Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I'm a Big Fat Liar

I'm a big fat liar. During my last days in Prague, I promised that I would keep on blogging from New York. Well, that clearly hasn't happened. I've only posted two entries from New York. There are several reasons behind this.

First, I have no free time on my hand. Even though I work from home, I am busier than I ever was in Prague. I have many more friends here and I am out of the apartment at least 4 nights a week. Also, R is working now and I have to pitch in with household chores. I even washed laundry this week. Laundry! Can you believe it!

Also, my entertainment options are more plentiful in New York. I have 1000 channels of crap on my TV at all times. Just this past weekend, I got sucked into a True Life marathon on MTV. That's something that never happened in Prague. R also got me hooked on American Idol again - wasting a good 2 hours of my life each week. I swore off that show many, many moons ago but Adam Lambert sucked me back in.

The other reason why I am not blogging is that I'm just not inspired. Most of my blogs in Prague were about traveling to exotic cities and the crazy things that Europeans do. I don't have the same inspiration in the States. Just as an example, R and I have been to Las Vegas and Miami within the last month, but I've felt no reason to blog about it. Everyone has been to Las Vegas and Miami. I have absolutely nothing to say.

So, with that, this officially marks my last post on http://livinginprague.blogspot.com I will keep the site up to serve as a reminder of the great times we had in Prague... but I will no longer be posting to it.

I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog for the past 2+ years. I can probably call you all out by name right here, but I won't do that.

If you are a bit sad and really miss my comical musings on the minutia of everyday life, I am trying to post on Twitter a couple of times per day. You can follow me at: http://twitter.com/ninotasca

Godspeed!


P.S. For everyone who is wondering how Bauer is doing, he is fine. He is no longer depressed and he is a normal, happy puppy. But he is still absolutely petrified of Casey, the big dog down the hall.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Dog's Life

As I wrote in my last post, Bauer spent the first week back in New York a bit depressed. Everything was new and he didn't have a set routine. I've always heard that dogs love to have a set routine. They like to get up at the same time, eat at the same time, go on walks at the same time, etc. Routine makes them happy and comfortable.

Apparently, I am not much different than a dog. My first two weeks back in New York have been completely without routine. I've rotated between sleeping on an aerobed in my bedroom, sleeping on my neighbors couch and crashing at my friends place when he was out of town. I don't have a TV in my apartment yet and there is no food in the refrigerator. I haven't had a single home cooked meal that didn't consist of peanut butter and/or jelly. In short, I've been living like a hermit and it is really starting to bug me. I need a routine.

Yesterday, I couldn't take the randomness any more and decided to do something about it. I started setting up my apartment the best way I could - even though my furniture and main belongings still have yet to arrive. I put dishes away, went to get food (OK, milk and bread) and even set up a ghetto desk using empty boxes and a load-bearing comforter. This is my new routine... typing on a keyboard that sits on a creaky box while holding it together with my leg so it doesn't shake too much.

But, not everything about moving sucks. If nothing else, I've learned two new lessons.

First, moving is so damn expensive. It starts with the home improvement projects. We had to come home and clean the house from top to bottom, paint, get the carpets cleaned and re-do the floors. Even though we did much of this ourselves (I'll get to this in point two), it still costs a lot of money. Every time I go to the hardware store I walk out at least $100 poorer. It's not just the big stuff, but the little things as well. Cleaning products, gloves, sand paper, etc. It all adds up.

And then there are the electronics. I had to sell all of my electronics before moving to Europe. So I now I had to buy everything new. A new TC, stereo, DVD player (I choose an PS3 instead), wireless router, printer, etc. Don't get me wrong, it will be fun to have the new entertainment system around the house. But it is very expensive to buy it all at once with everything else.

The second lesson I learned is that I am never - ever - doing home improvement projects by myself again. I spent the better part of the last week sanding and refinishing the floors. I talked to my dad before hand and got instructions. I watched how-to videos on YouTube. I bought all of the products - top quality. And, you know what, it looks like shit. I did a bad job.

