Monday, April 30, 2007

Best Month Ever

When I first came to Prague, the one thing I was worried about was the weather. I've heard horror stories of how miserably cold it could be. I was expecting the summer and spring months to be less than spectacular as well - always cloudy with rain on the horizon.

I don't know what the future holds, but so far my fears have absolutely been unwarranted. Today is April 30 and I have - without a doubt - experienced the best month of weather that I have ever seen. Out of the 30 days, 25+ were between 60-80 degrees and 100% sunny. Never too hot, never too cold - just absolutely perfect weather. This includes every single weekend (although we were out of town for two of the weekends, the weather in Bratislava, Vienna & Poland was fantastic as well).

I sure hope this weather holds throughout the summer. Many people will point to global warming as the cause but I like to think of this as part of the natural climate variation that has been happening for centuries. Whatever the cause, I'm certainly enjoying it now. And just in case I'm wrong about the environment, I still use halogen lights, bring my own bag to the grocery store and haven't owned a car in 10 years. So don't go Al Gore on me - I'm doing my part.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Krakow, Poland & Auschwitz

R and I made a trip to Krakow, Poland this weekend. We took the the 2:00 PM train out of Prague on Friday afternoon and arrived in Poland a little after 9:00.

One thing I noticed that the trains going to Eastern Europe are not nearly as nice as the trains going to Western Europe. For example, the bathroom had what appeared to be a normal toilet in it - but if you looked a little closer you realized that there were no pipes. It was just a big empty hole. So, as you did your business, it was immediately dumped onto the tracks. I was so impressed that I took a picture with my camera phone but I'm sad to say the shot did not come out so good.

Krakow itself was decent. Although it is the most popular tourist destination in Poland (kind of like being the world's tallest midget) it is still a rather small old town. It was charming in its own unique way, but nothing spectacular. In order to make this trip a little more authentic, R and I decided to stay in a hostel. Neither of us had ever stayed in one before but figured it was something we had to do at least once. The experience was fine. It was just like staying in a very cheap hotel with a common shower. We had a room to ourselves, so it wasn't the traditional hostel experience, but we tried. At least we can cross another "adventure" off of the list.

On Saturday we went to some salt mines outside of Krakow. Once again, nice but not spectacular. We were several hundred meters underground and they had created all of these impressive salt sculptures (including an entire chapel made out of salt). It was about as cool as salt can possibly be but, not overly spectacular. I licked the walls, which was pretty disgusting - but I had to try.

The real reason for the trip to Poland was on Sunday when we went to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp in WW II where nearly 1.5 Million Jews and other immigrants were murdered in less than five years. It was a pretty morbid trip and - although I kind of felt like I was rubber necking at history - it was something you had to see with your own eyes. The sign at the entrance museum says it pretty clearly. "Those that do not understand history are destined to repeat it".

The sites you saw at Auschwitz were unbelievable. And I mean that in the purest sense of the word. You simply could not believe that a place like this existed just a short 60 years ago. I could also not believe that one group of humans could treat another group this way. It truly is beyond words. No matter how much you study it, you can never hope to understand it.

We took the night train on Sunday and arrived back in Prague in time for work on Monday. I probably will never make it to Poland again but I think this is the trip anyone should take if given the chance. Puts life in perspective.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Finally, our stuff arrives

Our shipment of household goods finally arrived from New York this weekend. It took just about 6 weeks from the time they left our Manhattan apartment and arrived at our Prague doorstep. Not horrible considering that it had to go through customs in the US, arrive by boat over the Atlantic and get through customs in Europe.

When you move overseas, the care that they take in packaging your goods is truly ridiculous. Every item is wrapped individually in layers and layers of paper to make sure it is not damaged during shipment. They'll take a fork and wrap it in 3 layers of paper. Our sheets and towels were wrapped in layers of paper. Even our paper products were wrapped in paper. It is extremely wasteful - Al Gore could shoot a sequel to his movie just based on all the energy that was squandered to get our house from point A to point B. At the same time, it is very effective. Our entire apartment made the overseas journey and the only thing that was slightly damaged was a crack on a window frame (which they will fix for us).

