Lessons learned

My sabbatical is over.

I’ll meet all my Kent State students for the first time this week, back in Franklin Hall, parking in my usual spot and watching black squirrels outside my window.

But it’s not like I’ve been on a semester-long vacation, as those outside higher education might think. That’s really not the case. The official explanation on Kent State’s website says:

The university permits a tenured faculty member who has completed at least seven years of full-time service to the university and has the rank of assistant professor or higher to be freed of instructional or official responsibilities and granted a faculty professional improvement leave (PIL) for the purposes of upgrading professional skills; acquiring new skills; or intellectual and professional development that will be of benefit to the individual and to the university.

Soon I have to submit a report of what I accomplished during my PIL and how the university and I benefited. It will be formal and official and cover what I was supposed to be doing. Yes, I pretty much did what I promised, but I also did a lot not on my “concise proposal of no more than 300 words.”

And all those other experiences probably offered more benefits than the official stuff. For that reason, here’s the start of a few more blog posts, this time about my quite varied Top 10 Personal “Lessons Learned.”

10. It’s impossible to capture everything photo-worthy in Prague.

Right in the middle of Wenceslas Square, Prague's best known shopping district, the Colonel smiles down and promises not only fried chicken but "4 světové chutě" (world flavors).

Right in the middle of Wenceslas Square, Prague’s best known shopping district, the Colonel smiles down and promises not only fried chicken but “4 světové chutě” (world flavors).

I snapped a lot during my two months there. Some I shot with the iPhone to capture a image for a future blog, like a series I planned to title (but never wrote)  “Things you should have just left in the U.S.” Those included McDonald’s, KFC and not one, but two Hooters Restaurant and Bar locations. Or sometimes a lovely window with bright red flowers or the reflection of a building on the canal would catch my eye as I walked to the bakery. Then I was glad I had my phone.

Because the Nikon 300S and Nikkor 18-200 zoom are heavy, an outing to shoot with the good equipment was usually planned. Those included two hours on Charles Bridge, once at dawn with my son and stepson — and a few dozen other early risers — and one with former journalism teacher, now mom and photographer Karen Barrett as we tried (and finally succeeded) to get just the right halos around street lights before our hands froze.

6:15 a.m. and Charles Bridge is full of tourists, waiting for the sun to creep over the buildings of Old Town. One must have been a tour group there for that very purpose, and they almost made a better image than the rising sun did.

6:15 a.m. and Charles Bridge is full of tourists, waiting for the sun to creep over the buildings of Old Town. That row with their tripods all set up must have been a tour group there for that very purpose, and they almost made a better image than the rising sun did.

When my days in Prague dwindled, I began snapping more and more shots. As I came around a corner, I had to capture the slant of the sun on that building, the old man sitting on a park bench, one more shot of an especially colorful stand at the farmers’ market. But then I realized there was no need for mild panic. The sights are there for other photographers and, perhaps, for me to capture another year.

9. Schengen is a timely and important concept. When I transferred planes in Brussels, the connection was tight, and the terminal was under construction and lacked its usual signage. The back of my United Airlines boarding pass indicated, if I was going to a Schengen country, I had to go to one terminal; if I was going to an international country, I had to go to a different terminal. Huh? It seemed to me from Brussels to Prague would be international. Yes?

No, it’s not. Luckily I found out in time and made my flight, but I later learned I’m not the only U.S. citizen who hadn’t heard of the Schengen Agreement. I soon heard lots about this understanding among members of the European Union. It allows EU citizens to cross borders with ease and eliminates border checks in many areas.

I hadn’t been in Prague two weeks before the refugee/migrant issue became a major topic of discussion and even protests. Some EU countries welcomed the Syrians and others fleeing their war-torn homelands. Others were not so sure. Definitely the open borders between EU nations were creating issues.

Now, four months later, the situation has worsened. As Austria ended Schengen movement and added border controls Jan. 18, 2016, headlines read “End of Schengen Would Destroy Euro, Warns EU’s Juncker” (Wall Street Journal) and “Austria Suspends Schengen, Warns EU is Threatened” (Newsweek).

And suddenly those in the U.S. are learning, as I did, this word means more than which terminal is the right one when flying between countries in Europe.


The few things I won’t miss

Yes, it’s a pretty short list, but here goes. After two months at home, I can truthfully say there are only four things in Prague I don’t miss:

This is the tiny slice of sky I could see if I leaned way out of my kitchen window. From the bedroom the view was similar.

This is the tiny slice of sky I could see if I leaned way out of my kitchen window. My other window — in the bedroom — was blocked by the back of the Bellevue Hotel.

4. Inability to see the sky. True, not all who live in Prague have an apartment like mine, but many do. Streets are often narrow and any building that’s several stories high blocks the light and view of rooms across from it.

In my rooms, scoping out the weather was a bit of a challenge, but even worse was the mood this created. When I arrived in the city in late August, days were long, and the sun shone until well into the evening.

