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Strange but True (or Crazy Similarities: CR and CZ )

This is a strange but true segment of Chasing Italy. Outside of the obvioius fact that our first two stops are in Costa Rica (CR) and the Czech Republic (CZ because CR was already taken), there are some crazy similarities between the two countries we’ve decided to explore.  Climate is vastly different both in temperature and in the social arena. Costa Rica is laid back, we’ll get there when we get there attitude. Pura Vida. The Czech Republic,  at least in Prague, is as efficient as it can be and a rising star in the world of business. Since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the separation of Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992 business from Europe and North America are coming into Prague. Costa Rica is full of expats and retirees. When you walk in Costa Rica,  you stroll. When you walk in Czech Republic, you stride. Quickly. Making sure to catch the next metro or tram. It’s go, go, go.

Here’s a short list of similarities:

1. No dryers. Okay there are dryers but the majority of households don’t have them. Why? Cost. Energy is expensive. In Costa Rica everyone uses a laundry line on their porch or close by their house. It’s 32 degrees and above year round in most areas of Costa Rica. Why spend money when nature is willing to do the work for free.
In Czech Republic you use drying racks or lines inside or outside, depending on the weather. Some people have lines on their balconies. Some even use a rack that attaches outside their window several stories up. I’m not comfortable having my unmentionables hanging out a window but people do it. Czechs are very efficient and don’t think dryers are a necessity. You get used to it. And you plan accordingly because laundry for four takes time.

2. Mildew. Mildew is bad in CR during the wet or rainy season. It’s no fun to hang out your clothes in the morning and at the end of the day they’re still damp. Damp and warm are mildew best friends. You have to be careful with damp clothes. Don’t leave them on the floor overnight they’ll get nasty fast. Hang it up. Air it out.
I never knew mildew would be an issue in CZ. Some of the older building (and Prague has tons of older buildings) have lousy insulation and air circulation.  I’m specifically talking about the blocks of flats. Huge monstrosities built in mid twentieth century to house the masses. It’s a constant fight in the bathrooms and around the windows. Moisture, moisture, moisture. And since it’s been a warm wet winter and we have an exterior wall we must keep dry and free of mildew. Chlorinated spray is my best friend nowadays. It sucks but it works and it works fast.

3. Dogs. CR has dogs. Lots of them. Generally they are strays and not fixed and randomly reproduce like dogs do. The best dogs we found were in Samara. Very laid back happy dogs for the most part. They roamed relatively freely and yet knew to not enter homes, restaurants,  and most stores. Our neighbors dog liked to follow us and even did some body surfing with us at the beach. (There are free roaming horses as well but that’s a different post). Other dogs in other places in CR were not as well behaved. We often heard stories about people getting attacked and some people taking revenge on the dogs. It’s sad. A lot of expats try and help by adopting dogs and caring for strays with medical care and spaying or neutering. That is awesome of them. Though most Ticos think Americans are crazy for it.
In CZ, there are dogs a plenty. Big ones, little ones. Ones with just collars but well groomed and ones with sweaters which are adorable. I haven’t seen strays though. I’m sure there are some out there. Most dogs are cherished and very obedient.  People walk their dogs off leash a lot of the time. Dogs though not overly friendly but  are very well behaved. Not straying too far from their people and returning when called. People are seen playing fetch and walking them daily. It makes me happy to see happy dogs and the people who love them.

4. Beer. Yes, beer. Beer in CR is cheap and plentiful. Two national beers and under 80 cents a bottle when you turn in your bottles. Yep, you pay extra for bottles but when you bring them in you pay less. They use them over and over. So remember to bring in your bottles and you’ll get a better price.
The micro brewery phenomenon is just getting started in CR. Expats are starting up microbrewery companies and it’s becoming more lucrative to be in the microbrewery business. Since CR is in tourism business it’s good to give them what they want and what they’ll pay for. They have a saying there though “CR where they make easy hard”. Hopefully human ingenuity wins over human greed.
The Czech Republic is largest consumer of beer in the world. Beer is cheaper than soda or water in most restaurants. You still need to turn in your old bottles to get the best price but beer is sold in half liters and for about 65 cents a bottle. Not bad when you like beer. (They have wine too. Don’t dispair.) Most beer consumed is about 4%. People drink a beer with lunch. A beer at lunch is not unheard of and totally normal. People don’t drink to get drunk they just have a beer and go on. It’s just a cultural norm.

