Just a quick note – I’ve made a ‘page’ style post here with some survival tips. Pages don’t show up in the main part of the blog, so I wanted to point it out here and get the ball rolling again with blog posts! Here it is.
Just a quick note – I’ve made a ‘page’ style post here with some survival tips. Pages don’t show up in the main part of the blog, so I wanted to point it out here and get the ball rolling again with blog posts! Here it is.
-To finish, conclude, complete
Well, here we are. Forty-four posts and now, with the fifty-fifth, it’s time to bring this blog to a close. I’m no longer the only Englishman in the village, I’m one of the tens of thousands of English people in my hometown once more. Not quite as exciting, really, and I’m not going to be able to fulfil the purpose of this blog now that I’m back home. Doing day-to-day things has gone back to being mundane rather than novel; there aren’t going to be any ‘lost in translation’ style capers around here.
That’s the only real direction the blog could take, unfortunately. My writing here has been a public diary of sorts, logging the experience of moving abroad and living somewhere completely alien to me. The alien factor, the newness of everything and my handling of it was the meat of the text, and that’s now gone. I’m a firm believer that you should write things that you’d like to read yourself. I love travel writing, but have no interest whatsoever in, say, Livejournal; I’m not going to write something that would bore myself because I’m confident it would bore everyone else, too.
Working in the Czech Republic was fantastic. It’s a country I’d wanted to visit for a long time, and it didn’t disappoint. The kids at the school were wonderful; working with children can be hard in any setting, and I had my tribulations for sure, but there was seldom a day I left work without a smile on my face. I miss teaching them, and I miss seeing them when I’d go into the village shopping, or at the train station asking me a hundred questions about where I’m going and why. They were always friendly, and I really hope I get the chance to go back and visit the school some time to see how they’re getting on.
I’m not going to pretend things were perfect for me. I’ve always highlighted the light-hearted side of living abroad, but having to constantly translate and estimate even the most trivial of things can become tiresome, and you find yourself leaning away from being adventurous because of it. The loneliness of the experience can be intense, knowing that you can’t simply go and have a chat to someone without both of you either putting in a great deal of effort trying to convey meaning or grossly simplifying things. I remember seeing the first school holiday coming up in February and feeling a sense of dread, being very short on cash and not really having made many social contacts yet. Being the only Englishman in the village was tough at times, but looking back I wouldn’t have changed it. I’ve learnt plenty.
So what now? Well I’m home again, I don’t have anything adventurous lined up at the moment, so in truth I’m not sure. The job market here isn’t exactly blossoming, so for now it may simply be a case of taking whatever I can to get a little money behind me. Working at the school has helped me realise that I want to pursue a career in education, though, so I’m considering what avenues I could take to follow that. I was only a classroom assistant in the Czech Republic as I don’t have any sort of TEFL qualification, and I’m enamoured by the idea of getting a suitable qualification and heading to foreign lands once more, but that kind of thing isn’t free, so I’ll need to fund myself. The idea of going back to the Czech Republic and teaching there again is something I’d be very partial to; I have a real love for the country and its people, but those are merely pipe dreams right now, and it’s not like I’m in a position where I could turn down a job offer in another country. Hey, if I were to work abroad once more maybe I could start a blog about it, or even kick this one back off, who knows.
One of the really great things about wordpress is the amount of info and stat breakdown they provide regarding views on your blog. It seems only right to make this last paragraph a thank you to everyone who took the time to have a look at my little corner of the web and read it. I look at the different countries people have viewed my blog from, the sheer numbers of people who’ve come to take a look at a post, and the people who spent the time to leave a comment or two, and I’m left stunned. There’s something humbling about knowing someone’s wanted to take the time to read a piece of writing you’ve done simply out of enjoyment, and I’m still gobsmacked at how my blog got attention from anyone. Maybe one day I’ll be good at this whole writing thing, who knows. There’s a Stephen King quote from his book ‘On Writing’ regarding how his wife supported him that sums my feelings up better than I can:
“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot if difference. They don’t have to makes speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
You may have noticed that I kind of forgot to finish this blog off as my time at the school drew to a close. I’ve noticed too, and I’m not happy about that, so I’m going to fix things. Yes it’s late, and I don’t wish to make excuses, but summer was a busy time. I flew home the day after finishing at school and had 3 days to unpack/repack for my summer job in the USA, at the same summer camp I’ve been working at for years. Summer camp work is mile-a-minute, and though I love it you’re not left with much time to do anything leisurely.
