Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oreos in Prague

I know what you are thinking, double stuff Oreos, big deal. Oh, but here apparently a very big deal. I found a store over Thanksgiving that carried American products, mainly processed food stuffs that you can't get here: Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Karo Syrup, Oreos, peanut butter, certain cereals, Kraft Mac and Cheese, etc. I thought it would be nice to pick up a few items the other day. I knew everything was a little more expensive and decided that a few items wouldn't be so bad. Ha ha, now I know why they won't put a price on anything. Hoping everyone will do what I did and pay, drum roll please,

$12 FOR OREOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Christmas Party

My lab had a Christmas party at work and one after hours at an American/Mexican restaurant. They both involved the secret santa gift exchange with a twist. We were only allowed to spend 50 crowns, which is about $2.50. I was worried this might be kinda hard, but turns out they have stores like The Dollar Store here in Prague too. I didn't take pictures at work, but did manage to catch everyone's gifts at dinner. On a side note, good mexican food is hard to find here. Amigos, where we had our party, was OK, but today we FINALLY found a place - Cantinas. Thank you, Thank you! Sorry, off topic, but extremely important for Brian and I. Anyways, back to cheap Christmas gifts....

Kaya decided instead of numbers she would write down animals and hand them out to everyone with the presents labeled with the corresponding animal. After a few drinks, we noticed she really liked types of monkeys.

Kaya got a piggy bank that was a bright green mouse with a buddha belly.

Romanka got a pink witch's hat. Everyone always needs a good witch's hat, just in case.

Ivana got a unicorn along with a little grooming person. I mean unicorns are for good luck, right?

Darina may have gotten the best gift: orange slit glasses. I said they were "Kanye West" glasses, and then everyone asked me who that was....guess he's not international yet

Míša (sounds like Misha) also got a pretty cool gift: Harry Potter glasses, kinda. Both glasses were a big hit and we all thought it necessary to try them on.

I mean, honestly, can you resist trying these babies on?

Here is my gift, not that funny, but way useful. Brian and I were thinking we were in need of something to entertain us at home other than just each other and the computers. I said the only game I knew how to play was called 'Shit'. Turns out that game is actually called 'Farkle'. Ian you should probably tell Shari she misinformed us.

You can't really see it, but it's not very stimulating. Our boss, Iva, got a bag of dried fruit. I tried one and honestly don't know what kind of fruit I was eating.

Daša (sounds like Dasha) got a dinosaur shaped soap and some candy. Not super exciting, but will probably get used more than the witch's hat.

The most entertaining gift, Michael got a light up green animal bouncy thingy. Sorry, best description I could come up with for right now.

Romana, my lab partner, was lucky enough to get both of my secret santa gifts at both parties. During the day - liquor magnets and a ghostbuster bottle opener. Tonight's gift? A dolphin cell phone holder that lights up when you call the phone.

And a combination of some gifts to end the night!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sv. Mikuláš/ St. Nicholas

December 6 was Sv. Mikuláš Day (St. Nicholas) in the Czech Republic. The night before St. Nicholas comes out and visits with all the children to see if they have been bad or good. This seems very similar to the Santa Claus tradition in the U.S. with one exception: instead of helper elves there is an angel and the devil. The children must say a poem or sing a song to him to get treats from him and show that they have been good. If they have been bad the devil will try and scare the children into being good. I was told that the devil comes out in the streets or in apartment buildings trying to scare children during this night. If the children are bad they get a bag of coal instead of treats. In the stores there are even devil decorations along with the traditional Christmas decorations. Seems like a combination of our Halloween and Christmas. I like it, remember - scared straight? Brian and I got caught by St. Nicholas and had to say a poem. We stuck with what we knew: Mary had a little lamb and Row, Row, Row your boat. Hey you see what you can come up with on the spot, St. Nicholas suggested our national anthem, ha ha, yeah right. Me singing is never a good idea.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Few Tidbits

I thought I would try out my new camera phone and take some pictures from this week. First up is about food. Most of you know that I love food and am willing to try just about anything, except stinky tofu. If you don't know what it is, be glad, if you do, you can understand why I couldn't try it. Oh the smell. Well, this week at our cafeteria at work they had a new soup I hadn't seen before. It didn't look amazing, but it did sound interesting, at least to me.

Pig blood soup, don't it look good? Let's just say it tasted only slightly better than it looked. That grainy looking black stuff is congealed blood. If you have had blood sausage, this would be the equivalent of blood sausage soup. If you didn't have to look at it or know what it was, it would probably taste a lot better.

I came across a new blog that seems pretty interesting. It is called 'happy mundane' and has random things posted on the blog. This past week it had instructions of how to make carrot flowers. So here was my first attempt at a simple craft that maybe even I could pull off: carrot flowers. Pretty easy, and puts a smile on my face.

