Sunday, August 21, 2016

Transitions - big ones!

I saw this quote on a Twitter #edchat recently and it resonated with me:

This Summer has been one of transition on a grand scale. We've traveled as usual, but bigger things have been brewing, things that have made our hearts full but also required a fair amount of emotional and spiritual hardiness.

We've said goodbye to dear friends, as is typical for teaching in an international school environment. It's difficult saying adieu, but we feel incredibly blessed to have met such marvelous personalities, even if only for a short time. (Sorry to those I didn't nab photos of!)

We've moved flats, as our former landlady decided to move back to Prague. It's a shame because we assumed we'd reside in it longer than a year, but we've secured a bigger, brighter one nearby and have nested nicely. There are huge green spaces across the road, good tram connections and loads of cafes - our own little Mayberry in Praha. 

I've changed jobs. Whilst our former school is a special place that does fantastic work with kids, I've been offered a post at another international school that is a significant promotion - it will allow me to use my Ed.S. degree and Administrative license, and to work specifically with staff on Assessment for Teaching and Learning, which is my passion. My students and colleagues were so lovely with send-off notes and well-wishes, and a particular Y12 group even brought a special gift: 

We didn't go home this Summer like we usually do. Instead, we stayed close to our European home (reason below), visiting a couple of within-driving-distance destinations and relaxing at cool Prague spots like the Stalin Cafe/Pub pop-up at Letna Park, at the base of where a statue of Joseph Stalin stood from 1955 to 1962. 

And finally, our biggest transition of the year is... we hope to become parents through adoption! I've hesitated to write about it on the blog because it's so deeply personal and I guess I haven't wanted to to jinx anything as it's a bit precarious undergoing a domestic adoption in the Czech Republic, in a foreign language with unfamiliar legalities. With the help of a supportive translator, a compassionate social worker, helpful friends who've also adopted here, and now a government-appointed adoption advocate, we are on the way. The road has not been without bumps (and paper cuts - the paperwork is massive), but all signs point to an early Spring match at the moment. BW is going to assume the role of full-time dad, which I am grateful that we're able to swing. He is an exceptional nurturer and will be an amazing father. We are so, so blessed to have this opportunity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Five-sense Saturday: New nephew edition

The shift from Spring to Summer was packed with enough things to knock our senses right out. Here are some of our oblíbené (favorites):


...Don Giovanni, Mozart's masterpiece, at the Estates Theatre. I'm not one to run the opera - and this one is 3 hours long - but I enjoyed it with girlfriends. The costumes and visuals were stunning; they very much complemented the music.

-from Narodni Divadlo

...a very charismatic (and very pregnant) gal belting out Edith Piaf at Prague's annual French Market. She had a simply incredible voice.


...a lavender crepe from the Dejvické farmers' market. It's laced with lavender syrup, sprinkled with crushed lavender and topped with lavender merengue. 

...the stellar steak tartar at Lokal Stromovka, a Czech chain perched on the edge of our favorite park. BW swears it's the best in Prague. Like all good Czechs, you eat it piled on a piece of fried bread that's been rubbed with a garlic bulb.


...lots of musty vintage things on board the floating flea market parked at Naplavka on Saturday mornings. No purchases this time, but I did once score an epic leather fanny pack.

...the many bonfires of Čarodějnice, the holiday that burns the winter witches (i.e. piles of wood) to usher in Spring every April 30. On Kampa Island, the burnings were accompanied by fire-dancers.


...a generous helping of hail - I'm glad we don't have a car here in Prague, because I imagine dealing with car insurance would've been a nightmare. awful lot of Prague pavement with the pup; we are usually back in the U.S. in the summertime, but not this year. This has given us the chance to play Magellan and explore many corners of the city we love.


... The new Viggo Mortensen film "Captain Fantastic" at our favorite movie theatre, the retro Bio Oko - it allows dogs. And has beach chairs. And if you're lucky, you'll run into a block party outside, like the one below.

...our brand-new nephew! Ok, so it has been over FaceTime, but we are thankful for this mode of communication and have logged many sessions trying to get the little guy from Tacoma, WA, to smile. We are so thrilled about this little man and the health and happiness of his mom and dad, too. Definitely the best part of this year :) 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

In like with Liberec

Happy summertime, all! It's been a while since the last blog post; life has been nutty with moving flats, wrapping up the school year in JULY and some other major life events that I'll write about another time. Plus my 5-year old Asus notebook finally took a dump and it is a pain to blog on touch-screen electronics. (First-world problems, for sure.)

We recently ticked another Czech municipality off the "to visit" list, running off to Liberec for just one night. Our thoughts on the country's fifth-largest city, just a hair off the German and Polish borders?

Pros: Loads of family-oriented attractions; some beautiful old villas; good public transit

Cons: A lackluster town center at night; possibly a skinhead presence

We "trained" it to Liberec, as the pup isn't allowed on major inter-city bus lines. This meant an extra hour of travel and some train transfers, but, hey, who's counting?

Liberec's town square greeted us with a picture-worthy municipal building, flanked by some Easter Island-esque public art.

On the one night we were there the center wasn't as appealing - the riff raff came out and it just looked a bit gritty. Not unsafe, though.

We admittedly didn't visit Liberec's many commercial attractions, like iQlandia Science Centre, DinoPark, the zoo and Babylon Aquapark. Rather, we enjoyed wandering around and finding this mirrored memorial to victims of Communism...

and this cardboard art...

and the Harcov Přehrada (dam), a stone quarry built in 1904 for local fishing and flood protection. It was dotted with sunbathers, kayakers, swimmers and sand volleyball players.

One morning, we visited the delightful Oblastní galerie (Regional Gallery), which used to be the city bathhouse; one of my colleagues remembers swimming there as a child.

