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Amber ‘Ambryzy’ on MCing and childhood

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

Unbelievably wicked sense of style and an unbeatable wit are things that spring to mind when thinking of Amber, also affectionately known as Ambryzy. She’s at the heart of expat life in Prague and all who know her will surely crack a smile reading this interview, and those who don’t know.. Well, how the hell do you not know her anyway? She’s MCing at ‘FIERCE’ party in Café v Lese this Friday night from 11pm. Be there.

Also, she’s basically from Lake Placid.. Has anyone else seen that giant crocodile movie?

Where are you from originally?

Originally I’m from a small town in the mountains of upstate New York. I grew up on a farm.

What was it like growing up there? What is NY state known for?

Well, growing up in upstate New York you had to make your own fun. I spent a lot of time outside playing pocketbook in the road and I’ve built many forts. I also built a raft once and still enjoy fishing. And just generally growing up on a farm was an amazing life experience. I learned responsibility at a young age and I’ve seen and done things that you’d never imagine. Hahaha. Also barn cats.. lots of barn cats.

I’m not sure what NY state is known for.. maybe high taxes.. ha, but where I’m from it’s known for the Adirondack mountains and Lake Placid is pretty popular as it was the site of the 1980 winter Olympics. I miss the mountains.

What did you want to be as a kid?

When I was 11 I wanted to be a trucker, an Olympic diver and a hairstylist. I actually had it all figured out, that I could drive my mobile hair salon to each of my Olympic events.

What brought you to Prague?

My family hosted a Czech exchange student named Tereza, who became like a sister to me and convinced me to move here ten and a half years ago.

I really dig your postcard tattoo, what’s the significance?

After living in Prague for 7 years I started missing home and the mountains so I actually got a postcard of them tattooed on my leg. It shows Heart lake, McIntyre, Colden and Mt. Marcy of the Adirondack mountains.

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Tell us about your music and MC work..

I got into rapping after hanging around my friend’s studio for years and just being around the music. I was also fortunate enough to collaborate with the Czech artist named Klara and since then different opportunities have opened up to me including MCing the upcoming ‘FIERCE’ vogue party this Friday night.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Either the love child of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey or the little girl who played Annie in the original movie.

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

I’ve thought about this and… I’m going to keep it simple and say I wish I could have seen the Notorious Big in concert.

What’s your favorite word in Czech and in English?

Favorite word in English is ‘wonderful’, because it can be used in so many different ways… and in Czech my initial thought was ‘pivo’.. because I love that stuff… so I will go with that.

 

Photos from Amber Sayward

Bar owner Aleš talks Hemingway and cocktails

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Over the four years that I have lived here, considerably less than some expats, I feel as though I’ve seen a lot of great things in Prague, as well as a lot of great changes. As I have mentioned before, I do have a love for the booze, but these days booze is no longer just booze but an evolving artform. Aleš Půta is one of few bartenders who has brought this art to the Czech Republic. Having spent a large amount of time abroad and researching the best ingredients and recipes for outstanding cocktails, his story is definitely a memorable one. Aleš’ journey with the Hemingway bar in Prague could almost be compared to Ernest Hemingway himself. Like the great writer, the bar has seen its share of intense ups and downs, only to emerge triumphant.. and tasty. Aleš gives us an inside look into his journey as well as letting us in on the perfect ingredients for not only decent cocktails, but a decent bar. From creating cocktails named after Hemingway’s wives, carefully selecting and crafting the beautiful interior and creating a massive selection of rums and quality absinthe, it’s been one hell of a ride.

When did it all begin with this bar?

We have been open for more than 5 years and this year we’ve received a few awards, so we’ve had a lot of interviews and a lot of interest in the bar. We started in 2009 and I was really happy to open a real cocktail bar in Prague because we are focused on original recipes; we like the old fashioned style cocktails. We also twist classics but today people like more of a sweet taste so we had to take these classics and make them a little sweeter. It was very hard in the beginning because we had very few customers – we were waiting almost one year for nothing, but we stayed and tried to make the best of it. Then after about one and a half years, there came a magical day when everything changed.

So it changed quickly?

More and more people started to come. We started with just 3 bartenders, now altogether we have 17. We also now have two bars and we started with 30 seats and now we have over 70. We’re still searching for the best quality cocktails and testing new ingredients. We have a passion for the job. The bartenders even win competitions. We’ve also had a lot of friends from all around the world that have come to help us too. This year we were awarded the 24th best bar in the world.

Wow, congratulations!

It’s amazing for the Czech Republic. Czech people don’t know about this kind of cocktail culture.

Would you say that it’s changing now?

Yes, definitely. People are travelling and many tourists come to Prague and they’re always helpful with recommendations. If they ask for a cocktail that we don’t know, we will try to find it on the internet. It’s really different than before.

How did you become interested in mixology?

It started in my family. My father and grandfather worked in hospitality. Originally I wanted to be a professional horse rider, but my father told me that I would be in hospitality too. I was really happy because I was 16 years old and I had already done a bartendering course, it was something special for me. It changed my life.

So Hemingway, aside from being a famous writer, had quite a dramatic life. He was also involved in a lot of the great wars. If you could compare his life to the life of this bar, would you say that it’s similar?

Hemingway’s life was very interesting and honestly he drank a lot.. So yes, and we have a lot of his stories in our cocktails. For example, the ‘100 days cocktail’ which is named after the 100 day ultimatum that Hadley (his wife at the time) gave to Hemingway. If Hemingway could make it through 100 days without seeing Pauline Pfeiffer, then she would grant him a divorce. Hadley thought that Hemingway was just crazy-in-love with Pfeiffer, but after the 100 days he was still in love with her anyway, so she said yes and gave him freedom.

How did you first become interested in Hemingway?

It was in 2001, I was very young and had a lot of passion for this work, I still do. We had a short video on working flair with cocktails, juggling bottles etc. One Croatian guy and Canadian girl had a bar in Dubrovnik, and they wanted my help to open a colonial style Hemingway bar. So I spent 4 months there helping them with bartendering. It was from this that I got this dream. Then I thought “yes, I will have the best Hemingway bar in the world”.

And have you read his books? Do you have a favourite?

