Prague Dog Eat Blog

Shopping for clothes on Wenceslas Square

Sep 9, 10:13 (Filed under: Shopping in Prague, Personal )

Wenceslas Square with horse statue of st. wenceslas and National Museum The other day it was over 28 degrees we were walking next to the horse statue of St. Wenceslas in front of the National museum. It was the day we were planning to go to a swimming pool I wrote about earlier. Wearing jeans and dark T-shirt, we realised we need a new, different outfit. The good news was that it was only several days to the day of my next salary, so I decided to use some debit on my credit card.

We set the budget for the new clothes to one thousand per person. And let’s see how we did. Walking down Venceslas Square, our first stop was C&A company (Václavské náměstí no. 33). This place is a clothing store with men, women and kids department. As one would have guessed. My friend bought there white thin summer trousers for 498 CZK, I haven’t chosen anything. Our next visit was paid to X-sport (no. 22) and Nike Prague store (no. 18) at Mustek. These two were full of good stuff, good sport outfits, but it somehow didn’t fit our budgets. We left and went to the shoe store Bata (no. 6), where six floors of different shoe departments were quite impressive. Both of us bought flip flops with the recent world cup country themes. I took flops with sign Italy, my friend took Brazil ones. The price was just 199 CZK.

Our last stop was New Yorker store at Mustek, which enabled us to fully achieve our goal. This shop is filled with in fashion clothes, maybe sometimes too stylish. We both couldn’t resist white sweatshirt with hood in sale for just 150 CZK (original price was 699 CZK). We also bought 2 colourful belts for 199 CZK each and I got also fingertip cream-coloured trousers for 599 CZK. And two T-shirts with stripes in sale each for 150 CZK. To totally accomplish our shopping, we didn’t even wait to come home and we tried and tested new clothes immediately in the streets of Prague. We both were satisfied with the new outfit, we went home put away our old clothes, took swimming trunks and went to the Podoli pool.

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Experiencing Czech food in Czech restaurant for Czech prices

Aug 31, 10:05 (Filed under: Prague pubs, restaurants and cafes, Personal )

Prague TV tower in Zizkov Today, I finally managed to visit the TV tower at Zizkov and the view was amazing. Maybe even more amazing than those babies that are trying to climb the tower. Anyway, we were really hungry and the tower restaurant was quite expensive. A friend of mine I was with knew a place nearby and he brought us there. The place is called U Houdku and as I later found out, it is well known among students and local people.

The restaurant looks typically Czech with a great mix of people (students, labourers, guys in suits) and every group is discussing something very important. Lot of noise and lot of laugh. There was also a summer garden opened but we stayed inside, we had enough of sun for the day. We ordered the food, there was a sufficient choice of traditional Czech cuisine. The service was ok, well, the waitress was not so polite, but i was more disappointed with the toilets. They were very old and even if they were clean, they looked dirty.

The dish arrived and that was the most pleasant surprise. Large plate full of meat, french fries, and lot of garnish glazed with dressing. I had to drink two beers to wash all that down. I was totally full, although, trust me, i like to eat a lot. We had to sit a for a while and talk and let the stomach digest. Only few minutes passed and both my friend and I were ready to take a nap. It would have been inappropriate, so we ordered a mojito with Bacardi rum (mmm….Bacardi…) to wake up. We were happy. And guess what. I paid 200 CZK for all that including rounding up the bill! I repeat, big meal + two beers + mojito + small tip = 200 CZK divided by 28.5 arrives at 7 EUR. We left, quite satisfied, and I was ready to spread the word. What surprised me even more, many students I mentioned this to already knew the place. Yes, of course, there’s medical faculty students’ hostel just around the corner.

Anyway, if you happen to be in the Zizkov area, which you probably sooner or later will, don’t miss a good dinner. The restaurant U Houdku is situated on the street Borivojova 110, Praha 3 – Zizkov. I am not sure if it’s the easiest way, but I always take metro line A (green) to stop Jiriho z Podebrad, walk around 500 metres down the street called Slavíkova, passing this student’s hostel, at the end of street turning right to street Jezkova, walking up the street a little, and arriving at Borivojova street and restaurant U Houdků. Bon appétit!

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Cheap marketplace in Holesovice

Aug 19, 08:52 (Filed under: Shopping in Prague, Personal )

Holešovická tržnice My primary intention when I visit Holesovicka trznice (take metro line C to a stop Vltavska) is to get fresh vegetables and fruits for friendly prices. This also applies for fresh meat and dairy products. Nevertheless, this marketplace is more than food stuff.

The place is filled with clothes, junk food restaurants, second-hand clothes stores, but also small serious entrepreneurs concentrated on certain potential group of customers and big shops with different consumption goods. My today’s visit concerned buying sunglasses. I must say, the variety was poor, actually, I thought that every stall offers same products. I haven’t found any that would fit my face.

I bought a shirt instead. Lacoste polo shirt for 150 CZK. One would say, not bad. The original price was 300 CZK. And so i negotiated. One advice, when you talk to Asian tradesmen, never accept the first price mentioned. That price is just not valid, it’s too high. If you are comfortable in arguing for a price or if you just want to try it, this is the place.I left contented.

One thing that worries me still is if the shirt survives it’s first washing.

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Beach volleyball

Aug 15, 16:11 (Filed under: Sport in Prague, Personal )

Beach volleyball playground on Strahov in Prague I have not been playing volleyball as a kid, actually, I did not fancy it, my wrists always hurt and there was not enough thrill and action in this game. My sports were always ice-hockey and football, despite this fact, beach volleyball became my regular sport activity last months. To me, regular, means once a week. Finally, I found my hobby in this game, maybe also because we are a great bunch of people that goes there more for fun than to really work out.

We go to the Timeout Arena in the Strahov area. Outer sand courts are of a good quality, and if it rains, it is possible to play inside. Showers, toilets and those facilities are new and clean. Small bar with fridge full of ice-cream is also available. Right next to this Beach Club, you can see famous Strahovský stadium, and a nice view of the city at a sightseeing behind the stadium. I admit, the place is not in the very centre, so if you rather stay in the centre, there is an interesting Prague sandy beach at Vltava river bank in Smíchov with beachvolleyball, swimming pool, bar and restaurant.