This is the view from my office. There are 2 important parts of this picture.
1) I worked in a basement for 5 years in Chicago and now I have 6 windows and a view, pretty awesome.
2) This was the first snow in Prague, ok maybe second, but I was asleep the first time. If you look REAL hard those barely there white specs are snow (in the grass it's a little easier to see). The only good thing that comes out of winter, snow!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Valtice Wine Tasting

Blogger and I have been having some issues. Luckily, Leslie was so nice to tell me how to embed a slideshow from picasa. SO MUCH easier than downloading each picture. Thank you Leslie!!

This past weekend we had a blast at a wine cellar. My friend from work, Dáša, was nice enough to invite Brian and I to Vinařství Dwořáček, a South Moravian Wine Cellar in the town of Valtice. Moravia is famous in the Czech Republic for their wine and this past weekend was the beginning of the celebration of St. Martin's Day (Nov. 11). It is the first time everyone tries the young wine from the previous year. We headed on a bus with Dáša, her husband, Franta, and their group of friends. Everyone was great and we started the party as soon as we got on the bus. After a 4 hour bus trip we checked into our hotel and went for a late lunch. There is a special meal during this celebration: goose with potato or bread dumplings and cabbage. The goose was delicious! We got a 2 hour break so we went bowling with some friends before heading to the wine cellar. We sampled about 10 types of wine, sang (or we listened), danced (got suckered into that), and played some musical instruments (or tried really hard too). The next day we had to get up for breakfast at 8:30, head back to the wine cellar to try it again (oh yeah, that's right 6 hours wasn't enough), buy some wine, and then headed back to Prague. We had an awesome time and they invited us to go on their Annual April trip, too. We definitely want to go!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Munich Day Three

What happened to day 2? Day 1 ran really late into the night and we missed our wake up call. We spent the day in our hotel room laying in bed. So we wasted an entire day recovering from the night before. Most people would like to go sightseeing around the town, we decided to check out the nightlife instead.

We did manage to get up later that day and walk around outside by the hotel. There was a nice creek with a swan floating down the stream. The stroll around the creek was almost worth the cost of our pre-paid tour we missed.......yeah right.

We sucked it up and paid again to ride a train to the area where Neushwanstein Castle was located. They had a really nice hike up to the castle that had some great views of the town below. Here is Brian declaring this spot on the trail as his own.

The hike wasn't very long, but it was pretty much uphill the entire way. I decided to take some breaks and take pictures of the castle from below.

Here is the entrance to the castle. We had a guided tour in the castle of only 16 rooms. There are a total of 65 rooms, but only 16 are completely finished. King Ludwig II built this castle starting in 1869 and spent so much money building castles around Bavaria that when he died (1886) they stopped all construction that he had sanctioned. Although it was built in the late 19th century, this castle had electricity, a telephone, steam engines, modern venting, plumbing, and heating pipes. The rooms were amazing and very intricate, and of course, no pictures were allowed.

At the end of the tour we took some pictures of Hohenschwangau Castle from the window. This was another Kind Ludwig II castle, but we didn't have time to visit it. Neuschwanstein Castle is owned by the state of Bavaria, but this castle is owned by Franz, duke of Bavaria. I wish I owned a castle.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Munich Day One

Someone in my lab was nice enough to tell us that Tuesday, Oct. 21 was Czech's Independence Day, meaning our first holiday. We decided to take Monday off and have a long weekend. I had been wanting to see 'Cinderella's Castle'. Turns out this is in Bavaria, Germany about 2 hours outside of Munich and it is called Neuschwanstein Castle. We went and bought our train tickets the week before and got up nice and early on Saturday to head to Munich. Of course we get to the train station only to find out that we are at the wrong one. Luckily, by some miracle, we were early enough to go to the correct station and still make our train.

So here we are, smiling because we are in first class and we don't even know it. Luckily after 5 hours on the train an attendant was nice enough to tell us to move to 2nd class even though we were only one stop away from Munich.

Our first task in Munich? A beer tour of course. This is the New Town Hall (City Hall) in the center of Munich, a very nice place to meet for a beer tour. We almost missed the tour because our hotel was a little farther outside the city than we thought (think walking on the side of the road where there is no sidewalk, but some nice farmland).

We had a very nice tour guide that explained some beer historical facts. One specific image was very interesting to me, a priest holding some barley on the town maypole. That's how important beer is in Germany! This is from a maypole that historically was in every village showing visitors what was in the village. We also learned that beer gardens in Germany must have 3 chestnut trees to be an official beer garden and there are places for you to sit with your family and bring a picnic and hang out or a section to eat from the restaurant while enjoying your 1 Liter beer.