‘The Sun Also Rises’, but I actually like reading books about Hemingway, many of our bartenders like his story too.

If the real Hemingway was in your bar, what do you think he would say?

I think he was a little bit strange, especially before his death. He had paranoia about the FBI and other things… I think he would tell us to shut up (laughs), but he was the most famous barfly ever, so maybe he would like us.

If you could compare Prague to a cocktail, which would it be?

Well, we really love Becherovka. After the Velvet Revolution, a lot of alcohol came to the Czech Republic and everyone forgot about what was originally ours. Becherovka is unique, it’s very good quality and it’s really different. But, as for a cocktail hmmmm. It’s hard to say. I think our Becherovka cocktail ‘becher butter sour’, which is becherovka infused with ghee butter – this drink is beautiful.

How would you describe Prague?

Home, I think it’s also one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s also the main point in Europe, it’s in the centre – a place you have to go to if you come to Europe. People love it… unless they have a bad experience with taxi drivers, but this isn’t only in Prague.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I couldn’t say an actor, but I love (director) Miloš Forman. I’ve heard a lot about his life and I really like how he has created films. He inspired me for a few drinks too.

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

I don’t like politics, nor do I like the wasting of materials and things like that, but I don’t think that one person can change something, but maybe I would.

So not only would you go back in time, but you would change something?

Yes, I have many ideas and many dreams so I would maybe change something about my parents, they are shy and don’t travel a lot. They have given me everything now but because of the communism in the past, they couldn’t do anything themselves. I would change this time, the time when the Russians came.

What’s your favourite cocktail?

As a bartender, I love the ‘negroni’. I think bartenders all over the world like this drink.

 

For a look at the bar, bartenders, stylish interior and mouth-watering drinks list (which you can download as a PDF) visit the website here.

Written by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

25-year-old Marek owns a candy store!

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As I sit here typing away yet another successful interview with another of Prague’s inspirational characters, I’m munching away on a bag of ‘Flipz’, small chocolate covered pretzels that create a land where both salt and sugar can exist in harmony – an uncontrollable party for your tastebuds. This is not a food blog, but these things definitely need a mention. I ate the whole bag in one sitting so that’s saying something.

Marek is a 25-year-old entrepreneur that has successfully opened ‘The Candy Store’ – a brightly coloured and eccentrically decorated store that reminds me of that Robin Williams film Toys, not to mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The store is exactly how it sounds, filled with sweet sweet candy and chocolate from both the US and UK – every dentist’s nightmare and every child’s dream. Marek has also recently combined forces with ‘Robertsons’ to supply people with quality cuts of meat and other imported products that every expat misses, and every Czech wants to try. Halloween is coming up, get in there and support a young guy making his way with an original idea and fresh attitude to life in general. Marek’s interview is one of remarkable modesty and taste. Read below for what makes this candyman tick.

Are you from Prague?

No, I was actually born in Pardubice, about 70-80 km from Prague, and I lived there until I was about 8 and then we moved to the Netherlands because of my father’s job. I stayed there until I was 16 and then came back here and finished high school.

Where abouts in the Netherlands?

The Hague, by the sea.

Nice.

It sounds really nice when you hear by the sea, but it’s all really grey.

I’ve never actually been to the Netherlands.

It’s an awesome country to visit, but I enjoy the Czech Republic a lot more. It’s a different mentality in Western Europe and in Holland. It’s all very restricted, even in terms of business. I’m not saying it’s all better over here, but at least they are a bit more leniant.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I always really liked sports. My Dad played ice hockey a lot when I was a kid and I actually played tennis professionally until I was about 17, so I always thought I was going to be a tennis player. Around that critical time – 16, 17, 18 you have different interests that start to come up. Those are the most important years. It’s when you need to focus more and I kinda lost my focus. I trained less and it got worse and worse and then there was no point to do it anymore. You need to invest so much money and so much energy into sports. So yeah that’s what I wanted to do, which is really tough on me now because I sit in an office all day (laughs).

And how did you get this idea to open The Candy Store?

When I lived in Holland, I saw a lot of these shops selling British and American stuff. I mean, British stuff was already here because of ‘Robertson’s’, but no American stuff on a bigger scale. There were SOME shops that existed, but not many people knew about them. The shops that tried to do the American thing before, only aimed it at the expats, so we aimed it at the Czech people as well. There is a surprisingly large amount of Czechs that have visited the States or lived there long term. It’s been much easier to get there in the past ten years than it was 20-30 years ago. I started and I thought no one is going to know these products or what this is about, but slowly and surely in the first year we saw that most of our clientele was Czech. I saw it work in Holland, I saw it work in Germany and all these places and I couldn’t see a reason why it wouldn’t work here. Especially with these younger generations who watch American TV and movies and stuff like that. I mean, there is a reference to almost every product in our shop in South Park, like pop-tarts!

I saw them before and something tingled inside me.

Exactly! People see these movies and TV shows and they want to try it out. So we just thought, why not? So we found a little shop and the rent was good so the risk wasn’t that bad… and that’s basically how it all started!

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How old are you?

I’m 25 now.

25? Wow, and what are people’s reactions to being so young and having your own business?

Expats react pretty well. Czechs… it’s a bit tough.

How come?

I don’t know, there’s this perception that you need a certain amount of experience, let’s say 10 years, before you do something like that. I don’t know whether it’s still from communism when no one could start up anything or something like this, I’ve never really thought about it. It’s still much better in the last five years because there are so many more young entrepreneurs that try something new in Prague. But there are still a lot of people that ask you “oh did someone give this to you? Did your father give you this shop?” It’s a bit hard to swallow sometimes, but most of the time people’s reactions are all good. It’s my baby, it’s what I love and I will do anything for it. When people see that you take it seriously, it’s a little better. At the start is was really tough – I was 22 when I started and when someone has a meeting with a 22 year old, they don’t really take it seriously. They just think “oh you want my money to spend on booze”. Overall though, I can’t complain.

Halloween is coming up soon, is that a popular time in the shop?

Halloween is pretty popular, it’s mostly popular with expats. I mean, young people know it but it’s a typical western tradition. Christmas is our main season of the year because people always want that little extra present. Even Easter, any holiday involving chocolate.. Valentines as well. But we don’t just do candy and chocolate anymore, most of the things we sell are little delicacies so we do pretty well all year round.