Don’t worry if it gets too hot, Pivní Pohotovost (Beer Emergency) is just around the corner on the street Svornosti opened every day.

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Excellent Prague 9 lunch specials. The beauty of Bit Comet. The ass-suckiness of Czech game localisation.

Jun 10, 10:09 (Filed under: Personal, Prague pubs, restaurants and cafes )

Hoo boy… still working on the essays, so I haven’t really been getting out at all. My trips out of the flat are to the Blackbridge mall, the local Electro World, or the pub above the Movie Star in Prague 9 for its excellent lunch specials – appetizer, soup and meal for just CZK 69. Typical Czech pub fare of a high quality. Definitely worth checking out if you ever happen to find yourself between the Cerny Most and Rajska Zahrada metro stations.

Been bitcometting like mad lately – in fact, I got an email from UPC telling me that I’m on the verge of being stung by their Fair User Policy. Once I hit 20 GB of downloaded content, my connection speed will drop from 2 Mbps to 64 kbps. Ouch. I suppose they’ve got to do something to keep people within their limits, but dropping the speed so low seems a bit severe… Ah, well, it’s probably for the best.

Why all the torrenting? Well, to get English versions of games that are fully localized here in the Czech Republic. Man, do these Czech localization companies piss me off. Would it really be that difficult for them to leave the bloody English files in the games they work on? When I called CD Projekt and asked this question they could not have been bigger bitches – “Our target group is gamers on the Czech market, so no, the games we localize have no English because they are for Czechs.”

No shit, Sherlock. When I asked the CD Projekt employee who took my call if it was really that difficult or costly to simply not touch the English language files in the game (after all, I’m assuming that when these companies get these games they get them in English, no?) and add a simple piece of code that will let the user select which version of the game they want to install, or even toggle the language after the game is installed, I got a bit of a “does not compute” silence, a nervous laugh, and a snarky “Our target group is gamers on the Czech market…”.

My suggestion is not exactly rocket science, is it? Well god damn the Czech PC game localisers and the distributors who have seen it fit not to include English versions on the market – and god bless P2P file sharing. And god damn UPC’s FUP. But god bless the patient and kind customer care folk at UPC.

Ah… now that that’s off my chest, it’s back to the essays (the bane of my existence and the reason for my crustiness and lack of entries as of late). These entries will cover non-Blackbridge and non-PC and non-gaming related stuff soon enough – probably full of wedding related stuff…

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Burned out. Obsessed with fans. Hating Steam. Loving UPC

Jun 2, 12:39 (Filed under: Personal, Technology )

If you check in here regularly, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I haven’t been posting all that much lately. I’ve never been so goddamn burned out in my life… well, I probably have but right now I can’t remember when. I’m feeling way loopy, so this entry will be a bit buckshot, and I haven’t linked as many things as I should have.

Not only am I working my ass off to catch the latest (and supposedly final) deadline for the accursed history essays, I’m also behind schedule on a porn mag, and have had to deal with the regular rush jobs from my telco clients. For the last week I’ve been working til 6 am, getting a few hours of sleep, rinse and repeat. So, the blog has been sort of neglected.

I wanted to write about what I’ve been doing during my breaks earlier, but couldn’t bring myself to write anything original whatsoever after so many hours of donkey work. I went on a pc modification binge over the last week. It started one day a couple of weeks ago while Jitka was working on the pc and I was trying to take a catnap. It dawned on me that, goddamnit, that computer was bloody loud.

Then when I checked the temperatures after a 30-or-so-minute DOOM3 session, I saw that my graphics card was heating up to 66 degrees Celsius, which made me kind of nervous – especially considering the fact that we’ve had the computer for over half a year, and I’ve done some pretty heavy gaming on it during that time.

Now, when I had this rig put together I told the folks at Agen, where I had my rig built, that I wanted a fast, quiet pc. I had the money to burn, but let them talk me into buying less powerful components than I had wanted, and there was no mention of replacing stock fans. Agen’s sales dudes are nice enough and have good intentions (at least that’s what I can say about the ones in Blackbridge), but they could have been a little more informative about quiet cooling options.

Thus began my trek into the wonderful world of aftermarket pc cooling. After doing some web shopping and review scanning (especially at newegg – awesome place for user reviews), I discovered Tntrade in Kyje, about a 20 minute walk from where I live. So, first I got me a Zalman VF900-Cu and some Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste for the graphics card. After installing it (a breeze), the temperature of my MSI NVidia 7800gt (with the highest level MSI D.O.T. overclock) dropped by 20 degrees Celsius under load (i.e. a long DOOM3 session) to 46 degrees!

But the computer still sounded like a jet engine – a bit of a wounded one at that. So I got me a new fan for the CPU – an Arctic Freezer 64 Pro-. It was a toss-up between this and a Zalman CNPS9500, which is a little more bling for my kit (I’ve got a case with a see-through side panel), but triple the price. Even though I could have afforded the Zalman, most of the reviews for the AF 64 Pro looked good, so I reckoned I’d give it a go. So far so good, though I can’t remember what temperatures I was getting with the stock cooler that came with my AMD 3200+ Venice (which I can’t seem to overclock even modestly without difficulty on my Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard). Now the CPU temps are 30-33 degrees Celsius when idle and around 36 under load.

I also got me an Arctic Cooling AF-12 case fan to replace the 12cm Thermaltake fan that came with my Thermaltake Kandalf 9000 case, which Jitka can’t stand because of the size (I love having all that room to play around in – plus the thing is so well ventilated and allows for wicked air circulation). Looks good, sounds quiet… but there was still something else that was buzzing like a furious hornet in the case.

After some more surfing between translations, I discovered that perhaps I hadn’t chosen a very good motherboard (perhaps the folks at Agen could have stepped in with advice) as the Northbridge chipset fan on the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe has a nasty reputation for being loud and breaking down. So, it was back to Tntrade, this time for a CZK 100 passive cooler by PrimeCooler. Now, putting in this wee chunk of aluminum required me to take the motherboard out of the case, which made me pretty nervous. In the end, it was actually the most enjoyable part of my modifying binge and has got me wanting to build another PC… or at least upgrading.

