Prague: a city for looking at and playing the piano in

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It has been a long while since my last post.

The thing is, I haven’t been feeling very well.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence in my life: if languishing on the sofa listening to Radio 4 were an Olympic sport, I’d be in with a fighting chance of winning gold.

I did get out on Sunday though. I’m glad as I fear that first day of September might well have been the last day of summer. I had a little stroll along Naplavka: Prague’s hip and happening waterside walkway. Back when I first moved to the Czech capital, this part of town was far sleepier than it is now: you might remember a post I wrote long ago about this Not-Charles (Railway) Bridge.

Now’s there a floating art gallery cafe almost underneath the iron river crossing point where once there were only swans. I’m not complaining: as you know, I’m rather partial to a nice sit down on my wanderings so I felt it was my duty to give the boat-cafe a whirl. The coffee wasn’t up to much and it was windy out on deck but there was a view of the Castle – and lots of those swans.

See?

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The boat you can see on the right is another super-cool-trendy floating art gallery music bar thing. I tried to get a drink there too – it was the strange Tetris like formation on deck that attracted me – but despite wandering around repeatedly I couldn’t seem to work out how I was supposed to get a drink. Was there table service or should I go to the bar? Failing to work out this riddle, I left – but not before taking some shots of that weird multicoloured sculpture.

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Spot the hipsters admiring the installation…

If other readers find that these floating boat-cafes might float their boats, head for the tram stop Vyton and take the stairs down to the river. This water tower, which I’ve always liked, is nearby too. I wish there was a plaque explaining when it was built and what it was for. Perhaps some of my readers can enlighten me?DSC_0331

Anyway, now comes this post’s Important Point (drumroll, please…).

Naplavka has always been a nice public space but not many people were making use of it. In order for public space to be profited from, there needs to be something to attract people there: an event. Thanks to the floating cafes and farmers markets and other miscellaneous happenings, Naplavka isn’t just the habitat of swans and eccentric English bloggers.

This Important Point has been shamelessly stolen from the architect and social commentator, Adam Gebrian. It was one of the points he gave in a talk as part of the Creative Mornings monthly breakfast lecture series. It’s no good artificially creating somewhere in an urban environment for people to go. There must be a reason for them to go there – and to hang around.

Like unexpectedly stumbling upon a man playing a piano in the street, for example. I took a picture of one of the rogue pianos which are currently dotted around Prague waiting for passers-by to tinkle their ivories outside the Faculty of Arts near Staromestska tram stop.

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Fun, isn’t it?

I must end here as it’s taken me several hours just to write this and I must lie down on that sofa again. I’ll leave you with this to ponder though.

Adam Gebrian also claims that Prague is a city for looking at, not for living in – a comment which I’m shamelessly taking out of context and asking you to respond to.

What do you think?

 

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All Czechs are Artists: Uličnicka Galerie

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-It’s been ages since you wrote a new post Ms Girlova!

-Yes, I know, I know. I do feel quite guilty about it. Sometimes life just gets in the way…

-Hmm, sounds like an excuse to me.

-And now I’m off to England for my sister’s wedding.

-Aww, that’s nice. Are you going to be a bridesmaid?

-Not a chance. Do you know how old I am? Oh no, of course you don’t. Because this blog is anonymous isn’t it? And that means my identity is top secret.

-If you say so. Anyway, hadn’t you better get to the point? What’s this new post all about?

-On my wanderings the other day in Holesovice I spotted this quirky little street art gallery! You know what they say – all Czechs are artists.

-Do they? Prague certainly has its fair share of grafitti: perhaps making a few blackboards and some coloured chalk out on the street like this is an exercise in crime prevention rather than fostering creativity.

-You’re so cynical.

-Anyway, I do hope that you’re not just going to stick up a few photos before you dash off to the airport and call it a blogpost?

-Would I ever do a thing like that?

(A proper post will follow soon loyal readers, I promise! If I don’t finish packing before Czechman gets home I’m a dead woman…)

Street Gallery

The Little Street Art Gallery, Dukelských hrdinů street, Holesovice

 

Love Don't Hurt

This statement may be gramatically incorrect but we must presume it was heartfelt.

 

Entrance to squat

This hole isn’t art. It’s the entrance to a squat located in the same building as the little street art gallery. I would have crawled inside to have a look but I wasn’t brave enough. Hey, this blog is all about whimsy not investigative journalism!

 

Life, love, Czechland

I couldn’t pass by without indulging in a little shameless self promotion. Life, love and Czechland forever!

 

 

 

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A tale of two Czech defence systems

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At the beginning of June, Czechland went on the defensive. The incessant rain ceased to be merely a nuisance as the threat of major flooding  became a very real possibility.

You’ll understand that this was particularly worrying as despite being British, I don’t own a pair of wellies. Or a canoe.