What typical American candy would you recommend trying?

I think they’re really good with the sweet and salty combinations. You know Reese’s cups, obviously.

YES. I do know them, but I don’t think I could eat more than one…

Yeah, they’re intense! That’s one of our bestsellers. We carry the most known candy, anything you try is going to be different to what you’re used to.

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Do you have a favourite product?

I stay away from most things (laughs). I like Flipz, they’re milk chocolate pretzels, not the big ones but the small ones. I think besides Flipz I love the meat that Robertson’s still supplies us with. The sausages, the steak. I love this stuff. Cheddar as well.

How many places around here sell cheddar? 

Not many places sell the really good stuff, you can get the slices but that’s like gum.

Yeah it looks like plastic.

I live off that stuff now, it’s really good.

The interior is amazing! Was that all you?

Yeah, basically me and my colleague. Once you have really colourful products and walls, it kind of just goes by itself. We never really had any outside help, not even marketing. I like to do this stuff myself.

Have you ever made your own candy?

Not yet, but we’re thinking about it. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have our own thing.

Have you ever seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Did you think about this when you began?

A lot of people think it’s like that yeah (laughs). I thought the movie with Johnny Depp was a bit freaky, I never really thought of that as a children’s movie. I don’t know, I saw it once or twice but never again, it was quite intense.

How would you describe Prague?

Beautiful, laidback. Full of opportunities, but most of all beautiful.

If you could go back in time, what would you choose to see?

I’d like to go forward in time, not thousands of years but hmmm… I’d be interested to see myself at 80-90, just so I know what to expect. I was talking about this with my friend the other day; things are changing so quickly in the world right now with technology. You never know what’s going to happen in a week or a month or in a year’s time. It’s something that I ponder a lot.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you choose to play you? Obviously not Johnny Depp after what you’ve just told me.

(Laughs) Yes, true. Wow, that’s a good question. I want someone that at least looks a bit skinny (laughs). Oh man.. I’ve always loved Kevin Spacey – that would be an honour if he could play me. If not him then someone who can play a simple role like myself. Nicholas Cage or something like that.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

At home, I really like the peace and quiet. I used to go out a couple of years back a lot. But since I’ve made that jump to 25.. I’m nearly 30!

Well I’m 28, so what does that make me??

(Laughs) I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’ve tried to slow down a bit. I love this area around Náměstí Míru, it really has an atmosphere, it’s alive. There are so many new places around here now.

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Check out the Candy Store’s selection here.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photography by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

Singer-songwriter Kate slept on the Great Wall

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After almost 6 years living in the Czech capital, Kate has been dubbed the girl who ‘knows everyone’, and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being extremely approachable and witty, Kate is a talented singer-songwriter and plays regular gigs at expat hubs like the Globe, James Joyce and the Red Room. A couple of weeks back I sat down in Kate’s flat for a chat and stripped everything back to her raw beginnings. One of the most interesting things I learnt was that she actually spent 5 months working on a ship and went around the world, which led to a lot of insanely cool experiences including sleeping on the Great Wall of China.

Where are you from originally?

So, I’m from Muncie, Indiana. It’s a small town in the mid-west in the US. Lots of corn and John Deere tractors. It’s a university town actually. There’s a university there called Ball State.

????? (laughs).

It still brings a hilarity to me, because I know that I’m telling it to foreigners most of the time. It actually has a lot of nicknames.. like testicle tech, but that’s the only one I can think of right now. I have a diploma from there, if you want to prove the legitimacy of Ball State (laughs).

Nice, and what did you study?

I studied education, secondary education in undergrad at Indiana university and then my masters was in university administration at Ball State, so that’s kind of how I found myself in this mixture I do now of teaching and administration.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be?

I went through phases. When I was really young I told my Mum I wanted to be a teenager. She was happy to report that I probably would achieve that goal. I also wanted to work at McDonalds when I was 6. I wanted to be a doctor when I was in high school and I did a two week internship stint. But with my first interaction with bags of blood I nearly fainted so that soured me.

Both of my parents were teachers so I kind of grew up thinking I would never be one even though I played school with my friends and dolls. My favourite game when I was a kid was actually ‘librarian’ (laughs). I made a library out of my living room and I made my family come through and check out books. Yeah it didn’t take much for me to get engaged in something.

And how did you get here?

Well, I worked for a study abroad program called Semester at Sea which is a university study program on a ship, I was on there for 5 months as a councillor. We were in 13 different countries and circumnavigated the globe – it was an amazing experience, I would totally do it again. But basically, I met a lot of English teachers on that journey and before that I hadn’t realised that teaching English abroad was a way to live abroad. I did my student teaching in the UK so I kind of always new I wanted to relocate to Europe at some point. So I came back from working at Semester at Sea and decided to book a one way ticket somewhere abroad. I chose Prague because I was there for 3 days in 2004 and loved it. I remember thinking it was one of those cities that I could live in. At that point there were a lot of cities in Europe that I thought I could live in, but I fell in love with Prague.

That experience at sea sounds great, tell us something that happened there.

Well, we were in Brazil for Carnival, in Bahia which was incredible… I’ve seen my fair share of partying, but these people… thousands and thousands on the street from all ages being out day and night. You thought it was going to end at some point, and then a concert or something would start again. I also went skydiving in Brazil, that was my first and only time.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, I would! It’s definitely thrilling. I’m trying to think of other stuff I did in Semester at Sea… What was it that I did?.. Oh yeah! I slept on the Great Wall…

Wow, really?

Yeah, I even have a t-shirt saying that (laughs). I had a really tight group of six friends also working on the ship. We all did this great wall experience. When you see documentaries people usually go to the same part of the Great Wall, but the part we were on was quite far from there. We took a bus with migrant workers going to the fields for their weeks worth of pay and we had gotten the phone number of a man from a friend of a friend. We went and stayed with his family for a night and he somehow had a key to one of the guard towers on the Great Wall with some cots. He walked us up there and gave us a huge basket of Chinese beer and whiskey and whatever else we wanted and just said “ok, here you go! See you in the morning!” That was amazing, an unforgettable experience.

