Sunday, March 31, 2013

A flower for Easter

My hopes for a sunny, flower-filled Easter have been dashed -- it's cold and windy and might even snow -- but here is our indoor Spring surprise:

I'm not very knowledgeable about plants, so I had no idea that this long, straight plant with not very many big leaves would suddenly bloom. We noticed the unopened bloom Friday night, and Saturday morning, there it was. It's really big!

Mom, do you know what it is? It's so pretty and I feel like Spring has at least arrived inside our apartment! What a lovely gift for us.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jon's standing desk

At home, Jon's been using a standing desk for about a year and he really likes it. Now he's working from wherever we're living, so his work set-up will be changing frequently, which we hoped would compensate for whatever uncomfortable situations he found himself in. Here in Prague, while he has a lovely view from a large window in our room, he's been sitting in a less-than-ideal kitchen chair, slouching and slumping and leaning forward and getting increasingly sore and stiff. So today, I conjured up a standing desk for him. Look, he's smiling.

We thought the first solution for the correct keyboard height was funny. We are only missing some cassette tapes:

But it was too high, so we had to come up with something else: a Saxon Algebra I textbook (we brought it for Lillian to use next year) and a roasting pan, wrapped in a towel to prevent slippage. Ta da!

The desk is made up of two tables on top of each other. His laptop and monitor (which Jon packed in his suitcase on the trip over) are on the very top. His keyboard, mouse, power strip, and an external hard drive are on a shelf below that (the shelf belongs to the top table). The bottom "shelf", which is the other table, just has some miscellaneous stuff on it, often food and drink. I think he's happy to be standing again, even if it's just for a week until we move to Dresden. I wonder what we'll come up with there.

Muzeum Lega

On Tuesday, the kids and I went to a Lego Museum here in Prague. From what I read about it, a private collector had accumulated too many Lego sets to comfortably display at his home, so he created a museum. The kids had read about it in a Lego magazine before we left home, so it was fun to check it out.

Here's Zed with a set that he always wanted when he was younger. (A large part of our time at the museum was the boys exclaiming, "Oh! I wanted that one so bad!")

And here's Mira with a famous bridge. I want to say London Bridge, but I don't know if that's right.

I liked this Lego tourist, especially his Hawaiian shirt and sandals with socks. One sock even has a hole in the toe.

There was an extensive train set-up, with switches that ran the trains. This was a cute Czech kid who stood there making the trains go for a long time.

This picture shows that one room of the museum was in some kind of vault. That's the huge, thick vault door to the left. They had Lego displays in several tiny rooms throughout.

Mira with a Lego tiger.

Lego captain.

Mira spelling her name with Duplo blocks on the wall.

The third floor was devoted entirely to Star Wars Legos. Here's the life-size head of Darth Maul.

We should probably go to some museums that aren't toy-related. Someday.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Prague Library

Jon and I happened upon the Prague main library in Old Town the other day, so we walked in, where we found this:

It's a floor-to-ceiling hollow tower of books and it looks pretty cool.

And this is what you see when you look in. It gave me vertigo, even though it's just a mirror in the bottom. There's one in the top, too, so it looks like an endless cylinder of books.

I think I should build one in our house!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

More from Friday's walk

Jon already posted a few photos from our long walk on Friday, but here are more.

First, here is the inside of Strahov Stadium, the largest stadium in the world, taken from between the iron bars of a gate. It seats 220,000 people! It's only used now for training for Prague's soccer team and for concerts, I guess. It's not very far from our house.

There are a bunch of these weird/interesting seats near the stadium, by some buildings that look like they might have been the Soviets' fancy buildings in the '70s. The kids thought they looked like alien thrones.

And here's almost the whole family (Jacob stayed home because he wasn't feeling well) in a really cool part of Kinského zahrada (a huge park the covers the south side of the hill below the Hunger Wall) -- moss-covered sandstone boulders with lots of names and pictures carved into them, some very artistic. The sun came out for a while and the kids had a great time climbing all over the rocks. Jon and I talked for a while to an American grad student who is studying in Paris. He's the one who took the picture.

At the Citadel, which is part of the Hunger Wall (I think). The kids really want to go back and do some kind of role-playing game there.

And just a couple more of the kids at the playground where we ended up. We took the tram home from there.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kinského zahrada

This will be one of the worst posts about Kinského zahrada ever, since the pictures and video are mostly of our kids at the playground.

First, some houses on the top and side of the hill with a nice view that we saw on the walk there:

The kids having a good time. Jacob was home sick. Here are the rest:

Maybe next time we go I'll take photos of the Hunger Wall, the Citadel, and other neat things there!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A few photos

The town hall tower with the astronomical clock on it in afternoon light. Notice the lit-up chandeliers in the windows on the second floor.

Our Czech tutor with the kids. We finished up with her last week, so we'd have more unscheduled time for our last few weeks in Prague. We like her.

Lillian in front of some of the cool buildings in Old Town Square. I love the blue one, although I think the golden yellow ones are my favorite. The astronomical clock is behind me; Lillian is facing it. Roughly.

