Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NOW it feels like Christmas!!

What a difference a month makes

This year has been my first real winter and I have to say that I've really enjoyed it so far. Even though there hadn't really been any snow, the cold brisk air and wintry clouds certainly helped to make it feel like Christmas. However, today vastly improved all that because we got our first real snow of the year. Now "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" and "Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" became very literal for me as sang them throughout the day. And those songs really take on new meaning (at least for me) when they match the conditions perfectly.


To celebrate this lovely day and the wonderful mood it put me in, I went to visit Sarka park near my apartment. This produced several firsts for me. It was my first time to see a lake frozen over (in person). It was the first time I have tried to climb a frozen hill in tennis shoes (I don't recommend trying this). It was my first time to make a snow angel :) (and a pretty good one if I do say so myself) (and I DO!)


This was definitely a perfect last day in Prague before my trip home. I'd like to think it was the city's way of saying goodbye and hurry back.


For now though, I'm off to Texas until January. There won't be any new posts between now and then because there are only 4 things I would talk about; the 4 Fs. Family, friends, food and football. And since those are all common topics and this is a travel journal ... you get the idea. Hope you enjoy the pictures and hopefully i'll see many of you during the next 3 weeks in DFW!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And now for something completely different


Today we're switching gears a bit to talk about Czech holiday traditions. We're doing this because they have some interesting and downright weird traditions.

An example of this is the celebration of the Christmas season. First, Santa Claus does not bring presents on Christmas eve. The baby Jesus does. Children write Christmas lists and mail them to the baby Jesus who makes present appear miraculously on Christmas Eve. No big red sacks or reindeer here.


Presents are opened on the evening of the 24th after eating the traditional Christmas fish (carp) for dinner. Christmas day is for visiting family. The 2nd day of Christmas is for visiting friends.

But fear not, St. Nicholas is not forgotten. He is celebrated on December the 5th. To honor him, people get dressed up as St. Nicholas, angels and devils. In trios, they go door to door and all around asking children and their parents if the children have been good. If they have, St. Nicholas gives them a treat or small present which he gets from the angel. If they haven't, St. Nicholas tells them that the devil will put them in a sack and take them down to hell (unless they start being good). Until recently, people were very dedicated about pretending to act on this threat. However, this has been curtailed lately because 3 years ago one devil went so far as to pick up the child and put him in a sack and closed the top while the parents watched. The child was so scared he screamed for an hour and was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome. Amazingly, this did NOT result in a lawsuit (just one of the reasons I love the Czech Republic)


But my favorite crazy holiday tradition is yet to come. For Easter, the men and boys here (especially boys) go out and break off the branches of pussywillows. They take these branches and twist them into a kind of whip. Then they proceed to hit (or beat or spank) every women they know (including neighbors) with it and the women in gratitude give them painted Easter eggs, ribbons to decorate their whips and food. In addition the boy has to sing or recite a special Easter carol that can be very funny.

So what do you think of all these?

Oh, and the reason the last tradition was my favorite was not because I want to beat women but because it is SO different from anything in the States.

Another picture of the Old Town Square Christmas Market


video
Old Town Square Christmas Market Video

Christmas time in Europe


The Christmas season is now in full swing over here (as you can see from the picture of Old Town Square above). And though Christmas is nicely celebrated in public places in America, things are just on a different level here. Christmas Markets line every major square and they never seem to lack for business. Nativities, Christmas trees and free public concerts are a daily occurrence.


On friday, I got the chance to see one of the Vienna Christmas markets (pictured above) while I was there to pick up my long term visa (I can now legally stay in CZ until September 2010!). After spending the morning there and most of Saturday roaming around the Prague markets, I have decided that I like each of them for different reasons. I love the Vienna market for its open, simple layout, for the Christmas music playing there and for the pure focus on the season. Everything there was all about Christmas.


The Prague markets on the other hand, are much closer and felt more intimate and alive. There are a few non-Christmas things there but the selection and the prices are much better. But really I just love the atmosphere of the Old Town Square market. Hopefully these pictures do it some small measure of justice.

On an even more exciting note, I'm coming home in a week and a half! I have 3 weeks to see family and friends, watch (and play) plenty of football and eat all the wonderful Texas foods I have so dearly missed. Anyone who wants to join me in these things will be most welcome!

PS. Since I've been accused of smiling in every picture I take, here is something different.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas Season Begins!!


Hooray!! My favorite time of year has begun. I love the Christmas season. And yes its for all the obvious sentimental reasons which I won't go into here. I will only say that the one lonely string of christmas lights hung over my window in the picture below have brought me more joy than you can believe.