That’s incredible. So you’re a singer-songwriter too!

Yeah!

When did you start that?

Well I started playing guitar when I was in college. I grew up actually playing piano and singing in a choir, but I started playing guitar in university in my sorority house and it kind of turned into an open mic thing and from there I got gigs!

And what is one of your favourites to play?

One of the first songs I learnt and still one of my favourites is Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now. It sort of changes with the crowd and my mood at the time though. I like older stuff, I like singing Bob Dylan. An accoustic version of a pop song always really surprises a crowd and I really like that too. If I play Miley Cyrus or Justin Timberlake, people really like it. And sometimes you learn what a great song it is when you hear it stripped down.

You’ve been playing since you moved here?

Yeah, I started at the Oak which is now U Kravaty, they still do open mics and live music. I started going to the open mic there. It’s still a great scene for expat musicians because you can really connect with people who know the scene around Prague. Since then I’ve been playing more in here than I ever have in the States. I had a weekly gig in the States in a sandwich shop and they would give me $50 and a sandwich.

Ok, I thought for a second you were going to say that they gave you $50 worth of sandwiches! (laughs)

(Laughs) I would’ve taken it! It was such a funny gig because it was just a sandwich place, so my gig was 5-7pm.. and it was a takeaway place – ‘We have some music while you stand in line.’

Have you ever had any rowdy or drunk people try to use your microphone or anything like that?

You’ve just described my Friday night! Hmmm, a few things happen regularly. On Sunday I saw this group of people drinking, I knew how much they’d been drinking. They were a stag group and on my break a guy was like ‘hey, I play guitar! Can I go up and play something?’. So I usually say ‘no, the bar doesn’t allow it’. I mean if they haven’t been pounding jagermeisters all night then sometimes I’ll have them up. But I guess the most memorable thing is people constantly asking for songs I don’t know. Even if I don’t know it, they insist that I play it anyway.

What famous musician would you like to have dinner with?

Ummm, I would love to have dinner with Ingrid Michaelson. She’s an American singer-songwriter and has a lot of cool and quirky stuff, but also stuff that’s really easy to listen to.. and she’s alive! A lot of the people I’m thinking of are dead (laughs).

Which famous musician would you not like to have dinner with?

I feel like having dinner with Bob Dylan, even though I love his music, would be so intimidating. I would so be on a different plane than him. I would dread that dinner.

Ok, a change of topic. People dressing up as Santa, singing songs around town and collecting money for charity with the beer stops in between – this is SantaCon, which you started here in Prague! Tell us a little about it.

I heard about it from a friend that initiated it in Indianapolis and he just sort of chose a charity and got some friends together on Facebook. So I contacted some of the local bars I played at here and it just blossomed from there. Between the first and second year it’s grown a lot, now it’s kind of a mix between the English teaching community, couchsurfers, random Facebook people – it’s hovering at around 50-60 people at the moment, which is good because Prague deals with a lot of annoying stag parties and I don’t want it to be like that. A small group of people, but enough to make some smiles and be noticed.

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How would you describe Prague?

I would say manageable, in terms of size. Liberal… livable. Let’s see, what else… Open-minded. I feel like every time I think of an adjective, I can think of something to contradict it.. It’s open-minded but it’s not.

What do you miss about home?

In order of importance, Coffee Mate. It’s this powdered fake creamer.. it’s flavoured, but I can sort of get it here so that’s ok. I miss Target as well. Ok, now we’re done with material things. I miss people more than anything because most of my friends and family are sort of spread out around the US. I miss English speaking banter at a bar or just making a joke about something.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Ok well in terms of people that I look like, I often get Sheryl Crowe. I don’t really know what she is like as an actress though. I feel like Anna Paquin is a bit of a bad-ass. I guess if I was thinking high of myself, I would choose Tina Fey!

She’s awesome, I could see that! And finally, if you could go back in time, what would you see?

Hmmm. The pressure! Maybe the milestones of the 60s, like the moon landing. I would also like to see major milestones here like the Velvet Revolution, people protesting and celebrating in Wenceslas Square and also the fall of the Berlin Wall…. and the big bang!

 

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating-Lambert. Photos by Ryan Keating-Lambert.

 

 

 

Nicole on Mormonism and finding herself in Prague

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Nicole’s flat seemed to be perspiring with this ridiculously massive wave of love from the moment we walked in! Petr realized that he had been in the exact same apartment years ago to take photos of a famous Czech actress. The flat had obviously undergone quite a transformation since then – fairy lights littering the doorways along with scattered hearts covering the blank walls. Also, the spectacular 360 degree views certainly added to the wow factor. This place was epic, as was Nicole’s story.

In our everyday rat race we often see Mormons and other Christian denominations taking to the streets and preaching the word of their god to many, but rarely do we get a glimpse of the inside… And I’m not talking about the “garments” protecting their skin and decency. Nicole referred to Mormonism as not so much of a religion, but a lifestyle. Scroll down for a look at this lifestyle as well as her transformation and sudden epiphany that her future was in the Czech capital.

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Where are you from Nicole?

I was born and raised about 20 miles north of Washington D.C. I’m an east coast girl. Really near the city, the suburbs I guess.

What brought you to Prague?

Hmmm million dollar question! The easier answer or the hard answer?

Whatever you want to tell me!

Dissatisfaction with my own life… A lack of fulfilment. And this wanderlust that was growing inside me drew me to travel. As a teacher I was working two jobs because I wasn’t earning enough to support myself.

Really? The salary is that bad?

I was in the best paid county. I served by night and I taught by day. I was averaging about 70+ hours a week and I owned my own home. Basically, I was doing everything on paper that was supposed to make me quote unquote “happy”. But I was exhausted and uninspired. Before I knew it 5 years had gone, I had done nothing. I also have this bizarre fear of ageing!

I think a few people do now…

So I kind of made a decision to make a drastic change, if I didn’t I would be 40 and still not have experienced anything outside of that current world. The grind of serving and the 9-5 job was tiresome. Once I was serving on “Cinco de Mayo,” a big Mexican holiday and which also happened to be the day before my birthday. I worked at the stroke of midnight and realized that I was officially 30 and elbow deep in people’s leftover food. I remember thinking to myself, this cannot be ‘it’! So I left, but it took two years. I sold my home and everything that I own basically. And I dragged my ass to the Czech Republic!

