Saturday, October 4, 2014

Autumn.... FINALLY!

Autumn, despite my deep love for snow, is my favorite season, and it has sneaked up on us here. The weather these last few days has been deceptively warm. However, as I walked home, I could clearly see the leaves changing, changing into those magnificent reds I love so much. Those deep dark reds, which symbolize the ending of one thing and, in another brilliant way, the start of something else.

The breeze, though warm enough to really move about the city with merely a sweater and scarf  as protection from the slightly cooler temperature, has a bite to it. It stings my cheeks a little, in what I hope is the promise of a long cold winter, with plenty of snow. Even the moon seems to be settling into the laziness that comes with shorter days and played hide and seek with me behind the clouds tonight.

The tourists, who have been invading since Spring, have all but left, leaving behind only those who seem to understand that, in many ways, Prague is at its most beautiful as Summer morphs in to Winter. The quiet adds wonderfully to the peace I find meandering through the city now. I think it is time for a trek to Vysehrad, to simply sit, reading, periodically looking up to see Prague with its symphony of colors and relish in the visual delight of this gem of Central Europe.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Books and books and books.

As much as I love Prague, and I do, there has been something missing from my life there: huge bookstores. Yes, we have bookstores in Prague, most of them even carry English books. However, there is something about bookstores so big you can get lost in them as you run your hands across spine after spine of books you know you can read. Bookstores so massive you can find a book you didn't know you existed and changes your life or some ancient title which moved you as a child that when you see it again, you smile wistfully and are instantly immersed in memories.

I have somehow managed to be good this trip and not blow tons of money on as many books as I can carry. I think of the sad little library I have in Prague, the one that barely takes up two tiny shelves in my closet, filled with books I couldn't leave behind and I long to fill it out, but now is not the time, I know. There are other things I need to be focusing on, but still, the bookworm in me tugs, kicks, and screams to take all the lovely volumes home with me, to give them a good home with someone who will love them. 

So I torture myself, showing a restraint I never knew I had, by spending more time in Hodges and Figgis than I probably should, roaming the stacks, lightly trailing my finger tips over the words I can understand, soaking in the Irish Interest section which is larger than my entire flat, tempting myself to break, and coming up with ways I could justifying spending way more than I should on books I would then have to ship to Prague and find a place to house them. Yet, in the end I don't. It is like the mere fact it exists and is waiting for me is enough to keep me in line. However, I make no promises for when I come back.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A not so white Christmas.

So the last Christmas I spent in the Czech Republic Europe had been blanketed in enough snow to shut down airports and generally make life impossible for millions of us. That being said, it created a stunningly cliche and perfect aesthetic. Imagine picturesque towns filled with Christmas markets, dusted (or covered) in snow, people rushing about, bundled up, cheeks glowing from the cold, and everything seeming to be pulled from some postcard. Yeah, It was lovely.

This Christmas is different. While the people are still bustling about, bundled and glowing, and the Christmas markets are everywhere, there is one key fact missing to really make it feel like a lovely Central European Christmas, SNOW! Sure the temperatures are still in the realm of cold, (but never really cold enough to suit me) it just doesn't feel right without the sound of snow crunching under my feet or the delicate weight of snow flakes on what little skin is exposed. I am finding I even miss the smell of it. All of the other smells are there: mulled wine, roasting chestnuts, trdelinks, but without the crisp clean smell of snow they seem lacking. 

However, even with the missing clean white backdrop, Christmas here is just this side of magical. There is really something about the stalls peddling everything from wonderful hand made wares to some of the tackiest mass produced crap ever. The Czechs, still grumpy and lacking in more Westernized over cheerfulness, seem to be a little less likely to scowl at everyone. They are more tolerant of my terrible attempts to practice my broken Czech, a little more helpful as my fellow expats and I navigate the markets, metros, and major department stores. It is a nice reprieve.

Now if I could just get it with a side order of fluffy snow. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

A little more today.

As another cold snap threatens St. Petersburg, I find myself overcome with words which need to get out. Thank CHRIST!!!!! The 10 month writer's block of Ireland was almost too much to handle. This sudden burst of creativity and productivity is like being able to breath again. I have missed it so much.

But back to the weather. I think I may have finally found a place cold enough to suit me. Of course, when I explain to the St. Petersburgians that I moved here for the winters, they all stop, look at me as if I am completely insane, and then tell me with no uncertainty I am. And in many ways they aren't wrong.

This is the coldest place I have ever been. There are moments when the icy temperatures feels like a knife cutting away at you, so sharp and swift it makes your skin ache, and part of you is a little afraid you may never be warm again. It hurts to breath outside for the first few steps beyond your front door and feels like snow is filling your lungs. Getting dressed is a production requiring a director, producer, stage hands and a prop master. The amount of time it takes to put on that many layers makes it almost not worth the effort, almost.

Part of the problem with the 18 hours of dressing it takes to brave the elements outside is the fact every single building, store, metro station, apartment, and bus effectively tries to make one forget about the subarctic degrees outside by attempting to recreate the Sahara inside. Honestly. So instead of keeping the temperature a nice lovely 15/16 degrees, the heat is cranked up to at least 30 and we are left to fend for ourselves in the sweltering heat of indoors. I don't think I would mind so much if I could control the temperature inside my own apartment. However, in the older parts of the city entire buildings are controlled by one main thermostat. This means to get my flat to feel normal and not like some Turkish Bath I have to open every window, which I find odd when I know it is -15 outside and I see the snow cascading down. 

