Monday, July 30, 2007

Six months in Prague

This week marks the official six month anniversary since I first moved to Prague. Being a nostalgic kind of guy, I'd like to take this opportunity to look back and see how things are going:

THE GOOD

  • Work has been going very well. After all, I did come to Prague for a job and I have to say that things are going great. I'm working on a very cool project, I have a huge impact on the company and I get to work with a pretty good team. I also have the freedom to run the department my way without being micro-managed, so it's nice.


  • The city of Prague is a good place to call home. Sure, it's not New York (what city is?) but Prague has some great things going for it that should not be overlooked. For one, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I never get sick of walking over the bridge at night staring at the illuminated castle in the background. Prague also has a great mix of city life and outdoor space. I've never been in a major city that has so many large parks scattered throughout. Makes it great if you have a highly energetic dog.

  • Travel. The best thing about Prague, hands down, is its location. It is located smack dab in the middle of Europe. R and I have been taking advantage of this location and have been traveling just as much as we had hoped. It's the reason we made the move and something we enjoy.

  • Entertainment Options. If I had made this trip as little as two years ago, my entertainment options would be completely different. But, with the advent of YouTube, iTunes and Slingbox, i haven't missed a beat. I just finished watching the latest episode of Entourage on the computer (on my nice projector TV). And, I've seen all of the latest summer movies for half the price I would have paid in New York (too bad they have all sucked this year).

  • The Weather. When I moved to Prague, I was worried about the weather being too cold all the time. I've been pleasantly surprised. The spring here was the nicest spring I have ever experienced. Beautiful and sunny at least 6 days a week. The summer has been a bit hot, but still great overall. I still haven't experienced a real Prague winter yet, so let me revisit this topic in six more months.

  • The women of Prague provide for nice eye candy



THE BAD

  • The food in Prague is not horrible, it's just not good. If you're here for a weekend or a short trip, you can really enjoy the beef goulash, potato dumplings and pork knee. But that's only good once or twice a month. The rest of the time we're left suffering through imitation Italian, bad burgers and extremely overpriced fish.

  • I haven't taken to the Czech language like I hoped. I'm more disappointed in myself than anything else. I've always said that if I lived in a foreign country, i would learn to speak the language. But I just can't get motivated to learn Czech when everyone in Prague speaks passable English and it will do me absolutely no good once I leave this town. I'd rather spend the time learning Italian and having a skill I can use for life.

  • The US Dollar. I picked a great time to move to Europe. It seems like every week the Euro hits a new high against the dollar. Same thing for the Czech crown. My paycheck (in US dollars) has been effectively reduced by 5% since I started working here


THE UGLY

Fortunately, there is nothing truly awful about living in Prague. Aside from a few minor annoyances, life here has been fantastic. I'm 100% happy we made the move and would do it again in a hear beat!

I hope the next 6 months are as enjoyable as the first.

Friday, July 27, 2007

What a Scare! - By R


What a Scare!

Today started out as a typical good day yet things changed when I opened the washing machine. A pair of dark- really dark jeans that I own bleed all over my (3) favorite Victoria Secret bra’s ruining their original color! (This may not seem like a big deal but- there is no Victoria Secret in the Czech Republic and although Nino and Brian think I am being a party pooper when I told them this- but all the bra’s here are MAJORLY PADDED and I don’t like padded bras- so yes’ this is a big deal)

Anyway, frustrated, I decided to take B on his lunch walk. We played and all was good. One our way out of the park and minutes before putting B back on his leash- B seemed to have gotten stung or bit by something admits the grass. If you have never seen a dog get hurt it’s rather scary, as their yelp/cry sounds awful. B’s right paw was hurt and he hopped around crying- yet would not allow me to look at it. Within minutes things got worse- B started vomiting and defecting (diarrhea) both at the same time (Yes, this was quite a site)

What the hell was going on…. Did a snake bite him, a bee… what is wrong with my B!

