Just Czeching

This week Sharon and I have been in Prague, staying at the Movenpick Hotel.

The hotel is a little way out of the main city but easily accessible by tram and metro. It is constructed in two parts; one building on top of the hill and another at the bottom, they are joined by a funicular railway! The upper building gives magnificent views across the city and it was here that we held our project meetings and final conference.

We’ve been in Prague on behalf of our friend Khawar Iqbal and her company Teaching and Learning Challenges (TLC). I’d contributed to and was working on the final ILMAE (Innovative Learning Methods in Adult Education) project conference, which took place on Friday. Please see: http://www.ilmae.eu/.

Sharon and I both contributed to the development of the UK module and helped to deliver it in Wetherby this spring. Partners from Spain, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic were all involved in the project and were all therefore affected by the giant Icelandic ash cloud which erupted right at the end of the UK module delivery in April. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8623534.stm. Their journeys home are amongst the most interesting ash-cloud-tales I’ve heard and they should be congratulated for their perseverance.

However, back to our sojourn in Prague.

We arrived a day earlier than necessary because flights on the ‘right’ day were more expensive than an extra night in the hotel and also because the available timings for the ‘right’ day would have meant us arriving very late at night. This meant that we had our first day in Prague to ourselves and just for once, the weather was beautiful. We had been to Prague before, on a day trip we’d made to the city whilst staying in the south of the Czech Republic at Nové Hrady, close to Ceské Budejovice in 2006. But we’d not been impressed with the city at that time. Several factors contributed to our previous dislike: the tourists, the cost of food and drink, the rain etc. but this week we’ve been privileged to enjoy the city much more. Even now though, after all these years of its great role in European history, the city isn’t finished! There are all sorts of building work going on here; some is renovation, some is brand new and some is just maintenance – it’s a busy place.

Whilst recognising our own culpability, I have to say that the greatest drawback to Prague is the number of tourists. They are everywhere, and always in great numbers. They flock to all of the tourist hot spots by the coach load; a plethora of languages led by umbrella waving (there are variations of this such as red hanky on a stick!) ‘Guides’. During our first day there Sharon and I managed to avoid the bulk of all this and had some pleasant moments sitting quietly in busy places watching the mayhem take place. The one downside to this trip is that my camera, a Panasonic Lumix TZ6, broke. The screen, which is also the viewfinder, is not working and I cannot therefore see what it is that I’m photographing. So that’s a trip back to Costco I need to make!

On Wednesday evening the project partners began to assemble at the hotel and we were treated to our first of three forays into Czech cuisine. Actually, none of these were particularly impressive. The first was the best; I had a really nice steak but which was just a little well done for me (not what I’d asked for). Our second evening meal was poor, but that was my fault. I’d ordered something that looked a little more adventurous than everyone else and it wasn’t a successful choice. The third meal at a beautiful, well-positioned location just beneath the Castle was OK but there was something missing. I’m not sure what that was but they were either trying too hard (some choices were huge portions) or feeling the pinch (some choices were tiny portions). Nevertheless, throughout the week, at each venue, the beer was fine. As it should be in Czech!

During Thursday and Friday I worked with the project teams to finalise the conference preparations and then delivered a short presentation at the conference itself. This amused me greatly because although everyone in the audience was a competent English speaker (teachers and students from the Czech Republic and those accompanying project partners), I was the only native English speaker there – and I started by apologising for my accent :-).

Sharon had spent all day Thursday and Friday morning with those students and teachers accompanying the project partners. They REALLY did ‘do’ Prague. Sharon’s photographs show things both on as well as off the tourist trail. Their investigations helped when, after our final dinner together, we accompanied the Germans and the Spaniards on a night time walk around Prague Castle.

At night it presents an entirely different (and well lit) view of the cathedral, the palace and the city itself. And there are no tourists, which is best of all! By now we’d also managed to master the tram system and became experts at hoping on an off as necessary to get where we wanted.

On Saturday morning we joined the four Germans and the four Spaniards on another trip into the city. More than half the group hadn’t made this trip earlier because of the meetings and so one, so it was a good time to socialise. It was also good to be accompanied by Edith, who is an art historian. She was able to identify and explain the many different architectures we saw along the way.

That’s pretty much it. It’s been an interesting week and we’re just a little sad to be travelling home to an uncertain future [I wrote this at Frankfurt Airport]. Self-employment brings its ups and downs, but the coming months are looking pretty bleak right now. I know that I’m not the only one in this situation as many of my friends and colleagues are in the same boat, but I enjoy what I do and I know I do it well: I don’t want to lose that. We’re hoping to be part of a future EU project but even if we’re lucky enough to secure that one (and it is by no means certain that the bid will be accepted) it will be the middle of next year before it kicks in.

