Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One Year in Prague

This weeks marks my one year anniversary since moving to Prague. Overall, it's been a very enjoyable experience. That's not to day it's been perfect, but overall I'm very happy. Here's a bit of a recap -

The Good

  • The travel - One of the main reasons we moved to Prague was because of the travel opportunities. Since Prague is centrally located in Europe, it is close in proximity to some of the best cities in the world. In the past year we've been able to visit Germany(Dresden, Oktoberfest in Munich and hiking in Bavaria), Italy (Florence, Rome, the Vatican, Milan, Cinque Terre and R even spent a week in Sicily), Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Bratislava, Poland (Krakow), Croatia (Dubrovnik and the island of Hvar) and a few random towns in the Czech Republic. Not a bad year.

  • My apartment - I must admit, my apartment is very nice. It is about 1200 square feet and it overlooks the Vltava River that runs through Prague. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a washer and dryer and ample closet space. I was looking at real estate in Manhattan and it will cost me about $1.7M to buy a similar place in Manhatan (without the washer & dryer). A similar place in Hoboken will cost about $750k. So, when it comes time to leave Prague, I either need to find an extra $1M saved under the seat cushions, move to a less desirable city, or get used to life in a cramped apartment. I think R and I can make the adjustment fine, but B is going to be pissed.

  • The beauty of Prague - I've said it before and I'll say it again - Prague is one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. The architecture is second to none. Every day when I walk home from work I get an amazing view of the Prague castle. It looks even better at night when everything is lit up. You never get sick of it. In addition to the buildings, the city planners of Prague did an amazing job. I've never seen a major city with so much prime real estate dedicated to Parks. We have about 5 wide open parks all within a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Just like in the above point, Bauer is going to be pissed when we leave.

  • The European life style - New York is a fast paced place to live. There is a certain amount of stress in the air and everyone feels rush. When I was in New York, I was certainly as stressed as everyone else. In Prague, like the rest of Europe, people don't move so fast. Stress and hard work aren't part of the culture. It's easy living - especially coming from New York. It's not to say that I don't have any stress. It's just that most of my stress is self induced and doesn't come from outside influences.

  • The culture - I've seen lots of churches, museums and really old stuff this year. I am not officially cultured.

  • Boobs - I like boobs. Women in Prague tend to have big boobs. In the summer time, they tend to wear tight shirts. What else needs to be said?

  • The cost of living - The cost of living in Prague is rising on a daily basis. But the good news is it started at such a ridiculously low level that it has quite a ways to go before we feel it. Food is still quite cheap in Prague, and that is the only thing we spend money on. We went to one of the top restaurants in Prague last night and only spent $100. An average dinner costs about $30. We can get three times as many groceries as we could for the same price in New York. Or at least, that's what R tells me. I don't go grocery shopping so much.

  • R not working - I may give her crap now and again, but R hasn't had to work for the past 8 months. It's been pretty nice for her and I get a great dinner cooked every night when I come home. R used to cook great in New York too, but I felt a little guilty that she spent so much more time in the kitchen than I do. In Prague, I feel absolutely no guilt. Call me Fred Flintstone, but that's just how I feel.

  • The showers at my gym - I've always wanted to go to a gym with really nice showers. The kind where it's nicer to shower in the gym than it is at your own house. I finally have that. When i first moved to Prague, I was going to the free gym that my company paid for. But, there is a nicer gym that's closer to our house, so I recently switched. Now I have nice showers, a jacuzzi and saunas whenever i want them.

  • Slingbox & iTunes - Had I moved to Europe as little as three years ago, I would have absolutely no access to American TV shows and, more importantly, live sporting events. With Slingbox & iTunes, I can watch anything I want. Truly amazing technology. I watched more Browns games this year than I did the last 7 years in New York.

  • Dogs - Prague is an extremely dog-friendly city. Dogs are allowed on the subway, trams and in most restaurants. In fact, when we do bring B to a restaurant, he often gets served a bowl of water before we get anything. Since I like dogs and happen to own one, this has all been good news to me.

  • My job - My job is pretty good, rather easy and I'm helping to save the world in the process. What's not to like!

  • The travel - Did I mention how great the travel is? This year we have the following trips in mind: skiing in the Alps (leaving tomorrow), London, Budapest, Turkey, Berlin, Edinborough, South of France, Sicily, cruising around the Greek Islands on a private boat, Barcelona, Russia (St. Petersburg and Moscow), Egypt, Ljubljana, and the Ice Hotel in Sweden. Wow, that sounds like a lot - we not to start planning.

The Bad

  • The food - If you come to Prague for a long weekend, you'll probably like the food. Traditional czech food is not bad when you are in the mood for it. Honestly, pork knuckles, beef stroganoff, potato dumplings and croquets are all pretty damn tasty. But, the food in general is extremely heavy and you can't eat it all of the time. That leads us to most of the "international" restaurants that are scattered throughout Prague. They just aren't that good. Even the high end restaurants aren't great. They aren't horrible and we certainly aren't starving, but we are very rarely amazed by a dinner. The average response to a question of "How did you like your meal" is "Uhhh, it was OK. Nothing special".