Minutes later B fell to the ground and just lay there. He would not get up and his heart was racing. He was not responding to me and for those of you that know B- he never says no to a treat, which he did! My heart too was racing and tears were flowing. I frantically call N. The Czech’s that were passing by were all looking at us and telling me what to do, but obviously I had no clue what they were saying-language barrier.

Unable to reach N, I called Mirka, who is the lady that run’s our building- her office is on our same floor and so we have become friends. Within minutes- Mirka and Pavla (our housekeeper/B’s babysitter) were in the park with us and the “Pet-Medic” was on their way.

Within 10 minutes… I was in an ambulance alone with B and the driver-who also is a vet racing to the clinic. Although N and I just recently drove quite fast on the German autobahn- never in my life have I driven so fast on busy streets! The alarm was on and we were flying- in fact the driver used most of the tram paths to bypass traffic. I was holding on for my dear life! What normally would be a 15minute drive was about 5 minutes!

The vet was really nice and they all spoke good English, which was reassuring. They did a number of tests and even had to shave B's belly to give him a sonogram! (See picture)

Turns out that B did in fact get stung by something and had an allergic reaction. However, based on his blood work his liver counts were off and so they need to determine if this was because of the allergic reaction of if in fact Bauer may have some further liver issues! Ahgagah.

So… more news to follow our little B!

Update- We are home now and Bauer is just starting to act like himself although he’s quite upset that he gets neither dinner nor breakfast tomorrow until we go back to the vet!

Stay tuned.

Google My Maps

I'm playing around with a new feature called Google My Maps that let's me put a pointer on all of the places we've traveled to. The blue balloons signal places we've been why the pink are upcoming trips that we have planned.

Once I get this all set up, I'll make it a permanent feature at the bottom of the blog.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not the most enjoyable two weeks of my life...

The last two weeks have not bee the most enjoyable for me in Prague. Many people use blogs to complain and bitch about life, so why should I be any different?

It started last weekend when the temperature was above 100 degrees for four consecutive days. This is not so bad in itself, it just sucks when it happens when you're in a city that doesn't have a beach and hasn't jumped on the air conditioning bandwagon yet. I was forced to stay inside with two fans pointed at me at all times.

However, this past weekend was much worse. It wasn't the temperature, since it was generally nice and sunny for both days. But I woke up on Saturday morning with a very bad fever, headache and sore throat. I was stuck lying in bed or on the couch for the better part of 48 hours.

I woke up today (Monday) hoping that the fever would magically go away and I could go to work, but that was not the case. I am just as miserable today as I was on Saturday. R and I ventured off the doctor around lunch time to get some help. The doctor facilities was surprisingly nice. I'd argue that the whole complex was just as nice - if note nicer - than most American suburban facilities. The doctor examined me and, in her broken English, told me that I had a "classical" case of strep throat. So, it looks like I'll be taking antibiotics for the next 10 days hoping that the fever goes away pronto.

Being sick isn't the worst part at all. Sometimes being in sick in New York was a quasi-pleasurable experience. I'd lie in bed all day watching Kelly Ripa (whom I've always had a thing for), The Price is Right and, depending how the day went, maybe a little Judge Judy. Not exactly a mind altering experience, but a nice change of pace for 8 hours a year.

Being sick in Prague does not offer the same viewing experience. I'm stuck lying in bed with a laptop on my stomach trying to find the next YouTube star. Trust me, Kelly Ripa doesn't have to worry about losing her job any time soon.

This weekend had some potential since the British Open was on and I always enjoy watching a golf major. I spent 3.5 hours mindlessly staring at the screen when all of the drama started to unfold around the 18th tee. And, right as Sergio Garcia stepped up to the 18th tee, my slingbox died and wouldn't restart. Good times. Sometimes you just think the universe has it in for you..

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's Hot

There's not much to write about this week since R and I have post-vacation blues and just had a lot of little things to take care of this week (including my job).

