Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Public Transportation

I'm really enjoying using public transportation here. For about $34 each, we bought 30-day passes that allow us to ride the metro (subway), trams (electric, above-ground streetcars, like Trax in Salt Lake City), and buses all over Prague. Mira rides for free with her very own ID card. (We were delighted that they were willing to use a four-year-old passport photo of her for the ID, and it's good until she turns 10.) This totally beats what we were paying for gas in Idaho (usually $400-$500 a month), which of course doesn't count the other costs of owning cars -- oil changes, tires, repairs, etc. Granted, we traveled a much larger area in Idaho, driving to Idaho Falls and Rexburg at least a few times a month. Here, we're enjoying the advantages of living the city life, too, so the comparison isn't really fair. But I'm not trying to be technical here, I'm just enjoying Prague's public transportation!

Here we are on the bus to Zličín yesterday.

There's a cute Czech baby in the video! The kids like that you can stand or sit and sometimes Mira does both, many times, in the course of one trip.

By the way, there is indeed an easy way to get to Ikea (I knew there would be!) -- a bus that travels every 6-8 minutes between the metro/bus station and the shopping center on the other side of the highway. Ikea was not our main focus this time. We needed to buy a new sled for our landlord's family, because we broke one of theirs (of course), so we were headed to Tesco Extra, which reminds me very much of Target. But first, we went to Ikea and the kids played one of those XBox things that "sees" you in front of the TV -- no controllers! I have to admit that it was pretty cool.

We also ate Swedish Meatballs, since Seth claimed he had never had them before. The lady at the counter was eager to speak English to me, which she did before I even got the first word ("švédský") out of my mouth. Her English was great and she seemed delighted to use it.

And here are Lillian and Mira on the tram that runs very near to our house, #22.

And Seth on the same tram.

He really likes to bring a book and read it while we travel. I like to look around, listen to people talk, and mutter the stop names to myself and also the phrase "next stop" in Czech: "příští zastávka." I'm getting pretty good at it, and I'm sure it's not weird at all to hear an American woman mumbling "next stop" to herself over and over.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A movie with the girls and walking with Phin

On Saturday, the girls and I went to see Hledá se Nemo (Finding Nemo) in 3D and dubbed in Czech. First, the dubbing was excellent and the Czech-speaking actors sounded just like their American counterparts. Dory still sounded exactly like Ellen DeGeneres, just in Czech. Second, we didn't understand much, but many parts were still very funny. Third, it's a beautifully animated movie and looks great in 3D. (I don't usually choose to see a movie in 3D, but this was only available that way, since 3D is the point of its re-release in theaters.)

The boys thought about going to see The Hobbit dubbed in Czech, but I think they were probably wise not to go. I enjoyed watching Hledá se Nemo, but by the time it was over, my brain felt pretty mushy and I couldn't bring myself to speak Czech to anyone. It was just a bit taxing. And of course, The Hobbit is almost three hours long and probably had way more difficult language in it.

Sunday night, Phin and I set out to go to mass at St. Vitus cathedral in Prague Castle, but I got the time wrong and it was over by the time we got there. (Next week, I guess.) So we walked through the castle, a series of courtyards and alleys between buildings and churches and walls. Then we walked down lots of stairs and took the metro under the river to Old Town Square to see if there might be a mass at Týn Church. There wasn't, but it was nice walking through the castle, down the stairs, and through Old Town a bit. It was misty, sometimes almost raining, and there were plenty of people about. It was fun hanging out with Phin for a while.

Walking towards Old Town Square, Týn Church in the distance.

Týn sits directly behind another building. I'm not sure who decided to build things this way. But these are the spires as seen from in front of that building.

Looking across the square at the clock tower. The side that faces to the left has the astronomical clock on it.

Phin in the groovy metro station. They all look like this, but the colors vary.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Some things that aren't perfect

Lest everyone think that everything is absolutely wonderful, here are a few things that are not:

It has been several days since we saw the sun, and even though I'm in beautiful Prague, day after day of an overcast sky puts me in a funk, just like it does in Idaho! And if Idaho has been getting sun, I'd rather not know about it. In the 8+ years we lived there, we had a few six-week stretches of hardly any sun and I'd like to just assume that's what they're getting this year, too. (Don't destroy my dream!)

As I mentioned in my video tour of the apartment, the kids fight just as much as they usually do! Maybe even more, now that our quarters are closer. And it matters more now when one of them stomps off or slams a door, because we have neighbors! Who live below us! I imagine them gazing up at their ceiling as they listen to us drag kitchen chairs across the floor, walk heavily across the floor, drop things, and argue and play (both of which tend to be loud activities, especially when it's one card game in particular where they slap the table repeatedly). Actually, I think this house is pretty solid, because I don't often hear the boys upstairs, but I worry about our noise nonetheless.

