London for Christmas

“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” – Kurt Vonnegut

There is so much to share about our trip to London last week!  We loved the culture, and Jordan really took to saying “cheers mate.”  It seemed like everyone there was so much more jolly than in Prague.  People were definitely in the Christmas spirit.  We were shocked to find out 1 pound is almost equivalent to 2 US dollars, but hey, when in London…  Our days were packed with walking, sight seeing, and learning new things.  The trip was a great way to get away before starting work!

Day #1: We woke up early to take a bus to the Prague airport.  Everything went smoothly at the airport, and before we knew it, we arrived in London!  We loved asking for things in English – what a novelty!  Our flight came into the Stanstead airport which is about an hour bus or train ride from the city of London.  After a little figuring, we understood how to get to our hostel and took a bus there.  We arrived at the hostel to find that they could only accept cash payments for the room – and guess what?  We had no Pounds and couldn’t take any more money out of the ATMs!  So we had to find another place to stay.  This was the point when Kurt Vonnegut’s quote resonated in my head – “bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”  It seemed like we were wandering around London aimlessly trying to find a place to stay.  We finally found one and ended up getting everything figured out, but not without a little stress along the way.

When we finally had a place to rest our heads, we decided to check out the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.  There were tons of rides, ice skating, food stands, and even a bar on a carousel!  We just enjoyed walking around and looking at everything in full Christmas spirit.IMG_2384

Day #2:  Our second day in London happened to be the Winter Solstice.  We decided to check out Stonehendge.  Since the Pagans give special importance to the solstices, we figured it would be the perfect time to go.  We arrived and found out that the next day they would be letting people up into the center circle.  We couldn’t believe we missed such an opportunity by one day! But we still enjoyed walking through the ancient structures and seeing some old burial hills, too.
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Downton Abby

Day #3: We went on a walking tour of the city of London.  While it didn’t really measure up to the amazing walking tour we got in Prague, we still got to see all of the famous sites and learn a lot of history about them.  We got to see the changing of the guard and feed some squirrels – the guide brought along some bread and the people on our tour loved seeing how the squirrels would come right up and take the food out of their hands.

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Buckingham Palace

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The food was great.  We loved trying authentic fish and chips and pies.  At one restaurant, a Polish waiter gave us a free flight of English beers.  We loved London Pale Ale!

IMG_2380After the walking tour we went to the Science museum which was the best museum we saw while we were in London.  It wasn’t just for kids, there were lots of interesting things for adults, too.

IMG_2493We ate lunch at Cafe Concerto where the desserts in the window drew us in.  I ordered a walnut and apple risotto and for dessert we got this piece of cake.  At night we went to see a comedy show.  It was called A Year in Review and it was interesting because there were 6 comedians competing with each other for the audience’s laughs throughout the show.  Many of the jokes were really British and related to European news, but it was still really cool to go to a place that seemed pretty local.

IMG_2524 Day #4: On the fourth day, we went to the Natural History museum and saw some dinosaur bones along with other exhibits.  My favorite of which was the gemstones and minerals exhibit where I wandered, mesmerized through the isles of beautiful natural jewels.

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Day #5: Christmas Eve! We started the day with a ride on the London Eye.  We got lots of cool arial views of the city from the little pod on the giant wheel.  Then we saw the London Eye 4D experience that came for free with our tickets.

IMG_2546 IMG_2573 IMG_2577Afterwards, we wandered around a bit and went into the Southside Center to regroup.  We grabbed some lunch at a burrito place that was a lot like Chipotle except better.  Then we went to a candy store and bought some chocolate bars.  Mine was called Christmas Pudding and it had fruit, nuts, and spices in it.  Jordan’s was called blueberry flapjack.  Next, we went to the theater to see a show called Nevil Island.  It was about a group of businessmen that get stranded on an island.  The play was funny, but it also made you think.  We both really liked it.

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The set of Nevil Island

Most of the city was starting to shut down around 5, so we found a place that was still serving dinner and hunkered down.  It was an Asian small plate restaurant that was packed.  We sat at a table with 3 other couples.  You order by filling out a slip of paper with bubbles on it for what you would like.  After dinner, we came back to the hostel and drank some ciders at the hostel bar and talked to a girl we met from New York.

Day #6: Christmas!  We woke up early and hit the empty road to rent bikes and partake in the Charles Dickens ride.  It was a group of about 50 bikers and us with our rented city bikes.  We went to various Charles Dickens sites around the city.  The entire bike ride was over 10 miles.  We were exhausted by the end of the morning!  We ditched the tour early and returned our bikes, glad to be rid of them, and sat on some park benches to contemplate.  Later in the day, we both got to talk with our families and went out to a Mediterranean restaurant for dinner.

IMG_2621 Day #7: After waking up and checking out of our hostel, we went to see the tower bridge and London Tower.

