End-of-the-Year Musings 2015: Magic, Gratitude and Memories.

2016 is knocking at the door and New Year’s Eve is nigh. An arbitrarily chosen day to reflect upon the past 364 ones and to mark new beginnings, new aspirations, new hopes… Us humans need those milestones – they allow us to preserve a sense of continuity on the one hand, and on the other to summon mental strength to let go of what is gone and to welcome what is to come. Maybe even to work for it a bit :).

This year I want to take this chance to share something with my friends that is essential to life and that may, sadly, in the daily hustle, get forgotten or postponed indefinitely… That something is gratitude and appreciation – for what there is, for what one is given, for the people who make one’s life wonderful…

2015 was not my best year. Neither was 2014, actually, but while nothing tragic happened, it was just one of those years that made me, in many ways, want to go “meh, was that seriously necessary?”

Long story cut short, my dear Russian government decided last December to color things up and float the Ruble – a wonderful idea that slashed my otherwise comfortable income by half… Yay. Consequently, stuff that went wrong in 2014, instead of getting fixed, got dragged out and up until a certain moment the prospects looked bleak to say the least. They still aren’t looking that great for the Ruble. And yet…

And yet my ‘not a great year’ is still a year majority of humans on this planet would envy. I still live in one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. I have my health. I have my family. I have friends I never knew I deserved to have. In 2016 I managed to: watch the full solar eclipse; make it to Madrid for a wonderful weekend of spreading Zouk to the city and share the honor of giving workshops alongside such incredible teachers as Luciano, Sofie, Xavi and Laura; dance for the whole week at the Prague Zouk Congress; dance for 3 days and nights in a row at the Prague Zouk Marathon; attend a proper ball for a few hours that same weekend; pull a crazy stunt that unexpectedly paid off in the summer and actually go to Mexico for the 1st ZNL Zouk Festival and to Seattle for the festival there the very next weekend (spend my entire remaining food budget for the year on that trip, but fuck it – worth every penny!); party my ass off all the way; meet amazing new people there; eat way too much food with one of them who visited Prague; watch the full super-moon eclipse (happens roughly every few decades or so); have my planned un-birthday be turned on its head by several kind angels and, consequently, party my ass off yet again; visit my parents; have another gluttony-filled week with a visiting friend in November; win a bronze medal with Caribiana team at the regional dance competition (we were, like, supposed to not get anything because our part of the group with a separate act just went along to support the main group (they got gold), but hey – not complaining! 🙂 ); get a few new money-making prospects (PLLLLLEEEEASE WORK OUT, DAMNIT!); get back home at 10am on Monday after the Prague Zouk Christmas weekend and make it through 2015 with a few events I had sworn I’d go to but simply had to miss, but with SO MUCH to be thankful for I won’t even know where exactly to begin!

None of this would have ever been possible without human beings who, in one way or another, had a hand in making all this magic happen to me.

You see, my most precious possessions in life are experiences and the resulting memories – memories created with special people, memories of new places, memories that are the type that let me look back, smile and think that, well, maybe this life is worth something after all. Unless I lose my wits at an advanced age (and, well, if I’m lucky enough to make it 🙂 ), no material possessions beyond the necessary will ever give me any fulfillment, comfort, happiness, peace, a sense of a life well-lived… The only possessions I can carry through till the very end that can make me truly rich are those memories. They can be very little, but they are my only true treasures. They are the reason I will never have the latest phone or the fancy clothes – everything I make goes to two categories: living expenses (rent, food, bills) and memories piggy-bank. I take my fun deadly seriously :).

Almost all of those experiences and memories (maybe besides the natural wonders themselves) are the work of other humans – humans who have built the cities I love, grew my food for me, made everything I do every day and the comforts I enjoy possible, humans who made me exist and grow up and not die of some diseases, and humans who share some of their precious time on this planet with me out of all people… You – the people in my life – you literally mean the world to me. There would be nothing save for nature (but I doubt that would be enough) out there that I find worth sticking around for – if it were not for every single one of you. No matter how brief our interaction, no matter how small your role – you create my universe and you fill it with joy and meaning and I have no idea what I’ve done to be so blessed as to have every one of you be a part of my journey through this weird, essentially pointless but, nevertheless, utterly fascinating thing called life. You make me cry – those tears of overwhelming gratitude that occasionally sneak up on me at the randomest moments when I remember all of a sudden just how freakishly wonderful you’re all making my life be.

A few years back I intended to be better at keeping in touch with people. I failed miserably, of course, but here is something I want you to know: if you are someone who touched my life in any positive, meaningful way, you are a resident in my heart forever. There is no expiration date on my appreciation. Maybe we only meet once and just share a great conversation, or a dance. Maybe we’re thrown oceans and continents apart by this spinning globe and fail to consistently communicate. Maybe everyone is busy in this busy world. Please know that it doesn’t matter the smallest possible bit. Know that there is definitely at least one person who owns their life to you. You matter in creating the fabric of my universe, even if you’re the tiniest of threads – it would never be complete without YOU. It would never have the same dimension, shine, softness, texture, beauty. Know that once you are a friend, you are a friend in my books for life. If we never speak to each other and you show up out of the blue at my doorstep 20 years later at 4am – my door and heart will be open for you just the same. There is very little you can do to cancel out the lifetime warranty on my appreciation.

So I won’t promise to stay in touch better in 2016. Definitely write me if you ever feel like it because I’d love to hear from you – I’m just one of those weirdoes terrible at remembering to individually contact people who matter, so my bad. I mean, I have to check the calendar to make sure I don’t let two weeks swoosh by without remembering to call my parents before it’s 3am in Moscow :). So whenever I vanish – don’t take it personally by any means :).

But I can promise you one thing: despite being a major sarcastic know-it-all and debate goddamn everything pain in the ass at times (did I cover all the main bases? :D), despite anything and everything that might get lost in the mundane trickle of the days, ultimately the only thing that I ever hope to try and do is to maybe have a tiny little role to play in creating some decent memories for those who matter to me alongside being fully and selfishly absorbed in the chase after growing my own stash. I’ve no idea how to go about it – different things mean something different to every one of you, and I’m only one fallible human with one barely functioning lump of grey matter and zero mind reading abilities, but my ultimate quest is, along this ride, to make lives and memories of others a little better, spicier, crazier, warmer… Whatever floats YOUR boats :).

I promise I’ll do what I humanly can when I can. Maybe I’ll listen when you need someone to vent to. Maybe I’ll sprinkle you with randomized search results of my personal database of trivia and ‘well, research seems to suggest that…’ instead (just know that in those cases I’m not trying to show how ‘smart’ I am. There’s nothing smart in memorizing random things I spend way too much time reading (that I could spend more productively). I would have had a Nobel Prize or something if I was anywhere near smart enough. Definitely don’t have anything like that :). So if I do, I’m just sharing some interesting bits of information that I gathered that might be, well, interesting or handy maybe? Maybe help push your own train of thoughts into new directions and thus help you arrive at your own answers by either realizing some of that connects the dots, or that on the contrary that’s absolute nonsense that has nothing to do with you, but hey – finding a solution by pushing off of a contrarian point is still finding a solution! 🙂 ). Whatever the deal – all I’m aiming at is making it if not better, then at least worthwhile and memorable in some ways. The way each of you does it for me without even knowing.

I probably fail 99,99% of the times, but if that 0,01% ever works – then I haven’t wasted my existence entirely. And that’ll be good enough to strive for in 2016. In fact, it’s good enough to keep living for.

Thank you. Have an amazing, magical year. Let’s create more kick-ass memories, people!

And just because I suck at individually writing people, you’re gonna get’ the full wrath of it right the very here, because I’m going through my FB friends list during the first few days of 2016 and personally thanking every one of you that I can, tagging ya’ll in the comments below the FB post! There! I’ll probably go by categories of people and will run each section in alphabetical order, but one way or another – I’ll tell you exactly what you have done! Mwaaahahahaha 😀

Bring it ON, 2016! You better be daaaaaymmmn GOOD!

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The Holiday Check-list of the Non-celebrating Bunch :)

Where I’m from, everything people do at x-mas time is done on New Year’s Eve, while that specific holiday is moved to January 7th and is mostly a religious feast when people generally just enjoy a day off. Where I live, x-mas is all the hype and people enjoy days off… So we got together with three more friends from my homeland (Alex, Alex and Igor 🙂 ) to take advantage of the free days on the 24th/25th and here’s what went down:

1. Decide to use the free day for a dinner with friends: check.

That included coming earlier and chipping into the cooking process, which was part of the fun :). Besides, it doesn’t always happen for several of us to have a fully free day/evening with no set plans, so yay! 🙂

2. Stuff ourselves silly: check.

On the menu: a salad with spinach, baked pears, grapes and blue cheese; broccoli cream soup; roasted goose stuffed with apples (because screw the traditional bony Czech Carp idea! 😀 ); potato and pumpkin slices baked under a coating of gritted cheese; ice-cream milkshake for desert. By the end of the night we all could hardly breathe :D.

3. Trying pumpkin for the first time in my life (seeds don’t count): check. Like a lot!

Seriously, not sure how, but I don’t think I ever ate anything pumpkin like… ever! And now I’m actually a big fan because it tastes niccccccccccce (raw and cooked!). Besides, the pumpkin/potato and cheese thing is easy to prepare and yummmmmy!!!! Adding to my ‘to cook some day when I feel like it’ list :).

4. Play with cat: check.

Bonus: getting seriously scratched :D. She’s still a fiesty teen and gets a bit too excited to measure claw power used on human flesh 😀

5. Watch a movie, make a load of funny comments: check.

Epic film about the benefits of taking long walks, aka Hobbit (1st part)… And, of course, logic does not apply to movie scripts :).

6. Learning to play Munchkin: check.

I’ve heard SO much about that game, and now FINALLY got to play it! Reading instructions was confusing, but in the process it’s easier to get the gist of it :).

7. Staying up till 7am – playing Munchkin…: check.

We only managed 4 rounds, and next thing you know – it’s light outside!!! Seriously, best game EVERRRR!!! :). I’m now a huge fan and will be bothering my dear friends for new rounds very often :).

8. Obviously, crash over instead of trying to get home: check.

Didn’t plan on it, but glad they had a spare couch and blankets, and my travel toothbrush was still in my bag too :).

9. Have cat jump on full belly until banned from room: check, groan…

Kitty woke up when we went to bed… Tugged on my hair, jumped a couple of times on my belly (do NOT try this while being stuffed to suffocation!)… Had to extradite her into the corridor/kitchen and close the living room door in order to sleep :).

10. Very late afternoon wake-up: check.

Nothing new here :D.

11. Another round of after-breakfast Munchkin: check.

I prefer being a burglar and an elf or a wizard, although half-races are even more awesome 😀

12. Watch sequel to the movie at the theater (making funny comments…): check.

A bit more action of a slightly higher order, but still basically an epic walking film with a few fights… Such a money trap! Hobbit should have been one 3-hour film, not 3 separate 3-hour epic walking ones! (Ok, in last one they should kill the birdie… But then I bet it would also involve a lot of footwork one way or another 😀 ).

I wonder why the people in front of us told us to “shhhh!” when like NOTHING at all was happening on the screen though… Meh… 😀

13. Gobble down too much popcorn: check.

Been a while! Om, nom nom nom…

14. Down it with mulled wine at 10pm after the film: check.

It wasn’t actually too bad

15. Finally make it home just before midnight: check 🙂

Not bad for a bunch of people who don’t celebrate x-mas on the 25th 😀 😀 😀

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Lost in Time…

One fine Wednesday I was on the way to the class. I hurried to it, went to pick up the front door key at the reception, and only as the receptionist wrote down the time of key pick-up did I register that something was off: current time was 16:30. My class was at 18:00 and up until that moment I was convinced it was 17:30 instead :).

I decided to use the hour I suddenly had on getting a tea somewhere nearby and remembered I passed the newly opened Time Cafe just a block away.