Sometimes it takes quite a long time to get somewhere with public transportation. If there are several transfers between trams, buses, and/or the metro, it can take 45 minutes or so to get somewhere that might take 15 minutes to drive to. Honestly, though, this isn't really bothering me yet. I'm enjoying the public transportation too much still. I love not worrying about parking, the kids generally enjoy traveling more, and I just like not having to drive.

The last few days, I've been very worried about finding good places to live in the UK and when we come back to Prague (we hope) in the fall. For now, we're enjoying Low Season prices, but that's going to end as the High Season begins, so I'm stressed out, to say the least. Trying not to freak out and think "What have we done?" too often. But enough about that!

To close this post, I'll tell how all of the kids made their first unaccompanied outing. One of the American families in the branch invited us all to go bowling with them Tuesday night, but late Tuesday afternoon, I started getting that visual disturbance thing that means a migraine is on the way. Jon had to work and wouldn't be able to go, either. So I spent my pre-headache time figuring out the route to the bowling alley -- a familiar-to-us tram and then two completely unfamiliar buses. The kids were willing to give it a try, so I wrote everything down, showed Zed their destination using Google's Street View (so useful!), and sent them on their way. I guess there were some missed connections and stops on the way there and back (it can be hard to find the right bus stop when it's your first time, and you have to make sure you're going the right direction and stuff like that), but they made it! And they had a great time bowling. Jon and I had been wanting them to go somewhere on their own, and it was a good opportunity. We'd expected to send them out in smaller groups the first time, but they did well as a large pack of siblings, too.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Understanding Czech (or not understanding Czech)

For your enjoyment (maybe), here's what I hear at church:

Now ... something something something ... we can ... something something something something ... God ... something something something ... maybe ... something something something ... amen.

I feel like the dog in that Far Side comic:

blah blah ginger by Gary Larson (Far Side comic) photo blahblah.jpg

The missionaries translate sacrament meeting and Relief Society, and there is a whole Sunday School class for English speakers, so I'm not missing anything really. But I want to hear the Czech, so I put one earbud in and leave the other out and try to understand as much as I can. I think I understand more in Relief Society than in sacrament meeting, and I think it's because in Relief Society, someone's teaching a lesson and there's more repetition. (I'm really enjoying Relief Society, partly because the Czech ladies crack each other up and I love to hear them laugh, even if we English speakers don't get the jokes.)

Being in Prague and hearing Czech is not quite like when I arrived in Germany as an LDS missionary 20 years ago. I did great in the MTC, because I'd taken two years of German at BYU. Then I arrived in my first city, Chemnitz, and I could not understand anyone! I remember one of the APs counseling me to write down unfamiliar words, and I thought, "But I don't hear any words! It's just a stream of nonsense sounds!" Here in Prague, I can hear some of the words I know, so it's not as bad as Chemnitz was. This is probably because there's a pretty distinct dialect in Chemnitz and the rest of Saxony that I didn't learn at BYU or the MTC, while we've been studying Prague Czech.

Of course, I don't know nearly as many words in Czech as I did in German. I think I'm also not recognizing some words I do know, because of their cases. Czech has seven cases, which change the endings (and sometimes middles) of words depending on their function in the sentence. I understand the concept of cases (German has four) but my practical knowledge of Czech words and cases is nearly non-existent. I'm working on it, but very slowly. The other day, Michal taught me how to say "with Seth" (s Sethem), "with Lillian" (s Lillianou), etc. Yes, Czech declines names, too! It's kind of cool. Actually, our Pimsleur audio course claimed that Czechs don't decline English names, but we've experienced otherwise. For example, when Michal wanted to get Jon to stop (he was way ahead of us), he yelled "Jona!" (pronounced with a "y" sound for "j" and a longish "o"; and, yes, "longish" is surely a technical linguistic term). I think that's the vocative case.

So my Czech learning is going slowly (although I have said a few times in Czech "I don't speak Czech"), but I'm plugging along. I might learn more cooking and food terms than anything else. Today, Jon and the boys started a two-week intensive course at a local Czech language school (three hours a day for two weeks), which I hope will rub off on all of us. Lillian and Seth know an awful lot of vocabulary, and the younger three and I continue to have private lessons at our apartment with Mrs. Vitvarova. I'm afraid nothing can really compare to the intense language teaching and learning that goes on at the MTC, though. And then, of course, you're immersed suddenly and completely in that language, talking to people all day long. There's nothing quite like it!