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We walked back to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace where we wanted to take a few more pictures.  After some soup to warm up for lunch, we had to go meet our Couch Surfing hosts!! They live in south east London.  They were Ukrainian and Bulgarian.  They had an amazing dinner ready for us when we got there and we had a great time talking all night and drinking wine with them.

Day #8:  We woke up to a traditional Bulgarian breakfast of banitsa – deliciously greasy puff pastry with feta cheese and egg.  We loved it, and learned the recipe!  We were stuffed for a day full of tourist adventures.   We walked with our hosts to various tourist spots nearby their house.  We saw the prime meridian, the old queen’s house, the painted hall, and the maritime museum.

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The Prime Meridian
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A laser points out of the small black hole at night to show the Prime Meridian.
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View from the Queen’s house
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The Painted Hall

Our host, Evol, knew a ton about history, so we basically got a free walking tour just by him showing us around.

After all that, our hosts wanted to head back and rest, so Jordan and I decided to go to the Tate Modern art gallery.  We had been wanting to go since we first got to London.  It was a great way to end our visit.  We really enjoyed exploring the countless rooms of interesting art.

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We left London early the next day, sad to leave our hosts, but surprisingly, we both felt excited to head back “home” to the Czech Republic.  It only took a trip away to realize that this foreign place is really starting to feel like home!

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TEFL Graduates – Finally have time to Explore!

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Mala Strana on our way to the Lennon Wall

Well we did it, we graduated!! Taking the TEFL course felt like it should have been a semester long endevour and since it was squeezed into a month it was super difficult.  We each had two teaching practices a week, which were normally 45 minute long classes.  Everyone had to do one 90 minute lesson as well.  We taught to two different model classes pre-intermediate and upper-intermediate.  We dealt with difficult students.  Each morning, we had workshops from 9 to 12:15.  There were two different workshop topics during that time.  Then we had a lunch break from 12:15 to 1:30.  Every Friday we had one workshop and then a Czech language lesson.  Each afternoon (besides Fridays) we had between 1 and 3 teaching practices with each of the groups of students.  When the TPs (teaching practices) were over, we gave peer feedback and got feedback from our observers as well, and then got our grades.  We had about 7 assignments due throughout the course of the month, all requiring extensive research, effort, and time.

But I could never, ever complain about the amount of work that we had to do in the last month.  I went in knowing very very little about teaching using Communicative Language Teaching methods, and knowing even less about the way Czech learners expect to be taught.  The past month as been a mind expanding 30 days, filled with stresses, successes, and personal growth.

Over the next week, we will send out our CVs to various language schools, get a few interviews, find a place to live besides the TEFL house, and hopefully get hired! But until then, we finally have time to explore this beautiful world around us.

Friday after our Czech lesson, we went to a nearby restaurant with the course coordinators and our head teacher for our graduation ceremony.  There we all chatted over drinks and ordered some delicious food.  Before the food came, we got our TEFL certificates.  Wow, what a feeling to open up the certificate and know that all the hard work payed off.  It was fun to be able to sit around a table with our instructor and finally have a laid back atmosphere with the other trainees.  We all enjoyed ourselves and the food was amazing! (Payed for by the school, too!)

Then we headed back to the the house and for the first time in a month, I had the feeling that I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I literally paced the bedroom wondering what the next step should be.  Finally, at around 7 our fellow trainees started to wander down to the communal table and the festivities began.  We had a fun night of card games, beer, and music, all with one underlying theme – we graduated!!

The end of the night lingered on, as we knew it was our last with Bijoya, who would be heading back to Switzerland.  My eyes were opened to a whole world of language learning that had been Bijoya, a native Bengali speaker’s, life for so long.  I thought to myself, I can’t wait to get better at Czech.

Well the night finally ended and Saturday began.  We wanted to make the most of the day.  We woke up early to get ready and bid farewell to two of our roommates that were heading back to The States.  As they hopped in their taxi, we told them we would see them in a month when they came back to Prague.  One will be one of our future roommates.

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Then we headed to the TV Tower, a huge futuristic tower covered in crawling babies.  The view of the city was great.  Because the tower was in Prague 3, we could look on to all of the famous sights in the city that we had seen.

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There were three different observation rooms, and one even had couches and weird hanging globe chairs that had speakers playing outdoor noises in them.  It was so relaxing to just sit and stare out at the city.

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Afterwards, we headed back towards the city center and checked out the love locks wall and the Lennon wall.  The love locks wall is a tradition where lovers put a padlock on a bridge and throw away the key.  We didn’t put a lock on, but hey, maybe next time.

IMG_2326Then we saw the famous Lennon Wall.  There was a man playing guitar there – mostly Beatles/John Lennon Songs.  The wall had been white washed about a month ago, but it was already almost completely re-covered.  When the group of art students white washed it to symbolize the new things the wall can stand for now in the post-communist era they wrote “WALL IS OVER” but some of the graffiti artists had already whited-out the L and and fixed it to say “war is over.”  Seeing the wall, I felt so much history and emotion I actually was brought to tears.  It was a very inspirational place.  I highly recommend it.

