Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ambassador Eisen

Last week I got a call from the US Embassy in Prague that Ambassador Eisen would be coming to Tabor and would like to meet me.  I was soo excited.  This would be my first time meeting and ambassador and he was coming to my school.  I immediately told Romana and we set off to set up the necessities.  I met Ambassador Eisen earlier in the morning and met his wife and daughter.  We all took a tour of the Hussite Museum and the underground tunnels.  After the tour we had a wonderful lunch at a nice restaraunt in town square.  I was able to sit next to Ambassador Eisen at lunch and I was very impressed at how personable he was.
Hana and me after lunch
  Also at lunch was a woman named Hana.  She is the only Jewish survivor from the Holocaust that lives in Tabor.  She didn't speak any English but Marketa from the Embassy was able to translate for us.  It was amazing to hear her story.  Her mom was Czech and her dad was Jewish.  When the Nazis came, she was able to stay with her mother but her father was taken away.  Eventually her mother and all other Jews were moved to a small suburb in Tabor and were not allowed to leave their home.  After all of that, Hana was sent to a concentration camp and survived to tell her tale.
   After lunch, Ambassador Eisen and some US Embassy employees came to my school to speak with my students.  We had arranged so that about 5 students from each English class could come listen to the Ambassador.  We had more students that wanted to come than the room allowed so there ended up being students standing in the back as well.  Ambassador Eisen made a great impression on the students and staff.  He is definitely a politician, never losing an opportunity to promote democracy, always smiling for a photograph, but he also has a great sense of humor and warms a room when speaking.
    After talking with the students, he met with some of my Czech (English teachers) for some coffee and biscuits.  He wanted to know about the education system in the Czech Republic and was interested in hearing what my colleagues had to say.  He was going to be meeting with the Czech Minister of Education the following week so hopefully he will relay some of the concerns that my friends have.
   It was a very VIP day for me and I feel so lucky to have had this experience!!!  Thank you Fulbright again for another life changing opportunity!!!!
L-R:Zuzka, Milena, Iva, Headmaster, Ambassador Eisen, Me, Maria, Romana

Night Train

Tonight my adventure began.  This is going to be my first trip traveling in Europe by myself and although I am a little nervous, excitement does flow the most.  Nothing ever goes smoothly for me though.  I left my flat at 6:30 for my 20 minute walk to the train station.  Luckily I had given myself some extra time because as I got about 5 minutes away from my flat, I realized that I had forgotten my food I was going to bring.  So looking at my watch, I decided I had enough time to hurry back and grab my food. As I got back to the same spot, 5 minutes from my flat, I realized that I had forgotten my train ID card and so for the second time, I sprinted back to my flat to retrieve the missing item.  I definitely was getting my exercise in even BEFORE I left.
    Now time was against me so I had to jog to the train station with a big backpack on my back in 20 degree temperature praying I would make my train.  No worries though.  I made it to the train station with 8 minutes to spare.  Hopefully this beginning experience is not a sign of what's to come and all will work out from here.
I don't know why google blog won't let you rotate the pictures.  I slept on the bottom bunk but you have to crank your head to the left to view.
    Once in Prague, I found my "Night Train" and located my couchette (sleeper).  I have never been on a night train before so this was very exciting me.  In my car, there was probably about 10 of us and unless you were traveling with a friend, you got your own sleeper room.  In each room there are three bunks and a sink and closet.  It was a tight fit but being the only person in there, there was plenty of room.  The train left Prague at 9:17pm so I put on my jammies and tucked myself in and started to read my book, hoping I would fall asleep soon.....NOPE.
    Since I had the room to myself, I didn't need to worry about my belongings, but it would not have mattered anyway because sleep was the LAST thing that I did last night.  Not because I was worried or afraid but because I usually don't sleep the first night some place new.  Scenarios of murder mysteries or stowaways or some James Bond espionage kept going through my mind.  The big "jerk" at every new train station didn't help matters either.  Although I didn't get much sleep, it was one of the most fun experiences I have had.  I highly recommend traveling by a night train.  I can't go as far and say it is like a hotel on wheels but it is a rare experience.
   Lesson learned:   Bring ear plugs

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


I had the opportunity to go visit my friend Emily in Budapest this last weekend and I had the most amazing time.  I have never been to Budapest before so I was very excited to explore a new country and a new city.  The trip started off on the best note when I was about to board the plane from Prague to Budapest and was told that I was selected to move up to "first class".  How cool is that.  I got to be the person who sits IN FRONT of the curtain instead of staring at the curtain in front of me and wondering what they were doing up there.  I got to see how the rich people live...with LEG ROOM!!! Oh my gosh!!!  Heaven!

