Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And more pictures!

Okay... so as I have mentioned, I can only upload something like 5 pictures at a time, so its been a very labor intensive process (I have uploaded something near 200 pictures at this point). Anyway, there are a whole bunch now on the internet, through facebook photo albums. Here are some links, in addition to the last post where I also listed a link to the first batch.

more prague pics -

auschwitz pics -

krakow pics -

I will post news about Krakow later today or so.

ALSO - Please make sure you check out the blogs "About the Rooster" for its video at the end, and "About the Kolac" for newly linked pictures (you gotta click on the colored words!).
This is true entertainment, folks. Enjoy it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pictures - Finally!!

Okay, here are the first batch of pictures from this trip so far. This is an incredibly slow process, as it seems I can only upoad 5 pictures at a time into a Facebook album successfully (and each group of 5 takes about 3-4 minutes each!!). But, I am not here to complain. I am here to share my experiences with friends, family, loved ones.


I will be posting all Auschwitz and Krakow pictures later today, or tomorrow.

About Poland

Andy’s brother Lukas and his girlfriend, Katka, took last week off. So we decided to plan a trip. Being the history and war buffs that we all are (more history than war for me, but whatever), we began discussing visiting a concentration camp, either Auschwitz or Dachau. Auschwitz was bigger, but is in Poland, which is a little further of a drive. Dachau was closer, located right outside of Munich, Germany, and Katka used to live in Munich and speaks German. So, Dachau won. But, since we were planning so late, and because there was some big exhibition going on in Munich last week, we were unable to book a hotel and so settled upon visiting Auschwitz and staying the night in Krakow.

We left very early – 4am – last Wednesday. We left early to avoid the highway traffic, which apparently gets very bad because everyone in Europe drives to the beaches in Croatia in the summer. Who knew? So, we left early and arrived at Auschwitz at about 10am.

Quick tips for anyone who travels to Auschwitz: 1. if you park in the parking lot on the left side do NOT buy a guide from the girl walking around trying to sell them. It’s useless; luckily we realized this before actually purchasing the guide. 2. If you DO park in the left parking lot, wait until you are in the museum before you use the bathroom, or go before you get to Auschwitz. We had to pay a dollar each to use the toilets in that parking lot! 3. Do not walk to Birchenau. Take the bus, but beware the only leave about every 20 minutes or so, or just drive your car. There is plenty of parking there even though they indicate otherwise. We walked, and its 3 km and not a very pleasant walk. Plus there’s a ridiculous amount of snails (slimak, as they are called in Czech) on the sidewalk and it gets very tiring stepping over them… unless you prefer to step on them, which is just gross.

I don’t think I really need to get into what being at Auschwitz is like… it is, of course, very upsetting. Though I will say that Auschwitz was not nearly as terrifying or frightening as I would have thought. A few years ago we visited Terezin, in the Czech Republic, which was an internment camp for Jews and the like who were often held here for years before getting shipped off to Auschwitz right before the end of the war, to be killed. Terezin was often used as a model camp that was toured by the Red Cross during the war, as an example of the Nazis preserving Jewish life… many writers and artists were imprisoned here and were given a good amount of creative freedom, in that plays were produced, a newspaper was put out, etc. The Red Cross was impressed by this lovely display of Jewish life, and allowed Terezin to continue its operations. Of course, people were still killed here (usually hanged, if I remember correctly) and the conditions were less that stellar, when the Red Cross was not visiting, of course.

Auschwitz made me think of Terezin, physically at least. The camp was much smaller than I’d pictured, and the brick buildings surrounded by the trees…it was almost pleasant looking. It was not frightening looking, or creepy…until you start walking around (we did our own tour, not an organized group tour) and seeing things like where bodies were hanged to scare everyone else, and the death block, which holds various cells including a very small space which was a standing cell, where up to 4 people had to stand, only stand, after working all day, and where there was hardly any ventilation or air, and would usually pass out or die. And of course, the wall where people were shot.

We walked to the crematorium. We went in…though at first I didn’t think I would. But then I decided, this is what it's about, I guess. Seeing this stuff, learning from it. When you walk in, there is a sign that asks people to remain silent in honor of the people who were burned here. Of course, some people were not quiet. And someone brought a child in, about 6 years old or so, and I just don’t agree with that at all. Regardless, it was haunting and sad.

Being in a concentration camp, a place where so many people have died and suffered and lost all hope, I really didn’t want to be a hater. Andy and I tried to not get annoyed with people, like the ones who talked loudly in the crematorium, or the parents of the small child who is being exposed to things he can’t possible understand, yet may remember forever and somehow scar him. We tried to be lovng and appreciative of all humans and their differences, and all that. But the one guy who we deemed UNACCEPTABLE was the guy in the strawberry hat. Because, to wear a strawberry hat to a concentration camp… to wear something so ridiculous, so silly… well, it’s just completely disrespectful. And we couldn’t leave there without taking this guy’s picture. God knows I am not the fashion police by any means, but I felt that there was a level of toned-down-ness and respect that should be displayed when visiting a concentration camp. It’s just the right thing to do.

