Vegetarian beats the meat-eaters


BigClearHead If you happened to read my post when I was in Prague in 2013, you know that I faced some dietary challenges then and the other four times I had been there. Being a vegetarian in a country that prides itself in pork knuckles (or pig’s knees, as it’s sometimes translated on menu boards) is not for the faint of heart.

I always found enough to eat, though meals focused on Greek salad, some grilled veggies and an occasional couscous.

But things have changed. To be more accurate, things have been slowly changing and this year, I discovered that. Vegetarian restaurants seem to be everywhere, and some of them are so popular — even with meat-eaters — that reservations are a must.

Take Lehká Hlava, a small place down a cobblestone alley, that “aims to satisfy your senses and clear your mind,” according to its menu introduction. Clear Head, as its name translates, definitely satisfies an craving for comfort food — and healthy stuff, at that.

Appetizers include “tofoi gras,” a pâté from smoked tofu and cashew nuts, with cranberries and toasted bread, or the “Small Clear Head,” (left) with a whole selection of starters like hummus, pumpkin spread, sun-dried tomato and peanut pesto, pâté of smoked tofu, green olives and bread.

For main dishes, the “Big Clear Head,” (top of page), is for two (with big appetites) and includes cheddar quesadilla with jalapeňos, grilled vegetable skewers with smoked tofu, served with potatoes au gratin, seitan gyros, small spring salad with honey-lemon dressing, BBQ sauce, tzatziki and pita bread. The gyros has the spices and seasonings just right so it’s hard to believe it’s not meat.

Another favorite (left)  — probably the best of the best — is grilled goat cheese with walnuts, served on potatoes au gratin and steamed spinach leaves, lamb ́s lettuce with pesto of basil, but a close second is the quesadilla with baked eggplant, vegetables, cheese brie and eidam, sour cream, sundried tomatoes pesto and lettuce. In addition, homemade lemonades include cranberry and rosemary and a list of others.

SvichkovaSister restaurant is Maitrea, tucked behind Tyne Church, just off Old Town Square but comparatively deserted. Tops from them (left) is “Svíčková,” the traditional heavy meat and gravy dish every mother thinks her daughter should learn to make before she marries. But this one has vegetarian “meat” slices with the texture and flavor of the real thing. Over it is a vegetable cream sauce, seasoned with allspice and all the right ingredients and served with wholemeal dumplings, lime, whipped cream and cranberries. I know, I know — it sounds strange, but even this non-gravy-eater mopped up the plate with her remaining dumpling.

EstrellaquesidillaIn New Town is Estrella, only two years old and still without a website.  Such touches as a free “tasting” appetizer and a slightly more extensive wine list add to the appeal. Again, a favorite there was a quesadilla (left), crispy outside and full of cheese, black beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Sadly, both times I ate there, I was too full for the carrot cake Trip Advisor reviewers rave about.

One other stop was Lo-Veg, a vegan restaurant on the steep road up to Prague Castle. It’s probably not fair to make comparisons because the kitchen there has to be much more creative to make up for a lack of dairy and eggs, but I had their version of Svíčková (in gallery below). The flavor was fine, but the texture was clearly not even pretending to have once been a cow. The color, too, was not like most versions of the real thing I have seen — a little too bright and yellowish. However, their RAW cake made up for any shortcomings on the main course.

And did I mention these dinners are very inexpensive?  (Czech food is in general, but this seems even more so.) A dinner for three with a 2-person appetizer we couldn’t finish, a salad two guests shared, three main course meals (quesadilla, “shrimp” curry, with, yes, shrimps than looked and tasted authentic, and grilled goat cheese, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, and chive dip, served burger-style in a freshly baked focaccia) plus two beers and four wines was 1,110 ‎Kč, less than $50. At those prices and with so many options in these newer places, who would choose to eat a pig’s knee?







Faculty meetings and crystal chandeliers

The university building front hall is just not like most school buildings.