The Prague Christmas Market in Old Town Square opened today and after having a wonderful (if slightly late) home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner with friends, I stopped by for a visit. The market was lovely at night and definitely different than anything I'd seen in the US. Food, hot wine, christmas ornaments and souvenirs of every kind were on display. I can't wait to go back when it is a little less crowded and do some serious shopping. Hopefully these pictures convey a little of the holiday spirit that was so pervasive there. I also added a short video since the tree's lights are animated.

I visit Vienna friday to pick up my longterm visa. After a trip to their christmas markets I will be perfectly content to enjoy the season here in Praha. I still can't wait to visit home on the 17th but I am definitely happy where I am. Tidings of comfort and joy seem to follow me everywhere I go and I thank God for it. Veselé vánoce!


video

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Czech-style

Today is one of the few days here when I have really missed home. My family doesn’t have any big thanksgiving traditions like some do but I miss the excellent meal Mom cooks for it. Even more though, I miss Thanksgiving football. Not just the games of course. I can and will watch those here in a couple hours. I miss the feeling of finishing a big delicious meal and then sitting down with people I love to watch the game together. So I guess deep down I miss my friends and family.

Other than this little sadness, today has been great. I taught all my lessons today about Thanksgiving and I got to go home early because one of my students canceled late (so I still get paid for that lesson). Now I get to go home, eat and watch football until 1:30am with friends. Sounds like my idea of a great evening.


I also just found out that my long-term visa is ready for me to pick up in Vienna. This is great news since it means that I can now legally stay in the Czech Republic until my contract with James Cook Language School is up. It is also exciting because it means I get to go see the Christmas markets in Vienna while I’m there! I’ve heard their markets and Prague’s are the best in Europe. Can’t wait to find out!


Now it’s time for dinner and football! Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Wish I was there with you!

PS. In honor of the beginning of the Christmas season, here is a video of one of my favorite Christmas songs by a group only a few of you have probably heard of called Straight No Chaser.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Being a tour guide


This week I got the chance to repay a favor. Two weeks ago I visited Florence and my friends Natalie and Courtney gave me a place to sleep (in an unoccupied room on their floor). Friday, Natalie came to visit Prague and I was privileged to be her tour guide. We visited many of the magnificent sites of the city like Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Wenceslas Square and Vysehrad Castle (where we took some breathtaking sunset pictures). We had a wonderful time and hopefully she got to see at least a taste of why i love Prague. Pictures are of course included.

Today I got to play basketball outside again. Had a great time and kicked butt. And speaking of kicking butt, my Cowboys did NOT do that but at least we won. The coming week will be bittersweet for me. It looks to be a fun, full week and I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving by teaching all my students about it. Unfortunately I have to work all day thursday but the football games don't start until the evening, so I still get to watch Thanksgiving football!

Now its time to get showered and crash. Gotta be rested and alert to help my students get the most from their lessons.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

A perfect sunday


Today has been a superb day. I got to sleep in and relax this morning. Then at noon Tim and I met a couple guys and played basketball for 3 hours. It was glorious! The weather was beautiful (lower 50s, sunny, no wind) and we had SO SO SO much fun. We played 21 and 2 on 2. My favorite games were when Tim and I were on the same team. It felt just like being back home. We used our perfected high-low game and the pick and roll to destroyed everyone we played. We had both been craving basketball for months, so this was heavenly. It was also nice to find out we haven't lost our skill yet. Now I REALLY can't wait to come home. Playing basketball makes me miss our weekly games at Daniel's church.

The rest of the day will consist of meeting our friends for mexican food at 7 and watching football until the early AM hours (football starts at 7pm here). Today is perfect (or at least it will be if/when Dallas beats Green Bay).

Since I make it a policy to ALWAYS have pictures on here, here are some pictures of The Coliseum and the Roman Forum.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Italy!!!

Most of this entry is about my trip to Italy and is a little longer than normal. For those not interested in the Italy part, skip to the bottom for a short update on my current condition and a link to the picture gallery from the trip.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

I have always loved life but since I chose to live by this quote, it has become better than I ever dreamed. This past Friday, I left Prague to continue fulfilling that dream by taking a 3 day weekend trip to Florence and Rome in Italy. Once I went to Paris, Rome became the city in the world I most wanted to visit. Now I have to pick a new city (Sydney is the clubhouse leader).