However, do to these extremes in temperature I have begun to find 0 to 2 degrees lovely and temperate. This new found acclamation allows me to occasionally make up for the epicness of my usual attire by rolling up my jeans, throwing on a hoodie and slipping in to my Chucks. Though I still feel a bit of the sting of winter, I find it less annoying than having to lace up boots or look at coats I am already sick of, or to wish I hadn't taken the time to suit up in first place the moment I step in doors. Plus it allows me to be even more of an oddity than just wandering around with my joyful smile and eager laugh. That has to be a plus, right?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

White winters

I know I haven't written about my impressions of St. Petersburg yet. Instead, my time has been spent attempting to arrange the latest chapter of my life into some sort of plot line which makes sense. However, as I sit looking at the snow flurries dancing gently just outside my window, I realize it isn't so much that I have been busy, but more I am afraid of not being able to do this city justice.

St. Petersburg is really unlike any other city I have ever been in. There are moments when I walk down Nevsky Prospect, the main street in town, and I feel almost as if I had been transported to Paris due to the amount of Art Nouveau architecture, or when I am in the outer regions of the city and I see the communist boxes that I am reminded of Prague. Yet some how neither of these impressions last for long and I find myself thrown into a world which is neither East nor West, but instead a mixture of both which I am not sure would work anywhere else except here. Most of the city looks as if it could be almost any large metropolitan area, littered with shops and apartment buildings, people rushing about, fixated on their daily lives. Then you turn a corner and come face to face with something so beautiful, so awe inspiring, your breath literally catches and you stand in struck for a moment at the sheer magnificent beauty of it all.

I live in the old part of the city, just beyond the walls of the monastery, which guide me to the metro every morning and quietly remind me of the power the Orthodox Church once held here. It is easy to forget as a foreigner this hold, as many of their churches are situated off the main drag, laying in wait, popping out when least expected to leave you awestruck and marveling in the passionate love affair between people and their religion. While many of the churches look like any other Baroque temples of devotion I have seen in places like Austria, Germany, France, Britain, etc, with only a slight hint of Orthodox flourishes, there is one which stands out against the Western cityscape. The Cathedral of the Savor of Spilled. With its truly Eastern aesthetic, the spiral domes, and almost Byzantine like mosaics both inside and out, it leaves you in no doubt of where you are. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Colourful, with blues and greens which I had previously only thought existed in the realm of a Seuss book, immense and at the same time strangely humble, and bursting with love and praise. It is wonderful.

While work and getting settled into my routine has left me with little time to explore and discover, every day I see something which reminds me of all I yet to see and leaves me longing to know more of this wonderful and slightly magical city I find myself in.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Two weeks to go

Okay, so now that I got confirmation I have what I need to start the visa process (FINALLY) I need to get ready to head to Russia. This means a lot of shopping. A LOT!!!! As I am moving to place which actually has four seasons, I need to make sure I have clothes for all kinds of weather ranging from "Holy mother of GOD, I think my brains are frozen" to "Jeez I wish the world had air conditioning". This isn't to say Russia won't have stores to purchase things I need, however, with the introduction of capitalism to the mix and the fact Russia is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live, I am stocking up on as much as I can here. Plus I remember how difficult it was finding clothes to fit me right in the Czech Republic, and I don't think Austria or Germany is going to be quiet such an easy trip.

The problem with moving to a place where the winter temperatures regularly dip to -20 c or lower for three months or so out of the year is I have never had to really deal with weather this extreme. It got cold in Ceske Budejovice, but never that cold for that long. So I am feeling a bit overwhelmed and daunted at the prospect of having to guessitmate what I am going to need. I have a feeling it is one of those things where no matter how much research I do, no matter how prepared I think I am, it isn't going to be enough.

Then there is the language thing. A completely different alphabet with more letters and an entirely different phonetic base. GAH!!!! I mean, it is me. I do love languages, but I am a little freaked out. I think I will take classes at the University, rather than paying for private lessons. I tend to do better when there is a professor and homework involved.

Well I better get cracking rather than sit here and dwell on what I need to get done. GAH!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It is begining to feel a lot like Dickens.

Ok, well not quite. However, it is still pretty dang magical right now, in my life.

While I have no fear of being visited by ghosts showing me how my life is totally wrong (probably because I am exactly where I need to be) everything around me has a fantastical quality which I want to hold on to for as long as I can. Since I was a child I have dreamed of spending a holiday season in London, surrounded by all of the whimsy and delights of the British imagination. After all, I have long felt, if it weren't for "A Christmas Carol" the Christmas we know today wouldn't be. Now, I understand much of this holiday I credit the British with inventing was stolen from other culture, the Christmas tree being Teutonic, the Christmas markets being from Central Europe, etc, however there seems to be a way the Brits put it all together to make it somehow their own.

I wandered today, down Oxford street, relishing in the holiday decorations, the huge lighted banners spanning the width of the street, high above my head, as I headed to Hyde Park, embracing the cold, crisp air, the kind which hurts a little the first few breaths outside. I watched people, tourists maybe, or perhaps people on their lunch breaks trying to fit in a bit of shopping before heading off to wherever they needed to be next. I delighted at the smell of roasting chestnuts being sold on various street corners, as if crumbs to the sugary spicy smells which would permeate my nose the moment I stepped foot in the Christmas market. I enjoyed the sight of couples falling in love, the sound of families shopping together, the taste of the mulled wine as I sipped it, feeling the warmth of all of these things, reminding me that sometimes the happiest moments in life are just a quiet series of blissful snapshots not just the grandiose events of life changing proportion.