Monday, July 31, 2006

Odds and Ends

This (final?) post is a collection of photos that we like but that didn't fit neatly into the blog, starting with Riga:

And Jurmala, the big, beautiful beach only a short train ride from Riga:

From Vilnius: New friends Cathy and Casey from Northern Virginia; we discovered common interests in music and textiles.

Textiles at Trakai in Lithuania:

Sculpture on a theater in Vilnius:

And from Prague: Dagmara, one of last year's AIPES students from Poland, came to Prague for a short visit. She is a wife, mother, journalist (two jobs) and PhD student. And's she's translating Mike's "Globaloney" book into Polish for publication.

Pub night at U Flecku following Mike's book reading at the Globe bookstore. Beer! Imagine that!

For a student perspective on the program, you can visit Michael Collins's blog. Michael is an avid photographer, as you will see.

Among the gifts we received from the students, both this year and last year, is alcohol (left to right): Black Balsam from Latvia, red wine from Georgia, Unicum from Hungary, white wine from Romania, vodka from Ukraine and vodka from Belarus.

When we started this blog, one question we raised is "what did you buy?" Part of the answer is yarn. Lots and lots of yarn.

Where to next? We'll let you know.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Final Exam and Graduation

The economics exam was the finale of the classroom aspect of the program.

Graduation, which consists of a ceremony, a reception and a party, is the last official function. AIPES holds its graduation ceremony in the Karolinum, the great hall of Charles University, which dates from the 14th century.

Ivo Sanader, the prime minister of Croatia, was the graduation speaker. AIPES always has had a head of state as graduation speaker, which speaks to the respect the program has in Eastern and Central Europe.

The reception was an opportunity to enjoy some fine Czech food and to take some last photos of our friends (no longer just students), a few of whom you see here, such as Harry from the United States; Harry was the student graduation speaker.

Eliza and Alex from Romania.

Dias from Kazakhstan, who is in the Kazakh army and attends West Point.

Ivo from Croatia.

Natasha and Marija from Macedonia and Maria from Estonia.

Fred from Albania. Fred is a lawyer and works in the U.S. Embassy in Tirana.

Peter from Slovakia, Wendy, and Pavel from the Czech Republic.

Tomorrow we'll post some random photos from our travels that didn't make it into the basic blog.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Buchky, Buchky, Buchky

Buchky is a Georgian toast (Republic of, not State of), sort of pronounced "butch-kee," that means when you tap glasses it's like the leaves of a bush all coming together.

We head home tomorrow (Saturday). You'll have to wait until we get home to see graduation pictures.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wenceslas Square and Elsewhere

Something is always going on in Wenceslas Square. Throngs of tourists are standard fare. We recognize tour group leaders speaking English, Italian, Spanish, French and German; additionally, we hear dozens of languages we don't recognize. Serving the tourists are many, many cafes, ice cream stands, magazine stands, jewelry shops, crystal shops and the alleged Russian Mafia sausage stands (see previous post). We've also seen:

  • A Havana Club (rum?) extravaganza with a large stage and sophisticated AV system with big screen projection for a Cuban band plus about eight booths giving out mojitos and other drinks made with Havana Club. Lots of dancing and drinking. It was all set up one morning and all down by the next.
  • A Corvette club, with 20 to 30 Corvettes of all vintages (and all with CZ license plates) circling the square, peeling out at various points.
  • Hare Krishnas.
  • Go-go dancers on a flatbed truck promoting a night club called Mecca. We don't think they were hired for their dancing skills.
  • Sculptures made of all sorts of stuff, including bathroom fixtures, tree trunks, a skeleton, fake flowers — you name it. We think (hope) these are temporary exhibits.
And speaking sculpture, this piece by David Cerny is in the courtyard outside the Kafka Museum. Wendy and Kirsten are not part of the sculpture. In case you are wondering, the "hips" rotate.

We did not bring Wendy and Kirsten to this spot just for the sculpture. We were on our way to dinner at Cihelna Hergetova, a lovely restaurant right on the river next to the Charles Bridge. We recommend the potato and mushroom soup, accompanied by a glass of sparkling Bohemia sekt. A three-course meal (starter, entree, dessert) with wine and a fantastic view costs about $40 per person.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Cruising the Vltava

Students Pavel (from the Czech Republic) and Marija (from Macedonia) organized a boat trip on the Vltava River through Prague last evening. Vltava cruises are limited by locks on the river, but the central area provides a lovely one-hour cruise through the central city. We enjoyed sunset views of the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. The students mostly took pictures of each other.

