Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Models

Mom sent me a picture of dad, at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, which is one of my favorite places in the world. Dad looked really happy which in turn made me happy and jealous.

There are no complaints allowed from people who live in beautiful cities with a rich culture around them everyday, a personal motto that is actually hard to live by sometimes. However, my jealousy of mom and dad's trip stems from the fact that I have worked two weeks straight, with hardly a visit to my favorite spots in Prague.

A new place I went however (work related of course) was the Galerie Butovice, a mall in the Prague suburbs where the model airplane convention was held in the well-let parking garage. My job is mainly marketing and writing for an Internet security start up, however my other tasks revolve around the procuring, marketing and selling of custom built model airplanes. ( So not only was I required to go to this model convention on a beautiful Saturday, but Sunday as well. The whole situation looked a bit like this:

A moderately well dressed American girl in her 20's goes to meet her Chinese American boss at a Metro stop in the Czech suburbs, who of course is late.
When said boss finally arrives, American employee guides them both to the convention because of her well honed directional skills passed down genetically from her mother. Thank god. American employee was trying to see and learn all about model airplanes in the least amount of time possible. It was a weekend after all.
Boss and employee walk into the parking garage under the mall to be met by the fumes of some sulfuric something or other which later was found out to be coming from the temporary pool or ocean that was set up to display the speed and agility on the model war boats that were also being shown off at the convention.
Boss guides employee to meet all of his favorite model builders, who are shocked to see a WOMAN at the convention and simply flabbergasted that said woman was AMERICAN. The first that dispensed of his medal winning planes to Chinese American boss was in a model airplane club, "one of the most prestigious," boss said.
The second was an Air-Conditioning installation man who in his free time specializes in building Japanese planes from WWII and who's 18 year old son had to act as a translator.
The third, Santa Claus, was a Polish man who spoke no English and who we spent all weekend with and who sold us two of his planes. To communicate with Santa we stole the wife of the Polish man who ran the model airplane supply table (selling model kits and paints etc.). Said wife who was all of 4'10" followed Santa, Chinese American Boss, and American Employee around all afternoon translating.

This all continued on Sunday.

Sunday evening American employee had to take two model helicopters from the convention to the office on the metro and then tram. A hour and a half excursion with the helicopters on prominent display for all to judge and wonder about.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Krakow's Old Town Square

After nine months of living in Prague I was finally able to leave and travel. Price and location lead me and my friends to Krakow, Poland. It's a place I've heard a lot about, and even though it was a lot smaller than Prague, it's charm and history didn't disappoint.
Five friends and I took the over night train on Easter weekend. We all managed to pack into a six person sleeper car and sleep for a few hours and arrived in Krakow in the early morning. We dropped our bags and went out into the city for some exploration before our sleep deprivation caught up with us.
We saw the Old Town Square which was full of market stands selling traditional Easter gifts and trinkets. Because Poland doesn't really have any industry or mass produced goods everything for sale was handmade and more authentic than the monotonous stands selling the same things that Prague has.
We took a guided tour around Krakow and saw a lot of the Old Town area which is still surrounded by the old city walls; the Jewish Quarter; the Jewish Ghetto where the Nazis forced the Jews to move; Schindler's factory/ museum and finally the Castle and Cathedral. A lot of things were closed because of Easter, so we were able to see the outside of both and only the Estate Rooms in the Castle.
The Wawel Castle

On Saturday we took a bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the nazi concentration camps and which is actually a collection of a lot of separate locations spanning an incredibly sizable area of land.

Work Makes You Free

We took a guided tour of the main area with all of the old soldier's quarters which, during the time were used as various jails, torture rooms, medical experiment labs and execution yard. Now they hold photographs and rooms stuffed full of the belongings and hair of the Jews, Gypsies and others that were sent to Auschwitz. The camp was extremely haunting and emotional, but the beautiful weather, some of the 1.3 million tourists who visit every year, and especially the uncomprehendable amount of atrociousness and terrible things that took place there prevented me from an "authentic" experience or connection to what exactly happened there. Although I appreciate that I was able to see the camps.
We then went to the biggest of the camps, Birkenau, which has the famous gate where the train came through with all of the prisoners. In all the nazis were able to build around 450 of the 600 planned bunk houses that the prisoners were kept in.
In the distance you can see chimney stacks that are the remnants of buildings destroyed when the Nazis tried to destroy evidence of the camps. In the far distance there is the forest where many of the prisoners were taken to be executed and then burned in mass graves. Their ashes were then thrown into the river or put on fields that grew crops for the general public of Germany. An extremely haunting and moving experience.The train tracks and area where prisoners were unloaded and sorted.