5. Discoteques. Both countries have discoteques. For dancing.  If you want to go dancing then you must go to a discoteque not a nightclub like in the U.S. Nightclubs are for drinking and meeting/picking up people. So if you need to get your groove on go to a discoteque in Costa Rica or the Czech Republic.

6. Orchids. Costa Rica is a tropical paradise full of exotic birds, lizards, flowers, etc. I’m told that you can go into the jungle and find orchids. Then sell them for profit. I’m not certain about this but it sounds reasonable.
Praguers love their orchids. They do very well here even with lower temperatures and less light, this far north and in the winter. Must be the moisture. My landlady left one and it’s growing like crazy. About to bloom any day now. Maybe on New Years.
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7. Wrap arounds or Sarongs/Scarves. If you live near the beach in Costa Rica and you’re a woman, you will collect sarongs and you will have coordinating bathing suits, flip flops and sarongs.  A rainbow of colors and designs await you. They make awesome cover ups,  tablecloths, towels, or picnic blankets. If I’d stayed any longer I would have bought more but alas I left for greener pastures.
Those greener pastures are in the center of Europe. Scarves are a necessity is central Europe in the autumn and winter. I have seen the same ability to coordinate scarves, leggings. Prague women love a good scarf. And scarves are awesome. They keep you cosy from wind that comes barreling down metro tunnels or off the river while waiting for your tram . Women collect them to go with outfits and seasons and just cause they’re pretty.
It’s not much of a stretch but women in both countries love their colorful wrap around bits of cloth.
I plan on starting my collection soon. I’ve heard of a shop that’ll give you a great deal of you buy more than one.

8. Music From The 80s And 90s. Costa Rica loves late twentieth century American/British rock and roll. They also love late twentieth century action flicks. And I mean LOVE. On the radio everywhere. Things I haven’t heard for 20 years. It was like reliving my youth but where the roads were questionable and the weather unbearably hot. A bit like August in Nelson county Virginia circa 1990. They also love reggae but that’s a different story.
We’d thought we’d escaped the trip down musical memory lane when we came to Europe. In fact, we’d stepped into a different kind of time warp. Not only do we get to listen late twentieth century rock and roll but additionally get to listen newer uncensored lyrical musings from newer artists. I was flabbergasted when shopping at the market and heard Eminem spouting awesome yet graphic rhymes overhead. Dropping the F bombs left and right. Yet I get to relive my youth with the non sensical musical arrangements of Czech radio. Everything from Four Non Blondes and Michael Jackson to Eminem and Taylor Swift.

9. Chau and Čao. Greetings. One of the first things you learn to say is hello in the local language. When we went to CR we learned and practiced saying Buenos (short for Buenos Dias) or Buena (Buena noches). This is the common greeting in the land of Pura Vida. Once you get to know someone you can use the more familiar and say chau. It’s like the Italian version ciao. There are a lot of Italians on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and this is where chau is used. Coincidence, I think not.
In CZ, specifically Prague (so far that’s all we know of CZ), people greet each all the time. In the hall, the elevator, and in restaurants, bars, and stores. The proper greeting is dobry den. It means good day literally. The same as in Spanish and many other languages. Once you become more familiar or friendly with your new Czech friend you can greet one of two ways. Ahoj or čao. Both are familiar and utilized equally. It’s preference of the speaker. Čao (like its Italian counterpart) be used as in greetings or farewells. Often it’s used as čao čao when saying bye. The first time someone used this with me I felt like I’d been accepted into the in crowd but that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration. There are a lot of Italian influences in Prague from food to coffee. Is the use of čao a coincidence? Hmmm. You decide.