Not so by the time I departed. Days had fewer than 10 hours of light, and the sun dipped behind the buildings on my street before 4 p.m. That’s a lot of darkness for a lot of months — today, according to Date and Time Info, barely eight hours of light. I may not have more hours in Stow, Ohio, but I do have a longer vista so I can see the sun until it sets.

3. Noise under my window at 2 a.m. When I studied the reviews of the AirBnB I finally rented, some former residents noted a bit of noise — nothing bad, though. Sigh. With the bedroom on the front of the apartment and its window one story up, every sound on Karoliny Svetle sounded like it was right next to my bed.

In August and most of September, it was too warm to leave the double glazed windows closed. Below me to the left was the Guga wine bar, to the right the very noisy Duende Bar and Restaurant, whose patrons sat on benches in the open windows, exhaling smoke into the street and above.

Across the cobblestones was Cafe-Pub Atmosphere, which must not have allowed smoking as groups of up to 10 would come outside periodically and stand right around the corner from the front door, under my window, and puff away, laughing and joking loudly. In all, 10 restaurants lined my block, plus, at the corner was the top-rated Hemingway Bar. It was a happening area, unless you happened to want to sleep before 3 a.m. And that’s when the garbage collectors began.

It's early yet. From my bedroom window soon the night life will be visible...and audible.

It’s early yet. From my bedroom window soon the night life will be visible…and audible.

2. Hand-held showers. Anyone who was with me on the Kent State Modern Media and Democracy trip in Summer 2013 knows my challenges — some of theirs, too — with the curtainless showers. See “Day 6: Towel Usage Apology” for that story.


Thus my choice of an apartment for two months in Prague included a deal-breaker provision: It had to have either a shower curtain or a shower door. I settled for the curtain, but it did have a  hand-held shower spray. Fancy Jacuzzi though it was, this tub still required me to hold the spray.

That means only using one hand to open a shampoo bottle, one hand to reach for and use a razor, one hand to suds from head to toe, while still keeping the spray within the confines of the curtains and the tub.


1. Smokers. Admittedly the air is much better than when I first visited the city in 1990. Then, standing in any line — inside the train station, waiting for a restaurant table, even sitting in any restaurant — was an assault on my lungs and nasal passages.

But things are continuing to change. In June 2015, the Czech government approved a draft bill to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. Several of my students this fall at Anglo-American University wrote editorials in opposition — saying many eating places already banned smoking so let the non-smokers eat there. Finally the Czech Health Minister convinced the lower house to pass the bill in mid-December. The Prague Post quoted Svatopluk Němeček as saying, ““Let’s stop the practice of the elimination of one district town annually,” referring to the approximately 18,000 Czech citizens who die each year from the effects of smoking.

For the sake of the Czechs and their tourists, having both houses pass this bill would be a good thing. That might totally eliminate the thing I miss least in Prague.


Part III: The final things I will miss


4. Prague at Night.  After the sun goes down, the crowds may be there but they fade into the shadows. Lamp posts cast shadows on cobblestones, statues of saints are black outlines on not-quite-so-black skies. Noise is muted on Charles Bridge as a lone violin replaces the accordions and the one-man-cymbal-and-drum band. Suddenly what was hustling and noisy is rather mystical.

Ducks3. Farmers’ markets. Yes, Kent has one, but it’s not as big, and it’s not as diverse. I will miss ladies in colorful aprons, making crepes and filling them with Nutella or caramel or savory tidbits like sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese (my favorite!). I will miss spring rolls, frying in big woks, and cider — hard or not — or burčák, that young first-grapes-of-the-season wine the locals make. I will miss huge crates of tomatoes and potatoes and kale. I will miss fresh eggs and lines to buy them stretching across the fronts of the next four stalls. I will miss the man who sells fowl — and always runs out of the ducks first. And I’ll miss the families with wagons and carts and shopping bags and baskets, filling up on groceries for the week to come while sipping a drink or feeding a toddler a kolache.

2. Constant recreating. Prague is old, no doubt about it. But it cherishes the history and tidies up the present. Sidewalks that are missing bricks one week are reset the next. Buildings are hosed down, repainted, refreshed. Historic buildings are frequently cloaked in scaffolding and net so workers can restore sections of them. The Loreta, a pilgrimage site with a cloister, stable and house said to be like that of Jesus’ mother, Mary, built in 1626, had workmen cleaning between tiles with tiny brushes no bigger than a child’s toothbrush.

1. The diversity of it all. People, languages, architecture, food — it is all somewhere in Prague. I will miss turning the corner to avoid seemingly hundreds of tourists in front of the Astronomical Clock in Old Town and finding myself on a quiet cobblestone street with only one elderly man walking along with a paper under his arm.

The class I taught had 18 students representing nine different countries. I will miss discussions about how media covers refugees (or should they be considered migrants?) with those from Belaruse, Russia, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, plus four exchange students from the U.S. Everyone had a different view, and each listened to the others respectfully.

I’ll miss the contrast between the Vyšehrad, home of the Bohemian king in the 11th century, now a quiet park with few tourists, and Prague Castle, a few miles away, packed with tour groups learning about the past and current rulers who have lived there. They couldn’t be more different, and they couldn’t be more telling of the variety this city offers.

