Sunday, 30 November 2014

At Few Random Thoughts from a Not-so-Newbie...

Dobrý den (hello) from Prague...

Just in case you thought I'd gone home, I can assure you I'm still here and still on the look out for interesting things to entrall you with. In some ways I think it's a good sign that my posts are starting to become more spaced out, because it means the I'm beginning to settle down and become more comfortable in my new environment.

While it's true I am becoming more settled, my excuse for not posting more frequently is simply that I've been so busy. My day job is ramping up rapidly and my the last couple of weekends have been fully booked. On one I went home, and on the second, my girlfriend Melina, came over from the UK to stay.

Anyhow, here are a few random thoughts that have occured to me since my last post...
  • Winter is probably not the best time to start a new life in Prague, whether temporary or permanent. It's now approaching the end of November, and not only are the temperatures declining, the days are getting seriously shorter. When my alarm goes off at 6:00am it's pitch black outside, and the light is starting to fail by 4:00pm. Although this is common to people living in the Northern Hemisphere, the downside of this in Prague is that it really isn't condusive to finding your way around, especially in the Old Town, where all the streets look the same in daylight never mind the dark. So, when Mel and I went off to play at being tourists last weekend we actually looked very convincing - mainly because I kept getting lost and had us walking around in circles. Indeed quite large circles. Several times
  • However, with it being winter, it's time for the Christmas markets that Prague is famous for. It is impossible not to feel a little glow in side as I walk through the little market in Námēstí Miru on my way home in the evening
  • There are still some things that take some getting used to in the Czech Republic. One of the strangest is the currency. The smallest legal tender coin in circulation is the 1 crown coin. But, almost without exception, goods and services are charged with fractions of a crown in the price. Actual prices are rounded up or down to the nearest crown. I'm not sure who the winner is here, and I'm not so anally retentive that I'm going to sit down and try and work out my P&L over the last 7 weeks!
  • Going to the post office to buy a stamp is not recommended. When you get to the entrance there is a machine with a large number of buttons on it. Pressing a button issues you a numbered ticket for the service you want, and when your number comes up you go to the appropriate service portal. Of the ten or so option buttons, not one had any words that vaguely resembled my phrasebook's word for stamp - and as it was a busy lunchtime I decided to beat a retreat. You can buy stamps at many of the kiosks in and around Metro stations (13CZK) with a lot less hassle!
  • Despite living largely on a diet of meat, dumplings and vast quantities of beer you don't see that many obese Czech men around the place, and even fewer obese Czech women. Unlike the lardies in the UK...
  • Jaywalking is illegal in the Czech Republic, but only if you get caught. So don't do it while there's a policeman watching!
  • Don't argue with trams. You have the legal right of way on a pedestrian crossing, except when a tram is approaching - and they are a lot bigger, faster and heavier than you!
  • It's definitely worth passing through one of the little local Christmas markets on your way home from work in the evening and sample a shot of local Medovina - a hot, spicy mead that will help take your mind off the cold!

Until next time...

Na zdraví (cheers)!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Supermarket Sweeps

At the end of this week, I'll have been in Prague for a month. It is amazing how quickly four weeks have gone past, and how dramatically the tide of emotions has ebbed and flowed. I always difficult to establish a routine when I first start living abroad. Sadly it can't be put down to jet lag - it's a 'me' problem.

There's simply so much stuff to get used to - at the macro level you have to deal with the newness of the living environment, the work environment, and the cultural environment. At the micro level there's the currency, the transport networks, the language, finding your way around, the food, and the shopping experience as a whole.

So unfortunately the whole concept of a Bohemian lifestyle has to take second place to the realities of the mundane. Grocery shopping is the most challenging of the mundane activities! At home you know where to go for what, even to the extent of generally even knowing which aisle to head for when looking for specific commodities.

Prague isn't short of grocery shops. Quite the opposite. On my street in Vinohrady, there are at least a dozen mini-markets, ranging from cramped, stacked and dingy to cramped, stacked and well lit. These are all little independent shops, mostly run by Vietnamese immigrants, with an extraordinary work ethic. They open at the crack of dawn and close late into the night. They have the freshest vegetables and fruit, and stock a wide range of exotic and not so exotic foodstuffs. And racks and racks of booze! Choosing between them is impossible so I use them all - and if I can't find something in one I move onto the next one. I maybe misguided in my approach - they are probably all owned by the Vietnamese mafia!

The local Czech run stores, or Potraviny, follow a similar pattern. They all stock pretty much the same stuff, it's just easier to find in some shops than in others.

There are some megastores around - there's an InterSpar across the road from the office and a Tesco supermarket near the Mustek metro station which sprawls over five floors. And then of course there is the M&S food section in their shop in Wenceslas Square.

But the real problem is universal. In Zurich, I got by because, although I don't speak German, my French and Italian was good enough. But here in Prague, being unable to speak or read the language, I am totally reliant on the pictures on the labels. OK, M&S is an exception as all their foodstuffs are imported and have Czech stickers plastered all over them, and that big Tesco does have a few brands I recognise. But familiar brands often get renamed in different countries, so sometimes buying groceries is a bit of a lottery - and the little stores pretty much only stock Czech brands.

So far so good. I'm beginning to get a grasp of which yoghourts are the creamiest, which are the most delicate crips, and which cold meats, local cheeses and sausages taste the best.

But that's part of the adventure and the learning curve - and going four weeks without poisoning myself makes me believe I might just live through this whole new experience!