Honestly, I should have known better. It's not that I'm an idiot and can't do manual labor (although some people may claim that is the case). It is just that I have never refinished a floor before. Of course I'm going to fuck it up the first time I do it. You need to learn from someone, practice and make a few mistakes before doing it yourself. But I didn't do that. My first job was my apartment. Great decision on my part. Last time I make that mistake again. Seriously, I'm never lifting a finger again. If I have to change the battery in my smoke detector, I'm going to call my super and ask him to do it.


But, it's not all bad news. R started her new job and has been in Las Vegas training all week. I head out there on Wednesday night to join her for the weekend. So life could be worse...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Back in NY

I have been in New York for 10 days and haven't posted a blog. Sorry about that. I've been busy doing manual labor - trying to fix up my apartment before my furniture arrives. I'm not used to that type of work. A decade of sitting behind a desk has made me soft. The truth is, I'm exhausted. And my finger tips hurts. I've been using my hands so much that my fingers are raw. Every type I hit a character on this keyboard I endure a little bit more pain. The fact that I am putting up with this intense pain to post you a blog just shows how dedicated I am to my readers. So, on that note, here is the blog entry I have been meaning to write....

R, Bauer and I made it back to New York safe and sound last week. For the humans on board, the flight was perfectly fine. For the canines, it may have been a bit more stressful. We'll never know for sure because Bauer spent the 9 hour flight stuffed in a crate with the rest of the cargo.

Once we landed in JFK, we went through customs and got our bags without delay. But it took quite some time for the airlines to bring Bauer out. After about 30 minutes of waiting, we finally heard some yelping in a crate in the far off distance. It was good ol' Bauer... and he wanted out of the damn crate. Rightfully so. It took another 20 minutes or so to get all of the dog papers signed - with Bauer making himself heard in the crate the whole time. Finally we got outside, let Bauer out of the crate so he could do his long-awaited business and order was restored in the universe.

I wish I could tell you what a great time we've had eating/drinking/laughing during our first week back in New York. But the truth is much less sexy than that. We've been doing hard manual labor for 12 hours per day. Cleaning, painting, sanding, etc. Lots of work. We're trying to fix up our apartment before our furniture arrives.

And, in case you are wondering, Bauer is doing OK. The transition from Prague to New York is a tough one and he is quite confused. You could tell that he was depressed the first couple of days. But he's starting to come out of it and will be fine in a couple of days.

The real bad news is that he doesn't remember his friend Casey - the German Shephard down the hall. Not only does he not remember Casey, but he is absolutely petrified of him. We've been forcing the two of them to hang out with each other all week but Bauer wants no part of it. He's scared to death of the big dog. Our plan is to just keep on forcing them to hang out with each other until they eventually like each other.

Don't worry about Bauer. He'll be fine in a few days. I'm much more concerned about my precious hands right now.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Top Ten Things About Living in Prague

OK - the last post while I am living in Prague is a tribute to the city I have called home for the last 2 years: Prague. I may have not always said the nicest things about Prague in this blog - but the truth is this city has been absolutely great to me. Although it isn't perfect, it's been a really, really good place to live. Here are the top 10 things I liked most about the city:




  • Beauty of the City
    The first thing that has to be said about Prague is the beauty of the city. The tourist attractions aren't anything speial, but the buildings and the streets are just amazing. I never get bored of walking around the city and just looking up at the buildings.





  • Czech Beer
    The Czechs love their beer. The drink more beer per capita than any other country in the world. And, as you might expect, the beer is fantastic. You can order a half liter of beer for as little as $1.50 in most restaurants. I have probably ordered less than 10 mixed drinks in my entire time here - I always get beer. Since the beer is great and ridiculously cheap - it makes for an easy decision.






  • Easy, Cheap Living
    The lifestyle in Prague is pretty easy. People live and work at a relaxed pace. It is nothing like New York. At the same time, the city is pretty cheap to live in. Especially compared to New York and other European cities. Groceries are cheap and you can go to a restaurant without spending a lot of money. (Unfortunately, you get what you pay for)



  • Urban Parks
    As much as Czechs like their beer, they also love the outdoors. And the city planning in Prague is some of the best I have ever seen. I can't think of another major city that has so many parks spread throughout the city. I can be at 5 different major parks within 15 minutes of walking out of my house. It's great - especially witha dog. Which leads me to my next point...