On a different note, last night Lillian and I went to the evening mass at St. Margaret's Basilica at Břevnov Monastery just so we could hear the organ. (The monastery has a website but it's only in Czech, French, German, and Latin.) It's a beautiful Baroque cathedral, but not very well-lit inside at night, so I didn't take any pictures (probably would have been rude to take pictures during their worship service, anyway). It's not heated, and it was cold enough inside that we could see our breath. There were plenty of worshipers there, and I admire their devotion. The organ sounded wonderful and I think I will be visiting several more churches in the same way.

And here's a picture of the inside of St. Vitus Cathedral. It's spectacular and the photo doesn't really do it justice.

From Europe 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ирония судьбы, или С легким паром (The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!)

Erin and I watched this 2-part Russian TV movie from 1975: Ирония судьбы, или С легким паром = The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! I enjoyed it a lot. Good acting, clever story, funny situations, great music (one song has lyrics by Boris Pasternak!), and a nice period piece.

There are articles about it on IMDb and Wikipedia, both with fun details. In Russia it is apparently shown every New Year's Eve or Day and has become a seasonal favorite in the same way It's a Wonderful Life is in the United States.

We watched it on YouTube, in part 1 and part 2.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Jižní Město sídliště

Today I'm feeling a little better. I still wanted to take it easy, but get out a little, so I went with Zed, Phin, and Seth to the southeast of Prague, the Háje stop on the red / C Metro train, to an area called Jižní Město, the "south town". It is a panelák sídliště, a panel-concrete apartment building settlement, which we knew as a Neubaugebiet in former East Germany.

The part of Prague we're living in now is older, so it doesn't have any buildings like that, and I wanted to show this to the boys and see how things look. Apparently this kind of settlement is generally called a microdistrict in the former east bloc. (There is lots of interesting history and nice photos in those Wikipedia articles I just linked to!)

Here is some of what we saw. Note all the festive colors they've added which really make the buildings nice to look at!

Note the terrifying hallway/bridge at the top between the two buildings in this next one!

Finally, our current favorite advertisement seen on the Metro escalator walls:

Unicorn College?! I'm sure I could find out more about it, but I don't want to. I want it to stay vague in my imagination, or perhaps it's a practical joke on us all like Český sen?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Prague Castle

Today we went to Ikea, which was kind of like trying to walk to the Ikea in Draper, Utah, from the other side of the freeway. Apparently you're supposed to drive to the Prague Ikea and not take the metro. Either that, or there's some amazing underground walkway to it and I just didn't find it. (It's possible.) There's a big mall there, too, (which is easy to walk to,) but we didn't have a lot of time, so we just went to Tesco Extra (I found Prague's Super Target!) and to Ikea, where I bought two small power strips for 69 CZK (about $3.75). Then we had to hurry back to the city center so Jacob and Phin could meet Jon and Zed and go pay for their upcoming Czech lessons that start next week! It's hard to hurry when you're taking public transportation. You really don't have much control over it.

In case you're wondering, the Prague Ikea looks pretty much exactly like every other Ikea I've been to, except maybe with everything just a bit more squished. And since Ikea likes to promote their space-saving prowess, that seems appropriate.

On Wednesday, Jacob, Lillian, Seth, Mira, and I went for a brief walk around Prague Castle. We'll definitely be going back because there's a lot to see and I don't really understand it yet. Apparently, the earliest part dates back to 870 AD. There's a convent and a couple of churches inside it (maybe more?), and then lots of huge, long buildings with many windows. And a place called Golden Lane that is a bunch of shops and houses built into the fortification wall. Like I said, my knowledge of it is pretty sketchy still. But it's really cool and old and there are guards at all the entrances and marching around in groups of three.

Below is the St. Vitus Cathedral. You go through some big tunnels under parts of the castle and abruptly come upon this church, so it's impossible to get a full view of it.

From Europe 2013
From Europe 2013

You can see the spires of this cathedral from all over the city because the castle is up on a hill in the middle of everything.

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More of that later, when we have more time and have done some homework!

And now for something random. Behold this loaf of bread, which seems to be pretty ubiquitous here.

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It's big (over a foot long, I'd say) and really good, the kind you'd find at Broulim's in Driggs for $6 or $7 (but it would be about half the size). It costs 25.90 CZK, about $1.36. I love it!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pros and cons of being in Prague in the winter

The other day, Jon said that he's happy we're here in winter, because there are no leaves on the trees, which means we have an amazing view of Břevnov Monastery. It's especially beautiful at night, all lit up and glowing with ivory light until about midnight.