The view from the wall remaining around part of Vyšehrad Citadel makes it clear why early rulers chose this spot for a castle.

The view from the wall remaining around part of Vyšehrad Citadel makes it clear why early rulers chose this spot for a castle.



Part II: More top things I will miss

PetrinWallTwo months is a long time to spend in another country. But Prague — along with pretty much everyone I met — was good to me. Numbers 10, 9 and 8 were posted yesterday. Now here are four more things I will miss now that I’m back in Ohio.

7. Walking everywhere. I’m not sure I could safely walk to my office in Franklin Hall if I wanted to. The Google map tells me it’s an hour and 22 minutes and experience warns me some of that is without sidewalks and up and down hills.

But the trek to Anglo-American University from my apartment was 13 minutes — a bit longer if I chose to battle the crowds and go across scenic Karlův most (Charles Bridge).

PetrinTowerBetter yet, as my Fitbit will attest, I walked almost everywhere — and that included, on a regular basis, Tesco for just about anything, the Post Office, the Bakeshop and all except one restaurant (Sakura sushi, a tram ride away). All this walking led to an average of almost 20,000 steps a day, with one mega day of 30,000+ steps that included Prague Castle, the Strahov Monastery and Petřín Hill (right) (130 meters above the river — and the funicular was being repaired). That meant a walk of almost 12 miles along cobblestone streets, through a basilica built in 920, peaking in on a library started in 1143, visiting a lookout built in 1892 to mimic the Eiffel Tower, then heading down a steep hill that ends at the Vlatava River.

6. Vetrnik. The Czech Republic may be known for Prague ham and terdlniki, both slowly browning on spits with tourists lined up to get them. But there are better delicacies, especially vetrnik. And the best, according to Taste of Prague, are the vetrnik at Cafe Savoy. It’s hard to describe just how exquisite these are: a choux pastry much like a delicate cream puff with vanilla cream, caramel-flavored whipped cream and a caramel glaze. Cafe Savoy is virtually at the foot of Petřín Hill so the vetrnik pictured below — the mini size because they also come about four times this big — were a much-deserved award for a day of walking.Vetrnik

5. Amazing Architecture. Why didn’t I ever take a college course in architecture, just so I could know the difference between Baroque and Gothic, Art Nouveau and Renaissance? The good news is Prague has them all, and, even though I couldn’t always identify their category, I could appreciate their beauty. The only problem — the shots become a photographic exercise in parallax with walls tilting in. But at least they do so gracefully. This is a random sampling of some that caught my eye — and the kinds of structures I don’t see in Kent, Ohio.

Part I: Top things I will miss


Now that I’ve been home two weeks, I’ve unpacked, washed clothes and thought about my two months in Prague. It’s time to spell out the Top 10 Things I Will Miss about that city. Then I’ll deal with the Top 10 Things I Will Not Miss and finally Lessons Learned from my travels. In between I may stick in a few visuals I love but didn’t post and some other random thoughts. But for now, here’s what I know I will miss…in no particular order (because every time I try to rank them, I change my mind!).

IMG_413610. Public transportation. It was a standing joke with my friend Olena, one of the students who visited Kent State in 2014. She was amazed how limited our system is in Kent, Ohio, and I was more than a little concerned about getting around on trams, buses and the metro in Prague.

Silly me. Once I had that průkaz (card) that allowed me to ride anything and everything, I was set. Prague’s system is clean, efficient, easy-to-understand and on time. I took it to the zoo, the ice cream festival, the airport, the outlet mall and any place I couldn’t walk in a half hour. The next stop always flashed on a digital sign on the tram or subway, letting me know where I was. And while I couldn’t exactly translate all the words from the digital voice on the subway, I was pretty sure it meant, “Please step away from the doors. The train is about to start.”

St. George's Basilica, founded about 920 by Prince Vratislav I, is austere compared to ornate St. Vitus nearby.

St. George’s Basilica, founded about 920 by Prince Vratislav I, is austere compared to nearby St. Vitus.

9. History everywhere. There’s nothing like a trip to just about any place in Europe to make someone from the United States feel like a child when it comes to history. Prague has the mixed blessing of not being destroyed by bombs in World War II — because the Nazis were just allowed to walk right in, thanks to the Munich Pact.

That had many bad results, but it did save places like St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle, a site that started with Romanesque rotunda in 925, which became a basilica in 1060, and then a Gothic cathedral in 1344, which was finally finished in 1929. Or St. George’s Basilica, the oldest surviving church building in Prague Castle, dating back to 920 (above).

8. Music of all kinds. Whether it’s the blind accordion player on Charles Bridge or a string concert in a Gothic cathedral, Prague has music everywhere. Much of it is free, though tossing a 50 Kč-coin into an open violin case is expected from anyone who stops to listen. Unfortunately, actual concerts rarely allow photography, so this is a sampling of what is simply in the streets (or on Charles Bridge).

The rest of the Top 10 will follow shortly.

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.