It’s been almost five months since I left the Czech Republic now, and nearly twelve months to the day that I was offered the teaching assistant job in the first place. Before I agreed to the job last November I had a meeting at my old university to talk some of the finer details over and try to ease any concerns that I had. At the time I knew that no matter how many questions I asked or how well I prepared there’d be things I would oversee or not be ready for, and now, having been away from the Czech Republic almost as long as I was there, I think it’s time that I looked back and make note of the things I could’ve done differently if I were heading back. I’m a firm believer of jumping in at the deep end, and I wouldn’t change my experience even if I could, but there’s no harm in sharing a few things I’ve learnt:
1. PACK HEAVIER
Sounds like anathema to anyone who has gone backpacking or travelled in a not-spending-a-fortnight-in-a-hotel way, and in truth it is to me too 99% of the time; I spent my summer travelling after working at the summer camp, and travelling as light as possible makes life much easier. The big difference, though, is packing light for travelling is for just that, it’s for travel. If you were to be some sort of travelling TEFL teacher, working in a different city week-by-week, then by all means keep it light and make your life easy, but if you’re looking to stay in a single place for several months, take stuff with you!
One of my biggest regrets packing-wise was not taking a ‘proper’ laptop. Instead of packing my cumbersome 17″ laptop I’d used at uni, I brought a tiny 9″ netbook. Perfect if you want to check your email quickly, but not powerful enough to do things like run videos full-screen or run itunes and a web browser at the same time. A laptop is such an important multimedia device these days – doubly so when living in a country where you’re unable to understand what’s being said on the TV or radio – that it was naive of me to think I would get by with a netbook just fine.
The same goes for home comforts and casual clothes. Though you quickly get acclimatised to the commodities available to you, sometimes it’s nice to have that pack of Uncle Joe’s mints (personal fave) or a steaming mug of Bovril, and despite the Marks and Spencer’s in Prague offering a fair few English goods, you’re not going to find Bovril anywhere. Not to mention bringing things like these into the classroom are a great way to spice up lessons and even incentivise good behaviour.
Similarly, you can always pick up a T-shirt and pair of jeans pretty much anywhere if you’re in need of them, but there’s no way of replicating your favourite shirt. My pupils would often talk to me about sport and ask me which teams I support – bringing a rugby or football shirt with me would’ve been a great way to jazz up a lesson about sports (and flaunt those team colours when out and about, too.)
That said, I’d still take an ebook reader, rather than a stack of real books. Pack heavy, but don’t pack daft.
2. APPRECIATE THINGS MORE
See that? That’s a lovely early-summer photo of the village I lived in. It’s set in a valley, and this picture is taken just in front of the train station (you can see the wooden fences of the station in the foreground) which is quite high up. The views here were stunning, and I get annoyed at myself that I didn’t spend that much time appreciating them until the end of my stay.
Though I truly enjoy it, working with children is a job that leaves you drained. With my flat basically being in the school it was tempting at the end of the school day to brew some coffee, flop down on my couch, and be lazy for the rest of the day, and I often did, usually doing little more than making a quick trip to the shops in my spare time during the week.
A danger we all face is a creeping level of apathy towards our surroundings when we’ve lived there for more than a few weeks. Most of us have grown up living either in or relatively close to a city, but how often do we do the things in our cities that tourists flock there for? Okay, not tourist traps, but there are fantastic sights and cultural experiences practically at our doorsteps that we never partake in. I’m guilty of doing this in my hometown, in my university town, and a little so in the village, too.
I did try to combat this. I headed out to take pictures when I first arrived, went on little walks of an evening, soaking in the atmosphere, and most nights I’d make a point of watching the trains roll by up on the opposite side of the valley. Simple little things that make you enjoy day-to-day life a little more. It was easy enough to do this in Prague – Prague was a train journey away and as such became a de facto adventure, whether I was visiting a gallery or going to Tesco – but to do it where we live is more of a challenge, and one I’d like to do better at next time.
