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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Paint ball for 10 year olds...

Noah went to a classmate's birthday party today. The whole class of 17 kids was invited. Surprisingly, the party included 2 hours of outdoor paintball using the normal guns and safety equipment. Even more surprisingly, it is a girl in the class having the party. We suspect that the father may be living precariously through the girl, but maybe the little girl loves paint ball.

They were going to have 30 minutes of safety training before they actually went into mortal paint ball combat, but my expereince tells me that 10 year olds aren't capabable of absorbing information related to safety. The paint ball portion of the party ends in a few minutes and we haven't received a call yet, so we have our fingers crossed that they are all OK.

Noah and his classmates get safety instructions on the paint ball rules equipment.

The paint ball grounds (field? course?) next door had the typical teenaged boys in full combat mode.

The paint ball grounds are on an island in the Vltava, just south of the city. Even with the Garmin we decided not to drive, but there is no direct way to get there using public transportation. We ended up driving to the Dejvicka metro station and hopping on a tram that we thought would take us all the way to the island, except that on weekends its route ends about a mile short of our destination. So we had to transfer to another tram to get us the rest of the way, and then it was a 15 minute walk after that. A trip of about an hour and twenty minutes to go less than 10 miles. I miss the wastfull American way of just getting in a car to go anywhere quickly, because after all the most important thing is convenience.

Here is the church of Saints Peter and Paul at Vysehrad as seen through one of the fake buildings set up at the paint ball course.

Here is Vysehrad as seen from the island as we walked back to the tram after dropping Noah off.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another semester over at ISP...

Late last week we had the teacher conference for the end of the second (winter) semester at ISP. This time, though, instead of sitting with the teacher and having her go over how each student had performed the student, the student led the conference.

This was very interesting as each student spent ten minutes with their parents on each of four stations - math, science, social studies and a summary of the work that had been done all semester. The teacher, Ms. Light, was on hand to keep things moving, but the student was responsible for covering the information. Noah is a bit of a ham and is very proud of the work he has done. It was fun and the 40+ minutes flew by.

The one section included a review of his report card. He did well, but had a drop in the area of classroom behavior. He seems to be developing the attitudes normally associated with teenagers at 10 years old. We are hoping to keep the attitude problems at bay with a combination of positive and negative reinforcement, but I fear it will be a losing battle. We'll see.

Noah's web site for class work. Each student has their own web site. Boy, they sure learn this stuff young.

Noah builds and demonstrates an electrical circuit as part of the science module.

Noah shows us his timeline of significant events over the past 2,000 years (all the back to BCE - Before the Common Era, instead of BC - Before Christ).

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Lent diet is over...

Lent - the period of the Catholic calendar from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday - is meant to be a period of reflection and fasting as good Catholics prepare for the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Christ. For the last several years as my Lenten sacrifice I have given up both alocohol and sweets. It has gone from something that I dread to something I actually look forward to.

It does take a little adjustment, though. In the evening after putting Noah to bed I usually have one beer or one drink. For the first few days I have to fight the force of habit and not have a beer, but then I get used to the new status quo and it becomes easy.

Giving up sweets is a little easier since there are so many sugar free substitutes now. I allow myself sugar free gum, sugar free jello and diet soda.

One of the non-spiritual benefits I noticed from the first year is that giving up alcohol and sweets made me lose weight. The weight loss has varied from year to year, but is always noticeable and last year it was 8 pounds. When I got on the scale yesterday (Easter) morning, the loss for the 46 days of Lent was 11 pounds.

Someday I am going to write a book called The Lenten Diet and make a fortune, but until then I will have to be satisfied with having my clothes fit better for a portion of the year.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Starbucks in Prague update...

The blog receives quite a few hits based on google searches looking for information on Starbucks in Prague. I'm not sure why. But, always give the customers (even nonpaying customers) what they want, so here is an update on Starbucks stores in Prague.