Time Cafe has a concept discovered to have worked very well, totally unlike any other venue. It is primarily a social space where you can come and enjoy any drinks and snacks, as well as participate in any activities you may see fit – from reading to playing video games to card and board games to watching movies – in any of the 4 cozy conceptualized rooms. For free… Well, sort of: you pay for the time that you spend in the cafe at the rate of 1Kc per minute, but not for any of the beverages you consume or anything else you use.

It’s a wonderful, warm venue with a pleasant smell in the air and well worth stopping by! I thoroughly enjoyed my unplanned for cup of tea before taking off to the lesson and the company of lovely individuals who work there and make you feel immediately right at home :). If you ever end up being in the area, it’s well worth a visit and getting lost in time at :).

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Scandinavia in a Week – Because, Well, Why Not? Amsterdam-Copenhagen-Kjerag-Stockholm-Helsinki, September 2013

You know you have great friends when they need to drive from Prague (Czech Republic. Not the same thing as Chechnya 😉 ) to Tomsk (yes – drive, as in, by car. And yes, Tomsk is in Siberia, Russia) with a little 4-years-old kid aboard and decide to go via an ‘obvious short-cut’ – through Scandinavia (here’s a handy map 😉 ).

I have never been to any of the Scandinavian countries, soooo…

Backtrack to August 2013. As usual, I was planning to definitely stay at home in the end of the month. I had, however, completely forgotten about that potential trip and, once I was reminded of it and invited myself along, decided to also tuck in the Amsterdam Zouk Congress into the itinerary (even though I was initially very much on the fence about going) because, well, it was also, obviously, en route. The full story of my Nth stay in the Netherlands and the fun we had at the Congress (including the most outrageous outfits for Sunday night) can be found here.

On September 5th I left Haarlem, made it to the Amsterdam Central Station and hopped onto my train to Hamburg – the pick-up point where I would board the North-bound car an hour after arrival.

The team (myself, Alexandra, her dad, his partner and little Alec) united, tucked the belongings into the trunk and took off.

We arrived to Copenhagen just short of midnight instead of the planned 10pm due to roadworks and related speed limits on the way, but it was right in time for me to find my friend Nicolas at the party venue. I was staying at his place together with one more Zoukeira Veronika and the others were invading the living space of yet another lovely Zoukeira Julia for that night.

Once we split, I got a ride by the bike to drop off my things at the apartment and back to the city center for a drink, although Nicolas got lost and it took us a while to get to the spot :D. There was a live concert at the bar, a funny story related to jacket-smuggling, a spilled beer and some silly pictures taken before we headed back to la casa to sleep.

Not-so-silly picture 1 taken by some drunk guy at the nearby table…

Not-so-silly picture 2 taken by another drunk guy at the nearby table… I’d say this was a better attempt at holding the camera still 🙂

A slightly sillier picture, but nothing too outrageous still

NOW we’re talking!

In the morning on the 6th I walked towards the Town Hall where the free city tour was set to begin. I grabbed a coffee at the first spot I saw on my way and was promptly informed that it was 100% organic (like ANY living matter, for that matter…). We ended up waiting for the rest (they had to find a parking spot) and a second, smaller group for the tour (always better!) a bit past the announced tour start time. Pictures and stories here.

(Note: I put all pictures into separate respective albums because otherwise this post would be a kilometer long with a load of pictures from all around. It made much more sense to separate them)

We didn’t stop for the night and kept driving – a wise decision. Originally, the plan was to stop over in Oslo, but it took such a long time to drive all the way to Kjerag that had we stopped over, we would have only gotten to the hike starting point by late afternoon – a bit too late for something that took about 5 hours! That damned ‘hike’ (more like mountain climbing session) was one hell of a challenge for sure, but the view from above is stunning. All pictures from Norway, including our acrobatics at the cliff, are here.

We spent that night at a cozy house good to have 10 people in it at a winter sports resort that has a population of 1500 that swells to 30000 during the season – a piece of info from our waiter at the very expensive restaurant we dined at (virtually nothing else was open 😦 ). We shared the salmon cream soup (yummy but the portion was way too small 😀 ) and reindeer (yummy as well and a more reasonable portion size) with Alex. Others also had a salad and some lamb – I would expect the lamb to have been more impressive than that, but it was just normal. I much rather prefer the lamb knee at Potrefena Husa – it’s divine!

On the 8th we made it to Stockholm. The front left headlight went out very soon after the sunset – not the best thing to happen on a highway. We stopped to change the bulb but it didn’t work anyway, so we continued on to the city with the plan to hit a service in the morning. We ended up sleeping on a boat that was used for cruising a while ago. A friend of mine said he took a cruise on it some 15 years back – it’s a small world!

The 9th was a bit of an adventure that probably had something to do with going to bed very late, waking up too early (but still an hour later than planned) and a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding :). This is how it all played out:

We left the boat hostel and split up: Alex and her dad went to the service and Elena, myself and Alec took a morning sprint towards the main train station to see where the Viking Lines office was. As we were leaving, I heard someone ask Elena if she has the money for the tickets (at least that was what I heard).

We found the office in a building near the train station after a bit of asking around. This is where my autopilot went slightly crazy: in my understanding of the sleepy mind, the only reason for the urgent need to get to the ticket office NOW, instead of, say, a few hours later after the planned city tour, only meant one thing – gotta get the tickets while there are still some left. Additionally, in that same understanding, we were bound to Helsinki that evening at 8pm.

So here I was asking about the trip and for some strange reason the lady said the latest ferry to Helsinki was at 4:30pm, and other companies have similar departure times. I figured it must have something to do with the season (summer season just officially ended and we only checked the ferry information in August before the trip). The lady then proceeded to take all our information and prepare the tickets. This was when it turned out Elena didn’t have the money with her, so I paid using my card and texted Alex to tell her about an earlier departure.

I also suggested we could go ahead and try to get to the free tour starting point see if the group was still there – we only would have missed the 10am start by 10 minutes by the time we got there, so the chances were high. We, indeed, caught up with the free tour people just a couple of blocks away and tugged along.

Because we overslept and ran around afterwards, we didn’t have breakfast. For me it wasn’t too big of a deal because I usually eat later anyway, but Alec was getting hungry. Elena suggested we split up so that they could eat – we did so on the market square and arranged to meet up there once the tour was over (it was meant to be a pretty short one anyway). I was supposed to give her a missed call when I would be closing in.

Just as we got onto the square and before we parted ways, Alex texted me to ask where we were. I sent her the location and carried on.

The tour progresses forwards with one more lengthy explanation stop at the same square, then we walked away and up some street to the next stop – this was at least 15 minutes after we first got to the market square. Alex texted me again asking where we were. I said we split up so that they could eat. She wrote back that it was wrong to split up and I should go back immediately. I replied I was already reasonably far away from the place. She then said whatever – the last message for the upcoming 2 hours.

Now, reasonably speaking, here was my thought process: Alex was at the car service. That means where exactly we were at the time didn’t matter at all. I didn’t need to eat and wanted to at least get some city info while I could, while Elena wasn’t quite as much into it anyway and needed fuel. Other than making one another company for as long as it might have taken at the service, I had no reason whatsoever to go back to the square right away.

What Alex failed to mention, and I failed to telepathically figure out using ancient voodoo magic was that a) they were done at the car service very quickly (it turned out a fuse blew on the headlight) b) heading back to the city already.

The tour finished shortly afterwards nearby the older part of the city on the island (all pictures and fun info about Stockholm here). I headed back to the square, picking up a coffee on the way, gave Elena a missed call when I was nearby and got to the staircase we arranged to reunite at. No one there… After about 20 minutes of waiting I texted her saying I was at the stairs. Another 15 minutes later she replied saying that Alex picked them up from the square already (yet another useful piece of information I failed to telepathically read in the runes…).

Then we had a brief message exchange regarding the tickets. As I had my mind set on Helsinki, I completely forgot that (two weeks ago) the plan was made to buy the tickets to Turku and then drive from there to Helsinki. THAT was the ferry leaving at 8pm…  I was a bit perplexed as to why Elena didn’t stop me from buying the tickets in the first place… It turned out, we were sent running to the ticket office just to see where it is (wtf for? We couldn’t see where it was 3 hours later after the breakfast and the tour? Granted we were meant to leave at 8pm, surely stopping by around 1pm was no big deal!). Tickets, however, were non-refundable and it was decided to just go ahead and go earlier (spending more time at sea) directly to Helsinki…

I wanted to walk around the island as well a bit, so it was disappointing that I wasted almost an hour on walking all the way back from it to the square for no reason, then sitting there waiting for someone who wasn’t even there. Alex wrote me to stay at the square and wait for them to pick me up another 35 minutes later. I said no way – I already wasted an hour, let’s meet near our hostel. She wrote back (I quote) “Our car is there”. I responded by saying “Great, then see you there”. She wrote that she meant that the car was near the square and they won’t be going to the hostel any more because it’s an extra detour from the pier (ehm, the hostel is exactly mid-way from the market square to the pier, alas on the other side of the road, but never mind…). We finally agreed to meet at the pier.

I had just over an hour to walk all the way there, so I picked one random street to walk through and see at least a little bit of the old city. I ran through it taking a few snapshots on the way and sprinted to the meeting point. 15 minutes later than the time we set for the meeting Alex messaged to let me know they would be there in about 40 minutes – very timely announcement. I could use that piece of info just about 15-20 minutes earlier when I was still in the old city so that I would walk around there a bit more instead of ending up sitting on my ass at the parking lot and, yet again, waiting and doing nothing… At least it was warm and sunny, so I was catching some tan until they finally showed up.

We embarked on the ferry, put our stuff into the cabin and went to explore. At first we thought of going into the sauna, but we didn’t bring any swimsuits with us and didn’t feel like renting any, so instead we had dinner, I then spent over 1,5 hours on the top deck taking a million pictures of an awesome sunset and chatting to random people, then we got online for a little while trying to find some CSers (yet again), and then we decided to try our strength at karaoke. The horror! :D. We slaughtered Adele’s “Someone Like You” as a duet, then took turns solo. I sort of managed my (usually very easy for me) “Dream a Little Dream” (although the time spent on the top deck in crazy wind did nothing great for my voice) and Alex closed the night by “The Winner Takes It All”. It was a funny night :).

Then we dropped off our stuff at the cabin and went to watch the evening show, which was actually quite alright for a ferry boat :). There was a disco after the show with live music and some funny people doing some funny things on the floor. I ended up having a random conversation with another random passenger that lasted till way past 4am…

On the 10th we reached Helsinki. It looked like a pretty bad weather day in the morning while we were having breakfast (with absolutely to-die-for cinnamon rolls!!!), and the rain was still on-and-off as we disembarked and drove into the city looking for a parking spot, but it eventually stopped and, while the day remained sort of grey, it wasn’t as bad after all.

We walked around the newer quarters of the city for a bit, all the way to the cemetery (pssst! They have free toilets at the main gate 😉 ) taking a few pictures (which have all miraculously disappeared from my memory card… Even though I copied the entire picture folder onto my computer as well – those 30 pictures or so didn’t…). We took a break at the beach, where I managed to fall off the swing :D. It all worked fine while I was swinging on it, but when I got up and wanted to sit down again – the board turned and I slid right down onto the sand, so I had a great excuse for laughing for the upcoming 10 minutes :D.

We then progressed back towards the city and the rest of the crew decided they didn’t like Stockholm all that much and they would not stay overnight but will drive back to Russia. They dropped me off at some hostel that we found online and we parted ways.

I took a much needed nap and decided to check out the Zouk-Kizomba party happening that night at Havana. At first there was no one I knew there, so I got to dance some Kizomba, although I warned everyone I don’t really know it :). Later on a few Zoukeiros showed up, including a couple of them that I knew, so I got my ‘fix’ :).