The night started out promising. We went to a brewery and had dinner and I met Nicole, a newlywed from Ohio. We ran into her and her husband again 3 days later at Neuschwanstein Castle. It really is a small world.

Then we were off to the famous Hofbräuhaus. This brewery was started in 1589 by Wilhelm V., Duke of Bavaria. Bavaria is the region of Germany that Munich is located in, kind of like a state in the US, I think. Here is Brian with his 1st 1 Liter beer.

And here is Brian with another 1 Liter Beer. We met some guys on a bachelor party from England and the night just kept getting more exciting.

How do you end your night at Hofbräuhaus you ask? By arm wrestling the biggest dude you can find. That just happened to be Nicole's husband, Nick. And who won? Why I did of course! He may have 'let' me win, but I have some rock hard biceps.

And the night continues, but without pictures. We went with the guys from England to the Atomic Cafe ( We were there until 4 am. Interesting, because we had to be on a Castle Tour the next day at 8am.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Our Flat

A tour of our new home, flat, apartment, etc.
Since the realty agency did the pics so nice (basically when it was clean) I am putting up their pics. Believe me, it looks nicer this way.

As you walk up our lovely entrance don't forget to turn the lights on and hurry up before they switch off. No worries, we are the first door on the right. The whole light situation is super annoying if you are chasing a cat up the stairs and right when you are about to grab him the lights turn off and he makes it up another flight of stairs until you are both on the 5th floor. I'm just saying IF that was to happen to you......

Our living room, with combined dining room and kitchen. The couch is a little small. It kinda seems like 2 adults trying to fit on a hobbit (or Dee Dee and Franz's) couch. Nice pull-out sofa bed to those who come visit (don't forget the contact solution).

The other half of the living room showing the dining area and kitchen. The bathroom isn't shown, but it's standard size (not Chicago standard, but normal). It only has a shower, but it did come with a towel warmer on the wall and a tile warmer too. I hope this is not hinting towards winter weather, please no.....

A close-up of the kitchen. Got me one of them fancy ceramic top stoves! I have been testing out the burners to see if I can toast bread on them. Things appear to get really hot here really fast, so stove top toasting is still in an experimental phase.

One half of the bedroom with the window facing the street. The other half just has the bed and armoire. So there you have it, the tour of our apartment without our stuff in it. It look super nice before we unloaded all our junk!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Houskové Knedlíky - Czech bread dumplings

I attempted this weekend to bake. Now, while I love to cook new dishes, I do not like to bake. Mainly, cause I am pretty terrible at it. So I have tried to stay away from it, I mean it's usually stuff that's not good for you anyways. But, Romana and Daša swore to me that Czech dumplings would be easy. So armed with a family recipe with no exact measurements (oh great) from Romana I tried to make them at home. Here are some pics to illustrate my surprisingly successful attempt - who would have thought?

The initial product, so far so good....
Now just have to boil them and hope they get nice and fluffy.

Now, the real Czech secret: How do you cut these babies so that you don't deflate? Why, with thread! Now, since I did not have thread I used dental floss instead. Ahh, now that PhD in Engineering is really paying off!

Voila! Beef with sauce served with dumplings. Just one problem, the beef was a terrible cut and I might need to learn how to make better sauce (bought a box of it). Oh well, the dumplings turned out good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Prague Sightseeing

Brian and I finally remembered to bring our camera when we went out.
We went to the Old Town area and looked around on Sunday and
got some nice pictures right at dusk. Below is the Rudolfinum, a
Neo-Renaissance building built in the late 1800's where the Czech
Philharmonic Orchestra is located and hosts many concerts and an art gallery.

Here is a close up of one of the sculptures on the side of the building.

I also caught saw a hot air balloon and thought it looked nice against the sky.

Here is a distant shot of Prague castle. You can't really see the birds in the
picture, but I thought it looked like the opening shot of Frankenstein or Dracula.

I thought this was a funny sign outside of a pub. Nothing is quite as persuasive as a picture of a guy drinking a beer with a big beer belly and big shoes!

This is a TV tower near our flat called Prague Tower in the Žižkov area.
It is the highest tower in Prague and has an observation deck and restaurant.

Can you see those things on the circular posts?
Here, let me zoom in for you:

Yes, those are babies crawling around on the posts. Very interesting art
for a TV tower, they are called “Babies” by the artist David Černý.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The end of the week

Today was our first day of Czech lessons. I guess they want to try the total immersion way of teaching - only speaking Czech. A lot of us were lost most of the time. So I had to come back and ask my co-workers exactly what she was talking about. Seems like the class will have a very steep learning curve.