So, rather than contribute anything relevant or witty, I'll just use this as an opportunity to complain about the heat. The mercury reached over 40 degrees Celsius on both Saturday and Sunday this week (that's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). That's bad enough in normal life but it just seems a little bit worse in Prague. Let me list the reasons why:

- There is no air conditioning to be found in this country. No one I know has it in their apartment and even my office lacks it. We're forced to have 2 fans pointed directly at us at all times.

- Although there is a big river that runs through Prague, it's best to look at and not to jump in (unless your name is B). There are no white sand beaches of which to speak of.

- I've been to the Supermarket on numerous occasions and see that there is a huge aisle that contains nothing but deodorant. They even have some reputable brands such as Right Guard, Speed Stick, etc. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be one of the most popular sellers at the store

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pictures from Italy & Germany

As promised, here are some of the pictures we took in Italy and Germany.

View the Slideshow


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

R and I are back home in Prague. We spent the last two days in the towns of Garmisch & Partenkirchen in southern Germany. These towns are located in the foot hills of the Bavarian Alps and offer some great hiking opportunities.

On Saturday, we hiked up to the top of a 5000 ft mountain. Took us 2.5 hours to get up it and and about 1.5 hours to get down it. It provided some great views once you got up to the top.

The best way to describe the town itself was that it was very... Bavarian. All of the hotels and houses had intricate paintings on the side. The local townsfolk dressed in the traditional Barvarian gear (knee high socks, short green shorts, suspenders, and a small green hat with a feather in it). Very interesting.

Before leaving the town, I picked up a couple cases of German beer for later use in Prague. (Even though the beer is the best thing Prague has going for it, I still prefer the German variety).

Some other highlights from the trip:

- Driving on the German Autobahn is as good as advertised. Going fast is one thing, we've all done it. But it is much more fun to go fast without any fear of repercussions (except, of course, death if I make a wrong turn). My top speed was 192 km/hr but I averaged about 160 km/hr. And I'm generally a pretty cautious driver.

- The whole trip was over 3000 km and we only needed 3 tanks of gas. I was amazed at how far we could go on one tank. The car was a manual transmission and took diesel fuel, so that may have helped matters. It also probably helps that I'm new to driving stick and barely took it past 2nd gear. (I'm kidding, of course)

- For those of you in the USA bitching about gas prices, please shut up. The price in Europe is roughly $1.50 per liter or $6 per gallon. Interestingly enough, you barely see any SUVs on the road.

- The drive through Austria was one of the nicest, if not the nicest, that I have ever taken in my life. Beautiful mountains and green, green, green hills everywhere. I expected Julie Andrews to come running down singing any minute. I'll definitely be going back to Austria in the near future for a biking trip.

That's all for now. We haven't had a chance to post pictures yet, but we'll do so soon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Viva Italia

R and I are in Italy and have been for the last 6 days. Even though I have spent a total of about 20 days of my life in Italy, I feel like I am home as soon as I come here. Just something about the people, the culture and the food feels normal to me. If I was one of the crazies in the world, I wuld probably assume that I lived in Italy in a past life. But, being the rational soul that I am, I'm sure this is due to the fact that all of my relatives speak Italian and I married into an Italian family. Had I married a girl named Katka, I would probably feel much more at home in the Czech Republic - but that's not the case.


Moterosso al Mare

Our first stop in Italy was a town called Monterosso al Male. This is in the Cinque Terre region in the north west corner of Italy (south of Genova, north of Pisa). We choose Monterosso because my cousin Melina has a boyfriend that grew up there. Five years ago at this time, I didn't know my cousin Melina existed. She was born in Austalia and lived there for the first 25 or so years of her life. But she happened to be working at a place she lovingly calls "Camp Crazy" in Delaware at the time of my wedding - so my father picked her up on the way to New York and brought her to my wedding. We have since hung out in 5 different cities on 3 different continents (North America, Australia and now Europe). She currently lives in London with her boyfriend Matteo - but Matteo is from Monterosso and they come back to the town frequently.

