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Turning our dům into a home

by Katia Sand on May 13, 2013 · 0 comments

Prague is known as one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. Millions of tourists visit every year to admire its architecture, absorb the culture and to drink the incredible beer. Tens of thousands of expats have stayed, unable to say goodbye to the city’s picturesque magic (and the beer). So moving to Prague sans home, sans job, and sans any knowledge of the Czech language can’t be that hard, right?

Now that we were down a suitcase or two of cash, we were in proud possession of a set of keys to our wonderful apartment: our wonderful and utterly empty apartment. I still needed to figure out how to move the remains of my university life in Scotland from Edinburgh to the Czech Republic. The more pressing concern, however, was how to avoid sleeping on the floor.

Alongside boxes and baskets of various sizes, my Scottish storage unit was also sheltering an orthopedic bed, so we were somewhat loath to purchase a new one. A little pressed for time and unsure of any Czech bed-shops, the easiest solution was to hop on a metro to Ikea, pick out an affordable yet comfortable sofa-bed that future guests would not turn up their noses at, and have it delivered that night. We duly headed to Zličín on the yellow B line and quickly discovered that Czech Ikea is as reliably all-inclusive and generic as any of its international counterparts, and has a large selection of bed/couch options.

We wandered past the usual culprits: sprung mattresses and awkward futons, as well as those fairly innocuous-looking sofa-beds that always mysteriously manage to shuffle their occupants to a dipped center. We finally discovered a hidden gem in the form of the Månstad, a three-seat sofa and chaise longue that folds out into a fairly hard but very comfortable double bed. When we could no longer deal with the show floor/warehouse separation in Ikea, we made our way to XXXLutz, another international furniture company about five minutes’ drive away from Zličín (though slightly more complicated to reach by public transport, as it is a bit of a walk from the nearest metro stop at Hůrka). Here we found a few more essential furniture pieces that were a bit more individual and only slightly more expensive than in Ikea.

Over the next few days, risking Kuba’s patience and my own mental health, we attempted to tick off all of the items on my nesting shopping list. Kitchen supplies we found aplenty in Domácí potřeby, a household goods store on the third floor of the Kotva shopping centre next to Námēstí Republiky in Prague 1. While in the neighborhood, we also browsed antique-style furniture in Art & Classic on Kotva’s 4th floor and more modern wooden pieces in Global Interio on Revoluční and in AlmiDecor on the top floor mezzanine in Palladium. However, we restrained ourselves to window-shopping, as these pieces, though lovely and relatively well priced, were a little outside our budget when it came to furnishing an entire apartment almost from scratch.

Kuba’s mother, hearing our woes regarding affordable and unique pieces of furniture, immediately directed us to www.aukro.cz, an online auction house and the Czech answer to eBay, where I discovered my bargain-hunting paradise. You can find almost anything on Aukro, but my favorite pages remain those dedicated to second-hand antique and antique-style furniture. The hours spent browsing, and the invariable tension surrounding the last few minutes of bidding on an item, were totally worth the pieces we ended up buying. As a word of warning, however, it takes about a week to register (and to receive your registration code in the mail), and the entire website, including the registration page, is exclusively in Czech. Despite the difficulties, however, part of the fun of browsing in a language you don’t understand is discovering items you didn’t even know you were looking for!

Unfortunately, the fun quickly disappears when you know exactly what you are looking for and are unable to communicate your wishes to the shop assistants, which is exactly what happened when I began shopping for curtains. I returned to Kotva, where a big soft-furnishings shop called ScanQuilt sells everything from towels and bedclothes to rugs and cushions. I quickly found a material that I liked, but had to resort to diagrams and hand-gestures to explain to the saleswoman what my window dimensions were and discover what the price would be. It was with great difficulty that she finally managed to help me understand that, while ScanQuilt sells curtain material, I would need to go to the Kotva seamstress to have the curtains made. I eventually managed to purchase the material and locate the seamstress, who is on the same floor as ScanQuilt, but hidden behind a children’s play area. Trying to explain the size of my windows and the depth of my desired curtain-hem was exhausting, and I went home hoping that the result would not be dollhouse-sized curtains. In fact, much to my relief, the curtains were finished in a week and all, happily, human-sized.

This process was all more or less complete in time for the arrival of my belongings from Edinburgh. I did a very thorough Internet search when it came to choosing a moving company, and asked for quotes from about twenty or so different international firms. While some failed to make any response at all, most of these companies gave me fairly similar quotes: one storage container of 240 cubic feet from Edinburgh to Prague would cost me about £1400, $2000, or 40,000 CZK. Hruby Moving were the first to respond. Nick Young became my personal contact and replied within a couple of hours to every query I had, arranged a delivery that took place exactly two weeks after I initially submitted my request for a quote, liaised with the Scottish storage company on my behalf to make sure everything was wrapped and packed carefully, and charged me a grand total of 22,700 CZK, roughly half every other quote I received.

When the delivery day came at last, the Hruby removal men were polite, exceedingly helpful and patient, waiting to take away all the packing debris while I emptied box after box onto the living room floor. When I began to feel overwhelmed by the growing mountains of clothing and books and random artifacts, most of which I didn’t even remember accumulating, I paid the guys (again in cash!) and let them go. I was alone with the chaos. Once Kuba got over his initial fear that my assortment of memorabilia wouldn’t leave any space for him to enter the apartment at all, we sorted through the mess and flattened the remaining boxes. I e-mailed Nick to ask if he knew of any dump sites we could take the rest of the large boxes, and the next day he called to ask if it was OK for the removal men to stop by in a couple of hours as they would be happy to dispose of the remaining debris on my behalf. Never say service is dead in the Czech Republic!