On the 11th I planned my time so that I could see the older part of the city before leaving to the airport. It was a great plan because it turned out that Helsinki is a lovely city with many green spaces and actually pretty cheerful architecture! I ran around taking pictures all day (those ones that actually stayed on my SD card and are all here), then walked back to the hostel (a roughly 25-minute trip), picked up my belongings, and walked yet again towards the center. Originally, I thought I would need to catch a bus from the central station to go to the airport. Luckily, I saw the Finnair express airport bus sign at the bus stop roughly half way to the station from the hostel. Since I had a heavy suitcase with a semi-broken wheel with me and a big heavy box to carry, I was more than delighted to see that I didn’t need to walk all the way to the central station :). I only realized how much I actually walked in that one day when I started feeling slightly sick from over-strain on the way to the bus, but luckily that was the absolute final stretch and my feet got some rest on the bus and plane 🙂

Thus finished my (very expensive!!!) Scandinavian adventure. I’d definitely want to go back for longer, especially to Norway, and try it during the warmer season to enjoy its beautiful landscapes as well as checking out the far North, the Northern lights and dogsleds. But for now, it was a very lovely appetizer of the region :).

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I suspect I’m not entirely right in the head…

But at least I’m not alone with that diagnosis :). There is no other conclusion to draw from my latest and greatest minor adventure (I’m not talking about the Scandinavian trip – blogs/pictures coming up soon)…

On September 16 a family friend and I needed to go to the city of Sokolov – about 150Km from Prague (10 minutes from Karlovy Vary). What better way of doing it than renting a car to go, right? That’s exactly what we did. But here’s the catch: she just got her driver’s license, having learned to drive on a heavy, big car. I have gotten my license 1,5 years ago and didn’t get behind the wheel ever since… If you’re not yet seeing the trouble with that idea, you should :).

The adventure began at the rental spot (a small private one): it turned out we were the first people to need a GPS on that car, the GPS needed the power, and the power source was jammed by something… So it took a while for the guys to change the entire thing, since it kept on blowing the fuses even with shut engine. Good news is that the main business of the place is actually auto-service, so they were able to quickly fix everything up.

Then my friend got behind the wheel… And here came a whole session of start car, jerk, engine-die, restart, repeat… On top of unfamiliar pedals, the reverse on that car was to the front instead of to the back… Plus the way she learned to handle the pedals was completely different to this car overall… As we later learned from the owner, having seen her struggles, the guys at the place were making bets about how far we would be able to make it :D.

Driving in the city was fun…ny… Almost at every street light the engine died, so we used the emergency blinkers a lot that day, while restarting the car and trying to get it to move from the spot :D. One time some even guy came out of the car and said something (I didn’t catch what it was), but we set our minds on full ignore of everyone else in such cases. After all, no one was born behind the wheel and everyone was once an absolute piss poor driver. Everyone behind us at each such stall point had to figure out inventive ways of going around us, but we progressed a bit nevertheless… Or so we thought…

We were going by GPS, and the GPS seemed to have not a slightest clue about a proper route. Somehow it kept sending us to some weird pathways, demanded us to make turns into one way streets, told us to go one way then the opposite way, and after at least 2 hours of driving around some shady roads we made zero distance progress to our destination.

We stopped eventually at some road near a field for an ’emergency relief session’ and I decided to take a closer look at the GPS. For some reason the settings excluded the option of going onto the highways… A couple of minutes later I found the problem: the stupid thing (we borrowed it from a friend) was set on “bicycle”!!! Worse yet, the bastard knew about that setting and didn’t tell anything as a matter of a practical joke. So we wasted a load of time and gas money on following random cycle paths… Although I guess it was a good practice session for my fellow traveler :D.

Once we found out about that bit (very timely – we were about to get desperate and throw that piece of crap out of the window and give up on going anywhere), everything else went much smoother. We soon got onto the highway which was the easy part and eventually made it to Sokolov and to the office that we had to visit.

After we were done with everything, fueled up on some nice coffee and pastry from a nearby spot, I was designated to drive back… Thankfully, I learned on a car similar in handling to the one we rented, so I didn’t have the engine die on me at every stop (more like, not once). We quickly got back on the highway and it was a pretty smooth ride for the most part – except it started to get darker and to piss down raining…

Had someone told me I’d be going just over 100 on an actual highway in heavy rain at dusk after my near-zero driving experience, I’d tell them they were nuts. My original plan was to stay away from any highways until I get a better grip of the craft of driving (maybe one day…). Although it’s much more demanding to drive in the city with constant gear shifts… But I was cautious of the speed. Yet there I was…

Anyway. We made it back to Prague in one piece and with almost no damage to the car! (Well, my partner in crime scratched the front right wheel disk on the sidewalk twice because of the way she was taught to take turns – to bear right… Insanity – you need to leave enough clearance for the back wheel to make the turn without catching the sidewalk!.. But hey – that’s peanuts given the actual risk of the entire enterprise!). Because I was cautious to change lanes in darkness and heavy traffic, we missed our turn from out of the tunnel towards my street, so that resulted in a 10Km detour, but we FINALLY made it all the way to my house, successfully parked and went to sleep.

The next day I was bound to navigate as well, so I had to endure a few more dead-engine moments at street lights. We successfully got back to the rental place and, believe it or not, on the very last damned 3 meters my counterpart actually managed to slightly burn the gear because she held it engaged and kept the foot on the brake! It stank to high heaven. We were lucky that damage was minimal, so we only had to pay about 30 Euros extra to fix it. I think the fact that the owner was actually happy to see his car back in one piece when he probably already kissed it goodbye in his mind played a role :D.

So there, two absolute beginners took their first out-of-driving-school trip of just about 400Km on a rainy day. Definitely insane, but I think that I can pretty much handle the basics of driving from now on 😀 😀 :D.

Although word of caution to new drivers: don’t try this at home. That we were lucky doesn’t mean you would be, so drive safely, train first and take an experienced person with you to all of the first trips. Not everyone’s self-induced crash course ends this well.

Posted in All about me, In my spare time... | Leave a comment

A Devilish Week in Spain – from Les Santes in Mataro to a Sunrise at Shoko Club in Barcelona.

Well, I didn’t make it to Croatia this year but instead I made it to Spain, and that worked out absolutely great :). This time the reason for going was the 1st ZoukDevils and Friends Summer Weekend (more about the AWESOME event itself plus all the pictures here), and this is how the trip went:

I landed in Barcelona in the afternoon of July 25th and finally had some time to do my nails while waiting for Rosalinde to arrive :D. We then caught a train to Barcelona Sants and changed lanes to Mataro and here’s one useful thing we had learned: when you leave through the tourniquet from the platform, to which the airport train arrives, your tickets will no longer work to let you back in to the other platforms. You’d need to come to the personnel near the next set of tourniquets, show them the ticket and they’d let you through. At the exit of the final destination, you’d also need someone to let you out.

Because Google Maps seemed to show that the hotel was very close to the Mataro train station, we decided to walk – a pretty difficult thing to do in the summer heat with a shitload of luggage! It turned out slightly further away than we expected (about 750 meters in total), but we finally made it and settled down. We ran into Arnoud and Shaana downstairs and decided to have a dinner in the city together… so we walked pretty much just as far back as we just came from…

Aaaaand this just so happened to be the first picture from this trip…

Still waiting for the other two portions 🙂

The food was lovely and Sangria was very good as well. Having refilled our fuel tanks, we walked back to the hotel… (if you’re keeping track, that’s walk number 3 over that distance on that same day).

We had only little time to change and get ready before venturing out for the first day of Les Santes celebrations (the city day of Mataro), so we (thought) we prepared for everything that awaited us (at least what we understood from the explanation about what the future held for us that night 😀 ) and… walked back into the city (that’s 4)! Rosalinde and I kept singing all the silly songs we could remember that had to do with partying… All that fun coming from two absolutely sober people!

Once in the city, after a long wait we finally joined the rest of the Zouk people who arrived earlier and walked into the city center (make that 5 because it was a pretty long journey yet again!) for part one of the night.

Monkeying around at plaza de Santa Ana

This is only a hint of what we’re capable of!

Part one of the night consisted of listening to brass music for a while, bonding with Clara (a type of refreshing light beer with lime that seems to be very popular over there), then listening to that one particular brass band melody – Bequetero – that went on and on on repeat and had a part to it when everybody counts to 14 (in Spanish) while going down into a squat, then jumps up at 15 (i quinsa!!!) and sings “oe-oe-o, oe-oe-o, oe-oe-o, oe-oe!” It makes zero sense whatsoever to try and describe it in words, so here is a small demo.

The silly part about this particular ‘tradition’ of the fest is the fact that it isn’t traditional at all. The chant and the going down/jumping stuff were, apparently, spontaneously ‘invented’ by some random city people rather late in the 20th century (In the 1980’s). Somehow it grew popular over time and stuck to the festival, having now become its ‘traditional’ part that one cannot imagine it without!

Here’s a short summary of the festival:

July 27 is the day of the patron saints of the city of Mataró, St. Juliana and Holy Semproniana. Hence, the festival has taken the generic name of “The Saints” or “Les Santes”. During the days of the festival Mataró is filled with live events, the constant presence of ‘the giants’/les gegants (giant figurines of the Robafaves family) and a crowd of locals and guests of all ages who enjoy the celebrations with great intensity.

The first night of the celebrations is kicked off with the official opening ceremony named ‘The Call’. Various rituals and celebrations continue all day, but the craziest part that we ended up experiencing – the night of July 25th, appropriately named “Crazy Night”, begins in the evening. After traditional music groups concert and the Mayor’s address to the people urging them to join the party, the figures of the giants begin to ‘dance’ and move with the rest of the crowd from the Plaza de Santa Ana towards the City Council.

The second part of the celebration is called the City in Black Night. It is the biggest and longest firework session of the year. As the giants reach the City Council building, figurines appear of the Momerota, the devil and the Dragon, as well as other ‘invited’ figurines from Catalunya and a bunch of people dressed up as devils. All of them have a load of fire sprinklers attached to them and they light them up right over the crowd’s heads!

For us, part two of the night was watching a bunch of nutheads run around under the fire-sprinklers that the devils and figurines were swinging around… The coolest thing about those people was that they were all properly dressed up and covered from head to toe – apparently participants pride themselves in keeping it safe. But it was still crazy – definitely something to do next year :D. If you want to take part, make sure to wear several layers of non-flammable, thick clothes, hide your hair and, if possible, it is advisable to cover the face and the eyes too. We didn’t follow the procession all the way (which saved us that extra chunk of walking) but waited at the Town Hall Square  instead where it all finished with a spectacular major outburst of more fire sparkles. 

Devils approaching the square

The final culmination of the pyromaniac’s wet dream 🙂

The night is still crazy even as the fires are all out. The crowd begins to walk again to the rhythms of the drums. This part is called ‘Rise tabalada’, but for us it was just a long ass walk number 6 :D.

The third part of the night was probably the craziest. That is, once we finally made it all the way to the Central Park, because it took foreverrrr!!! But it was definitely worth the effort because we arrived to a MASSIVE RAVE, and I mean a MASSIVE RAVE with a huge structure above that had water sprinklers on it… So basically imagine several thousands of people all squished together on a huge field, being watered from above, dancing to assorted music, taking their clothes off and stuff… If you can :). This was by far the most insane gathering I had ever attended! If you want to check it out for yourself, here are a few tips:

1)Wear a bikini top (girls) and shorts if you plan to get under the sprinklers. Alternatively, you may keep warmer if you wear some clothes made of any fabric that doesn’t breathe much – it’d soak wet, of course, but it will also capture some of your body heat that would otherwise escape if you have nothing on.
2) Girls – if you absolutely must, then any make-up is probably best to be waterproof.
3) Have a fully waterproof bag with you for dry clothes (you may seriously freeze if you walk around in the morning breeze in soaked clothes/underwear), money and whatever else you may need. A light-weight, thin (light travel version) waterproof backpack is optimal – it’d be an ordeal trying to keep any other type of a bag in your hands as you’d be making your way through the crowd.
4) Your shoes will soak with water and sand no matter what they would be – the water will be both on the ground and streaming down your legs from above you. It’s hard to say what footwear is best for this madness, but I’m thinking maybe something like Crocks that have somewhat of a platform and actually have a band around the heel to keep them on (you will lose them otherwise, as you are very likely to lose flip-flops or anything like it too). Going barefoot is dangerous – you might end up stepped on or you may step on a stone or a piece of glass. Any sneakers would be full of water and dirty sand in minutes, so unless you’re ready to ruin them and then walk back home in shoes full of sand (not the most comfy activity) – opt for something else. Crocks (or something similar) at least will let most of the water right back out. If you wear socks, too, it’d prevent blistering. When you leave, they’re easy to rinse from the sand with a bit of water and if you pack a pair of dry socks too, you’d have a very comfy return to wherever you’re staying. Streets are closed for transport that night, so don’t plan on catching a taxi – you’d have to sport it :).