  • Dog Friendliness
    Never have I seen such a dog friendly city in my life. Dogs can go off leash in all of the parks. They are allowed on the subways, the busses, the trams and in taxis. You can bring them in to all but the finest of restaurants. And, when they do come in the restaurant, the dogs are usually served water before you.








  • Our Apartment
    After living in New York for nearly a decade, I've become used to a small apartment. A very small apartment. I remember the first apartment that R and I lived in together in 2000. One day I went out and bought basketball. I came home and no where to put it. Literally - there was not a single unoccupied space in my apartment that was large enough to fit a basketball.

    Fortunately the current apaartment we own in New York is a bit bigger - but not much. It is still a 1 bedroom and space can be tight.

    In Prague, we got to live like kings. We had a great 2 bedroom apartment that overlooked the river. The place is about 60% bigger than our New York apartment. If this place was in New York, it would probably cost between $5000 and $6000 a month to rent. Here... it significatnly more affordable.

    I should also throw a shout out to Mirka and Pavla - the two ladies that work in the apartment directly across the hall from us. They have helped us out a thousand times over the past two years and have adopted Bauer as their own. We have been very lucky to have their help and friendship over the past two year (although I still think Pavla tried to posion me)



  • Sex Shops
    OK, this one is just in here to see if you are still paying attention. I've said it many times in the blog but I'll say it again. There are a ridiculous number of Sex Shops in Prague. They're on every other corner. I have no idea how they all stay in business. It fascinates me.





  • 10 Minutes from the Country
    When you are in downtown Prague, it can feel like a major International city. It's not on the same level as a London or a Paris - but it has all of the essential ingredients. However, if you get on your bike and ride for 10 minutes, you totally escape city life. It feels like you are in the middle of the country and went back in time by 50 years. The difference is amazing - but in a pretty cool way. I really enjoyed riding my bike through these tiny little towns and villages on the outskirts of Prague.



  • Intra-City Transportation (Trams)
    Here's a random entry - trams! I love a city with good trams.

    In New York, I NEVER take the bus. I have literally been on the bus less than 5 times in my life. I have no idea how the numbers work and am always afraid that the bus is going to take a random left turn and leave me far away from my destination.

    Since trams have built in tracks on the ground, they always go where they are supposed to. The ride is smooth and the stops are freqent. Trams are great!






  • Central European Location
    Finally, one of the things I like most about Prague is how easy it is to escape from. If you look at a map of Europe and find Prague, you'll see it is stuck pretty much right in the center of Europe. This makes traveling ridiculously easy. For all of the traveling we have done, the only flights longer than 90 minutes were to London, Lisbon and Istanbul. And some places are so close that you can easily take a train or drive by car. We have traveled by train/car to Italy, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. The location has made our traveling life style much easier.







I won't end my stay in Prague by putting a list of things I didn't like (the food, the surly attitude of everyone that works in retail, etc.). Those thoughts are well documented in some of my earlier posts when I first moved here.

In all honesty, there were many many great things about living in Prague. We are so glad we made this trip and have never regretted our decision for a single second.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Top Ten Things I Will Do When I Get Back Home

Today is a fun blog. Instead of looking back and places we have been and getting sentimental, I'm going to look to the future. In 48 short hours, we get on a flight and head back to New York.

Although we are very, very sad to leave Prague - we are also very excited to move back to New York. Here are some of the things I will do within my first week of getting back.



  • Eat Good Food
    During my first 6 months in Prague, I was an mission to find a good burger. It never happened. I eventually gave up and lead an essentially burger-free life for the past 18 months. That's a crying shame. I can't wait to eat a good juicy burger when I get back home. I'll probably go get a Hickory Burger at Houston's, but I may also get a burger at Blue Smoke, Corner Bistro, Shake Shack, Rare or another new place that I don't even know about yet.

    And then there is sushi. Prague does have a pretty significant number of sushi joints. I can think of at least 6 within a 20 minute walk of my house. Unfortunately, since the Czech Republic is a land-locked country, the sushi is not that good and ridiculously expensive. There is one good place near our house, but it is so expensive that we have only been there twice.

