Month: February 2014

American bartender Christian on mixing mojitos and crossing Turkish borders

American traveller Christian was recently in Prague for the second time round and sat down for a chat with me about dealing with drunks in San Jose as well as a very close call with the Turkish Border police. Christian’s relaxing charm and spontaneous attitude made for an interesting interview. Check it out below.

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So you were born in California, right? Tell us about it.

I was born and raised in San Jose which is 40 minutes south of San Francisco. California is cool, very sunny. I’ve spent most of my time in San Francisco or in the South bay area.

Why did you decide to take this big Eurotrip?

Multiple reasons… The first thing – I was transferring to a different school, so I had about a year of free time to kill and also my lease was up, so I figured what the hell. I’ll go travel!

Cool, and where have you been so far?

I’ve been to Germany, Hungary, Poland, England, Scotland, France,  Greece, Romania, Turkey… and Iceland is coming up soon 🙂

Iceland is one of my favourite countries, you’re going to love it! Why did you come to Prague? Did you know anything about it before you came?

I wasn’t really planning on going to Prague until a friend of mine went there from Berlin and said it was a blast!

What were your first impressions of the city?

Ohhhh girl! It was very different to what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be a huge industrial city. California is a big place for industry, whereas Prague felt a little more homely – like a small town.

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The John Lennon Wall in Prague’s Malá Strana

What has been your favourite part of the trip so far?

In general, just making friends in different areas from all over the world. If I ever come back to Europe, I have a place to stay and they have a place to stay if they come to California. You kinda get a different perspective on people.

So what do you usually do in the US?

I study and work a lot. I work as a bartender in a gay bar in San Jose. Well, currently the ONLY gay bar in San Jose.. We had three but the others closed. It’s alright, but it’s not quite Berlin unfortunately!

What’s your favourite drink to mix?

It really depends, if I only have to make one. Mojitos. But in summer I have to make 25 at a time – so then they suck! I have a regular who literally doesn’t care what we give him – so we experiment with creating new things for him, which is fun.

What’s your favourite drink?

Añejo tequila on the rocks.

Nice, and how are you at dealing with drunk people?

Errrm, I mean they’re not pleasant to deal with, but I usually get them out quickly.

Got any crazy stories?

Yeah! A few actually! I think one of the best ones would be… There was this family with all young kids getting trashed at the bar. They were being loud and I had already warned them twice. Eventually we told them to leave, then they started pushing us so we threatened to call the cops. We walked them out then I went to the other side of the building to grab something and one of the girls ran back in, into the closet and pissed! He was like “What the fuck?!”. So he walked her out to her family and complained and they said that we deserved it! So we called the cops and I think they actually got arrested.

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In the bar

I’ve always wanted to try bartending, but I don’t know if I could handle these crazy drunks.

That was an extreme one definitely.

What has been the biggest challenge during your travels?

Getting into Turkey. I didn’t realise that I needed a visa and I didn’t have one when we crossed the Bulgarian border. So I had to get off the train and no one spoke English and I had to wait there for 45 minutes while the train was gearing up to go. Then I got driven off into the middle of nowhere in this van! It was pretty fucking scary, but finally I got back to the Bulgarian border and it took a while to get a visa, but I got one. It was really sketchy.

I see you have a little notebook there. What kind of stuff do you write about?

It’s mainly just a kind of journal – trying to write about adventures of the day, where I’m going next. Also doing budgeting and stuff. It’s nice to look back on – good memories for later. And also some quotes of things that people have said – actually I think the Prague ones are the best.

(Opens book) Oh here’s a good one from London. This is from Chris, an eccentric really funny guy. He referred to this gay bar as being “laced with sodomy” which cracked us all up!

And also a guy in Prague talking about Meryl Streep – he said that she could even play other actors. He said “Meryl Streep is… Leonardo DiCaprio in… The Wolf of Wall Street”! (laughs).

(Laughs) That is golden. What adjectives would you use to describe Prague?

Crazy, awesome, fun, surprising.

Why surprising?

