Friday, October 31, 2008

Writing a novel

If you happen to remember, one of my goals for this trip is to write something. Though I am open to what I write, I have had some very specific ideas about some possibilities. And one of my big ideas is to write a young adult novel.

I have very fond memories of reading when I was younger. I hated reading until I was about 10. And then... I discovered the oh-so-wonderful Baby-Sitters Club series, and then I was hooked. Forever. For several years, I would get a weekly allowance of $5 and mom would walk over with me to the bookstore in the World Trade Center and she'd unleash me... I'd run to the young adult section and choose the next BSC book in the series. They were $4.99 and that's where my money went. I'd start the book as soon as I got home, reading constantly. I'd balance the book on the table, it bent around my plate as I ate. I was lost in Stonybrook, with Kristy, Claudia (God, I wanted to be her!), Maryanne, Dawn and Stacey. Baby-Sitting, dealing with boys, solving mysteries...

It was bliss.

And I want to do that for someone. I want to create a world where a young adult girl can get sucked into, and enjoy herself and be creative and learn new things. Especially after working students for the last two years, and seeing what some of them read.

Anyway, I have been writing while I've been here... probably not as much as I should, but I have written some. And I often get frustrated with the editing and going back and censoring or changing what I've written... nervous that it sounds stupid or doesn't make sense.

But NOW, well, now I have an answer to my prayers. All thanks to my friend Carrie! Carrie's facebook status today read "Carrie is writing a novel in November and thinks you should too." I like Carrie. I think she's cool, and more than that, I think she's smart. I take her advice. I appreciate her opinions. So I went to the site. And it's great!

This is the site fo
r National Novel Writing Month, and the gist is this: You write a novel. In November. I will start tonight, at midnight, and keep on writing till November 30th. By midnight on November 30th, I submit my work, the words are counted (and then the contents deleted - I was concerned about copyrights, plagiarism, etc. but it seems legit) and if you have written 50,000 words by then, well, you win.

What do you win? Mainly the satisfaction that you have written a novel (or at least begun one). There's no editing during this month, it's, as the site says, an "experiment in output." That's what got me. I like output. I want to output some writing. I'll worry about editing and changing things later.

I think this rocks. I am so excited about doing this - I think it's got just enough of a gimick to keep me going. You can update your word count as often as you like, and see how you are doing. It's fun. It's exciting. I'll let you know how it's going!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Pics!! How can you resist?!

Check out some random, recent pictures of our time in Prague at this link.
You know you want to!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Looking for Adventure

Back in the early months of 2008, when we were initially planning this European vacation, we knew we would stay in Prague with Andy's parents, and that we would try to travel as much as possible. We also knew that we would plan on visiting Paris for sure, because Andy had never been there and wanted to go, and although I had been there, wanted to experience it with him. We also had discussed for years the possibility of going to Italy, and we decided that we would go to Venice because, well, why not? It's Venice, and I think it's different from anywhere in the world.

We also had thought about doing a Rome/Florence trip, after the summer. However, once we returned to Prague from our 2 weeks in Paris and Venice (as well as our brief trip to Krakow earlier in the summer), we were happy to be grounded for a while, and also sick of dealing with groups of tourists. We decided we would wait before planning another vacation. We also were a little concerned with money, particularly because we weren't working, and the dollar was not doing well compared to the Euro. We eventually decided that we just didn't want to go to Rome and Florence and fight our way through more crowds, etc. We'll save that for the future, we decided.

That's been all well and good. We've been home, here in Prague, since August, and have had other things to focus on. My dear friends Heather and Crystal came to visit for a week in September, and we had a blast. After they left, we had the whole visa drama to worry about. Throughout all these excitements, we have been going into the city of Prague and exploring, becoming familiar with different neighborhoods, local restaurants and jazz and blues clubs (the music scene is great here) and just getting into the life here. I am feeling very comfortable here and very much at home.

We have also officially experienced the season change... when we arrived the summer days were hot (the evenings cool, as usual), when September came it began to cool down, and now that we are wrapping up October, we awake to grey days, rainy and cool, even cold, weather. I am wearing my wool jacket and have taken out my scarf. It's nasty!

Of course, being an American, my mind is on Halloween this week. I love Halloween, and will miss it this year. The Czechs don't celebrate Halloween, traditionally, though there are some decorations in the larger stores, and it seems like some towns are trying to get some festivities together. A couple bars or pubs in Prague have parties for Americans (and British? Do they celebrate Halloween?). But, it's not the same. So, I'll be at Blues Sklep on Friday night, a great place to hear live blues. BUT, because it is Halloween, I am getting into a holiday mood. I am looking forward to Thanksgiving, which we WILL be celebrating, probably at Jama, a pub featuring American food, that apparently does an American Thanksgiving celebration (while airing American football on the tv).