Had we both slept properly the night before (and we hadn’t), we would’ve stayed at this awesome event till the end, but we gave up the fun closer to 5am and (you guessed it…) walked all the way back to the hotel (that’d be 7+8, distance-wise). I (thankfully) had some dry clothes with me, but Rosalinde did what half of the city seemed to have done: went back in her underwear alone :D.

Half way through we ran into a bakery that was (miraculously) open at that hour and bought some fresh pastry. They didn’t seem to mind serving semi-dressed party survivors :). A bit of an aside: I’ve eaten a fair share of chocolate-filled pastry in my life, some good, some not so, but I don’t think I ever had anything as magic on my tongue as that bun! I kept repeating “Oh my god!” every time I took a bite of my pain au chocolat so many times along the way that Rosalinde asked to try a piece because she couldn’t believe it was really THAT good. Needless to say, when she took a bite, her reaction was “Oh… my… GOD!!!” :D. The stuff was NUTS! I’ll be revisiting that particular small experience in my dreams in the future, mmmmmmmm… Foodgasm…

Despite the tasty refill, we were a miserable sight when we finally arrived to the hotel and rang up the night receptionist to let us in :D. But it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a hot shower and a crash-landing onto the bed :D.

26th was the chill day after last night’s madness – we woke up late and spent the whole afternoon relaxing on the beach, drinking strawberry slushies for some brain-freeze :D.

The tasty slushies left our tongues pink 🙂

La praja 😀

We also decided to be totally lazy and ordered room service instead of going anywhere for dinner – the food at Ibis was pretty good and reasonably priced. That won us a couple more hours of laziness before the off-set of the 1st ZoukDevils and Friends Summer Weekend, to the first party of which we have arrived after an impromptu photoshoot session with a random car on our way :D.

Random impromptu photoshoot with a Range Rover

The afternoon beach session was repeated on the 27th as well. We spoiled ourselves to another meal at the hotel, albeit downstairs this time, geared up for the Zouk’n’Roll party and kicked it off with – you guessed it! – another improvised photoshoot :).

Monkeying around – continued…

The idea of this picture belongs to our gorgeous friend from Germany who had passed the ‘crazy person’ test that weekend and is therefore accepted into the ‘we have to go to Brazil together one day!’ crew 😀

The 28th kicked off with a paella near the beach and a little bit of Sangria – just enough to knock one out in the summer heat :D. This was the only time I actually swam because on all other days the water was way too cold for my liking. The refreshing dive and fun rides on the crushing waves were followed by lazying in the sun until the evening.

Around 7pm we all went to Barcelona to the Salsa bar for the Zouk party. We arrived when there were still no people inside, so we grabbed a tea and walked along the stretch to check out Zich. On our way we saw some of the most brilliant advertisements for a bar ever! Check them out:

The least naughty of the four 🙂

We also saw a pole in one of the bars on the way and fooled around there a bit before making it back to Salsa for the great night.

Had we known in advance that some of the crazy Zouk people would still be staying in Mataro after the weekend, we would have stayed as well. Unfortunately, we already arranged to stay in Barcelona for the last two days, so we had to check out.

Walk-walk-walking on heaven’s floor…

We extended our time in Mataro by going to the beach there, climbing a kids’ ‘spider-net’ tower all the way to the top and back and having a surprisingly nice dinner at a restaurant on the promenade before we collected our luggage and set off to Barcelona.

Waiting for the bus to get to the station… On the left – a piece of our hotel.

The puppy face

Well, obviously, we can’t just ride the train like normal people… So we found ways to amuse ourselves all the way 🙂

Yup, that’s right 🙂

We arrived to our hostel shortly before the latest designated check-in time (midnight), found out that nobody great was out in Barca on a Monday and decided to go to bed early for a change :D.

It turned out to be a wise decision, as that beauty sleep came handy on the 30th. At first we went around a bit and got ourselves some breakfast and a treat of yummy macaroons from a candy store that could kick your socks off just by the mere aesthetics of the stuff on display!

Macarons… I hit a little bit of heaven twice with those thingies: once when I tried the one with green tea, and the other time when I had the one with white truffle. Yummmmm!!!!

All of the stuff on display in that store looked unreal – it was absolutely perfect!

Of course, we then spent the day at the beach. I was trying my best to finish the never-ending contents of my sunscreen bottle (it just seemed there was always more in it every time I tried, even though it was almost empty when I brought it to Spain… Magic!) but I think there was still some left when I finally gave up and decided to leave the damned bottle behind. Unlike the rather quiet and uncrowded beach of Mataro, Barcelonetta was beaming with people, life and vendors of all sorts, who ducked behind the sunbathers any time they saw police go by :). Apparently, any such vending is illegal on the beach – which doesn’t seem to affect the beaming commerce the least bit :D.

We allowed ourselves to be absolute tourists and got a very nice full-body oil massage from a lovely Thai lady for 10 Euros per body.

Best 10 Euros ever spent :D. (I’m red from the massage, not from the sun)

Heaven, I’m in heaven…

We stayed until late, watching people (including one oil-glittering super-fit dude in tiny speedos who was acting like a super-star slash porn-star and was very fun to observe, as well as his friends) and enjoying the warmth, then made our way back to the hostel.

The ‘dude’ :). Trust me, he DID glitter in the sun, but not because he was a vampire – because he was soaked in oil 😀

The plan was to meet some of the weekend survivors at Paco Moreno club for some Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba (to which, as we all know, one can very well dance Zouk too 😀 ). However, when we arrived, there was no one we knew there. This affected our plans in a way that made the sleep hours accumulated the night before come very handy: we headed to Shoko club.

The reason we even went there was because some girl at the beach gave us free tickets to get in before 1am. We took a taxi there and discovered that it was a very cool club with lots of people and really good music. The slightly funny and, I guess, somewhat flattering trend that night was that it seemed every under-18 person in the club tried to chat us up :D. I wonder what it was about us that made us appear to be teens 😀 …

Apparently, Tuesday nights are also “Crazy Nights” in Shoko! We had front-row view of the night’s live acts. There was a really good singer (we really liked her shorts too 😀 ) who opened the night’s performances, a few pretty good dancers and two really cool beatboxers.

I was impressed because she hit every single note, had a very strong voice and, even though she was singing live, she sounded as good as a record would.

The beatboxers and one of the dancers

The official photographer only caught a little piece of Rosalinde… (Btw more pictures from the party here)

But we got someone to snap this one of both of us 😀

We had a really great time dancing until the morning, met some fun people, chatted on the beach almost until the sunrise (insert a mental picture here of 4 party people on the beach at 5am), then we went on without sleeping to have breakfast and basically stayed up until it was time to go to the airport…

I’m glad I planned to arrive to the airport earlier, because I missed the airport train by 1 minute and the next one was arriving in half an hour! Basically by the time I made it to the airport, then to T1, then to the counters, it was about 2 minutes before the end of check-in to my flight. I skipped most of the security line because otherwise I would have missed the boarding and even had a minute left to get a bite-to-go before collapsing into my designated seat.

A few hours later I was back to Prague with yet another set of amazing memories behind my belt… I love you, Spain! And (Terminator voice) I’LL BE BACK!!!

Posted in All about me, Barcelona, Dance, In my spare time..., Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

60km on a cross bike… Because why not? Aka ‘day trip to Lhota lake’.

What do you do on a sunny Saturday when it’s 35 Celsius out there? Right: you plan a 60km ride on cross bikes! Granted that last time I rode a bike at all was several years ago, and last time before that was a few years before that, it was surely a sane idea to go that far without any proper training. I owned a bike when I was a teen though and seemed to be able to ride it all day long without a problem, so what could possibly go wrong, right?

Originally the plan was to visit Karlstein castle. However, the evening before the trip we made a wise decision (basically, I insisted on it after some of the original crew gave up the idea due to heat…) to change our destination to the Lhota lake – roughly the same distance, but a much better idea on a boiling hot day.

We began getting to the bike rental at 9am and were finally set and ready to go around 10. Another thing I’m happy I insisted on was the 9am meetup – because had we set the meeting time to 10, we’d leave the city in the absolute heat peak! It was rather warm, to say the least, either way :).

First thing that caught our attention on the way to the rental…

Looks like an alien creature riding a quadricycle of some sorts!

So here we were, 6 adults and one little passenger, and the very first thing we hit right inside the city limits was a pretty decent up-slope… Although after managing that one, the rest of the way seemed pretty easy, albeit not very smooth – Czechs have a very strange idea about what to consider an appropriate bicycle path. I suspect that basically any small path that isn’t a car road is automatically regarded as one, whether or not it even has an appropriate surface. It was a bit of an adventure to get to the lake – some of the paths were only nominatively such and most were rough terrain with many a-stone, ensuring a pretty bumpy ride. But we all made it in one piece, although we stopped quite a bit on the way :).

Picture time

The views!

Lovely terrain

As we rode through the fields, there was a piece of the road that turned into tire tracks in the field instead of a road (it’s right where there is an unfinished chunk of a highway). We carried on following the tire tracks into the field and ran into machines that were harvesting the grain. A lot of residue was fluffed out into the air and some of our ‘team’ got a hay ‘shower’ :). Alex and I were riding ahead, so we just narrowly missed both the death by the harvesting machine that was making a u-turn and the hay-spray :).

Something – nad Labem (I think). What looks like a castle in one of the towns we passed.

I wonder what and where it was 😀

When we finally reached our destination, we realized how intelligent our strategy was to take the bikes: the line to the parking lot of the lake was enormous! No wonder – it was, after all, a weekend and a hot one! We rode right to the entrance, payed the 50Kc to get in and settled in the shade because even for the heat-loving animal like myself it was a challenge to stay in the sunshine. It was so freaking hot and stuffy that I even went for a swim – that with my rather non-existent affinity for colder water! Granted, it was 26 degrees, but I still prefer warmer :).

Chillaxing in the shade: Alec, Vladimir, Elena, Igor, yours truly, Julien and Kerry

Philosophy in action

 

We had a nice lunch (tortilla wraps, some pastry and a load of fizzy drinks from the nearby kiosks)

 

And some well-deserved rest :). Although Kerry managed to also swim across the lake and back in the meantime – as if a bike ride in the damned heat wasn’t quite enough exercise! 😀

It’s a challenge to pose on a spinning tire!

And, obviously, I couldn’t leave without attempting a Zouk-inspired pose 🙂

About 6pm we set off back. At one point we thought we might catch a train to get closer to the city, then ride the remaining segment, but it turned out the trains weren’t helping much time or distance-wise, so we rode all the way back. This time we decided to screw the bike paths and go on the highways – it was definitely a much quicker and smoother ride!

Pretty sunset we caught on the way back

It was infinitely more pleasant to ride at sundown – it was just the right temperature, not too cold and no longer boiling hot either!

Find the missing link… 😉

The survivors! Meta-heroes of the consequences of that silly idea :D. Technically, only Kerry and Julien were properly ‘trained’ for such an epic trip by bikes, so we’re all really proud of ourselves for having made it :). Not without a few bruises here and there, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised at an absolute lack of any muscle pain the next day!

On Sunday we all met again at the rental to return the bikes and that was the end of this epic undertaking :). Since I’m nothing of an experienced bike rider, here are a few layman things I picked up from this experiment:

1) On a warm day, 1,5L of water for one way of such a trip is a minimal requirement. A regular 1,5L water bottle will fit under the bigger frame, but will be slightly sticking out from under a smaller frame (16′), although it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have one in there.