So now the only thing left to do was to replace the piece of shit Eurocase power supply that Agen included with my case. I initially decided to change the fan in the PSU, but after breaking the fan, I had an excuse to rush off to Alzasoft to buy an Enermax Liberty 500 Watt PSU – overkill for now, but it has definitely futureproofed my rig. And damn does it ever look good.

Ah well, just got another asap job from one of the telcos… so, that pretty much brings this entry to a close, and it’s probably just as well… Anyways, to conclude, with the help of a Zalman multifan controller, the rig runs far quieter now, no longer whining or grinding, but purring. While I’m happy about that, I’m also really jonesing for an excuse to build another PC… home theater perhaps?

Oh, and one more thing – I have yet to play Half Life 2: Episode 1, thanks in part to work, but mainly because of Steam’s horse-scrotum sucking way of delivering its content. First they tease us HL2 fans with a big orange clock on the official site (if you want to see fanboy pants-wetting geekiness at its worst, check the Steam forum for HL2:Ep1 – pathetic), then announce that HL2:Ep1 is ready to play, but first you’ve got to wait for the bitch to load from the Steam servers. Release time here in Central Europe was 7 pm last night. At around 1 am last night, that is, 6 hours later, I only had about 65% of the game. Now this is not P2P sharing, for Chrissake, this is a game I bought in a goddamn shop! I want to load the mutha and go!

Having said that, Steam rules when it comes to keeping all games up to date by automatically installing the latest patches. Not that I play many of those games as quite a few are online multiplayer affairs – I tried Counterstrike: Source once and didn’t last a minute. If there are any other CS:S n00bs (or UT 2004 novices) out there who want to get their frag on with me, drop me a line.

Anyway, I finally got it all on the Kandy, but have yet to play it since, of course, I have to work. No biggie, mind you. I think I’ll just wait to finish the essays and reward myself with a good stoned HL2:Ep1 session in the middle of the month… nah, who am I kidding? I’m gonna play it on my next break…

Oh yeah, and very very very briefly: the customer care at UPC ROCKS!!! :-)

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Obsessions (Pt. I)

May 29, 09:36 (Filed under: Personal )

I hate having slight obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Most recently I went through a few months of World of Warcraft addiction. I’ve gotten over that (haven’t logged in for well over a month now) thanks mainly to the fact that I was pissing Jitka off and letting work slide, but I also got pretty fed up with the inane banter in the chat box (well, at least on the Bronzebeard server). It got to the point where I was asking myself (out loud), “WTF is so LOL about that?” every ten seconds. And, for the love of whatever overlords lord over Azeroth, how the hell does one type when one states ROTFLMAO? LOL is more than sufficient.

See what I mean? It was definitely necessary to give up. Having said that, My discs, instruction manual and account are up for grabs – CZK 1400. You may not get the free 30 days that comes with the store-bought version, but my level 43 night elf druid (Bronzebeard server) his mount, mastery of skinning and mining skills (the only two real money-makers, IMO – well that and knowing how to play the buy and sell game at the auction house) and sizeable stash of gold is more than enough to help beginners level up with good gear at all times (in case you don’t know, the game has a great mailing system that allows players to mail gear and cash to their alternative characters). I’ve also got a level 10 warrior on the same server, and a level 10 rogue and level 14 mage on the Stormrage server.

Anyway, with WoW out of my system, I got back into first-person shooters because unlike MMORPGs, it’s easy to pause them when necessary, or get up and walk away from them. There’s also the fact that you don’t have to deal with lag, server crashes or scheduled updates (though to me these were more like annoyances than serious issues). Speaking of FPS’, this is a pretty exciting week for Half-Life and Half-Life 2 fans. We finally get to know what happens after the cliffhanger ending of Half-Life 2 when Half-Life 2:Episode 1 (supposedly) hits the shelves this Friday. I got my copy reserved at the local Gamehouse (with a CZK 100 discount for doing so, though I’d gladly pay 2 to 3 times the retail price for the game, which is supposedly only a 5 to 6 hour adventure – the story, the graphics, the whole thing absolutely rocks!).

In spite of all this FPS enjoyment, it’s not really an obsession. No, my latest obsession has two parts: system optimization and computer case cooling.

First the optimization. My Norton Security Suite and Firewall are now up for grabs (for the right price, natch). This’ll make for bad ad copy, but here goes… Norton’s great at what it does – keeps your system safe and clean, but man does it ever slow things down at the same time. It’s a behemoth even when it’s somewhat stripped down. Without going into detail (which I don’t think I’d do all that well anyway), here’s how to keep your PC or laptop running fast and safe: download the freeware versions of AVG antivirus, the ZoneAlarm firewall, AdAware, Spybot Search & Destroy, CCleaner (cleans out all kinds of temporary files and junk left behind from surfing and removing programs; you run it by right-clicking your recycle bin), and OO Defrag (or Diskeeper or any other disk defragmenting program, though the Windows defragmenter is not bad in its own right). Then google “how to make (your operating system) work/boot/shut down faster” – there are tons of great articles on this out there.

I was stunned at how much faster everything, especially boot up times, went after I dumped Norton and got all that freeware. My PC starts up so fast that it practically skips the blue “welcome” screen before the desktop appears.

Next up is case cooling, which I’ll continue with tomorrow – if you’re in Prague and on the market for a PC or parts then this will likely be of interest to you as I discovered that alzasoft is no longer the king when it comes to low prices – in fact, it’s gotten a bit lazy in checking its competitors’ prices and beating them… but more on that tomorrow.

Oh, and one more thing – I can’t let a blog entry that mentions Half-Life go without directing all Half-Life 2 players to Concerned, an amazing, LOL-funny (at least to anyone who’s played the game) web comic that tells the tale of City 17 before Gordon Freeman’s arrival. It’s full of in-jokes and spoilers, so obviously it’s best to be read after having played the game.

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Poutine (no jokes about Russian presidents, please)

May 24, 21:23 (Filed under: Personal, Other )

Let??s leave Prague for a while today. I want to get a little Canadian on you. Make that French Canadian, as in Quebecois (minus the language complex).

