When a friend and I decided that we needed to experience Christmas markets in December 2014, we asked around about which ones are the best. Everyone had different opinions, and for a wide variety of reasons, but we eventually narrowed it down to Prague because we were told it was charming and classic European market (and also because I wanted to visit the Mucha Museum- see below). We did in fact love the markets, as well as the city at Christmas time.
One of the primary reasons I wanted to visit Prague? Two words: Alphonse Mucha. I've been a big fan of his artwork for years, and even contemplated a tattoo of one of his pieces (only to discover that it's been done- a lot). I had heard there was a museum dedicated to his work, as well as other sites designed or decorated by him. And I was not disappointed! If you love the art nouveau style, the city of Prague is steeped in it! Everywhere you turn, there are hotels, apartment building, shops, and churches decorated in that distinctive style. Some photos below:
The museum is small but contains many original pieces by Mucha. There is also a gift shop with an extensive collection of prints for sale. I bought two and had them framed back home; I still get effusive compliments on them both!
7, Panská 890, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia
more information about Mucha Museum
Three words to describe Prague at Christmas Time:
festive cold! historic
Views & Sites
Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti)
more information about Old Town Square
more information about Prague Castle
When we arrived in Prague, we were not aware that the city virtually shuts down for several days over Christmas. Luckily, we purchased tickets in advance to Swan Lake on Christmas Day! We got dressed up to witness an incredible performance. And the opera house itself was a stunning work of art! We marveled at neo Rococo decor and the rich red velvet details. Perfect for those who celebrate the holiday.
State Opera/ Statni opera (currently under reconstruction)
Wilsonova 4, 110 00 Vinohrady, Czechia
more information about the State Opera
One of the best things about Prague at Christmas: trdelnik! It's a delicious strip of pastry wrapped around large wooden posts, covered in cinnamon and walnuts, and then roasted to a delicious golden brown. Perfect on a freezing cold, windy afternoon of shopping at the Christmas markets.
Though it has been several years, I haven't forgotten our dinner at Delice, which is now called Santini Gardens. We had the most amazing dinners and glasses of wine. If you're in Prague during the summer, their back garden looks divine... We also highly recommend dinner and drinks at the Dancing House and the Beer Monastery (see below in the Ultimate Experiences section).
Jánský vršek 323/13, 118 00 Malá Strana, Czechia
Prague is a very walkable city. Plan to stay downtown, and you can see most sites easily. If you stay further out, the metro is easy to use and runs very regularly. We felt safe using the metro even in the evenings.
Three of my favorite experiences:
III. nádvoří 48/2, 119 01 Praha 1-Hradčany, Czechia
more information about St. Vitus
The Dancing House
more information about the Dancing House
Strahovské nádvoří 133/3, 118 00 Praha 1-Hradčany-Hradčany, Czechia
more information about Pelko
Real world details
If you plan to go to Prague over Christmas, the city really will shut down from December 23rd to December 26th. Many restaurants and even the markets aren't open, or for limited hours. My friend and I were warned and made sure to get an Airbnb with a stocked kitchen, and shopped for the groceries we'd need for several days. It turned out to be an adventure... we made a full Christmas dinner of roast pork, scalloped potatoes, green beans, and baked apples on Christmas Day! We made sure to have some movies downloaded and had the chance to Skype with family back home... super cozy.
Here are a few other blogs to check out:
Something that Prague is well known for is their folk art, puppetry. This are a wide variety of marionettes for sale in the Christmas markets, but these are generally more generic. In the speciality marionette shops, you'll find traditional, modern, and artistic puppets of every shape and size. I spent much of my time in Prague checking out all the cool puppets and debating which ones to purchase for others and myself. I found Loutky Michael's my favorite. Eventually, I decided on a traditional Czech female puppet for myself and a postmodern, roughly carved male puppet for my brother. Both were unique and are pieces to display with pride. You can even buy them online here.
In the months since I made the decision to move to Qatar as a school counselor, I have had many diverse reactions. They range from excitement to concern to complete disinterest, but there have been a few common questions that pop up repeatedly. So I thought I'd share a few of the questions I commonly receive, and an answer to each. Feel free to ask more in the comments below!
1. Where is Qatar? Is Dubai the capital city?
2. Why are you moving there?
The short answer to this is that I was offered a job at a fantastic school for expat children. The more complicated answer involves having the opportunity to work with students living overseas (I was an Army "brat" who experienced numerous transitions myself), being able to travel and live overseas again, expanding my professional knowledge by working with other wonderful counselors, and some great benefits! As I have been preparing for this move, I have also discovered a side bonus: I will have the chance to learn and understand more about Arabic and Muslim cultures and traditions… including the indulgence of delicious food and drinks!
3. Will you be teaching or counseling? With students from Qatar or other countries?
4. Is it safe? Are you worried about issues in the surrounding countries?
This might be the most common question I am asked. It is true that there are many struggles and even war in countries near Qatar; I am well aware of the current events. However, there is no reason to believe that Qatar will be involved. There is currently no evidence of political concerns in the country, even according to the US government. There is a U.S. military base and embassy in Doha. In fact, counselors and staff claim that they have felt safe living there, and very little crime is reported. Of course, all thoughts and prayers are welcome!
5. Isn't it hot there? Will you wear a burqa?
6. Where will you live? Is there a compound?
The school will provide a furnished, three bedroom apartment. It will be ready and waiting for me upon my arrival, and they have promised a starter set with needed items like dishes and sheets! All staff are provided with housing in various places around the city, but the school is currently building one place in which all staff will reside. I hear it will be ready in December 2014, and will be set up quite nicely with many amenities! We are not confined to the campus, and can travel freely around the city. I'll post pictures of my place when I get there!