10. Beautiful women. Okay every country has beautiful women. The women of CR and CZ aren’t afraid to own it. Ticas (Costa Rican women) like to wear revealing outfits. After all, it is the beach and swimsuits are revealing but when the go out to discoteques or dinner, also like to wear figure flattering clothes. Sometimes too figure flattering. Low cut tops, short shorts, skin tight jeans, and high heels. Men love this and I appreciate their ability to dress so freely but a little modesty wouldn’t hurt either.
We moved to Prague just as the weather changed to cooler temperatures. This has not stopped the women of Prague from wearing the shortest skirts I have ever seen. In fact, at times I think they seem to be wearing long shirts and not skirts. My least favorite female fashion statement is the winter coat that is longer than the super short skirt. To me it looks like they’re wearing boots, hosiery, and just a coat. (My least favorite male fashion statement is skinny jeans but that’s another post.)
I hear that when warmer temperatures of the spring and summer come, the more cleavage will be shown. I’m sure men can’t wait but personally I can. Not to be a prude but a little modesty goes a long way. Wait, I think I already said that.

11. Shoes off at the door. It’s a necessity in Costa Rica to take off your flip flops before entering your home. Otherwise you will track in sand. Then you will have to deal with the woman of the house. I have threatened dismemberment over tracked in sand so I completely understand.
It’s the cultural norm to remove your shoes when entering a household in the Czech Republic. In fact it is highly frowned upon to leave your shoes. Czechs think it quite rude. I believe that Czechs take pride in their homes whether it’s a flat in a block of flats or something more eclectic. Often you might be offered slippers for walking about the house. Take them or not but please remove your shoes.

So there you have it. The similarities between Costa Rica  and the Czech Republic.  Strange but true.

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You Will Be Assimilated (or Acclimating to Life in Prague)

“You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.” Borg, Star Trek universe.
I know my geek is showing. My point is that when moving to a new country it’s important to breath in that culture and not stick out lIke a sore thumb and not act too American. The key is acclimating to life in Prague. Granted,

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if we were purely missionaries going to a land of cannibalistic hedonists we would not try to blend. But as English teachers in Prague looking less like tourists and more like Czechs has its advantages. First though you have to research and observe the differences in dress and mannerisms and begin to acclimate to your new home.
Here’s a list of things I’ve learned and observed in my first few weeks in Prague.

1. Take off your shoes. When entering someone’s home take off your shoes. It’s polite and a good custom as far as I’m concerned. Taking off your shoes keeps the floors cleaner. Most Czechs take pride and great care of their homes. They also don’t need the extra work of cleaning up after dirty feet. When slippers are provided please wear them. That’s why they are there.

2. Boots. It’s autumn and chilly. It’s time to start bundling up and wear your boots. Lovely boots with pants or with skirts. Most are reasonably heeled because of the cobbled streets. Good and sturdy but nice boots. A true necessity in Prague therefore I’ll need to get a pair.

3. Scarves. Scarves are huge here. Literally. Czech love huge scarves. I can see why with damp chilly mornings and evenings. While waiting for the metro or the bus a scarf makes a huge difference in keeping warm. I am looking forward to knitting a great big scarf or three. Until then I’ll make do with make smaller lighter versions that I brought with me.

4. Layers. As in Colorado layering your clothing is necessary. Mornings are chilly but it warms up quite nicely in the afternoon. Being able to bundle up and to remove layers when necessary is just the way to deal with the changing temps.

5. Coaster. When heading to a bar, pub, or restaurant and needing a beer place a coaster in front of you. Sometimes a beer will appear but most often it tells the waiter that you are ordering beer and they ask pilsner or dark or some such defining question. This is Czech custom and utilizing it makes you less touristy.

6. Tipping. To tip like a native you don’t really tip. You round up. If the bill is 713 Kc leave 800. Wait staff make a regular income and don’t  rely on tips like in the States. Hand them your money, say 1000, and ask for the amount you want back, say 200.