  • The Czech language - This is not so much a criticism of the Czech language as it is a criticism of myself. When I lived in the States, I was always amazed how some people could live there and speak only Chinese, Italian, whatever. I always assumed that those people were ignorant. I mean, if you are going to live in a foreign country, you might as well speak there language. Well, I am now one of those ignorant people and I hate it. But I don't hate it enough to actually learn the language. So what does that say about me.

  • No Air Conditioning in the summer - The city of Prague doesn't need air conditioning for about 49 weeks out of the year. Unfortunately, a year consists of 52 weeks. When the temperature nears 40 degrees Celsius and you don't have air conditioning, it can be very, very miserable.

  • Running routes - In New York, I had many different running routes to choose from. Actually, I only had two, but I liked them both a lot. In Prague, I only have one convenient running route and I don't like it much at all. It means I'm not running as much. Also, with all of the traveling we're doing, I don't have time to train for a triathlon. I guess I'll have to pause that sport while I'm over here.

  • My job - Sometimes I get so excited planning the vacations that I forget I have to work. And I can't travel nearly as much as I would like to due to my job. For example, I'd love to spend 10-14 days in Turkey to really see the country. But, I have to work - so I'll get to spend 4.5 days there.

  • It's not New York - New York is the best city in the world. Once you live there, all other cities pale in comparison.

The Ugly

  • Customer Service - The customer service in Prague could be the worst in the civilized world. Waitresses don't smile, store clerks seem bothered. Customer service is just not something that people are used to here. And it really, really sucks. This is R's pet peeve.

  • The BO on some locals - All of the department stores in Prague have entire racks devoted to deodorant. And I do believe that the strong majority of the people here do buy and use this product. But that leaves the other 20% of the population. Which may not sound like much, but if you have 20 people in your gym class, that means 4 people are very, very smelly. On the average subway car, you'll get 50 people - which means you'll have 10 people with a massive BO problem. This small minority really has a strong effect on my overall perception of the people in Prague.

  • The falling dollar - When I arrived here a year ago, 1 US dollar could buy 21.5 Czech korunas. Today, I'm lucky if I can get 18 Czech Korunas for my dollar. Since I get paid in US dollars, that means my salary has effectively been reduced by 16% in the past year. I picked a great time to come to Europe.

All-in-all, it's been a very fun year. The transition to Prague was as easy as can be. I don't now exactly how long we'll stay here - but we're not thinking about that right now. We're just looking forward to start Year #2.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Problems with not speaking the local language

I've been living in Prague for nearly a year now and still have very little knowledge of the local language. I know a vocabulary of about 100 words, but would be hard pressed to put together the most basic sentence.

I've started taking lessons - and quit - a couple of times. For whatever reason, I just can't get motivated to learn. The language is known as being quite difficult to learn, only 6 million people in the whole world speak it and, most importantly, nearly everyone in Prague speaks English. So, truth be told, I haven't really needed to speak anything other than English.

Of course, yesterday, I ran into a bit of a problem. Although almost everyone in Prague speaks english, I have found the one profession where no one can speak English - hair cutters. I've been to five different places now and have never met a person that speaks English.

My first 9 months here this was not a problem because I was shaving my head. I would just point at the razor, hold up one finger (for #1 setting) and just rub my hands all over my head. They got the idea.

However, lately I've been trying to grow my hair long. I don't really have a destination in mind - sometimes you just feel like making a change. I've been growing my hair out since early October and the top is getting quite long. The problem is that the sides are also getting pretty long - to the point where the hair is coming up over the ears and it looks kind of messy.

So yesterday afternoon I went to get my haircut. I knew before hand that the person would not speak English so I had my secretary write a note for me. The note said, in Czech, "I am growing my hair long. Only cut the sides around the ear and the back. Leave the top long"

I handed this to lady at the barber shop, she nodded her head and said "Dobre". She had a few more questions for me that were all asked in Czech but, of course, I couldn't answer them. So I just smiled and nodded.

You know where this story is going. Fortunately, the lady did not cut the top of my hair. She did, however, decide to give me sides and back a fade straight out of 1988. I now look like the 5th member of Color Me Bad.

The good news is that I live in Prague and, by virtue of this, still have a nicer haircut than the average male walking down the street. My hair also grows rather fast so it should fix itself within 2-3 weeks. The bad news is that, when my hair does grow back, I'll have to go through the same adventure all over again.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Years in Prague

Happy New Year Everyone!

We stayed in Prague to celebrate New Years. R's sister Alex and her husband Brendan visited us to kick in the New Year.

We've heard rumors from many, many people that the center of Prague was not the place to be on New Years eve. Too many people, too many punks.

Instead, we went to our favorite restaurant in Prague for what was supposed to be an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink special for $50 per person. However, when we got there, they told us the special was no longer being done. This was true, despite the fact that we just reserved two days earlier and they still had fliers for this special on the front door.

The best way to describe this is: typical Prague. It didn't surprise at all.

After dinner, we went up to the river to watch the fireworks. While I'm not a huge fan of fireworks (if you've seen one, you've seen them all) - this was actually pretty cool. The fireworks weren't being sponsored by the city, just random Czechs who set up shop at various spots along the river. This made for a pretty cool cool where there were fireworks going off in about 12 different locations all around us.