I also can't help but look forward to Christmas. It's almost a relief to see that the stores here, particularly Tesco, have begun displaying their Christmas wares just as early as stores in America. Now I know America is not alone in it's commercializing and capitalizing off the holiday! More than anything else, I have been VERY impressed by the Advent calendars here in the Czech Republic... I am used to the simple rectangular ones with the solid milk chocolates - you know what I mean - but HERE... well, they come in different shapes and sizes (see above), and some have fancy assorted chocolates. It's a Christmas-celebrating chocolate-lover's dream.

What has coincided with me catching this year's holiday-bug is Andy and I deciding that we would like to go on a little trip. After researching destinations and considering a variety of locations, including Salzburg, Austria (sadly, the bus company we'll be taking doesn't go there), we have just booked a trip for early December to Nuremberg, Germany!

This is great, because I've only been to Germany once, a day in Dresden, years ago, and we wanted to go again, considering we are right next to it. This is also very very exciting because in our research we discovered that Nuremberg has this wonderful Christkindlesmarkt, or Christmas Market! Oh boy, are we thrilled!
I can't imagine a better place to go to get even more into the holiday spirit.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New format & more

In case you haven't noticed, I have changed the format of this blog. I like this one better - it's kind of girly, and the colors are relaxing and nice.

So, people ask me, what's going on, how's life in Prague? And there's not that much to say. We are (still) just relaxing and taking it easy. I have been sick for two weeks, but that hasn't stopped me (much) from going out, especially this week as the illness has wound down.

I am still learning Czech, teaching myself with the help of a pretty good text book and accompanying exercise book by Lída Holá called "Czech Step by Step". Czech is so darn hard to learn it's crazy. Here's some examples of things I know, and say often:

"Vím" - I know
"Nevím" - I don't know
"Rozumim" - I understand "Dobry den" - Good day (said when you walk into a store, restaurant, pub, etc.)
"Na shledanou" - See you later (said when you leave a place or person)
"Ahoj" - Hello
"Čau" - Hello, Goodbye
"Dam si velky pivo" - I would like a large beer
"Ano" - Yes
"Ne" - No
"Pujdeme do kina pondeli, chceš jít?" - We are going to the movies on Monday, do you want to come?

Czech is a tricky language to learn, because it's really verb-based.There's a lot of conjugating going on. But I'm totally getting a hold of it, and trying to use it more. Andy has to watch himself because he is the main person I talk to, and he usually uses English. And then there's David, Andy's brother, who
knows English and likes to practice, so it's hard to get him to use Czech with me.

Besides learning the language, I read a lot (currently reading Diary by Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, next book is A Dirty Job Christopher Moore - both supplied by my dearly loved friends Heather and Crystal on their recent trip here) and we rent a lot of movies, since most are American or British and are in English with optional Czech subtitles. I like to leave the subtitles on so I can get used to the written Czech language, though at this point I need to be speaking more than reading. We have gone to a couple movies while we're here - "Tropic Thunder," "The Dark Knight" - and are going to see a bunch this week.

We have been eating out a lot this week, both at a new pub by the soccer field in Ujezd nad Lesy, where Andy's parents live, and in the center of Prague. In Prague we went to Vermeer on Monday and had reuben sandwiches (Andy's a little done with Czech food, so we're trying out some of Prague's international offerings) and Wednesday we went to La Casa Blů and had some good cheap beer and some very tasty Mexican.Surprisingly good!

When we were in Prague we also visited a Thai Asian market I'd heard about and bought ingredients for Thai Tom Yum soup. It was tasty and simple, with coconut milk, cilantro, chilies, shrimp and lemongrass... despite my insane mushroom issue (recipe called for shitake, I could only find dried oyster mushrooms... this is how they end up - who knew they'd grow so big?!?).

Also on Wednesday we went shoe shopping and I got some Bata boots (shown here), which gives me great pleasure because they are a)comfortable, b)decently priced and c)unavailable in the US so I feel like a very cosmopolitan jet-setter.

Although earlier in the week the weather was very nice and fall-like and quiet and still, today is cold and windy. We have rented "Capote," which we never saw, and are in for the evening.

Me, near the I.P. Pavlova stop in Prague on Monday.

Monday, October 6, 2008

My long and winding road to temporary residency in the Czech Republic

I knew when I came here to the Czech Republic that I could stay 90 days, and apply for a long term visa in order to stay the rest of the time... approximately 7 months.
SO, of course I wait too long to research ALL the details, and so did Andy, and last Sunday I start researching what I need to take to the office, etc, because, as I was surprised to find, Monday, October 6th, would be day 90 for me.