Emily met me at the airport and we set off to explore the city.  We took a quick pit stop at her flat to drop off my stuff and taste her homemade goulash (which was fantastic) and then set off to see Budapest at night.  Emily lives on the Buda side of Budapest.  According to some of the other Fulbrighters, Emily lives on the Beverly Hills side of Budapest and I can see why they say that.  There are beautiful homes and a rich feel in the air.  Across the Danube is the Pest side which is considered the "touristy" side of Budapest.  Connecting two sides are many bridges that span the vast Danube.

One of the most famous bridges is the Chain Bridge.  Apparently the designer of the bridge claimed that he had made "the perfect" bridge.  He challenged anyone to find something wrong with the bridge and if someone found something wrong, he would jump from the bridge. People seeked and seeked and finally someone claimed that the lions at the end of the bridge had no tongues....that was the only thing wrong with the the designer jumped from the bridge.

Emily took me to one of her favorite pub spots called, Frank Zappa.  We had a couple beers and we were able to just have some "girl time" and catch up.  It is amazing to me that 6 months ago, I had no idea who she was and I am so lucky to have met her and become friends.  She is an amazing person and I am so thankful we are friends.  After a couple hours, we headed back to her place and got some sleep.  We had a big day ahead of us (although we didn't know that at the time)

Saturday we met Kent (another American Fulbrighter teaching in Hungary) and Istvan (Emily's boyfriend) at the train station.  The four of us set out on all day walking tour of the city.  We walked EVERYWHERE and hit all the major spots of the city.  We started with the Castle and made it to watch the changing of the guards and then toured around the grounds.  Next to the Castle is the Fisherman's Wharf area.  I am not completely sure but I think that during the war, the fisherman would guard and protect the castle from that area.

After the castle, we walked across the Chain Bridge again and went to see Parliament.  Parliament is HUGE. The Parliament is one of the most photographed structure and you can see why.  Parliament is placed along the Danube and there are statues and monuments surrounding the area.  One of the most sentimental monuments to me was the Jewish Shoes Memorial.  There is a row of shoes that are made of metal that symbolize the hundreds and hundreds of dead Jewish bodies that were pulled from the Danube after WW2.

After Parliament we ventured to Vaci which is the "touristy" section of the Pest side.  We found a restaurant that was probably the classiest place I have eaten in in awhile and well worth it.  For a reasonable price we had a truly typical Hungarian meal.  We started with a bowl of Hungarian Goulash (I think Emily's was just as good) and then had Paprika Chicken on Hungarian pasta.  Finally for dessert we had a pancake with jam.  Hungarians are famous for their paprika and they put it on EVERYTHING but I glad it was absent from our dessert..that would have been a little odd tasting.

After lunch we walked off our meal by going to the St. Stephen's Cathedral.  There is a story behind the cathedral as well (but I can't really remember it) but I do know that St. Stephen's was so popular that when he died his right hand was removed and the bones were placed in an honorary case and placed in the Cathedral.  Emily refers to it as the "creepy right hand" and I definitely concur.

Our tour of Budapest was no way near to finished.  Emily and Isti then took us to Emily's favorite part of the city, Andrassy street.  It is a long street with many beautiful buildings and culture.  Unfortunately the weather was not on our side but the gray overcast didn't take away from the vision I had of the long street with spring flowers, rows of trees and serenity (even though everything was gray and still hiding from the winter frost).

