Sunday, September 30, 2007

Snow White's Cottage

A cloudy Saturday morning, a girl looking for adventure, fishing poles, and a little red wagon - perfect ingredients for a jaunt in the woods!

Our house here in Prague is just a short roll away from the forest - a novel idea for a kid raised in the desert climes of Oman! Sad to say, we didn't catch any fish from the duck pond. We did, however, find what Danna was quite sure was Snow White's cottage in the woods.

Many Czechs have a retreat in the country - a little place where they can escape from city life for the weekend. A chata is a little cottage - often located near a stream or in the forest, surrounded by flowers, fruit trees and garden vegetables. Danna's "Snow White Cottage" was one of these cottages - a stone's throw away from our house, and just the right size for a Princess and seven little men. The grass, still damp from last night's rain was spotted with mushrooms of all varieties. Mushroom picking is a national pasttime here, and it's a fairly common sight to see people returning to town on the metro, carrying baskets laden with their latest finds!

An apple tree drooped over the fence, dangling delicious apples within grabbing distance, and a brook gurgled just past the garden, planted with one of the largest pumpkins (or was it a squash?) I've ever seen! Neither Snow White, nor one of the dwarves actually peeked out the window (they've since moved to Disney World), but we could almost see their footprints on the little path!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Phone via Internet

Please welcome the newest addition to our communications lineup ... (drumroll) a U.S. phone number that rings here in Prague:


Give us a call sometime - just keep in mind that we're six hours ahead of the East Coast of the US, nine hours ahead of the West Coast. Confused? Check out the "Prague Time and Weather" section at the top left of the Blog.

Looking forward to chatting with you!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Boxes Are Here!

So on Friday came the day that any family in the Foreign Service both loves and hates... the day the boxes show up! Up till now, we'd been settling in to our house in Prague with nothing more than the contents of our suitcases and a small air shipment. On Friday, everything we had packed up in Muscat over four months ago showed up at our doorstop. Seven crates containing 232 boxes. Boxes containing clothes, toys, pots, pans, nic nacks, books, bikes, junk, paper, computers... perhaps even the occasional bug from Muscat... you get the picture. No easy task, even if you don't have three munchkins "helping" you at every turn. Fortunately, the reinforcements had arrived the day before. Erin's mom "AJ", professionally qualified to entertain grandkids, hold and change a baby, swooped in just in the nick of time!

So, we began the unenviable task of cluttering our house. Some of the first boxes to be opened had Jad and Danna's toys inside, and a "toy eruption" quickly ensued. Toys they had not seen for months, toys they had forgotten about, and toys we had forgotten about, all spewed out of the brown cardboard boxes. The tricky part is finding a place in the house for everything. Especially in a house which is a tad bit smaller than the one we packed out of in Muscat.

We also discovered portions of our wardrobe we had not seen for years! The last time we lived in a cold climate? The winter of 2001 in Portland - the year after we were married! Since then, sweaters, jackets, raincoats, socks and hats have been waiting patiently in boxes - following us around the world. Well, this weekend, most of them they finally found their places up front and in the center of our closets! The rest got a rather unceremoneous dumping in the "to give away" box at the bottom of the staircase. We've been amazed at what kinds of things we've actually held onto all these years, and have entered a mini "purge" phase in our moving careers!
Three days into the process, we can now see most floors, there is walking space in the garage, and our kitchen shelves are once again stocked with spices from the far east! And Kyler? Well, he's not quite sure what to make of it all (but he's sure glad is "Tayta" is here to hold him!)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dinner in a Dungeon

Date Night #1 - September 16, 2007
Temperature: High 72/Low 54
Location: Prague Castle & Old Town

OK - here's the start of a new series chronicling our Date Nights while here in Prague. At 1 per week (assuming we can find a babysitter), 52 per year, this has the potential to be quite a series!

Click here for a Google Earth KMZ file with our route. Click the camera icon within Google Earth for pictures along the route. Don't have Google Earth? Download it here!.

We started off at the Malostranské náměstí tram stop. This square lies at the feet of Prague Castle - and that was our first destination for the night. Nerudova street, named after the Czech poet Jan Neruda winds up the hill toward the castle, lined with quaint restaurants, pubs and shops - catering mainly to the hordes of tourists that descend on Prague each summer. My favorite was a little shop filled top to bottom with puppets of all shapes and sizes - including a full-sized wizened old man guarding the front door.

