Velka Amerika and Old Town Square Christmas Market

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This weekend, we decided to take a break from our studies and go out and explore.  Our housemates had heard good things about the “Grand Canyon of Prague,” Velka Amerika, so we decided to make a day of it and check it out.

We had to take a bus to the metro, and then road the metro to the end of it’s line.  When we got off we were at a giant bus depot and metro station.  There were different stands with food and goods everywhere and across the road was a mall.  We had 45 minutes before our next bus came so we decided to grab a snack.  We finally got to try Trdelnik, a sweet pastry that is rolled over a metal stick and cooked over hot coals and then coated in a sugary nut mixture.  We had seen them everywhere but never tried them until yesterday.  It was great!

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Our bus finally came and we had to pay 24 crowns to ride.  Our public transportation passes didn’t work because they are only good for within Prague’s city limits.  Everyone getting on was able to pay the bus driver directly and then our 50 minute ride commenced.

The bus ride was enjoyable because we got to see a whole new side of this country.  There were some areas that looked quite rundown, other places were huge green pastures, and there were also some normal looking country homes.  Our eyes were opened to the world outside of the city center.

When we arrived at our stop, we had to walk up a hill for about 25 minutes because the bus stop that was closer to the canyon was not in service due to it being Saturday.  The hike up the country road was one of my favorite parts of the day.

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The canyon was visible by a parking area right off the road we were walking on.  We rushed up the small dirt path to the first view of the canyon and wonder struck us all.

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We ended up walking around the entire canyon, stopping at different view points, finding natural clay to play with, and just generally enjoying the beautiful view.

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The canyon was created from limestone mining.  There were small caves lining the walls and a dirt road that we saw people walking on.  We figured out how to get down to the road, but we were somewhat intimidated by the huge, extremely heavy metal doors that stood in our way.

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So at this point, we decided it was time to call it a day.  We had to wait at the bus stop for the bus to come for a pretty long time because the weekend schedule only had it coming once every three or so hours.

We all made it back at last and were starving and freezing.  We went to a restaurant in Wenceslas Square to warm up and get some good food.  Jordan tried Grog and we both got Goulash for the first time.  It was so good!  Jordan’s came in a rye breadbowl, and mine came with bread dumplings.  I love dumplings. 🙂

IMG_2232Next, we took a short walk over to Old Town Square for their Christmas Market.  Since it was the first day they were holding it for the season, it was as busy as Black Friday!   But it was well worth fighting the crowds to see the many vendors selling crafts, homemade foods, artisan honey, and so much more.  We are planning on going back to get some of the amazing food on Friday for lunch.  I was particularly eyeing the Chocolate fondu parfait.  Just imagine, instead of yogurt in a parfait, they had chocolate.

Our friend Amanda was intrigued by little slices of a loaf of marzipan and she got one to try.  We decided it was interesting to try but not something we were crazy about.  The best part of the Christmas market were all the lights lighting up the square and the christmas choir that was singing in one area.

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We were so happy that we could get out and see some cool sights this weekend!!

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Thanksgiving in Prague

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The first of our series of holidays away from home was a success.  Since we live with mostly all other Americans (and one Indian), we were all very onboard with the whole idea of celebrating Thanksgiving together.  We went through a series of ideas starting with making our own Thanksgiving dinner, but since our TEFL House kitchen is not extremely well equipped, we decided to go out to eat.  And luckily there were even a few options of restaurants that serve American Thanksgiving dinners.

We chose Jama, a restaurant in Prague 1, not too far from our school where they have been serving Thanksgiving dinner for 20 years.  They also had American Football games on TV, so that made the men in our group happy.

Our evening started with some jovial Thanksgiving-themed games in our flat where we all put the immense workload of the course aside for the night at got to know each other a little better.  There was Czech beer, wine, Swiss Chocolate (one of us is from Switzerland), and pretzels. What more could you want for pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres?

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After lots of laughing, reminiscent talk about our families, and drinks all around, we had to leave the flat to make it to our 9pm reservation for dinner. We were quite loud, and possibly annoying on the bus and tram, but, we justified, it’s a special occasion, so what if they don’t understand.
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We made it to the restaurant and got a nice table in a small back room next to a group wearing Pilgrim hats and Native American headdresses. They too were English teachers from the US. We ordered our drinks and the first course arrived. It was corn chowder. Not quite synonymous with one of my favorite dishes, corn casserole, but the warm, potato based soup was great to get warmed up on a cold night.

Next, our main meal came out. It was definitely a Czech spin on Thanksgiving dinner. They love to pile plates up with food – sides go under the meat – and this meal was no different. We were faced with a pile of Thanksgiving foods all looking and smelling great. There was ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and stuffing all topped with cranberry sauce and gravy. All of the flavors mixed perfectly together for a Thanksgiving feast like no other.

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FInally, we got some very flat slices of pumpkin pie.  Although they looked different that what we’re used to, all of the flavors were there, and the crust was some of the best Jordan, a pumpkin pie connoisseur, had had.  The whole meal, with drinks and tips cost us about 450 crowns.  Money well spent.