After Auschwitz, we went to Birchenau, which, in physical terms, is a much more upsetting place. It seems the Nazis were definitely not trying to hide anything, or sugar coat anything, when they built this camp. This was much more frightening to visit.
(Side note: Last year we visited a Communist prison camp, where Andy’s grandfather was imprisoned for being a capitalist. That camp looked very similar to Birchenau, though on a smaller level. Although not gassed, prisoners were still tortured, starved and shot there.)

Needless to say, it was an emotional day. We left at about 2pm, and headed toward Krakow. Because this blog is slightly sad I think I will write a new one about Krakow. This is the end of the concentration camp blog.

Monday, July 21, 2008

About the Kolac

The Czechs love their bread. So I’ve heard… though it seems to be true, based on observing the Spacek family. Andy often tells me that I can’t judge all Czechs based on what my experience with the Spacek family is, because the Spaceks are unique in their practices. So please, anytime I do seem to make what seems like a generalization about the Czechs, know it probably is specific only to the Spaceks.

My dear friend Crapper (a pseudonym and affection nickname to protect her identity) will be visiting us here with her equally lovely significant other, and Crapper told me that there is a little concern when it comes to the Czech food, since the sig. other is a little… shall we say, cautious, with food intake. Well, let me lay it all out on the table, in terms of my experience.

Bread with cheese and salami. This is a normal meal at the house. It can serve as breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. It’s quite tasty, though please, put away those calorie counters. The Czech Republic is not a place to watch your weight (unless you’re me, doing a non-lite food experiment to prove a conspiracy, in which case I’m only watching my weight in terms of eating things like this very meal) and especially not a place to be watching your carbs.

In this household we eat one large meal a day, being lunch (a few hours after the bread, cheese and salami), which can be a traditional Czech meal like goulash (but with knedliky instead of potatoes!), chicken paprikash, and my favorite, svickova (meat in a pureed vegetable sauce with cranberry sauce and knedliky), pan-seared or pan-fried chicken breast, raw vegetables (usually tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers) and knedliky or potatoes. Then you either eat leftovers for dinner, or have a snack (see bread, cheese and salami, above).

If we are out, though, we might eat some very interesting things. Often, at a pub, while drinking beer, I will eat one of my favorite pub foods, hermelin. Hermelin is awesome – it’s oil covered camembert cheese (so the say; it seems an accurate description), often cut in half with spicy peppers between it’s “layers” and peppers and onions on top. It rocks. You eat it with bread. Another popular pub food is Utopenec, which doesn’t often appeal to me, because it is a long kielbasa-like weiner with mustard that is pickled (which turns me off for some reason), but I love the name, which means “drowned man.” It is called this because it is stored in a jug of pickling juice.

The Czechs (this actually seems to apply to all Czechs) do love their sweets. Candy, whether bon-bons (hard candy) or chocolate, is very popular…so much so that I often see apartment windows with Orion signs, which is one of the popular chocolate makers. They also love their ice cream (zmrzlina). But, what Czechs really love is their kolac. Kolac is any kind of cake with jam, or something sweet on it. Kolac is similar to danishes, crumb cake, anything cakey like that. Kolac rocks! (When searching the internet for pictures of kolac I happened upon this, which is not what I considered kolac, but to each his own!)

Andy’s mother made one recently that is so wonderful and fluffy with merigue and currants, that I called it a cake made by magical elves, so now it’s called magicky kolac (magical cake). Yum! Crapper, surely you two will enjoy these!

About the Rooster

Okay. So, any friends of mine that are planning on visiting should know about the rooster.
This guy kills me.

First, a further explanation of where Andy’s parents live – Ujezd nad Lesy. As I’ve mentioned, Ujezd (as we call it), is to Prague as Queens is to Manhattan. It is still considered Prague… in fact it is Prague 9 (like Paris arrondisments, Prague neighborhoods have numbers as well as names). But it’s a bit removed… to get to Prague center, which is where Stare Mesto is, and Prague Castle and all the touristy stuff, from Ujezd, there are two possibilities of travel. First, we could walk through the woods along a narrow and woody path (it’s very woody, but very nice… just narrow… single file only) for a little less than a mile (about 15 minutes), where we end up in Klanovice, the next town over, to take the “City Elefant” train, which is comparable to the LIRR or Metro North. We get on, hopefully get a seat, and within a half an hour we’re in Prague. The second option is to walk a couple blocks to the bus stop, take a 10 minute bus ride to Cerny Most (which means “Black Bridge”) and get the subway into Prague (about 15 minutes more or less).

