Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Prague is Full of Change

Prague is full of change. I'm not trying to get all poetic on you, I literally mean it. This town is full of f&*%ing change. I've been here a month and I already have about 1 kg of coins saved up.

The conversion rate between Check crowns (Kc) and dollars is about 22 to 1. But, the smallest bill they give out is 100 Kc - which is approximately $5. So, every time you purchase something, you get back a bill or two and a hand full of change. I have no idea what to do with it all. Of course, I empty my pocket of change as soon as I get home, so I have to use a bill the next time I purchase something. And, the cycle beings again. I keep paying with bills and I keep collecting change. The change never goes anywhere.

How do other Europeans deal with this? I'm at a complete loss. By the end of this year I'll have to get a separate dresser just to hold it all.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Walk to Work

On my way to work, I walk by 1 castle, 2 musuems, 3 Kentucky Fried Chickens, 4 casinos and 5 erotic video stores. This all happens in less than 20 minutes.

You can find a KFC store on nearly every other corner. I have no idea why it is so popular here. It's all the more interesting considering the demographics of Prague. I challenge you to find another city in the world that has a higher ratio of fried chicken franchises to black people. (I know, I know.... but it wouldn't be a sterotype unless there were a bit of truth to it)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Moving Day

I moved into my apartment today. I have to say - I couldn't possibly be happier right now. The move was extremely easy considering that I only have 3 bags.

First off, it was absolutely beautiful outside today. By far the nicest day since I have been in Prague. Everyone told me how cold it was going to be over here but, since I arrived 3 weeks ago, the average temperature in Prague has been about 20 degrees higher than in New York.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the apartment. I'm just really impressed with how nice it is. It is easily the best place I have ever lived in. It's huge, newly renovated and laid out very nice. I think R and I will enjoy living here very much. We have plenty of room, so visitors all always welcome.

After I moved in, I went to the mall to pick up some essentials. The mall is a 5 minute walk from here and it is quite impressive. It could hold it's own against any of the malls that New Jersey has to offer (well, maybe not Short Hills). This is something I was not expecting and, to be perfectly honest, I'm pretty damn psyched about it. It's like a little slice of Americana in my own back yard.

Here are some more random notes from today:

  • I went to buy soap today and, as I was staring at the selection, I realized it's been a good 8 years since I purchased a bar of soap by myself. I don't even know what parameters you look for choosing a good soap? Why are some so more expensive than others? I have no idea. I think this is one of the few times that the language barrier actually helped me. Rather than reading the package of each option, I just ripped open a few boxes and picked the one that smelled the best.

  • It's amazing how many essential life skills you lose when you get married. I'm starting to realize this now that I'm living on my own. I have lost all ability to cook, wash clothes and, apparently, choose bath products. In ten years time there is a pretty good chance that I will be relying on R to cut my food up for me before I eat.

  • I asked 3 different shoppers what the best brand of toilet paper was and i got 3 different answers. So, I bought all 3 and will be conducting the experiment myself.

  • My new landlord is really hot. I told R already and I'm not trying to get her jealous - but it is true. How many people in New York can say that they have a hot landlord? Not many. She looks like Uncle Jessie's girlfriend on Full House, only younger and hotter. I don't think it played a factor when I selected this apartment, but you never know how your sub-conscious works.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I found an apartment

I found an apartment in Prague. Signed the lease last night and should move in as early as this weekend.

The apartment is fully urnished and has great views of the river. I saw about 10 apartments in the last 3 weeks and this was easily the one I liked the best. Oddly enough, R saw a similar apartment in the same buidling when we were here for the interview - and it happened to be her favorite too.

It's a two bedroom with plenty of closets and a separate washer and dryer (all rarities in Prague). It has a great location and is only a 20 minute walk to work (while this walk is 3X longer than my commute in New York, it still falls within the acceptable limit).