2) If it’s sunny, unless you want a version of a farmer’s tan, best is to wear something thin that covers the whole body.

3) Sunscreen is a non-negotiable requirement for every exposed piece of skin (face, earlobes, hands etc) – you burn/tan quicker on the road than on a beach.

4) Shades. Not even as much for the sun as for keeping all the dust and flies and stuff out of the eyes. Priceless.

5) A handkie to tie around the neck. Comes handy on dusty roads or while riding behind stinky cars – you can quickly and easily pull it over your nose :). Definitely not a legit bike gear, but who cares? It does the job without the investment into anything ‘real’ 🙂

6) It may be a good idea to wear gloves. I took my leather fingerless ones and it was a very smart decision – in the heat on the dusty roads I would have otherwise very quickly blistered my palms.

7) Helmets are awesome. They keep the sun away :). Although it’s actually even better to wear a bandana under the helmet.

8) Bandaids and disinfectant – someone should have those with them.

9) Backpacks. Obviously. Unless you boast proper bike bags. Which I presume a layman won’t :). So – backpacks 🙂

10) Seems like the local selection of bikes features very hard, narrow seats with ‘sharp’ edges… Note to self for the next trip, if any, would be to figure out a way to cushion the seat to avoid bruising, as this was the only real problem during (and after 😀 ) this trip.

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Laia: Zoukeira who cannot be trusted? Decide for yourselves, but you’ve been warned.

Dancers or not, we are all people with our specific traits and levels of trustworthiness, manners of treating others and dealing with made promises and arrangements. Several months into one long and unpleasant story, it is time to warn our fellow dancers about two people in our community, with whom they should be very careful about any arrangements that involve money. I am not going to say they are frauds, intentionally dishonest, plain rude and inconsiderate at all times. Maybe they’re none of the above even in this particular case and something else has gone wrong – I’m all for extending the benefit of the doubt to fellow humans.

This story is updated to reflect that one party covered up for their dues. The other, as it stands in February 2015, still hasn’t.

Laia Rojano still has not met her financial obligations to a person, whom she promised to reimburse.

Worse yet, this left that person in a very difficult financial situation at the time, while she is not experiencing any apparent discomforts, nor showing any urgency about paying back.

I won’t be making any unnecessary commentary of my own. Below are excerpts from Facebook conversations that illustrate the development of the entire situation sufficiently well. Screen shots of everything are available on request. Original wording/spelling is preserved, although a few irrelevant things (like strings of smiley faces, repeated comments like “jajajajaja” or profile picture thumbnails) may have been deleted for brevity. Names of any persons not involved in this mess and any personal/contact information details have been omitted. Name of the person who paid back has been changed to ‘Person2’

TL;DR summary of the situation:

In January Laia Rojano and Person2 agreed with Aline Groeneveld that they will come to Amsterdam for the Salsa&Zouk Congress in February. Aline told them ahead of time she was NOT planning to go to the congress (except for, maybe, Saturday night party) because she couldn’t afford the costs at that moment. Laia and Person2 then agreed to cover the gas and parking costs for the weekend in exchange for Aline going to all the congress parties and driving them along. The key post confirming this specific arrangement can be found under Conversation between Aline, Laia, Person2 and ****. February 3, 2013″ (Note: that Aline arranged for a house for them to stay at for free and closer to the venue, thus reducing the costs, is of no relevance to the agreement to cover gas costs). As for June 17, 2013, neither one of them has yet paid back what they owe.

Comment on Laia’s rant about some apparent coffees etc in Barcelona (in December 2012):

That comment is fully irrelevant to the current situation. First of all, any small coffee etc costs from Barcelona would NOT have added up to the amount owed to Aline, even if there had been an agreement to reimburse. Frankly, I was there with Aline at that same time and I’m not really aware of any such expenses existing at all, except one bag of chips we all shared in the car and a lift one way to one of the parties outside of Barcelona. More importantly, there was NO agreement made about reimbursing any coffee/etc expenses mentioned at any time until Laia brought it up out of the blue in the below-copied conversation – months later. Such small things are common courtesy between friends and no one ever counts them.

Appeals to ANY past expenses that were voluntarily made by Laia in Barcelona without an explicit request for reimbursement are fully irrelevant. In international business law, that would equate to subjectively and retrospectively changing the terms of a contract/agreement without informing the other party – something that simply doesn’t pass in either law or real life. For example: I invited my friends to stay at my house for free during the Prague Zouk Congress. Imagine me writing them all 4 months later saying they owe me money for electricity and water bills for their stay – this is as insane as what Laia brings up in the end.

Please take precautions when dealing financially with Laia, as she may be unreliable in keeping financial obligations – that’s all there is to say.

This is how it all began…

(Conversation between Aline and Person2, January 22, 2013. Screenshots cut in February 2015 to cover up Person2’s name)

(Conversation between myself and Aline. January 22, 8:00pm)

But my next guests just booked their flights! Person2 and Laia are coming with the Amsterdam Salsa & Zouk Festival 8-10 february
They’ll pay for my gas costs LOL

cool
Are you gonna go? I’m definitely not going…

Now I’m going yes! Because of them. Otherwise I was just gonna go Saturday night for the party, nothing more

(Conversation between Aline, Laia, Person2 and ****. February 2, 2013)

We need your help to do check in Hotel of Amsterdam
If you want… You can remain to sleeping in the hotel with us
You can save money in gasoil

I might have a house for us to stay close to Amsterdam, don’t book a hotel yet! I’ll let you know ASAP

Confirmed!!! We have a house of a friend of mine where we can stay for free, only 20 minutes away from the congress! He is gonna be in London himself so it’s all ours for the whole weekend!
So the gascosts are reduced then to me coming from my house to pick you up, going to Amsterdam from his house and viceversa in the weekend a couple of times and for me going back to my house on Monday. Furthermore we have to do some shopping of course for food etcetera but we can cook ourselfs there of course so that will be cheap enough.
I just promised him to leave the house clean and everything when we leave again on Monday so perfect right?

(Conversation between Aline and myself. February 2, 2013) 

I have arranged a whole house for me, Person2 and Laia (and perhaps *****) to stay during the congress next weekend! We can stay at ***** house, while he is away himself, sweet right! Its only 20 minutes away from the congress itself

(Conversation between Aline, Laia, Person2 and ****. February 3, 2013)

Ok Aline.
Which are your conditions? To leave the clean and tidy house is logical.
You come to look for us to the airport and… We have to pay the petrol to you, right?
We go home of your friend and take care very well of his house, nice!
We all buy and pay the food that we are going to eat
And really there are two beds, well, there is bed for four persons in the house?

Everything yes

Jajajajajajaja
Ok
Nice

(Conversation between Aline and myself. February 2, 2013)

And also Person2 and Laia need to pay my gas from the weekend here… Laia has some lame excuse she doesn’t have online banking and Person2 just sends back smileys grrr. It was the deal that they would pay my gas and in return I drove them around all weekend, provided a complete house close to amsterdam and some of the food etcetera etcetera. Getting sick of people expecting me to pay for them and not paying me back.
Next time I’m letting people pay up front, simply can’t eat anymore because I don’t have the money for it….

(feel like a real beggar right now hahaha)
I was never good at asking for money, also never succeeded anywhere to ask for a raise in my life LOL
Thank you sweety, even €35 helps me so much right now!
Also decided for next cartrips to congresses (in a few weeks to Prague for example) to really take a good look what the costs will be for everyone and I will let them pay upfront. Can’t keep afford being a bank for other people anymore…

Aslo don’t feel really comfortable that they drank a lot of **** fruitjuices, using half a bottle of olive oil etcetera etcera while I said upfront that we had to replace anything we would use there… I didn’t use any of his stuff by the way, I’m to well raised LOL

Hmmm that’s not nice at all…

Haha true! Even my neighbor said that I lost to much weight lately and kept telling me to take better care of myself LOL
I konw I konw, but what was I to do? Send them to the store ‘Go buy that stuff!’ Laia even asked me ‘Is that the only olive oil left?’ after using a lot and didn’t react at all when I said ‘Yes You’ve used it all’
I’m not like that but I avoid arguments when they are just a couple of days here…

People forget things. Next time something like this happens, you should just say “guys, here’s a store where you can get olive oil and drinks that you got from ****’s. Should I go with you, or wait in the car?”
It’s non-confrontational. If they ask why, then you can tell them “remember the deal was to replace everything? ” with a smile. Voila.

I did that when were in the shop both times! Kept asking hert ‘do you need any juice or this or that?’ Answer: ‘No I’m good’

“Do you need SOMETHING” is NOT the same as “don’t forget the juice and olive oil”.
Gotta be concrete . I mean… I went to the store 3 times wanting to get vegetables and hair conditioner – for MYSELF – and forgot! You want someone to remember stuff for others?! LOL not gonna happen

Well ***** doesnt mind I know, but I dont feel good about that you know? I treat people like I want to be treated….
And ***** said (to me only) that that wasn’t necessary but I think that that is normal right? He didn’t say anything about missing stuff by the way so all good there luckily

I think unless someone ahead of time says “guys use whatever you want, don’t worry about it”, then the default position is to replace everything…

But next time, I’ll pay better attention to what they are using nd what they have to replace, good lesson learned!
I didn’t tell them that, just the opposite

I hate it when people do that…. grrrr…

I told them the day before they arrived that ‘we’ had to replace anything ‘we’ would use. Obviously, I brought food and drinks and breakfast for all of us with me so I didn’t need anything else, we went shopping for dinner
but well it wasn’t that much but I’m different….
and yes it bothers me a lot that they still didn’t give me the gas money while I was very clear upfront about it! I gave Laia the receipt for the gas when I brought them back to Schiphol and she would transfer it to me. Back in Barcelona she messages me:And the revenue of money it has to do Person2, I work every day the all day and when I finish my work… the bank is closed, and… for this I wanted to pay it in cash in the airport’
No she didn’t tell me that at the airport

😦

Well never mind now, no use to get worked up about it… I’ll just send them both a message again later today that they really have to transfer it NOW and remind them of the deal and why that was the only way I could come to Amsterdam for them…
You thanx for being a great friend every time again!!! I’d better get some sleep now finally, the roosters next door are already awake whahaha!
Luv u!!!

(Same conversation, February 25, 2013)

FYI the last message to Laia and Person2, sent with Whatsapp and FB, also no reply yet… Hate this!

“3:20pm Aline Groeneveld
Hi Person2 and Laia! It was really nice to have you here, but I really have to ask you to transfer me the gas and parking money of €81,15 + €5,75 = €86,90 ASAP.
That was the deal for the weekend. I told you in front that otherwise I wouldn’t go to Amsterdam for the weekend simply because I didn’t / don’t have the money for it and you were fine with that and offered to pay my gas and party entrance. I made it a lot cheaper for you by arranging the house close to Amsterdam, I paid a part of the gas myself, I paid for the parking at Schiphol on Friday and Monday in Amsterdam, I paid for my own party entrance and I brought some food and drinks for you guys too. Please don’t let me regret helping you guys to have a nice cheap weekend in Amsterdam and send me the €86,90 ASAP, I’m in real trouble now with some bills that I can’t pay because of this. You can transfer it to my PayPal (*********@*****.com) or to my bank account: (bank account details omitted)
Thank you in advance… Kisses, Aline”

(sent this last Friday by the way)

Assholes…
It’s very bad when you tell someone you’d pay them back immediately then not do it – people count on a certain budget… I’d never say “I’ll pay you back immediately” if I can’t, I’d say “I don’t know when I can pay you back”.

Yeah I know! Imagine that €87 is practically nothing to Laia. She has a normal good paying job, a big house with a pool in the backyard etcetera etcetera

Yeah that’s even worse  Those who have some money seem to be the worst about paying back!