The university building front hall is just not like most school buildings.

The first faculty meeting I attended during my stay at Anglo-American University was in a room with a crystal chandelier. I should have taken a picture of it, but then the meeting started.

Topics included accreditation, recruiting and pay for adjuncts. Heck, that’s the same stuff we discuss at Kent State. Then, after the meeting, the whole faculty had beer, wine and pizza, served in the courtyard downstairs. Nope, that’s not the same.

Looking back at my two months teaching here, though, I can say more was similar than different between the two universities. Sure, in my “Media and Shaping Public Opinion” class I had students from the Czech Republic, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Macedonia — plus five from Texas, New York and California. (Luckily, all are reasonably proficient in English, so that’s the language that’s used for everything.) When we discussed the refugee/migrant situation in Europe, the range of sincere, impassioned views was heartening. They knew about these things, and they cared, even though they didn’t always agree.

The last night of class with me was a good time for a selfie. Too bad six had already left early.

The last night of class with me was a good time for a selfie. Too bad six had already left early.

But they were still kids. I sometimes got a deer-in-the-headlights stare from someone when I mentioned an assignment due that night. I never did get everyone to use the file-naming protocol I kept demonstrating — Last Name_Assignment — so I could sort and organize what 20 of them turned in. (OK, 18 because two of them dropped for reasons not related to the instructor) And six left early the last night I was there, simply because it was the start of break, and one, for instance, had a flight in four hours to Moscow.

I taught in a building that had once been an abandoned neoclassical palace, but the university reached an agreement with Prague 1 Municipal Council and now has an exclusive lease for 15 years to the newly renovated building. It has 17 classrooms, each complete with projection equipment and other AV, a visual arts studio and a cafeteria that doesn’t look anything like the ones in Kent. And, though my room didn’t have one, it has plenty of chandeliers.

I met caring and innovative professors and bright, motivated kids. The head techie was willing to sit down with me to explain the NEO-LSM system. This is the kind of thing that’s tough to grasp in English, which he does speak, but his accent added another layer of confusion for me. Still, we got through it — and I can use their technology. I even could set up the projector for my laptop, though instructions were in Czech.

I also worked with sincere, hard-working administrators — Tony Oruza, dean of the School of Journalism, helped me set up a survey for his students that may lead to a paper about their reasons for taking that major and visions of their future jobs. He loaned me a tripod for night shots, got me a key to the lovely loft office and just generally made me feel part of the faculty.

Iva Skochova, lecturer who also deals with special journalism projects, was my “co-instructor,” though we planned for me to teach class until fall break and for her to do the part after fall break. It was the perfect solution so she, a free-lance journalist from the Czech Republic with a master’s from Columbia University, could use the time I was teaching to travel to Georgia and then Turkey, working on what sounds like an awesome video story.

University President Alan Krautstengl, who has an M.A. and Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Kent State University, knows the value of exchanges between his students and those in the U.S. and seemed genuinely pleased to have be teaching there, hoping to see more cooperation between the universities in the future.

Meanwhile, an old Czech proverb is “Kdo hledá, najde.” (He who looks, finds.) I spent two months looking pretty deeply at some aspects of Prague, especially this wonderful university. And I’ll spend many more months thinking about all I found.

Thank you, David Černý



Street art isn’t rare in Prague — saints line Charles Bridge and disappearing men from the Memorial to the Victims of Communism stand near the foot of Petřín Hill.  Just about every náměstí (square) in the city has a statue.

Few, though, are as strange as those of artist David Černý. If you just clicked on that link — especially if you had your sound on — you see why researching the man himself was a challenge. The best info comes from an interview he had with Dominik Jun of the Prague Compass. His site DOES say he was born in Prague in 1967, studied at the Academy of Applied Arts there from 1988-94, and was part of New York’s Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in the mid-90s. He now has permanent installations in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Poland, Germany and Charlotte, North Carolina. (Metamorphosis — a ways down the page)

More interesting were the the places his work DIDN’T go. He was the 2004 winner, chosen to create a World War II memorial in Prague — but, according to his website, this was “not realized because of political statement of author.”