Every now and again I get an overwhelming urge to get back to my roots any way I can here. Blasting out my eardrums with the Tragically Hip doesn??t really count as I find myself doing that pretty much every time I listen to my mp3 player, in spite of the fact that I??ve got tons more music to choose from. The CBC archives are good for nostalgia and then some. Strange Brew still makes me smile, but it hasn??t really aged all that well. Thanks to YouTube I can get fixes of classic Kids in the Hall, catch up on Canuck politics through This Hour has 22 Minutes sketches, satisfy the brute in me with hockey brawls, and get re-acquainted with the hottest of Pepsi chanteuses, Mitsou, over and over and over again, oh yeah.

And the list goes on. But this is all multimedia, stuff for the ears and the eyes. Sometimes I??ve got to satisfy the other senses with some Canadiana as well. And poutine is exactly what the doctor ordered ?? at least for my nose and my taste buds.

( Homeresque voice ) Mmmm?? poutine?? droolslobbersmackgulpdrool…

Poutine is simple on paper, but difficult to get right – like pretty much any meal. I still have yet to top the poutine that my high school canteen used to serve (oddly enough I went to a preppy school where I was one of the very few lower-middle class Pepsis), though I came pretty damn close tonight.

For those of you who think I??m talking about a meal named after (or made of) Russia??s current president, let me break it down for you. French fries, topped with cheese curds (ideally St. Albert??s) or grated cheese (eidam, cheddar, gouda, mozzarella the more fat the better ?? don??t bother with that lousy 20% eidam, use the 45% stuff, and forget about those pungent or aromatic cheeses, unless you want to get really experimental; I??m talking about classic Quebecois poutine here), smothered in gravy (I also like to have a bit of ketchup on the side, which is acceptable; mayo and tartar sauce, on the other hand, border on sacrelige).

Easy-peasy right? Well, yes, like most cooking it is, but get the wrong kind of cheese or gravy and you’re in for a world of disappointment. Too much gravy makes for a lousy soup. If the gravy’s too cold, then the cheese won’t melt, but if the gravy’s too hot and the cheese isn’t cool enough to compensate, you lose the cheese and end up with a cheese-flavoured quagmire – you might as well go dip your fries in cheese soup. See what I’m getting at here? If you’ve ever had poutine, I’m sure you do.

( leaning back, looking up wistfully, stroking chin ) Ah-yup, I remember my first poutine. I was fourteen years old, on a SEVEC cultural exchange. It was my first night with my host family in Rimouski, Quebec. While it seemed like everyone else had cool partners, I knew right from the start that I wasn??t going to get on with mine. Tall, gangly, a little thuggish, a little sullen, very white trash. And hoo-boy, did I call that one properly.

He lived with his mother, her boyfriend and his sisters in an unfinished bungalow in one of the town??s poorer areas, one of those hoods where no house is finished and every yard is a junkyard. I don??t even know if this guy??s place had a yard. I do remember that the roof was missing a lot of shingles, and that siding had not been put on one side of the house (or perhaps it had come off).

This was starting to get long-winded, so I should cut it short now and skip the bits about the host??s cute younger sister, how an eleven or twelve year-old boy taught me how to smoke cigarettes, getting drunk on Laurentide beer and dancing my ass off with the cute younger sister, being eaten alive by Rimouski blackflies?? yeah, that trip sucked mainly because of the people (except for that cute younger sister), but it had its moments.

See what poutine does to me? Now, where was I?? oh, yes, my first poutine.

In that ramshackle hut somewhere in Rimouski??s bunghole, I was greeted with a pie tin full of French fries, cheese curds and Bolognese sauce. My initial reaction was one of surprise mixed with curiosity. It smelled good, it looked good and it made sense, it didn??t seem like that crazy a combination. And it tasted fantastic.

To my recollection poutine didn??t really hit Ottawa until about a year after that. Or maybe I had never noticed it before (though I doubt that ?? McDonald??s didn??t start offering their lame-ass version until something like five years later, and ketchup, salt and white vinegar were the only toppings of choice at your average chip truck). In any case, it was kind of fun to be a little bit ahead of the craze when my friends got into it.

Well, that was fun?? I was going to get into beavertails as well, about how when I first moved here I was kind of shocked to find out that they are not Canadian but in fact of Hungarian origin and called ?Langosh? (beavertails is hands-down a cooler name), but, as they say on the riverbank, that??s another story??

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Part-time at the Czech Business Weekly. Weird TV. The Hey Clip

May 21, 23:25 (Filed under: Prague media, Personal )

Ugh. This is probably going to go everywhere and nowhere. I??m back into working seven day weeks, devoting most of my time to translating history essays. The last few I did were well-written, which made things a bit easier, but it??s still a grind. Hope the remainder are just as lucid (touch wood).

I took a part-time copy editing job at the Czech Business Weekly. Unfortunately it only lasted a couple of days as I quit on Friday. With the exception of translating executive stroke jobs for the paper??s Whose Move section, the stuff that was coming across my desk was interesting and, for the most part, read well. However, I made a mistake in thinking that I could take care of the essays after a day of editing. I was supposed to work Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the office and a half day from home on Fridays. After giving up two days of translating essays in order to edit, I realized that this just was not going to work. Then there was the money factor ?? it didn??t dawn on me until the day after my second day in the office that the wage I was getting was lower than what a newbie ESL teacher makes. That fact should have been clear to me at the interview, that is to say it should have clicked when I was told what my salary would be. But with the essays, the regular clients, the visa, the wedding and all the chores, tasks and jobs I??m supposed to be doing around the flat (note that I said supposed to), many things have been going in one ear and out the other.

Anyway, I??m going to try to spend the week working primarily on the essays at home, ideally at the pace I worked at this weekend. That means no trips into the centre of Prague, social or otherwise. Lots of English breakfast tea and Red Bulls, a bit of food when Jitka??s around to remind me to eat. Also a bit of Unreal Tournament 2004, Far Cry, Doom 3 or The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion when Jitka??s not around to get on my case about gaming. As well as a fair amount of leisure surfing??