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To end our day full of adventure, we walked down to an island park that we had been eyeing from the Charles Bridge for some time now.  It was a nice park with sandy playgrounds and plenty of benches to sit and enjoy the view.

I was so thankful that the course ended and that we had some time to explore this beautiful city that is really starting to feel like home!!

Berlin in Four Hours

IMG_2269 On Tuesday we took a trip to Berlin to apply for our visas at the Czech Embassy.  We left early in the morning far before the sun had risen, driving along the European highways with a driver who seemed to know the route like the back of his hand.   We slept for a couple of hours in the car, but after a while, I couldn’t help but look wide-eyed at the German signs and scenery.  Five years of learning the language had given me a clear yet previously unfounded affinity for the country. We arrived at the embassy around 9:30 in the morning and as a group of sleepy americans wandered into the building, settled down around a table and filled out some forms that our visa assistance coordinator handed to us.  The whole process took about two hours and cost about 100 Euros. Afterwards, we were able to explore the city for two short hours.  We decided to make the most of it, and traveled quickly to the Brandenburg Gate. IMG_2263 All around us we saw a city that looked completely different from what we have become accustomed to in Prague.  Law abiding citizens who don’t jay-walk no matter what the circumstances, wide open spaces everywhere you look, extensive bike lanes, trillions of bikes locked up, and bike riders taking advantage of the sunny day.  We were all shocked at the quiet, clean nature of the city center that we were exploring.  There were very few people walking on the streets, and on some streets, we saw almost no one.  Even in the city center, it had a neighborhood-like, quiet feel.  It also seemed that everywhere we looked there was some type of cool art or something interesting to look at. IMG_2260 This was a cool statue that just popped out of the trees at us when we first got there of silhouetted Georg Elser, the would-be assassin of Hitler. IMG_2274 Then we found a miniature city of concrete blocks which we found out is the Memorial to murdered Jews of Europe.  There is an attached plaque underground of all the names of those killed in the Holocaust. We were all hungry after our morning of travels, so we stopped at a small diner and ordered currywurst and potato salad.  The food was great. IMG_2279 And what would a trip to Germany be without drinking German beer?  We had a couple pilsners at a next-door pub and unsurprisingly commented on how similar it was to Czech beer (and way more expensive). IMG_2280 I loved Berlin, and I was so surprised to see how much of a difference a few hundred Km can make.  It was clear we were in a different country, albeit a neighboring country.  I hope we can take a trip to Berlin again to have more time to explore.

A Weekend as a TEFL Student

This weekend started with a sausage and a fruit and chocolate cup in old town square.  The sausage was amazing, but the fruit cup… I am already dreaming about my next one of those.  The Christmas market has many food booths and one that particularly caught my attention was a chocolate fountain booth.  They have some fruit skewers covered in chocolate you can buy, but the real deliciousness lies in the “mixed cup.”  They pile the cup high with raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, banana, and cookies and then drizzle a ton of chocolate in it.  The first bites soaked in warm chocolate are the best.  Then the chocolate begins to cool and you are left with nice crunchy bites of chocolate covered goodies.

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Later on Friday, after we had a chance to digest and detox from the week, our roommate, Bijoya, made us dinner.  Some girls surrounded her in the kitchen as she gave us little tips on making her version of authentic Indian food.  We all ate together at our giant TEFL house dining room table feeling like the luckiest TEFL trainees ever to be enjoying authentic chicken curry, and dal (lental soup).

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We spent the rest of the night relaxing and playing card games.  We have been enjoying casino, Egyptian rat screw, and hearts lately.  The table is our communal spot and when we’ve had all we can take of homework, we often turn to cards for a fun and relaxing alternative.

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The street our TEFL house is on.

Saturday, I woke up and went for my first run in Prague.  I decided just to start from our house and run up to the Stadium which is in the other direction from the city center.  I found a strange paved walking path and followed it for a while until I decided to keep making my way to the stadium.  It was misting outside and feeling the gentle droplets hit my face felt great.  I was so happy to get out and do something active!

Then Jordan and I went to get pictures taken that we will need to get our visa.  We are going to Berlin on Tuesday to apply for our visas, so we needed to prepare for that.  We got our pictures taken at photoskoda where we only had to pay 140 crowns for 4 pictures.  We had time to explore a strange mall while we were waiting for our pictures to be taken.  It was kind of like a street between two streets filled with a music venue, theater, movie theater, and many many shops.  We saw a tiny record store and a photography store with lots of old projectors and cameras.

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I went shopping at a different grocery store afterwards that our housemates said was a bit cheeper.  Back at the house, we enjoyed more card games with our flatmates while trying to get some of our many assignments done.

Today is a day of studying and homework.  This morning we had a huge homework session with everyone in the house at the table working.  I’m sure this will happen again later tonight.

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