The cons of being here in winter: it's cold! And a bit gray and bleak (although on the day we arrived last week, it was a gorgeous, sunny day and not too cold). And there are many beautiful gardens here that open on April 1st. We'll have only a few days to visit them and then we're off to Dresden for a month. So I'm guessing we'll miss most of Spring.

There are more pros, though, like going sledding with Michal and his children today. There's only a couple of inches on snow on the ground, but it was enough! To go sledding at home, we have to drive at least ten minutes and walking up a sledding hill is pretty tough when there's 3 feet of snow. Here, we walked to Ladronka Park about five minutes away and it's pretty easy to walk up a hill that's barely covered with snow! I think the kids were underwhelmed when we first arrived at the little hill, but everyone had a great time.

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Check out the great sled! I even went sledding on this one, several times. (I was a good partner for the kids, because I made it go faster.) Sturdy and fun!

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Mira with her new Czech friend, who is about her age. They don't need to understand each other to have fun!

From Europe 2013
From Europe 2013

This super cute toddler found Phin, Seth, and Michal's son absolutely fascinating and watched them wrestle and play fight for a good 10 or 15 minutes.

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He was adorable and had no fear! In this picture, Phin is putting his gloves on him.

From Europe 2013
From Europe 2013

And here's Seth with his new Czech friend. I love that Seth and Mira can hang out with some Czech kids.

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Mira and Michal's daughter getting pulled up the hill by Michal.

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The sicknesses have abated a little, at least for most of the kids. (Jon is still feeling pretty bad, and Zed's not great, either.) Paní Vitvarova came for our Czech lesson this morning and she'll come again tomorrow. Next week, Jon, Zed, Jacob, and Phin will start a two-week intensive Czech language course at a place here in Prague. I think it's been difficult for Mrs. Vitvarova to figure out how to teach such a variety of ages, so this will allow her to focus on the kids, and we hope Jon and the boys can progress faster. We'll see how it goes. We continue to use Memrise to learn vocabulary. (Memrise is a fantastic site, with courses of all kinds -- languages, music theory, art, geography, etc. -- and you can easily make your own courses, too.) I still can hardly understand anything, but I keep listening and I catch a word here and there.

Next time, our brief trip to Prague Castle. It's old!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Video Tour!

Here's a video tour of our main apartment. We'll do one of the boys' bachelor pad when it's clean (maybe never!) and we should probably do one at some point of the front door, entryway, etc. In the meantime, enjoy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sick Day!

Well, we held out against all the germs for a long time, but we are sick now! Well, most of us. Phin, Lillian, and I are mostly fine (Phin was already sick back in Idaho), but the rest are in varying stages of colds and coughs, so we stayed home yesterday and today. I've been doing laundry and some cleaning, and I went to Kaufland yesterday (two tram stops from our apartment; our landlord lets us borrow their wheeled cart to bring groceries home in). We still did our Czech lessons with Mrs. Vitvarova, who comes to our apartment and tries to figure out where we are so she can help us progress. (We are a bit confusing, I'm sure, with all the different ages, a decent understanding of grammar, and very little vocabulary.)

Today it's been snowing and I just saw a couple pulling their baby down the street on a sled. I'm curious to see if this is considered a significant amount of snow or not.

From Europe 2013

Lillian and Mira watched A Cinderella Story dubbed in Czech, which I found on YouTube. They couldn't understand much (and neither could I when I watched briefly with them), but I thought it might be helpful to hear 90 minutes of Czech without subtitles. Maybe.

From Europe 2013

And here's a picture of our bed right after I made it and right before Jon got back into it.

From Europe 2013

I've mentioned the Czech bedding before, but I really love it! It's just like what we had in Germany where I was a missionary. Huge feather pillow and a heavy feather duvet (comforter) with a duvet cover on it. They don't use a top sheet, just a bottom sheet and the duvet, and to make the bed, you just fluff everything and fold the duvet in half and leave it on the bottom two-thirds of the bed. Easy! And super warm and comfortable. I was looking forward to the bedding and it did not disappoint!

Sunday, February 10, 2013


I keep thinking that we should be over jet lag by now, but we are not. Almost every time I sit down for longer than ten minutes, I start falling asleep. Unless it's 2:00 am. At that time, I can't sleep. I'm sure we'll get over it soon enough, and I'm sorry to everyone at church today for all of the nodding off I was doing. I will now try to write an entire blog post without falling asleep.

