Sunday, January 25, 2009

Random Thoughts

It's been several weeks since I last posted a blog entry. I've had a lot of things that I wanted to write about over that time - the inauguration, the incredible story of the plane that landed in the Hudson, etc. But I realized that this was not the place to post those items. This blog has become very much a travel blog. I tell stories about my time in Prague, the cities we travel to and, of course, my dog. It wouldn't be "right" to use this medium to post a 4000 word essay on my thoughts on Obama.

When I return to New York, I will start a blog that allows me to post anything I damn well please. I understand that no one will read this blog except my Mom and Amy (my #1 fan!) - but that's OK. I will use the blog more as a means to write than to be read. More to come on that, so now back to your regularly scheduled program...

You know what sucks about living in Prague? I get sick all of the time here! I have no idea why. Right now I'm fighting off a sickness for the 3rd time in two months. I had a cold in early December, the flu in mid December and now I have another cold. This is probably the 8th time I've been legitimately sick in my two years here. I don't know why this is. I was never sick in New York. I eat (relatively) healthy, take vitamins, exercise regularly and try to stay away from kids. Here are my theories:

  • Europe has a whole host of viruses that don't exist in America. My body hasn't built up the immunities to these viruses yet

  • The fruit here generally sucks so I hardly ever eat any of it. Therefore, I may be lacking essential vitamins and nutrients

  • Due to the fact that I walk by multiple brothels on my way to and from work, I have acquired AIDS by osmosis. My immune system is slowly breaking down

  • I spend too much time hanging out with my dog and he is really just a 40 pound sack of dirt, grime and disease.

  • I'm getting old

  • My maid is slowly poisoning R and I so we will grow weak and tired and will be unable to stop her from stealing our dog before we leave.

All of these theories are just as likely and any one could be true. Whatever it is, I have to say it sucks. I'm sitting here with a headache, runny nose, a cup of tea and nothing to watch on TV.

In other news, the move back to New York is still on schedule. We'll be there on March1, just as we had planned. Our stuff is slowly sailing over the Atlantic ocean as we speak. R and I are both in the midst of finding jobs as well; me as a consultant and R as a full-time employee. Things look good so far but wish us luck.

My emotions are still mixed. Yes I'm happy to be going back home and, yes, I am upset to leave Prague. There are so many pros and cons to each place. Sometimes it's the little things that can shift our emotions from one side to the other. For example, on Friday night we went out to get pizza. And the pizza was incredibly bland and boring. Not horrible - but just above the Mendoza line on the edibility scale. These are the type of meals I have become used to here. When I had just finished my last, tasteless bite, I uttered the phrase "I can't wait to get back to New York!"

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big News: We're moving back to New York!

After two years of living in Prague, it is time for us to move back to New York. We move back on March 1, 2009.

This news brings me mixed emotions. On the one hand, I'm very excited to move back to New York. It's the best city in the world, there's never a dull moment and we have plenty of friends there.

At the same time, I'm sad to leave Prague. We've had a GREAT time here during the last two years. I had a very rewarding job, met some good friends, we lived an excellent life and got to travel to a ridiculous amount of European cities. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

The big loser in this move is my dog Bauer. The guy lives like an absolute king in Prague. He gets to run off leash 3x a day in any one of the huge parks that surround our house. He has full access to our second bedroom. He can go on the subway/trams with us and can also join us in any restaurant. And, finally, he's fallen in love with more than a few females in Prague. His life in New York is not nearly as spectacular... although I'm sure he'll be excited to see his friends Casey, Shellie and Arlene again.

But, fear not loyal reader. Just because we are moving back to New York does not mean that this blog is ending. Far from it.

First off, we still have 7 weeks left in Prague and I have a lot to write about. We still have some blog-worthy trips coming up; R is going to Arizona for work next week and we have a big ski trip planned in the Italian Alps in February. I also want to write more about my experiences in Prague and Europe from a reflective standpoint now that I know our journey is coming to an end.

Secondly, I plan to keep up this blog once I move back to New York. Truth be told, I kind of like writing it. And, since I may very well never have children and have built up a lot of self-proclaimed wisdom in my lifetime, this blog is one of my few outlets to share this wisdom with the rest of the world. (Just as an example, here are some of the rules I have learned in life: Unless you get into Harvard or Yale, go to a college in a warm weather location. If someone asks if you would like a slice of lemon with that, always say yes. Lotion makes everything better. Etc.)

The only thing I'll have to change is the name of this blog. Running a blog called "Living in Prague" will make little sense when I am, in fact, NOT living in Prague.

I have to run now. The movers are already here packing up our apartment. It takes 6-8 weeks to ship this stuff across the ocean and time is of the essence.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Barcelona, Spain

R and I wanted to spend New Year's Eve in a fun city. And what city in Europe has a better party reputation than Barcelona? Easy decision. So we found some cheap airfare, booked a hotel and were all set. We also know that New Year's is best spent in a group - so we were lucky enough to have friends from the States join us. Raffy's sister and brother-in-law met us at the hotel as did one of my friends from college and his wife.

I've always had a weird fascination with Barcelona since the summer of '92. The Olympics were held in Barcelona that year and - for those of you with fond memories of failed pop culture experiments - NBC offered the infamous Triplecast package. For 16 days I had 3 channels broadcasting the various sporting events around the the clock. As a bored, underemployed 16 year old who loved TV almost as much as he loved sports - this was visual crack. I couldn't get enough.