My flight left Prague airport at 6am for Milan. From there, I caught the high speed train to Florence and arrived around 11am (note: the normal trains here are ok but the high speed ones are NICE). On my trip to Germany, I met two Americans who are studying in Florence. I stayed with them. With a free room arranged, I set out to explore the city. First I visited the Duomo. It is a massive cathedral with a huge dome. The view from the top is superb and the paintings on the inside of the dome are even more impressive. From there I took some time to walk around the city and finally ended up at the Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is housed. The David is a marvel to behold. It is 12 feet tall and looks more alive than many people I know. The details on it are so perfect in every way that I can’t even fathom how it could have been created by a chisel and hammer (again pictures were not allowed which is why I only got about 12 or so). The evening ended with a lovely dinner with my friends.


My second day was focused on the Uffizi museum, the greatest collection of renaissance art in the world. It was very interesting and well worth the trip. I followed this with a visit to the Piazza Michelangelo for a beautiful nighttime view of the city. The day again ended with an excellent meal (shockingly, it wasn’t hard to find good food in Italy).


Then next morning I got up early and headed to the train station and caught the first train to Rome (I arranged my visit so that I flew back from Rome instead of Milan). I arrived around 10am and went straight to the Vatican. St. Peter’s Square and Basilica were extremely impressive. The basilica can hold 60,000 people and I believe it. It was massive and ornate; the most impressive cathedral I have visited (unfortunately the Sistene Chapel wasn’t open on Sundays).


From there, I went to the Trevi Fountain. It was classic, beautiful and quite an adventure to find. At this point, it was around 2 and I headed for my last big stop of the trip, the Coliseum. For all the wonderful things I saw in Italy, the Coliseum dwarfed them all. It had a majesty and strength in person that I can’t explain. And I learned that it was originally covered in white marble. I can imagine what that would have looked like (thank you Gladiator) and it would be a marvel today. But to be finished in the year 87, its inconceivable. After this I swung through the ruins of the Forum. Without a knowledgeable guide, this was cool but not nearly as good as it could have been. At the end of the Forum, I head for the airport and caught a 10pm flight to Prague.


Overall summary, superb trip, can’t wait to go back (maybe this May). For now I’m back in Prague until Christmas break. Teaching is still great. Despite waking up between 5:30 to 7am every day, I never groan about getting up to go to work (and that’s saying something for those who know me well). Things are not perfect here but it brings me to life in a way that a corporate job couldn’t right now. I have decided to live by the wisdom of Mark Twain’s quote and I have not regretted it for a moment. I pray that each of you does the same.

PS. Many more pictures are here http://picasaweb.google.com/luke.brazell/20091108Italy?feat=directlink

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The beauty around us

Click on this picture first!!

I'm beginning to understand why people love the sun. Growing up in Texas I saw the sun so often that the only time I liked it was when I wanted to work on my tan. However in Prague during the autumn and winter, we might only see the sun once every two weeks. So when a bright blue sky and a nice warm day (high 45) were there to greet me friday morning, i knew I had to take full advantage. A little after 9am, I went to the Šárka (pronounced Sharka) nature preserve that is 10 minutes away from our flat by tram. I went for some walking, climbing, thinking and adventuring. These pictures are the result. The rest can be found at the link below.

http://picasaweb.google.com/luke.brazell/20091030SarkaPark?feat=directlink

Hopefully they inspire you to take some time to find the beauty (be it nature or otherwise) near you.




Thursday, October 29, 2009

Before Halloween

Since Halloween is coming up Saturday, it seemed appropriate to use the Czech national holiday wednesday to visit somewhere spooky. I'd say the Bone Church in Kutna Hora qualifies.


Along with my friends (from left to right) Sandi, Stephanie, Tim and Suzannah, I went to see one of the most unusual sights you're likely to find in Europe. And despite the despite (or perhaps because) of the disturbing nature of this landmark, it was a very interesting place to visit. Afterward, we visited another cathedral nearby that was decorated in the Baroque style (this means there were lots of pictures of fat babies with wings and plenty of light). We finished with a good, inexpensive meal in a local restaurant that included plenty of laughs. All in all, a very good day-trip.

Teaching continues to go well. I would like to pick up a couple more classes to make some extra money (as I'm tight on finances now) but the classes I do have are nice. They range from teaching basic preposition meanings (when to use "of, on, at, in, on top of, under ...") to advanced topics like the proper way to write formal letters (no contractions, no ending sentences with prepositions, etc). On the whole, I'm gaining excellent experience and really enjoying myself along the way.

Below are more pictures from the trip. Don't forget to email me and give me updates on what's happening back home. They always make me smile.


Smiling just didn't seem appropriate here


The entrance


Lovely chandelier wouldn't you say?


No comment needed


The main alter of the Baroque-style Church of the Assumption of our Lady (mostly a change of pace for those of you who don't find a church full of skeletons weirdly cool)


The light wasn't great for pictures but if you look closely, guess what you'll see. That's right, fat babies with wings!!