Why the Czech Republic? Why Prague?

Why not?! Because it’s an amazing beautiful city that is preserved. The harder answer is more practical; I was thinking about how I could survive in another country. The only talent I had was English, so I looked at the teaching programs. And decided on (plug!), the Language House TEFL Program, it made it possible for me to be here. So I looked into that and went ahead! It also happened to be a place where I could teach and travel at the same time.

And what did you do in DC?

Well, I actually… I’ve kinda been all over the place. I went to Georgetown University and I took a hiatus from school when I was REALLY young. It was meant to be 6 months and turned into 6 years. I ended up doing two road trips across the country. That’s where my wanderlust blossomed a bit. After that I leased apartments in Alexandria, VA… just outside of D.C. So I lived there a bit, then went to Maryland’s suburbs to go to school and get a teaching degree and began teaching in the public schools system.

So you taught in public schools? What was that like?

Yeah it’s an extremely high stress environment. You are highly under appreciated and highly overworked. I personally taught a lot of underprivileged students and found it rewarding, but very tiresome. You kinda feel like you’re being professionally taken advantage of. I never fell out of love with teaching though. A colleague put it well, he said that “he loved teaching but hated being a teacher”. I love the idea of teaching, but the conditions of the job sucks the joy out of such a noble occupation.

What are kids like in schools over there?

The population that I taught was actually really challenging. Quite a few students came from broken homes. I had one who was abandoned by their mother and lived with relatives, then the mother killed herself, and all the while this was happening I was trying to teach him fractions. The value system has been altered a little bit. It felt like an upward battle.

I like that you call it such a noble occupation.

If you take away education, you have a third world country. It became an ethical dilemma for me to stay in that job. I didn’t agree with the way the US not making education a priority.

A lot of people have a negative opinion on education in the US. What’s yours?

I would actually say that public schools are making an effort to make it better. In saying that, most of the students I taught were globally stunted, myself also being a product of that – when I came here I realized that there was so much I was unaware of in the world. I felt slightly ashamed that I was contributing to that disservice. We could certainly do a better job.

What do you do here in Prague?

I taught English but it didn’t really suit me. I now teach first grade at an international school. I do exactly what I do in the states, only I don’t have to work two jobs and I can travel. I think I’ve had more personal growth in the last six months than I have in the last six years.

By the way, there are a lot of hearts everywhere on your walls! What are you in love with right now? 

I got depressed for a second (laughs) because I’m not in love with anyone right now! But I do love this city. Making out is a big thing here too.

Would you say there is more affection in public here than back home?

Definitely more PDA for sure! My roommates and my friends will tell you that for sure. On the escalators in metro stations! So much groping! I actually don’t mind it, it doesn’t bother me. Because somewhere inside… I am yearning for that myself! (laughs).

We all need a little groping sometimes! And now to a different page, I heard you used to be a Mormon? What kind of lifestyle did you lead?

Yes, I did. Good question. I was born and raised Mormon and practiced it for 19 years. They practice the faith religiously. But eventually, I fell away from the church when I was around 22.

I understand that Mormons wear a special kind of body suit under their clothes? What is that all about?

They’re called ‘garments’ and they’re for both men and women. They’re worn closest to the skin because it is a symbolic gesture of covenants made to God. They also stand as a reminder to maintain respect for one’s body by adhering to modest dress, since it’s not possible to wear immodest clothing if you are wearing the garments, hence no strapless dresses or booty shorts.

Did you wear garments?

No, you don’t wear them unless you’ve been on a mission or after marriage.

Tell us a little bit about other customs that are involved with it.

It’s pretty straight edge. I don’t think I said a curse word until I was way older. I didn’t drink or smoke or drink caffeine. You pretty much just live a healthy lifestyle. It is more of a way of life than a Sunday religion. I went to church every morning for Seminary before high school. We would also have church activities on a Sunday too. To me, it was my life.

Funny story though, when I was a senior in high school we were learning a section of western culture on the states. I was shown the movie Tombstone which is an R rated film and I felt that it didn’t coincide with my value system at the time. I had to excuse myself from the classroom, so I was pretty dedicated. It was well received by my friends, surprisingly to me! I had a pretty large social circle. Everyone was respectful and people admired my conviction at the time. I wasn’t pushy about it. Some people can be, like in any religion.

How have you changed now?

I’m an evil evil person! Sorry Mum! (laughs) Just kidding! There was a tragedy in my life that made me test my faith – I had personal disagreements with the church itself. I admire my family and friends who still practice. It’s an incredibly difficult way to live in society.

What happened to you to make you question your faith?

I was always kind of the black sheep in the Sunday school class. I would say things like “NO, I don’t want to stay at home and make babies. I want to work!” I was outspoken! It had more to do with the woman’s role in the church.

What are some things that you miss from this time?

Oh wow. You know there is a really really strong community and a sense of comradery with the people you see all the time and it is really quite lovely when you see people come together. Some of the most thoughtful people and nicest people I have ever met, some of them happen to be Mormon. I do miss that spirit of togetherness which I don’t often feel anymore. Maybe protesters feel that too when they’re fighting for a cause.

It was really really hard for me to leave the church. It was almost traumatic. It was hard for me to come to turns with it.

How did your family react?

I was terrified of how they would react. I underestimated them and their unconditional love, because they were completely supportive. They have supported me a lot. My Dad is a convert so he has a bit of free spirit. He hitch-hiked around the country and went to the original Woodstock! He’s had an interesting life. So he understood my leaving and my need to figure things out for myself.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Oh gosh! Unassuming, unpretentious, it’s one of the reasons why I love this city especially because D.C. is so pretentious. Simple. I live a very simple life now. I work and make crowns and feed myself – it’s lovely. For me Prague holds a special place in my heart because it is the first place for me abroad. So I saw my first castle here. I had a legitimate tour-gasm. I was crying!

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

Oh my! If I could go back in time. Jesus!

Good answer!