The people were way better than I thought they were going to be, it was a great experience – which is why I’m back again this time!

How would you describe San Jose in adjectives?

Monotonous, big, unoriginal, but it’s home.

Random question time! If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

1920s New York.

You didn’t even hesitate, you’ve had this planned?

Yeah, it’s a conversation I’ve had recently. Because that is where Jay Gatsby lived and his life was fucking amazing!

I LOVE Gatsby. Good answer. Will you come back to Europe soon?

I’m planning on moving here as soon as I can!

Great! So hopefully see you again soon.

Thank you! I hope to come back to Prague again soon too!

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating

Photos: Christian Neff

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Dawn talks about life on the sea and building a ‘hurdy gurdy’!

Last Friday afternoon, Petr and I spent some time with English expat Dawn, who stole our hearts with adventurous tales and photos of a life on the sea and a very quirky medieval musical instrument that has captured her curiosity recently… Dawn, it was an absolute pleasure.

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What brought you to Prague originally?

Well,  I didn’t want to go to Asia or Western Europe. I’d never been here before and I had some Czech sailing friends too. But the bottom line is, they gave me a job here.

Great, so you used to sail? Tell us about that.

Yes! For 20 plus years… We lived on a boat for 20 years and travelled around the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

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I heard a funny story about a cat on your boat once? Tell us about that.

Yes, well that was in Spain, Cabo de Gata I think. It was a tomcat that we rescued from some other cats. It would sit on my lap on the boat and just knead and claw at my legs. And you know, do cats do that horny thing that dogs do? You know when they hump your leg?

I don’t know actually. I thought they just sprayed everything!

Anyway, it seemed to be humping my lap. That was the impression I got, so I told it to bugger off! And then it spat at me, scratched me and then pissed on my bed! (laughs)

Sounds like he did it on purpose! (laughs) Ok, and who were you travelling with?

My ex and later on the dog too – a Pyrenean sheep dog. Very cute.

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What do you miss most about this kind of life?

Just little things really, I suppose… The community spirit and constantly meeting new people was nice. And little things like rummaging through the bins, doing your dishes over the side of the boat (laughs).

So you teach English in Prague then?

I do and I like it a lot.

What would you say your favourite English word is? You are actually English so I’m curious to know.

Well I know what it is in French, but not in English. And in French it’s ‘ronron’ which is an onomatopoeia for a cat purring. But in English? Hmmm.

I prefer words that are nastier actually.. Like ‘insidious’!

Ohhh yeah, that’s a nice word.

‘Vilify’! (laughs)

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Hmmm, ok gothic, magnificent, clean, quite clean, cozy. Ummm, I always think of dogs too (laughs). Dogs in coats during winter.

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So tell us about this interesting little project you’ve got going at the moment. You’re making a ‘hurdy gurdy’?

Yes! I first heard it from the hurdy gurdy man who was a bit of a travelling troubadour. So I went to his website and found that it is actually an old medieval musical instrument. Then I saw some clips on YouTube of all different sorts playing all different sorts of music and then of course I came across Jimmy Page playing one!

Great! And are you a Led Zeppelin fan?

I was yeah, absolutely!

And then I found that people were making them from scratch or making them from a kit. So I bit the bullet and ordered the kit!

Thatll be fun. And what about Summer? You usually go away, but you have stayed once, haven’t you?

Yes, the first year I stayed and worked on a farm in the country, but it was so bloody cold there! I also worked on a pig farm when I finished school years ago. Just for three months, I studied agriculture, you see.

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Wow! A pig farm! Ok, now it’s time for a bit of a random question, Dawn. If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

I would’ve liked to have seen the volcano Mount Pelee erupt. The whole town was destroyed, and only one man survived, and that was a prisoner – poetic justice.

That’s fascinating.

NOT the Titanic though (laughs)

Yes, that’s a common one. What about celebrities or icons from history? Who would you love to meet?