So, now you have an idea of the distance between Prague center and Ujezd. Now, Ujezd is just a small village, no center really, just a main street that goes through and neighborhoods of houses off of it. Andy’s family has lived here for 27 years, and in recent years Ujezd has become increasingly popular for city people who are seeking to have “country” houses. Although, it’s not what I would consider the country, not by my upstate NY, American, born in Indiana standards. But, they do sell boruvky (blueberries) on the side of the road, and Andy’s parents grow lots of veggies in their garden… but Ujezd is more a rural European village than the “country.” However….

There’s a freaking rooster here! And it crows! A lot! All day long, in fact! Beginning at 4:30am!

Now, truly, it shouldn’t be such a big deal. However… it doesn’t sound like a rooster… like a real, “cockle-doodle-doo” rooster. No. It sounds like a human being murdered. And waking up to that at 4:30 in the morning is worse than waking up to a rooster could ever be. So, friends, beware. At this point, after nearly 2 weeks, I have gotten (pretty) used to it. I am not waking up at 4:30 anymore when it crows (I assume it’s still crowing, that is). But, I wouldn’t discourage you from bringing earplugs. That’s for sure.

Click below to see the gardens behind the houses on Andy’s parents’ street, while listening to the I’m-a-human-being-murdered rooster.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Prague... here at last!

How I have missed my computer, and writing on its lovely, non-foreign keyboard!

We have been in Prague now for four days. We arrived safely, of course, after only a slightly bumpy first-flight. We had a layover in Brussels, and I went in search of frites and beer. Sadly, it was 8am in Brussels, so if there was anyplace that served their famous frites, they were not serving them at that hour. I did, however, find a beer and a weird salami snack – a bag of salami balls, whose taste resembled slim jims, but were just in ball form. Weird. But good, with the beer. Great breakfast.

Sadly, we got a little tied up with our post-beer cigarette outside of the airport when we realized we needed to start heading for the gate, as our connecting plane was leaving in a half hour. Who knew the airport was so big! We were only just going through the metal detectors and Andy was getting wanded, when I heard our names being paged overhead. Ack! We ran forever and finally made it to our gate, only to be put on a bus, and be driven across the airfield (I’m sure there’s a more appropriate word for that, but I can’t think of it now) to our smallish plane. There we made it to our seats, only to sit for 20 minutes. Ugh. Anyway, we made it to Prague in good spirits and were met by the family Spacek and drove home.

Since then we have been sleeping, relaxing and eating. Today, thankfully, the exercise started with a two mile hike through the woods from Andy’s parents town of Ujezd nad Lesy (which, in Andy’s translation means “Ditch next to the Woods”) to the next town over, Klanovice. The walk through the woods is lovely, trees cover us so even if it’s sunny we are not suffering from heat, and the path is wide and the woods are beautiful.

Exercise is an important element in this trip, because I have gotten really fat and blamed it on many things (dad dying, stressful work, graduate school classes, enjoying food, laziness, etc.) but have seen this trip as a chance to redeem myself, and go through some kind of period of health-enlightenment. I also have this theory, after going on countless diets and filling my home and myself with endless amounts of light/lite, low fat, fat free, nonfat items, that this whole processed light-foods scene is a complete and total conspiracy. I exercised during these periods and still lost an incredibly little amount of weight, if any at all, and always gained it back.

When I came to Prague for the first time several years ago, I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted (Andy’s mom cooks a lot and pushes a lot of food and sweets on us) and gained but one small measly pound the whole time. I also walked a ton, and yes, it was many years ago and no, I’m not getting any younger, and, yes, as we get older we don’t lose weight as easily… but I’m convinced it was because I ate hardly a processed, light-type of food at all. Everything was whole-fat this and whole-fat that and fresh and good. So, in an effort to lose weight I’m going to be closely tracking how much I walk/exercise, and exactly what I eat. I have a scale here, which weighs me in kilograms which I convert to pounds, and I’m going to see what happens, and what works and what doesn’t.

Since I know you’re dying to know what the outcome is, I’ll keep you posted.

Before I sign off for now, I’d like to just go over my goals for this trip, since I think writing them here will help me be on track for achieving them.

1. Make running a part of my daily routine (this is where that 2 mile walk today is leading up to… because I am not a runner at all, I hope to be incorporating running into my near-daily walk in the next two weeks, alternating between running and walking, and then leading into more running, and you can see where this is going).

2. Write some fiction (this is likely to be a young adult novel that I really need to flesh out so I won’t say more… although there’s also a children’s story in the works, written by Andy and I together, about two of our favorite animals).

3. Learn Czech (I’ve put it off for 10 years. No more excuses.)

I’ll write more soon, because I have to tell you about this f*cking rooster.