    Finding great, cheap sushi in New York is not a problem. Our favorite spot is Yama on Houston - but I heard a nasty rumor that it was closed. I hope it is not true. But, if it is, no worries... there are dozens and dozens of other sushi houses that I am sure I will like just as much.

    (On a side note, I could have made this whole blog about food. But that's no fun. Just know that I could have easily added Wings, Mexican food and Pizza to this list)







  • Buy a new Home Entertainment System
    When I left for Prague two years ago, I had to sell all of my major electronic equipment. When I move back home, I will have nothing.

    Many people would be upset about this since they have to outlay a lot of cash immediately upon landing. While this is true, I'm still excited. I get to walk into Best Buy and get everything brand spanking new. I can buy a flat screen HD TV, a Blue Ray Player and a Home Theater System. All brand new, all bought at the same time and all bought to integrate perfectly with each other. The best news is that the price of this entire system combined will be significantly less than the HD TV I bought 5 years ago.

    I'll probably be at Best Buy within 3 hours of my plane landing.

    (On a side note, i was planning on buying this Home Entertainment System with my winnings from Fantasy Football. But Donovan McNabb had to ruin all of those plans on a Monday night against the Browns. Four lousy yards! Four F&*%ing yards!!! If he doesn't get those four yards, I am the champ and get a free system. I'm still bitter)




  • Watch the Cavs... in HD
    While I was able to watch a ridiculous amount of football while in Prague, I have only been able to watch a single basketball game. The games are on too late and I don't bet basketball.

    This is unfortunate because my Cleveland Cavaliers are having the best season in franchise history. LeBron James - a hometown boy - is the best player on the planet and I think he will bring Cleveland a championship for the first time in my life.

    But, I don't just want to watch basketball. I want to watch it in HD. I haven't seen a sporting event in High Definition in over 2 years. I'm going to be blown away all over again.




  • Browse Book Stores
    My favorite thing to do on a rainy day in New York is to go to the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. I spend hours and hours just browsing the book store. I don't know why, but I love it.

    I haven't had the chance to do it much in Prague. Although there are a few bookstores that carry English language books, the selection is not nearly the same.


  • Go to a Comedy Club
    I love going to Comedy Clubs. I haven't seen a stand up comedian since I left New York. I feel less funny because of it. I can't even think of a joke right now. Seriously.





  • Punch an Investment Banker in the Face
    Just because it seems like the right thing to do.




  • Go Shopping
    OK - let me try to write this without sounding too pathetic. I don't love shopping. The act of shopping gets me tired after about an hour. But, that being said, I would like to get some new clothes.

    I haven't bought a single thread of clothing in Prague. Literally. Not a sock, not a shirt, not underwear and not even a hat. Nothing. The clothes are overpriced and not my style (to say the least). When I get back to New York, I desperately need some new gear.




  • Live like the average American
    I can't wait to eat fast food, watch endless hours of mindless reality TV, shop at Wal-Mart, work 60 hours a week, buy a shot gun and shoot a moose.

    Wait. I don't want to do any of that. Why am I leaving Europe again?




  • See Bauer reunite with Casey
    We got our dog Bauer one week after our neighbors got their dog Casey - a German Sheppard. They grew up together for the first year of their life. They played everyday and were nearly inseparable. Then, one day out of the blue, we drugged Bauer, threw him in a small crate on a plane and he woke up 10 hours later in Europe. He has not seen Casey in the two years since.

    The dogs - who both turn 3 in the next couple of weeks - will be reunited on our first day back. I have no idea how they will react. They will either play and get along like they never left each other... or Bauer will see the big dog and roll over on his back and put his tail between his legs. There is no in between.






  • Hang Out with Friends and Family
    This item is obligatory. If I don't put it in here I'll sound like an asshole.







Check back tomorrow for my final blog from Prague.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Ten Pictures in Europe

This post belongs to R. During our two years in Prague, R really took an interest in photography. She got a digital SLR camera, took a couple of photography classes, learned how to use Photoshop, got a better digital SLR camera when her first one was dropped in Aegean Sea, etc.

