Saturday, July 28, 2012

Italian Journey Plans

I've mentioned in passing my upcoming trip to Italy. I have been planning it this week (only a little, I'm leaving my itinerary pretty open in case I decide to make changes during the trip). Early Monday morning, I'll be flying from Prague to Milan. I will arrive at the airport in Milan at 8:30 AM. Then I will take the train to the central station, and I'll have the rest of the day to walk around and see a little of the city. In the afternoon I will take a train from Milan to Rome.

On this trip, I have decided to try my hand at couchsurfing. For those of you that don't know what couchsurfing is, here is a little etymology of the term from wikipedia:

Couchsurfing is a neologism referring to the practice of moving from one friend's house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch, generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house.

Here is a proper link to the wikipedia description for information on the website/movement and what it does:


I have found a place to stay in Rome for the two nights I will be there. I plan on getting into the city on the evening of the 30th, then spending all day on the 31st and 1st seeing Rome. My host also said that he might be able to take me to the Catacombs outside the city on Tuesday. After two days in Rome, I will hop on a train to Assisi (as in St.Francis of Assisi). I have booked a hostel there for the night of the 1st.

I mentioned earlier that I had purchased a copy of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe's Italian Journey, about a trip he took to Italy beginning in 1786. It is basically a travel journal about his time there. I had a feeling it would be an appropriate read, but I didn't realize at the time how appropriate! Goethe, though he was a German, was actually living at the time in Bohemia, in what is now part of the Czech Republic. There was a historical period when Bohemia was largely populated by ethnic Germans - one of the reasons Hitler felt he had a claim to region. At the time of his journey, Goethe held a government post in Carlsbad, know in Czech as Karlovy Vary. This journey was something of which he had always dreamed, as he longed to see the classical art and architecture that up until then he had only read about and studied in books.

Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787 by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Italian Journey is great because Goethe talks about his reactions to various buildings and paintings that moved him, as well as his impressions of the land and people. Just today I have followed him from Venice, through Florence, and to Assisi on his way to Rome. We will be visiting many of the same places! While I wish he had spent more time in Tuscany, I am excited to read about what he saw in Rome, and to visit some of the same sites - 230 years later. I can't think of a better book to have with me on this trip, and I'm glad I came across it while I was browsing at the book store. I will also be reading The Tempest (Shakespeare) and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. 

After staying in Assisi for the night of the 1st, I plan on moving on to Cinque Terre. However, I haven't booked a room there yet, as I want to keep my plans open in case I decide to stay an extra day in Assisi or stop somewhere in between. The tentative plan is to move on next to Cinque Terre, where I would spend a couple of days. Next I would like to visit Siena, where I have been looking for a couch through CouchSurfers. I haven't found anything yet, but there is still time. I do have a place to stay in Florence from August 6-10. I will stay at the family villa of a guy named Francesco. He lives on an old farm in the countryside with his family - close to the center by bus. I am excited to see the place!

So those are my current plans for Italy. I have heard it is extremely hot this time of year, so I should bring an umbrella as a shield from the heat of the sun. Also, I will need a shawl to cover my shoulders for some of the churches, as tank tops aren't allowed. Generally, I will be travelling very lightly. Just a backpack with clothes, toiletries, and a few books.

Trouble at Prosek

As I promised, I will explain a little about the reasons behind my upcoming move. When I first got here in January, I didn't know so much about the city, including its different regions and what prices to expect for accommodation in various areas. Also, since housing documents are part of the paperwork needed to apply for a visa, I felt like I had to arrange everything quickly. I ended up taking a place at Prosek in Prague 9. It's right by the metro so it only takes 15 minutes to get to the center, but it's also in a newer part of the city and lacks a certain amount of character. Prosek is mostly populated by tower blocks of flats, and I live in one of those. I found myself wishing that, as I am living in a city with some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, that I had chosen something more "Prague-like". Also, the price - I can't complain too much because I think that the price is not bad, but it also isn't that great for the area. I am probably paying too much for the location and size, and I am fairly certain I am paying a lot more than either of my current flatmates.

Still, these two factors alone would not have compelled me to engage in the dreaded apartment search and move. More troublesome has been the behavior of my flatmates. One of the reasons I chose to take this room was that when I met the female roommate (who I am actually subleasing from - she rents the whole apartment and subleases to me and the other guy who lives here) I felt she was super nice and we could be good friends. However, I found once I was living here that she is not a very social person, and never really leaves the apartment except to go to work. When at home, she is studying about how to write Microsoft Excel programs in her room. Suffice to say, we never ended up hanging out and doing stuff together.