(Conversation I started with Person2 and Laia on March 26, 2013 when I got seriously mad at them both after Aline told me they STILL are refusing to pay up, plus the whole reporting the post deal)

Seriously guys? I mean, REALLY? You take advantage of a person’s kindness, leave her WITHOUT FUCKING FOOD, now report her posts? Wow. I thought better of you both. WOW. You’re paying Aline back EVERY FUCKING CENT YOU OWE HER THIS VERY WEEK, or this is going into a major blog entry that will be posted all over the internet to warn other people that you two cannot be trusted.
Consider yourselves informed.

  • 4:27am Person2

I later this month when I get paid at work will give me
I started on March 1 to work

Fair enough. I’ll check with her, mark my word. Honestly though… You left a person with nothing to buy food with… I had to send her money myself… Next time don’t make financial promises you can’t keep in due time.

  • 4:28am Person2

Laia made the trip all the money she paid all

This is Aline’s status update from 13 hours ago:

“Unbelievable! Being so kind to make sure 2 friends can come to Amsterdam, arrange a house to stay for free, show them the whole weekend around town, taking care of them, being their personal chauffeur and bring them safely to parties and back home, play tour guide and bring them anywhere they want and make them feel welcome. The only thing we agreed is that they would pay for the gas and parking I spend for them, because otherwise I wouldn’t have come to Amsterdam and I was only coming for them to be sure they had a great weekend for almost no costs. When I brought them to the airport on Monday after the weekend, I offered them that they could send me the money by banktransfer and also because I couldn’t stay parked at the airport Kiss & Go spot (only €87,-. To be extra kind to them, I payed the rest of the costs of €82 myself, even though I couldn’t afford it at the moment).
Result: 6 weeks later: they STILL haven’t sent me the money ánd they are now reporting my posts at Facebook as ‘hurtful’
WTF?!?!?!?!? Who is being hurtful here????”

Someone’s providing inaccurate information here.

  • 4:31am Person2

I did not make promises I had no money, I Laia pay all costs and Laia was who told him aria transfer aline

You three had a deal. That deal needs to be kept. Simple. Sort it out please – this situation shouldn’t have happened at all. Have a nice week and congratulations on getting a new job by the way.

  • 4:33am Person2

I hoped she would Laia transfer
my word that when I get paid at work I transfer my part of what I
My part 45 euros

Yes, Aline also hoped Laia will. Apparently, she didn’t do so yet.

  • 4:37am Person2

I discussed with Laia and not talk

Write Aline a note about it so that she will know. Hugs.

  • 4:38am Person2

Dancing nobody here speaks

Laia is in this conversation. She’ll read it. At least, it would be better for her if she does .

  • 4:40am Person2

aline was good person to me and I’ll give my 45 euros at month end

Yes, I get that. Let her know and I will also tell her tomorrow that you will.

  • 4:42am Person2

aline tell that I will give my best to the end of the month when I do job transfer

I will.

  • 4:44am Person2

Laia when reading angry conversation with me but I do not want trouble so I say the truth
Congress enjoy hugs and kisses

I honestly really don’t care about any angry conversations. Laia speaks good English. They had an agreement with Aline. Aline also told Laia that she will only come to Amsterdam for you guys and cannot afford the gas herself because that would leave her with no money to buy food. So Laia can talk all she wants, but she has to let Aline know when she will pay her back because talking doesn’t pay bills or debts. Or I will let everyone else know that she is an unreliable person. Then she can have as many angry conversations with me as she may want, but her reputation would be updated to reflect the reality of her behavior.
Hugs to you!

  • 4:52am Person2

aline tell thanks to send me a private message with the ways I can do it transfer

(Same conversation, March 27)

Oh! Now I see the message, but… I am not interested in reading, believe that Alline does not reason correctly

And nobody has because to listen or to know nothing, it imports neither my private life nor my problems to the people, she has publicized something that is not been true. Because I it offered to pay in the moment of hechar petrol, before going away in the airport… Even I said to him that it should not bother to give his house because the hotel was working out very cheap for myself, but he insisted!! In order that so many insistence? Now 40 to proclaim myself €? Do I claim the money of the coffees? Do I claim the money of the food? Do I him claim something of petrol when it was in Barcelona? Of the potatoes that I bought before the holiday…. Etc

Do you speak about reputation? Still do you believe that his behavior is the suitable one? One notices that only you have listened to his version of the facts…

She becomes the victim! And it does not worry me what he says because my real friends already know me, they know since I am and as actuo.

(Same conversation, March 28)

Laia you had an agreement. YOU broke that agreement. You can NOT all of a sudden start keeping score about unrelated things. And you shared food in Amsterdam. Pay what you owe, end of story.

There was an agreement. Aline told you guys that she would NOT come to Amsterdam – she could NOT afford it. You talked her into coming and promised to pay the gas and parking costs.
If you took the house or not does NOT matter. Either way, if you wanted Aline to drive to Amsterdam – she told you about gas and parking. If you wanted to pay extra for the hotel, it would make no difference for the gas money or for parking money.
At the airport it was impossible for Aline to stay at the spot where she was standing – it was kiss-and-go, not parking. You started opening your suitcase and looking for something – there was no time for that. This is why she said it can also be bank transfer – she could not stay longer at the spot with her car.

(Note: Aline’s status update from March 25, 2013 at 4:21pm, that is mentioned above, is available here. The update was made after Aline posted simply “Laia, Person2?” on Laia’s timeline – a post Laia proceeded to report. The report resulted in Aline having to change her password and being banned from Facebook for a few hours).

(Conversation between Person2 and Aline, April 23, 2013).

Still waiting…

  • 10:04am Person2

at the end of this month I will have my work income
I will write and I will do the transfer

I heard you would send me the money at the first if April that’s why I was waiting patiently again. Please send me the full amount ASAP ok?
(First OF April I meant)

  • 10:07am Person2

no problem

(Conversation between Aline and myself, April 23, 2013)

Still nothing from Person2 and Laia by the way..

Mmm finally Person2 answers now. Promises to send it end of the month. I’m not gonna hold my breath

(Conversation between Aline, Person2 and Laia, May 20, 2013)

Still waiting…

(Note: no responses followed)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

How to lose a client in 10 seconds

Sometimes people shoot themselves in the foot when they think they are shooting others. This little story is from two Tango parties, but it will relate to any type of customer-seller relationship, you’ll see :).

A few weeks ago I was at a Tango party. I’m not a Tango dancer – I love it though, I like to make stuff up as I go and I did have quite a few great dances with people around Europe who thought I actually can dance it properly. I insist that I can’t, although I can on occasion fake it pretty well… Anyway. I enjoy it. I enjoy creating within it. Every once and again I end up at a party, where I try to absorb moves and tricks as I watch them. So here I was at one such big event.

Towards the end of the night I asked someone (turned out to be a Tango teacher) for a dance. I normally let everyone know I know very little of Tango when I ask them to dance, by the way – he was no exception. I was looking forward to picking up yet a few more things on the go.

He had a more defined lead than others I danced with and, to my understanding (as I’m a very light follower, mind you), he gave me that extra energy that normally signifies some extra stuff going on (for example, flicks). I’m a good, girl (on occasion 😀 ), so I did what I thought I was supposed to. Less than a minute into the dance, however, my partner stopped in the middle of the floor, looked at me and asked “Do you want to dance alone?”.

I said something in reply on the lines of, well, I wasn’t familiar with his lead and I basically felt enough of a push to do what I was doing, which was why I was doing it etc. etc. etc. He then (thank you, your majesty), was kind enough to finish the dance. He also told me, in the meantime, that he would be holding a workshop the next day on exactly that – connection and lead interpretation etc, where I could learn it if I wanted.

Well, I wanted. I still do. Just not, my dear friend, with you. You lost me in the few seconds that it took you to say your arrogant-son-of-a-bitchy “Do you want to dance alone?”, to which I had to summon all my manners and will power not to reply “Yes, asshole, that’s exactly why I asked another person for a dance – so I can do it on my own. Duh.” Want to know a trade secret? If you wished to promote your workshop, being such a dick towards me was not the way.

Let me, in the near zero chance of a hope you may one day stumble upon this, tell you how you could have handled this whole thing with much more class and maybe even could have seduced me into your workshop:

1. Ask me a different question. Ask me something like “hey, I’m wondering if you normally prefer to do these things in general, or do you feel like I’m leading you into it?”. I would have told you that was what your lead felt like for me and we could then sort it all out in a much more dignified manner.

2. Compliment me. Even if I were absolutely terrible (I wasn’t), stepped on your feet at every step (not once) and was heavier than a load of bricks to lead (I’m the opposite, which actually causes problems sometimes). I’m your potential client? Make me happy! Say you’re impressed I could pick up so much without proper lessons. Say you can see how I could very quickly learn a lot more if I did take a lesson here and there. Then wait.

3. Wait for me to tell my heart-wrenching digest of a story of how I’m hardly ever in the city for long enough to take a course (so if I paid for one, I’d miss out on several lessons inevitably, which makes a course not worthy of an investment for me).

4. NOW pitch your class. Tell me I may not even need a full course necessarily (another self-esteem boost), but a few specific workshops can help me interpret the lead better and end up jumping ahead in terms of dance abilities. Say “by the way there is one tomorrow if you’d wish to come – we’d be doing exactly that and I’d be happy to see you there”.

Guess what? I never considered going for that weekend’s workshops. But. Had you played the situation out that way – I could have been very easily persuaded out of my money and you would have gotten it. I would have gotten a valuable lesson, too (I’m sure. I may still one day – just never with you…). And instead of writing this entry, I would be writing an entry with your name in it, praising your skills, workshop and everything about it. Wouldn’t you benefit from some positive publicity?

Instead, you ruined my evening. You made me feel absolutely terrible about myself. You’ve basically shat on what to me is actually sacred: an ability to express what the music stirs inside me through movement. You’ve also crossed out every single occasion when other (mind you, very good) Tango dancers told me they thought I danced already for a long time and didn’t believe me when I would tell them I’m no more than a beginner with a decent ability to fake it – on a good day. You made me cry. I hardly ever cry. You made me think I should never dare show up at any milonga ever again because I’m a worthless pretender with no hope for ever being able to enjoy this particular dance, which I happen to love.

To my luck, I’m a stubborn person. It’s probably the only quality that keeps me still afloat in life. So I gathered the tiny pieces of my shattered dance-esteem and forced myself to go to another Tango party the following night. It was mixed with other music, so I was more within my element in general. And here another Tango teacher character enters the story.

Of course, I asked him to dance. And of course, I also told him I’m sort of just starting out there and don’t dance more than once in several months. But he was pretty much the exact opposite story to the first guy.

There is one figure I kept making a misstep on – I do it often, I’d like to correct it but I didn’t pick up on it yet. So by misstep number three I apologized and told him for some reason I always seem to get that one damn thing wrong. Instead of patronizing me though, he said there is no such thing as ‘wrong’ in Tango. It’s about creating the movement together and enjoying it! (I respectfully disagree about “no such thing as ‘wrong'”: when you’re not matched in balance to the partner, it’s ‘wrong’ in Tango – ideally it shouldn’t happen, and my misstep is the kind that disturbs that balancing act that Tango is, but enough of the technicalities…).

We ended up dancing a few more times that night and if he had ever invited me to a workshop – I’d rob a bank to go to it if I had to. Because that, that was a true teacher of his craft. And a great salesman for his goods, so to speak. And I am very happy that I had forced myself out of the house and into that other party that night, where all it took was a warm smile and a friendly, but very true comment to mend my badly damaged dance-esteem back together and return to me that hope that maybe one day I could actually learn to dance this thing properly… If I ever hear about him being back in town and teaching something – he has my money, mark my word.

Here is the tl;dr ‘moral’ of the two stories: don’t be an asshole. If you’re in the business of offering something to people for money and you’re interacting with someone who may be (however slight the chance) your potential customer – treat them nicely. You may gain a customer in their person, or through their reference. Word of mouth goes a very long way – don’t allow that huge potential for publicity go sour just because of one stupid, condescending comment. No matter how much you may wish to say something mean – think of whether it would end up bringing the money into your pocket if you did. It probably won’t. Don’t be the teacher #1 from my story – be teacher #2. You shall reap rewards for remembering that.