7. How will you get around?
Expats can apply to obtain a driver's license before renting or purchasing a car. Driving in Doha is supposed to be quite… active… and I am frankly a little nervous about it! Public transportation, walking, and biking are limited. I plan to hire a driver if it is at all affordable, or at least until I can find my way around (after all, Doha does not have street names or building numbers. Getting directions sounds a lot like, "Take a right at the Burger King roundabout, then take a left after the National Bank."). I'm decent with directions and finding my way around, but… this will be an adventure.
8. What is daily life like? What will you eat?
My understanding from other expats is that life is quite similar to Western culture in many ways. There is a typical commute to and from school, a regular work day, shopping for food at grocery stores like Carrefour, and the every day activities of life (i.e., socializing, dinners, movies, etc). There are restaurants serving- and grocery stores offering- every type of food imaginable, and even malls with stores that are familiar to you, like Gap and Nine West. One interesting fact: weekends are different from those in the US; I will be off on Fridays and Saturdays!
9. Do you speak Arabic?
I don't speak Arabic, though I hope to learn enough to show respect to Qatari people I meet! I have flashcards that help me to practice the letters and a few basic words, but I will need a lot more practice. Most signs are in both Arabic and English, and I understand that many people speak both in common areas such as shops and restaurants. Still, it is my hope that I can speak basic phrases within the first few weeks.
10. Will you be blogging about your travels?
Of course! I have switched to a different platform, but you can still connect with it from this address. The new travel blog is called wonder.wander.write! I hope to hear feedback and comments from you all… keep it coming!
Additional questions are welcome in the comment field below.
Late last month, I went on an adventure in San Diego. I'd spent the previous few months sorting out a one bedroom apartment's worth of worldly possessions. I divided it all by what I most need to take with me in my impending around-the-world move, what could be put in safe keeping for 2+ years, and what should be purged (the latter being remarkably painful, btw. Who knew I'd be sad to part with worn sweaters or my pretty-but-warm duvet cover?) The storage items were heading to a family members' home in Arizona via minivan… and that meant: ROAD TRIP!
There was no rush to get said storage to Arizona, but I was not going to miss my friend Karen's nuptials for the world! It was set for June 28th in San Diego. My brother and I packed up a minivan in Portland and headed down a few days before, then he dropped me off in San Diego and continued on to Phoenix on his own. I then had a few days to roam San Diego, exploring and seeing friends at Karen's wedding. It was a gorgeous, joyous event and I am thrilled that I was able to attend!
It was a conversation that happened the evening following the wedding that got me thinking about this blog, but also about what makes me most passionate. During dinner with the newlyweds, my old friend Karen reminded me of a (now defunct) Yahoo group I maintained while teaching in southeastern China, and asked why I had never had the stories published. I called that Yahoo group "Adventures in Yulin," named after the city in which I resided from October 2003 to July 2004. I had posted stories from my experiences there almost every day. This moniker actually inspired the name of this blog & website, The Adventurous School Counselor. My friend requested that I chronicle my adventures in Qatar in a similar, storytelling manner… and this is where I stopped to reflect.
So here's the thing. I love storytelling; it's one of my passions to read, listen to, tell, and write stories. Funny stories, serious stories, suspenseful stories, fictional stories… even rambling stories that make you wonder if they will ever end but somehow come together in this frenzied, coincidental, satisfying end. I particularly love stories about people and about travel, and about people who travel. But I am a sucker for transformational stories in particular. It was a delight to write down the stories from my life in China, and share them with others.
…but as I started a blog about school counseling, I found myself hesitant to write personal stories about the people and students with whom I work- even if they were positive or inspiring (and that can be so hard to pass up when big changes occur!). So I stuck to the "facts:" the structure, organization, and techniques that were implemented in the counseling program at my school. Then I got the overseas position and I thought, "it can't work to throw my personal travel stories into this structure, can it?" So I started another blog on the same website in an attempt to separate the two- not just separate topics, but different style & tone, too. I'm thinking that the school counseling blog will be geared toward fellow school counselors & educators and will stick to a more structured, professional format. On the other hand (or page), the travel blog will focus on the more personal aspects of my experiences in Qatar and will be more storytelling in nature. I am hoping this will work! What do you think? Is it confusing to have two blogs? Which one(s) would/will you follow?
Now I am wrapping up my last couple weeks in Oregon (possibly forever?), living out of suitcases, trying to check times off my bucket list and saying my goodbyes to lovely friends. Then, I will head down to Arizona for another month of catching up with family and friends before heading off to Qatar and a new school counseling job. This means many more nomadic stories to share on the travel blog in the coming weeks and months!
Here's to new adventures in blogging!
Above are a few pictures from my adventures in San Diego, June 2014.
I created a separate page on the site to gather information about Life in Doha. It is geared toward students, in case children would like to follow along and learn more about Qatar. Of course, I hope it will be informative to friends and family, as well.
So far, there are sections about:
What topics would you like to see? Please comment below!
As I am preparing to move across the world, I am finding that there are two distinct audiences for any blog posts I send out. One is to counselors in hopes of sharing ideas, but the other is geared toward students, families, and friends who are hoping to follow along on the travel portion of my move. Thus, I thought I'd create two distinct blogs at the same website. I am planning to dedicate this blog to the move, including preparation and research, and any other places I will travel. Please feel free to leave comments requesting information or topics you'd like for me to cover!