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.