Interpretations of Signs on a Tram

On a lighter note, here’s some interpretations of signs I saw on a tram.

1) We’re not a fan of the gangsta look here. Oh, and fanny packs are out.

2) Traveling musicians are not welcome here, especially if you play country.

3) No American Idol rejects. Or rejects from any other singing competition on TV around the world.

4) If you don’t let the old lady sit down, she will cut you. (Let’s be honest, that cane is probably hiding a long thin blade.)

Sabbatical Spotlight: Observations in Stillness

As I continue to traverse Prague and its historic streets and buildings, I can’t help but feel everything just slowing down. But it’s more of the pace that’s slowing down. What I need to do every day is less as I’ve already seen a lot of the major sites, today finishing up my exploration of the buildings that make up Prague Castle (3 of the 5 locations didn’t allow pictures without a “license”, which was really just a way to get more money from tourists.)

I do have to share that this week I also had the chance to go to a Chinese restaurant in the area (may go again tonight!). Cheaper than back home (I think $4US for the food), fast, and decently tasty. I must say, I felt very complete to eat Chinese food in the Czech Republic. (Note for those who don’t know: I’m 1/2 Chinese and 1/2 Czech.)

Here’s a couple random pics on life in Prague.

Ah, Pilsner Urquell. Available just about everywhere and consumed by just about everybody who visits Prague, probably including kids. They do make a lovely pairing to most any meal, especially at less than $2US for a o,5L glass.

Ah, Super Hearts. The bag of heart shaped fried something with images of super big salt piles to keep that super heart pumping super hard.

Caught walking through Old Town Square around sunset. Pretty, isn’t it? I foresee this turning into a big print one day…

Now, for some random thoughts and observations:

  • I love cities that are built around walking and (cheap!) public transit as primary modes of transportation. That being said, I’m also quite happy that I haven’t been in a car since my ride to the airport last week.
  • People seem to enjoy life here. They walk at a decent clip, but not in a Chicago or NYC “I’m in a rush because I think I’m important” kind of way.
  • They love beer here, as noted above. Only thing that’s lacking is variety in most restaurants. The craft brew scene must be small here.
  • As many have noted, I also love this hostel. Great atmosphere and they have something going on every night to encourage interaction. The atmosphere in the public spaces is friendly and comfortable.
  • I’ve missed gelato. There’s just something about getting a scoop on a waffle cone walking around a historic European city that’s so refreshing. I tried ice cream once since being here and it’s just not the same anymore…
  • Since being here, I’ve gone through 2 books and am finishing up a third right now. Guess I can do a lot of reading without all those pressures of things like “work” around. That, and no TV and not being online all day long.
I’ll continue to share more pictures as the days go by. Can’t drop them all on you at once, right? Then they wouldn’t be as special. 

Seeing How the Locals Do

It’s not just about the big pretty sights, but the little things too. Parks, train lines, walking paths. These are the things that catch my eye as I walk around. Enjoy a small peek into the (mostly) less touristy views of Prague thus far. During these moments of considering their perspective, it becomes a little less about “vacationing” and more just about being and living in the moment.

I took a walk through this large green space just south of Prague Castle. I actually ended up spending afternoon here meandering then stopping to read instead of making to the Castle! Being away from the activity of the city was just what I needed yesterday. It was great watching families and friends (you could tell most people where I had stopped were locals) just hanging out in this park enjoy their afternoon.

You’re probably thinking, “more parks, really?” And my answer is “Yes!” A perfect mix of warmth, breeze, shaded sunlight, and available seating made this a wonderful place to stop for an hour or so. And I’m not required to purchase something to stay.

I’m trying to remember where this garden was, but it was tucked away just off a path. Few people paid attention to the gated entry way this was hiding behind. Seats interspersed throughout this small space with a couple winding paths. I’ll spare everyone the numerous flower pics I took, but it was quaint and beautiful here.
On my way back, I passed by the main train station in Prague (Hlavni Nadrazi). This scene intrigued me. Perhaps it’s the crazy mess of rail lines or how it represents the city’s growth over the years and connections to the rest of the continent. It’s something I could see myself putting up as artwork one day.

Sabbatical Spotlight: Czech Food and Jazz night in an old 12th century vault

Today there will be no pictures, even though I took plenty. I wasn’t in the mood to go through them all, edit a few, and post them. Instead, I will focus on dinner and a jazz club I happened upon.

I finally sat down in a restaurant that serves traditional Czech fare and ordered goulash, roasted pork, cabbage, and bread dumplings. Oh, and a Pilsner Urquell of course. Everything was most excellent. Almost 6 hours later and I’m still not hungry. Guess that’s what you get when you eat so much dense food. I think the whole bill set me back $14USD. Not too bad. What’s always amazing to me in Europe is that the beer is always so cheap, equating to less than $2USD for a 0.5L glass. Mixed drinks are “crazy expensive” in comparison, like $6USD. Insanity!