Finally around 4:30 we topped off our tour with a stop at the Thermal Spa.  We shredded our street clothes, threw on our swim suits, and suffered the 30 second run from the main building to the warm outdoor pools.  Once in the pools, we were in heaven.  There were so many people in the pool but enough space to get relaxation.  Emily's boyfriend is so amazing and such a trooper and since he lost the "not it" game, we sent him to find out what is the other building.  He returned to tell us that there was a whole other world of pools.  We endured the freezing temperature and raced inside the next building and inside we found at least 15 more pools of warm water.  We settled on one of the last rooms and rested our souls in the hands of Mother Earth.  Looking around the walls and decor, it is easy to picture yourself living in Roman times and all I needed was a hot gladiator feeding me mouth watering grapes (instead of my body looking like one) and life would be perfect :)

After our 3 hours we braved the sub zero temperatures and ran back to the main building, changed and headed back to Emily's.  We had an amazing "typical" American dinner and made soft tacos, drank margaritas and then headed out to explore the night life of Budapest.  We visited 2 dance clubs and then ended up on some random island and went to this dance club called Studio.  It was seriously like I was in Vegas.  The club was huge with beautiful women dressed as angels and men dressed as devils swung from high in the air and the DJ played non stop continuous techno that made your heart feel like it would actually beat out of your chest.  I actually really liked the atmosphere and it would be a great place to get dressed up and got out too but it was so late in the night that we were all exhausted so we called it an early night (or actually early morning) and went home.

Sunday, we woke up and after some food at the local fast food Mexican restaurant, said our goodbyes and went our own ways home.  I just had the best time and I am so glad that I got to hang out with Kent and Emily, meet her boyfriend, and see a new city.  Budapest is definitely a city that I am going to go back to. Thanks Emily for having me!  I really did have the best weekend!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Completely Random

So the other morning, I decided to take an early morning walk around the Jordan (lake in Tabor).  The lake is frozen and on my walk there is a small little swimming hole along the path.  As I was walking I see some ducks swimming in the swimming hole and all of a sudden, my eyes focused on this big, fat man walking out of the swimming hole, NAKED.  I am really trying to get over my "American" nudity shyness, but the look on my face was probably priceless.  I couldn't stop and turn back, that would be awkward and the fully clothed man that was standing on the trail didn't seem to have a problem talking to the naked man drying himself off with his towel.  So I continued walking past the naked man and walked another 5 minutes and had to turn around to get back to school to start the day. So lucky me, I got to see naked man TWICE.  As soon as I got back to school I had to tell Romana and Zuzka what I had seen and they said it was normal :)...ahhhhh Czech culture.  I love that I learn and see something new everyday :)

PS.  I did have my camera, but I was in too much shock to actually stop and take a picture so unfortunately there is no picture included in this post.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Belgium Exchange

After months of preparation, the Belgiums finally arrived on Saturday Feb 5th.  Ida and I have been planning for months on the activities to do and trying to make sure they would have the best experience.  In many European schools kids get to participate in exchanges to foreign countries.  The students in the French section usually go to France, etc and our Czech students are participating in a Belgium exchange.  30 students from Belgium were matched up with 30 of our Czech students.  Ida had many many meetings with the students and parents that would be participating to make sure everything would go smoothly.  The Belgium students would be staying at the homes of our Czech students during the week and when we go to Belgium, our Czech students would be staying at their homes.
       On Saturday we all met the Belgiums at the train station and sent the kids home with our Czechs so they could get to know each other.  Ida and I took the three Belgium teachers out for dinner and gave them a mini tour of Tabor.  On Sunday we had lunch at Ida's and then met the students for an evening of bowling.  The Belgiums speak three languages, French, Dutch, and English and our Czech speak multiple languages as well.  Even though all kids speak multiple languages they have to speak to each other in English since it is their only common language.  It is a wonderful opportunity to use and practice their English language.
     On Monday we took the kids to an art studio and the Czech students were creating plaster masks of the Belgium student's faces.  I have absolutely loved loved loved getting to know a new culture but it was a little disappointing to see how lazy some of the Belgium students were at this activity.  Some of the Belgium students were complaining that they were "allergic" to plaster and didn't want to participate.  Some of the girls were complaining that they "didn't want to mess up their makeup". be a teenager.  After the art activity we took the students to the underground tunnels and then to the museum.   Again, some of the Belgium students were pushing each other and acting so rude in the museum.  I had to play "mean teacher" again to keep the students in line.  I really hate being "mean teacher" but I could not believe how disrespectful some of the Beligum boys and girls were being.  They are young (15-16) but I am sure that you don't push each other into glass showcases in museums in Belgium either.  Although there were some disrespectful students, there were some absolutely fabulous Belgium students as well.  It definitely reminded me of my classroom back home...after the long time at the museum we went back to school and then we took them to MP7 for some music and social time.
     On Tuesday a small group of Czech students (we have working groups of Czech students so the 30 participating don't miss school everyday) and Ida took the Belgiums to Pisek.  I didn't go along so I don't what the experience was like.  When they got back, we took the teachers out for dinner and hung out.  I thought the Belgium teachers were great and very friendly.
     On Wednesday, Zuzka took the Belgiums to Cesky Krumlov for the day.  I had to stay at school to teach so again I don't know what the day was like.  Zuzka said the day went great.  Again, Ida and took the Belgium teachers out to dinner.
     On Thursday, Ida and I took the students to Prague. We went to the Castle, Church, Old Town Square, Clock and to Wencelas Square.  Again I am reallllly trying to focus on the positives but some of the Belgium boys were throwing rocks at the birds and not paying attention to our Czech speakers.  Instead of being frustrated I kept appreciating how wonderful our Czech students are.  I just appreciate the maturity of our Czech students.  We made it back to Tabor around 5:30 and the Czech students met us at the bus station to take their Belgium partners home.  Us teachers went out to dinner.