Czech Technical Difficulties

We have arrived! We are safe and sound, and the only international frustration I am experiencing is that my macbook wont connect with the modem here, and theres no wifi and I so I cant get my computer online. So I am using the family computer, which is a Dell desktop that we brought here a couple years ago, and it works fine, except...

...the keyboard!

I hate it. Truly. After getting used to my macbooks wide spaced keys I am totally spoiled, and so I cant type a sentence without an error, not to mention when I attempt to delete a letter I press this weird other key instead which inevitably adds random umlauts to letters. Frustration! Here is an example= ΓΌ ¨n. Also, a lot of keys stick.


I also cannot locate the question mark key or the apostrophe, so I am learning to do without. I would have preferred not to write the old blog like this, but I have been forced to. I wrote a perfectly lovely entry the other night, on the mac, and saved it to my flashdrive... but, alas, this computer is so old it apparently is refusing to acknowledge my flashdrive. So until I can locate an internet cafe here in the village where we are staying, I wont be able to post it (its long and I am too lazy to type it again, also).

Oh, and of course, I cannot post pictures until I can get my computer connected to the internet. So theres that, too.

Thats the word on whats going on here. Hopefully in the next couple days I will post the *real* blog. Until then... ahoj!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Officially Homeless* & Unemployed

It's true - I can be considered officially homeless* and unemployed now, seeing as I have moved out of my apartment and am now living out of a suitcase and sleeping on the futon on the lower bunk of my brother's bed. I no longer pay rent to someone. Ha ha! And, of course, I have no job. I don't have to go anywhere or do anything that I don't want to do. And the best part? I'm still getting paid till the end of August. Teaching rocks!

We moved on Monday, and it was very smooth. We've been packing up the apartment for months, it seems, little by little, and finally we loaded up the U-Haul and were on our way. We drove everything upstate and reorganized our storage unit in New Paltz and loaded everything in. It's a miracle! It all fit. Now we have two duffle bags and two big suitcases, and that's that till next March.

After we returned the truck, we got a beer to reward ourselves at the bar by the train station in Poughkeepsie. We then caught the metro north and came back to the city to live by our wits... on the upper west side, in my mom's apartment (scary, I know).

So here we are, UWS residents for the past several days. It's been an amazing feeling to wake up, not have to go to work, and just go walk down Broadway or Amsterdam and stop and get coffee or whatever, and just relax. We have been getting last minute things done before we go: returning our cable box, a doctor's appointment, obtaining the international driver's permit, etc.

We have also been taking advantage of a variety of eateries, and other shops and sites, that we either haven't ever been to, or have been away from for a while. We visited Barney Greengrass, "The Sturgeon King" for the first time. We had the sturgeon "appetizer" ($17!) with an extra plain bagel and ate like a king and queen. We've gone to Saigon Grill (my favorite, especially now that the delivery man strike is over) and to Pio Pio for luscious maduros and spicy green sauce, tangy ceviche and sweet, sweet sangria (truly the best in the world). We've gone to Dive Bar for drinks, to Jefferson Market Library for internet access, to Bigelow Pharmacy and Gracious Home, just to look around. We've sat watching kids play in Tompkins Square park. I was interviewed for some internet movie about work. We've been walking something like 20,000 steps a day (that's a lot! - thanks, pedometer!) all around NYC, from Chelsea to Chinatown and all around. We're enjoying NYC the way it should be enjoyed and it's great.

One last note for now - about two years ago I was reading Time Out NY and saw a little piece about some arepas place in the east village, and the description of this one arepa sounded so amazing - (simply put) shredded beef, black beans, white cheese and plantains - that I clipped that piece and put it next to my recipe box, vowing to get to this arepa place and eat that arepa one day. I would occasionally take the clipped piece of writing out and look at it, showing to a friend and saying, "We're totally gonna go get one of these!" and never actually doing it. One day I looked for the clipped magazine review, and it was gone. I SEARCHED for it, not remembering the name of the restaurant. No. It was gone. But, of course, in my recent packing, the clip resurfaced. Andy and I went on Tuesday. It was amazing. Go. Now. yummy yummy, go there. Caracas Arepa Bar and get the A-8 - De Pabellon. You won't regret it!!

Anyway, tomorrow's the fourth. We're going to New Paltz with the family, and will hopefully see our newlywed friends, Caitlin and Darren, who are up in the area with some friends. Happy 4th of July!!

*"Homeless" is a term I am using incredibly lightly here. As the daughter of a wonderful woman who has been working at and now running a shelter for homeless men for the last many years, I take the matter quite serious and am quite obviously not truly homeless since I have a wonderful family who will (probably) always support please, I mean no offense and use this term only in a lighthearted slightly humorous way that applies only to me, etc. etc. etc.