Fortunately for her, Europe provides a pretty amazing background for taking pictures. Here are her ten favorite pics from the past two years...


Two random people in front of the Charles Bridge in Prague. I am typically quite shy of snapping pics of strangers but this was a perfect moment!




A guy in Istanbul with a scale & tissues. Apparently you could pay him a few cents for the privilege of using his scale. Not really sure what the tissues were for....maybe to cry after reading your weight?




Famous Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) in Florence, Italy. I loved the reflections and shades of yellow when taking this shot.




An atrium in The Vatican. We paid for a private tour and so were able to enter 30min. before regular opening. This explains why there is not a single soul there yet. The sun was starting to shine within the atrium and it was just beautiful!




A random door in Sicily, Italy.
I waited for the whole family to enter the apartment so that I could take this picture. I loved the bright blue door and the contrasting blue bucket colors.




Bikes in Sicily, Italy
I just loved the dimension of the walls and back window yet with the front wall bikes.




Costumes on display in Venice during Carnival. This may be viewed as out of
focus but I just love it!




Costumes on display in Venice during Carnival. Rule of 1/3's and the background just seemed perfect to me.




View of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre region of Italy. This is probably the most beautiful view I have ever seen in my life! The colors were amazing especially with the water contrast. Plus, I loved how behind the city is another small inlet/beach.




A small little street on one of the Greek Islands. This sums up Greek architecture!




Check back tomorrow to read the top ten things I am most looking forward to about returning to New York.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Top Ten Places We Would Visit if We Stayed in Europe Longer

OK - I've already spent enough time talking about the trips we took while living in Prague. Today, I'm going to talk about the trips we didn't take.

Had we stayed in Europe for a bit more time, here are the Top Ten places we would have visited. These are listed in no particular order and, truth be told, some of the places aren't even in Europe. To make this list, it just has to be a place that is easier to get to from Prague than from New York.



  • Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia
    This is definitely #1 on the list for the simple reason that - if I don't go to Russia now - I don't know when I will go. I can't see myself taking a vacation from New York just to Russia. I feel like the opportunity may have passed me by.

    R and I did have plans to go to Russia and talked about it quite a bit. But, we decided against it because (a) it was extremely expensive and (b) I heard foreigners were treated pretty rudely there. So we decided to go on affordable trips where people would embrace us. I may regret missing the cultural significance that is Mother Russia, but a trip during these last two years just wasn't in the cards for us.





  • Egypt
    Egypt is just the opposite of Russia. It's a place I really want to go to and I do see myself making a separate vacation just to go to Egypt. That being said, it's much closer from Prague than New York.

    My friend Brian spent a considerable amount of time in Egypt last year and he advised me not to go. He was a bit turned off by the people - for whatever reason. He's also my #1 nemesis - so the fact that he didn't want me to go to Egypt just made me want to go more.

    R and I had tentative plans to go to Egypt over Thanksgiving weekend in 2008, but she got a consulting gig in Portugal that was too good to pass up and we went to Lisbon instead. So that was that. But, like I said, I'm not too disappointed because I will get to Egypt one day.





  • French Riviera
    If I close my eyes and think of the ultimate Eurotrash vacation, I think of lounging on a beach in the French Riviera, sipping champagne and wearing all white clothes - with excessive amounts of jewelry and hair product thrown in for good measure. It doesn't matter if it is Monte Carlo, Cannes or Nice. The fantasy is all the same. Me wearing all white standing on a yacht with models and bottles and the French Riviera in the background.

    Now, if I actually went to the French Riviera, I'm sure the vacation itself would differ wildly from the images in my head described above. So it's probably a good thing that I never went. Still... I want to go and it's on the list. Maybe I should wait until I have enough money to experience the vacation that's in my head.

    (A quick side note to accompany my food blog from Monday. My freind Brewsta - who operates one of the best food blogs in Prague - says the Oysters in Cannes are better than anywhere else. Just another reason to go here.)





  • Stockholm
    I've heard that Stockholm in the summer is the most beautiful city in Europe. The city spans a bunch of islands and the temperature is pretty mild - in a good way.