Click here for the rest of the post!

We took the sharp turn up Ka Hradu street, passing a couple tourists on Segway scooters - an interesting blend of the new and old, and one way to make the steep climb a little easier! As we ascended the vista of Prague at sunset expanded with every step. Peeking over the wall towards the top, we spied diners settled comfortably on a terrace overlooking the Castle gardens. The Orange tiled roofs of houses and palaces below - most 300-400 years old in this section of town - gave way to the greenery of Petřin hill.

Making our way past the stern guards, we entered the Castle proper. I have to note that these guys, though they didn't smile, were not the quite the stony faced Grenadier Guards of Buckingham Palace. They stared straight ahead and didn't smile, sure... but the ones we watched made quite a variety of facial contortions to each iches, clean teeth and otherwise stay alert! We wandered past the impressive gothic spires of St. Vitus Cathedral, guarded on all corners with grotesque gargoiles, past St. George's Basilica and the Prague Toy Museum. We reached the far side of the castle just in time to take in the view of Mala Strana stretching to the Charles Bridge, and the old town beyond that.

Next, we headed down the old Castle Steps, and across the Manasuv Bridge. As the sun set behind the castle, tour boats plied the Vlatava River below us, towards the Charles Bridge just upstream. By now, we were hungry, but we didn't want to pop into yet another tourist joint along the river. We walked along the banks of the river through the Jewish Quarter, and once we hit Old Town, started exploring the side alleys off the beaten path. One of the first spots we came to was the Pražsky Most u Valšu Restaurant and Brewery.

The tables on the ground floor were full, so we ventured down a circular staircase to the cellar below. Heavy wooden tables lined the stone walled chambers, and we settled down to a well deserved dinner of Goulash and Pork Chops, accompanied by a (very small) Neperlava voda (non sparkley water) and (very large but typical, 1/2 liter) house beer. Delicious!

A quick walk through the near-deserted streets of Old Town took us to the Staromeštska Metro stop and our ride home.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mama said there'll be days like this

Did you ever wonder why baby blankets were so big? I hadn’t either, but now I know why. It was my 2nd day in our new home in Prague as a stay-at home mom of 3 small kids. At 8:50 am the doorbell rang. Not only was I still in my pajamas, but I was nursing my 2 month old baby. YIKES!! I considered having my 4 year old answer the door, but decided against it. I grabbed a baby blanket, threw it over the baby and part of me and opened our front door. Fortunately, the guy at the door was from the embassy and he was just delivering our mail that had been piling up the last 3 months. I was thankful that he didn’t gasp or faint at the sight of me wearing a baby blanket.

My plan was to get dressed as soon as he brought in the 5 boxes of mail. However, while he was delivering our mail, 2 other men showed up to work on 2 of our chandeliers. (There are 2 chandeliers in the living room and family room that are so low that even I – at 5’6”- have bonked my head on them.) By this point, I had stopped nursing Kyler, but I was still in my pajamas—agh! The mail guy left, but before the chandelier guys finished, Mr. Zack came by to fix our heat. (Yes, it was the first week of September and we needed our heat on!! I’m going to freeze this winter!!) Mr. Zack left as well as the chandelier guys. Finally a chance to get out of my pajamas! But alas, it was not meant to be! Roddick, the local security guard, came by to show me how to set our house alarm.

At last around 10 am I was able to get dressed –hallelujah! (Notice I didn't mention getting a shower!!) Just in time for our air freight shipment to arrive – 6 HUGE boxes! Wanting to get a jump start on unpacking, I immediately started taking stuff out of boxes. It seemed that each pile I put down, Jad and Danna decided to play with. In a matter of minutes, the living room and dining room were an absolute mess!! Books, clothes, toys, and kitchen stuff was strewn across tables, furniture and the floor.

It wasn’t even noon yet and 7 different men had been in the house either fixing something or delivering something. Crazy chaos best describes the state of the house (and how I felt). After getting lunch ready, I was so looking forward to the kids’ nap so that I could have some peace. Ding-dong, the doorbell rang for the umpteenth time!! This time it was the internet guy ready to get us connected. I wasn’t about to turn him away even though Danna was on the verge of a meltdown and the baby was crying. Thankfully, he got us set up with the world wide web in less than an hour and we had no more visitors the rest of the day! Whew!! As the lyrics go, “Mama said there’ll be days like this, there’ll be days like this my mama said!”