My immediate thought would be someone like Darwin… but I’m not sure how interesting he would actually be. All of his observations and stuff were just so fucking boring! (laughs) Maybe the writer Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. And maybe for fun, Isadora Duncan. We could dance together! She was an actress/dancer and used to wear this long scarf and she went for a ride on a bucatti and her scarf got caught in the wheel and she died!

That’s a bit of an ironic death!

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And tell me are you going to stay in Prague or will you travel some more?

I don’t think I’ll go back to England. The pension is terrible there. If worst comes to worst – a caravan or a canal boat would be nice for the future.

That sounds like a nice plan, best of luck Dawn! Thank you so much for your time.

Check out incredibly open-minded blog: Random Tales and Stray Thoughts, which also includes a hilarious article on a new ‘female urinary device’. Read more about it here.

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Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating and photos by Petr Kurečka

Expat Lukasz on his love of Prague and bad words in Czech

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Written by Ryan Keating

Polish expat Lukasz and I recently sat down in a typically smoky Czech bar with nothing but quirk and mulled wine to entertain us. The perfect bar atmosphere to engage each other in an endless discussion about everything… and nothing. With a slight Irish twang in his accent, Lukasz’ story is quite an interesting one. Read on to see for yourself.

So! Your surname translates into English as “good”, do people ever make fun of your name?

Not really, because gut is German, and these things are quite normal I guess. But, if I was brought up in an English speaking country, probably they would.

(Laughs) “Lucas Good”, I would probably make fun of you… sorry! This is a German surname, do you have any German ancestors?

Yes, my grandfather is German and I have some family there but I’ve never heard anything from them, just seen some pictures and that’s it. It’s a pity that there was none of the language in the house, my grandfather spoke fluent German, but he never spoke it to my father.

So where are you from in Poland, Lukasz? What was it like growing up there?

Very small town or village kind of close to Krakow, about an hour away. It was nice, huge gardens, a lot of animals around me. We didn’t have a farm, but my grandmother did. So after school, instead of going home, I would usually go to my grandma’s and playing with the animals and then come home at about 9 in the evening, covered in mud (laughs). I would sometimes bring animals home too.

Like what?

Frogs, lizards, some exotic insects, hamsters, parrots. I also had a dog at home and I had some fish too.

You had everything!

I was basically taking anything that I found on the street (laughs)

And how did you get to Prague? How long have you been here for?

Well, I’ve been here for three years. I had actually never been to Prague before I moved here. I had been living in Ireland for a couple of years and I just wanted something, I wanted a change. The opportunity actually came one summer when I had a job offer. I actually had two job offers at the same time. One in Berlin, and one in Prague. And I chose Prague.

That’s great, I think most people choose Berlin.

Yeah well I chose Prague because I had heard a lot of nice things about it. I think it’s a beautiful place, man. I actually came here and knew no one. I went from no one to quite a few great friends, so I’m very happy here now.

Did you find it easy to meet people when you first came here?

For the first few months it was a bit difficult, I came here with, I think the Irish way of meeting people still in my head. You know, when you’re waiting in a queue or something you’re just naturally talking to the people in line, and that doesn’t really happen here. For the first few months, people were looking at me in a funny way (laughs). So that’s when I thought ok.. this isn’t exactly what you’re supposed to do. But then when you meet people and meet people through other people it works very well. This is how I met all of my friends.

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Photo: Lukasz Gut

Great, let’s backtrack a little bit.. Why Ireland? How did you end up there for two years?

Well, I needed a change in my life and Ireland was quite popular at that time. So basically, I gave notice to my boss and in two weeks I was already in Ireland. It was all very quick.

Wow! That was quick.. And you went to Dublin?

It was very quick! Yes I went to Dublin, and I only knew one person there but after some time I made some really cool friends. Friends forever 🙂 Not just Irish people, but other nationalities too.

As I understand it, sometimes there is a bit of a conflict between the Czech Republic and Poland. It’s a common stereotype that Czech people hate you guys! What do you think?

