Monday, September 26, 2011

A hundred bucks of fun

What weekend entertainment can you plan with $100?

It’s amazing how things are valued differently around the world. Here, it’s normal for people to go to the countryside for the weekend – and costs reflect the fact that this sort of outing should be accessible to the every-man.

The two of us just joined about 20 others in Hradec Kralove for a joint birthday celebration: two nights away, from Friday until Sunday, in some cottages on a little lake, bonfires, BBQs and more… much, much more.

We went to an adventure park with a ropes course, zip lines, trampoline, bow and arrows, blow dart guns, ninja throwing stars, paddle boats, row boats, an upright water bicycle, and more. The next day we took over a paintball field and had a war. Each night was a bonfire and a BBQ, some music and games and good moods. I drove through the town – it was old and beautiful and mixed with some amazing modern organic looking architecture – did some grocery shopping and we ate out twice at an on-site restaurant. It was indulgent non-stop entertainment.

With 2 buses there and a train and a bus back – for two people – the total trip cost $100 USD.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

an unexpected emergency

Remember how I saw that tram accident earlier this week - it made me realize I didn't know the emergency numbers and a few other things... Well yesterday I got that all sorted with a friend. He'd come in from out of town for a weekend visit after moving to Europe from the US. We went out to listen to a band, but they were sold out so we sat in a restaurant and had a nice chat. The events of the week, that accident, were reviewed, along with my lack of we went through all the various emergency numbers here and couldn't agree on the best one. We raised the topic again a few hours later after a nice walk through town and along the river. In the elevator in my flat is a sticker with the different icons and associated numbers. We settled on 112 being the all-purpose any-emergency number and the best one to call if needed.

Good thing we did that, cause not even half an hour later he tripped or slipped or something and went face first down the circular stairwell inside my flat. He ended up face down on a tile floor, knocked out cold - bleeding profusely from a large gash in his head and blood trickling out his nose - I was unable to wake him. Fortunately I remembered that number that had been such a topic of conversation and an ambulance was on it's way - they arrived 10 minutes after his fall, about 2 minutes after he regained consciousness. He will be ok, nothing life threatening - fractures, fissures, concussions but his brain is ok and so is his neck. That was probably the scariest thing I've experienced - there was a very brief moment when I thought he was dead. The monkey-kid was woken by his fall and she too thought he was dead when she came to check on the commotion. She went downstairs to let in the medics while I stayed with him, trying to wake him up and monitoring his breathing.

General information here - 112 is the all purpose emergency number. There are specific numbers for fire, police and ambulance but 112 will get you whatever you need in one call. I dialed it immediately, moments after his fall - I ran down the stairs and tried to wake him, saw the quantities of blood and found my phone and called. I was met with a Czech speaker but before I could finish asking for an English speaker I had already been transferred. While I could have given my address and apartment info in Czech I could not possibly have communicated the situation. The woman on the other end of the phone had perfect English, understood me without hesitation and was able to talk me through the steps I needed to take to make sure he was breathing with some regularity and how to try to wake him without risking further harm. I have had to call 911 in the US before and what I experienced here, in Prague, was a faster phone response, quick ambulance response, and a calm, calming and highly efficient emergency operator for which I am truly grateful - and a bit in awe.

Friday, September 9, 2011

pleasant surprise with the foreign police

For the past few months I've had today hanging over my head - another trip to the FP to pick up a replacement visa (passport and paper visa stolen back in June). The visa was only issued in May and had some time left on it - when we went to the FP to get it reissued they'd let us know they'd adopted biometric visas and new fees.

Lost, stolen or other missing visas now incurred a fee - 4,000kc where as previously reporting a visa stolen did not incur a charge.

Issuing/re-issuing a visa now cost 3,500kc where as just a few weeks earlier it was only 1,500kc.

(These don't address the new passport, agency fees or other related expenses.)

My agent and I argued that the new fee was a penalty which isn't allowed - the related expenses it was meant to cover only applied to bio visas and not paper visas. Half of the agents agreed but not the ones we had to deal with. Most recently we were told to expect to pay a fine of 1,500 rather than the full 4,000 - which wasn't a complete reduction but better than no break, so that's how much I sent - 1,500 for the fee and 3,500 for the new visa plus the agent's fees.

Well, I got a call that the full fee was being charged and nothing was getting us around it - calls to the Ministry reinforced that. Resigned to having to either pay and get the visa released or stick to principles and face having my kid deported I obviously chose to... pay.