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Travelling downtown

We figured after being here an entire week, it was high time to travel into town as a family. I have been doing this route for the last week to get to work, but this was the first time for Erin and the kids to jump on the Prague Public Transit system. The system consists of buses, trams and underground metros, and we took all three today on our trip from our home in the outskirts of Prague near Nebušice to the US Embassy, just a couple of blocks away from the famous Charles Bridge in Malá Strana (the "Little side").

For any of you planning a visit, here's a cheat sheet for getting downtown. Keep in mind that the times below factor in a stroller and three kids (and a little dawdling for photos along the way.) An average commute would talk 30-40 minutes, depending on how well you time your arrivals at the various transfer points. The various stops are hyperlinked to their corresponding timetables - the underlined stop on the timetables is where you are, the times listed are usually broken out into Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday schedules. Things seem to run pretty much on schedule around here. A 20 crown ($1) ticket (you can buy one from the first bus driver with exact change) will get you all the way there. Remember to validate the ticket on the bus as soon as you get on (there's a machine near each door.) Click here for all the details!

9:38 - Leave the house, and walk through the neighborhood to the Nad Habrovkou bus stop.

9:44 - Arrive at the bus stop.

9:58 - Get on buses 161, 254 or 312 in the direction of the Dejvická metro station.

You can either take the bus all the way to Dejvická and jump on the metro, or hop off two stops down the road at the Horoměřická stop, and catch the #20 tram which will take you directly to your final destination at Malostranské náměstí (the central square of Malá Strana). We took the metro this time.

10:07 - Arrive at the Dejvická metro station. This is the Easternmost stop on the Green "A" Line of the metro system.

10:20 - Get on the metro, headed towards town (it only goes one way from this stop).

10:23 - Hop off the metro two stops later, at the Malostranská stop.

At this point, you can either catch the number 12, 20, 22 or 23 trams from the Malostranská tram stop right outside the metro station, or enjoy a beautiful walk through the gardens of the Wallenstein Palace to Malostranské náměstí - the central square of Malá Strana. We chose the leisurely stroll through the gardens, admiring the statues, fountains, and wandering peacocks. The Palace is now the home of the Czech Senate. At a brisk pace, this walk would take 5-10 minutes, about the amount of time you'd spend waiting for and riding a tram.

10:46 - Arrive at Malostranské náměstí. Prague Castle overlooks this square from above.

From this square, the Charles Bridge is just a stone's throw away, to the East down Mosteka street. We walked one block South to Tržiště street, turning right (West).

10:52 - Arrive at the Embassy. It's about 100 meters up the street, at Tržiště 15. Look for the US Flag and you can't miss it!

Funny Signs 1

OK - here's a first of a series - funny signs we've seen in Prague. OK, I guess funny signs is not really accurate. They're not so much funny as they are different to our American minds. So - here's the game. I'll post a sign, and you all guess what it means! When we find out, I'll let you know!

Here's the first - not too far from our house: Click here for a clue...

Here's a hint - this sign is very close to the first one:

Monday, September 3, 2007

The first taste of Prague

On Monday, suitcases finally unpacked, and things more or less put away, we bundled up as best we could and headed out on a family adventure - a walk to the nearby Nebušice village for lunch. Did I mention yet that it's chilly here? For a family used to Muscat's cool 98° evenings, today's high temperature of 58° F (14° C) was downright Arctic! So... as I said, appropriately bundled up (Kyler was nothing but a pink nose under a stack of blankets), we headed for the local restaurant / penzion (hostel) . Not sure of the name, but Staropramen beer was featured prominently on their sign.

We muddled through an order from the menu using our handy Czech phrasebook, sign language and a fair amount of grunting, and ended up with the Denní menu (Daily dish). Two steaming plates of noodles piled with pork goulash appeared in short order, accompanied by a bottle of mineral water (for Erin), a 1/2 liter of the pub's namesake golden brew (for me) and a plate of Klobása sausage for the kids. Total damage? 227 Crowns ($11) to feed the four of us (those eating solid food) sure beats McDonalds! Oh - and the drinks? 250 ml. of water cost a crown more than twice as much beer! First report on Czech pivo (beer)? We both had to agree that it was good! Even to the two of us who lived several years in the microbrew capital of the world (the Pacific Northwest) without ever acquiring a taste for the the stuff.

If this first meal in town is any indication, I think we're going to be able to adapt pretty quickly to our new home in the Czech Republic!