The main trouble started with a guy who is nicknamed "Shaman" - not by me, that's just his nickname.  The Shaman showed up on the sofa one night - no big deal, someone is just having a friend over for the night, right? Well, he stayed on the sofa again the next night, and then I was off to Mlada Boleslav for two days. When I returned, a queen size air mattress had appeared in the living room/kitchen (all other furniture had been rearranged to accomodate this monstrous inflatable bed). The Shaman was apparently going to be around for a while. Nobody bothered to ask whether it was OK with me if their friend hung out in the living room/kitchen for a while or anything. Iva just said "This is Štěpán, we call him Shaman - he is really nice".

Well, the Shaman actually lived in the living/room kitchen area for a month and a half. Keep in mind this apartment is really small. The living room/kitchen is the only area there is aside from the quite small bedrooms. The Shaman doesn't speak any English, either, so my interaction with him was very minimal. It mostly consisted of my pouring my cereal in the morning as he rolled off the air mattress in his underwear, and my awkwardly looking away. I am pretty sure he was actually paying some money to stay in our apartment, but there was no offer to reduce my rent or bills for the month or anything like that. It was just kind of an uncomfortable situation that I wasn't very happy about. I tried to imagine what the reaction would be if I decided I would have a random guy friend decide to blow up a mattress in our living room and stay for a few weeks. I would just tell Iva "this is Matthew, we call him Medicine Man - he's really nice. He's just going to pay me some money, but it's nothing you need to worry about". I don't think it would go over so smoothly.

The Shaman incident had me feeling a little iffy about Iva, but there was still my other roommate, Milan. I knew he had a little crush on me, but it seemed quite harmless, and he was always really nice to me. Sometimes he would make comments that made me a little uncomfortable, such as "I'm starting to think you are the perfect woman". But it still seemed relatively harmless. Until it didn't anymore. I had been hanging out with a guy from Seattle who was studying in Prague, and I had him over a couple of times. Then, as I was making dinner in the kitchen the night after the second time he was over, Milan caught me off guard by starting a conversation that quickly went into territory that was absolutely none of his business and ended with some pretty offensive comments on his part.

I decided that a Shaman in the kitchen is one thing, but I definitely don't need to be put down and sexually harassed in my own apartment. So, that's when I decided to move out. I told Iva I would be moving right after that. This was back in late May. She asked me if I could stay until the end of August, since it's easiest to find new flatmates from September, so I agreed. That's the story of why I'm moving. And, guess what? Just last weekend, the Shaman reappeared! He swept in, blew up that air mattress, and was here again for two days. Now, he's gone again, but the bag with the deflated air mattress is still sitting in the living room as an ominous warning of his possibly imminent return.

The apartment search had been pretty unfruitful until a couple of days ago. I even got caught up with a scam artist on Craigslist! It was really crazy. He had a whole elaborate story going. I got a little suspicious after a while and googled his name (he had sent me a copy of "his" passport) and his lawyer's name (from the badly written lease he'd wanted me to sign). I didn't find any information about either. Then I googled his email address, and it came right up with an alert from They caught this guy in action trying to rent out a phony apartment in Copenhagen - using the exact same email (from the same email address) he had sent me after I replied to his Craigslist ad. Here is a link, where you can see the scamwarners posting, and my reply to it with the emails he sent me. posting

Right now I am waiting to see the inside of an apartment that will hopefully be perfect for me. I saw an ad online for a room that was posted by a current tenant. They gave the phone number of the landlord, but when I contacted him he was in Bulgaria, and he won't be back till next week after I have left for Italy.  However, he seems very nice and he said he has the room that was listed, but he also has another room in the same building that he thinks I will like much better, it's recently renovated and he said the people living there are really nice. His daughter will be able to show me the room tomorrow before I leave.

I am really hopeful, as the area is great and the building is awesome, at least on the outside. I went to see the building in person because I looked at it on googlemaps streetview and it looked really cool. It has Mary and Jesus and sculptures of women in Art Nouveau style on the facade, painted in pastel colors. It has the building date, 1909 written on it. And there are planters hanging from the balcony with beautiful pink and red flowers. It's right beside one of my favorite parks in Prague (Letna), with one of the best views of the city, and another park, Stromovka, is super close as well. Also, the price is lower than what I pay now.

I've got my fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

City camp Korycanská

After my two weeks at residential camp and one day of tour-guiding with no day off I was already pretty exhausted by the time this camp came around. I definitely wasn't excited to be awake at 5:30 AM, showering, snídaně (breakfast) -ing, and hopping on a bus to a kindergarten. At least this kindergarten was an easy commute from my apartment.

What is it? It's Big Ben! 

I'm driving a bus, but I had to swerve quickly to avoid a cat in the road!