3. BE BRAVER
This is both the easiest and the most difficult of the things I’d do differently.
There’s a line I’ve heard a lot, both from friends and strangers, that goes something like:
“You’re so brave! I could never go and live abroad the way you do.”
It’s not bravery, it’s stupidity. The good kind of stupidity where you don’t think about consequences and just try stuff out. I’m sure if I spent any amount of time thinking seriously about all of the things that could go wrong on these escapades that I’d have quite strong reservations about doing them, but I’d also be just as cautious about stepping outside and doing anything. You’ve got to take risks sometimes.
Thinking back now, I get annoyed at myself for getting so far, travelling away and living abroad for so long, and not being brave enough. Not pushing myself by trying to learn more Czech, not going out and visiting new places, not going down to the pub on my own and meeting some of the locals. I carved out a little comfort zone for myself where I wasn’t challenged too much and I stayed in it for far too long.
Of all the things on here, that’s the most important lesson to learn. Carpe diem. You only have so much time to do things when you’re away like this, and it’s such a folly to waste the opportunities right in front of you. Get out there, do stuff, enjoy it. Make mistakes, make a fool of yourself, accept that it’s part of the learning process (and a source of some of the best stories) and you’ll notice that, as time goes on, these moments of embarrassment become fewer. Be social, you’re on your own and that won’t change unless you get out and do something about it. Find other expats, find locals who want to practice their English, find friends who want to come and visit.
Don’t be complacent. You have less time than you think.
Well, May’s here, and that means my time here is coming to a close quite soon. I’ve already started putting a few things I’m not going to wear or use in my rucksack and done a little tidying. It’s very strange going food shopping and having to think about whether I’ll be able to use something entirely before leaving; I was going to buy ingredients to make pancakes this weekend but maple syrup is expensive and I wouldn’t get use much more than a few teaspoons of it. That’s the life of someone working abroad I guess.
Though it’s been quite quiet much of the time, for one reason or another, I’ve very much enjoyed my time here. This is a country full of gorgeous vistas, beautiful architecture, and deceptively warm people, and a little piece of me will stay here, I’m sure. I’m hoping I can come back here to teach, but money’s the big question mark over my plans, sadly. That said, if I can’t afford to come back soon I’d love to save up and get my TEFL qualification so I can work here on a more long-term (and better paid) basis.
Now how much you enjoy being away, there are always a few things about home that you miss. The obvious ones are family and friends, I don’t think I need to say that being away from home on your own for a long time can make you miss people, so instead I’m going to concentrate on some of the non-people things I’ve missed from home that I’ll be happy to see again. These are in no particular order, just a list of stuff, that’s all.
1. A chippy tea
I was quick to become a fan of Czech food in my time here. It’s good, hearty stuff, very much perfect for the cold winter weather here. Czech people love their garlic, paprika, and caraway, which I do too, and I quickly became a convert to the knedliky, but there are some things you just can’t get anywhere outside of the UK. You can find a McDonalds anywhere with enough people to make it financially viable, but a ‘proper’ chip shop is a sight you won’t find on foreign shores (though you may find some places pretending to be chip shops).
Going without chips for the last five months definitely hasn’t done any harm to me, but it’s one source of comfort food that I’m due an excursion into by now. Being a northerner I like my chips with some sort of sauce on them, curry sauce in particular. Everyone knows it’s nothing like actual curry sauce, but it’s absolutely fantastic regardless. Curry, fish and chips, please. That’ll sort me out no end.
2. My guitars
When working abroad you have to give up certain things for a number of reasons. Keepsakes and sentimental objects stay at home for their safety, that favourite bulky coat isn’t really suitable to travel with, and no matter how much tea you pack you’re going to run out of the stuff sooner or later. For me it’s my instruments. I’ve mentioned here that I play ukulele, I’ve even shared a video or two on here, but I also play quite a lot of guitar, but the problem is something like a big, bulky acoustic guitar isn’t suited to travelling. I love my ukulele, and there’s a fair chance I’ve improved quiet a lot at playing it in my time here, but five months with a guitar to toy around on is a long time for me.