I have never had any trouble living in Prague. We like Czech people. We like the attitude, the beer and we like Prague too. There are a lot of Polish people here in Prague. If you ask anybody back home about the Czech Republic they will say it’s cool and that it’s really nice. I wouldn’t say that the Czechs hate the Polish. I think this negativity is more common in Ireland or the UK.

What are the main difference from the Czech Republic to Poland? What do you miss?

Well I always miss family, but I don’t miss anything else. We are quite similar. The food is pretty much the same as well so I don’t miss that. I also left Poland straight after college so I didn’t have any really strong relationships with my friends. But yeah there is never a time when I’m sitting on my couch and thinking “Oh my god, I really miss this…” That doesn’t really happen.

One thing that’s weird about going back is that everyone speaks your language! And I can hear people talking about me. Always strange after being away for a while.

Great. Now I want to ask you about the language. I know that Czech and Polish are very similar, but there are some words that are the same but have extremely different meanings. Tell us about some of them.

I think there is even a website with a list of them (laughs). The word čerstvé means fresh in Czech, but it means old in Polish.

That would have made an interesting trip to the supermarket.

(Laughs) Well luckily I already knew about that difference when I came. But there are others, for example šukat means to look for in Polish but it means to f@#$ in Czech (laughs). I was at the office once and there were a lot of Czech people there and a Polish friend was here. And I kept saying Magda I was looking for you and everyone thought it was a bit weird. I mean, they know about these differences, but it’s still sounds funny.

If you could describe Prague, how would you do it.

Ok, I need to tell you something…. This isn’t my opinion, but my friend’s. They said that “Prague is like a prostitute, it’s so beautiful on the outside, but underneath it all it’s dirty! And used! Hahahaha. But she said that because she had some issues with the foreign police and visas and everything, she wasn’t from the EU. Sometimes it can be hard. She’s a lovely person though, I miss her a lot.

Yep, I know what she means and a lot of others do too.

But for me, I really like Prague a lot. I do avoid the tourist places and those bars that everybody goes to. But when you know where to go and live, it’s so beautiful. It’s green and has a nice vibe. I also think that Prague is one of the safest cities in Europe. It’s really fun!

For expats and other people who are thinking of living in Prague, what advice would you give them?

Well, there is some advice I can give that is the same for any country that you move to… Understand the culture, it’s the first thing you have to do. After that, everything is going to be ok.

How tall are you?

190cm.

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Photo: Lukasz Gut

This is a stupid question, but a lot of people want to be taller to see the world from a different perspective or to be above people etc. How does it feel to be tall Lukasz?

Well, I’m not that tall. 190 is not that tall. I’ve never thought about that actually (laughs). I actually wouldn’t mind being a little shorter.

Tall people have it so good! Where do you like to chill out in Prague?

Riegrovy sady! I just love it. I live very close so I spend most of summer there.

I like it to. Very nice atmosphere. Who would you say has made Prague really worthwhile for you?

Well I’ve got a couple of Czech friends, American friends, Polish friends. Friends from everywhere really! I have a lot of active friends here which is nice. Whenever I want to grab a bike and go somewhere or go to the gym etc, there is always someone who is up for it.

You’ve travelled quite a bit, tell me about a crazy travelling experience.

Definitely Africa, it was so different. Lots of people are offering you things; hotels, hostels, tourist attraction deals etc. It really opened up my mind. I was sleeping in a tent with animals walking around – right in the middle of the Serengeti. There were a lot of hyenas around, and that was a bit scary.

Great! Thank you for your time Lukasz and enjoy your time in Prague!

Gabriel Cohen talks about new LGBT short film ‘PUT[IN]LOVE’

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Written by Ryan Keating

Kazakh actor and singer-songwriter Gabriel Cohen has an inspiring artistic career that is constantly taking on new form in the Czech capital. Whether it be acting in Mission Impossible: Ghost Patrol or singing at the top of Žižkov’s TV tower, Gabriel aims to bring a great deal of positive energy through his work and believes that everyone deserves a chance to truly live.