Like many other Prague residents, I spent several days glued to the news, crossing fingers and toes that the heavens would close.  As we live only a short distance from the river, Czechman and I even had our bags packed ready for evacuation. Scary stuff.

As you will no doubt be aware, the rain did stop in time – for most of the Czech Republic at any rate. Prague did not suffer massive wholescale damage – in other words, a repeat of 2002.

Prague floods 2013: picture taken from Libensky Most

Prague floods 2013: picture taken from Libensky Most

In my life so far, I’ve never been within so much as even the vaguest reach (to my knowledge at least) of a natural disaster. It was a strange experience. Metro stations shut, parks closed, police tape everywhere. The vague feeling of helplessness.

Anyway, it did seem to me that the authorities were reasonably well-prepared this time. And Praguers can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that these hastly erected metal barriers you see in the picture above managed to keep billions of tons of cubic water at bay.

It was a close run thing though as you can see:

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Back in 1938, Czechland – or Czechoslovakia as it was known at the time – was busy building a very different kind of defense system: a vast network of bunkers similar to the Maginot Line constructed in France along the German border.

As part of this year’s summer holiday with the Village People (aka Czechman’s parents), we visited Fortress Hanička in the Orlické Hory. Hanička isn’t quite as photogenic as your average Czech fairytale castle but the tour of her underground passages did make for an interesting day trip. Here’s what the old lady looks like from outside:

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Thanks to the agreement made at Munich in 1938 by a certain Neville Chamberlain with Adolf Hitler, these fortifications were never put to the test. Instead they were simply handed over to the Nazis once they came to occupy the Sudetenland as agreed by the Western Powers.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Hanička didn’t entirely go to waste though. The Germans used the main bunker for target practice so that they could see how difficult it would be to destroy the similar fortifications in France. Here you can see a wall that has been damaged by repeated shelling:

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‘Ironic’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Once the tour was over, we sat on the bit of grass you can see in the picture and ate sandwiches. I’d like to think that I looked at that wall and considered myself lucky to be in that particular spot in 2013 rather than in 1938 but I suspect that’s just a retrospective gloss.

It is 75 years this September since the Germans annexed the Sudetenland.

Neville Chamberlain with that infamous piece of paper in his hand.

Neville Chamberlain with that infamous piece of paper in his hand.

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Liberty, Equality and a disposable camera: the Migrant Visions Project

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disposable cameraRemember this thing? Yes, it’s a disposable camera – once an essential piece of kit for any holiday, now an amusing retro artifact occasionally seen left scattered around the dining tables at weddings so that guests can take blurry shots of each other in various stages of inebriation.

Ahem. Anyway, even in the digital age, the humble disposable camera can play a role in a significant international artistic project – such as the latest international photographic exhibition to hit Prague, Migrant Visions.

The idea behind the event is simple: take foreigners of different ages and from different walks of life in three European cities – Cluj, Munich and Prague – and give them a disposable camera with which to record their own unique perspective on the place which they’ve adopted as their home. Oh yes, and in case that weren’t interesting enough in itself, chuck in a theme for the participants to use as inspiration: liberty, equality and fraternity.

As dedicated readers will know, this blog attempts to be a sideways view of life from a foreigner’s perspective, so it seems appropriate that I give a bit of free publicity to a project which has the same aim – albeit in images rather than words.

So, here goes.  If you happen to be in the Czech capital between now and June 29th, do stop by the foyer of the National Technical Library in Dejvice and take a look at the ninety pictures on display. The quality is generally very good indeed given the rather low-tech equipment the migrants were given to work with and the project’s aim is a laudable one: to promote cross-cultural understanding.

Hurrah for that.

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Holka v Česku nebo česká holka? 6 způsobů, kterými jsem se stala Češkou/Girl in Czechland or Czech girl? 6 ways that I‘ve become Czech

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[Non-Czech speakers, don't be scared! This post is bilingual - scroll down for the English translation]

Možná si pamatujete, že minulý rok jsem poskytla rozhovor časopisu Čilichili. Byla to celkem zábava: na focení jsem si vzala paruku a sluneční brýle. Pamatuju si na poslední otázku, kdy se novinář ptal, jestli jsem se stala Češkou. Dala jsem nějakou praštěnou odpověď, ale v duchu jsem si myslela, „Já jsem Angličanka! Vyhovuje mi bydlet v Čechách, ale nikdy nebudu Češka. Můj cíl to není.“

Potom, před asi dvěma měsíci jsem četla hezký článek od Elizabeth Haas, Američanky, která už tady bydlí sedm let. Rozesmála mi a taky inspirovala. Češka určitě nejsem, ale je možný, že jsem si osvojila nějaké české návyky. Tak tady je můj seznam návyků, kterými jsem se stála Češkou.

Musíte pozdravit!