Which leads me to this. Thanks to Think Again magazine I discovered that one of my favourite TV shows of all time has a web presence. Before ebaum??s world, College Humor, YouTube and any other user content based site, there was Weird TV, a show that was exactly what its name said it was. I??m not going to ruin the surprise (if anything surprises you these days, that is), just check it out.

And speaking of YouTube, here??s a little something to put you in the mood for the Pixies’ July 13 gig at Palac Akropolis. Well, maybe it??ll put you in the mood for something else, but whatever kind of mood it puts you in, you can rest assured it will be a good one.

I??m not even going to try and read that back. I??m outtie.

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Czech Republic vs. Canada: visa spat

May 4, 08:48 (Filed under: Personal, Other )

I’ve been kind of coasting on that big beefy posting below, partly because I’ve been working more or less non-stop on those dreadful history essays, and partly because it’s so big and beefy that I reckoned I could get a few days’ milage out of it. I pretty much got my gripes re. the Czech Foreign Police out of my system, but I can’t let this go by without a comment.

The Canadian government, well at least the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry, is way out of order in this visa issue. The “visa stalemate is not a political issue but a technical one,” the Canucks tell the Czechs. I would expect a bullshit excuse like that from the Czech Foreign Ministry, not the other way around.

Of course I’m being self-centred in my outrage, but it seems that whenever it comes time for me to get my visa renewed, external forces conspire to make the process a complete mess. Ok, now I’m being melodramatic , but in such matters all these government officials ever see are statistics, articles, maybe some news footage or videos of the visa-processing hovels they force foreigners to stew in, perhaps they actually visit them for a little bit of easy PR, I dunno. When it comes to getting travel documents themselves, they undoubtedly have some intern/university co-op student/peon deal with all the legwork and waiting around. I’d like to see Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay last a day trying to deal with the shit that us foreigners have to take at the Czech Foreign Police offices on Olsanska, only to be told that, well, as a Canadian you need a visitor’s visa to come into the country in the first place, you’re here illegally, so it’s off to the holding cell with you. Then maybe he’ll re-consider my home and native land’s jackass visa policy vis-a-vis the Czechs.

Question: since when has immigration been a crime? The robots on Olsanska sure as hell make it seem that way, and from the sounds of it it’s probably worse in Canada. I’d really like to hear more about the Czech experience of getting a Canadian visa. I remember Jitka had a hell of a time getting a Canadian visitor’s visa in 1999 – she had to deal with a rude clerk who made her feel like she was being interrogated. One thing she said about the experience pretty much summed it all up: “The only thing missing was a big bright light for the clerk to shine in my face.”

Ah, well, in two months all this nonsense will be behind me… I hope.

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Robots: mo' Prague popo

Apr 27, 04:00 (Filed under: Other, Personal )

If you decide to stick with me on this one, more power to you. It’s mighty long, but I felt it shouldn’t be broken up into a series of bite-sized posts. Here goes…

Now I understand why Josef Capek muttered the word robot to his brother Karel, when the latter sought advice while developing a new play. Standing before an easel rattling with the strokes of his paintbrush, the elder Capek muttered the word to describe artificial workers that would appear in his younger brother??s work. This gave rise to Karel Capek??s RUR, a piece of literatrure I have yet to read.

For this word to come to his mind after hearing his brother’s description of the character that was stumping him, Josef Capek must have met people that radiated its then-new meaning in real life. Like when Karel said to him, Josef, I have these characters in my book and I don??t know what to name them. They??re not townsfolk, youth, elderly, aristocratic, students, cousins, patriots, or anything exceptional. They??re peasants, they??re serfs, labourers. And they??re artificial.

Pausing between strokes with the brush clenched between his teeth like a pirate assassin artist, the word connects with a certain kind of people he knows and probably does not think much of.

Robots.

Karel thanks his brother and goes off to write his masterpiece, while Josef tackles his own.

That??s a big part of what I got out of today ?? only in the Czech Republic could you find the progeny of those who inspired Josef Capek to derive that magic word for artificial worker.

I went to the foreign police on Olsanska to apply for my business visa. I??ve been experiencing delays, some external and some of my own device, but in total, I??d been in the Czech Republic for two months without a valid visa. I??d done this before, it was no big deal, everybody in Prague, both inside and out of those wretched Interior Ministry buildings, knows how chaotic the offices at the Czech foreign fuzz can get.

Yesterday I went to get some information at Office 10 in building B. After waiting thirty minutes I get a sullen greeting from an Insolent Bitch, whom I??ll refer to henceforth as IB. Every word a cold sneer, every glare a blunt threat. Really unpleasant, that IB.

Anyway, after getting no answers and trying to get her to talk on the phone with Jitka, I hand her my passport. She clocks the expiry date on my visa. Checks for stamps. Stands up, tells me to wait right there. Leaves the room. Locks the door.

An office in the Olsanska buildings is a filthy purgatory of stained whitewash and a bilious beige, stifled vegetation, old typewriters, and drawn shades . The rustle of file folders prompted by wimpy gusts of recycled air, and the buzz and whirr of old computers struggling to keep Word and Outlook up and running, the system facing a total collapse should the screensaver kick in.

As a foreigner in any country I would expect a somewhat warmer greeting, embrace, or adoption than this. Nobody should be treated like this. Especially those of us making an honest living, busting our asses, paying our fucking taxes, giving to charity, promoting local businesses, contributing to the population growth?? and this is your motherfucking welcome basket?

It gets better.

Shit. I wish.

The door unlocks, IB furies into the room, I??m wondering if this makes her feel good, doing this for a living, fucking innocent people up.

I know I crossed a line. I then see what??s coming and resign myself to it, more or less. I??m going to be spending a while here.

I make a frantic call to Jitka. She grabs a cab, cancels a meeting with her mother and hauls ass to save my ass.

Well, I didn??t know about the cab bit till later, so I??m thinking, shit, it??s gonna take her an hour to get here from Blackbridge.

The cop comes over, has something like a mugshot in between the pages of my passport. Fuck.

Could you stand up, sir?