Posted in All about me, Dance, Useful | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Call me, baby!

Just to make me happy, it was relatively cold in Tel Aviv as long as I was there. Except for one day – Sunday. I used the opportunity to go to the beach and catch some sunshine.

I arrived around 10am to the huge beach with few people and groups of people on it, found a spot to the side from everyone else, set up my towel and settled down.

About 15 minutes later some woman came to the beach and laid her towel 30 centimeters away alongside mine… I’m not exactly sure why on an empty beach she believed that spot was exactly what she needed, but there she was…

I thought ‘whatever’, who knows – maybe she planned to go swimming later and thought her stuff may have been safer if she left it near someone else. I was wrong.

Immediately after taking off her top and shorts, she picked up the phone and commenced a very lengthy phone call… So, obviously, she wanted me to listen to her phone conversations!

At first I thought that maybe she just needed to call that one person and would soon wrap it up. Not that she had an unpleasant voice, but it’s a bit difficult to relax when someone you neither know nor understand is merrily chatting to an invisible friend right up in your ear. Basically, as hard as it may be to believe, I preferred to listen to the waves and keep all the other noises at background level.

Ten minutes of her non-stop talking in, I realized it was a bit too crowded for the two of us on that one square meter of sand, picked up my stuff and settled a few meters away, wondering how long the phone call may last. Turned out it was a wise decision: in the two hours that I spent on the beach since the move she had one 10-minute break in her otherwise incessant phone conversations! She was still on the phone when I left the beach…

Maybe I’m slow in understanding some things, but I can’t figure out why the hell she had to lay down literally less than half a meter away from me on an empty beach? Did she think I’d appreciate the radio talk-show for hours at end? In other words: WTF? 😀

Posted in In my spare time..., The LOL factor | Leave a comment

Just another manic Wednesday…

Let’s just say a whole week of the Prague Zouk Congress was partially to blame for everything… After all, I had in total 7 people crash over at my place during the week and the last of them left on Wednesday early morning. In other words, no wonder I slightly overslept… Until about 2pm :).

As a consequence, I had only two hours left to clean up the entire apartment, wash the dishes and pack. I don’t think I ever did a full-house clean-up (including floor-washing) with such speed before! I managed almost everything from the list, although I forgot to pack a few useful items in a rush, but I think I did well granted I basically had 5 minutes to collect some remotely relevant clothes items from all around the house and throw them into the micro-suitcase. How I managed to take my phone and camera chargers is still a mystery to me!

I was expecting a guest at the house and Sinclair was supposed to drop by… My phone, however, had other plans for me – it was on, but didn’t accept any calls or texts! I learned about it from a Facebook message from Sinclair who let me know he was under my door a few minutes before and now was having a beer nearby… The phone started to behave well again after I switched it off and on… Finally, I managed to let everyone in – in the middle of running around like crazy and trying to find things :).

Running only 15 minutes late on estimated time of leaving the house, I rushed out and made it just 10 minutes late to the free Zouk lesson we were supposed to give with Sinclair. That seemed to have gone well, then I rushed to the airport – for no good reason, as it turned out, as the flight was delayed for 2 hours… Had I known that, I would’ve dropped back into the apartment before going to the airport to properly pack, but oh well…

Finally I made it to Tel Aviv. At the passport control the lovely lady was not in the best of moods. She asked me about the print out of the return ticket (which I, of course, didn’t have… Why, too, for an electronic ticket?). I was then asked to go to a ‘room over there’ and wait… In the ‘room over there’ another lady asked me a few questions. I asked her if it was necessary to have a ticket print-out at all times, she was surprised… She then gave back my passport and I went through.

Caught a train to Tel Aviv, then a taxi to the apartment and finally the full-day-crazy-rush was over.

So here I am in Tel Aviv. It’s kind of cold and windy – just the way I ‘like’ it… Although in a couple of days it should be hot again… I hope! I came here hoping to warm up!

 

Posted in In my spare time..., Travel | Leave a comment

We can do the “Harlem Shake”! Aka “just another normal weekend”…

When a friend comes to town for a short visit over the weekend, all sorts of things end up happening that normally wouldn’t. For instance, me dragging my butt out to several places over only two nights… IN THE COLD!!! (almost unheard of!) The highlight of the weekend, however, was taking part in one of Prague’s “Harlem Shake” videos (at the end). Here’s how it all went:

1. Friday night, March 8. International women’s day. We made it to KU Bar for the UNYP party simply for the lols. I was surprised that only a couple of years after I graduated I only recognized maybe 2-3 people in total! We then spent 10 minutes waiting in the queue to M1, ditched the idea, went to Nebe on Vaclavske nam. but they had some weird graduation party going on, checked out Beer Factory but it was closed, so we snacked at the KFC and headed home :).

2. On Saturday we met up with a bunch of people and went to Nebe on Kremencova.

The perpetrators 🙂

Acting normal… for now!

Photobombing 😀

My precioussssss!!!!! This is where it all got a bit out of hand… Julia and her friend ordered the MAXI Mojito not knowing HOW big it was :). We all had to help them out with it and in the meantime I ended up in a massive ice fight with one of the party crew… Ah, the joys of good company!

Heeeeere, kity, kitty, kitty!

I vant to suk ur blooooood!!!!!

BEST. PICTURE. EVER!!!

Just kidding… Everything’s cool…

3. When most of the party people headed back home, we decided to see what else is out there and walked all the way to Radost… It was empty by the time we got there (of course), but at least we got a bit of r’n’b down the system and made a pit stop at McD’s on the way :).

(Radost pictures (c) SoulTrain Weekender)

We have arrived!

The coolest girls in the club

Sarah and Julia

Gettin’ the groove on! (Whoever was the DJ that night at 4am should probably quit cutting every song after 10 seconds… Seriously… Just when you get into a song, he switched – aggggrrrrhhh!!!)

LOLLL we spent so much I had to tak e a rickshaw job on Vaclavak! 😀 😀 😀 (Not really – this was taken the following Tuesday after ballet class, I just like the picture 😀 )

4. Forcing ourselves to get up way too early for the organisms’ liking, we did a 15-minute express raid of my closet to find props for the Harlem Shake Prague, Lavka edition! It was a wonderful, sunny, warm day and we were happy to spend it outside during the filming!

Just a regular outfit… 😀

We have arrived… Since we had plenty of time before the filming, we were taking funny pictures along the way 🙂

Shower tiiiime!

WTF?!?!

SuperWitch impersonation FAIL 😀

Inspired by the Harlem Shake theme 🙂

Riding it!

MMMMMMMWWWWWAAAAHHH!!!!!

At some point a group of Italian guys showed up, asking us what was going on. We took a million pictures with them (on their phones) and ended up recruiting them for the Harlem Shake 😀

OMG a SNAAAKE!!!

The Pope in action :). When the filming started, he was the one who began the video

Discussing whether or not the Italians should look at the Pope as he walks in…

The Pope was joined by an Indian and the girl we talked into participating 😀 (She originally just came to watch)

Finally, everyone was in the picture 🙂

Final pictures before we left to get breakfast/lunch

BYYYYYEEE!!!

There is a lot of fun stuff that didn’t get into the final cut, as usual, but we spent a lovely time in the sunshine having some silly fun – and that’s exactly what matters 🙂

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns6F9wTez0U%5D
Posted in All about me, Experiences worth having, Funny videos, In my spare time..., The LOL factor | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Swans and philosophy: the little things in life.

Little things in life sometimes get lost between the bigger events. It is a sad loss, as those little things are often just as significant. They make up the fabric of one’s life story, after all, and all that major stuff are just occasional ornaments.

As we were throwing bread to the swans at Kampa on an unusually sunny Sunday afternoon of February 24, I was thinking about how many types of snow I used to be familiar with when I was a kid at my granny’s place… How we built snowmen and snow fortresses, had snowball fights… Collected icicles and the icy top layers from the snow that were so beautiful and ornate…

Now at this age the main reaction to snow was concern over how it will make the clothes wet instead of all the possible simple joys that playing with it could give… Maybe it’s called ‘growing up’, but something magical is inevitably lost or at least dulled in that process. It is irreversible. Almost… Unless you try, at least sometimes, to look at the world through the eyes of a child again, to react to it without inhibitions and to enjoy its small treats fully… It’s sad I can’t go back into my memories to snap pictures of it all for future reference to all those things that make life special, but that would have been an insanely huge photo album anyway. I hope my memory would hold them all for my use for many years yet to come…

Going through the inventory of the months between Lloret del MarBarcelona city and now, I recalled a few omitted ‘little things’ that I shall pay my dues to, not all of them bright and positive, but all of them memorable in their own ways…

It was shortly before Christmas. I was on my way to the city center – my friend and I were about to watch the Samsara film. A homeless man got onto the tram – not an unusual event in Prague. He smelled pretty badly… A few moments later someone told him he really should get off because he stinks. The homeless man started to slowly get up. Then a young lad sitting a few chairs ahead said something on the lines of “Yeah, make sure to get the hell outta here or I’ll beat you up”… I don’t know why, but I was so shocked by that pointless threat of violence I wanted to cry…

The homeless man, in the meantime, made his way to the door, but because he had bad legs, he didn’t make it out in time. He got off one stop later and so did I. I came up to him and told him not to listen to those stupid bastards who had never been in a situation like his. They had no idea how easy it is to lose everything and end up in the streets and how hard it can be to then regain a decent life… I gave him some change I had on me, crossed the tram lines, turned to a wall and burst out crying in the middle of the busy street…

Why? Why such aggression? Why the unnecessary threats? Poor thing was getting up already after the very first remark by someone… What asshole felt the need to self-validate on behalf of someone so much weaker and in such a terrible situation already? I wished I could punch him and break a few teeth… Those who know my aversion to physical violence would understand how extreme this feeling was…

It was a young lad, tall, just a tad bulkier than the average – maybe all that was needed for his brain to develop went into the muscle tissue instead? His spoiled, healthy ass has no inkling about life in the streets, especially paired with physical inabilities… He has a warm home to come back to and at least three meals a day and a decent life, and the one he lashed out at has none of it and none of his youth to give him strength either…

Anyone can end up homeless in a blink of an eye. Anyone. And making it through even a few days without a roof over your head is an ordeal most of us spoiled Westerners won’t manage with due dignity. Now imagine having to count winter after winter with no home, no friends, no family to support you and no money…

I think back to this and it still makes me mad… Mad, and grateful for everything I have. And mad… Mad on behalf of those homeless people I had had a chance to talk to in my life who were better and more intelligent humans than many of those who have their comforts and privileges intact… Mad at all assholes who continuously prevent subsidized facilities for  the homeless from being built in their neighborhoods because they don’t want the ‘scum’ there… They don’t want the ‘scum’ in the trams… Or anywhere, for that matter… But without such facilities these people have nowhere else to go, nowhere to get washed and to sleep and to be off of the streets where the assholes don’t want to see them in the first place… People are remarkably cruel and stupid :(…

I am one of the lucky few in this world… I have everything I need and much more. I have friends I could spend the 25th with, even though we don’t even celebrate Christmas on that date. But we had the luxury of deciding to organize a spontaneous dinner just because ‘why not’…

After the New Year’s, we paid a visit to one of the local ice skating rings.

Last time I wore skates was at least 10 years ago, so I was happy I did not fall that evening :).

We decided to go to the rink near Stavovske Divadlo: renting skates was the cheapest there and entering the rink was free 🙂

Best way to brake! 😀

Ready, set…

Go!

One fuzzy girl…

Another fuzzy girl…

And together we are two fuzzy girls 🙂

At Mlejnice restaurant, refilling the lost calories… Save me from the camera!!!

Check it ooooooout!!!