The gate and tower on the west end of Charles Bridge, from a distance and just the top of it. It was a beautiful day and we love to see the blue sky.

At this very moment, I can hear Mira just outside my bedroom door. She is playing a very imaginative game, singing made-up songs and such, and she just performed a marriage. It's not very often that she plays so well by herself. I love it, and her songs are very entertaining.

Grocery shopping

We probably go to the store four or five times a week here, partly because that's how I want it -- fresh bread every day! -- and partly because we're always on foot and there's only so much a person can carry. Anyway, I thought I'd write a post about what shopping here in Prague is like.

There is a small grocery store called Billa that's just under half a mile from us, and we go there sometimes for bread, rolls, or any other thing we need pretty quickly. It takes less than ten minutes to walk there and has a good selection but is a little more expensive than other stores. The other place we go a lot is Kaufland, which is big. It's a little more than a mile from us and lately I've been walking all the way there -- it's a pleasant walk along residential streets and through a park -- and then I take the tram back when I'm carrying all the stuff. It's two or three stops on the tram, depending on whether I want to take the longer, less strenuous way or the shorter but steep way to our house. I wear my backpack, which is pretty large, and bring a cute reusable shopping bag that stuffs into a little sack. (My sister Cadence gave the bag to Jon a while back and I think of her every time I use it!) I also bought a large, sturdy, folding Kaufland bag made out of a kind of woven plastic, but I've discovered that I'm just a tiny bit too short to carry it comfortably without scraping it on the ground, so I don't always bring it. Anyway, I put the heaviest stuff in the backpack and the delicate stuff like eggs and bananas in the shopping bag, where I can coddle them. (It's a constant struggle to get the bananas home without bruising them. I'll do it someday!) If I bring a big kid or two with me, I make them wear backpacks, too, and we can get quite a lot more stuff.

You have to bring your own shopping bags, which is typical of Europe, as far as I know. You can buy bags at the checkout, but you get used to carrying a few bags around wherever you go. Shopping carts are chained together with clever locks that unlock when you insert a coin and spit the coin out when you return the cart and lock it up. This means the carts are always right where you need them and the store doesn't have to send employees out to the parking lot to retrieve them. (When Jon and I were on our missions in East Germany 20 years ago, people would freak out at you if you tried to go into a grocery store without a cart, but nobody seems to care here. Next month when we head to Dresden, we'll see if it's a geographical thing or just the passage of time.)

Kaufland has two levels and nifty escalators that are ramps, so you can take the carts up them. The wheels on the carts are metal and ridged so that they lock into the escalator surface somehow and don't move. (Suddenly I want to go on the escalator thing with bare feet! What does it feel like?) These ramp escalators are pretty common -- I've seen them in other grocery stores, especially the huge grocery stores that are often anchor stores in malls here.

In most stores I've been in, you weigh your own vegetables and fruits on a scale that has a touchscreen monitor. You find the picture of the produce you're weighing (I'm glad there are pictures, although I'm getting better at Czech food vocabulary), touch the picture, and a sticker with all the relevant information comes out. Prices are per kilogram, and as far as I can tell, most things seem cheaper in the produce section than at home.

Every store has an amazing variety of freshly baked bread and rolls. They're held, unwrapped, in shallow bins and/or shelves, and usually at least a couple of varieties are still warm from the oven. I always get excited to buy warm bread, even though by the time I get it home, it's usually not that warm anymore. Still pretty fresh, though! You can find sliced sandwich bread, but there's not much of it, and I'm not interested, anyway. I love crusty European bread and rolls.

It's not easy to buy things in bulk here, which is hard for me to get used to. For example, the rolled oats we buy come in packages of about six cups. At home, I bought rolled oats in 25-pound bags. Same with flour and sugar -- they come in small bags, maybe three pounds or so. Maybe there is a place somewhere that sells things in bulk, but I suspect that their "bulk" might just be a flat or case of small bags, since there is that sort of thing at Kaufland.

Some things that are hard to find: peanut butter, brown sugar, baking powder (they seem to use baking soda more regularly here), chocolate chips, unsweetened cocoa powder. You can find all of this stuff at Marks & Spencer, which is a British department store that has a great international food section, but it's quite expensive. And I have not seen any natural peanut butter like Adams, which is our favorite peanut butter. It's all typical peanut butter with added sugar and hydrogenated oils. I don't care about having peanut butter -- part of this trip for me is getting to know the local food and experiencing it -- but the kids love to eat bananas and apples with it, so I looked out of curiosity. But since it's expensive and not what we'd buy normally, the kids can go without. I bought roasted, salted peanuts, and the kids seemed to like eating those with their bananas, so I think they'll live.

As an aside, every time I go into Marks & Spencer, I feel like I'm going to run into Bridget Jones, in spite of the fact that everyone in the store is Czech and not British.

Lastly, here's a picture of the kids on Charles Bridge yesterday.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow and music

Here's the view from our window this morning:

I feel like we brought the Teton Valley winter with us, and like we should be apologizing to everyone here. (I'm so good at guilt!) But I'm pretty sure that Spring is on its way, and I hope the snow will melt soon. Although it's lovely, I want to see some green things.