There is a school guitar that I’m welcome to use, and it’s not that bad either, but it’s not the kind of guitar I can play comfortably. It’s a 12-string, which means the dimensions are a little different to a regular guitar, and I struggle to play it without sounding clumsy and horrible. Every time I see a video of a guitar song I’d like to play on youtube I feel a little tinge of sadness knowing I’m not able to do so, but soon enough I will. I’ll have my guitar, and I’ll be able to play all the songs I like.
3. A lack of a language barrier
Ever since I arrived here (but especially in the first month or two of my stay) I’ve had almost daily struggles with comprehending Czech. When you’re outside of your linguistic comfort zone as long as I have been you start to get used to not understanding a great deal of what you see, and I’d say that’s the case with me here, but I must admit I’m looking forward to being in a place where reading doesn’t consist primarily of guesswork.
Part of the problem here has been my own naivety as to picking up the language. I’ve made a conscious effort to pick up at least a little bit of Czech, and I’ve learnt little bits here and there; numbers, ordering food/drink/train tickets, random words, but I wish I’d been able to learn more than I have, and I think had I come into this with more material to learn from this would’ve been the case. Instead of investing in some form of teach-yourself book I bought a phrasebook and decided that, combined with an astonishingly high degree of bravado, I’d be able to learn enough to improvise my way through.
I think English-speakers have a (justified) reputation for being lazy when it comes to learning other languages. We know that almost anywhere you go there’ll be at least one local that speaks English, and it means we typically don’t put the effort into learning languages that we should. I’d like to think that my efforts here have been worthwhile; I do try to do things in Czech before resorting to English, I just know that I could do better. In the future, if I’m able to get a similar job out in this part of the world, I’d like to really knuckle down and learn more than the most rudimentary words and phrases possible, even if I can only comprehend a painfully simplistic conversation at the end of it all. I’m out here doing this job because almost every Czech person you speak to has a strong conviction that learning a second language is immeasurably beneficial for a person, and I find that I agree with them, I’m just ashamed I haven’t taken the lesson to heart enough myself.
That said, I’m still bloody excited about speaking English to English people again, not having to worry about my tendency to use glottal stops, or whether I’m speaking too quickly. It’s the little things.
A while back now I wrote a post on here about using word-based games in the classroom to help learn English. At the time I’d just picked up a copy of the story-building dice game ‘Rory’s Story Cubes’ on a trip into Prague, and was planning to test it out with a few classes to see how things went. I’d also made my own version of the American card game ‘Apples to Apples’, which I’d used once or twice but not enough to form a solid opinion on it. It’s been almost a month and a half since I made that post, and I’ve got some experience using those games in different situations, along with one or two other games that I was very lucky to find, and I figured it’s time I shared my experiences here on the blog! I’ll list some pros and cons, and then write about each item in some more detail.
First off, Rory’s Story Cubes,
The premise of Rory’s Story Cubes is simple: roll the dice and make a story from the subsequent images. You’re meant to use all 9 dice when making a story, but with the limited language of a school pupil I found the game worked better when they can use fewer if they want to, typically somewhere around 5 dice instead. To begin we’ll define what the images on the dice actually are after they’ve been rolled, I’ll point to the images and the pupils will say ‘I can see a ______’ this way I can make sure the group all know what each image is, and I can also point out the potential to interpret the images in different ways and help get them thinking about different stories.
One problem that can come up is a pupil taking the pictures on the dice a little too literally and simply stating what each picture is instead of making a story, perhaps saying ‘there is a man, there is a castle, there is a lightning bolt’ instead of ‘there is a man who lives in a castle, and one night there was a big storm’. If this happens I’ll try to draw some more detail out of them by asking questions; the purpose of the game in an ESL setting is to have the pupils make connections between the pictures rather than simply identify them, so some gentle nudges to expand their story can really help bring things along (and usually get some laughs as a story gets sillier and sillier.)
A nice way to ramp up the challenge and make things interesting is to have two people make the story between one another, rather than one person telling the story to everyone. The dice are rolled as normal, and then the two players take turns picking dice to continue the story. Because the story can now take completely unexpected or ridiculous twists the pupils have to be much more engaged and think on their feet. I found this produced the most bizarre stories and also the most enjoyment from the pupils. It could probably be played with more than two people at a time, but the dynamic of two people going back and forth works nicely.