Turns out, and here's a shocker - the FP are terrible, terrible, god-awful communicators... or maybe it's just that no one there understands their own rules. The fee for losing the visa actually includes the cost of the new visa. No where, on the pages info we received, or on the Ministry pages we researched, no where does it indicate that the fee includes a newly issued visa - instead it states that the fee is to cover costs incurred in notifying the EU and Schengen member states that the visa is no longer valid - and that is the explanation we were given in person too, when they told us to expect to pay the 4,000kc plus the 3,500kc.

I'm used to going to the FP, sitting around and waiting for a while (even with an appointment) and then meeting with people who are uncertain or not clear of the rules (the rules are constantly changing) and not once has their confusion worked to our advantage... not until today. Thank you. This was a very, very pleasant surprise. I can afford groceries for the rest of the month :)

last week - real bombs at Ikea... this week - fake bombs in the airport

Here's an article from one news site about another news agency's reporter who gained access to highly restricted areas on Prague's airport while carrying a cell phone that had been modified in to a fake bomb. He was in the area where previously checked and cleared international cargo was being loaded on to the planes, was on the runway and wandered around for about 10 hours.

This article should never have existed.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Having another one of those - why the hell am I here and what am I doing days. Feeling pretty low right now and not sure why everything suddenly got so difficult.

Yesterday, while stopped in a tram, I saw a guy get run over and trapped by a car. At the next tram stop there was a little lost hysterical child being ignored on the street. Even though I was stuck in a tram and unable to provide assistance, my level of ignorance was reinforced - I realized I couldn't remember the emergency number here, that I need a CPR refresher course, that my language is so limited and not yet embedded in my brain so that I couldn't think of the words I wanted under pressure even though I "knew" them, and that I was disgusted by the way the mothers, teens, grandmas and business people at the tram stop ignored the little girl - when even I understand she was lost and couldn't find where she needed to be. It took a dirty homeless-looking punk rock guy walking up the hill to stop and give her directions.

Those most likely affected my mood but it's not what's got me down. It's not the dreary weather either. I think it's being sick again and then suddenly having aggressive argumentative people around. I don't get why people choose to carry hostility with them. I don't understand. I am feeling constricted and a little suffocated. And my ability to be effective a bit stunted. This is not a good start to the school year or for the beginning of the cold weather. I really hope things change soon.

(I found a new Czech teacher. I've been working on learning Czech with friends and colleagues but it's not nearly enough. I lack structure and integration. Words here and here help me to understand others' conversations but don't allow me to participate at all. We were supposed to start this week but then I got sick so it'll be next. That I'm happy about.)

Monday, September 5, 2011


I went to the doctor today - sick again- this one was new and young and, even though working in an English language office, not quite confident with her English. She was trying to tell me how to take some medication and wasn't sure of the translate is apparently her friend too:)

So - she looked it up, mouthed it to herself and then told me I could buy XXXX in tablet form or I could get it to "jar-jull". Jar-jull? Jarjull. Let's try that with the J being a G like in giant...Gargull.... now let's put that in to English and use the G like you would in good or great or gosh... GARGLE.

(Side note - I had to go back later in the week and saw the main doctor. She was great. The nurse who did the medical testing was adorable and my visit turned in to a czech-english/english-czech lesson at the end.)

why would anyone target Ikea?

I had no idea Ikea was so controversial. Apparently all over Europe someone - in the loosest sense of "one" - has been putting bombs in Ikea. A few countries have been affected however after the bomb is placed, someone - again, loose term, maybe not the same someone - calls in a bomb threat. Prague was affected this past week when a bomb was placed in the Prague - Zlicin location. Fortunately the police had evacuated it and found it before it detonated.

I don't understand this.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

things to do at 4 am

We were in the US for a while recently. When we got back to Prague it was in the middle of a heat wave - too hot and humid to do anything. I had brought back some new cookbooks I wanted to try, and without thinking about the weather I started buying ingredients for some of the recipes. It wasn't till after we were done shopping that I realized what a mistake that was - it was too hot to turn on the stove, let alone the oven!

A bad combination of insomnia, jet lag and oppressive heat kept me up for a few nights in a row. One night, after giving in to not sleeping, I got up. It was about 4 AM. With 2 fans on full blast and all the windows opened it was finally only moderately hot in our house... so I opened up the cookbook and tried my hand at making meatballs... and then meatloaf... and then experimented with pasta. The kid and the cat woke up about 6 - we had quite a hearty breakfast that day.

BTW - I make really good meatballs now.

chocolate - not just for eating anymore

Apparently you can sniff it too. With a special chocolate sniffing machine that sends the chocolate powder in the air and up your nose - and when you put chocolate up your nose, you do, in fact, taste it.

Who thinks of this stuff? Apparently this guy... and he has his chocolate shop here in Prague.