Friday, December 28, 2007

Date Night (and morning) 9 - Aria Hotel

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

Merry Christmas 2007

Merry Christmas, from the chilly cobblestoned streets of Prague!

Kevin, Erin, Jad, Danna & Kyler Rubesh (and the snowman!)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Date Night 8 - Lebanese Food!

Date Night #8 - December 22nd, 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

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (Date Night 7)

Date Night #7 - December 9th, 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

Curry-Powered Radio Waves

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!