(Laughs) Jesus of Nazareth the end. No, just joking! God, you know it’s so overwhelming. I couldn’t tell you honestly.

If there was a movie about your life, who would play you?

Probably Sandra Bullock. She’s a little perky, feisty, fun. Some of her roles are serious and some are not. She would be a good fit. I love her in While you were Sleeping.

Where do you hang out in Prague?

I did the Clock Tower Bar Crawl for a while so I’ve done the touristy areas. Now I kind of prefer the local Žižkov scene. I just started finding the gay and lesbian community too. I’m discovering a little bit of that. In D.C. we have such a huge gay community, so I was lost and missed that but I’ve been reintroduced and it’s been nice.

Who is really important to you here? Who’s been a great help?

My room-mates I really adore. I’ve been blessed to meet them and live with them now. But, the people who have helped me the most are the people that don’t live here. I was surprised by the support. It really cemented for me who my real friends are. My grandmother died last month and that was hard for me because I was away from home. It was financially impossible for me to go back and the way that they extended the love to me is beyond words.

You’ve just run the half marathon? I see some medals up on the wall.

This was my fourth marathon. Since I’ve been abroad, I ran Barcelona in February and the Prague Half a few weeks ago. I figure that what I’ll do is run my way through Europe. Running is always good and close to my heart. I make it look very painful, but it’s mine.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.

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Natalia talks vintage fashion and gay Russian politicians

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert.

Last week we spent some time with the grunge and vintage fashion inspired Natalia. Immersed among a range of delicate, modern and inspiring outfits and accessories, she gave us an insight into her shop ‘The Item’ nestled in the heart of Prague’s old town, her glorious life in the Bohemian capital, as well as her challenging past in Russia and Moldavia. Read on and let us know what you think.

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Where are you from Natalia?

I’m from Saint Petersburg in Russia. I’ve lived here already for 11 years.

I’ve always wanted to go there. Do you go back often?

I was there 1 month ago, but that was the first time in 5 years.

What brought you to Prague?

Nothing. I just decided to start my life on a new page. And it was easy and fast to move to the Czech Republic, so I chose Prague.

Tell us about growing up in Saint Petersburg….

Ok so it’ll be a story about my family. My family are originally from different regions in the Urals and after WWII my grandfather was sent to Moldavia to bring it to life after the war. Then my parents, after they finished university, were also sent there. So I was born and grew up there and stayed until I was 17. But then there was a war there when Moldavia decided to break away from the Soviet Union. No one really knows about this war, it was scary. Because we were Russian, my parents last their jobs. So we had to move back to Russia, that’s when I moved to Saint Petersburg, when I was 17. It was a local war, similar to what is going on now in Ukraine.

Were you personally exposed to any violence?

Some of my friends were beaten on the street because we didn’t speak Moldavian well. At that time we were only 15, so it was quite rough. But I was only harmed psychologically (laughs).

I’m glad you have a sense of humour about it now. Do you still know anyone there?

A couple of friends. I studied in a Russian school there and 80% of my classmates emigrated immediately after finishing.

Russians are known generally for having a hard time here. Have you ever ran into any trouble?

Yeah.. I cannot say that it has happened quite often, but for example the most disgusting thing was in Riegrovy Sady one year ago. About one year ago there was a hockey championship on the big screen in the beer garden, Czech vs. Russia, and I was by myself with my beautiful dog and ordered some water. The bartender said “no Russian pigs”… I started to cry – I really didn’t expect that. So my Czech friends helped me and then I called the garden to complain in the end . I told the owner the story and he said to me “But you know what? If I pay attention to these complaints, I will have no bartenders.” After that I decided that I would never step into this stupid place anymore.

That’s terrible.

It’s not the kind of reaction that a woman should expect from a man.

What’s your opinion on the recent events involving Russia?

You know I am really afraid that there will be a war. So many people have died already. Have you seen the photos of the ones (in Kyiv) that have died already? It’s terrible! I hope that all sides will be wise enough not to escalate this. It should be stopped.

Tell us a little bit about your store!

Well, I opened my first store two months after I moved to the Czech Republic. I started to sell vintage clothes at the beginning. I think I was one of the first or maybe the first in Prague. In the beginning it was quite difficult because people were asking “are they clothes from dead people?” or “ah you get everything for free and then sell it…” It was quite stupid. But from the beginning I’ve had some interesting customers that I still have today. Now I mainly concentrate on new clothes – I buy designs from South Korea, Japan, Italy, the USA, the UK and I also now have my own line of fashion.

Did you study fashion design?

No. I studied Chinese language and sinology, but that was tonnes of years ago. I’ve always liked old fashion.

Who would be your fashion icon?

I think Yves Saint Lauren, I love his style. And also Dior and his new look with those dresses.

What inspires you to design?

The 50s! This is my favourite period if we are talking about clothes.

What is your favourite piece that you’ve designed?

Last year I was lucky to get some great material factory by Dolce and Gabbana and I did a Marilyn Monroe dress (pictured).

It’s beautiful. How do you find fashion in Prague?

Generally it’s quite boring. But the situation has changed a lot in the last couple of years. Now people are becoming generally more brave. Before I couldn’t allow myself to wear this, it would be too bright or strange or something. Now people are becoming more brave.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

Wow! Ok, my favourite places! Chapeau Rouge, Druhé Patro, Bukanýr and Follow me Cafe which is new… and Le Clan as well! I also used to go to Termix and Valentino a lot.

I guess you have quite a few gay friends then?

80% of my friends are gay.

What do you think about the situation in Russia right now?

Pure stupidity. Everything that is going on there with gays right now is stupid. Especially because I know from a close friend that a huge percentage of our government officials are gay orientated.

And what do you think about Putin? Is he gay?

(Laughs) No I don’t think so.

If there was a movie about your life, which actress would play you?

You know all actresses that I really love are old. For example Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. I like very much Courtney Love as well.

If you could go back in time, what would you see?

I would go to the 60s to the Woodstock festival! And also, I would go to Montreux to see Marvin Gaye live in concert!!! I have goosebumps just thinking about that!

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Strange, because it’s not really Czech Republic at all. There are so many good things and so many bad things. Locals and guests always complain about Prague, but if they leave they miss it and take any chance to come back. But generally I like it.