It had two compelling temporary exhibitions that really piqued our interest: "Punk in Architecture," peppered with David Bowie lyrics, and "Mossbots," paintings by a famous Czech video game designer. My favorite piece, however, was one from the permanent exhibition of Stromovka Park, which we live near in Prague.

In the afternoon, we trekked to the bottom of Ještěd Mountain and then took a cable car to the top, where a prized building sits like a pointy hat. 

The structure, a national cultural monument, contains a restaurant, hotel, viewing deck and radio/TV transmission equipment.

We sat on the overlook below it, eating hot dogs and drinking in the massive views of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. It was a steep descent back down to the city.

We both agreed families with kids would be attracted to Liberec and its many things to do, from robotic dinosaurs to waterslides. As a kidless couple, we're glad we didn't book a long holiday there. We liked it, though, and think a revisit may be in order someday.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Wine not?

I'd wanted to see the film "Spotlight", but the cinema where it was showing was a 15-minute walk from our tram stop and it was POURING rain out. So we ducked into a nearby wine bar called Bokovka, snuggled up and never did make it to the movie because the cheese and wine were just too fetching.

Bokovka goodies

The sommelier, Roman, took his time explaining the vín to us and even whipped out a Czech wine map to point out where various grapes were grown. We were seduced by a bottle labeled "Sideways" (which is English for the Czech word "Bokovka"), and Roman told us it was made by a young guy in the Pálava Region in South Moravia.

So guess where we took our long-weekend holiday for midterm break?

You guessed it - Czech wine country! 

We stayed at a nondescript pension in the village of Pavlov and wandered in and out of tiny little family-owned wine cellars, sampling the wares, snacking on smoked meat and cheese, and sticking coins in the damp cellar walls. Not sure what the point of that was, but as you can see behind my head, lots of people did it.

 Our highlight, though was the wine tasting we'd booked at NEPRAŠ & Co., the makers of the "Sideways" wine we'd had in Prague. 

The owner, Ondřej, and his mother, Ludmila, walked us through their offerings and were extraordinarily informative. We learned so much about vineyards, grape varieties, Czech viticulture history and so on; we can't speak highly enough about the experience!

And we bought far more wine than we probably should have... a lot of loved ones will be getting wine this year for Christmas!

If you go...
Pavlov is 2.5 hours southeast of Prague by car. 
Call ahead to our friends at NEPRAŠ & Co. and they'll hook you up!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tracing roots... and finding a family castle!

Thanks to a penchant for pilsner, classical music concerts and antique bazaars, my Great Uncle L and Aunt B keep returning to Prague. Uncle L used to teach Journalism classes at Charles University, and even after retirement, he and Aunt B keep coming back, which is a real treat.

Most recently, they were here for two months. All sorts of fun was had with these two, yet one day was exceptionally memorable, as we spent it visiting the area where my great-great-great-great grandmother Rosaria Kapinosova and her kin lived. (BW was on a cookery course in the UK, hence his absence from the post.) Follow along with us as we trace the roots of the Kapinos family clan...

The seekers: Uncle L, Aunt B, family friend MontanaMan, his other half Učenec, me and Jayda the dog
The place: The Vysočina region of the Czech Republic, namely the village of Čížkov
1. Pumping a pub for information

What do you do when you arrive in an unknown town and need to get oriented? Make way to a local watering hole, of course.

We had copies of a publication on the Kapinos family written by a distant relative in Texas about 30 years ago, so we knew a few things, such as addresses and family names. At the pub, the staff pointed us to our sought-after address, though nobody knew anything about the Kapinos family name.

2. Chatting up a local

At the address the pub staff pointed us to, a very nice builder corrected our location and actually knew a little about our ancestors, who were a family of pub/innkeepers. Thank goodness Czech friend Učenec (not her real name; this translates to "scholar") was with, as she did heaps of translation.

Thus, here is Čížkov 4, the home where our family lived! It's of course been renovated and is still in use.

The kind builder told us that the family who lived at #4 (the Kapinoses) at one time also owned the local chateau, Čížkov Castle. (!) We were shocked, to say the least, and it was just a short walk away...

3. Poking around Čížkov Castle 

The buildings and grounds were completely dilapidated - a sad display of decayed decadence. We wandered around outside, snapping many photos.

In subsequent research, we found a dissertation online in Czech - wholly about the very chateau! It contains fascinating information and recent photos of the derelict insides of the buildings. At one time it had a granary, sheep, cattle, gamekeepers, a brewery and more. Uncle L communicated with the dissertation's Czech author over e-mail, and it's evident that in the 1700s and 1800s, the estate passed through a number of hands, one of them likely being Rosaria's. She was a wealthy widow who bequeathed gold and cows to her four daughters prior to their families making a very expensive emigration to the American Midwest in the 1850s or 60s. 

Sadly, the castle was of course confiscated by the State in 1945 and fell into disrepair under the Communists, when they returned it to its prior owners in 1992. 

4. And finally, we went to church

Buzzing with excitement over our castle find, we drove a few kilometers to Nová Cerekev to visit the Catholic church where two of our ancestors had been married in 1796. MontanaMan found a member of the parish who let us in; iwas stunning yet riddled with cracks and water damage. We nosed around the adjoining cemetery as well but didn't find any familiar names. 

We completed our family history tour just as it began to rain and drove to nearby Tabor for a delicious Indian meal. Walking the paths of our progenitors was nothing short of profound; as if being on this Czech expat journey wasn't already special enough, this experience is one that I will someday be able to tell my grandchildren about. What a gift!

*Huge thanks to MontanaMan, Učenec, Aunt B and especially Uncle L, whose extensive research made this possible.