Sure, it wasn’t just like home, but I am thankful that I got closer with my course mates, ate some delicious food that we didn’t have to cook ourselves, celebrated the holiday even being so many miles away.

Teaching English to Czechs

Today was my last class teaching the lower-intermediate model-class.  It has been interesting getting thrown into a teaching situation quickly and figuring out how to swim instead of sink.  At first, I was completely overwhelmed, thinking that I was not going to be cut out for teaching.  At this point, I have a better idea of how I fit into this city and into my new identity as a teacher.

Teaching is a strange conglomeration of planning and winging it.  You could write a perfect essay on teaching strategies, and still fall flat in the classroom.  This concept was hard for me to grasp coming from my English major background where if you could get all of your thoughts eloquently in a paper, you were golden.  I have never been one who excelled at thinking on my feet, but I think (and hope) this is a skill I will slowly be able to acquire.

To teach, you first must plan.  This part takes time and consideration, especially since some of our observers love to see really creative ideas.  Our model class loves moving around the classroom, competitions, games, videos, and anything else interactive you could possibly think of.  After following all the steps of the Communicative Language Teaching strategy (what we have been studying throughout this course), adding some exciting activities is always a good idea.

Writing out a lesson plan in the library is one thing, but successfully putting it into action is a very different thing.  You must remember how to give the simplest instructions, to constantly monitor the students’ work, correct their errors, cater to both the stronger and weaker students, keep the lesson’s pace moving, all while making it seem natural.

I often find myself in such a zone while I’m teaching that afterwards I have a hard time putting anything that I did into words.  It is all a hazy cloud that I know I was present for, but I don’t have a clear picture of.  It is such a high to have a good class, or to get through a tough class, that you are kind of riding the wave afterwards.  Getting good feedback makes this hazy era even greater.  I got my first really positive feedback from our toughest trainer today, and it is just the encouragement I needed to make me feel like I am really getting it.

The model class that we teach to is a group of students who take the lessons for free.  There is a solid core that comes consistently, who are all bright and easy to work with, but there are other students who can come intermittently.  Today, our trainer said that the group of people couldn’t possibly get any harder to deal with than this.  She said the way I handled it was the best possible way.  I was worried about classroom management at the start of this course, but now I feel a lot more confident knowing that I can manage even the difficult students.

We are learning so much about teaching and working with a group of students that had never even crossed our minds before.  It is exciting, glorious, enlightening…. to feel like you can actually teach someone something is one amazing feeling of accomplishment.

First Impressions of the TEFL Course

Our first week in the TEFL class was eye opening, exciting, and challenging. We have both taught our first lesson, taken many pages of notes, and spent late nights studying. We were shocked at how much they expect of us in the course, but luckily we find everything that we are learning interesting and have enjoyed our time in the course thus far.

The lessons are held at the Caledonia School in Prague 1, which is a school that teaches many different languages. There are always many people crowding the small hallways waiting for their language classes to start. If we get a pass 1, this is the same school at which we will be guaranteed employment.

Thursday night we had a welcome party organized by the school for our students and us. The party was at a restaurant right near the school. Some past graduates of the course were also there. It was fun to talk to our students, who are real Czech English learners, in a more casual setting. We also got a lot of inside information from past graduates who are working as teachers now.

Friday night, a group of us went to the Meet Factory to see the American band, Tune Yards, that was playing there. The venue doubles as famous Czech artist, David Cerny’s gallery space. There was a life-sized car hanging from a hook on the outside of the building and auditorium seats hanging from the ceiling on the inside of the venue. The concert was great, and the audience asked for a double encore.

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Afterwards we went to Old Town for a few drinks (there aren’t any bars near Meet Factory). The first bar we went to was a music club with a packed dance floor. The second bar was a coffee and beer bar where we got some hard cider on tap and had a chance to talk to our housemates a little better.

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Random Prague things we have noticed:

People don’t leash their dogs.
Smoking is allowed inside.
You have to pay to use the bathroom in public places.
Instant coffee is super popular.
There aren’t mailboxes. If you want to mail a letter, you have to go to the post office, press a button for the type of service you want, and then wait to be called up to the counter.
A lot of the packaged food we get has Czech, Slovakian, and Russian writing on it.
Some things are really cheap, for example, I bought a bag of apples for the equivalent of 1 USD, but you have to be pretty careful in order to get a good deal like that.
It gets dark at 3:30pm.
The city shuts down on Sundays.
I have only seen two people running since I got here a week and a half ago.
There is graffiti everywhere.

I don’t have much to share this week since we have been super busy with the course!! Check back next week for more updates.

The First Three Days in Prague

We have been in Prague for over three days now and the one thing we can both say is we have learned so much in such a short time. We have eaten delicious Czech food, had our ups and downs with the Czech language, figured out the bus, metro, and tram systems, and seen many beautiful sights. It feels as though we have been on a mini city vacation, and we are both exhausted and ready to rest up on this chilly Sunday night in preparation for our course starting tomorrow.