My take on ‘Apples for Apples’
Taking Apples to Apples and adapting the words to suit my classes was tedious but not particularly difficult. Once I had my cards laminated I tried the game out with one of the older classes, and it went down pretty well. In the original game you can play for the most appropriate word or the most ridiculous and it became apparent very quickly that in this situation it’s much better to play for the most absurd word. When playing for appropriate words the pupils got bored pretty quickly, whereas playing for the stupidest word had people laughing, talking about the game, and wanting to keep playing. Understand which word is ridiculous requires the same kind of cognition that finding the most appropriate word does, so we’re getting the same kind of educational value in it.
The problem is that educational value is quite limited. When the game’s been played once there’s not much to be gained from playing it again. This is probably due more to the amount of cards I made rather than the nature of the game, but there are only so many words I can use whilst making the game work for as many different classes as possible. As a result playing for more than 10 minutes can start to get dull, and so I stick to using the game only when I need to fill a gap, or when I’m working with groups of pupils in 10-minute spells.
Well here’s one I didn’t think I’d get. In my first ‘Word Games’ post I mentioned that bananagrams seemed like a really fantastic game to use in the classroom but was impossible to find out here. Well as luck would have it the folks over at bananagrams saw my blog post and were kind enough to send me a copy of the game, along with some other word games they make for me to try out: Appletters and Pairs in Pears! Incredibly kind of them, thanks once again! I haven’t had a shot at Pairs in Pears in the classroom yet, but here are my impressions of the other two games.
Bananagrams is known to be a game in which being fast is very valuable, and no matter where you play the game that is still case, however playing in an ESL setting that pace drops down a great deal. As the game starts and the players flip their tiles over frantically they then go into a state of deep thought and chess-like pondering, typically in silence. To be fair to ask someone to find words in their second language is quite a feat, and it’s probably no surprise that it typically takes at least 20 minutes to play through a single game.
One problem I did have was explaining some of the rules to the pupils properly. Because Rory’s Story Cubes is sold in the Czech Republic it comes with Czech instructions, so if a pupil doesn’t really ‘get it’ I can hand them the instructions to make sure any gaps in understanding are filled in, and the Apples to Apples game is as simple as ‘take 5 cards, which card is the stupidest to go with my card’. With Bananagrams I’ve had some trouble explaining that the words need to all be connected like they are in Scrabble. I’ve had people ‘win’ more than once, then when I’ve gone to check their tiles they’re laid out in neat rows, as if it were a list.
The other problem is the strategic side of play. If you need to swap a tile in Bananagrams you return the tile to the central pile and take three in its place. With the purpose of the game being to use up all of your tiles this is a simple way to encourage you to try and use up your pieces before you start swapping them out, but the children don’t seem to click on to this. Usually there’s at least one kid who can’t find that one letter they’re looking for and end up taking 30 or 40 tiles, and with the word pile being quite small to begin with due to playing with a large group this can really hamper the gameplay. That said, the children love the game; it’s a good way to get them thinking about the language and the tactile nature of the game is good practice for them. I’ve used this primarily with the groups aged between 11 and 13, but I’ve also tried it with younger children and it can work well, too!
I haven’t had chance to spend much time with the other two Bananagrams games yet, and this post is getting rather lengthy, so I think it’s best to wait a little until I’ve I write about them. Also this post is rather late because I’ve been (and am) sick with sinusitis, and I’m far too miserable/moody to do anything like write. Hope it’ll clear up by the weekend, and hope to try and get to Prague for a bit of writing by next week.
Just a short one. I was cornered this morning by two girls from class 4. Grinning broadly, they handed me two pieces of paper and said ‘we made this for you!’. They’d drawn some pictures for me, which I’ve included here in pdf format. Awww (note how they spelt Kevin!)
In other news, I’ve picked up a new nickname. Again. I’m not yet sure how it’s spelt, but it’s pronounced ‘Kevchar’, which is apparently a common in Czech to deviate a name into a shorter form; Kevchar is the Czech equivalent to calling me Kev.
