Archive for December, 2007

8:37 am

Eclipse Crossword

Just what an ESL teacher needs for vocabulary exercises: this easy (and free!) bit of software for creating crossword puzzles.

8:15 am

Trip to Vienna and comparative Advent markets

I’ve heard a lot about Austrian Advent markets, and I was curious to make the comparison with the Prague markets. One of my students told me that she thinks that the Salzburg markets are much better than the ones in Vienna, so I was thinking about going there. However, it’s 5 hours by train to Salzburg, and there’s only one direct train per day from Prague, and it arrives in Salzburg after midnight. So I went to Vienna instead. Since my camera is on the blink, I bought a disposable camera, but I haven’t yet had it developed (or even used it all up), so pictures will have to wait.

Vienna itself is a pretty city, although I found it somewhat shabbier in feel than Prague. A lot of it could use, at the very least, a fresh coat of paint!

On Saturday, I visited the main market, in front of the City Hall. Like the markets in Prague, the most heavily trafficked stalls were those selling food and drink. In Prague markets, though, the non-food stalls mainly sell the usual touristy junk that you find in the souvenir shops around, for example, Old Town Square. The Viennese market, on the other hand, actually had stalls where you might reasonably buy genuine (non-souvenir) gifts.

One of the things that the Viennese markets do that I really like is when you buy a drink (coffee or hot wine or hot punch), instead of giving it to you in a paper cup, they give it to you in a mug, for which you pay a 2€ deposit. When you return the mug, you get your deposit back. Alternately, you can choose to keep your 2€ souvenir mug. However, the information booths also sell (clean) souvenir mugs for the same 2€ fee, so why put the dirty mug in your purse or bag? It put me in mind of Grandma’s adage, "Never steal a dirty ashtray".

"Never steal a dirty ashtray"

The story that Mom always told in illustration of Grandma’s adage goes like this: once she and Auntie Jo were out having lunch somewhere with Grandma, and Grandma took a liking to the ashtray. However, since all three were smokers, by the end of their meal, the ashtray was thoroughly dirty. So, when it came time to pay the bill and leave, Grandma handed the ashtray to the nice young waiter, explaining that she didn’t care to put the dirty ashtray in her purse and asking him to please bring her a clean one. The nice young waiter dutifully went away and returned shortly with a properly cleaned ashtray, which Grandma promptly stowed in her purse. Mom never said, but I do hope that they gave that waiter a healthy tip!

Since I was downtown for the market, I took advantage of the proximity to visit the Hofburg Palace as well and saw the Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum (the museum dedicated to Empress Elizabeth) and Imperial Silver Collection. I also wandered in the gardens while it snowed picturesquely on me. I think it would be lovely to visit in the Spring.

Sunday, I went to visit the Schloss Schönbrunn, which I liked even better than the Hofburg. The grounds are more expansive than the Hofburg’s, and again, would be well worth a Spring visit. When I bought my ticket to tour the palace, I hadn’t realized that there would be about a two-hour delay between the purchase and the time I would actually be allowed to enter (the tickets are stamped with the admission time). Fortunately, there was a little Advent market in front, so it wasn’t too painful to while away the time.

BTW, this posting (from another, food-specific, blog) describes the food at Prague advent markets very well. Plus, there are pictures of the market at Old Town Square.

7:28 am

Clubbing carp for Christmas

The traditional Christmas Eve dinner in the Czech Republic is carp, breaded and deep fried, served with potato salad. In anticipation of this dinner, fish mongers with tubs of live carp appear on street corners and plazas a few days before Christmas Eve, and people line up to buy their carp. I’m told that some Czechs take the carp home live and kill the fish themselves. Most people, though, let the fish mongers do the dirty deed. And so the fish sellers scoop a carp out of the tub and give it a few sharp whacks on the head with a mallet before beheading it. (People take the fish heads, too, since fish soup is also a traditional accompaniment to the dinner.)

I suppose that if one isn’t vegetarian, it’s just as well to be reminded of exactly what is entailed in the eating of fish or poultry or meat.

And every time I saw this transaction taking place, I was reminded of Tom Lehrer’s Poisoning Pigeons in the Park:
Indeed, I’m sure that if Lehrer were Czech, he might have come up with something along the lines of Clubbing Carp for Christmas.

You can also buy carp filets at the supermarket, and indeed, I even saw some frozen breaded carp all ready for cooking, but very few of the Czechs with whom I’ve spoken admit to going that route.

7:27 am

Camera out of whack

No pictures for a while, folks. My camera, a Canon PowerShot A70, has blacked out on me. From Googling around, it appears that this is a known problem that Canon has agreed to fix. Unfortunately, I can’t reach any English speakers at Canon in Prague to help me, and Canon in the US refuses to do anything. Snarl.

After Christmas, I’m going to have to recruit one of my Czech friends to help me deal with this. Snarl.

In the meantime, I picked up a disposable camera, and I hope to post a few pictures when I get them developed. It’s really weird to be taking pictures with a (more or less) conventional camera again, though, and I’m not sure how well they’re going to turn out.

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