7. Read. On the train. On the bus. While waiting. Czechs love to read. This will be difficult for me because I get a bit nauseous if I try to read while moving. I’m sure I can manage to read while waiting though.

8. Quiet. Buses and metros are mostly quiet. Kids and babies make a normal amount of noise. But people in general are reading, listening to music with earbuds, texting, or talking quietly. It’s rather subdued and polite even when crowded at rush hour.

9. Quick. The speed of Prague is taking some getting used to. After 100 days if Pura Vida and the laid back pace of Costa Rica, Prague is quick. Always walking quickly to the bus or the metro or to work or to lunch. As far as I can tell Czechs are timely. A big change from our first 100 days abroad.

10. Survival Czech. Getting the lingo down for Costa Rica was easy. I’d been exposed to Spanish for years. Czech is different. So far I’ve got dobry den (hello) down. I think it’s highly important to learn key phrases when in country. Greetings and basic courtesies to start and learning the streets and metro stops. Being able to order food and drink and go grocery shopping in Czech are basic necessities.

If you try to look less like a  tourist and blend just a little you’ll go far to becoming part of your new world.

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Sámara, A Love Letter

Dear Sámara,
I want to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed meeting you. At first I was a little nervous about flying so far to meet someone new. You never know with the internet nowadays. You could have been so pretty and fabulous on a website but horrible in person. I’m glad you are former not the latter. From the first moment I saw you I was in awe of your beauty. Or your warmth. Of the many facets of your personality.
When I first arrived your beauty and laid back nature set me at ease immediately. How can anyone not enjoy your company with such vivid colors and intriguing attributes. In fact, I was amazed that even when we first met you held me with such warmth and grace.
Not to say everything about you is perfect. It’s not but that makes it better. Our first meal together had points of bliss and some uncomfortable points as well. You are gracious host and I appreciate your effort in making me feel at home.
After our initial meeting our relationship began to develop at profoundly comfortable pace. You’d greet me on the mornings with happiness and send me away at night with sweet thoughts. Over the course of the month I began to really begin to see how easy you are to love. Thank you for all your time and effort in this relationship.
Sadly, I have to move on. I truly wish I could stay with you. Life is calling me away. If I didn’t need to earn a living or could figure out how to stay with Sámara I would. Know this, I will return and I don’t expect you to wait for me. I would love to visit you again. I hope we can part as dear sweet friends.

Love always,
Me

Shoot for the Moon (Chasing Italy Does)

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Sometimes you need to shoot for the moon.

So about six weeks ago my husband started freaking out. (Visualize the Thinker). Which, in turn, caused me to freak out. (Visualize cartoon Tasmanian devil). My anxiety aside, Kurt freaks out so quietly that I find it completely unnerving. He ponders and frets and keeps to himself. Being a natural introvert this is how he deals. But to me, not introverted at all, I begin to wig and wig hard. I become an annoying little bird, jumpy and trying to figure out what’s wrong, what can I do to fix it, or what did I do. I’m not a quiet patient wife. I fret and I try not to nag.

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After about three days and a bunch of forwarded emails with links to getting visas and jobs in Italy he finally broke his silence. He was concerned about Italy. Concerned that we’d be setting ourselves up for failure by leaping head first into our adventure. A multitude of blogs and websites say that though not impossible, it’s difficult to start ESL teaching in Italy. That experience is what we need and we can’t afford to adventure into the unknown willy nilly like. Our little bit of money would go much further, while we get experience, in a different country.

Knowing that we were not going to give up this dream of traveling and of Italy, we began to discuss options. What countries? What continents? What would be acceptable and reasonable and what wouldn’t be acceptable? Kurt threw out the idea of South America. Possible. He’d been there ten years ago on the Amazon river on a missions trip. I threw out Asia and Kurt cited a few reasons why he’d rather not. Not possible. Among them the cuisine and the Asian work versus play lifestyle. We wanted to not have to work a ‘regular’ job in a foreign country but to work some , explore some, travel some, and blog about everything in between. Plus we have teenagers and we want them to experience as much culture as they can between their studies and our work. Family time is quite important. So Asia is more or less off the table. Europe is on hold. For some reason we’ve never discussed Africa. So we started looking at central and south America.