As the title of my blog suggests, I live and work in a village. My school is in a village, and being a village school rather than a town or city school it’s rather small. It holds something like 400 children right now, to be bumped to 450 next school year when a library/staff room and some other spaces are converted into classrooms. The problem, however, is that this space for 450 pupils aged 6-15 isn’t just serving this village. I’m in the largest village in the local area, but there are quite a number of smaller villages dotted around it which aren’t large enough to justify having their own schools, so they’re told to apply to come here instead. With the oldest class leaving in June and the converted classrooms there’ll be something like 60-70 places for new pupils come September, and the parents of well over 100 children have applied to study here. Suffice to say an awful lot of parents are now having to look for schools further afield.
So there’s a space problem that has to addressed, and short of building more rooms for the school (or a second school altogether) the options are very difficult. The current idea being floated that would alleviate things for the time-being is to stagger the classes through the day; rather than have all students in together you’d have the younger students in during the morning and the older students during the afternoon. It raises some issues regarding staffing of course, but it would work in expanding the number of pupils can attend the school. Problem is, the pupils don’t like it at all.
Walking down the corridor in school during the week I noticed a number of pupils gathered around a wall, which someone was using as a surface to write down a note on a piece of paper. They were making a large, chunky sign with a sharpie on the paper. Shrugging it off I went back to the English office. During the break after the next class I came to the office to find the headteacher there, talking with the other teachers in Czech and holding the paper I’d seen earlier in her hand. Now whilst I’m no expert in the Czech language but the words ‘Petice’ titling the paper and a list of signatures below it don’t require a particularly bold leap of faith to figure that this is a petition. Asking the teachers later on, I found that the pupils were organising a petition to make the local government find a different solution to the school problem other than having staggered lessons, and they’d gotten a number of teachers to sign it, most of the English teachers included. If the staggered lessons concept goes any further the pupils intend to march on the village hall and present it to the mayor. Pretty brave piece of activism for a group of aged 15 or younger, if I do say so.
In other news, last night we had something that is a very alien concept to me in terms of school activites: the school sleepover. A class and their teacher come back to school in the evening, play games, do some kind of project, and sleep in their classroom in sleeping bags. I’ve worked summer camp jobs where I share my living space with children before, and in truth it isn’t that bad, but that’s mainly because at a camp the kids have been running around all day, burning their energy on football fields and having fun. Here, they’ve been in school all day, sat down, made to stay quiet and pay attention, and so all of that energy that’s been pent up through the day has to be used up. I don’t think there’s enough money in the school budget to make me stay over in such a way, but I was asked by one of the teachers of a younger class if I’d come in, give a little talk, and play some music, and I was happy to do so. This is class 2, a year below the kids I normally teach, so chances are most of them won’t know me, though a few will have been to English club.
I turned up at 8pm, made my way through the (creepily) dark and quiet school and found the right classroom. Rather than burst in I knocked first; it sounded like they were in the middle of a game of some sort, and it took a couple of seconds for someone to answer the door. The door opened slowly at first, then when one of the kids shouted my name the door flung open and I was group-hugged by 20 kids, most of them I’d never taught. Am I really that much of a fixture in the school? The project for the night was fairy tales, the works of Hans Christian Anderson in particular, but I’d been told to prepare more about generally talking about the books I’d read as a child so told the class (with the help of someone translating) all about Roald Dahl books, ‘The Twits’ in particular to get some funny reactions from the pranks in the story. The ukulele music was to dance to more than anything else really, so I played something speedy and vaudeville-y, followed by a slower Hawaiian tune. The kids loved it, and I got group-hugged yet again when it was time to go.
In my last post I went on a trip to Prague that, although it didn’t stick to my plan all too well, was quite nice regardless. The weather was on my side, my camera was firing on all cylinders for once, and it was great just walking around the city in the sunshine and warmth. One thing I’d wanted to do whilst in the city was visit a certain cukrarna for a coffee break at the end of the day, but getting lost and being too tired to keep looking made me call it off and go home. Two days later I had to back into Prague, and this time I was going to get to the cukrarna, nothing was going to stop me. And it didn’t.