All in all, we had 108 boxes shipped. Yes, that's a shitload of boxes. I've never been as disgusted with myself as I was this weekend when I witnessed all of the junk we own. Were pigs. Just to give you an idea, R and I alone have 72 different glasses! We have big every day glasses, small everyday glasses, white wine glasses, red whine glasses, beer mugs, champagne flutes, martini glasses, coffee mugs and espresso mugs. Keep in mind that R and I live alone and we don't drink coffee, espresso or martinis. So, if you come to visit us and you demand 12 cups of coffee a day - each in a unique mug - we've got you covered. Of course, we don't have a coffee maker or an espresso maker, but based on our current consumption habits we'll probably be buying 3 of each very soon.

(If you are single and reading this blog, this is the kind of stuff that happens to you when you get married. When I lived in Hoboken I had 4 glasses - all of which prominently displayed the words "Cleveland Browns" or "Lehigh University".)

Despite all of this, I'm glad our shipment is here. We've spent the last 3 days putting this away and the place is starting to feel more and more like home.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vienna

After our trip to Bratislava, we took a boat trip to Vienna - or Wien as the Austrians call this. This is one thing about the world that really upsets me. Why do we feel the need to translate city names? Who decided that English speaking people were going to use the word "Vienna" instead of "Wien". It's not like it's a difficult word to pronounce. You don't have to do a clicking sound half way through it. I can understand it when the word has funny looking letters - like обозревателя - but nothing about the word "Wien" throws me for a loop. This totally frustrates me.

Another thing that confused me about Wien was the language. I always assumed that they spoke "Austrian" in Austria. I've heard of the word "Austrian" before and I know that it is a country - so I just assumed it was a language as well. But when we got there all of the words looked German. Since I don't know German - or Austrain for that matter - I couldn't tell if it was pure German or just a dialect. We were there for 3 days and I was too embarrassed to ask. Thank God for Wikipedia or I would never know that they speak Austrian. Or is it German? See, you don't know either. Get off your high horse and stop judging me.

Anyway, the city of Wien was beautiful. I've never seen a city with more amazing architecture. Every time you turn the corner, you see a new building that was more impressive than the last. The food was great as well. I could eat a schnitzel every day of the week. We had some traditional Viennese cuisine at Plachutta - the best meal I've had since I've been in Europe.

Wien is known for it's classical music and is the home of Mozart and Beethoven. We had tickets for a Mozart concert on Saturday night. We arrived about 10 minutes late. We were a little bit lost so we stopped in a restaurant to ask for directions. The only problem was that it was a Chinese restaurant in Vienna. No good can come of it when English speaking people walk into a Chinese restaurant in a town that primarily speaks either German or Austrian.

When we arrived at the theater we had to be ushered through one of the side doors where the performers enter. They didn't want us to disrupt the show by coming in late. So after the first piece was finished and the audience starting clapping, the usher shoved us through the main door. Little did I know that we had front row seats and had to walk directly in front of the stage to get there. There is a difference between being fashionably late and being rude. Fortunately for us, we were not the token "ugly Americans" of the night. That honor went to the family behind us who decided to wear the matching collection of tie-died Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts to the Opera.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Bratislava

I'm writing this post from our hotel in Bratislava, Sovakia. Actualy that's a lie. We are staying in a Botel, not a hotel. A botel is basicaly a hotel on a boat.

I had a 4 day weekend for the Easter Holiday. It's nice working in Europe. R and I decided to come down to Bratislava to check it out. It is a 4 hour train ride from Prague. We took B with us on the train which was midly annoying but not too bad overall.

I knew nothing about Bratislava before coming here. The only thing I knew was that it was the town portrayed in the movie Hostel. My cousins made me watch that movie before I moved to Prague. When we got off at the train station it was like a scene right out of the movie. Very sketchy place. However we made it to our botel without being seduced by beautiful women then tortured to death (see the movie)

That being said the town of Bratislava is very very nice. I'm actually shocked by how much I enjoy it. It is very small but extremely charming with lots of amazing buildings, neat shops and good restaurants. I had relatively low expectations going in and the town has definitly surpassed them. I'l be posting pictures soon.

We're only staying in Bratislava for a little more than a day. In a couple of hours we are getting on a boat, heading 40 miles down the river Danube and will be spending the next 2 days in Vienna, Austria.