So I walked around for a bit to work off some of my meal and eventually ended up at this jazz bar near Old Town Square. The coolest part of it is that it was housed in an old vault built back in the 12th century! Acoustics were pretty decent for the small space and people were crowded in. But why do I mention this? As a guy from Chicago who has a good friend with a jazz trio (or whatever genre they say they are these days), I realized how much I go see the Paul Abella Trio and really enjoy their sound. It’s tight, it’s fun, it’s just all around enjoyable. This quintet was good, but they didn’t compare for me. Paul, if you’re reading this, you need to look into doing a Central European tour. I will go with you for support!

OK, one last random item to note. As I walked around after dinner, I saw a bus with “Princess of the World” written across the front and sides of it. Curious, I stuck around for a few minutes to see what was going on. Sure enough, the bus was carrying princesses from countries around the world, including the UK, Czech Republic, and a bunch of other places I can’t remember. Apparently pretty people are descending upon Prague while I’m here, though I have my doubts they are traveling here because of me.

Today was an otherwise low key day. It was one of those days where I feel like I’m just living vs. vacationing. Moments pass where I think I should be doing more, but that’s not the whole point of this trip for me. It’s more than that and today began to expose that, albeit in small doses. I sense more introspection coming my way in the next few days…

Weekend Walking & Crawling Through Prague

My first weekend in Europe is coming to a close this beautiful fall evening, I cannot help but still be in amazement that I am in fact here in Prague. Friday brought with it a lot of tiredness, but I did spend some time touring the city centre at night then coming back to the hostel for a LONG sleep (almost 12 hours I think.) It was what I needed to reset my sleep schedule. Little did I know I would need that sleep store so soon…

Saturday was my first big walk around and exploration day. While I didn’t take too many photos, I did spend some time just looking around and soaking in the energy lingering in the atmosphere. I love the open air feeling the city has with numerous shops and restaurants open directly to the street, not to mention the stands for cheap food, desserts, drinks, and little oddball things that every tourist ends up looking at and usually buying because those items will represent a tangible take away for their visit to the city. Oh, and the shops with shiny things! I couldn’t count the number of tourist/souvenir shops with silly t-shirts, shot glasses, magnets (yes Paul, I will get you one), mugs, etc. But if I am to believe these places, the Czech Republic is known for handmade blown glass and crystal/glass ornamental stuff. I don’t know what else to call it. It that’s stuff that’s really pretty in a lot of light, but I’m pretty sure loses some luster once it leaves the store.

After returning to the hostel, I went to their free BBQ (hey free food!) and ended up meeting a couple other Americans staying here too. One was a Vietnamese guy from Houston and a girl from California/Israel, currently living in the latter. They “encouraged” me to go on a hostel-sponsored/hosted pub crawl through 4 bars in Prague. The group is formed out of people from 4 hostels in Prague. I’ll admit, I had a pretty good time and met some fun people from all over, including Toronto, Brazil, Singapore, and beyond. Each bar had its own “thing” going for it. The most memorable was the second one that was some multi-level bar that was all underground. I have no idea how many levels it had, since we walked up and down a lot of stairs, with seating all over the place. The roof in the entire place was all brick or exposed stone. I wish I had photos to explain it, but trust me, it was very cool. The only thing not cool about Prague? Smoking is still allowed in a lot of public places.

The night got interesting when we ended up at this dance club. 5 levels of music, which was all different, and our group basically split up. It was then we all realized we’d have to find our own way back to the tram and our respective hostels. The guy from Texas and I walked some girls back to their hostel from the club, then attempted – and failed – to find our tram. This process probably took us over an hour! Long story short, we took the wrong tram, got even farther away from where we needed to me, then got a taxi to get us back home, which was around 5:30AM. Like I said, I dipped into that sleep store faster than expected.

Today was a more chill day, yet still with its own share of walking. But I lingered in some places for longer periods of time and found a nice walkway/park to stop and read in for a bit. I also took more pictures today. Below is a sampling of photos from the last couple days.

I saw this sign in a construction zone of the Helsinki airport. I’ve always loved signage from other countries. They tend to send their message in a way that isn’t in your face and I as an American find amusing.

I love the history these roads have and that Prague hasn’t simply decided to go the cheap route and put concrete or asphalt everywhere. I respect that they hold onto their history and do what they can to preseve it. Many sidewalks in Old Town are also made of small stones with intricate details and patterns made from them.

One of many winding paths that go in between buildings that can only be traversed by foot. I have found myself on many of these not knowing what will greet me when I get to the next street.