Uncertain times.


It’s surprising what you learn when working with people from other countries; especially about your own country’s society and language.

Sharon and I have just finished two days work (for TLC) with people, mainly teachers, from four European countries. They are all (as usual) brilliant English speakers and (again as usual) inquisitive. The first night we ate at The Swan and Talbot in Wetherby and as a result several colleagues wanted to know what a Talbot was. It had never occurred to me that a talbot was anything other than someone’s name; despite spending many of my childhood holidays in Blackpool tramping around Talbot Square and Talbot Road. It turns out to be a type of dog. They also wanted to know what a ‘hard shoulder’ was. They’d guessed the answer but wondered why it was so called. The answers to that one are not easy to find and verify I’ll tell you!

Clip shows a communication exercise

Eating in Wetherby was a pleasure compared to eating in the hotel, which seems to be run by young inexperienced staff. I have no problem with young and no problem with inexperienced but both need someone to turn to for advice and guidance. There didn’t seem to be anyone who cared at our hotel. Lunchtime buffet fodder was gauche and unimaginative. I’ve no idea what they charge organisers for lunch, but they should charge 50p per head extra and add some thought and imagination to what they do. The evening prior to our event three of us went there to greet late arrivals from The Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and Austria. Edith, the German had arrived and eaten and those coming from Spain and Austria were delayed until after midnight but the Czechs got to the hotel in time to be told the restaurant had closed – 9.30pm. The hotel just didn’t care.

Anyway, we had a great two days with the group before moving on to Reeth for a couple of days R and R.

We both enjoy Reeth, which is in Swaledale North Yorkshire, because it gives us several things: peace and quiet, great walks, fabulous scenery, real pubs (with real beer, fair to middling food, no music and no frills) and No internet and NO phone or 3G reception. As I say – R and R. The cottage was tiny but we managed – just. The view from outside was stunning; we couldn’t quite see the river but had fabulous views over Harkerside Moor, which in the prevailing weather (beautiful) was delightful.

It wasn’t until we arrived home that we realised there had been a volcano eruption in Iceland. So all the time we were driving back through the northern Yorkshire Dales (via Tan Hill, Kirkby Stephen, Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale and Skipton) and soaking up the sun, our erstwhile European colleagues were still trying to get home. At the time of writing, I am aware that Edith set off yesterday for Dover to be picked up by Christophe who drove from Baveria to meet her and the Czechs had returned (were returning?) by bus. The Spanish and the Austrians were staying on at the hotel. No update today.


Personal Projectors

3M_MPro-3It’s been a strange week. I’ve had lots of time at home to do lots of preparation for upcoming and existing work. But I’ve really found it hard to motivate myself. Time slips by so quickly and I find myself lurching from one cup of tea (or coffee) to another with short bursts of activity, which are themselves interspersed with visits to Twitter, Jaiku or now; FriendFeed.  My work list has included geeing up PDAs (they have to submit draft Action Plans by today); preparing for my week’s work co-delivering an ILT course to European delegates; preparing for one-off gigs at Birkenhead 6th form college and Ashton Under Lyme 6th form college and finishing some work for NGFL Cymru.

Yesterday was an enjoyable interlude. I delivered and e-Guides plus event in Leeds. My co-trainer (although I suppose officially he wouldn’t be called that) was Kevin Campbell-Wright from the JISC RSC. Although the day itself doesn’t involve much input, we still have to try and keep participants on track and motivated. It seemed to work.

During my mobile learning input (really, the only input I did yesterday) I showed them my 3M MPro 110 Pocket Projector. I’d prepared by putting the projector in one waistcoat pocket and my phone in the other. Despite the lightness of the room we were in, most of those present were impressed with the display. It’s convenience for some (one guy was from the WEA) was seen as impressive.

There are two (basically two) types of Pocket Projector available – mine (see picture) which operates from battery or mains and will show off images from portable devices AND (here’s the main difference) from laptops. The other works from battery (re-chargeable but can’t be used when plugged in) BUT can work on its own without any other device – taking the presentation (whatever it is) from a memory card. This type does not have the capability of projecting from a laptop.  See the comparison page at http://www.personalprojector.co.uk/ (tell them I sent you and they may give you a small discount).

And today has been like the early part of the week. Lots of phoning around this morning, some European work this afternoon and now – the bath! 🙂