It turns out that I should have:
a) registered with the foreign police when I first got here, within 3 days, and
b) I should have applied for this long term visa WHEN I WAS STILL IN NY (which I think is a little ridiculous).

BUT, I can still apply for it, but I have to go to this terrible office, the only one for Prague's 12 or so districts (as opposed to the towns outside of the city), where apparently you have to get on line at like 2am, as well as sign up before closing the previous day to be seen, and then when the office opens at 7am, some Russian mafia guys come out and reorder the line, and would likely put little me at the back, and all kinds of other seedy individuals at the front, because that's kind of how lucky I am.

If I do not go to the foreign police and file and application, and don't return home immediately, then I would be illegal. When I finally would leave, I would be fined, banned from the Schengen zone (which is the CR and several other EU countries that are all essentially one state and borderless - no passports are checked) for three years. IF they check my passport when I leave. And if they do, this would all happen IF the guard wanted to do it. Otherwise I could get lucky and just waved through. It happens.

So, Andy and I are thinking, well, instead of dealing with the foreign police, I could leave the Schengen zone and then come back. New stamp in the passport, it's all good. It "resets" my stay here. We were all excited, planning a quick 24 hour jaunt to Switzerland, then I found out that when I leave the Schengen zone, I can't come back for 90 days. There goes that idea.

So, I can't be illegal, that would be way too embarrassing if I was taken into a back room when trying to board my flight. Not to mention, I'd surely miss my flight. And have to reschedule, and sit around at the airport... awful.

And I can't leave and come right back. And I really don't want to deal with the Prague foreign police office and their Russian mafia goons...

And then Andy's mother suggests the golden idea: I can apply for a temporary residence visa and say I am staying with Andy's brother, David, who lives outside of Prague, where the office is friendlier, smaller, easier and way more helpful. And I will actually be seen. (And we do split our time between Andy's parents house in Prague and David's, so it's not lying...)

So... the process is moving along. We're preparing. Andy's on the phone with them and the woman on the phone asks what my purpose is for being in CR? Andy says I'm just here, visiting. And she's like, no no, there has to be a purpose for her being here. Finally, Andy says, she's my wife! and she's all, ohhhh, ok, you just have to bring your original marriage certificate when you come, as well as ID, and we can get the process rolling.

Of course, we don't have our marriage certificate.

It's in a safe, WE THINK, that we left in New Paltz. Of course, my mom isn't there on this day, it's now Monday, Rosh Hashana, and she wasn't planning on going. But I've got 7 days left of being legal, not to mention the bad Prague office is open Mon-Thu and the nice small town office is only open Mon and Wed, so... wonderful mother of mine drove up to New Paltz to get our marriage certificate and sent it FedEx priority to to us. And she had to fax a copy on Tuesday for it to be translated, while we waited for the original.

Such drama.

FedEx say it will be there by Wednesday, end of business day. But it's not. By 12:30 Thursday we are freaking, because when we tracked it it said delivery time by 12 on Thursday, but now it's after 12 and they've taken that off the tracking page... and Andy calls, and... don't YOU always insure something when you send it? SO, mom had written the value as $50 and wouldn't you know that in the CR if a package is worth more than $25 then it has to go through CUSTOMS and we have to produce a commercial receipt, because we are now considered IMPORTERS????

Anyway, we dealt with a nice guy at FedEx who was able to change the value or something, and it finally came Thursday night, and we went yesterday morning to the "good" office, which was AWESOME and there was no wait, and of course we had what they had told us to have: marriage certificate (original and translation), both our passports, photos for ID, appropriate forms... and translated insurance... wait - TRANSLATED one had said we needed that for a temporary residency visa. Sh*t.

Luckily, down the hall, God gave me an insurance agency where I was able to get some basic czech health insurance for 4 months, for $100. They are open, I get it, I run back to the lovely foreign police, and it gets done.

My application is in. I am legal for at least 60 more days. Hooray!!

I will return in 60 days to get my visa, or find out if my application has been rejected for some reason. If it is, then I will just come home. I will miss Christmas here in Prague, which would suck, but at least I got 5 months of good travel from it.

For the time being, I have a golden ticket (well, it's blah-tan, like recycled paper) that states I have applied for the visa, and therefore I am safe. And I thank god I didn't have to go to the scary "bad" office, where I have a feeling things could have gone very differently and I would probably be illegal and in hiding now, instead of planning my evening, where we will go out for dinner, and what time "Once" is showing at the Atlas.

(Awesome note: when trying to find the picture above, I happened upon an article about how bad the Prague Foreign Police offices and wait are. Great timing! Click here to read.)