In other news, Jon and I went to an organ and trumpet concert last week in the St. Nicholas church on Old Town Square. It's a Hussite church (though it's been owned by different churches over its 800 year history) and is not very large, but of course, it's beautiful and ornate and huge compared to what I'm used to. It was a lovely one-hour program, with several pieces for two trumpets and organ (trumpets performed by brothers), as well as several organ solos, including a great improvisation by the organist. It was very cold in the church, in spite of several space heaters near the audience. Even the organist and trumpeters wore their coats throughout the performance, although I hope it was a little warmer up in the organ loft, where they played. Or that they had some space heaters up there. I can't imagine playing the organ in that kind of cold.

I talked to the organist after the concert, but since he didn't speak English and my Czech is really, really limited (really limited!), it was a pretty short exchange. I think I told him that he played the organ well. And I think Jon told him that I play the organ. He said "Thanks" many times and seemed appreciative. I really liked his improvisation and I wish I had said something about that -- I could have pointed at it on the program and said "good" at least. But it's hard to think of what to say when trying to communicate in Czech. You'd think it wouldn't be that hard, since I don't know that many words, but it turns out that most everything flees my mind when I'm also trying to understand Czech.

I find it a bit difficult to pay for concerts when it's so easy to hear world-class organ music for free in Utah. I've been to mass twice just to hear the organ, but it's a lot of talking that I don't understand, just to hear a few minutes of the organ. Also, when I went to mass at St. Vitus, it turned out to be in a small chapel off to the side, so we didn't hear the big organ. Maybe they have it in there during the winter, because the cathedral is freezing and too hard to heat, or maybe it was a different kind of mass -- my knowledge of Catholic worship services is nearly non-existent. I enjoyed that small mass, though, and I'm pretty sure the organist was playing a pump organ! It was wheezy and the pumping squeaked, but it was delightful.

While we're on the topic of organs, I got to play the organ at church last week for sacrament meeting! I wasn't expecting the chapel here to have an organ at all, and maybe not even a piano, but it has both. Anyway, last week, about three minutes before sacrament meeting started, I said to Jon, "I want to play that organ." And 2 1/2 minutes later, the branch president asked me to play because their organist didn't show up. I had no time at all to test things, so hopefully it sounded okay. It was fun to play for a congregation again -- I've missed playing the organ every week at church. I didn't have my organ shoes with me, but that turned out to be fine because the organ's pedalboard is straight instead of radiating and is easier to play with toes only. (This is how all pedalboards were in Bach's time, apparently.) Also, whenever I tried to use a heel, I'd nearly slide off the bench.

Walking Tour in Prague

Today Jacob, Phin, and I went on a three-hour (plus) free walking tour of Prague that introduced us to Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. It's a little late for that, since we've been here for almost six weeks and we've done some of our own exploring in those areas, but it was fantastic. Our tour guide was Pavel, and I thought he did a great job. Here he is talking about the National Museum, very briefly:

Jon, Zed, Lillian, and Seth did the same tour on Saturday (we split up the family so Mira didn't have to go and so we're not quite so conspicuous) and had an American tour guide. He was good, too, from what I heard, but I enjoyed hearing Pavel's perspective on Czech history and especially on the Velvet Revolution and living under communism. He said that his grandmother, who was born in 1911, lived in eight different countries during her life, all without ever moving from her flat in Prague, because the area has been invaded and occupied many times.

This company does free tours of many cities. They also do paid tours, which they promote during the free tour, but not in an obnoxious or pushy way. You can tip the guide at the end, but again, no pushiness at all. Jon has also gone on free walking tours in Riga, Latvia, and Tallinn, Estonia, but it must have been with another company, since those cities aren't listed on the website above. (Maybe this one?) They are a great way to get to know the most important places in a city quickly. I wish we had done something like this when we came to Prague in 2008. We were only here for about 24 hours, so it would have been such a good way to see important parts of the city and know what we were looking at at the same time!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Toy Museum

This post is for my mom, because I think she would have enjoyed the toy museum at Pražský hrad (Prague castle) very much. Jacob, Lillian, Mira, and I went a few weeks ago.

First up, the weirdest thing from the Barbie floor: Pregnant Barbie! I had no idea such a thing existed.

The museum is on two upper floors of one of the very old buildings at the castle. One floor is almost entirely dedicated to Barbie. Below are pictures of a few. (I was surprised and a little sad that they had a Donny doll but no Marie! Someone should send them a Marie Barbie immediately.)

The other floor held a lot of older toys, mostly made from tin and wood. I loved the doll houses and their tiny furniture and even toys for the doll house inhabitants.

A stately porcelain doll, probably 14" tall.

Doll house interiors.

A little village.

Noah's ark!

There were lots of kitchen sets.

A little school classroom.

Some old tin toys.

I don't have much to say about any of those, but they were kind of fun to look at. I think you can see larger versions of the photos if you click on them.