well for a snowy winter!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Temperature: High 37 °F / 3 °C, Low 32 °F / 0 °C
Location: US Ambassador's Residence
We had dinner at with Ambassador Graber and his wife tonight as their home in Prague. Well, to be perfectly honest, so did about 100 others, including the six "birthday boys" - members of Prague's Marine Security Guard Detachment.
November 10th is celebrated each year as the birthday of the United States Marines Corps. Since 1921, Marines around the world have gotten together each November to celebrate the formation of the Corps - this year, they turned 232 (but didn't look a day over 20...)
The location, inside the Ambassador's residence was just about perfect. The Marines marched in, carrying the US and Marine flags (the tips of the flags only slightly brushing the crystal chandelier), did a smart about face, and sang... yes actually sang the Marine Corps Hymn - "From the Halls of Montezuma. To the shores of Tripoli..." OK - to be completely honest, the Vienna Boy's Choir they were not. A proud and joyful noise? Sure.
We left early (11pm) to relieve the babysitter before the party really got underway... walking to our car in a light dusting of snow. To all of you men and women around the world, standing guard at our Embassies and Consulates - many thanks! And a very happy birthday!
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Looking a little closer at the sign, it looks more like someone decided to play a prank on us - the toilet stencil is cut out, and pasted onto the sign... it's not quite straight, and not quite centered - both dead giveaways when looking at signs for toilets!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Shopping in the what? The Grafenwoehr “Troop Training Area” (put the words together and you get the concise Truppenübungsplatz in German), or “US Military Base” as it’s more commonly called, is just a short, 2 1/2 hour drive across the border into neighboring Germany. So - we loaded up the car with the kids, the trusty DVD player, and a couple ice chests, and hit the road.
Let me just say - crossing borders in Europe is a wee bit less cumbersome than in the Middle East. We drove from the UAE to Oman a lot in the last few years, and most crossings went something like this... first, park the car in the 115 degree sun, and walk to a little hut on the side of the road. Once in the hut, convince the bored immigration official to stop yakking on his GSM phone, and give you the form that you need to fill out for each traveler. After filling out the form, wait for a pause in conversation again so he can stamp the thing with his rubber stamp. Walk back across to the booth on the other side of the road, give another bored guard your forms and passports. Watch as he pecks away at his keyboard to enter the stuff you’ve just written into the computer. Show him how to hold the form right side up. Get a little piece of paper stamped. Take this paper back to the car, where, by now, the kids are awake and ready to get out of the car... strap them back in, and drive across the border, handing your little stamped piece of paper (heaven forbid it gets lost somewhere along the way) to the final guard.
But... I digress... our crossing from the Czech Republic to Gemany? Pause at the crossing. Wave passports out the window. Proceed, picking up speed to join the Autobahn. Cool!
Several hours later, we crossed back out of Germany, and into the United States... kind of. Like many US military bases around the world, this one was a bit like a mid-sized US town, picked up, and then plopped down in Germany, complete with hospital, school, housing, gas stations, and most importantly to us... SHOPPING!
The recently opened commissary and PX (Post Exchange) boasts close to 100,000 square feet of retail space, restaurants, a barbershop and more. Best of all, you can SHOP IN ENGLISH! The kids weren't too interested in either the Taco Bell in the food court or the cheap grocery sales... but the face painting booth in the corner of the store was an instant hit! In no time, we had two full carts of groceries, a significantly lighter wallet, a (tired) butterfly dressed in a "SuperGirl" outfit, and a bunny, complete with balloon ears. What more could you want from a Saturday?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Temperature: High 44 °F / 6 °C, Low 32 °F / 0 °C
Location: Cantina Restaurant, Mala Strana
Tonight was one of those "rapidly planned" date nights. In other words, as our babysitter arrived, we were still discussing where we'd like to go. Mexican food sounded good, so we called up a friend and got the name and address of a good Mexican restaurant. A quick lookup on Google Maps pointed us in the right direction, and we headed downtown. It was a chilly night, but we liked the idea of free parking at the Embassy and a stroll down Ujezd to number 38. Nothing could be easier, right? Wrong!
Number 45... 41... 39... 37... eh? We checked the other side of the street - nothing there remotely Mexican looking! Number 38 was just not there! Visions of salsa still dancing on our brains, we hunted for a couple more minutes before deciding to head to the Funicular that runs up to the top of Petrin Park. The station looked deserted, and sure enough, we'd struck out twice in 10 minutes due to an annual maintenance closure. Imagine that - our most hastily-laid plans coming awry!
Walking down the hill back to Ujezd, we crossed the street and headed North back toward the Embassy... and found (you guessed it), the Cantina Restaurant, in all its glory, at number 38. Number 38, which was right across the street from Number 19 (of course). So - important lesson learned. Though the odd and even numbers are, in fact, sequential along the length of the street, the two sides are not necessarily in sync!
Restaurant found, we settled in at the bar ("rapid planning" also means no seats) and enjoyed a GREAT meal. Good food, at decent prices - and at the address it was supposed to be!
A quick stop for desert at Caffeteria Coffee in the shadow of Prague Castle, and we headed home for the night, mission accomplished!