Katia is a Belgian native who studied in Scotland and went to work in America, where she met her Czech boyfriend. In September 2012 she moved to Prague to live with him and is quickly falling in love with the city as well. Her passions are travel and adventure and reading and writing about them!

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Off for the weekend

by Katia Sand on February 25, 2013 · 0 comments

Away from Prague, the Czech Republic opens into beautiful hills and sweeping fields dissected by streams and rivers. Moravia, the southeast corner of the country, is known not only for the natural beauty of its highlands, but also as a hub of traditional Czech culture and especially music, full of folk songs, cimbaloms, and dancing.

Apparently, going away for the weekend is very typical in Prague. After succeeding in acquiring a roof over our heads, the first order of business was to abandon it in favour of a weekend in Moravia to celebrate my boyfriend’s mother Zuzka’s birthday.

Having in the past only narrowly survived experiences of hurtling down winding Czech country roads at breakneck speed, accelerating alarmingly close to cars ahead and clinging on to the “Jesus handles” for dear life while overtaking at the last minute, I looked forward to what winter weather conditions might add to the whole adventure. Unfortunately, dark, wet roads and fog have no noticeable effect on Zuzka’s speed or willingness to use her mirrors.

Nevertheless, we arrived safely and I gratefully extricated myself from the vehicle of doom.

We stayed in a large inn in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm called Koliba Pod Horů, where the food, a robust supply of various cuts of meat, dumplings and potatoes, tastes fantastic and, of course, the beer flows ceaselessly. The nightly entertainment started shortly after we arrived in the form of a cimbalom band led by Jaroslav, the inn owner and feted cimbalom player, whereupon tables were pushed aside to make a dance floor instantly filled with merry customers. Here apparently, where co Čech, to muzikant (every Czech is a musician), no one is burdened by the panic and inexplicable lack of rhythm that accompanies most British men when faced with the prospect of moving in time to music. Unfortunately no one aside from the musicians was wearing traditional costumes, but, according to Jaroslav, summer months see them on full display.

Daytime activities in Rožnov are plentiful. Even in the grip of a slushy winter in the run-up to Christmas, the Moravian-Silesian Beskydy Mountains form a beautiful backdrop to the spidery woods along the banks of the Rožnovská Bečva river. What now constitutes most of the town of Rožnov (pop. ± 17,000) is not particularly scenic. However, its mediaeval history is exhibited in the museum vivum the Wallachian Open Air Museum, where we wandered around a reconstructed mediaeval village, complete with furnished houses, shops and a hospoda, and watched a traditional wood-carver make exquisite and more or less useless trinkets it was almost impossible to resist purchasing.

Zuzka told us about a nearby world-famous candle shop so, quelling my doubts about how an international candle exporter came to be based in a small town in Moravia, we sallied forth to check it out. Unipar is amazing. We were greeted by a giant advent wreath in the courtyard, and the shop itself felt like candle heaven, with candles of all different shapes and sizes, some scented, some patterned, some fantastically shaped. I think Kuba was a little alarmed by the total our candle purchase came to, but it was a major sacrifice to dissuade myself from buying one of everything. The owner invited us upstairs to see next year’s collection and showed us candles destined for various 5 star hotels in the Middle East, spas and wellness centres all over Europe and America, promotional candles in the shape of beer bottles and Christmas candles that made me want to throw fire hazard caution to the wind and risk blowing up our new flat in order to light every single one of them.

We walked back to the inn along the river, parts of which were frozen and picturesque, and debated going to the Christmas market so that Kuba could indulge his hot wine addiction, until we saw the hordes of people queuing outside the entrance. Instead we ploughed home through the snow. Or rather, Kuba walked lightly while I struggled to lift my booted feet out of the slush without crashing to the ground on a covered sheet of ice. The ordeal lasted about 45 minutes. For someone who prefers sport to be practiced on a yoga mat in the warmth of a heated gym, the whole thing was a bit much. High time to warm up in a spa.

Nearby Hotel Eroplan has a beautiful wellness centre, complete with Jacuzzi, 100 degree Finnish sauna, steam room, infra sauna, freezing outdoor terrace to cool down and resting room with massage chairs. There is also, rather bizarrely, an exercise bike in the corner of the resting room. No thanks; I’ll take the hot tub! I am not yet totally accustomed to parading between sauna and steam room in the buff alongside total strangers of both sexes, but it is the done thing so doing my best to put my western prudishness aside we settled in to relax and enjoy. After all, with another car trip with Zuzka ahead of me tomorrow, I needed all the relaxation I could muster!

Advent wreath at the Unipar candle factory in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm
Photo by Katia Sand

 

Katia is a Belgian native who studied in Scotland and went to work in America, where she met her Czech boyfriend. In September 2012 she moved to Prague to live with him and is quickly falling in love with the city as well. Her passions are travel and adventure and reading and writing about them!

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Somewhere to live, prosím?

January 31, 2013

Prague is known as one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. Millions of tourists visit every year to admire its architecture, absorb the culture and to drink the incredible beer. Tens of thousands of expats have stayed, unable to say goodbye to the city’s picturesque magic (and the beer). So moving [...]

Happy Holidays!

December 25, 2012

Wishing you a peaceful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

All Souls’ Day (Dušičky)

November 2, 2012

All Souls’ Day falls on November 2nd in the Czech Republic. People visited cemeteries today to light candles and spend some time at the graves of their deceased loved ones. We have written about the tradition in our Little Souls post. Here are a few pictures from Prague’s Olšany Cemetery taken today.