The theme of the city camps is the Olympic Games, so the kids learned words about London and the Olympics, made crafts like Olympic torches and olive wreaths for their heads, and played Olympic Games. The kids that week were all pretty sweet, except for one that was pretty spoiled and would cry about really dumb stuff. For the most part, he was actually quite funny, but he was also responsible for what I will deem "Worst Camp Moment" to date. Here is the moment:

It's Friday, the last day of camp. We have asked all the parents to come early so we can do a short presentation for them where the kids use the English they've learned during the week, etc. So all of the parents are watching. We do the short performance, and now we're passing out certificates. There are three teachers, and we all have something to give the kids - trouble is we didn't think about putting them all in the same order, so we have to rifle through piles of certificates and diplomas to find the right one as each kid comes through the line. So it's already a little chaotic. Then, Problem Child comes through the line.

We have prepared for the kids a diploma saying they completed the week of English camp, but we also prepared a certificate for each one with something special about them (sweetest smile, most helpful, etc). On PC's (Problem Child's) certificate, we wrote "Little Mr. Wolf".  The reason we wrote that is that there is a game called Mr. Wolf, and he wanted to play it every 5 seconds. He loved this game. So this is his certificate. He's about 6 years old so he can't even read yet, but as he takes the certificate Marketa tells him what it's for. All of the sudden PC bursts into tears. So here we are, rifling through piles of certificates, sweating, children are backed up in line, and all of the sudden one of them is bawling crying. And the parents are sitting there watching it all. It was definitely not our best moment.

You may be wondering why the PC was crying about being Little Mr. Wolf. Well, it's obviously because he wanted to be a SAILOR. How could we have possibly made him a wolf when it is clear to all that he is a sailor? I don't know how we could have been so stupid. Maybe it's because we never played any games about boats or sailing? Or because he never mentioned his intense love for the high seas? Or the fact that he lives in a land-locked country? The fact is, people, that it was absolutely and completely random. The best part about the situation was that the father, who seemed to be guilty party number one in the spoiled-child department, threw up his hands as if he had never seen such behavior from his angelic son (highly unlikely as it happened on average 3-4 times a day). The child would not stop crying until Marketa actually marked out the part about Mr. Wolf and wrote in Sailor.

Despite a less-than-perfect finale, the week was good. The city camps are much less grueling than the residential camps, because at 5 o'clock we're out the door and back to our apartments - more about apartments later. For the field trip this week, we took the kids to the planetarium. It was nice, but the kids program we watched in the actual planetarium room was in Czech, so I didn't understand it and mostly used the time for napping (with intermittent awakenings to tell the kids to be quiet or put their feet down). Afterward we played games in Stromovka Park. I know I am not supposed to have favorites, but how can I help it? Kids are just little people, and you always bond with some people more quickly than others. My favorite camper this week was Ema, who is five years old. She got immediate points for simply having the same name as my niece. She was really shy on the first day, and didn't really want to talk to me. Over the week she started hanging out with me more, and during the field trip on Thursday she started this thing where she would tickle my neck - I would giggle, which she found hilarious, and it became a little game. It was so sweet. I will miss her.

Ema, on the left, coloring with Adelka

Bara, she is totally her own little person!

Bětka is showing me her rainbow

Playing a game on the last day

I know I said I would write about the apartment situation and more about my Italy plans, but it will have to wait until tomorrow as I have a nasty headache tonight. I've been a little stressed out lately about personal stuff. Tomorrow morning I'm giving a presentation to my own TEFL school about my job! Seven short months ago I was sitting in one of those chairs watching a presentation by two of my now co-workers. They totally made me want to work for my company, so hopefully I (along with Marissa, one of my fellow TEFL students and now co-workers) can do the same.

More to come...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

After a three-week whirlwind of non-stop action, I am hunkering down here in Prague waiting for the next one to begin. And it certainly will. In the next month I have a trip to Italy, two more summer camps, and looking for, finding and moving into a new apartment.

I will begin by posting pictures for the rest of my time at Dolní Dvůr. I like that at the residential camp you get to know the kids better, but it is also incredibly exhausting. There is never any time alone there, and the work day merges with the night.

Here are some more pictures from the first week:

 Hana and I planning

Hana - I love her :)

Field Trip!

The day of the Epic Water Balloon Fight

Hana is trying to escape from Pepa's aerial attacks 

And now Radek throws Hana in the pool

Jiři carries the little ones up the ski slope

Just hanging out in the woods, playing some games

Some classroom action

The boy on the left in the blue shirt in the classroom picture had a little crush on me. His name is Jachym and he is 11 years old, shy but very intelligent. It was really funny because the next week, when the mail came (the kids get postcards from their family at camp) the Czech teacher told me I had mail. I was very confused because I hadn't given anyone the address of the camp, and I certainly wasn't expecting any mail. It was a postcard from Jachym, who was still in the mountains on vacation with his family. I scanned it because the message is so cute.

I especially love that I am "Lady" Angela Larson!