Yesterday our landlord Michal and his family took us to Petřín Hill, where we rode a funicular to the top (apparently, that's a cable car where two tram cars counterbalance each other) and then climbed 299 steps to reach the top of the Petřín Lookout Tower, a (significantly) smaller version of the Eiffel Tower. That's a lot of steps, y'all! As Michal said, "It's very nice sport" to climb them. The view from the top is amazing -- 360 degrees of Prague. (See Phin's post and Seth's post for pictures. I kind of rushed them to finish writing, so there are a few typos. I'll make them fix them later.) I'm not a fan of heights, but I liked that on the way up and down, you're in the open air and have clear views of everything, though obstructed by the criss-crossing structure of the tower. At the top, everything's enclosed in glass (or maybe plexiglass), so it's not quite as cool. (Literally, too. It's pretty cold here! I think it feels about as cold as Teton Valley, even though it was probably about 30 degrees, several degrees warmer than our Southeast Idaho home on any normal winter day.)

After coming down from the tower, we walked down the hill to Malá Strana, passing the German and US Embassies. (If you're interested, read a very interesting story about the German Embassy before the end of the Iron Curtain.) Everything in Malá Strana is old, from the 1600s or so. Looks like somewhere I'd like to go again. (Actually, I'd say that about everywhere we've been so far.)

This morning, we went to church in the Prague Branch. Everyone was delightful. There are lots of Americans and a missionary couple from Australia, so we spoke a lot of English. Many of the Czech members of the branch also speak excellent English (as do our landlord and his wife). This means that our transition to Prague has been pretty easy, but it also means learning Czech could be more difficult. I think the lessened stress might be worth it, as long as Jon doesn't get too stressed out about not learning Czech fast enough, thus negating the relief of stress. (I'm kidding, Jon! Sort of.) I hope that we'll be able to be helpful in the branch, but it's very large and seems to run well, so we'll see. Mira was relieved to find that most of Primary is conducted in both English and Czech (they separate the classes and then come together for Czech singing time at the end). And there's another little American girl her age. Seth immediately found a friend, too, a 9-year-old American boy.

I should mention that both Seth and Mira are making friends with our landlord's children, a 9-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. They can't really talk to each other much, but they manage to play anyway, and I'm happy about that.

This afternoon, Michal and his son took us to Vyšehrad, the oldest part of Prague. And for this, I have pictures!

First, Mira looking pleasant on the tram. (She is pleasant about half the time while we are out and about. It may be the same at home. So she is pleasant about half the time and really whiny and trying the other half of the time. This is what she said at the top of the Petřín tower: "This is so boring!")

From Europe 2013

And here are Zed and Phin on the tram. Zed's a little cranky because he's tired and has shin splints. (He perked up later. Also, he never reads my blog, so I think I'll salt it with little comments about him.)

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A big gate in the wall around Vyšehrad. The wall was built in the 1600s.

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The Rotunda of St. Martin, the oldest building in Prague (according to Wikipedia), built in the 11th century. That's a thousand years ago!

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And, finally, Mira in front of one of the doors to the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul. All of that colorful stuff is a mosaic, I think.

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I don't know why I don't have a good picture of the church. We went in, but we adults didn't want to pay to look around, so we stayed near the entrance and let the kids go all the way in (they were free). Apparently there's an impressive pipe organ in there. I do have big plans to seek out organ concerts at as many churches as possible while we're here, but I'm waiting until I can stay awake while sitting down.

We also walked through the cemetery, where lots of famous Czechs are buried, including the composers Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana. (I'm listening to Smetana's most famous symphony "Má Vlast" ("My Country") on YouTube right now!) Below are my two favorite statues from the cemetery.

From Europe 2013
From Europe 2013

The photos do not do them justice.

A couple of views as we walked down from Vyšehrad:

From Europe 2013
From Europe 2013

On both of these walks with Michal and his family, the kids have started to get tired and cranky, thinking that they have to walk back the way we came. This is common in our family, since we frequently go hiking and nobody knows where or for how long we are going. Sometimes Jon knows, but often, he's in front, leading us all, and he doesn't know how far we're going, either, or what our destination is or if we even have a destination. But these walks in Prague are different, because wherever we end up, we just take the tram, bus or metro (or some combination thereof) and go home a different way. It's a pleasant surprise for the kids, I think. And Michal is an excellent tour guide! I don't get to hear all of what he's telling us, because I'm often with Mira, bringing up the rear, but he's very knowledgeable about the city and tells us lots of interesting things. Like I said earlier, his English is excellent, and when we occasionally don't understand each other right away, we can switch to German and things clear up immediately. (He speaks many more languages, too. Maybe someday we can be multilingual like that!) He helps us with Czech, too.

Finally, here's a picture of the bottom of one of the glasses in our apartment: "Made in USSR." Pretty cool!

From Europe 2013