I can??t believe I say this: Is there a problem officer?

Please stand up and empty your pockets.

Shit. Wh?? I??m getting married here in July, July 15.

Do you have some kind of document stating this?

Well, I??

Damn. Jitka??s been taking care of all that.

??suppose??

Please put everything in your bag.

I put my lighter, gum and mobile in my bag. Get led to a cell.

Fucking??

The cell has a surface area of just over 4 square metres. Two small benches. A view into part of a parking lot and a bunch of Interior Ministry offices across the backstreet.

You??ve got to be joking.

He says nothing just waves me in with a mechanical gesture.

What the?? can I at least make a call?

Up til now this guy??s been a perfect police robot. Not a Robocop, mind you, just a regular guy, blankly following orders, strictly by the book, doesn??t get off the page, just gets off on the page. A fucking robot that happens to be a policeman.

Pats me down then locks me in. Then he lets me make a call, waits for me to finish, then takes my phone and puts it in my bag. In an odd sort of way, I find it to his credit that he didn??t look all that pleased, proud or angry about having to do this; rather, it was like he was resigned to it, perhaps was even trying to understand why. At least, that??s what I??d like to think he was thinking. That maybe he??s not such a robot after all.

Yeah, prison makes you think some stupid shit.

Christ.

This is fucking ridiculous.

I??m in fucking jail.

I lie back and take a nap. Spend a long time thinking about what it??ll be like to have children, and that feels pretty good, but then I think about spitting in IB??s face and everything goes downhill. Cow. Thinking I can??t believe I can??t even listen to my mp3 player in here. This is fucking ridiculous. Look at all the scuff marks from the toes of so many disgruntled shoes. A man could go really fucking nuts in here. Later Jitka tells me, I asked a policewoman if they fed you or at least gave you a glass of water, it was a really hot day. The policewoman asked me if you??d been there six hours, I said, Why the fuck would that matter?

Later the first robot goes over to her. All I hear is her voice, her fucking glorious Amazonian voice putting this little robot bitch in line. And all I can do is listen, though I really want to rattle my cage – literally. This guy??s trying to get words in, and whenever he does, Jitka tells him, Stop talking to me like that, talk to me in a way I understand. I want to talk to the head of the department, she sent us this letter.

The letter was a response to a letter Jitka and I had sen to the Czech foreign popo, explaining that I would be delayed in submitting my visa prolongation request. The reason for this was that I was still waiting for my birth certificate from the province of Quebec. I??m not going to get into that. The Quebecers were friendly enough, though I had to spam the hell out of them with demands for responses during the last days of my visa??s validity.

I consider reaching for the strap of my bag to get my mobile, but there??s a camera monitoring the cell and chances are my notebook would take some damage from falling off the shelf it’s lying on.

I develop this Pavlovian response to the sound of approaching footsteps, especially those that give rhythm to the jingle-jangle of keys. I bolt upright and can almost feel my ears twitch at the sound, desperate hope rushes through me.

The head comes down. Her voice booms with a warrior’s brute force, but Jitka??s is right in there, steady, swift and sharp, like the blades of a dual-wielding rogue. The head is slugging away with heavy-duty rounds of bullshit about an assortment of laws and requirements, punctuated with code numbers and paragraphs. Jitka’s countering and jabbing, slicing away with rapid-fire precise questions. The head informs her that There??s an information line, Jitka counters with They don??t give the right information when you can get through to them, and the clerks, whether on the phone or in person, are rude. The head tries giving her answers, but going strictly by the book, throwing out expressions and terms to overwhelm Jitka with confusion and thus conclude the argument with one mighty blow.

Jitka??s not buying it. Why don??t you say it to me in a way I can understand? I have a Master??s degree in Czech language and literature and if I can??t understand you how do you expect a foreigner to understand you? It would be like if I asked you to translate a work of Czech literature by, say, Bohumil Hrabal into English. You wouldn’t be able to do it because you wouldn’t be able to understand.

Bam.

The head??s tone changes, goes down a few decibels from booming.

And I wait. And I twitch, head bolting up like a cat’s at the sound of a can being opened, whenever I hear the clinking of keys and/or the heavy authoritative thumps of cop boots on linoleum.

That scuffed linoleum in the cell, splattered in paint. No English grafitti, I suppose it??s Ukranian. One phone number seems important, I see it written in triplicate on the same wall.

What did the people who left these messages here use to write? I sure as hell wasn’t allowed to bring anything in. Belt buckles? Rings? Watchbands? Fingernails?

Damn.

Jitka??s talking to the cop who brought me in again. He asks her for some kind of official document that states we are going to get married in the Czech Republic.

Jitka’s verbal blades snikkity-snik out of their scabards. Cool and firm, she says, Why are you talking to me like this? How can you ask me such a question? You know that there is no such document. How can you ask me a question for which you know I have no answer? Why are you wasting my time with this nonsense?

The cop backpedals a bit after that then I can only assume he made a hasty retreat. I didn??t see him at all after that.

Ah, that??s my Supergirl?? I feel blessed, and rather undeserving.

And then I don??t hear much else other than my phone vibrating in my bag every now and again.

Eventually, I prick up my ears to the sound of more than one set of footsteps coming my way. They have keys. There are two of them. Both bigger than the first robot. The tallest of the two tells me we??re going to the station at Florenc, in Karlin.

The cops have been cool about the mobile so far. I call Jitka, she??s at Florenc with her mom.

When we get there, I??m kind of rushed along ahead of them. My thumbprints are scanned. Jitka gave me a bottle of coke, and damn does it taste good. But I feel like I??m going to need to piss soon.

Well, at least I??ll have a bottle.

Back at Olsanska, I thought I was going to have a cellmate for a while. They brought what I gathered was a Russian in. They kept him in the pre-cell, which is just inside Office 11. When I had first entered this part of Building B, there was this nervous looking old geezer who had obviously been in the pre-cell for some time before me and who looked really fucking relieved when he was told he could leave. Lucky bastard.

That cell was small for one person, putting two in there would be really fucking uncomfortable. Three or four? And why?