Jeden velký kulturní rozdíl, se kterým jsem se setkala tady v Čechách, je povinný pozdrav. Potkáte souseda na chodbě, když jedete do práce? Tak musíte říct „Dobrý den.” Na začátku to bylo pro mě divný, ale v současné době jsem připravená pozdravit kohokoliv kdykoliv.

Praktická vs. stylová obuv

Když máte venku v Anglii v listopadu balerínky, nikdo na vás nekouká jako na úplného blázna. Ale v Čechách, mít suché nohy je důležitější, než vypadat zajímavě. Snažím se pořad mít něco na sobě, co je stylové, ale přemyslím víc o počasí, když ráno vybírám boty.

Umění dát spropitné…

Když jsem bydlela v Anglii, dávala jsem vždycky minimálně deset procent jako spropitné (kromě v hospodě, protože tam v Anglii nikdy nedáváme víc než je cena pití). Na začátku jsem dělala stejnou věc tady, ale za nějakou dobu jsem začala zaokrouhlovat nahoru jako Češi. Na oběd je to asi v pořádku dát tak málo, a nechci vypadat jako rozmazlena a bohatá cizinka. Presto ještě občas mám pocit viny, že dám servírce tak málo. To je dilema.

Cítit se jako cizinka v anglickém obchodu

Když jsem slyšela, že Marks and Spencer, anglický obchod na Václaváku, začal prodávat čerstvé jídlo, měla jsem velkou radost. Výběr anglických sýrů! Pravá anglická slanina! „Hummous”! Skvělé! Ale když jsem tam šla poprvé, cítila jsem se víc jako cizinka než skutečná Angličanka. Malinký salát z těstovin za kolik? Sýrová pizza za 150 kč asi není tak drahá v Anglii, ale tady v Praze platíte stejnou cenu v restauraci. A používají hodně plastický obalový materiály. Zkrátka a dobře, kupuju tam každou chvíli nějaké věci, abych vařila anglické snídaně, ale nemám zájem o drahé polotovary.

Užívání si volné přírody

Česká pohoda znamená být ve volně přírodě. Nevyužívala jsem sto procentně tenhle způsob života – například musím zlepšit své houbaření – ale snažím se být víc venku.

A konečně…

Jak už jsem řekla, Češi mají pravdu, že je to celkem lepší mít hlavní jídlo v poledne. Tečka.

Na závěr: Češka nejsem – ale mířím tím směrem…

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Girl in Czechland or Czech girl? 6 ways that I‘ve become Czech

Perhaps you remember that last year I did an interview with Čilichili magazine. It was fun overall: for the photo shoot I wore a wig and sunglasses. I remember the last question that the journalist asked – if I have become a Czech girl. I gave some silly answer but inside I thought to myself “I’m English! Living in the Czech Republic suits me but I’ll never be Czech. That’s not my aim.”

Then about two months ago I read a nice article by Elizabeth Haas, an American lady who had lived here for seven years. It made me laugh and also inspired me. Of course I’m not a Czech girl but it’s possible that I’ve picked up some Czech habits. So here is my list of ways in which I’ve become Czech…

You must say hello!

One big cultural difference which I met here in Czechland is the compulsory greeting. Bump into your neighbour in the hallway on the way to work? You must say “Dobry den”. At the beginning this was strange for me but these days I’m ready to say hello to whoever, whenever.

Practical vs. stylish footwear

In England if you have ballet shoes on outside in November, no-one is going to look at you like you’re completely mad. However, in Czechland, having dry feet is more important than looking interesting. I still try to put something on that’s stylish but I think more about the weather when I choose my shoes in the morning.

The art of tipping…

When I lived in England, I always gave at least ten percent as a tip (except in the pub because in England no-one ever gives more than the price of the drink). At the beginning I did the same thing here, but after a while I started to round up like Czechs. At lunchtime it’s okay to give that little and I don’t want to seem like a spoilt and rich foreigner. Even so, I still sometimes have guilty feelings when I give the waitress such a small amount. It’s a dilemma.

Feeling like a foreigner in an English shop

When I heard that Marks and Spencer, an English shop on Wenceslas Square, started to sell fresh food, I was delighted. A selection of English cheeses! Real bacon! Hummous! Fantastic! However when I went there for the first time, I felt more like a foreigner than a real English lady. A tiny portion of pasta salad for how much? Uncooked pizza for 150 crowns may not be that expensive in England but in Prague you’d pay the same price in a restaurant. And they do use a lot of plastic packaging on everything. To cut a long story short, every now and again I buy there a few things so I can cook up an English breakfast but I’m not interested in expensive ready meals.

Embracing the great outdoors

The perfect Czech experience means being in the great outdoors. I haven’t completely embraced this way of life – for example I must improve my mushroom hunting skills – but I do try to spend more time outside.

And finally…

As I’ve said before, Czechs are right – it’s better to have your main meal at lunchtime. End of story.

 

In conclusion, I’m not Czech – but I’m heading in that direction…

 

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