     On Friday the Belgium students got to spend some time in our Czech classes.  After the classes we had a sports day for them.  The Czech students worked very hard to create some stations and most of the Belgiums had a great time.  Unfortunately, there was a group of boys again that just couldn't help being disrespectful.  I was glad when the sports day was over.  At 4pm we had our farewell party.  Each Belgium and their Czech partners performed some type of skit from reading a poem, to re creating a fairy tale.  I was VERY impressed with all their effort and collaboration.
 The "Judges" at our Farewell Party.  Iva and Raf, and Bert (Two of the Belgium teachers on right)
The entire group of Czechs and Belgiums
 Medieval Dinner.  I am participating in a Medieval dance
I make Medieval Fashion look great :)
 Ida and I performed the last dance from Chicago.  She and practiced for about a month to learn the steps. It was a surprise to everyone and Ida and I were sooo nervous.  I think we remembered all our is all a blur at the moment.
 We had a wonderful last night dinner.  Zuzka (in front left) then clockwise, Bert, Guy, Raf, Romana, and Iva
Ida (on left), Bert, Raf, Me, and Guy

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fulbright Mid Year Conference- Trencianske Treplice

I cannot believe that it is almost mid year!  I have almost been in the Czech Republic for six months.  This is the point when I wish I could freeze time so that I could spend as much time in my favorite places a little longer.  This year the Mid Year Fulbright Conference was to be held in Trencianske Treplice in the Slovak Republic.  Trencianske Treplice is a small spa town located about an hour south of the Czech border.  It is one of the most popular and beautiful spa towns in Slovakia.  It has natural thermal springs and mountainous surroundings.
     I ventured to Vsetin on Saturday to spend the day/night at Calan's.  We had a fun time together visiting and we had the best dinner.  Calan made spaghetti and meatballs.  They were the best meatballs, next to my grandmother's, and I was so stuffed after dinner.  Dessert were homemade chocolate chip cookies that Calan also definitely is great having friends that know how to cook...
     Since Trencianske Treplice was only an hour and half train ride from Vsetin, we decided to take the train from her place.  We wanted to spend some time around the town, taking pictures, and soaking up the perks at spa hotel before the rest of the Fulbrighters arrived, so we left at 11.  The trip was uneventful for the most part.  We had a total of three train connections and everything was going smoothly through the first two connections.  Then the adventure began.
      We arrived in Trencianske Tepla and we were suppose to catch our "third" train at 12:25.  Well....12:25 came and went, 12:30 came and went, 12:35 came and went...I was able to use my Czech language skills I have acquired so far to ask some travelers what to do.  I also had a butchered conversation with the lady who sells the train tickets.  She assured me that yes, there was a 12:25 train, in which I responded..."neni vlak" which means in limited Czech, "it isn't train".  She pointed to the list that the next train wasn't until 2 something.  The adventure continues...Back to those first travelers.  They found us again and this time brought along a train worker, who walked us AROUND the train station to this small dinky Trolley/Tram track where we were SUPPOSE to catch our 12:25 train.  We didn't know that you had to walk around the train station...
     The train worker told me in Slovak that we could walk a bit to the bus station (all of which I understood) so we walked, freezing our butts on in the process.  As we were looking and looking and re looking at the bus schedule, a local older man figured out our destination and started to talk to us in Slovak.  Czech and Slovak have very similar languages so we were able to communicate.  I found out that he use to work for a Morse code place and makes these large metal plates.  He got on the bus with us, told us which stop to get off at, and walked us to the front door of our hotel, Hotel Flora.  I am not sure if he even originally needed to get on the bus or if he took pity on us so decided we needed his protection.  Either way, if we had made our original "third" train connection we would never have met our nice old man, and wouldn't have gotten a personal escort to our final destination.  We got to meet a nice local AND I got to put all the money I spend on Czech language lessons to use.  Oh the adventures that we have!