Because the picture loading piece of blog central seems to be working again, I'll try to add some more pictures from the embassy party on that entry.

The heat wave seems to have affected the power supply; we've been warned of possible cuts in air conditioning (noooooooooooo!) but so far we've been okay. Based on limited Internet research, Sue suspects that there may be a transmission capacity problem, maybe in the Czech Republic, maybe somewhere else in Central Europe. Sue claims that she is not a power grid jinx (some of you may remember that we were in Italy a few years ago when a transmission problem in France cut power to all of Italy).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ambassador's Reception Night

The AIPES program includes a reception at the U.S. ambassador's historic art deco residence. Note that this is the residence, not the embassy itself. This is the back of the residence, which opens into a gorgeous garden.

It was a great party made even better by the fact that it was our 30th wedding anniversary. Our thanks to AIPES and to the U.S. embassy for throwing such a nice anniversary party for us! The ambassador, William Cabaniss, is charming, knowledgeable and hospitable. We first met him last year and he remains one of our favorite ambassadors.

One of the other guests was the Croatian ambassador to the Czech Republic. He was invited because the Croatian prime minister will be the graduation speaker later this week.

Other honored guests included Kirsten, Wendy and Mike.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Country Night

One of the highlights of the AIPES program is Country Night, an evening that includes Czech music and dancing, a Czech dinner that the students claim far exceeds dorm food, presentations by students about their country and lots of alcohol (surprise, surprise). Most of the presentations included a song or dance from the country, often in a national costume, such as (top to bottom): Latvia, Kyrgyzstand, Romania and Georgia.

Wendy did an excellent job as master of ceremonies:

Kirsten, who was the audio master, brought Richard, her charming fiance, who is from Northern Ireland and has been working in Romania while he finishes is PhD.

And, finally, the alcohol report: The Moldovan and Georgian wines are excellent. The hard liquors vary from not-so-bad to people-drink-this-stuff-on-purpose? In any case, there was a lot of it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Decorative Arts and a Snack

The Museum of Decorative Arts is one of our favorites, especially following the exhibition of Czech glass at Tacoma's Museum of Glass earlier this year. A few of the pieces that were in the Tacoma show are now back home. The museum's collection includes older pieces and contemporary work.

The museum also has some extraordinary textiles, including a knitted lace handkerchief and bobbin lace. (Photographing these was nearly impossible because of the low overall lighting, the glass cases and the spot lighting.)

We don't have pictures (because of the lighting) of the Art Deco jewelry and traditional Czech garnet jewelry and decorative cast iron ware. You'll just have to visit on your own.

Street food is not too common in Prague, except for ice cream and, in Wenceslas Square, sausages. Several of these sausage stands flank the square and sell sausages from early in the morning to well past midnight. A large sausage on a roll or with a piece of rye bread costs about $2, and a Coke, Fanta or bottle of water is about $1.50. Taking photos of the sausage stands is not welcome; one reason may be that they supposedly are owned by the Russian Mafia. Russian Mafia or no, the sausages are excellent.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Teaching in Prague

Because the reason for our being in Prague is Mike's teaching in the AIPES program, we thought you ought to see some pictures of students and teaching.

We're still finding time to be tourists. To escape some of the heat (90 degrees+ cobblestones = way too hot) we went to the contemporary art museum, which is more air conditioned than many air conditioned places. The museum is so big that you can buy entry tickets only for the floor you want to see. The floor with the post-1950s Czech galleries was closed for renovation so we chose the floor with early 20th century Czech art (impressionists, cubists and the like), plus some Czech architecture and theater set design, Art Deco books and furniture, and a collection of French art.

Then we went to Letna Park for a beer and dinner in the park cafe. It appeared that many Prague residents thought an evening in the park was a good escape from the overheated cobblestones. We enjoyed a mozzarella and tomato salad (very popular dish here) and a pizza. Last year, Prague restaurants seemed all-pork-all-the-time; this year, restaurants seem to offer more vegetarian options beyond Greek salad.