Florenc is worse. I get a choice of two cells, I blankly choose the one with the dirtier, stickier floor. Makes no difference I guess, chuckles one of the cops as he usheres me in. The source of that dirt and stickiness is certainly linked to the fact that there’s nowhere to piss, shit or puke in. Come to think of it, the benches are rather sticky as well…

I pay taxes and social insurance and I can??t fucking vote and where the fuck is the humanity and why did I show that IB my passport and why can??t I at least sit with my fiancee and fucking hell, they??re bringing a bum in here. He sits in the cell to the right of mine. The stench is caustic, corrosive and explosive.

Two fucking months of overdue stamps and papers and more fucking stamps.

I huff a little, I sigh a little, I veg and think and nap. The bum slouches perfectly still. The two cops who brought me in are now off-duty, they stare and nod something like a good-bye at me on their way out.

Half an hour later, I get led into yet another whitewashed office. Like pretty much all the foreign police offices, it??s like something out of THX 1138, and even that world was cooler compared to this one. Their gasping, beige computers and eye-crippling screens ablaze with oversized icons, templates, and forms.

This time we get a human. A real live down to earth human being, not another motherfucking robot or IB. He guides us through the report we??ve got to submit, Jitka??s got all the originals, copies, registered mail receipts, envelopes ?? this dude sees the pile of paperwork Jitka??s got. No one in their right mind would take on that much work if they had to.

The solution: a thirty-day visa coupled with strong motivation to take a trip outside the Czech Republic, if only for a weekend or a day. Jitka??s thinking Slovak spa town. I??m thinking Budapest, which deserves a week, and as Jitka??s starting a new job next Tuesday, we??ll have to wait a while for that.

Jitka??s mom was waiting for us outside and the three of us went off for a meal at Charleston??s, just up the road from Karlinske Namesti. Borscht and lasagna never tasted so good. Coming home never felt so good, though I still had to translate a press release for Cesky Telecom??s general meeting, which I have to be at in about ten hours.

Plus all the usual day to day rush. It feels better to be a part of it today.

So, while it wasn??t exactly hard time, it certainly wasn??t time well spent.

Now remember, when dealing with the foreign police:

1.never show documents that you??re not asked to show
2.keep copies of every single document and receipt involved in the process of getting your visa
3.have a very strong Czech in your corner
and, stating the obvious,
4.get everything in on time

Like some loathe the dentist and others loathe the proctologist, I loathe the offices of the foreign police. For all their ill will, sick walls aghast with dust and grime-filtered lighting, the cobwebs, the dead insects between the windowpanes, the thick huffing malaise, the angry eyes and (again) Pavlovian responses to opening doors and foreign fuzz staff footsteps (they all walk swiftly, avoiding eye contact at all costs), the greasy voices and uneasy movements, queasy moments, cheap-ass coffee machines, the queue jumping go-betweens, the sitting still, the fidgeting, smoking away the ennuie, grumbling crowds and fumbling applicants, all of us guilty, guilty of wanting to live in this fine country. Not all of us are running away, not all of us want to fuck the state over or hide from past crimes or plot new capers. Many of us decide to stay here to raise families, others bring in investments, still others culture and education.

I??m not saying that the holding cell in either Olsanska or Florenc, or any cop shop should be superbly appointed with furniture and accessories by Ligne Roset, a crapper, a sink and a minibar. But that shit they got there will fuck a person??s day right up. Hearing Daniel Powter??s ?Had a Bad Day? made me smile. Just because it was that cheesy and ridiculous and seemed like such an obvious understatement.

As a word, robot was born of familiarity. Josef Capek knew such people in his time, and almost everyone who ever deals with the Czech foreign police also comes to know them. Of course, this can be avoided, but usually at a price ?? through agents that deal with all this bullshit on your behalf. They can jump queues, have all the right papers, are in and out and it??s good for the client (no waiting at the Czech foreign police offices, visa is issued faster, all for what is usually a reasonable price), the agent (cash, bonuses, always have work), and the foreign police ?? I assume that an agent with a good rep requires no paperwork, just a flurry of stamps, some scanning, printing, peeling, sticking, boom, next! We??re talking Czech foreign police officers and clerks. Less work good, you can see it branded into so many of their eyes. Glazed over and so mechanical, all ROM and no RAM. Robots, like I??m talking I, Robot shit, but in the flesh. Damn, they must be real fun around the house.

I??ve had enough of thinking about it, I just had to get that shit off my chest. RUR is definitely next on the reading list. Hopefully some day in Czech as well.

I am not a number, I am a free man!

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Men's clothes in Prague

Apr 20, 08:00 (Filed under: Shopping in Prague, Personal )

If you??ve been reading this blog over the last month or so, you know that I??m not overly thrilled about what Prague has to offer in terms of men??s clothes. That??s due in part to not feeling very fit, and in part because I??ve gotten quite picky about my duds.

I??m fairly hip to what??s hot and what??s not, or at least I like to think I am. I don??t feel like I could pull off ultra-baggy skater and hip-hop gear, and dressing like a surfer strikes me as somewhat ridiculous in a landlocked country, floodsurfing notwithstanding. I??ve never been a fan of label and/or logo riddled clothes, unlike your average Eurotrash discophile or ESO moderator. I suppose that style-wise the stereotype I fit in with best is the over-cologned British lager lout, but that??s only based on a predilection for short-sleeved collared shirts, something I developed as a Seinfeld fan (think of Kramer??s horde of vintage shirts).

Considering my recent experience in Prague??s malls and shops, I??m thinking that it might be time to hit the city??s second-hand shops again. Now that??s something I haven??t done in a hell of a long time ?? I??m not even sure where the good ones are any more. I don??t have the patience to go digging for hidden treasures in the second-hands that sell anything and everything. Seems like a good mission for next week.

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ID theft - case solved. More about men's clothing stores in Prague

Apr 19, 02:54 (Filed under: Personal, Out and About in Prague )

The not so thrilling conclusion to last week??s financial office fiasco was as follows: turns out somebody??s personal id number (??rodne cislo??) is the same as my taxation id number. Jitka discovered this when she called up the financial offices in Plzen and Litomerice on my behalf, then called the FO (or STFU) for Prague 9 and straightened things out.