Though the head of the post office in Prague rejected this as a decoration there, this polystyrene and epoxy resin “sculpture” now adorns in mall off Wencelas Square in Prague.

His statue of King Wenceslas astride his upside down dead horse was first created in 1999 for the newly opened hall of the Prague Post Office on Jindřišská Street. But, as Černý’s website explains, the post office director said it was “‘way too much,’ without specifying what was too much.” It now hangs in the Lucerna shopping mall in Prague. It definitely doesn’t look like the statue of Wencelas at the top of the square bearing his name.

His “Piss” statue, permanently displayed outside the Kafka Museum, probably makes more sense in the video form from his website than my attention-grabbing still photo at the top of the page. (Scroll down on that link — it’s from 2004.) That site reports the men  “write” messages in the Czech-shaped pool where they stand, sent to them from bystanders. I’ve never seen the mobile phone number to text to make that happen. That’s not in my AT&T plan, but I would be willing to get an overage charge if I could do it.

And then there areAtTheBabies the babies. First designed to decorate the The Žižkov Television Tower, a Communist-era structure many say is the ugliest place in Prague, these 10 giant sculptures made of fiberglass crawl up the tower, visible from all across the city. Their three identical cousins in Kampa Park are bronze. All have non-faces that look a bit like bar codes.

Other notable art around the city include “In Utero,” a giant pregnant woman, who looks like she’s made out of shiny, silver Legos, Sigmund Freud “Hanging Out” from a pole high above a small cobblestone street in Old Town, and a 45-ton stainless steel Kafka that turns much like the statue in Charlotte, sitting outside the downtown Tesco.

Of course that’s not all. Černý’s Meet Factory, described on its website as “a place for live art, music, theatre, residency, gallery, workshops and more…,” includes a white room with a  Clorox bottle that periodically erupts with confetti and a row of about 20 twin-sized mattresses, lined up on their ends with a three-foot-in-diameter hole through them all. When we visited — two tram rides and a trek behind the railroad yard — they were also producing an Indian clothing commercial. “It’s hard to find a red bathroom where you can shoot video,” one of the crew explained. MeetFactory

Statues, statues everywhere

PeopleStatuesFrom David Černý’s two men by the Kafka Museum (more on that in another post) to giant babies crawling up the Zizkov television tower, Prague has statues everywhere. Some, like those two examples, are just plain strange while others have such passion and intricacy, it’s amazing bronze could capture it.

Take, for instance, those at Palackého náměstí, not too far south of the city center but definitely away for the tourist crowds.

František Palacký (pronounced Palat-ski), one of three considered a Father of the Nation, is honored here.

Sculptor Stanislav Sucharda constructed this from 1901 to1912. His allegorical bronze figures surround Palacký, who was a historian before becoming a politician. From this background, he sought to give the Czechs more independence within federated Austria in the mid-1800s. Palacký especially supported the Czech National Revival, putting more emphasis on the native language and literature. He fought against Germanization, which had resulted in burning of Czech books and the use of German by the elite while mostly peasants used Czech.

Sucharda’s figures represent the oppression and awakening of the people. On the granite above a stern Palacký the words say,  “Svému buditeli a vůdci vzkříšený národ.” Translated, that is, “From the resurrected Nation, to its revivalist and leader.”



Prague’s top five dangers


You’re thinking pickpockets, right? Or some shyster who rips off unsuspecting tourists with garnets that are just glass?

Nope, pickpockets are nothing.

Sure, like walking around in any large city, a woman would be wise to use a cross-body bag with a zipper and a flap, carried in front with one hand on it. A man, of course, should put wallets and other valuables some place other than his back pocket.

The U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) reports in Prague the most common are “crimes of opportunity.” OSAC warns about the woods (dubbed by some as “Sherwood”) north of the main train station and Wenceslas Square. There and in other crowds, members of a team work to distract a tourist while others snatch valuables.