Would you ever leave Prague?

Yeah, I think so. I want to live nearby the sea. If here was a warm sea here, it would be the most perfect city in the world…

What do you miss most about Saint Petersburg?

Opera. The Mariinsky theatre. I used to go there often and I really miss it.

Will you ever go back and live there?

I don’t think so.

Why not?

Mainly because of the climate. Plus it is still quite unstable. I remember the financial crisis in 1998 when in one night we lost all of our money. Almost everyone who had their money in the bank lost it. Would you live in a country like that? Anyway the borders are still open for now, I can go there when I need to.

What kind of dog is she?

She is a shih-tzu, 8 years old. A real Czech girl from Budejovice! She is so smart and loving and the most amazing creature in the world. She quite often travels with me. I think she was a stewardess in a past life. She’s amazing except for this (starts brushing the hair off her dress).

What are your plans with your store for the future?

The store is going well. I have very good customers. Very interesting customers. I never make any big plans. I make plans for the next month and that’s all. Sometimes I work with customers who are involved with costumes for films and series. Some of my pieces are in the series The Borgias and also for the movie Snowpiercer , an American Korean film with Tilda Swinton that will be released this year. I love Tilda Swinton.

Me too! She is great.

There are quite a lot of Czech models, singers and celebrities that are now coming to the store too. They are so good.

And do you custom make things for people?

Sure! We are quite open. I have very good tailors. Mainly we do female clothes.

For more information on designs and other details, please refer to The Item website and Facebook.

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“When everything started I thought there is no way there is going to be violence” – Ukrainian expat Lilia on the shootings in Kyiv

Almost everyone has heard about the major political problems that are currently plaguing Ukraine. There are a number of opinions on both sides that deserve attention. Lilia, a Ukrainian citizen living in Prague caught up with us to give you the chance to hear an opinion from a local rather than a sensational news agency.

Lilia discusses a number of fascinating and controversial issues in Ukraine including the Czech Republic’s supportive response to the bloodshed in Kyiv, as well as the ‘information war’ sweeping through the media, especially in Crimea. What started off as a regular People in Prague interview in her kitchen turned into something incredibly informative and inspiring. Lilia’s positive attitude is infectious and will surely make an impact on many of you. Take the time to read the interview and please feel free to comment and express your opinion on this dire situation.

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So where are you from in Ukraine, Lilia?

I’m originally from a small town in Western Ukraine, but I studied in Kyiv for four years so that’s where my conscientious life began!

What did you study?

I did a BA in History and an MA in Interdisciplinary Political/History/Cultural Studies in the Netherlands.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood.

I grew up in a kind of rural area. My dad is a farmer, we lived in a house surrounded by chickens and stuff. But I went to school in the town and it’s a very kind of core Ukrainian nationalistic part of the country. Everybody speaks Ukrainian. When I was growing up there I never spoke Russian nor met a Russian speaking person – yeah, it’s very very Ukrainian.

So quite different to the east.

Yeah definitely, because Western Ukraine was a part of Poland and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire after that. It only became a part of the Soviet Union in 1939 when they came to rescue us from Hitler. So, that’s where all the core differences come from; the fact that we belonged to different empires for such a long time.

How do you think Ukraine is seen by the rest of the world generally?

Well first of all Ukraine is on the map now, woohoo! Most of the world that knows anything about this situation, they tend to oversimplify it. That’s why the idea of Ukraine being so equally divided, that it’s just Russian versus Ukrainian stuff going on and Ukraine actually becoming two different countries based on the language is sort of bullshit.

When it started, the problem was that most of the world believed that it was about the EU only and that we wanted to join Europe so much that we were prepared to die for it – which is nonsense. It started like that and it was really small. It was more about showing the government that they can’t treat us like that. We have something to say and we’re going to say it, so fuck you (laughs).
And now, we have a new government that has no choice but to listen, at least for now. We, the people, are still at the square in Kyiv and we’re not going anywhere until we’ve got what we want. But I think now, after everything, that people are finally starting to realise that the Ukrainian revolution was so much more than just the EU, and that we actually has a chance. The problem is that Russia has so much more money and influence, resources and power. So we are seeing what we have seen so many times before in history… Other countries not wanting to poke the bear and saying ‘yeah, you know we condemn it so much. That’s so not nice Russia, don’t do that!’ (laughs).

How do you think Ukrainian people are seen by the Czechs?

Well the Czech Republic really don’t like Russia at all. They’ve been supporting Ukraine a lot. They send tonnes of money and aid and we have had so many demonstrations with so many Czechs. They started their own initiatives and they actually understand what’s going on, that’s the difference. In countries like Germany or France or the US, it’s completely different. Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, countries that have been through these Soviet camps – they get it. I feel so proud being Ukrainian here. I wear blue and yellow ribbons on my bag all the time.

Yeah? That’s great.

People actually talk to me about it. They will come up to me and say ‘oh we’re supporting Ukraine and how can we help?’ – it’s really nice. They also made a pegasus sculpture out of tires recently in Václavské náměstí to honor us. In Kyiv a lot of people were burning tires in the square.

Generally speaking, let’s say that Czechs are not very tolerant, and they don’t like Ukrainians so much. There are a lot of prejudices and clichés about Ukrainians being cleaning ladies and construction workers only and that they are stealing their jobs, it’s just insane. But, in this situation they have been great. I feel super lucky being here actually. Czech Republic – thumbs up.

Ok good, would you say that these common stereotypes of Ukrainians here have changed now as a result of the situation or are they still there?

No, that’s not going to change. They are still the same. Frankly, a lot of them have these jobs but they are still highly educated. There is so much more to them than that.

Ok. Now is it the language barrier that puts them into these jobs? Or is it to do with the Czech Republic not always recognising Ukrainian education?

A lot of people come here in their 30 or 40s, they don’t speak Czech and can’t get anything better. I’m not sure about diploma recognition. I know it is possible, but very difficult.

How have the recent incidents in Kyiv and Crimea affected you?