     Calan and I checked into our hotel around 3, dropped our bags on in our rooms, and applied the necessary uniform:  spa bathrobe and bathing suit.  I know, such torture.  We donned our attire and headed for the spa.  We were able to enjoy the steam sauna, two dry saunas, and the pool for a couple hours before the rest of the gang arrived.  I am not going to was a little slice of heaven.
     We had a meeting at 5:30pm to meet all the new teacher assistants, researchers, lecturers, and fellow Fulbrighters from the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.  After our initial meeting we had a wonderful dinner and then...back to the spa.  Calan and I signed up for a foot reflex massage for that night.  Being a licensed massage therapist, I have to admit...I could have done better.  I don't think the Slovaks understand the meaning of pressure. All work and no play...such a rough start :)
      Monday meetings started at 8am.  All the teachers (Calan, Brock, and me) gave a 20 minute presentation about our Fulbright experiences so far.  Then the lecturers, researchers, and Ph.D graduates gave their presentations.  Our meetings broke for a fabulous lunch at the hotel and then back to meetings which ended at 3pm.  Most people signed up for massages and enjoyed the perks of the hotel.    I signed up for a shiatsu massage for Monday.  I had never had a shiatsu massage so this would be a new experience for me.  I walked into the massage room and was told to lie on the mat.  The massage therapist did a lot of compressions and stretches but it was nothing like I had expected.  Again, proving that Slovaks don't know about pressure.  Since I was on the floor, my neck hurt more AFTER I left the massage than before it started...but it was all about the experience. After the massage, it was back to the saunas and pool until dinner at 6pm.  It was a night of relaxation and pampering.
     Tuesday meetings resumed at 8am and this time the teacher assistants gave their presentations.  We all met for lunch around 12:30 and then back to the meetings. I signed up for an Ayurveda massage for Tuesday.  I had never had an Indian massage so this would be a new experience for me.  I walked into the massage room and was told to lie on the table.  In Europe people are not so worried about nakedness.  It was my first experience with standing naked in front of a massage therapist. Modesty aside, I dropped the robe and bounded onto the table...trying to look at calm as possible (and not like I was embarrassed).  The Indian Massage was basically a sweedish massage with lots and lots and lots and lots of warm oil.  I actually enjoyed the massage but I would have guessed it...a little more pressure.  After the massage, can you guess what I did...that's right...back to the saunas and pool.  When the spa time was done, I attempted to shower several times to get the oil out of my is not going to happen for awhile.  Such a rough rough rough life.
      We have some meetings tomorrow (Wednesday) morning and then after lunch we are packing up and setting off on the long bus ride back to Prague and back to the real world.  I have to admit, that after three days of pampering, it is going to be rough to go back to work on Thursday.  My mind is so far away from what I am suppose to teach on Thursday.  I think all the spoiling relaxed me too much.  Shh...don't tell my school that though :)

 Me giving my Fulbright Mid Year Presenation.  As you can see in the background, there are pictures of me and mom.  One of the topics of our presentation was to talk about "Important People".  Of course I had to start that section with my mom.  I explained to everyone that without my mom, this experience would not be possible.  It definitely means the world to me that I have my mom's support through this journey.

This is a picture of my new, super cool friend Jennifer.  She is a lecturer in Slovakia.  She is from California and she has so much positive energy.