Speaking of not knowing what I’ll see around the corner… There was an entire exhibit of art made from Red Bull cans, not surprisingly named “The Art of Can.” It’s only showing for a few days and I got to see it. Being the drinker of Red Bull that I am, I found the exhibit interesting. There’s other pictures, but this one caught my attention early and thought it deserved a showing for my friends back home.

Oh, did I mentioned I happened upon Prague during their fashion weekend? They setup a runway for the show on a main shopping street near the Old Town Square. Look at all the new fashions coming out of Europe!

This shot is of the growing crowds in Old Town Square. This was around 7PM. A couple hours and the crowds actually grew in numbers.

Tyn Church, right off the Old Town Square.

I caught this relatively quiet moment tonight in another one of my non-directed walking about the town. I could really get used to this type of scenery around me every day.

This week, I intend to visit Prague Castle and everything surrounding it. I should also decide on some restaurants to try out. Because really, all I’ve had is street fair food. Hey, I don’t have a discerning taste palate, I’m not picky, and I don’t really like to spend much on food if I don’t think I have to. Until next time…

I made it to Prague!

After 10+ hours on airplanes and some quality time on Prague’s public transit system, I’ve made it to Prague and the first hostel I’ll be staying at, Sir Toby’s Hostel. While I can’t say there’s much to report just yet, one of the early highlights came in the middle of our flight over the Atlantic and near Iceland. The man sitting next to me informed me that we could see the Northern Lights just outside the window. He stepped away and allowed me what seemed like ages to spend gazing at the wondrous sight. Even just a few hours later, it plays back in my memory as though it were just a dream. Amazing and beautiful. I need to see them again for a longer stretch of time.

I’m doing well so far given the time change. As long as I don’t think about what time I think it should be back home, I’m OK. But sitting for that long is quite tiring. I hope the room is ready soon! Until next time, “sbohem” (goodbye) for now!

The day has come! Sabbatical ’11 begins

The day has finally arrived! I’ve done what I can at work to prepare. The bags are packed (the two bags in the pic above is everything I’m bringing), ride to the airport is scheduled, and I’m freshly showered for the last time until I arrive in Prague. This trip and time away from work has been building up so much in my mind, from excitement of the adventure to the anxieties and fears of being away from pretty much everything I know for a whole month.

Ever since this opportunity for a sabbatical was given at work, I told a friend I wanted this time to be “life changing.” I’ve mentioned this before here on the blog, but I’m realizing that just preparing for this trip, being willing to travel solo, choosing to go somewhere far away, and be out of my comfort zone has already begun the process.

My nerves are calm this morning as I await my ride and stare out the living room windows. The next time I post something, I will be in Europe. And to my friend and fellow blogger J, do expect that some of my blogging will be very pretentious. 🙂

Planning to Unplug

In a bit of irony, a couple weeks ago I recently got into a discussion with a client (who’s also a friend) about unplugging from everything while we were discussing a Twitter application developed by the company I work for. She was talking about the anxiety that’s already building up as she plans an unplugged weekend. While I won’t exactly be completely “off the grid” during my sabbatical, I will definitely not be as accessible overseas (phone, text, no work email) as I am now.

I’ve unplugged before for a couple days here and there during camping trips and the like. What I’ve found so interesting about those times when I actually don’t stay so connected is that I’m OK disconnected. The world doesn’t stop if I don’t read an email or text and reply 30 seconds after it’s delivered. I don’t worry about keeping up with what the latest trends are on Twitter or what my friends are sharing (or complaining) about on Facebook. We all worry life will fall apart without being online and available. Somehow we all found ways to live without it growing up, at least those of us in their upper 20’s and above. As children, nobody told us we needed to be connected to be well adjusted and “better” human beings. (Well, perhaps I won’t speak for newer parents and kids who won’t know a life without ubiquitous high speed Internet most everywhere they go.)

Being in cultures that have been formed in rich histories and still exist in them will bring new perspectives and chances to reflect and see the world. I hope to connect to people around me in real life (“IRL”) and spend more time away from this Internet thing. I’ll be forced to because I’m not going to be near anyone I know, so if I want to be social at all, it will have to be with people I don’t know right now.

After talking to a friend this week, I’m also giving some considerable thought to taking a break from Facebook for the month, save for posting blog updates. So consider it a warning to any Facebook readers here: if you want me to know what’s going on in your life, I expect an email from you or some time where we hang out together – in person even! – when I return to the US. And if you want to keep up with me, email me to ask or follow me here.

Don’t worry, you’ll still get updates from me via trip details, (probably new) perspectives on life, and see a few photos once in a while, just don’t expect it too frequently for the next month.