So, all is well and good now, I suppose. The worst part about the FO cock-up is that I pretty much lost a day of work and ended up having to spend the rest of the week working until around 4 a.m. every night to make up for lost time. Needless to say I did absolutely nothing over the Easter weekend.

Actually, Jitka and I did manage to make it out to Letnany to go shopping on Sunday. It was business as usual as far as men??s clothes go ?? other than an overpriced plain brown shirt in Zara (which I didn??t end up buying) nothing really appealed to me. I came to realise that perhaps that??s because I??m not feeling all that good about my body these days as I kind of let myself go to seed. I??ve got a gut and get winded fairly easily.

I started going to the gym again on Monday. I??ve only smoked one cigarette in the last two days ?? had it just before sitting down to write this little entry. I??ve always had pretty good eating habits, though in the weeks coming up to Easter I was really pigging out on junk food and have been scarfing down massive helpings of Jitka??s first potato salad ?? just as good, if not better, than her mother??s.

Anyway, maybe once I??ve shed a bit of this gut and the accompanying handles I??ll be more into clothes shopping. I suppose things aren??t so bad if that??s all I??ve really got to gripe about these days.

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A case of mistaken identity theft, Czech-style (Part II)

Apr 12, 13:55 (Filed under: Personal )

I dig cops. My dad was a member of the Ottawa Police Service (?Service?? How PC!) and I??ve always been proud of that fact. I enjoyed the time I spent hanging out with the fuzz at their club; the only fly in the ointment was the occasional racist or homophobic remark. All in all, I respect and admire cops. At least that??s how I feel about Ottawa cops.

I haven??t quite made up my mind about Czech police. I??ve always regarded most of the police force here as being made up of shady, undereducated louts. Many seem like people who don??t really know what to do with themselves and reckon being a Czech cop is an easy career choice. I??d like to think I??m wrong and being too harsh and that the good apples outnumber the bad, but I can??t help but feel that Czech cops couldn??t catch a cold after standing buck naked in the freezing rain for a couple of hours. Apologies for the clumsy expansion of that clich?, but you get my drift ?? Czech fuzz don??t strike me as being all that reliable, they??re more like ticket inspectors with guns. And for my sake and the sakes of all my fellow Praguers, I really hope I??ve got a false impression.

Monday??s experience at the Blackbridge cop shop (or, more precisely, the Kyje police station) neither disproved nor confirmed these theories. As I mentioned in yesterday??s post, owing to suspected identity theft I had to report the fact that my wallet had been stolen. The theft had occurred over a year ago, so I reckoned the cops would either laugh at me or refuse to help me.

Things did not start off well. The entrance to the building is locked and normally you have to push a buzzer so that they can check you out through a security camera, probably talk to you through an intercom and then buzz you in. Well, the button was there, but the camera and/or intercom was ripped out and the box containing it had been wrapped up in clear tape. A woman who was waiting in the little white reception area heard me trying to open the door, watched me looking in with a wtf? face for a while then eventually got off her duff and let me in.

The reception area is a small room with whitewashed walls and a couple of bulletin boards with outdated PSAs, announcements and an advert for an open house that took place well over a year ago. There is a counter with a two-way mirror that slides up when the cops inside take it upon themselves to talk to you. And that can take a long time, as it did yesterday. The woman ahead of me had been waiting for over an hour for whatever it was she was there for, and it looked like I would be there even longer.

I had put off reporting the stolen wallet because a couple of friends had told me of their experiences at Prague cop shops. The gist of each story was that you can to expect to sit around for an obscene amount of time in order for the popo to listen to your account of the incident, type up a report and have you sign a whole whack of papers, each in triplicate.

Now, I understand that cops are busy and I don??t envy them for having to listen to people??s problems and write about them all day when they get stuck doing so. I??d rather take my chances walking the meanest beat or taking part in a raid.

Anyway, after just over an hour, I finally got called up to the reception window. I got the eye-roll and sigh I figured I??d get when I asked the cop if he spoke English. Fortunately, his English was alright, and he was quite friendly. He seemed like a clerk, an armed clerk, but a clerk nevertheless.

He led me into the building. On leaving the waiting area, you enter a space with a holding cell. On Monday there was a young skinny, slightly retarded-looking guy in the cell. The stench in the space was downright nasty ?? like a toilet bowl filled with old sauerkraut, socks that have been worn for months without a single wash, moldy armpits and human waste.

That??s got to be in violation of at least a few human rights codes, I thought, half-gagging as I left the space and entered a hall and followed the cop to a small office furnished with a couple of beaten desks, a few decrepit chairs and, of course, a typewriter (I think that Czech police stations and doctor??s offices are the only places in the country where you can hear the cold and solid thwacks, whirs, clicks and dings of vintage typewriters). I also noticed an overflowing ashtray under a window at the back of the office ?? in spite of the rather large Smoking is Prohibited in this Building sign in the waiting area.

I told the policeman my story, including the bit about my experience at the FO (or, as Joey believes it??s more appropriate, the SFU). He was patient and kind enough, but also somewhat of a smart-ass, but not really in a bad way. In the end, I had to cajole the heavenly Jitka to come to the station to act as an interpreter while the cop typed up my statement.

After waiting around for something like another two hours ?? I reckon the cop dealing with my case went for lunch or played solitaire or called his mom or something ?? we finally got called into the office behind the reception window. Evidently this was where the sauerkraut undercurrent in the holding cell space was coming from. How can people work in such stinky, messy, lifeless surroundings? Offices like this make me think that even garbage men have it better.

After a little more forever spent dictating and correcting my report to the popo, it finally came time to sign a bunch of documents in triplicate. When we left, the cop who??d just clerked for me told the kid in the holding cell that he still had to wait another fifteen minutes before being released. The policeman??s colleague had already told him pretty much the same thing twenty or so minutes previously. I felt kind of sorry for the prisoner, and of course I wondered what he had done. I assumed it was a drunk and disorderly rap and then stopped thinking about it. The three hours I had just spent in the Blackbridge cop shop had been more than enough detention for me.

And there??s a little more to this story?? to be continued tomorrow.

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