When everything started I was like ‘there is no way there is going to be violence’ because we had the Orange revolution in 2004, where there was zero violence and millions of people on the streets. Then when they beat up the students the first time, I thought ‘come on, this is crazy. This is my country and this is impossible’. And then, when they started shooting, I thought ‘what the fuck! This is not possible’. Things like that don’t happen in Ukraine. And we thought that Russia would never bring the army into the country, this is insane. And then they did. Myself and tonnes of other Ukrainians have just been watching the news non-stop.

It’s been very emotional for me. I really want to go there, I want to be there and be a part of it. The band 30 seconds to Mars were recently there and spoke out about it, and the atmosphere was just incredible. That’s what it is like in Kyiv and other big cities at the moment. We’re witnessing the birth of a political nation in Ukraine. Putin actually managed to unite the country more than our politicians have in the last 22 years.

Wow, that’s interesting.

Yes, it’s because of the common enemy we have right now. It started off as being against Yanukovych and also because a small portion wanted to join the EU, but then it was about freedom and dignity – that brought a lot of people to the streets. But it still didn’t gain support from the eastern and southern regions, and then Putin brought the army in, and now the people are chanting things in the streets! They are marching and proud to be Ukrainian, and that’s a good thing.

And have these protests affected anyone you know?

My sister has been volunteering a lot everywhere. Fortunately, nobody I know was hurt. No one I know lost any relatives, but I don’t know if our country will ever be the same again. It was a tragedy and at the same time, it’s a necessary thing for Ukraine to become a true political nation. We can do it!

Great! And on a different note, do you like 30 seconds to Mars?

(Laughs) They’re good, I don’t know too many of their songs though. But Jared Leto is cool.

I believe he also mentioned Ukraine as well as Venezuela at the Oscars?

Yes, he did which was great. Apparently that part was cut out in Russia when they were broadcasting it.

Do you think that really happened or do you think it’s just a rumour?

I’m pretty sure that they really did that.

Ok then, since we’re talking about the media now. There are posters glorifying Putin as the new Hitler. What’s your opinion on those?

We have an information war going on right now. In Crimea, there are posters that show the region as Russian and prosperous, or as a Ukrainian fascist state with a swastika… In Russia they are showing people in Kyiv as ultra nationalistic and fascist. They also say that everyone in the square are drugged to pump them up more. It’s crazy!

Do you believe the Western media when they say that Putin is going to continue to invade countries or do you think it’s a bit too sensational?

Putin wouldn’t mind becoming the new great collector of the lands or become the new Russian Peter the Great. I’m pretty sure he has ambitions like that of course. He has grandeur issues… Well, pretty sure he has a lot of issues (laughs). When Georgia happened, some people, President Kaczynski for example, were saying ‘today it’s Georgia, tomorrow it will be Kyiv and then Warsaw.’ Everyone thought that was ridiculous. But now people are starting to think ‘ok, how did this happen!?’ At this point, I’m not going to be surprised by anything he does.

But Russia has no chances when it comes to real war. Even if you compare military budgets of some of the major countries, there is just no way. But, he might try to bite off some small pieces of countries around him instead. He is walking on thin ice though because Russia in the end is just a bunch of different republics and quite a few of them wouldn’t mind being independent themselves.

What can people here in Prague do to help out?

Well they can spread the word. Make sure people understand what is really going on and don’t get into the trap of Russian propaganda or oversimplify things. It’s important to raise awareness and of course donate money. There are more than 100 people in critical conditions in the hospital now. There are victims being treated for free in Czech hospitals too which is great.

I’m curious. What’s your general opinion on the Czech government?

Well, Zeman is a ‘bubble bum’ (laughs). For those that don’t know, he was in the European commission and he wanted to say bubble gum, not bubble bum… Check out the video on Youtube. Fortunately, the president doesn’t have that much power, but he is the face of the country.

Anyway, I know there have been struggles here, but the government is functional unlike the Ukrainian one. There is no need for revolution.

Now tell us a little bit about the language, a lot of people presume that Ukrainian is similar or almost the same as Russian.

They are really different languages. Just because everyone in Ukraine is to some extent bilingual, it doesn’t mean they’re the same. And Russians don’t understand us when we speak Ukrainian. Ukrainian, vocabulary wise, is much closer to Polish. Not only is the language different but our mentalities are also. These differences kind of stem from the language as well. For example, the role of Ukrainian women in society. In Russian, a man marries ON a woman, but in Ukrainian he marries WITH the woman. Also the word man as a human being in Ukrainian is of female gender.

Does this mean that women have or had quite a significant role in Ukraine?

Of course it’s not as significant now, but this role is somewhat still there, yes.

That’s very interesting. Will you ever go back and live in Ukraine?

I would love to, but things change so often. When I left the first time to study, I was convinced I was going to be back in 18 months. But then I got a job, and it was a question of gaining experience here and going back and starting from scratch. Of course right now with everything that is going on, I really want to be there. I wanna be a part of it. I feel kindof deprived of a chance to witness and participate in all of this. I totally see myself going back though, I love Kyiv, I love Ukraine.

Would you say that Prague is home for now?

I think Prague is a very comfortable city to live in. At first it was too peaceful for me. In Kyiv everyone is in a rush and it gives me a rush as well. Prague is much more slow and peaceful, but now I’m so used to this comfortable life, and I have friends here. I have a job, I have a choir and a very active life.

How would you describe Prague in adjectives?

Delicate – architecture wise especially, sunny (laughs), no but I feel like it is, really!

What do you miss the most from home?

Being able to speak Ukrainian everywhere! I work in Ukrainian but it’s writing so it doesn’t really count. I miss using it in everyday life.

Where do you like to hang out in Prague?

My weeks are VERY busy. I learn German, I go to quizzes, I go to the movies, I meet my friends, I go to the gym.

Wow, very busy.

I love house parties too AND I love baking.

What’s your favourite thing to bake?

I try not to bake the same thing twice. But I am proud of my carrot cake and chocolate cake!

So… I guess you like cake?

YES.

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

That’s a tough one. There are too many options! Maybe I would go back and be a part of a Native American tribe, but not a violent one! (laughs) Yeah I think that would be cool.

Thank you so much for your time, Lilia! Please comment and let us know your thoughts on the present situation in Crimea. All opinions arewelcome.

Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.

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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

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