The first Starbucks opened on Malostranska namesti back in late January. I obviously have no access to company records but based on anecdotal information from friends and our own observations, this location has been very successful. Even opening at the absolute low season here in Prague it has always been busy when we have been there. Business this weekend should be booming with hordes of tourists (mostly from Europe) visiting Prague over the long Easter weekend. The cool weather and snow flurries should also help hot beverage sales.

The second Starbucks opened in the Palladium mall last month. Unfortunately, the day after they opened the mall experienced its fire which closed the mall for weeks, reopening just within the last few days. The Starbucks at Palladium was doing a good business yesterday afternoon and it would seem to be a good location assuming no more serious problems at Palladium. It is located one level below the main entrance, so you see it right away when you enter, but you have to go down a level to reach it.

The third Starbucks has opened at the Prague airport in terminal 1. I haven't heard anything about this location yet - other than it is open.

I will post when I hear of additional locations, which are expected to be numerous.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Friend's visit and St. Vitus Cathedral...

A good friend from Minnesota is visiting this week. Yesterday we spent the day sight seeing, starting at the castle and St. Vitus cathedral, then down to Malestronska namesti, the Charles bridge, Old Town square (we climbed to the top of the astronomical clock) and then the Jewish quarter.

Barbara up at the castle.

From the top of the tower at the Charles bridge.

Views from the inside of St. Vitus cathedral.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

More on the Czech Easter tradition of beating women with sticks...

Tomorrow is Good Friday and the start of Easter weekend, so it's a good time to discuss the Czech tradition of pomlazka takes place on the Monday after Easter. Here is some of (American married to Czech) Emily Prucha's article from the March 14th Prague Daily Monitor on an American woman's reaction to the tradition.

Whipping Easter into the 21st century
By Emily Prucha / Prague Daily Monitor / Published 14 March 2008

My first information about Easter in the Czech Republic, in spring of 2003, was relayed to me by my English students at the time. They told me there was no Easter bunny and no traditions involving Jesus.

At first I was surprised by this. Prague is filled with churches, primarily Catholic churches of historic significance. But in reality, the majority of Czechs are not religious, a sentiment in the country that was prevalent even before the banning of religion under Communism. In his article “God at Large” published on Christianity.com (Spring 2003), Philip Yancey outlined different phases of a country’s Christian life. The Czech Republic, Yancey claimed is in a “divorced” phase. Vying with Denmark as having the lowest rate of church attendance in the world, the Czech Republic lays only ceremonial claims to the Roman Catholic Easter tradition.

The pomlazka, as these braided willow branches are called in Czech, are...but one of the primary traditional objects of the secular Czech Easter holiday, celebrated on the Monday following the Christian Easter Sunday. The pomlazka dates back to pre-Christian times and is a symbol of health, fertility and springtime.

While this seemed lovely and benign, I was taken aback when my student Jana told me of her Easter plans to spend the weekend at her family's cottage in the countryside. “It’s going to be terrible!" she complained. "All my father’s friends will come to our house. I’ll have to hide upstairs and keep the lights off.” She groaned and shook her head. What was she talking about, I wondered to myself.

From my other students, I learned Easter Monday was generally embraced by one-half of the Czech population—men and boys, who go door to door singing Easter carols, demanding "treats" (eggs, chocolate, liquor, or a peck on the cheek) and the right to beat the women with their pomlazka whips for good luck. While my female students said they generally enjoyed decorating Easter eggs and preparing Easter sweets, none seemed too fond of the pomlazka or gendered traditions.

According to the pre-Christian tradition, good health, beauty and fertility are assured in the upcoming year to those women who are whipped. More modern tradition holds that the bearer of the “beating” comes equipped with an Easter chant, which includes the following lines, “Give us dyed eggs. If you don’t give dyed, give at least white. The hen will lay a new one for you.” Usually the whippings are a lighthearted token of the tradition. From noon on, originally, the women anointed the men with perfumed oil, but in modern times the oil treatment has more often than not been replaced with buckets of ice cold water.

After noon on Easter Monday, you can see groups of boy coming home, exchanging their experiences and showing off their loot, as well as groups of dripping wet, drunken teenagers and men stumbling home after them.