Of course these channels didn't just show sports - they also had features on athletes and the city itself. I fell in love (Shannon Miller - if you're reading this - call me) After the 30th feature on Barcelona, I was mesmerized by the city. The funny thing is that thinking back, I don't remember anything about those features other than the fact that people in Barcelona eat very late. Dinners often start at 10:00, 11:00 or even midnight. This blew my mind. I couldn't get over the fact that people could eat that late. In my house, dinner was served at 6:30 sharp. No exceptions. Who eats at 11:00?!?!? It must have been a crazy city.

Now that I was actually in Barcelona I couldn't wait to eat late. It sounds stupid, I know. But I couldn't get this thought out of my head.

I was also excited to get to Barcelona so I could put my four years of public education Spanish to the test. After traveling to all of these countries with R (aka: the language show off, aka: the Pocket Translator) I was excited to hold my own. This, despite the fact, that my Spanish was never that good and the only phrase I ever mastered was Tu mama es muy bien en la cama. (Remember, this is my 16 year old self described above making these translations)

I was shocked - shocked I say - to get to Barcelona and find out that they don't speak Spanish. How did I not know this? They speak Catalan, which is like Spanish with a dabble of French and Portuguese and a whole lot of X's thrown in the mix. Seriously, they love their X's. We joked that the letter X is so common it must only be worth 4 points in the Catalan version of Scrabble. I haven't seen this many X's in names and on store signs since, well, this morning on my way to work in Prague when I walked past all of the sex shops.

I was also shocked - shocked I say - to learn that my wife doesn't speak Spanish. She always claimed that this one of the languages that she spoke but I am going to throw the Bullshit card. Every time I heard her speaking to waiters in what she claimed was Spanish - she was really just speaking Italian. I now know the difference. Just because the waiters understood her when she spoke Italian and pointed at the menu doesn't mean that she was speaking Spanish. That's like saying me and my dog speak the same language just because he sits every time I hold out food and raise my hand. Or that I speak Czech because every time I hold up a dollar, the Czech strippers do a dance. (Just kidding... there are no strip clubs in Prague silly, only whore houses).

OK, let's get to Barcelona now. The absolute best thing about Barcelona is the architecture. If Prague is the most beautiful city in Europe, then Barcelona is the coolest. The city is defined by the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. To say the guy was a genius is an understatement. He is now my favorite architect of all time; breaking a four way tie between Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Mike Brady and Ted Mosby.

So, where to start with Gaudi? How about with Casa Batilo. A house that sits nestled among the other buildings on one of Barcelona's busiest shopping streets - but unlike any building you have ever seen. Like I said, the man was beyond genius. Every room in the house had it's own unique look and structure.

Don't forget about Park Guell. A park on the outskirts of Barcelona that looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale. If I ever become rich and build a house from a blank plot of land, my house will look like the one below. Who needs another McMansion.

Last but not least is La Sagrada Familia. I guess it is a church, but it's so much more. If Park Guell looks like it came out of a fairy tale, this church looks like it is straight out of Middle Earth. They started construction over a century ago, had some down time in the middle and won't be finished until 2030. This is very cool because it gives you a chance to see one of the wonders of the world under construction. I have had the chance to visit churches all over Europe and - with the possible exception of the Vatican - this one is at the top of the list.

Although Gaudi deservedly gets all of the attention, the rest of the architecture in Barcelona was nearly as nice. The streets were very clean, the buildings were in impeccable condition and there were balconies galore. Who doesn't love a good balcony? I always wondered why the buildings in New York didn't have more balconies. I mean, if you are putting a building up, how hard is it to add a 30 sq ft balcony. The value of the apartment automatically goes up by $50k and everyone is happy. Aside from a few more deaths per year due to falling beer bottles, what's the downside? I don't get it.

If the architecture was the best part of Barcelona, the food was a close second. Nearly every meal consisted of a healthy dose of tapas. That's another great idea that should be adopted in more cities: tapas. Instead of ordering one appetizer and one big entree, order a bunch of small plates that can be shared by the whole table. You get to try a little bit of everything and, if one plate is loved by all, order more! Such a deliciously simple concept that is far too uncommon in most other parts of the world.

The best dishes of the weekend were, in no particular order: iberic ham (basically a thick cut of local prosciutto), chorizo (spicy sausage), artichoke crisps, deep fried sardine spines (may sound gross - but delicious), tuna ceviche, sangria and fried zucchini flower stuffed with mozzarella. For those of you who haven't tried the last dish, you are missing the hidden gem of your local garden.

If you have squash or zucchini growing in your yard and throw away the flower when you pick the vegetable; BIG mistake! I was first introduced to these gems by R's mom several years back. If you want to know how to cook them... well you stumbled across the wrong blog. I have no idea how to make them or why I went 25 years of my life without trying them. But now that I have, I'm doing my best to make up for lost time. These are officially my favorite flowers. Although, I have never tried to eat a rose. I'm sure it wouldn't taste bad if it was filled with cheese and deep fried. In fact, I can't think of many things on this planet that wouldn't taste great deep fried and filled with cheese.

So I've already mentioned the balconies and the tapas. There is one final thing that they do great in Barcelona that needs to be exported to my town pronto: the siesta! I had a solid 90 minute nap every single day in Barcelona and loved every second of it. Have you ever met anyone that woke up from a solid mid-afternoon nap and said "man, that sucked"? Me neither. Naps rule! Why do you think kids are so annoying happy and full of energy? They nap every freakin' day.

Our trip to Barcelona was one of the most fun times we had in Europe. The vibe of the city certainly had something to do with it, but so did our traveling crew. A big thanks to Brendan, Alex, Brian and LA for taking a trip across the bond and joining us in Spain. Hope you guys had as great a time as we did.

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