I recently sat down in the centre of Prague’s old town labyrinth to enjoy a coffee with Gabriel, as well as have a chat about life in Prague, and also to talk about his latest role in the provocative LGBT rights film PUT[IN]LOVE. Talking to the handsome and extremely easy-going young man was an absolute pleasure, and throughout the interview I found myself asking the same question over and over; “How can he possibly be the bad guy?”

PUT[IN]LOVE is a new short film which premiered to the masses of the internet on Valentine’s Day. The film explores gender identity issues in modern day Russia and forces us to delve into a day in the troubled world of main character Zhenya. Directed by Greek-born Eirini Karamanoli and written by her sister, PUT[IN]LOVE is a short film that will have you thinking for a long time.

Thanks for meeting me today Gabriel, let’s start by talking about PUT[IN]LOVE… What’s it all about and how did you get involved with it?

I liked the idea of this project, it’s all about fighting for freedom. In our countries, Russia and maybe also Kazakhstan – it’s all about discrimination. There is a lot of aggression and violence towards the LGBT community. I hope people who watch the film will start to think about the situation more. A small percentage of people in Russia will be affected by this… There will definitely be support and understanding from Europe and the USA, but not so much from Russia.

As for getting involved, I saw the post advertising auditions on Facebook from the Prague Film and Theatre Centre (PFTC). And my audition went well, I think. The director Eirini said it went well anyway (laughs). She was actually scared, I was shouting a lot!

Who did you play in the film?

In this film I play a homophobe. A very aggressive man with a typical Russian thug mentality – he doesn’t respect people who are different. It was hard for me to recognise myself when I saw my facial expressions on the monitors! I look very scary and I’m always chewing gum which makes it more intense.

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Photo: Gabriel Cohen

How do you feel about being the antagonist of the film? Have you played one before?

No, I had never played anything like this before. But when I was younger I did jiu-jitsu and also karate until I was about 21, so you could say that I know about the art of fighting (laughs). I also did some cage fighting at one point and THAT was intense. So, the physical preparation was already there, but to do the emotions was really something special. My character in this film is basically the leader of the pack, he likes to sit back and watch the violence happen – it’s very psychological.

How has the film personally affected you? Have you ever been the victim?

Yes, I have. Especially in Kazakhstan when I was younger. Not only was I fighting for sport, but I also had some problems in the streets. But this project has definitely brought in some new emotions. I’ve always believed in fighting for freedom.

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Photo: Gabriel Cohen

And what about the Winter Olympics? Are you boycotting them?

I don’t want to watch it. I like sport, but these games are very political, there are a lot of problems. And I really don’t care for politics.

Ok, and Why Prague? Was it acting that brought you here?

No, originally I came here to study at Charles University. I am currently studying theology and really love it. Right now I’m writing about the Jewish Kabbalah. I’ve always been interested in art, so in Prague I now do a few things. I act, I also do modeling even though I’m short (laughs), and I am also a singer-songwriter trying to bring my soul out through my lyrics.

That’s interesting, what do you sing about?

Everything, it’s all very personal though. I think the most important thing with expressing yourself is to go into the smaller details of things. Everything must be written down in my songs! Even the stars in my morning coffee!

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Photo: Gabriel Cohen

And what are you currently working on? Where can we expect to see you in the future?

I’d really like to concentrate on songwriting, but actually I’m starting work on a short horror film next week too. I read the script yesterday and it’s about digging!

Digging? (laughs)

Yes, and I will be the main “digger” …the bad guy again (laughs).

For more information on PUTIN[IN]LOVE, check out their Facebook. Also be sure to keep updated on Gabriel’s music through Soundcloud.

New Beginnings…

This new blog is dedicated to thoughts, stories and opinions of the weird and wonderful people of Prague. Whether they be travellers, expats or locals, I aim to find the inner crazy and interesting in everyone.

What follows it not only a collection of interviews with these remarkable story tellers, but also articles and opinion pieces of things that I find unique about the Czech capital.

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Since this is all just beginning, I’m always interested in meeting and talking to new people for inspiring news and stories. Feel free to like, comment, share and suggest. RK