On Sunday, Easter, we went to a Catholic mass, even though 3 of my friends are Jewish and the others Protestant. It was in a tiny, ornate church and the service was in English. It was a nice service, but the sunshine, beers and perogies waiting at the markets in the center of town were calling to us. We sat in the square and enjoyed the sunshine and seeing all of the Poles wearing their Sunday best and relaxed.

One of the things that most impressed me about Krakow was the food and how friendly the people were. We ate like royalty for a fraction of what you would pay for such food in the US. One night we had Italian food, and all of the pasta was handmade and amazing. We also had a traditional Polish drink, tatanka, which is made out of a special spiced Polish vodka, apple juice and a lemon. (This was our drink of choice throughout our trip :) )
On Saturday night we went out for traditional Polish food. We started with mushroom, potato and cheese perogies which are sort of like dumplings and were phenomenal. The girls either got veal or fish and I had chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce with home made gnocchi.
Sunday night we went out for Georgian food... Something I had no expectations for or had really ever thought about. But it turned out to be the most interesting of our meals. We all had Georgian cheese pies. It's basically slightly fried focaccia with your choice of topping. I got grilled vegetables and cheese. Served on the side were various sauced; garlic, cream, and a sweet and spicy dressing.Georgian cheese pie

After dinner we had ice cream and walked around the square.

Eliza, Krysten, Abby, Farah and Allie

The next day there was a misunderstanding with our train reservation and we ended up taking a commuter train to Katowice, Poland, a pretty depressing place and eery because everything was shut down for Easter Monday. We then took a different train bound for Prague, which a Polish conductor let us on, almost got kicked off in the middle of nowhere by a Czech conductor, and then stood in the hallway of the train for the remainder of the journey which was around 3 or 4 hours.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Prague 1/2 Marathon for Devon

In honor of Devon I decided to run the Prague 1/2 marathon. I decided in early February
that running, something I love, and in Prague for Devon, would be something I could feel good about in honoring his memory and the importance he had in my life. Although the course went through a lot of areas he and I never went together there were a lot of places that we did share time in, and running through these, Malstranska, the Jewish Quarter, along the Vltava river and being cheered on by our friends, was exactly what I wanted and turned out better than imagined.
Although the entire work week was sunny and warm, Saturday called for rain, wind and cooler temperatures. The rain came in the night and cooled the city down and the only poor weather I struggled with was the extreme wind by the river and running against it the last 8 or so kilometers.
The course started in the Jewish Quarter at Palach Square and went south along the river to Vyserhrad, the smaller version of the Prague castle and across to the Staropramin brewery, then up north passing below the castle and into the more industrial part of Prague. This was near to the finish and passed through the flood plane which was completely covered in the 2001 flood. A lot of the buildings haven't been fixed and were sort of an eery thing to see at the end when I was really struggling against the wind and dogging the runners who were stopping and the sky began to look ominous.
My good friends in Prague made me a sign that got laughs from more than one English speaker along the course. "Look at Carrie move that ASS, who knew she could run so FAST" They live near to the national theater which I passed by twice on my run, and they were an amazing support system. At the end they were front and center as I ran my last 20 yards to the finish line, and they brought along our French friends who were far more vocal and loud than a lot of the other supporters, or so it seemed to me. I was overjoyed at the welcome party they all created for me.
I ran the race alone, in part to honor Devon, and also to in some way have a connection to him. Although I ran alone, the city was quite alive and there was so much camaraderie throughout that I never felt lonely or sad that I wasn't running with someone.
A little more than half way through, as we ran over about a kilometer of cobblestones and I lost my rhythm I thought that I would just be lucky to finish. But suddenly, probably with the help of Devon, I regrouped, gave myself a pep talk, that this race wasn't for me but for him, and I picked up the pace and ended up running each 5k faster than the previous.

On my left hand I drew angel wings with Devon's name and on my right hand I wrote
"For: D.H." Whenever I was struggling I looked at these and got a boost and more motivation to run quicker. As it become apparent that I was going to make it the whole way, I decided to try and finish in under 2 hours. Which I did! With a time of 1 hour 58 minutes.
Some great things I saw along the way:
-the token pack of Kenyans already at 6km when I was just passing 1km. And they were all alone for at least 3 minutes.
-A woman holding up a sign with the extension hose of a vacuum cleaner
-A blind man running with a guide, tied together with a band around their hands
-two boys in full punk gear with Dr. Martin hightop shoes on, with "Punk's not dead" written on their calves

A lot of the Praha friends posing at the finish line :)