The cukrarnas of Prague are known to be, well, cool. They typically have a great deal of style and cosmetic attention placed upon them, with the super slick Fox and Deer arguably leading the way (though the food is the number one priority, of course). There’s one place that regularly pops up on the top cukrarnas list that doesn’t really put the effort into making their store appeal to hipsters, though, and from the descriptions I’d found it sounded like a place I wanted to check out. It’s called Italská cukrárna – literally Italian cukrarna, so immediately I’m thinking of Italy’s culture of espressos and gelatos smashing together with the Czech cukrarna and coming up with nothing but great images. It’s noted in particular for its sundaes, so my plan comes together pretty quickly: go grab a sundae and a cappuccino and sit by a window, acting all cosmopolitan.
Take the 14 tram to Lazarska and you’re less than 5 minutes away from Italská cukrárna, in fact you can see it on the way to the station on the tram if you’re paying attention to your surroundings. It’s not particularly big, nor does it catch the eye if you’re not looking for it, but one giveaway is the exterior cashier point for people to grab an ice cream on the go. I want to have my ice cream sitting down, however, so I open the door and venture inside.
There’s only one word for the store’s aesthetic, and there’s no way for me to say it without sounding mean, so believe me that it is not meant in a nasty way. It’s tacky. In fact it’s known for it’s tacky stylings, but it isn’t neglected or messy. It’s clean, it’s tidy, it’s just got a look that few places are going to try and imitate. As you can see in the picture, the picture-menu of available sundaes is pretty large (and entirely in Czech), so I take the plunge and order my coffee and sundae – I get the ‘Angelo’ sundae. The sundaes are hand made right in front of you and made pretty quickly, the staff clearly get a lot of practice .
The Angelo is a combination of chocolate, caramel, and vanilla ice cream, with a big splurge of whipped cream on top and a vanilla liqueur sauce over the whole thing. The ice cream is very good, the chocolate ice cream tasting more of cocoa than sugar (which is perfect) and the vanilla sauce making the whole thing fantastically boozy and lovely. The view from my window isn’t quite as cinematic as I’d hoped, but it’s still a good spot to do a little people watching being quite close to the Vltava. Oh, and with the coffee the whole thing came to 90kc – less then £3. Can’t complain.
This weekend was a free weekend, apart from one thing: I had to go into Prague to pick up some documents for my summer job. It’d be a two minute meeting, just a hello, here are the files, thank you very much, and off you go again, but if I’m going to go all that way into the city, with a 45 minute train ride each way, I might as well make a day out of it.
Spring has finally turned up here, the days are getting warmer, the nights are getting longer, and the village feels much more active than it did two months ago. The weather for Prague this weekend was meant to be sunny and quite warm, so I figured it’s as good a chance as any to go and get some pictures. I also wanted to stop off at some point in the day and have a coffee and something sweet at one of the better known Cukrarnas in the city, so I started to draw up a plan and look for places to go. As I looked on google maps at the different points I noticed something – everywhere I wanted to go was on the same tram route, apart from the Cukrarna, which I was going to visit after taking my pictures anyway. Perfect! This seemed too good to be true from a blogging perspective, the concept of this one tramline running alongside the Vltava that was so ideally suited for someone on a little photography trip, a nice way for a tourist to spend an afternoon. It started down at a little square, went past the national theatre, the charles bridge, crossed the river, then wound its way up the hills until you were at the top of Letna park, where you can get really great panoramic shots of the city.
My first job was to find a place to get some passport photos taken, which took me away from all this fun stuff. I ended up in the new town, so I took some pics as I made my way over to the start of my tram expedition.
So as I’ve already mentioned, we begin our tram ride at Výtoň, which is pretty uninteresting. It’s by the riverside and near a railway station, but that’s about it. We stand around and wait for our tram, the 17. It seems as though the 17 route is serviced exclusively by the very old Prague trams, rather than the more modern ones or the brand-new trams that look like a cross between a London bendy-bus and a robo-slug. With it being Saturday, the weather being nice, and these trams being one-carriage only, it’s pretty much packed full, but that’s no matter, we’re jumping off again in 2 stops.
The starting point
Our red and white saviour!
Two stops down the line and we’re at the national theatre! A stunning building that’s currently being renovated by the looks of it. Regardless, the gold detailing looks incredible in the sunshine. The best place to get pictures of the theatre would be from the bridge it’s facing, walk a little further along the bridge to get away from the tourist scrum. It’s also a great spot to see Prague architecture, the buildings around the theatre being just as beautiful.