A colleague I taught with in Prague in 1998 had that happen after leaving the American Express office, and I had two men try to corner me on a tram that same year. But I stood on the top step, facing an exit door, my camera bag-purse clutched in front of me, and I saw one eventually shrug at the other and move further up the car.

But this year in Prague, I have found five new dangers in the city:

5. The Umbrella Lady* tour groups.

DSC_8105As their intrepid leader marches forward around the castle, across Charles Bridge, through Old Town, a gaggle of tourists follow her, blocking entrances to the W.C., cutting off doorways and street crossings and just generally creating problems while some group members stand in one spot with dazed expressions.

4. Spiral stairs.

SpiralStairsStairs should be predictable, each the same height, each the same width and level. That’s not the case in many old Czech buildings. Place an unsuspecting food on the skinnier, inside of the stair, and you might be in for a surprise, especially on stairs like these in an old palace. They look lovely, but they are worn in the middle and uneven on the treads.

3. Pedestrian crossings.

WhiteLinesThis seems like a safety mechanism. Prague cars really do stop for pedestrians in the white-lined crosswalks. Push your stroller out there even — and people do. But not everyone driving there is from the city. If the driver’s from Slovakia or even from Brno, you might not get the courtesy. And then there are the trams. They stop for no one, their steel hurtling along so fast they probably couldn’t stop if they wanted to. So keep watching.

2. Sidewalks.

Sidewalk2I’ll admit I thought long and hard about how to illustrate the sidewalk danger, and this is one of Jeff Bowen’s contributions as he tried to help. The stones are uneven and irregular, and one wrong foot placement in a sidewalk dip, and you’ve hyper-extended your knee. The number of ACL injuries in Old Town must be impressive.

And the top danger in Prague in Fall 2015…

1. Selfie sticks.


As she slowly turned around to capture a panorama on her iPhone, this tourist wiped out six other sightseers with the end of her selfie stick. (this and the top photo by Jeff Bowen)

When I was last here two years ago, these weren’t an issue, but especially on the tight quarters of Charles Bridge, now their presence has an impact. Swing that handle around with reckless abandon and others nearby get poked in the eye.

Selfie sticks also look like they might be putting their users in danger when they try something like this couple did on a Prague Castle wall.

Please concentrate when you use your selfie stick in this way. (photo by Jeff Bowen)

Please concentrate when you use your selfie stick in this way. (photo by Jeff Bowen)

* True, they don’t all have umbrellas, but they hold something aloft and expect their group to follow along.

Tough translation in words AND numbers


Not knowing words in a foreign country is tough — but not knowing the metric system is worse. Take today, for instance.

Simple project: I was out of garbage bags for the little can in the kitchen and the even smaller container in the bathroom. No sweat. Tesco, of course. But….

Finding the bags wasn’t hard— and I KNEW they were garbage bags because some packaging — though not all — had pictures. But they were labelled by number of liters — 40 x 20L and such. That wasn’t too helpful. For the 35L bags, my iPhone converter app says that’s 36.98408 quarts, but I had a hard time picturing how much milk my garbage can hold…. If the packages just gave me height, that might be better, but of course it would be in centimeters so that probably wouldn’t solve the problem either.

Bottom line: I chose the smallest ones, and, although a little flimsy, they seem to work. There should be some way to indicate how strong they are. Denier? No, that was the problem I had with buying tights. Just plain black tights — how hard could that be? But every package looked like sheer pantyhose, even though they were all labeled “Tights.” And some WERE sheer and some were not. What denier is a regular pair of tights? But I digress…

For the garbage bags, I considered the 60L x 26, but I knew 63 quarts of milk would overflow that little garbage can, even if that size WAS on sale ($1.02 instead of $1.31). It pays to be a careful shopper, whether you’re dealing with dollars or koruna, liters or gallons. Or even denier.