On Easter Monday 2003, my stroll through the Old Town resulted in nothing but empty vendor stands and not a pomlazka in sight. Wanting to have a better sense of the festivities, I joined my boyfriend Radek and his friends for a drive into the country. The real celebrating goes on in the small towns and villages, they assured me. After a pleasant drive we arrived at family friend’s cottage and knocked on the door. Since my trip mates were Czech and male, they were greeted with decorated eggs and shots of liquor.

Being both female and a foreigner, I presented a problematic situation. Should our hostess offer me chocolate eggs and liquor as she did her male friends? Should she offer me nothing? In the end, I was given a warm welcome and a glass of red wine. Was this group of family and friends representative of a traditional Czech Easter? I wasn’t sure. For one thing, my male friends didn’t bring pomlazkas and the females didn’t hide in the attic.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Freezing Prague...

Well, the temperatures in Prague have dipped in recent days to the low 30s, and there is a dusting of snow on the ground for the first time in two months, but the "Prague freezing" that i'm talking about isn't related to the weather.

"Freezings" have occured in other cities before - New York, Paris and even Portland - and involve a flash mob showing up at a predetermined location and then standing still and quiet, freezing" for two minutes.

We had our first Prague freezing yesterday at the Muzeum metro station at 5:09 PM. I was in the same metro station at 5:32 PM so I missed the event by about 20 minutes. What did I miss? Well, thanks to YouTube here is a video from last night's freezing.

The Prague Daily Monitor reports on the freezing today. It's an interesting article, but I have to admit that it seems to me that this is justproof that a bunch of slackers habe too much time on their hands. This is just a varient of the chinese fire drills that we used to do with friends in cars at intersections. The article doesn't mention any motive, such as protest, so maybe it's supposed to be performance art. But as I have told people before, if I could do it then it is by definition not art.

Freezing Prague 2008: Hundreds block metro station
By Jan Flemr / Prague Daily Monitor / Published 19 March 2008

Hundreds of Czechs, mostly in their early twenties, flooded and then literally blocked access to the Muzeum metro station from Wenceslas Square after 5pm Tuesday. They all wanted to freeze.

Following the example of the public stunts held in New York's Grand Central Station in January and in London's Trafalgar Square a month later, the organisers sent out e-mails to recruit participants. But things got out of hand.

The idea behind the "flash mob" event was to bring together people who would "freeze" in the same place at the same moment and hold for two minutes. "If you are eating a banana, freeze with the banana in your mouth!" read the invitation.

"At 17:09 a man dressed all in orange will move around the [metro station] vestibule to alert all the people that the flash mob will start soon," said the message. The "Orange Man", wearing an orange tracksuit with a hood, appeared bang on time. He was visibly surprised by the crowd that he had to fight his way through. Then he raised his arm and the mob froze and fell silent.

"Where are you?" one of the rare passers-by who dared to force their way through the crowd cried, drawing a few smiles. Someone laughed out loud. "Máňo!" called another, prompting more laughs. Two policemen stood nearby, watching incredulously.

Then the Orange Man moved, and the crowd started to disperse. Several people clapped, and a small group around the man in the tracksuit made a speedy – considering the circumstances – retreat to Wenceslas Square. On the way out, the Orange Man took off his hood as if to puzzle the crowd that was chasing him with cameras held high.

A while later, resting at the foot of the St Wenceslas statue, the Orange Man, who refused to give his real name, said, "I thought it was for 30 to 40 people, not for 1,500." He was exaggerating, but when asked about his estimate, he just shrugged: "Many. I have no idea."

And, asked if he was happy with the outcome, he was quick with a response. "No. It should have been different."

The next freezing event is scheduled to take place in two months, said a young man standing next to the Orange Man. "Next time it will be strictly unofficial," he added, still shaking his head in disbelief.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Early Easter celebration...

Last Sunday wasn't just Palm Sunday, it was also Easter. Let me explain. This Friday is Good Friday, and is a holiday for most in the Czech Republic. Many (like me) also get Easter Monday off. That's a four day weekend, and many families will use the long weekend as an opportunity to travel somewhere. Our friends our going to Berlin and Istanbul and Venice, and so won't be here Easter weekend. So the decision was made to celebrate Easter a week early to afford the kids an opportunity to hunt Easter eggs and consume mass quantities of candy. [Note: This early celebration was not sanctioned by the Pontiff].

Here are some pictures of the festivities. Not pictured here are the Peeps (marshmallow chicks) that someone had brought from the States (since they aren't available here). Alas, I had none, since I am on my Lent diet and am still shunning all alcohol and sweets. An attempt was made to convince me that since we were celebrating Easter that I could forego the diet, but I was unconvinced.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Palm Sunday...

Yesterday was Palm Sunday and we again joined the procession of the combined, Czech, English and Spanish communities within the parish. We met at the Church of the Infant Jesus at 9:30 a.m. and then the procession, with a child on a donkey representing Christ, journeyed to St. Thomas church, passing other churches within the parish along the way. The procession only took about 15 minutes and was a walk of just about six blocks.

Here is the inside of the Church of the Infant Jesus (also known as the Church of the lady Victorious). The web site angelfire.com has this to say about the church: The history of the Infant Jesus of Prague started in the 17th century when a statue of the Infant Jesus was brought into Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and eventually was given to the Discalced Carmelites in Prague. Since then, the statue has remained in Prague and has drawn many devotees worldwide to go and honor the Holy Child. It has been said that many graces, blessings, favors and miraculous healings have been received by many who petitioned before the Infant Jesus. In 1776 the altar was rebuilt using marble and two huge sculptures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph were placed to the left and right sides of the altar. The Holy Infant was kept in a glass case standing on a pedestal engraved with crystals, and surrounding the Infant are twenty angels in gold.

The procession wound through back streets an near to the Charles bridge on its way to St. Thomas. Many tourists seemed surprised to have stumbled across the procession, not sure what it was (a parade?) and quickly snapped pictures.

The procession and boy on the donkey (in red) approach St. Thomas. The web site for the Church of St. Thomas is here, and includes church history.

Biking in Horomerice...

It was a nice day on Saturday - cloudless sky and low 50s. Noah and I decided to take a little bike ride on our usual route, from our house to a little path that runs to the forest just outside Nebusice. We don't go all the way to Nebusice, just to a spa at the top of the hill at the edge of the forest. It's not that far, probably about a mile and a half, but it's a pretty ride and no traffic.

Later in the day we all took a drive to a neighborhood on the hill (there are lots of hills in and around Prague) near Dejvicka, where we pick up the metro at the end of the green line. The neighborhood is called Hanspaulka, and it's very nice with sweeping views of the Prague skyline, including the Castle and the TV tower.

The house we are renting in Horomerice has been sold and the new owners plan on living in it, so when our lease is up at the end of August we will have to move one way or the other. We can either go back to Minnesota (or elsewhere in the States) or find another place to live in Prague. If we stay in Prague we will probably have to go to an apartment rather than a house or townhouse like we have now because of the cost.

I get a housing allowance of $1,500 per month, which was about 35,000 Czech crowns when we moved here two years ago, but now is worth about 26,000 crowns. Rent for houses anywhere near the international school (like we have now) are high already and the falling dollar makes them unaffordable to us. So the most likely solution would be to move into an apartment in a nice neighborhood within the city but with good access to the international school. That describes Hanspaulka.

Hanspaulka is the Twin Cities equivalent of the Grand and Summit neighborhoods. It has large villas that have been split into apartments. The villas have decent sized yards, which is unusual for within the city.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bowling in Horomerice...

The weekend before last we had another bowling party at the local alley and restaurant in our litle village of Horomerice. There are only four lanes so it is usually crowded, especially in the winter.

We rented two lanes for an hour and the kids bowled on one and the adults on the other. I bowled in the 170s, which is higher than the 150 that I usually bowl. When we move back to the States I may get in a bowling league again. I still have the bowling ball that I bought in 7th grade, but I would probably upgrade. Bowling, like golf, has been greatly influenced by technology and just using the latest and greatest tools will inprove scores.

Anyway, Noah did better this time. Even though the bumpers were up to prevent gutter balls he was able to (mostly) throw the ball down the middle, and actually got a strike or two.

After bowling it was upstairs to the restaurant for dinner. For a bowling alley the restauant is excellent and reasonably priced. We made reservations ahead of time and they actually took our orders while we were still bowling, which worked out well. The only problem came when two in our group ordered a chicken dish, even though it was on the menu, they no longer served. The staff decided, instead of going back and having the two people reorder, to substitute a different dish with pork. This might have worked had the two people not been Jewish. The dish had pork, ham and bacon, so it was pretty obvious that the couldn't eat it. Anyway, they replaced the meals with a different chicken dish, but it took 30 minutes to prepare those.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A nice Thursday lunch...

Kathy and I met for lunch today at a nice place called Parliament, near Old Town square. Kathy had found the place when she and her friends stopped for lunch while they were in Prague.

The place is small but well appointed - lots of dark wood. The menu has listings in English and Russian in addition to Czech, and the waiter spoke very good English.

The most notable thing abuot the restaurant was the service. The waiter came promptly and took our drink order (just 2 Coke Lights) and when he brought those (also promptly) he took our food order. The food arrived in about 10 minutes, which is lightning fast around these parts.

I had basic pork roast with potatoe dumplings and sauerkraut, and everything was fantastic. The pork was tender with a nice light gravy, the dumplings were light compared to most I've had from other places, and the sauerkraut was obvioulsy very fresh. Good portion size, too.

The total bill came to about 240 crowns, or about $15 (not bad, but that same 240 crowns would have cost us just a little over $10 when we first got to Prague).

About the only negative was the amount of smoke in the air, and that is just a fact of life when dining out in Prague during winter. Once the outdoor cafes open it's much nicer - less smoke, better views, great weather.

Kathy and I try to meet for lunch or morning coffee at least once a month. It's a real treat.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Malostranska namesti...

We did the usual Sunday school and Mass last weekend. I had the camera with me in case Kathy and I went for a walk while Noah was at Sunday school, but we decided to go for coffee instead since it was chilly. However, after Mass we were waiting for the #20 tram at Malostranska namesti that takes us back to Dejvicka where we park the car, and I decided to take a series of pictures form that one spot.

The Easter markets are open now. Maolstranska namesti is quite small compared to Old Town square and Wenceslas square, and even Namesti miru. But they have room for half a dozen or so stalls.

There was a brisk business on the square, being noon on a Sunday. The new Starbucks is in the background - it was busy as always.

This is a fresco (mural?) on the other side of the street from the Easter market stalls. I am not sure what the building is, but it sure is a pretty work of art.

Some of the other buildings along the small square.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

What have the Tischlers been up to?...

Now much, apparently. If you have looked over the blog lately most of my posts have dealt not with the goings on of the Tischlers but on other things - the fall of the dollar, the fire and closing of the Palladium mall, the arrival of Starbucks in Prague, and the recent murder of a visiting American, Mike Murray.

I was wondering why so many of my posts have addressed more general news items and have not been more family specific. Then I realized that we just having been doing much. Over the winter we tend to stay in and that isn't much grist for posting.

I started posting last April, so spring had already arrived and we were doing all kinds of things in and around Prague. Once winter came, though, we didn't do that much. Sure, we had trips that I posted about - to Berchtesgaden, Rome and Dresden. But our daily actitivities in Prague have been pretty dull. Even the old stalwart of Noah's sports activities has been slow. He was signed up for Saturday basketball but the coach got sick so the start has been delayed several weeks.

We had couple of Kathy's friends visit last month, and I have a friend visiting in two weeks and those visits are always good for a few posts (including the obligatory visit to U Flecku). And we're not that far away from spring which means the opening of the sidewalk cafes and the recommencememt of our little trips in and around Prague which I can post about.

If the weather is good tomorrow morning Kathy and I will take our little Sunday stroll while Noah is at Sunday school. If the weather is too cold or rainy we will probably end up at a cafe for a cup of coffee instead (but probably not at Starbucks this time).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kathy visits two museums...

Kathy visited two museums with a friend yesterday. After meeting at the friend's house they walked the 20 minutes to the first museum - the Museum of Czech Cubism, which is housed in the House at the Black Madonna (great name).

As the web site praha.eu says:

Prague is the Mecca of Cubism lovers. This is not only because some of the Prague pre war art collectors were in favour of this style but mainly due to the fact that Prague is the only city with so many cubist buildings. The worlds unique buildings were build within four years from 1911 until the beginning of the First World War

Here is a picture that kathy snapped on the walk to the museum. It took her through nice neighborhoods that she hadn't been in before.

Kathy in the Museum of Czech Cubism.

Looking down the stairwell at the Museum of Czech Cubism (I need to give Kathy the camera more often).

After the Cubsim museum they went to the Kinsky Palac (built from 1755-1765) which has the permanent exhibition "Landscape in Czech Art from 17th – 20th centuries" and includes:

Czech Baroque landscape (Karel Skréta, Jan Rudolf Bys, Jan Jakub and Frantisek Antonín Hartmann),

19th century landscape (the landscapist movement lead by Max Haushofer, Antonín Chittussi, Antonín Slavícek, Julius Marák),

20th century landscape (Pravoslav Kotík, Bedrich Piskac, Stanislav Kolíbal, Milos Sejn).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Expats getting sick in the Czech Republic...

Kathy and Noah, but thankfully not me (*knocks wood) have needed the Czech medical system since we moved here over one and a half years ago. While we have found the level of care and service to be generally good, it is not without a good deal of frustration, both due to language barriers and differences in how US and Czech doctors view medical treatment.

Emily Prucha is an American married to a Czech (who we purchased our Ford Mondeo from) and has an article in Friday's Prague Daily Monitor about dealing with the Czech medical system. It's spot on.

Being sick is never fun
By Emily Prucha / Prague Daily Monitor / Published 29 February 2008

I never feel more like a foreigner living in Prague than when I’m sick. The emotion only intensifies when one of my children is under the weather or needs medical treatment. Although we have received excellent care in the Czech Republic, linguistic as well as cultural differences often complicate our doctor visits.

Part of my anxiety is related to the challenges of describing ailments in a foreign language. I have to remember that “throat” and “neck” are simultaneously krk in Czech and then I pantomime my way past unknown vocabulary to a diagnosis. No wonder visiting the doctor can bring on a case of the nerves.

Although I would prefer to avoid going to the doctor, as the mom of two young children finding a pediatrician was one of our first priorities when we moved back to Prague. Luckily, we found a doctor whose office is just a short walk from our apartment. Between regular check-ups, immunization visits, and the occasional illness, I’ve gotten to know our pediatrician (and the route to and from her office) fairly well. Yet, no matter how many times I've been there, and despite my good experiences there, as soon as her nurse calls out “Pruchoví,” (our family name) I feel my palms start to sweat.

Over the past two years, my pediatrician and I have translated names of illness and immunizations, and we’ve compared treatments on a variety of childhood ailments. Although she initially dissuaded me from giving my children some of the non-standard immunizations like pneumococcal, citing it as too expensive, when I explained that it was part of the recommended vaccine set in the US, she agreed to write a prescription for me. When I asked about the possibility of other “non-essential” vaccinations, such as varicella (chicken pox) or the flu shot, that are very common in the US, she just laughed.

Our pediatrician’s theory on vaccinations falls in line with the general Czech medical theory of less-is-better when treating any illness. “Why use the strong antibiotic when the weaker one might work?” one doctor told me. “We like to keep the strong ones in reserve.” While I agree with him that it doesn’t make sense to over-prescribe, especially to children, the wait-and-see theory can be infuriating when dealing with a sick child.

This theory also contradicts my American sensibilities, since I was raised to believe that an antibiotic could treat anything worse than the common cold. I was also raised to believe that about 24 hours after starting an antibiotic, I would be germ-free and could resume my normal activities like school or daycare. When I mentioned taking Anna Lee downtown while she was still taking a round of antibiotics, my husband Radek firmly deterred me. “She’s sick and needs to rest at home,” he proclaimed. It didn’t take much arguing for him to win me over, but I must say that my initial response is to take antibiotics and keep on functioning.

Differences in healthcare systems could explain some cultural differences in diagnosing and treating illnesses. Unlike in the US, where healthcare is privatized and each individual must purchase his own health insurance coverage, the Czech Republic has a national healthcare system where every citizen has the right to health insurance regardless of his financial situation. Traditionally, children have been almost fully covered within the Czech Republic’s system regardless of their parents’ income. However, a recent system overall has instituted a mandatory CZK 30 fee for each regular doctor visit, which jumps to CZK 90 after hours, as well as higher co-payments for prescription medicines. There is some backlash from the public regarding the changes, especially as they pertain to children.

I experienced the new system in effect when my 9-month-old son Oliver ran a high fever over the weekend. Since his fever was at 39 C (102 F) and didn’t respond well to the infant fever-reducer I had at home, we decided to take Oliver to the nearest after hours clinic on Saturday morning. When we arrived at the Kralovské Vinohrady clinic, Radek checked in with the nurse. “Have you paid?” was her first question. She pointed to the parking lot where an automatic machine stood. At first glance, it looked like a parking meter, but in fact, this was machine to pay the doctor's fees. Unfortunately it didn’t take any paper money or even make change from coins. I heard several other people around me also grumbling. I couldn’t tell if they were annoyed that they had to pay or just annoyed that the machine made the procedure so difficult. On the upside the machines kept the nurses from having to change their habits to accommodate the new payment system. Radek left to find a change machine for the CZK 90 in coins that we needed, while I waited with Oliver.

After the pediatrician on duty examined Oliver, he sent us to an ENT specialist for an ear check. We walked the few hundred yards to a different building and were greeted by another nurse asking “Have you paid?” When we showed her our receipt, she accepted it, and since we had paid the higher after hour fee, we were not asked to pay again (that day). Although on a subsequent follow-up visit the following day, I had to pay CZK 90 again, and then on Monday I was required to paid CZK 30 at both offices since it was a regular working day. While the amount we ultimately paid was probably comparable to one regular American co-payment, the procedure of locating exact change and going outside to deposit it into the automatic machine was particularly annoying.

During the various examinations, Radek and I held a screaming Oliver down while the doctors or nurses performed their tasks. While telling us that Oliver had a middle ear infection, the ENT picked up a sharp instrument which he stuck into Oliver’s ear to pierce and drain the infection. The procedure seemed painful and strange to me, although Czech friends who’ve experienced it claimed that it actually releases the uncomfortable pressure. Later, I raised my eyebrows again when neither of the nurses drawing blood from Oliver’s arm wore any gloves. The third time they checked his blood, it actually splashed up into the nurse’s mouth. She rushed to rinse it off, but otherwise carried on as usual.

Over time, I’m getting used to the no-frills approach I encounter from medical professional here, and I believe the doctors and nurses I’ve seen here are as competent as doctors anywhere. Although it’s been harder for me to make a personal connection with my Czech doctors and nurses, but when I recognize this more as a cultural difference than a language shortcoming or a personal affront, it usually helps. But being sick is just not much fun, regardless of the circumstances.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

In like a lion...

If the old saying is true about March - in like a lion, out like a lamb - then the end of March in Prague should be nice indeed. This morning we had some of the strangest weather since arriving in Prague. It started overcast and windy, but by mid-morning it was starting to break up, but was still very windy. Then it suddenly clouded up again and we had a squall that provided lightning and thunder as well as a combination of sleet, snow and hail.

Here is what it looked like outside of our house.

The lights flickered several times during the storm, which only lasted about 20 minutes. The clouds again broke (but again the wind remained) and an hour later we did lose power for about an hour. Not sure why, unless they had to do some repairs related to the earlier storm.

The rest of the day was very windy with very fast moving low clouds. Very interesting weather.