Food

Thus far, we have both really enjoyed most of the food that we have eaten here. When eating out, we are trying to eat only Czech food to get the true effect of this new culture. It is obvious that the main meal here is lunch, because we have gone into restaurants for dinner and have been the only people eating! The meals are so heavy and decadent that you really only need to eat one main meal a day. It is strange to see people smoking inside restaurants where it is allowed.

The first night, we were both starving after hours of travel, so we headed down to the only restaurant that is within walking distance from our TEFL house. It was called Klamovka. As we were soon to learn, restaurant patrons should pick whichever table they would like to sit at and make themselves at home. You do not need to wait to be seated by a hostess as you do in some US restaurants. We found a table to sit at and sat down. Our first real experience talking to a Czech person was quite interesting. After asking our waitress in Czech if she spoke English, she said, no not much and brought us the one English menu that they had in the entire restaurant. We were able to point at the food we wanted and figure it out. That night Jordan had roast beef ribs with corn on the cob.

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The ribs were quite salty, but enjoyable. I had a pork chop with pan fried potatoes, mustard sauce, sautéed onions and bacon. The mustard sauce was delicious, and the potatoes were cooked to perfection. The pork was also quite well seasoned.

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While wandering around on Friday, we grabbed some fruit from a small outdoor market in the old town. It had fresh cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries and we paid by the kilo. It came with a tiny fork, and I found it really irresistible!

On Saturday, we had dinner at a restaurant near our school in Prague 1. During our walking tour, our guide told us that Svíčková is the only true Czech dish, and all other dishes that are considered Czech food are actually stolen from other countries. Hence, the first meal after our tour, I ordered Svíčková right away. It is sliced meat (the meat I had was roast beef), cream sauce, cranberry sauce, and whipped cream with bread and potato dumplings on the side. Oh, it was SO good!!! That was my favorite meal I have had so far.

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Jordan’s meal, as you see on the top of the picture was three meat kebabs with bacon and onion with dumplings as well. Jordan says he gives it a 7.8 out of 10!!

Tonight we had food from the food stands in Old Town Square. I got Palačinky with ham and cheese, which is like a crepe that they make right in front on you on a hot griddle. Jordan got a sausage which is served just with a slice of bread over it, but the seasonings were great!

Language

As we expected, thus far, the language has been our biggest obstacle. We have interacted with Czech speakers at restaurants, and stores. Sure, we have found a few people who can come right up to us and say “Hi?” as a question basically guessing that we are English speakers. We went to a post office within the Prague castle, and they could wait on us in English, and so could the young man working at the Vodafone cell phone store. Other than that, we have been interacting with solely Czech speakers (or at least, not English speakers).

One of our hardest Czech experiences was in the Tesco supermarket where our cashier didn’t speak any English and began trying to explain a loyalty program to us. We were required to go get stamps from the information desk to put into a pamphlet before we could buy the towels that we had selected. Thankfully, the man behind us spoke English, so he could help translate. They were adamant that we get the reduced price; they wouldn’t let us purchase the towels for their original price, nor just walk away with no towels.

I have found that my greatest downfall is in my listening skills. The best Czech language experiences that I have are when I speak in Czech and the person to whom I’m speaking responds in English. Once they start talking to me in Czech, I am totally lost.

Public Transportation

The public transportation here is really extensive, popular, and timely. It seems like a ton of people ride the busses, metros, and trams. We have a monthly pass that we got through our school. It works for all three forms of transport, although you do not need to pull it out to ride. Someone may ask you to see your ticket at some point, but otherwise, you just need to have it in your pocket. Our course advisor said she is asked for her ticket about once per year.

Tourist Sights

We have seen some of the main sights of Prague already! Friday we went to Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square) which has a lot of shops and restaurants and is kind of like Prague’s Time Square.

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From there, we wandered onto the Charles Bridge to see the city lit up at night.

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Saturday, we explored Old Town Square and took a walking tour through Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. We took our tour with New Europe Tours and our tour guide was great.  She gave us all of the little details that you usually want to know during a tour, but have to ask.  For example, we learned all about the showing of the clock and what each of the pieces means.  We also learned that one tower is smaller than the other side because they lost the building plans half way through the process.

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Today we went to the Prague Castle and explored within it. There is a great view of the city near the main entry gates.  We used our lonely planet book to navigate throughout the castle, and I highly recommend it because we were able to get some of the history behind the castle without having to pay for a tour.  We saw the changing of the guard at noon which was pretty impressive (third picture), and the beautiful stained glass window is inside of the St Vitus Cathedral.

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After the castle, we headed back to the old town square, a short 20 minute walk, which sent us down some famous steps in Prague.  I recognized them from photos on Pintrest!  We went up into the Old Town Hall tower with the astronomical clock on it and got a great 360 view of Prague.  It was like standing up in the empire state building, except cooler because of all the red roofs instead of industrial skyscrapers.

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Then we watched the clock’s hourly show, and after learning what everything meant, it was actually pretty cool!

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We are excited for more adventures to come!! We start our TEFL course tomorrow and are really looking forward to it.  Thanks for reading!!

Na schledanaou!

Caitlin & Jordan