You can view pictures of the apartment can be seen here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My First Excursion: Dresden, Germany

I made my first trip outside of Prague this weekend to Dresden, Germany. Why Dresden? I had to go to the Czech consulate there in order to get my working papers. (I have no idea why I you have to leave the country to do this, but you do). Since I had to be at the consulate on Monday afternoon, I took the train first thing Sunday morning and enjoyed the day in Dresden with another new co-worker of mine.

Dresden was a cool city; it my first time ever in Germany. The most interesting thing about Dresden was how bad it was bombed/destroyed by the Allied troops during World War II. Many of the buildings were left in pieces. Nearly all of the structures have been rebuilt with as much of the original material as possible, but it took them 50+ years to do so.

We happened to stumble upon a famous work of art without expecting it: the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. The two angels at the bottom of the painting may be more famous than the work of art itself.

I was also extremely impressed with the Hefeweizen in Germany. It's my favorite variety of beer and the brands I tried this weekend were better than what I've experienced in the States.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Weird Things About Living in Prague #2: Grocery Stores

For the most part, Prague has been a pretty easy city to adjust to. Even though I don't speak a word of Czech, I have been able to manage just fine. The place gets boat loads of tourists and, as such, English is commonly used in the restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. There is, however, one big exception to this rule: grocery stores.

Since most people don't go to grocery stores on vacation, the fine people of Prague have made no effort to use the English language in their stores. Every product looks similar to something you may have used back home, but different enough to make you scratch your head. The milk isn't refrigerated, they have 8 aisles of yogurt but only one roll of toilet paper, etc. Today, for instance, I wanted to buy some Kleenix. I picked up what I thought was a box of Kleenix and almost made it to the counter before realizing that I was holding a box on tampons in my hand instead. I guarantee I would not have made the same mistake at the local A&P.

A couple of other differences:
  1. You have to bring your own grocery bag. If you don't have a grocery bag, you have to buy one from them. This is actually a pretty good idea that should be adopted elsewhere.
  2. They don't bag your groceries for you. They just throw all of your groceries at the end of the counter and say something in Czech. After about 30 seconds of uncomfortable silence, I realized one of us had to make a move so I went ahead and bagged my own groceries.
  3. You have to pay to use a shopping cart. The sign was in Czech, so I'm not sure if you get your money back when you return the cart but, either way, you can't take a cart out of the rack unless you put a coin in. This seems like the ultimate case of being penny wise and dollar dumb. If you make it more difficult for people to use a cart, they won't go thru the hassle and will wind up buying less items.
Despite all of these problems, I made it out of the grocery store alive. My only mistake was with that one roll of toilet paper - I must have picked up sand paper instead. No wonder most of the older Czechs look so miserable all of the time.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Weird Things About Living in Prague #1: Toilets

Welcome to a new segment on this blog titled "Weird Things About Living in Prague". I'm not trying to say that it is better or worse than what I'm used to; just different and, therefore, weird.

The first item on the list is toilets. All toilets in Prague suffer from a serious lack of water. When you look down into a toilet, you see a bunch of porcelain and just a small splash of water. This may be good from an environmental standpoint, but it absolutely horrible from a functional standpoint. First and foremost, every crap you take hits porcelain first no matter how good your aim is. This results in serious shit stains down the back of the toilet - even for the most innocent of poops. The second factor to consider is the smell. Water does a wonderful job of covering up the smell of both #1 and #2. I never fully appreciated it until this week.

I also have a bidet in my bathroom. I'm not sure how I feel about this. My bathroom routine has been pretty consistent for the last 30 years and I feel pretty confident in my hygiene. Am I supposed to change my routine now just because I have a bidet sitting there? Part of me feels obliged to use it because its there; while another part of me thinks I should stick to my normal routine.

Now, not everything associated with the toilets in Prague are bad. They do have the two different buttons to press; the big button releases a whole bunch of water (for #2) while the small button releases just enough water to cover up #1. I think this is a great idea and should be adopted by all countries. While this obviously a great way to save water, it also provides you with an odd satisfaction when you have such a big pee that you need to hit the big button.