Incredible. Five months have passed since I moved to the Czech Republic. And now it is Christmas. A very beautiful time indeed here in this most ancient and mystical city. Every square is decorated with a tree and many buildings are draped in lights. Floral shops are filled with mistletoe and evergreens to trim your home with natural beauty. Here is just a sampling…..
Christmas trees aren’t the only thing in abundance now. In a city that patronizes the arts like few others, there is no lack of musical concerts to sample. I recently attended the Vánoční Cantata pro Unicef, the Christmas Cantata for Unicef at the Municipal House, a magnificent Art Nouveau architectural gem in the city center. The Prague Symphony Orchestra performed a symphony by Saint-Saens and then were joined in the second half by the Kuhn Choir of Prague, and the Radost Praha Children’s Choir. The all-enveloping sound of voices, pipe organ, and full orchestra was exhilarating in the perfect setting of Smetana Hall.
Of course, as the saying goes, “there’s no place like home” and my favorite tree in Prague is the one right here in my neighborhood square, Karlínské Náměstí. So, dear readers, wherever your home is, I wish you a Christmas that is merry and bright.
As I write this, you, my North America readers, are just waking up on this Sunday, the last day of the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. I hope you enjoyed a time of joy, relaxation, and good food. It is snowing today, for the first time here in the city, although snow has already fallen in the mountains. That damn Virus is consuming the news again as numbers in Europe climb high once more. We are not in a “lockdown” but the closing of the Christmas markets around the city has put a major dent in everyone’s Christmas spirit. Nonetheless, I enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving feast at The Globe. https://globebookstore.cz
“Founded in 1993, the Globe Bookstore and Café is Prague’s first and best English language bookstore with a lively and trendy café…. The Globe Bookstore is expat Prague’s literary epicenter that provides a unique meeting place for artists, writers, students and travelers. ”
While I was enjoying all of this delicious food, my good friend, and fellow teacher, Sybil, was back home in South Carolina with her family for Thanksgiving. She shared these beautiful photos with me of autumn in the countryside near her hometown. So like North Carolina, they really resonate with my heart.
Well, like the Dan Fogelberg song says, the snow here has turned to rain. Time to work on some lesson plans for next week and have a Czech lesson, or maybe just a lazy Sunday afternoon nap. Whatever you do this day, make it pleasurable.
My very special student, Lucie, treated me to a birthday cocktail and gourmet confections at IF cafe on Kampa Island. It is owned by the renowned pastry chef, Iveta Fabešová. That same evening, unbeknownst to us, the cafe was technically closed for a St. Martin’s Day Feast. Iveta generously invited Lucie and I to join in. She served me a huge plate of roast goose with dumplings and sauerkraut. It was delicious!
It’s hard to believe but one week ago I was in Warsaw. As I previously mentioned, I had no choice but to fly there for my long-term visa interview at the Czech Embassy. Much to my surprise and delight, the experience was a pleasurable one. The consular who interviewed me was friendly and engaging, sincerely wanting to help me secure my visa. He carefully crafted my responses to the standard questions as I spoke freely about my hopes and aspirations while living in the Czech Republic. When he made his final edits to the document, translated it back for me and I signed it, two hours had passed! So, now I wait. Again. When (and if) I am approved, I will have to fly back to Warsaw to pick up my visa in person at the Embassy.
Last weekend I spent a day at the Botanical Gardens with my new friend, and fellow-teacher, Sybil. Coincidentally, Sybil is from South Carolina so we automatically have a lot in common! The weather has just been spectacular here in Prague for weeks, so I have taken every advantage of it by spending most of my free time in the outdoors. I have heeded the warnings of everyone that when November comes, it will be cloudy and cold most days. But this particular Sunday could not have been more perfect! See for yourself.
Tonight Sybil and I are going to do Halloween right- we are going on a ghost tour of Old Town including the old Jewish ghetto and cemetery. The cemetery dates back to the first half of the 15th century. Approximately 12,000 tombstones have been counted here, but about 100,000 people are buried here! I will share more about the old Jewish ghetto of Prague in a later post. I can’t think of a better place to see a ghost, can you?!
And now for an update on my long term Visa…. As I mentioned in my last post, the Czech government requires foreigners to interview for their Visa at a Czech Embassy outside of the country. Because there is a backlog of people applying for Visas post Covid restrictions, and because several Czech embassies in European cities have stopped doing this work altogether, it is difficult to get an appointment. My appointment is on November 4th in Warsaw, Poland, a “mere” 12 hour train ride. I am considering flying there. In any event, I’ll have to overnight the night before as my interview is at 10:00 a.m. If you’re thinking that these requirements are daunting, you are correct. They are designed to “thin the herd.”