    But that is also part of the problem. The best time to see Stockholm is the summer, but it's not a beach destination. When the summer time hits, I want to go to the beach. I want to be lying in the sand, jumping in the water, diving, etc. Not going on vacations to visit the cultural capitals of Europe.

    Had I been living in Europe during my high school years, I am sure I would have made my way to Sweden. That's because I used to LOVE blondes. Now, I'm much more of a brunnette fan. So I'm sure that played a role in the fact that I have not been to Stockholm.





  • Copenhagen
    My nemesis Brian once told me that Copenhagen was his favorite city in Europe. I think he told me that because he specifically knew that I had not been to Copenhagen. Fuck that kid. Does he think he's better than me?!?!?!? I want to go to Copenhagen just out of spite.





  • Golfing in Ireland or Scotland
    My friend Mark and I had planned to go to Ireland last year for a round of golf. The trip fell through for a variety of reasons and we ended up golfing in the Czech Republic instead. But, you know what, I'm kind of glad the trip fell through.

    Don't get me wrong, I still very much want to golf in Ireland, Scotland or both. But not now. Not yet. I'm not a good enough golfer yet. When I have a realistic shot of breaking 90 on a regularly basis, I will book the first flight to the UK with my golf clubs in hand. But not now. Not yet.





  • Turkey - Cappadocia
    One of our favorite trips was our five day stint in Istanbul, Turkey back in March 2008. I would love to go back and spend a full 2-3 weeks in Turkey. The country is so huge with so much to explore. And one such area is Cappadocia. Just look at the photos below and you'll see why...







  • Fjords
    Another entry from Scandinavia on this list. As you can tell, I have never been to Scandinavia and really want to go. As far as pure beauty goes, it would be hard to beat the Fjords in Norway.

    To be honest with you, I don't even know that much about this area. I have only seen pictures and they blow me away.





  • Ice Hotel
    Actually, this isn't on my top ten list. This is all about R. I'll let her explain..


    So, yes, this is a place that I truly wanted to experience and I do think that one day I WILL!

    Picture this.. you arrive at the airport and are greeted by your personal sled diver who will take you to the ICEHOTEL. You are given warm outer clothing at the airport and your luggage is taken directly to the hotel. Meanwhile you just sit back and listen to the silence as the sled driver along with 15 reindeer take you to a magical hotel made of all ice!

    For those of you that hate the cold... You only spend one night in the ICE hotel and the other nights in a more traditional WARM hotel. At the ICE HOTEL, you are outfitted with special clothing to keep you comfortable to remain in the hotel surroundings.

    There are amazing excursions available such as forrest snow mobile ride, Moose watching tours and of course the mystical Northern lights- which happen in this part of the world! And as a dog lover, you have many opportunities to meet the many dogs that are used with sleds. "In JukkasjÀrvi and its environs, there are more dogs than people."

    This is an adventures I truly want to take one day! Just look at these pictures!










  • Cycling in French Wine Region
    I always thought it would be great to go on biking tour of France. Especially the wine regions. I love cycling, I love french food and I'm a big fan of wine... what's not to like.

    The problem is that I don't trust myself to just hop on a bike and start riding from one town to another. My sense of direction is not good enough and I wouldn't know where to stop. If I were to do this properly, I would want this to be part of an organized group. The kind of group where they take your clothes and belongings in a car from one hotel to another and you just have to merely ride along and follow the group leader.

    I looked into these type of tours quite a bit when I first moved to Prague and I was SHOCKED by the prices. A 5 day trip will cost over $4000 per person - and that does not include my travel to France. With these kind of prices, a trip like this may just remain a pipe dream.






Of course, there are many more places that we would have liked to visit had we stayed in Europe. Morocco, Dubai, Sardinia and> Belgium all come to mind. And this list doesn't even include some of the best aspects of Europe - those little towns and villages that are off the beaten track. Places full of history that still feel like they did 100 years ago. These are some the places I enjoy most.

The good news is that we're still (relatively) young and I don't plan to stop traveling any time soon. Hopefully we'll hit these places - and a few more - sometime in the future.


Check back tomorrow for R's favorite pictures that she took in Europe...