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Out of the blue I suggested Costa Rica. Not sure why. I didn’t know much about it outside of ecotourism. I even had to check a map to see where exactly it was located. I felt rather blonde as I discovered that it was actually just north of the country I was born in. But then again I was born in Panama but left at six months of age. I’ve always wanted to see the place of my birth maybe now I’ll get a chance.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
Norman Vincent Peale

So Chasing Italy will shoot for the moon. It might take a while but it’ll be an adventure.

Where is your ‘shoot for the moon’ place? Italy? Europe? Asia? Australia? Tell us in the comments below.

Waiting is the Hardest

We’ve been waiting for things to happen, but things take time. It’s like when you find out you’re pregnant, but you have to wait nine months to meet your baby. Sure things proceed and change but you have to wait until the time is right. We started planning with a six month window of time. As we wait, we research, we talk, and we dream. What do we dream about? Oh so many things.

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Five Cities I want to see the first year besides Vicenza: Venice, Verona, Florence, Parma, and Bologna. I actually want to see every nook and cranny of Italy but you have to start somewhere. Venice for the canals. Verona because of Shakespeare. Florence for the museums. Parma and Bologna for the food. I’m sure the food in every region is amazing and I’m willing to try all of it.

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Five things I want to do my first year in Italy. These aren’t in any particular order: ride in a gondola, ski on the Dolomites, soak up the sun on an Italian beach, ride on a train, and learn basic conversational Italian.

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Five things I want to try my first year. Cappuccino and espresso like a native, wine from as many regions as possible, risotto, gnocchi, and polenta. My husband and children will be all over the pizza, pasta, and gelato choices. And as much as I love wheat it doesn’t love me back. Therefore, I will concentrate my gastronomic experience to the wheat free/gluten free arena. I’m excited because I’ve read Italy is GF friendly and northern Italy has fabulous risotto, polenta, and gnocchi dishes.

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Although we have no idea where we’ll land in Italy past school, we have open minds and willingness. Dreams of Italy prevail both in our days and our nights. It’s kind of like “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” but slightly more realistic.

I’m open to suggestions for our first year in Italy. Remember I’ve got two teenage boys both with a reasonable but not overwhelming interest in art and architecture. They love to eat though.

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One Small Step

One small step for man….

Today we made our first concrete steps (beyond just talking and planning) towards our move abroad to Italy.  So it was a milestone day in that respect.  First, we contacted a couple of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) schools in Milan.  We also got our passport photos taken and filled out the passport renewal forms.  They are small steps, but it feels good to make some tangible progress.

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It begins…

When my husband got word that he might have a little bit of money from his beloved grandmother, we didn’t think much of it. We figured that it probably wouldn’t change our lives. Then we learned that it might make a difference if we allowed ourselves to dream a little.

After some contemplation, my dear husband, Kurt, says that he has a couple of ideas. Now you should know that we never back down from a challenge or adventure. We have moved across the country with very short notice for a job with a newborn and two year old. That adventure landed us in northern Virginia right before 9-11 and the sniper shootings. We moved back to Colorado to be near family and six years later did the cross country thing again.

Back to the idea and the dream. In his reasoning, (being way more logical than myself) we could invest in a future, like a restaurant. We had discussed this before but without means didn’t seem possible in our lifetime. So we spent some time investigating this option. The quality of restaurant we wanted was beyond our means. We still held onto the hope that it could still be possible but in the end came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to happen.

So I begin to imagine option B. What is option B? Option B is Italy. Yes, the entire country. Actually, we had dreamed for years of going abroad. We have many countries we’d like to visit but Italy has always been at the top of the list. As a child, Kurt, lived in Vicenza while his father served in the U.S. Army. He has very fond memories of Italy and he wants to share Italy with me and the kids. I’m all for it. Can you imagine, the food, the wine, the art, the architecture, the history?
So we’re getting out of dodge and chasing Italy. It begins…