In September I made a visit to the American Embassy to collect one of the many documents necessary for my Živnostensky Visa- or long-term visa based on a trade license. This type of Visa is used by English teachers, IT specialists, or artists who usually work as freelancers. At the US Embassy, I signed a document swearing that I had committed no crimes in the US or the Czech Republic and paid $50 cash for a notarized piece of paper that served as my required criminal background check!
If only, everything was that easy! The Czech government has made the process so difficult in recent years that you need to hire a Visa Service to navigate for you. Besides a long list of other documents, you must have a notarized business address. My visa guru, Dave at Visa Force, is able to get a “virtual address” for you for a mere 1000 Czech crowns. You pay the money and don’t ask questions.
At present, I have my Trade License, and am awaiting an appointment at a Czech Embassy- one, outside the country. Yes, you read that correctly. Applicants must leave the Czech Republic and go to a Czech Embassy outside the country for their interview. I’m hoping Dave can get me one in Berlin, if not, then Vienna. It’s not likely that it will happen until late November, maybe December. My 90 day tourist visa ends October 31st.
Visa approval can take up to 12 weeks, so it’s possible that I will be living here 6 months before I have my Živno and am living here legally. Is it worth it you might ask? It’s true that the Czechs are known for their love of bureaucracy (even before Communism) and it is designed to discourage those who might consider living here as a passing fling. But I am determined to make it happen. I want the full of experience of getting to know this city and its people. To live and work here like a native.
It was a gorgeous day when I went to the US Embassy and I snapped this picture on my way there. I don’t know what the buildings are, but this is your typical view around almost every corner. And that’s worth a lot.
Today is a National Holiday – Czech Statehood Day and the Feast of Saint Wenceslas (Svatý Václav). Most businesses and stores are closed as well as government offices. Wenceslas is the Patron Saint of Bohemia, the Spiritual Protector of the Czech Lands. He was actually “just” the Duke of Bohemia from 921 to 935, but he was elevated to Sainthood and posthumously declared King by the Catholic Church after his assassination in 935. Only 24, Wenceslas was murdered by his younger brother, aptly named, Boleslaus, the Cruel.
Although he lived such a short life, Wenceslas managed to gain a reputation as a heroic and virtuous leader, and he became revered not only in the Czech Republic but in England. He became symbolic of what a good and kind king can, and should be. If youŕe old enough, you may remember singing about him at Christmas time…..
Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen. Where the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even…….
An ancient legend, (not unlike that of King Arthur), says that in the country’s darkest hour, in order to save it from ruin, this statue will come to life and lead an army of knights who now sleep beneath the Czech mountain, Blaník. As Protector of the Czech Lands, it is only fitting that it was in Wenceslas Square that the Czech people gathered and protested, and eventually drove out the occupying Soviets in 1989.
I have landed in the Karlín neighborhood of Prague 8. It is referred to as the “Brooklyn” of Prague with good reason. Tree lined streets, magnificently restored old buildings, cafes, coffee shops and wine bars on every corner, all with a real neighborhood feel.
This is the entrance to my building on Křižíkova Street. It is a fine example of Art Deco that abounds in Prague, built in 1905.
But things weren’t always this way…..
In August 2002, Prague suffered one of its worst floods in history.
One of the hardest areas was Karlín. This is a view looking down my street, Křižíkova. But the flood had its upside. It spawned a renaissance of this neighborhood and led to the revitalization of businesses and the preservation of its gorgeous buildings. The work continues and I see reconstruction and new construction all around me.
In the coming weeks, I will introduce you, dear readers, to the various parts of mz neighborhood, which is already beginning to feel like home.
I am still in Brandýs nad Labem enjoying the hospitality of my family. Růžena has prepared many delicious traditional Czech foods for me: palačinky (cross between a pancake and a crepe), koláčky (pastry) and fruit knedlíky (fruit dumplings).
Knedlíky are a mainstay of Czech cuisine. The closest translation is our word “dumpling,” but forget everything you’ve probably known and eaten called a dumpling. Authentic knedlíky are light and fluffy but with a slightly chewy texture. They are steam cooked and can be shaped into a loaf or balls. If served immediately, while hot, they are sliced with thin string. Růžena uses dental floss-genius.
Guláš with knedlíky is a traditional meal and is good to the last drop of sauce! Dobrou Chut’!