After being their guest in Monterosso this week, I can certainly understand why they return so often. What a charming little town. The place exists as it did 200 years ago without much change (except I'm sure they didn't have an Internet cafe 200 years ago). It is right on the sea and every meal consists of some very fresh seafood. The town is known for the anchovies and - although this may not be the favorite dish for many people - the anchovies in this part of the world are truly quite excellent.

Although the town of Monterosso would be perfect enough on it's own, it is even better if you are with someone that owns a boat. We were fortunate enough to fall into this category. Matteo took us all out on his boat one afternoon and we got to visit some of the other towns in the Cinque Terre region. For my money, there are not many better days than being out on a boat off the coast of Italy in beatiful, beatiful weather with mountain villas in the backdrop that could have been ripped off of a post card. Good times all around.

On our last day in Monterosso we hiked from one town to the next (Vernazza). The hike took about 1 hour and 20 minutes each way and consisted of approximately 1000 steps up and 1000 steps down. Jumping in the ocean has never felt better.


Milan

After our four day trip to Monterosso, R and I drove to Milan to see her parents. This is the 4th time I have been to Milan and about the 40th time for R, so it wasn't really a sight seeing adventure. We come for the shopping, the food and of course the gelato.

During this trip, I was able to prove one theory that I have been working on. Italian women in general are not as beatiful as they get credit for. Before I go on, let me state for the record that nothing I will be saying the next couple of paragraphs applies to my very beautiful, very Italian wife.

Like I said before, I came from a big Italian family. I was always lead to believe that true Italian women were some of the most beautiful women in the world. I was a bit dubious of this statement, but my mind changes when I watched the movie Summer School in 1987. That movie had a foreign exchange student named Anna Maria who hailed for Italy. As far as I was concerned as an 11 year old male, she was the best thing to hit the big screen not named Jessica Rabbit.

My perception of Italian women stayed the same for many years after that. But, now that I have been in Italy several times, I fear that it is not true. The women of Prague (or as my friend Brian calls it, the city of titties) beat the women of Italy hands down. You can certainly find elegant and glmaorous women in Italy (especially Milan), but truly beautiful women are few and far between.

What is also odd is that the Italian men seem to be much better looking than the Italian women. Once again, this is the complete opposite of Prague. If you mated an Italian man with a women from Prague, you would probably get some super good-looking offspring. That's half of the reason why R and I may never have children. Since were both Italian, there is a pretty good chance that our kids would turn up ugly. Too much inbreeding - it's like the British monarchy. I'm sure if I ever have a kid I'll think they look just great and everyone will tell me the same, but right now I can be completely honest and tell you that my kids will likely be ugly. This has nothing to do with my looks or R's, its just the laws of nature. Her family is all Italian and they are all good looking, but you can only tempt the laws of fate so many times. (On a semi-related topic, my kids will also probably be very bad basketball players, golfers, artists and singers.)


Lake Como

R, her mother and I took a day trip to Lago de Como (Lake Como) today. If there is a better place to own a vacation house than Lake Como, I certainly haven't seen it. Just a beautiful, beautiful region. I fell in love the minute I got out of the car. We rented a boat and toured around the lake. Despite the fact that R's mom did not trust my boating skills and was very, very scared - we all had a grand old time. We tried to spot George Clooney in one of the villas that he owns to no avail.

I've been trying to convince myself that I don't need to be rich in order to be happy. After visiting Lake Como today, I now know what a pile of horse crap that statement is. I need to have a vacation villa in Lake Como within the next 10 years. Depsite the fact that it is one of the most gorgeous places on earth with immediate access to some of the best food on the planet, it is also in a perfect location. One hour from the Alps for skiing, 1 hour from Milan for shopping, 1 hour from the beaches on the Meditteranian sea. What else can you ask for? If you import some Czech girls to ride around in boats in their bikinis, it might just be the perfect town.


That's all for now. We leave Italy tomorrow for some hiking in southern Germany but we'll be back soon. We've taken more pictures than anyone could possibly want to see, but haven't had a chance to upload them yet. We'll do so when we get back to Prague.

Ciao. arrivederci.