Brian and I went to the other cafeteria on campus today for lunch. We realized we should really learn some Czech words for food. We thought we got rice and beef in gravy. Ah, how about boiled liver in gravy instead - gross. Earlier this week I was able to get a whole trout with butter and potatoes in the cafeteria. It is a typical Czech meal and it was really good for cafeteria food and being fish. I am trying to eat more fish, because SUPPOSEDLY it's healthier than other meats. Personally, from a researchers' point of view, could the National Cattlemen's Beef Association for consumers, fund research to prove this wrong? Please?

Last thing: For anyone who comes to visit (hopefully a lot) I would really appreciate if you could bring me some contact solution. Turns out here, it costs roughly....wait for it......$30! I will refrain from writing additional descriptive words on this topic. Oh yeah, and no generic versions of it, only name brand.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Patricia and the dead bolt

Well, let's just say this week is not starting off that well. I managed to stub my toe pretty bad chasing Elliot in the building on Sunday night. Monday the alarm didn't go off, we woke up around 9:30 and then I went to the doctor about my foot once I finally got to work. Universal health care here seems pretty easy. Got an x-ray immediately, no broken toe, and I only had to pay about 2 dollars total.

Ah, but what happened today you ask? I got ready to leave for work and couldn't unlock the door. I made the alarm go off twice and had to just wait for it to quit. Brian had to go to the foreign police early in the morning. He locked the door, including the dead bolt. Finally got a hold of our landlady only to find out if someone locks the dead bolt from the outside you cannot open it from the inside. WHY?????

She came over and unlocked the door for me. Future help - we have a 9 foot ladder in the house to escape out the window in case this happens again. Awesome.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Interesting facts about Prague

What have Brian and I learned so far in Prague?

1. Beer is as cheap if not cheaper than water everywhere. Wine isn't that much more expensive either.
2. You can get beer everywhere, even in the university cafeterias.
3. Personal space doesn't appear to exist on the metra.
4. Brian isn't that tall over here, but I am :)
5. Luckily, American movies are in English at the movie theatre.
6. Hall lights must be manually turned on.
7. Water gets really hot here, very fast.
8. Bed comforters here are for one person only and they aren't long enough.
9. Satellite tv comes with about 100 German channels and 2 English channels: BBC world and CNN Europe. Guess which 2 people don't like to watch news?
10. Hatchback cars are the most common in Prague.
11. Hot sauce and fresh hot peppers are hard to find - not cool!
12. Our washing machine takes about 2 hours to wash clothes, and driers aren't common.
13. Czech's version of Coke is 'Kofola' and tastes strangely reminiscent of Jager.....

Going out to the pub

A group of people from my work invited us out to the pub last Thursday. Our first social outing with other people. I mean Brian and I enjoy each other's company, but it is nice to hang out with other people. The pub was a basic bar, but with 2 big differences. First, the food at pubs is suppose to be really good. Unfortunately, we didn't know this and went to KFC (our mistake) before we got to the pub. So we missed out on some really good food, bummer. Second, they had a dance floor at the pub even with a disco ball and lights. Apparently our group really wanted to dance and especially enjoyed dancing to the Grease soundtrack, YMCA, and other cheesy songs. They finally convinced me to go out on the dance floor for 1 song after I had a fernet (similar to Jager). Of course once I got on the dance floor they started playing Czech music. I already can't dance, it gets even worse when I don't even know the song.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Starting a Blog

Someone suggested that Brian and I (let's be honest, just me) should start a blog since we will be in Prague for the next year, and I have noticed that blogging seems to have taken off. Then I got 2 emails from people who also started one, so here I am joining the masses and trying this out. I have never even kept a journal or diary, my grammar isn't great, and facebook is getting WAY too advanced for me, so this should be interesting. Da'ša (pronounced Dasha) in my lab also started one today. We will try it out together and see if either of us can be interesting enough for people to read about our lives.

We got to Prague on Sept. 20 and let's just say taking 2 cats overseas caught a little unwanted attention. Oliver managed to tear the crap out of his carry on during the whole process while Elliot sat quiet and angry. Luckily you couldn't hear them meowing over the airplane engine and a loud kid in front of us. We made it to Prague and may I just say they have the best customs - none. We had temporary housing at a Pension (similar to a hostel private room) and let's just say we were both eager to find a flat. I think the cat hotel was nicer than our accomodations. We had a tv with 2 channels in Czech, no internet or phone and not near anything. We found a flat last week and moved in on Friday of last week. It is super sweet with tall ceilings like my Dad's house and was completely furnished. It even has heated tiles in the bathroom (which we can't figure out how to work) and a towel warmer. We got satellite tv, but only 2 english channels - CNN Europe and BBC world. Awesome - news, my favorite thing ever. The internet gets hooked up on Sunday - I need to watch my TV shows!!! Missing premier week blows big time. Then we can also sign up for skype and be able to communicate to everyone back home.