Back onto the tram, and it’s only one stop until we’re at the Charles bridge. I’ve covered the bridge in an earlier post about the city so instead I took pictures of the bridge from the riverside instead.
I take the pictures, hop back onto the tram, and this is where things start to go wrong. In my pre-trip research (aka looking at google maps over breakfast) the 17 tram goes up to a stop called Sparta, which is at the top of Letna park. The tram will announce which stop you’re at and which one is next, so I was patient and waited for my stop. We were going uphill a lot, so we were probably making our way up the hill to Sparta, but after a while I thought ‘this feels a little fishy’ and as the next stop had a connecting Metro station I figured I’d jump off and take a look at the Metro map. I’ll let google maps show you just how badly off course I was.
And for once, this wasn’t my fault. This was google maps giving very unreliable information, the 17 tram doesn’t go anywhere near Sparta at all. And this turned out to be a repeat problem when it came to trying to find my Cukrarna too, because the tram route listed on google maps wasn’t the actual route again! So not only did my Letna park diversion make me massively late for my appointment to pick up my files, I couldn’t make it to the Cukrarna for a sugar-laden pat on the back to finish the day off. I won’t use google maps for tram info again, that’s for sure. Regardless, it was nice wandering around Prague and I got some other pictures that I thought I’d share with you, too. I’m going to go back for those Letna park shots soon, so hopefully I’ll be successful next time round.
Some of the most interesting in-school events seem to occur in the classes where my role is much more fluid than it would normally be. When I’m asked to just sit with two or three students and have a chat to them, only occasionally with some request like ‘try to practice past-tense with them’ there’s always the chance the conversation could go in any direction. I have some leeway in saying ‘OK let’s talk about what you did at the weekend’ but a conversation isn’t a solo endeavor and I can only encourage so much. The older the pupils, the more laden the lingual minefield becomes, and I’ve been asked innumerable times by now if I’m on facebook, if I have a girlfriend, and if I’m gay. Typically I just dodge the questions rather than have my personal life and opinions travelling through the school corridors faster than my sense of worry can keep up with, however I was caught off-guard this week, and it ended with the pupils holding some quite spectacularly incorrect opinions about me. It went something like this:
“Kevin, do you like the queen?”
“I don’t hate the queen but I think we should have a president. I don’t like monarchy”
“So you like democracy?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Do you like Obama?”
“No I don’t”
“Kevin do you even like politics?”
“Yes, it’s very important!”
“Why don’t you like Obama?!”
“Because Obama does a lot of bad things that people don’t know about” – turns out it’s really hard explaining your political opinion of someone when there’s a language barrier.
“So you don’t like black people?”
Then the conversation moved on. It was only later in the day that I found out, via the classroom teacher, that the children now though that I was not only anti-monarchy (which is true) but also anti-democracy and hugely racist (both very much not true). How does this happen? I think this goes to show just how far a simple misunderstanding when learning another language can take things (though I also think it’s the kids pulling my leg a bit).
In a similar kind of class the pupils demanded that I take a quiz with them. It was a team-based quiz, not particularly serious, but it was boys vs different groups of girls, and as there were quite a lot of girls and only 3 boys in the whole class it was decided that I was to be conscripted into the boys team at their request. Why they wanted my help, I’m not quite so sure; it was a translation quiz, translating from spoken Czech into written English. I ended playing the role of spellchecker because suffice to say my Czech isn’t good enough for this kind of challenge. My teammates would tell me the translation, I’d spell it, and show it to them.
We lost. In fact, we came last.
In another one of these classes I was also asked to give a brief music performance this week, too! I’d brought my ukulele in for English Club (where the children are apparently now drinking red bull before coming along) and as one of my classes was doing a Czech revision lesson I wasn’t needed, so I spent the time playing my uke in the English office, getting some nice practice time in. One of the teachers came in whilst I was practicing, and having never seen or heard me play before, asked if I’d give a little music talk and play a few songs for the class, which I was happy to do. Ukes aren’t as common here as they are in the UK and the class genuinely seemed fascinated by it, I even got a little standing ovation after playing some music. I played a few vaudeville-y songs to give them an idea of what a lot of people think to be ‘traditional’ ukulele music, and then to finish off I played some Bach, which it just so happens I’ve had on my youtube channel for a while, too: