Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Snow on the Charles Bridge

As I write this, Czech Republic is covered in snow and my only hope is that I will be able to take  my flight back home, next Wednesday, very late in the evening. Winter came early in this part of the world, it brought way below 0 temperatures and it seems that snow and cold are here to stay. Maybe I will eventually find the time to take some pictures until March.

End of November was a white hell. Snow storms almost every day, snow piling up to 30 cm very fast. And yet, the traffic was fluent, despite all the trucks breaking their metaphorical necks on the highways and people crashing into trees in the cities (First day of snow I saw 3 accidents). I find that the authorities reacted quickly, clearing the roads of snow (and the occasional truck). Now that the weather is a bit quieter, and the worst has passed, people are going about their daily business without minding very much the snow.

Tourists still come to Prague in large number, especially for the Christmas Market and I think that the City of 100 Spires is just as beautiful under the white coat of snow as it is in Summer. But the streets are full of melting snow and although not as dirty as I am used to see them, still not pleasant when you are on foot, running to meet a friend. Which is my usual situation. Personally, I like the snow but I don't like the effects it has on traffic, as it falls and on my shoes, as it melts on the sidewalks. The pleasant surprise is that people here do clean the sidewalks in front of their houses and so, after the first snow, in good Czech style, you see a lot of people with shovels in their hands, clearing paths for the passersby. No wonder Tolkien was inspired by Czechs in creating the peaceful, hard working and jovial Hobbits, I see this same spirit in these activities (and not to mention they love Fireworks too).

Luckily for me, so to speak, I spent most of my time at work or in cars, going from place to place so I don't have much to do with the snow on the sidewalks. I don't live in Prague, but for the holidays I find myself living more in Prague than in Plzen. With the end of the year close upon us, I have a lot of dinner parties to attend to, either related to my personal life or to my work place. It sounds as glamorous as it is tiring. In the past week I went to two office parties, one concert and one party with friends. All in the name of Christmas!

You will not see my on the Charles Bridge this Holiday Season, I am flying home for the holidays, but I did go to the Christmas Markets, in Prague and in Plzen and I did try the mulled wine and the Christmas cookies. Oh, Czechs love this time of the year so much. You should come and visit, it looks so different during winter, but still like a Fairy Tale, I expect to see the Snow Queen on her sleigh anytime.

I am sorry I didn't take any pictures of Prague but I think that from the picture you can see just how dramatic the scenery can look.

Source of the image: here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Carti care mi-au marcat copilaria (1)

Din lumea vrajita a plantelor

Aceasta carte m-a fascinat si speriat de-opotriva. Imi placeau foarte mult ilustratiile pline de culori si de viata. Chiar inainte sa invat sa citesc, imi treceam degetele peste desenele din carte si parca prindeau viata. Imaginile care imi umpleau mintea, poate nu aveau multe de-aface cu povestile din carte, dar asta nu aveam de unde sa stiu, inca.

Erau desene cu pasari ce pareau foarte reale, zburand prin canalele Venetiei, paduri de mangrove in care te puteai ascunde, plante veninoase, imblanzite de femei cu manusi. Imaginatia mea zbura cand bunica imi citea. Ii ceream sa-mi arate si imaginile in timp ce-mi citea: nu prea reusea sa ma adoarma asa, ba din contra. Si totusi cartea ma speria, plantele veninoase ma speriau. Si oameniii care taiau copacii. Dar reveneam mereu pentru culorile acelea vii. Si pentru ca mi-ar fi placut sa am o casa intr-un copac.

Din pacate am crescut si cartea s-a pierdut dar tare mi-ar placea sa o regasesc candva.

Povesti fermecate rusesti

Clar cartea mea preferata. Tot asa, imaginile ma fascinau, mi-ar fi placut sa fiu precum printesa Vasilieva, cea care se transforma intr-un porumbel si care era cea mai frumoasa si inteleapta dintre printese1. Copii mei vor cunoaste cu siguranta povestea cu lupul cel negru sau cei trei frati. Asta pentru ca am pastrat cartea. Este nespus de frumos ilustrata iar povestile te fac sa visezi cu adevarat.

Imi aduc aminte o seara, inainte de revelion, eram inca mica. Mama, care vroia sa scape de tata si de mine din bucatarie, l-a trimis sa-mi citeasca pana adorm. Asa ca tata imi citea povestile rusesti, si eu visam, dar cu ochii deschisi, ca orice fetita de varsta mea. Si tata adormea, si eu il trageam de maneca sa-mi spuna ce mai urmeaza.

Am gasit-o aici recent. E pacat ca asemenea carti nu se re editeaza.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bad News TV

I recently realized I had a problem: I cannot give bad news. Because of my job I have to inform lots of people about delays and other problems that can appear in a project. And trust me, that makes for a lot of bad news. Production delays, parts not delivered on time, parts blocked by customs, tools not ready. It's not glamorous but this is how it is and every day I have to explain the why and the how and the who and the when, to several people, all pushing to solve the issues.

To make things worse, it's not always my fault but I still can't help but blame myself although I know this will not help: they will blame me either way. The bearer of the bad news is always hit by the wave of anger. And so I try to protect myself, but sugar coating everything is not a solution in this business,. People look for the hard candy which is the truth and more so, they look for the answers and solutions. And sometimes I just don't have them. Or I don't have what they expect me to say. And then I have to give bad news again, to someone who is already pissed off and missing hope and confidence.

I try to be sympathetic and explain as best as I can, give solutions, make proposals and the result is people shouting and being angry. And so I change strategy and I'm being mean but that only makes people even angrier. Is there a way out of it? Avoiding to break the news doesn't help either, trust me. It's like people ask for it, they want to know so they chase you around by mail and phone. Some days I feel like they all hate me!

How do you solve this? How do you break the news and how do you react to the aftermath?

PS. Click on the pic, the article is quite interesting. I think I need more help than that, though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

France, in Plzen

A while ago we had Czech friends over and the common language was...French. For a change, because usually all is in English, at work, with the Czechs, etc. As one of our friends noticed, we felt like in France.

Why? Well the menu for one thing. Galettes bretonnes and Crepes, accompanied by fine Alsatian wine and prepared by a French cook. And because the setting was there, we also put on some French music and watched some funny French movies such as La cite de la peur or Kamelot. So naturally we wanted the whiskey before the finger, that's not false. Good jokes don't sound as good in English as they do in French and that's why French, Czechs and Romanians, all made jokes with the flavour of good Munster cheese and felt transported to another place.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Budapest City Break

The weekend passed like a dream again, a very nice one, such a good dream that this girl was very sorry to wake up to the reality of office work, this morning. For you see, weekends have always been a pleasant escape from day to day, real and cruel life. And now, even more so than ever because I have to keep my dreaming and wandering only for weekend getaways. That's why I wanted to take advantage of the Bank Holiday we had here last Thursday. And so I managed to transform an ordinary Wednesday in a Friday, turn the Thursday into a lazy Saturday as for the rest of the weekend, I lost track of time.

Well now, let's not get melodramatic. Here is my little guide for a romantic weekend discovering Budapest on a low budget. Since I live in the Czech Republic, I have easy access to almost all corners of our continent, thus, I took the bus, Orangeways, excellent coaches, very comfy, wifi and hot beverages included, toilet, all services for just 80 euros both ways for 2. But you can also come to Budapest by plane, there are many cheap flights and the airport is well connected to the city.

I was staying at a friend's flat. But if you don't have the pleasure of having a Hungarian friend, you can make one on couch surfing or  try one of the many hostels. I recommend visiting with a local: this is my advice for any travel of course. Our friend lives in Paris but she was arriving in Budapest on Friday. We came first, about an hour and a half before, her so we sat down in a park, near the rendez-vous spot, munching on a sandwich and enjoying the good weather by making plans for another weekend. I told you: weekends are big for me.

Our friend came and she dropped us off at a flat in Buda. You should know that Budapest is basically 2 towns: Buda on the West of the Danube and Pest on the East side. In Buda you will also find the Castle Hill neighborhood, the oldest settled part of the city.  Pest is the flat side of town, the financial center, the party spot and the place to shop.

From our flat, we took a hike up the hill to the Citadel. It's quite a long winding way up but you get to see Art Nouveau mansions on the way and the view on top is wonderful, especially at sunset.  Somewhere in the area, the Hungarians put all the statues of the communist era, a funny view of the system. I had forgotten my camera, sorry, but no pictures were taken.

On Friday night we went out, partying with our friend and her friends. Hungarians are great party people, there are many pubs and clubs, quite cheap and I found them to be rather safe. There are many expats, either just passing by or living in the Budapest, we got to meet a colorful crowd and had a great time. There is a night service bus but be careful, you must have tickets in advance, or else you have to buy them on the bus and they are more expensive. And it's full of guards checking for your ticket: you cannot escape the power of the Revizor.

The next day, we woke up late of course, we had a brunch made up of local products such as croissants (yes, Hungarians claim this invention), some local bread specialties and sausages, another famous local brand. There are many supermarkets around town so you can get what you need for a cheap meal and some souvenirs such as wines and sausages. By the way, I had this great Merlot that made me take a closer look at Hungarian wines, they are so diverse, don't be fooled by the Tokaj, there are red's as well.

The best way to explore Budapest, and any city, is to take a map, mark all the places of interest and just set your itinerary from there. You'll find that Budapest has a good transport network. For the tickets it's a bit more difficult: you can have about 10 tickets from any newspaper stand, but they are valid only for one bus/tram ride or one day passes. We took the 10 tickets and it was a good deal, there were no stands to buy one day passes around anyway. I am a map lover, I took out  my map of Budapest, checked the itinerary of buses and trams and made my own itinerary based on these and our personal POI.

And so we started our visit by taking a tram along the Danube to Adam Clarke sq. which is right at the base of the Chain Bridge (or Lanchid). From there, I was planning to go up to the castle on foot but that's only because I had forgotten all about the funicular which runs fup to the Castle. The queue is long and the price quite high, 840 forint for a one way, but I always wanted a ride on a funicular so I indulged but I have to warn you, the view is not as awesome as I would have thought. From up the Castle though, you can see the whole of Pest, and the bridges on the Danube. We walked around a bit but if you want, there are other options such as taking the public transportation buses and exploring the grounds and the neighborhood this way.

Next, we took the Chain Bridge and crossed the Danube. I found Pest to be busier and more posh, lots of brand shops everywhere. We stopped for a coffee on Andrassy utca, it felt a bit like being on the Champs Elysee. In fact the streets in the area seemed to me to be like a mix between Paris and London, I quite liked it.

We visited the St Stephan Basilica and then took some pictures of the Opera House, before strolling around the streets towards the Parliament. Budapest has large avenues lined with trees, it resembles the grandeur of Vienna in some way but there are also smaller streets, with shops and cafes, it was a very pleasant walk on an autumn day. 

Unfortunately I did not visit the Parliament either; it was closed by the time we got there, be warned, it closes quite early, we were not the only disappointed tourists. 


Next we took a bus ride across town (we saw Vaci utca, the shopping street, on our way) and arrived at Keleti pu, which is a very beautiful train station in my opinion. What do you think? We walked a bit more in Pest before catching a bus back to Buda.

Dinner was had in a pirate ship. Well, a restaurant decorated as a pirate ship. I had these ribs in sauce with home made potatoes and a glass of good but not exceptional wine. The bill for two, including drinks was around 20 euros, quite reasonable I'd say. We spent about 100 euros each for this trip, without accommodation, just transportation, food, going out and some mementos.

I didn't have a lot of time and also because of some unexpected issues I couldn't visit as much as would have wanted. But I'll be back.I know I've missed some spots, such as the Gellert spas or the Margit Island. Please give me some more tips, I want to come back, that's for sure. Because you know me to be a freak, I searched for information and I found this guide to be very helpful, I forgot my notes, of course, so I had to rely on memories and a map. But you can also ask locals on the street, they are very friendly.  

All in all I spent only one full day in Budapest, wandering the streets, looking at shop windows, taking pictures of quiet streets, taking in the beautiful sights of the city. But what a great day it was. At the end of it I was happy and exhausted and happily exhausted. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scones, not cones

Am multa faina in casa, ba chiar as putea spune foarte multa si inca de mai multe feluri. Asa ca periodic caut idei ca sa o termin. Unele imi ies mai bine, altele mai putin. Din seria reusitelor, va prezint astazi scones. Inspiratia mi-a venit de aici, de la Mazilique. Nu sunt mare fan dar retele ei mi se par mereu destul de simple si de bun simt asa ca vroiam de mult sa incerc una. Ceva tipic englezesc: scones.

Si cum asta seara am fost singura acasa (si nu-mi place), am decis sa fac lucruri "rele". Reteta este foarte simpla si dureaza aproape la fel de mult pe cat spune Mazilique, doar ca eu m-am complicat si am facut  mai multe lucruri in acelasi timp. 

Ca tot imi place sa ma complic, nu am urmat intocmai reteta. Am pastrat cantitatile dar pentru ca nu-mi plac stafidele si pentru ca aveam chef de ceva sarat, nu am pus zahar si am facut o umplutura sarata. Am calit ceapa taiata foarte fin, ciuperci, sunculita, am amestecat la sfarsit branza (cu mucegai si cascaval).

Si am mai modificat vreo doua trei lucruri la reteta. Am facut coca mai subtire, cam jumate fata de cat spune reteta originala. Am pus umplutura mea intre doua felii de coca si  am apasat frumos marginile cu degetul. Dupa ce am pus prajiturelele pe tava, le-am uns cu ou si cam asta ar fi.

Au iesit delicioase. Se prepara repede, se coc foarte repede si sunt atat de bune. Plus ca exista o mie si una de posibilitati si de combinatii, sarate, dulci, ca mic dejun sau ca aperitiv, la ceai sau cu lapte, stiau ei ce stiau englezii, pardon, scotienii, cand au inventat aceasta reteta.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Super chouette

I don't mean to brag, but I spent a very nice weekend. For once I stayed home, well I didn't go out of town and I didn't have any visitors either. So I enjoyed the silence and did some shopping, relaxed watching sit coms and went out to dine.

Saturday, I took advantage of a very nice offer, a tasting menu based on venison meat. You can find the menu here. I was sorry I didn't take the camera with me, so I don't have pictures, but take my word for it: it was great. Good service, ultra-central, nice location, I think I will go again to El Cid Corso. They have a second venue, as well down town, where they serve tapas, I might go there pretty soon.

The starter was the game liver pate. The piece was huge and went very well with the cranberries. Next, we had the main course, wild boar. For once the pasta was cooked right (they tend to over cook them here) while the meat was tender and finely spiced. I enjoyed every bite. Unfortunately they did not have the pheasant, I would have liked to try it. The wine was excellent as well. While I was not surprised by the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc served with the pate, I was very pleasantly surprised by the delicious Shiraz that was served with the main course. A good red wine is quite hard to get here and this one was good. For desert we decided to go with the pie and it was a good choice (as far as French cheeses go, we have a pretty good selection at home). It came with home made cream. The menu did not include a last glass of water for the desert but other than that, it was a pleasure.

Sunday we stayed in. We made lunch ourselves, kiwi and curry chicken with rice and watched Inglorius Basterds (no comments on that, typically Tarantino). For dinner we had a treat: a Sushi heart.It looks exactly like in the picture and we bought the box from Tesco for about 300 cK or 12 euros.

It was very good, I am not a big fan of Sushi and usually there are some I don't like, but this time I liked all of them so It was a good choice.

How about your weekend? Mine was "super chouette"!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows

I have a new flat, and with it come new DIY ideas and opportunities. A new flat is like a canvas, this gave me the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a long time. We've both wanted it actually. Without further ado, please be amazed by my map of Europe. These are all the places I've been to and I cannot wait to get out of Europe.

The blue and green pins represent places where I've been or lived. The white are places I'd like to visit and I will or might go in the foreseeable future.

I'll also list them here when I have time, so you can ask me about them. Because yes, I remember them all. There are still some pins to be put on the map; I ran out of green and blue ones, but I still have plenty of white pins left.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Office talk

I work in a plant but because I'm not an engineer I rarely get to go inside. Instead, I spend my time in the main office: an open space packed with engineers, designers, HR and Finance people, Purchasing and the likes. And my desk is near the printer so I get to see half the open space when they come to collect their documents.

We have here, working together Czehs, Slovaks, many French and me. The common working language for all is English and engineering. And although from very different backgrounds we all use certain phrases and words that are very specific not just to the industry but as well to the company. You have your QRQC, FTA, PPAP that are so specific for the entire automotive industry that they are the basis of ISO TS 16494. And then you throw around VPS, V5000, SQM, VRF and you are a real member of one of the biggest players on the market.

Acronyms. They are the founding stone of our work and everyone throws them around easily. But does everyone know what is behind them? It's not sure. Mostly these are procedures, names of documents to fill, milestones to achieve. If someone is not concerned by more than one phase of the project, he or she will most likely not be familiar with all the terms. I don't think everyone knows what all the letters stand for, but most know the document they refer to. I'm not an engineer but I try to know the name behind the abbreviation. Trust me, it's hard to make an engineer out of an economist.

The other language of this Babylon is the working language, which is of course English. You can hear different accents, and different specific words used by speakers from different linguistic backgrounds. The French are of course the easiest to spot, while Czechs and Slovaks speaking English have a similar accent.

All this intermixing of languages and cultures rubs off on one another. For example I hear a lot of specific expressions or words that come from French (similar structure), that logically should be mistakes made by French speakers, but that are used by the others as well. For example the plural of "month" is "months" but since "th" is difficult to pronounce in French, the singular becomes "monts" thus the plural becomes "montses". And this is being used indiscriminately by French and non French.

In other cases, French expressions are translated literally into English. Such is the case of "Merci de + verbe" which becomes " Thank you to+ verb". When wanting to ask someone to do something, in English, please use : "Please write an email to X. Thank you" and NOT "Thank you to write an email to X". I don't think the expression " to give the TOP" exists in English, maybe it does, but for me it's very French, because it comes from French. False friends are widely used such as "actually" used instead of "currently". I cannot blame this one on the French: Czechs, Slovaks and even Chinese make the same mistake. Past tenses : "I didn't know" becomes "I didn't knew", this is WRONG. I don't know enough Czech to give examples related to this language but I can name some typical things, like the tendency to pronounce every letter, especially stressing the last letters.

School was a long time ago for all of us and I think that for many, the language learned in school is not enough to function in such an environment. Working closely with other people means that inadvertently you take some of the expressions used by the others. Working all day in a different language than your own is very difficult, I can tell you this for sure. Avoiding misunderstandings is hard enough without grammar mistakes and on top of that you have a specific vocabulary. Somehow the specific English and the abbreviations become part of the company's culture and history so that a newcomer will eventually have to get used to this and then things become easier.

As for me, I don't judge but maybe I pay a little too much attention, I admit.. I just like to notice and understand where these come from. as I am being influenced by the way people talk around me; I am being told I'm getting a nice French accent (and I was aiming for Scottish, darn) and sometimes I wonder if what I want to say is really correct English.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Capital of Culture, Capital of Beer

Plzen, or Pilsen, as you may know, is the town where I live. And last week the news were great for this town of 170.000 people: Plzen has won the contest to become European Capital of Culture in 2015. The title is to be shared with the Belgian town of Mons. Congratulations to the team behind this success: they defeated the excellent candidature of Ostrava and this was no easy task as the North Eastern town has worked hard to rebuilt itself from it's mining past into a fun place. But Plzen's passion and the effort put into creating it's future, paid off.

Ever since I first came to Plzen I felt the town prepare itself for the big party that took place on Thursday last week, the day the winner was announced. All year long there were cultural activities such as several national and international film festivals, the international festival of folklore (with a decade of history behind it), historical festivities, open air theater and so on.


Plzen had projects that go beyond this candidature as it prides itself in being a place for good food, good music, quality entertainment, a stage for modern and classical. It's all about bon vivre a la Czech.

The plans for the following year include a new museum and cultural center in an old Brewery, exhibitions, and more activities. Besides being the capital of beer, Plzen is also a fun town to leave in. And it's not afraid of controversies: the Techmania museum will host David Cerny's very peculiar art work on the European Union: Entropa.

There are a lot of things to look forward to in the next period, so come have a beer in the big square in Plzen, or have a goulash for lunch at one of the big Hospoda or Czech style restaurants. You can enjoy a  concert in the Sinagogue or see the new additions of the Zoo. There is really something for everyone in this town.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Wine Country

We've spent this week in the Czeh Republic's wine country, Moravia. I know, I know, Czechs and beer and all that, but Moravians, well they love wine. This is for another story, because this weekend reminded me of another one, in a place generally acknoledged as the Wine Country: France. And more specifically Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Capital. Or is the Wine capital of Alsace, or the Capital of Alsatian wine? Oh I'm confused, but you get the point, right?

About Colmar. It's the 3rd largest city in Alsace and trust me, you'll love it. Timber framed houses with flowers at their windows, cobble-stoned streets and the canals of little Venice are enough to make you want to spend a day here. You'll find plenty of things to do. When we were there there was a cheese market and some festivities. Also worth mentioning is the quaint Christmas market that takes place in the streets of down town Colmar: it's one of the best in the Region.

But wait, there's more. Colmar is the home town of a certain Mr Bartholdi, of the Statue of Liberty fame. In fact, when you enter the town you are greeted by his famous statue. The town remembers it's famous offspring with a Museum and several dedicated landmarks.

One of my favorite places in Colmar is La maison des têtes an ancient guild house that bears the heads of five important figures in the town's history. I especially like the interior court yard with trompe l'oeil decorations and chairs under the vine.

Once you've taken a stroll on the nice pedestrian streets admiring the gingerbread houses and of course after you've taken a boat ride on the canals, you must, I repeat, you must go to visit the nearby vineyards. Alsace is the home to some of the best wines in France. They are still mostly unknown so it can be a chance for you to impress your friends with some special wines. Check here for a list of wines from the region. There are some special ones such as the late harvest wines, very sweet and perfumed, a real delight.

In July we went to visit the Stentz family in Wettolsheim, close to Colmar, on the wine route. Oh yes, the names of places here will make you forget you are in France. The vineyard region is just so beautiful with hills on all sides and pretty villages nested between the endless rows of grapevines. You can walk around the villages or take a bike ride in the hills, or you can attend the wine festivals, you'll get to meet lots of interesting people, and taste the delicious wines and cheeses of the region.

The Stentz, as most of the Vignerons Independants, independant winemakers, have a family business that stretches back a few generations. You can imagine the passion and knowledge they put in their wines. Madame Stentz took us inside, showed us the wines we were going to taste and explained a little bit about each one with a vivid passion in her eyes that made me wonder about what it was like to be a winemaker's wife. Here the bottles are arranged in order to give a better tasting experience. The ones in front are the special collections of late harvest and Grand Cru, the best of the best.

We also visited the cellar where they make and preserve the wine. You can see the way the technology evolved, yet the process stayed pretty much the same.Three generations at work here, making the best wines.

We left from Madame Stentz's with some of our favorite bottles, some Gewurztraminer and some Pinot, a bottle of the most surprisingly sweet Riesling and continued our evening in Alsace, in another town with ginger bread houses and colorful window panes.

This past weekend we visited the wine region of the Czech republic, around the town of Mikulov, close to the Austrian border. But this is a story for next time. I have to make a parallel between these two regions because I find there are quite interesting links between the two: people's passion, the love for wine, especially white and the troublesome history, it goes to show that good wine is not just a story of palate. Good wine is all about the heart you put into it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

French is the language of fine dining

So she loves to cook. As a new page of the cook book is turned over, your mouth is left watering, it says : Recette du jour : chanterelle et magret de canard. She also loves to invent and so the tender duck breast will have two sorts of mushrooms and mashed potatoes to accompany it on it's journey to the stomach.

Here's how it's done. You take some potatoes, you boil them in their nice shirt. After a while, you'll know when the time has come, your fork sinks easily in the potatoes, you take them out of the water and start peeling, being careful not to burn your delicate fingers. You mash the potatoes with a little bit of butter, milk and cream and add some salt, pepper and some nutmeg mace (or noix de muscade or nucsoara), for taste.

While the potatoes are boiling you can already start on the mushroom sauce. Or rather sauces because as I told you the girl likes to invent and so does her boy who prepared the sauces. First things first, chop some onions and cook them until they are almost translucent and then add the ingredients of the first sauce : the pleurotus mushroom. Prepare a sauce out of some cream and some moutarde a l'ancienne, which is mustard with grains and pour it over the mushrooms and onions. Then prepare the second sauce by putting chanterelles on the hot pan, adding cream and stirring. Pepper and salt for the taste. These mushrooms are from the agaricus family so quite common, even in Romania.

Now for the "magret de canard". This is a duck's file, cut from a fat duck's chest, more info here (don't you just love Wikipedia?) Just take the tender pieces of meat, put them on a hot frying pan, turn them on the other side when the first one is slightly cooked, you don't want to overcook these babies. And that's it! Add a nice red wine, full of tannins, arrange it all on a nice plate, light some candles and you have yourself a romantic dinner. Bon appetit!

PS. More of my culinary journeys will follow soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday, the 13th

Tuesday, the 13th is considered by Romanian superstitions to be a day of bad luck. But not today, because today is my Dad's b-day ! Happy Birthday Dad! He's spending it making BBQ, one of his favorite activities and I envy the people present.

Last month was my Mum's birthday, it made me realize that I'm not there for them, I'm not there for big events like her 50 year anniversary or Easter, or my cousin's wedding, or the dog's latest stunt.

I took the decision to live away from them and I stick to it: there are a lot of advantages to living in a foreign country and having a good salary. But there is also nostalgia. And so my parents get nice presents delivered by courier because I want to be there, in any way possible.

I like to make my presence felt on these occasions, even if I am aware that it's only a reminder of my absence. I planed special surprises for my Mum: she received a huge flower arrangement, which I made delivered to her work place. And just when she thought that was it, she also got a perfume, delivered by another courier later that same day. I think, I hope, it was a happy birthday. And now my Dad got a set of 6 games and a BBQ kit and my Mum and our friends helped me plot the whole thing. Because I'm involved, even from a distance, thank you internet.

So Happy Birthday Dad, see you in a couple of weeks, I'll drink a Pilsner for you!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Remarkable Rocket

My eyes were on the sky, my breath was almost still, I was standing there, transfixed. The cracking sounds that made their way to me felt like thousands of champagne bottles popping and letting the bubbly fluid out. And the skies were burning, the air was green. Yes, fireworks!

The people of Plzen seem really set on chasing daemons away, almost every week there is a firework some where in town. This time there was a really big one to celebrate the liberation of the city by American troupes on May 6th 1945, the only city in the Eastern blocks to have seen the freedom bringing American tanks.

The festivities usually last for a week : you see tanks, army trucks, veterans, fighter jets scene reenactments, and at the end, fireworks, maybe a reminder of the guns and cannons heard during the war, but this time, friendly fire only.

I was really sorry I couldn't take pictures, we were out for pizzas only so I had no camera. As pretty as a picture is and even thought it holds a thousand words, my glee is not encompassed in it. I am a kid looking at the fireworks. I love the sound and even the smell they sometimes leave behind. Lucky me, I live in a town with a huge firework budget. If they also had Auroras, I'd be in heaven (maybe literally; the Eskimos thought that Auroras where the time when the dead came back to communicate with the living).

While watching the fireworks I had in mind the discussions between the fireworks in the story by Oscar Wilde I read when I was a kid. But these fireworks were not as vain as the one in the story and ignited to make a whole town happy to be alive and for an instant maybe, feeling like they are living good times.

PS. This year I plan to go here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Blast from the Past

Do you remember how much joy your old toys brought you? Wouldn't you want to feel that again? Today I went back in time to 1986, the year my Dad made his famous first trip to Czechoslovakia and came back with lots of goodies that were hard to find in Socialist Romania.

Among them, the famous Red Buffalo, the Yellow Honey Eater - a huge teddy bear in red overalls, my first gold earrings, my Mum's favorite bra and lots more. I was two but that moment is still stuck in my memory : the complete, honest joy of the whole family at the sight of those objects that were so common for Westerners yet so sparse for us.

The teddy bear was taller than I was at the time but even if I outgrew it in size, I still continued to sleep with it cuddled in my arms until much later. I'm afraid the Buffalo had a sadder fate, one that is linked to my first memories : the big boom of the rubber toy bursting under me. It resonated loudly with my childish joy of trying to tame the red buffalo.

Today I read this article about a toy exhibition and realized the treasure I didn't know I had as a child. Kids don't really care about the value of things; they just play in the sand, careless of the mess they make, careless of the toys they break but utterly, truly, carefree and happy. For a moment I felt the same way again, looking at this image :

Maybe the toys haven't survived past my childhood but I still feel the texture of the materials they were made of and the happiness they brought me is something I yearn for.

So, dear reader, what were your favorite childhood toys?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Hugged a Tree

One morning in March, last week to be precise, the weather was not quite perfect: sunny on the outside but frosty and snowy allover. And that is when it happened, on my way to work: crash boom bang and I hit a tree by the side of the highway.

I've been told it's a miracle to even be here and tell you this awful story. I was lucky: I had a new car that protected me with air bag and other security systems and I was wearing my seat belt. I have scraps and nasty bruises and injured knees and you can see marks of where the airbag hit my face and where the seat belt kept me from being thrown off the window. But I am alive and kicking.

I'm sorry I gave my Mum such an awful Mother's Day. I am thankful for everything she's done for the and for wanting to get on the first flight here. I hope she will stop smoking, as she promised. My guy was worried sick. Now we make fun of my amnesia but at the time, I don't think it was funny for him, having to tell me every 5 minutes what had happened.

I've had calls from a lot of people, friends, colleagues, former colleagues. My friends helped inform my parents. I'm overwhelmed by this outburst of love from people far away, when I was the one supposed to call people on that day. So I say thank you for your care and I'm sorry I caused all this trouble around myself.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I wish you all a warm and sunny spring. I know in France it's still Winter (and considering the latest storm, a very bleak one), Romanians are celebrating the start of Spring, the warming of the air and already looking forward to barbecues (my Dad has already grilled the first steaks outdoors).

Eastern European girls are all wearing a red and white bracelet around their wrists. And so are some of the boys. Usually it's boys who offer the little charm, but sometimes, the girl puts it around her boy's wrist (that's what I did) as a symbol of the end of Winter, the triumph of good over bad (and other lame things).

This image is one that all Romanians will recognize: you see it everywhere around this time, these two little lovebirds have become Spring itself.

The black and red strings are most often accompanied by a flower that boys and men offer their mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers... This is my favorite is a freesia that I would like to offer, symbolically, to whomever reads these pages.

Have a nice spring! Krasne Jaro! O primavara frumoasa

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brno - A City That Rock and Rolls

I'm still recuperating after last weekend, so please bear with me while I tell you this story. This was supposed to be a story about my wonderful, fairy-tale like evening at a ball in Hradec Kralove. At least that is what all my friends are waiting for. Instead, you'll read about my (long) weekend of boozing, dancing and general debauchery in Brno.

First things first, I did go to the prom (or gala for the French or bal for the Romanians). And it was Awesome. I had a nice low cut fringe dress, perfect for pirouettes, high heels and the best dance partner one could wish for. I felt like a princess and the other girls that were with us, were among the prettiest at the ball. So my boy was spoiled.

The next day, after some troubles with a lost/stolen wallet, we took to the road and went to the Moravian capital, Czech Republic's second city and major university center : Brno.

If you plan a trip to the Czech Republic, visit Prague, of course, but go to Brno as well. The people are different there, more cool, relaxed, not in such a hurry as in Prague. Yet you will find all nationalities in Brno, in part thanks to it's Erasmus students but also to the throng of IT companies in the area.

We had beers with friends and former teachers, in a medieval cellar, the kind that Czechs like so much. We also visited the towns many pedestrian streets and had hot chocolate in a cozy cafe, chatting away. By evening we were so tired we had to crash at a friend's place before picking up a friend (The Ben) at the bus station.

The places to see in Brno : The cathedral, the Spilberk castle (actually the town is built around these two hills), The Old Town Hall, Charlie's Hat and Livingstone. Interesting are also the Villa Tugendhat, unfortunetly closed for renovation, the Masaryk University and the Brno University of Technology, the VUT. For the girls, you go to Masaryk, for the boys to VUT. In June Brno is the home of the Ignis Brunensis festival of fireworks and also in summer there is a MotoGP event not far from the city.

Brno is full of legends. Like the one about the dragon and the wheel. Or why the Town Hall has a crooked column. And also legendary places such as the pubs and clubs of Brno. We spent our evenings in two of these. First off was Charlie's. Bad toilets and smoke, but still a nice place to have drinks and talk.

There I found out a little bit more about the town and about the Romanians living in Brno, from a friend living and working there. All around you could hear every language possible and it made me happy to have a pleasant conversation Romanian. I have to say we didn't drink that much, but the 50 crown coupon was well spent on a vodka and pineapple. The following evening we went back to Charlie's but this time with gadz'arts. We ate the awful pizza they sell in front of the bar for 25czk (it's a tradition reminding me of Clatita Uriasa in Regie or that Shaorma place near the metro station).

Charlie's is a chick magnet. If you choose the right place in the bar you'll spot very fast what ever you want to pick up: boy or girl. After you woe him or her over a pint of beer or a cocktail, you can impress with your moves on the dance floor. It's almost guaranteed you won't spend the night alone.

My night continued in an exotic place the atmosphere of which reminded me of P24. *Sigh* Livingstone was full of people and the music was louder then Charlie's so we danced more and talked less. At least on Saturday we danced a lot, had some drinks, chatted a bit in some quiet corners. There were lots of Erasmus students showing off the dance skills while the French team waited for rock and roll rhythms. it was great fun. We didn't want to leave but we were too tired to stay.

The city is about as big as Bucharest for almost half of the population and the city transport system is very well organized with trams, or Šalina, how they call them here, going to every corner of the town. I can tell you they are also very used at night and useful too, when you're going to "the friend you're going to sleep at tonight", after a few drinks in the bars.

Before I forget, if you go to Brno, dear reader, you must absolutely eat at StaroBrno. They make very good beer and they also made the best ribs in honey, 1 kilo of them on a wooden platter with a delicious garlic bread and a great pint of beer for 300czk, or only 11.5 euros. A delight. And just next to the Pivovar Restaurant is a Pivnica (Pivnita for the Romanians) where they make the best goulash : wild boar meat, dumplings and gingerbread. My mouth is watering already.

Unfortunately we had to leave Brno, this Ibiza of Central Europe, this Nantes of the East, but we will be back, that's for sure, because this place really rocks. And because Brno is to my boy what Nantes is to me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gimme, Gimme...- The Best Abba since Abba

Last night we went back in time with an ABBA show. At first it was cold. The show took place in a skating rink and we had to wait more than 45 minutes for the show to start (we were early and they were late) I went to the toilet before the show started (way before) and on my way (the place is a maze) I saw the lines for klobasa, or hotdogs and hot wine, I'm still salivating. We had brought our own sandwiches and drinks (we didn't know about the local treats) and really felt like on some sort of picnic. The people coming to the concert were all prepared with blankets to keep warm : a nation of hockey lovers. There were people of all ages and all walks of life. There were parents with kids and grand parents and young couples.

We had some of the best seats in the skating rink but we decided to go down, in front of the scene because we didn't have room to dance (and we had grand kids and grannies in the neighborhood). Besides the atmosphere, it was also warmer and we still had a great view (ok, he had to carry me on his shoulders so I could see the girl's shoes).

The show was nice, very colorful, very professional, a lot more than what I had expected; they had Abba band members and good band and they sang the songs really well. I must say that I half expected your neighborhood revival act/drag queen show. But I had none of that : it was really a show I recommend. It helps knowing the lyrics. We sang and danced all the evening. And my boy seemed to really enjoy the present (for his birthday/Christmas).

We were making guesses on what song will be next. They sang all the big ones: Mamma mia, Gimme, Gimme, Supertrooper. Of course Dancing Queen. But also some unknown ones. We were a bit disappointed, no Waterloo? Well they left the Eurovision winning song for the end :)

We went to see the show in Plzen, but I could only find this poster for the Brno event. They are touring allover Europe and apparently they are one of the best Abba revival acts.

Friday, January 22, 2010

La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha, Ya No Puede Caminar

Last night I had my first dancing lessons. There have been other tries to teach me how to dance, including my boy who leads me when we dance French Rock and Roll, with more or less success. But this time, it's a definitely maybe, good try, once and for all, now or never, I'll learn to dance or else.

I opted for a Lady's class so I can also improve my social skills and my sociability score (I don't know anyone in this town apart from friends of my boy's and the friend's girlfriends).

And so yesterday, on a terribly cold evening, I went and had my first lesson with a group of other 4 girls: (of course) a Eva, a Petra, a Jitka (I was waiting for a Zdenka or Lenka but Jitka is also very common), and a Krystina (less common). Jana, the dance instructor was a skinny little girl, the kind you're afraid to break just by looking at her. She wore a white short dress, very suited for Latino dances and her shoes bore the signs of wear and of a passion for dance that was apparent also in the position of her body.

The class was fine, even thought I understood like maybe, maybe 1/4 of what was said. which is still good. We learned some postures, hand gestures and a few steps of samba and rumba (dansul dragostei). I left the school very cheerful and had one of my half mute monkey conversations with Petra, in Czech. The classes take place in a school, the kind of communist neighborhood school that all my friends (and I) attended. Only this one was huge, with swimming pool, football ground (with grass) and all sorts of interesting activities (archery club and room).

After the class, the boy and I drove to down town and had drinks in a pub. Thursday night is really full everywhere, I think we're going out this weekend: the atmosphere was great during the week, hopefully it will be the same on Saturday (last weekend was great, nice pub atmosphere, danced, had tequilla shots, the boys pissed in the river from a bridge, they made me an unofficial gadz'arts, I made a perfect snowman at 4 a.m.).

I'm beginning to like this town, I can go out after work and during weekends. And I've got stuff to do. :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back in the Czech Republic (2) There and Back Again and Christmas in January

My hoards of fans are on my case to continue the story of adventures on the bus, so where was I? Ah yes, leaving Prague. I got on the bus, I sat down next to a girl, considering this to be the safe choice, the other was some strange manele-listening, jerking off kind of guy. Besides, sitting next to her must be some sort of camaraderie as we were the only girls traveling alone, the other two or three girls were with boyfriends or husbands (there was one more girl traveling alone but she was one head taller than the tallest guy so she could fend for herself).

I don't know how this happens but I always find myself talking to the person sitting next to me in the bus or train. I guess I get bored. Maybe I want to know more about my fellow traveler because we are crossing roads for a while, be it shorter or longer. So I can tell you that the Czech grandma in the Student Agency coach was going to visit her 3 granddaughters from her daughter. They live in Prague and love cookies and being read stories. Mihaela, the Romanian girl on the coach home, also has a daughter; a toddler living with her grandma and aunt which hasn't seen her working mother in several months. The Romanian is working here in a laundry, with other Moldavian and Romanian girls, speaks no Czech, gets a minimum salary and lives in a Ubitovany (like all workers) with her husband, also a worker.

So off we are, one or two passengers more than the number of seats, but at least I have an OK place: behind the driver. Of course the drivers smoked all the way and so they kept the window ajar and I was cold and smoked almost all the way . Had some conversation with the girl but dosed off now and then, that's how it is when you're traveling by night. Ate the delicious sandwiches my boy had made for me, drank very little water, read a bit of my book, Czechs in a Nutshell and that was about it. But really, Bulgarian music and weird looking guys with strange names (Trifon, he had a number plate with a name, that's how I know), I was like in a mafia bus taking girls and pimps to the West (only I was going East).

And just like they would do on the way over, they stopped in odd places like in gas stations in the middle of the road (to let people off or change drivers) and gave no toilet brakes (I managed to snack out). Yeah, I know, I talk a lot about toilet brakes but people, it's a necessity, really basic stuff that Eurolines drivers have to give every 4 hours and these guys had to be begged to stop the bus.

On the journey to CZ, I took the bus from Brasov and not Bucharest because there were no more places so I had to take a bus coming from Chisinau. Ludmila, from Prague, the Orlan girl, was traveling with us, again bossing everyone around and spreading wafers. Luckily she did stop the bus more than the first time. The trip you've all been waiting to hear about, was boring people. I had a Slovak seat mate, a blond that spoke English so we did talk a very bit. And I can tell you my mom's chicken schnitzel sandwiches were delicious. Other than that: boring, nothing to read, cause too dark, I just slept, listened to some radio and called the police when I got bored. Well, yeah, there was a truck on the side of the road, with nothing to signal it apart from a dim blue light that I might have imagined, so I called the cops, cause maybe someone was hurt there, right? Yeah, you've guessed it, false alarm...

20 Hours later, after snow blizzard in Hungary and police stopping us after the border we finally arrive in Prague, right on schedule (it helps not giving pee breaks) altough it would have really helped being late: no bus to Plzen for about an hour and a half (and the one I got was backed) and no boyfriend (back home only in 6 hours).
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you one last detail : no keys either. I had absolutly no keys of the flat or of the car so I would have been stranded outside in the cold if it wasn't for a friend who picked me up.

When the boy came and we finally went back home we had Christmas number 2, exchanging presents we had each got from the other one's parents. He got an apron fit for a chef and some scarves (he's French) and I got a lunch box and we both got tea mugs and a tea pot. I'll post pictures, promise.

That is more or less the account of my winter travels. Any questions? Feel free to ask.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back in the Czech Republic (1) Going Home

Well, the holidays are over. No more mistletoe, no more holiday cheer. Gone are lazy days playing cards and all sort of games with friends. The food has been eaten; the champagne has popped and flooded our glasses with sparkling wonder. The last firecracker was heard and we are back to work.

What I wish you all is what I wish myself for this year, and for every year: health and strength to go through all that the New Year has to offer, good or bad. For me, 2009 has been a good year, as I already told you but I find it strange when almost everyone around finds it was a terrible year. The crisis may account for that I think. But even with the crisis (which at one point turned into a big personal financial crisis), overall I found the strength, humor and love to pass all the difficulties. So I wish the same for this year.

The holidays passed like a charm and here I am back at work, back home in the Czech Republic. Yes, home, because on the way over it hit me that I was actually leaving one home for the other. The flat in Plzen is not just "the flat" but it's "home" You're going to say I did a lot of thinking...well yeah, because on a 20 hours bus trip, there is little to do but think. And try to sleep. And call the police with unfunded warnings about turned over buses but more about that later.

My fans want to know about my latest adventures, so without further ado I will start from the top: Going to Romania for the Holidays. I think this will generate another post, but I'll see about that later. What you must know about this trip is that I did not plan it in advance. So here I am middle of December, without a ticket to get back home, planes and trains are too expensive, Eurolines are booked out so I find myself having to reserve a ticket from a strange bus company. Why strange? You'll see. And to make things even nicer, the three days before my departure I made so many miles, going to Prague, going to work from Prague (at 5 o'clock because I had forgotten some papers. Yes, AM), then going on a business trip, coming home, going to a Christmas dinner, going back home, packing...On the morning of the trip I was exhausted.

So here we are, December 23rd, I leave my nice flat in Plzen, and the boy takes me to the bus station, where I take a seat on one of the last places in the Student Agency coaches. First off let me tell you this: Student Agency is the way to travel in CZ. No pub here, just facts: comfy seats and a nice hostess giving you a free hot drink: coffee, good hot chocolate, tea, and putting on a movie for your viewing pleasure (with English subtitles). All for the price of a normal coach ticket. If you manage to find places that is. The trip to Prague: bliss, I even stroke up conversation with the lady sitting next to me, yes in Czech (well very poor Czech).

From there it all goes downhill. Picture this: me with a huge luggage, half empty but just as heavy as if it were full and a smaller bag meant to hold all the food I'd bring back (I had a large order of sarmale, carnati and other Romanian delicacies). The next part of the trip was so long and difficult (thank God I didn't have to change metros, from Zlicin to Florenc it's all straight and they do have some elevators but I still had to carry my huge coffin-like bag up and down) that I was glad to reach the coach station and hopeful that the worst was behind me. I still had some time to kill before my coached arrived so what do I think? let's get a burger and chips from Burger King, cause you know, I usually like the burgers here. Well yeah, the burger was ok (at 10 o'clock in the morning) but the chips were awful. Yes awful. Stale. And cold. And did I mention awful?

Being a bit nervous, and afraid I'll miss the coach (it could happen, especially with my track record: missing busses and trains is a specialty of mine), I go to the toilet for the last time and then I go wait for the coach on the quay. And a good idea that was: it was already full, mostly of my compatriots, but also Bulgarians, Ukrainians and Moldavians. All working here, more or less legally. And now you will understand why I said strange when talking about this company, you see, I had no ticket. Nothing. Just a phone call with a guy who said I had to pay 500 crowns up front, but if I couldn't, I can get my ticket from the Ukrainian girl that will be at the coach. And so I go to look for Irina who gives me my ticket in exchange for some crowns (cheaper than Eurolines) and also a business card with her phone number and those of the company. And she also sells me another ticket for the way back, with another business card. (it's a leitmotif that one).

Coming down from a coach with a hostess and getting on another coach with a hostess, I think to myself (mummy >:D<) I'll get a decent ride after all. And then I see the other girls, Moldavian, Ukrainian, hostesses like Irina (Ludmila and Iulia) and they are all nice, frail girls, well dressed and wearing make up, showing the Slave heritage very well. But they boss around the hordes of workers, telling the guys where to sit and the guys listening, despite some (futile) resistance. And they give candy too. But the trip was made without the Slavic goddesses, only the two drivers remained, the same who put the luggage in a very irrational way and then started smoking on the bus. By this point I was like in a mafia movie: strange looking characters, lots of men wearying big rings and a longer pinky nail, longer hair at the back and shorter in the front (80's style) or other strange hairdos and I've even spotted the blade of a knife (I was carrying an Opinel myself).

Half an hour later, bags packed in reverse order (Bucharest bags where somehow to the front of the pack), men put at their seats in the rear and girls traveling alone at the front, couples seated together, candies distributed, and we're off.

(to be continued...)
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