I was very sad to see Hana and Radek leave after the first week and have to start the week with two different teachers. Plus, rather than the 18 children we had the first week, we had 33 kids the second week! But, I quickly grew to respect Lenka and Denisa, my Czech colleagues from week 2. We had a good week. Well, except that we had to complain to our supervisors about the terrible food and terrible hygiene at the hotel. That wasn't the best, but it was totally necessary - it was way worse the second week as we had almost twice the number of children. My digestion is still recovering from eating there for two weeks. I saw almost no vegetables the entire time, and the diet consisted mainly of fatty meat, potatoes or white bread and gravy. As soon as I got back to Prague, this is what happened in my world:

A ton and half of salad with fresh veggies from the market

One of the things we had the kids do at camp was draw a picture of themselves to put on the doors to their rooms. I also made a picture for my door. Here is a picture of one of the kids' rooms, and my self-portrait:

Here are some pictures from the second week at Dolní Dvůr. Please keep in mind that I shamelessly exploit the facebook albums of my co-workers, downloading their pictures and recycling them here. Chances are if it is a really good picture without my trendy polaroid look, I didn't take it. I would like to commend said co-workers on their photography talents, and hope that they will consider my sneaky appropriations a compliment. 

Super cute pictures taken by Denisa



This cow skull was used as a terror-tactic in our attempts to scare the kids at night. I don't think it was very successful at scaring the kids, but it made us roll on the floor laughing. You definitely had to be there:

This week, we took our field trip to a little cottage called Apalucha. The week was themed after a Czech movie that was filmed at this cottage. As soon as we got to the cottage, it started raining, so we had to hike all the way back in the rain. It was fun.

At Apalucha

Beautiful view of a stormy afternoon in the mountains

We played a silly game with the kids where they had to feed each other yogurt - blindfolded. This resulted in a hilarious mess of yogurt all over everyone, and a lot of laughs. And the teachers were not spared! I had yogurt in my bra.

By the end of my two weeks at the camp, I was totally ready to go back home, and totally exhausted. Incidentally, there would be no day off for me. The residential camp ended on Saturday, I got back to Prague Saturday night, and in the morning I met a family from the U.S. who had found my ad for English lessons on Craigslist and asked me to be a tour guide!

So, the Sunday after Dolní Dvůr had me acting as Prague tour guide, taking the Zizka (originally Zizkovsky, named after a famous Czech general) family through Old Town Square, Josefov, Zizkov, Namesti Miru, and back to Wenceslas Square. It was a busy and fun day. I enjoyed spending the day with the family very much, although they reminded me very much of my own family, and made me miss them all even more.

I'll end this part of the blog with a couple of pictures of me with the kids from the second week at Dolní Dvůr. The first one is me with my favorite camper, a little one named Jonaš. So cute! And the other is myself with the girls from the second week. I still have one more week of camp to post pictures of (city camp in Prague this past week), and I still haven't forgotten all of the pictures I still have to post from my trip last month. So many pictures...

What to expect in the next blog post: pictures from my week at Prague City Camp Korycanská, an update on my living situation and why I'm moving, and a little more on my plans for Italy. Miss you all and thanks for being patient with me during the summer when it's much more difficult to keep up with blogging and correspondence. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I have so much to write about, but it's too hard to find time to do it! I thought I would be able to write about my travels during my down time at summer camp - little did I know that "down time" doesn't actually exist at summer camp. At least not at this one, as it is a residential camp, meaning it runs from Sunday to Saturday and the kids live at the camp with us (we are four teachers, of which I am the only native English speaker.) We are living in a run-down hotel in a town called Dolní Dvůr which was purchased by my language school. The food is terrible and the ceiling in my classroom is leaking.

Despite these facts, I am having a pretty great time. I like the Czech teachers very much and all of the kids are great too. We are in the Krkonoše Mountains, which are very beautiful. We get to spend a lot of time outside in the woods, hiking and playing games. Yesterday we took the children on a 5km hike from our hotel to the nearest town, where they got to do some souvenir shopping. I took a lot of pictures along the way, which I will share with you now. I'm sure you know I have many pictures from my trip to Oslo, Copenhagen and Paris, but they will have to wait until I have enough time to write about them.

In further news, I have decided to take a trip to Italy next month. I have a two week break from summer camps, and I have purchased a round-trip plane ticket from Prague to Milan. From Milan, I will take a train to Rome, then back up to Tuscany, where I will spend the rest of the trip. In preparation for this trip I am reading Goethe's Italian Journey, about his adventures in Italy beginning in 1786. I'm hoping to get some inspiration from the book on places to see while I am there.

I know I will have more time for writing after I return to Prague, which will be July 15. I will still be teaching at summer camps there, but they will not be residential camps, so I will be done and able to return home at 5pm - also I will have weekends off. I know I will need it - we don't get very much sleep here in Dolní Dvůr!