Out and About in Ostrava

The people of Ostrava are a special crowd. My observations are only my own and certainly don’t reflect all Czechs and maybe don’t even characterize Ostrava well, but here goes. The people I’ve encountered are some of the kindest, most sincere I’ve met. I’ve never in my life seen so many families with small children – it seems everyone has a toddler or baby and certainly has a dog or two (I know that runs contrary to statistics). And everyone is so into being physically active outdoors.  They bike, hike, swim, ski, kayak, and run. Tiny children are learning to ride bikes and those too young for that scoot along on peddle-less ride-on toys. I’ve seen these in the U.S. and they have big poles with handles while the parents essentially push the kids. Here, 16-month-olds hold their own. I see them scooting for long distances and the parents don’t work too hard to wait – the kids just keep up.

I want to say a few words about my colleagues.  I share an office with Katka, who is a genuinely wonderful person to share a space with.  She’s a lawyer specializing in family law and also a professor of social work.  She’s engaging, kind, is clearly devoted to her family, and has been really generous with me with both her time and sharing her space.

Tereza is a doctoral student who has an impossible amount of energy. In addition to being a full-time Ph.D. student, she works as a manager in an NGO that supports foster families (which is why she’s working on my project), and if those two things don’t take up enough time, she just opened her own bistro, Fasta Pasta. Below she is standing in her new restaurant. I’ve eaten there three times now!

Monika, another professor who is an expert on foster care and also is my landlord, has now brought me hand-picked mushrooms twice from the woods by her cabin.  I’ve made mushroom soup and sauces. Next weekend she’s invited me to her cabin to pick mushrooms.  I’m so excited!

Pavla is the director of international studies in the Faculty of Social Studies and she is a serious athlete. She does tons of biking and skis in the Alps every winter.  She invited me to come with her family for a week at their Italian time-share which would include a 7-day lift pass. Her invite came with a video of her on some sort of para-glider flying over the snowy mountains and landing on her skis. And I don’t know how to ski!  But what a generous, thoughtful offer.

I visited the cemetery the other day. Such beautiful devotions to lost loved ones.  The tombstones had something I’d never seen before – little cases with photos of the deceased.  And nearly all the stones were decorated with art, flowers, and figurines.

I also visited the Cathedral of the Divine Savior in town.  It is a bright cheerful yellow and has a fascinating photo exhibit inside of priests and everyday people engaged in worship.  It wasn’t dramatic like so many European cathedrals but the woodwork is still gorgeous and beautifully renovated.

Rumor has it if you hold the hand of this saint and say a prayer, good things will happen to you. You never know what form art will take here.  I have no info about this massive painting of a woman on the side of a building, but there is no missing it and I really like it.

It’s easy to post photos of the old baroque architecture, cobblestone streets, and old style restaurants that are everywhere. But Ostrava, and I am guessing much of the Czech Republic, is very contemporary and beyond us. There are some really cool buildings with creative architecture.

Back when we were still swiping credit cards, they had the chip and now that we are finally getting the chip, they’ve already moved on to touchless – for stores, for the trams and buses, for the ATM. The grocery store has recycling machines that sort and pay you for your recyclables, and the mall has device-charging units (you actually leave your phone behind) lest those teens run out of juice mid-evening. Czechs are way better about energy conservation and use of plastic than we are. You bring your own bags to the grocery store and any other store (or carry everything out loose), everyone turns off their power strips when not in use, and I’ve yet to enter anyplace that doesn’t have motion-censored lights everywhere: the halls, the bathrooms, you name it.

Finally, a few pics from the past couple days. I gave a talk the other day to an NGO that would normally be an hour, maybe 90 minutes, but with an interpreter was over 3 hours.  I really had to learn the rhythm of that. Tired afterward, I treated myself to some green tea and banana caramel cake (seems to be a popular flavor here) on a different square than usual and watched the sun lower in the sky.  Dinner in a beautiful basement Italian restaurant was fun as well.

And this morning I woke to dense fog that I walked in for 30 minutes to attend a Czech language class. That class was 1.5 hrs and too hard for me so I stayed for the next class which was a lower level (and a perfect fit) for another 90+ minutes. My classmates were Korean and Nigerian.  It’s going to be fun.  There are also classes offered much closer to my home, but the first class was canceled because the teacher was sick and I can’t make it to the next one.  These are free and if you attend 5 classes they will give you the books to keep.













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