Results of some culinary experiments may be, on occasion, questionable… 😀

Back from the spontaneous trip to Amsterdam I had a chance to barricade myself inside the house from the winter cold. I went out only for occasional visits to the store and special events, like a hockey game on January 30th…

Some Russian team was playing some Czech team, apparently… I can’t care less about hockey itself, but family friends invited me to tag along :). I thought ‘what a hell!’ and went along – trying to honor the sheer randomness of my existence. Used the opportunity to test my Nokia N95 ability to post pictures directly to FB.

Those handy things with ‘goooool!’ (=goal) on them were given out at the entrance. They could be folded and used for banging on something to make loads of noise. I got two and used them throughout the game – for both teams :D. I left the game early because I had a party to get to, but I heard Russian team (with a Czech name though and from a Czech town…) won that night.

At a special Zouk Love party later that night at the 360′ Lounge Bar I got a chance to warm up…

Zouk Night – 30.1.2013 @ 360º Lounge Bar

Only a few days later I was exposed to a b-day dinner with yet another session of Twister-‘yoga’…

I also just started ballet classes for the flexibility-impaired… Highly recommended to anyone who wants to feel like an absolute, incompetent train wreck with little effort :). At the second class I discovered an old family friend of ours also was taking that class! I haven’t seen her in about forever! It’s a small world…

I briefly left the house – and Prague – for a weekend in Nancy (France) where a small delegation from Prague took part in the 2nd Tchic Tchic Boum Festival and came back to my bunker.

In the meantime, Prague was covered by an unusually thick snow blanket.

This view from the window on February 24th inspired a walk through the city in the hopes of capturing some of it under the spell of both the obvious winter and the rare sunshine.

We resolved to stroll around, armed with cameras, and feed the swans on the way… Like so many of us so many times, they also tend to bite the hands that feed them, so we had to be careful. At least they modeled for our pictures :).

Afternoon rendez-vous at Malostranska…

I don’t remember noticing this sun clock before!

Unsure why the picture turned out this dark… Could it be the siren on the roof?

Just a gate that closes the entrance to the metro station… Nothing special…

Sun and Moon meet on this gate

Snow-charmed Kampa

Hungry swans waiting for bread. Ducks were often quicker thieves though 🙂

Just hangin’…

One of the swans was very much into pinching others around it, even when they didn’t do anything and simply minded their own business.

Posing

Where is the food?!

Curious one…

Little swan or…

a big duck? 🙂

Can hardly call those beauties ‘little’, to be fair: out of the water and head up, they were over half my height!

Swans often mate for life

Youngsters were out partying somewhere and came late for lunch :D. Typical youth!

The sun was quickly working its way through the white shroud that was much thicker only a few hours before… Soon there were to be no more snow left again…

National pride… Those two gentlemen are peeing all over the Czech Republic map right in front of the Kafka museum 🙂

Open up, Pete!

Certovka

Is that the whole house?

Discovered this on one of the buildings at Charles’ Bridge… Any clue what this is?

Best shot of the day. As often – complete accident, taken on the run…

Cold…

Did you know that the Prague Castle is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest castle complex in the world?

Lovely building right across from Karlovy Lazne. Never knew what it is…

This begs for a princess to be locked in it!

Final takes before we dove into cafe Slavia…

Mission: accomplished!

Sunlight was on its way elsewhere on the planet as we dove into cafe Slavia for a bite and a coffee. While trying to select a table closest to the window and the view over the river, I’ve met the glance of no less than my university art teacher! Her mother took her out for lunch to ‘vent the brain’, as Natasha was way too submerged into preparation of her next exhibition… We joined them for lunch and had a few philosophical talks – second time that day, as I kicked the morning off with another highly intellectual discussion with my guests :).

Natasha’s mother is 92 – she remembers the time when Vltava river used to freeze over during winter and the kids went ice skating on it… You would never guess her age though. She is a bright and active lady, dressed with style, with enough energy to wholesale. She continues to teach languages and also yoga-based gymnastics for seniors. In her spare time, she studies psychology…  People like her make me want to live and accomplish and keep on going no matter what, showing that age isn’t quite as much of an issue. It was incredibly inspiring to meet them both. I even walked all the way home instead of taking a tram – despite the snow porridge and huge puddles on the streets that turned the journey into a cross-country challenge :).

The latest pleasant surprise awaited me at the Zouk Love party at Andel club on February 27th.

Zouk Love Night – 27.2.2013

It was a lovely party and most Prague Zoukeiros showed up. Towards what was supposed to be the end of the night I was thinking about leaving when, surprise surprise, Dadinho and Janaina showed up! I didn’t even know they were in Prague!

Happy to see you too! 😀 LOLLLL

Zouk chicas

We had a rare opportunity to mingle and dance with them at the party, which, to everyone’s joy, went on much later than initially announced :).

On the following Friday we ended up at Nebe (the one at Celnice). It was an unexpected, nice night out, not without a bit of staged violence…

First punch…

Second punch… (we also ‘changed colors’ in a good ‘football’ tradition, it seems: on Wednesday at the Zouk Love party I was wearing a grey/black horizontal stripes top and Dadinho was wearing a fuscia one 😀 )

 We seem to have impressed the club photographer, too 😀

Blinding flash…

Party people 🙂

On Saturday I received a FB message from an unknown to me person asking about stuff to do in Prague over the weekend. We ended up meeting on Sunday evening at Potrefena Husa (Na Verandach). A couple of Velvets on their behalf down the line all three of us re-located to La Macumba for the impromptu Zouk party, where I stayed while my fresh acquaintances proceeded to the city center. I caught up with them after the party finished and we paid tribute to my old time favorite Bombay bar :). Yet another unexpected, fun night…

Here they are: some of my little, memorable things of the past few months… Taking me down to the pits of despair and up into the clouds of inspiration, plus everything in between…

What are the little memorable things that colored your own few months with the texture of life?

Posted in All about me, Experiences worth having, In my spare time... | 2 Comments

What happens when on January 1st (in Prague) I get a message saying “wanna party in Amsterdam?”

Last time I had a plan for a few relaxing months, I ended up living out of a suitcase. I start suspecting it’s a bit similar to the effect of my ‘I’ll get home early today’ mantra… Except when I made a wish for a ‘relaxing’ 2013, I didn’t expect the universe to start working on it from day 1 of the new year!

The universe, apparently, takes me very seriously though, so right on January the 1st, after the official city New Year’s eve fireworks, I got an invitation to come spend a few party days in Amsterdam… An offer I could, of course, refuse, but the people involved were hard to say ‘no’ to :P. Therefore, doing my best not to disappoint my fate by refusing her very first generous offer of the new arbitrarily assigned time segment, on the 2nd I bought the ticket, on the 3d I bought a small suitcase that would fit free cabin luggage dimensions for Wizzair and at 6 in the morning on the 4th I was on the plane to Eindhoven…

Aline picked me up at the airport and less than an hour later I was finally able to catch up on the sleep I missed from the night before. In the evening we set off to Amsterdam for the Zouk party at BraSa and, of course, an after-party at Candela. And this was the quiet night of the weekend…

On the 5th we began by ‘ambushing’ my host in Amsterdam: we asked if Aline could also stay there for the night to avoid driving back and forth. He was nice enough to agree :). After we sorted everything out, we dropped in for Gert’s b-day party for a little while. It was unplanned – we only got invited the night before, but it was lovely to catch up off the dance floor. Then we picked up DJ Shing and DJ Nyx and drove to Katwijk for the Zouk aan Zee party at Johnny’s Mambo. The party there was nice, we especially enjoyed watching the faces Shana was making while dancing with Fabiano :). But it ended, unfortunately, at 1am – way too early for the party crew, so we dropped Shana off at the house and proceeded to El Punto Latino (the nickname we gave it was a version without the first ‘n’…). When we closed the place, we still didn’t have enough. Fortunately, the afterparty spot right next door to Candela – The News – was  open, so we proceeded there. At first it was totally packed, but we were able to charm our way inside. Then eventually some more space cleared out and we burned the floor :). Next time we checked the ticker, it was around 8 in the morning… We closed that spot as well, dropped Fabiano off and finally came back to sleep around 9:30am, to great amusement of our host who expected us back closer to 5am :).

On the 6th we woke up late – no surprises there :). Our host suggested us a very good restaurant right across the street – Buuf, not expensive and with tasty food. We opted for steaks :).

Despite a very ‘democratic’ price, the steak was very nice and juicy and potatoes were delicious, so don’t hesitate to drop in if you’re in the area! (Keep in mind it gets pretty full around dinner time and lunch time)

Then we went to the Zouk party at Sao Paolo. Not the one in Brazil (maybe next time ;)) – the one about 400 meters down the street from the restaurant :).

The ‘normal’ group picture after the workshop… (Disclaimer: copyright for the images from Sao Paolo belongs to their respective authors)

The ‘crazy’ group picture 🙂

The slightly less crazy picture by the time Fabiano managed to actually get on his head 🙂

Dancing with Roger is usually fun (unless he breaks my nose 😀 )

This is the best picture of the night! Fabiano and Shana rule!!!

Officially, the party ended at 1am, but 8 of us kind of hung out a bit longer because Nyx started playing some badass club music… Somehow this organically grew into a sort of a private afterparty right there at the bar, behind the closed roller-blinds, with talking, dancing and even some food that was served in the middle of the night!

Paul is trying out a PIMP persona 🙂

Having funnnnnn!!!!

I see you winding and grinding…

Chicken, potatoes and salad 🙂

Yumm yummm

We wrapped up past 4am :). Aline dropped me off and went back to Eindhoven and I went to sleep.

On the 7th I woke up very late, took a bath and was about to text my host when he came back. He was nice enough to make a dinner and for the rest of the evening I just chilled at the house, catching up on some blogging. I’m still going through Barcelona pictures – I have just over 200 to upload from the last trip plus another few hundred from my first time in the city a couple of years ago…

The 8th was also relaxing. It turned meteorologically annoying towards the evening when it got colder and it began to drizzle (didn’t stop until the late morning!), but the brave party musketeers faced that challenge and ventured into the cold night. This time we went to Brasil. Again, not the one across the ocean, but the one near Leidseplein. Other places were empty, but Brasil had quite some life in it right until the closing time :). Apparently you can’t get in unless there is a Brazilian person with you, but at 3am no one asked…

Secret identity…

Disclosed!

Party people

A more in-focus picture from Brasil bar :). (c) belongs to the author of the picture

In the early pre-dawn hours of the 9th we dropped Fabiano off to rest and pack and went on to chill a bit ourselves. Not without some fooling around.

Shiiiit… Amster-daaayym…

We ARE the afterparty!

Ha! A bit of sandwich-packaging wisdom :).

Later we came back to take him to the airport (hello there again, Schipol!) and finally, one hot panini per person later, it was time to say goodbye…

What a week! We enjoyed well-deserved lazy couch-potato movie and series-watching couple of days and summoned our remaining strength by Friday the 11th to go to Utrecht for the Zouk party at De Dreef.

I also got a Nokia N95 to play with (my dear Aline gave me her old one), so I’m officially among the smartphone owners now :D. Feel free to WhatsApp me (if you have my number) :D.

Originally we were thinking about going to one of the two parties on Saturday slightly further off, but in the end we decided instead to go to Santiago de Cuba (Yaaay, I’ve actually been there! I mean the real one!) bar in Eindhoven. It was a nice, chill night, although we both even got to dance a bit. We got home, had a snack, watched a couple of more episodes of ‘Heroes’, rested for a couple of hours and headed to Eindhoven airport. Now it was my time to leave Holland and get back to Prague, see if anything more ‘relaxing’ is in store for me that I know not of so far :)…

If all or even any of the projects and plans that have emerged as possibilities for the 2013 in its very first days, this should be one hell of a year :).

Posted in All about me, Experiences worth having, In my spare time..., Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Year’s Eve 2013

I like the start of 2013 so far :). Nothing too crazy, but it sure kicked off on positive vibes :). Here’s a quick 31.12.12-01.01.13 timeline for the curious:

(fast-forward through canceling our intended trip to Erfurt and almost no sleep on the 30th, saying goodbye to 1 set of guests and welcoming 7 others, express clean-up and pack-up for the night to come, a quick get-together with another friend of mine in the city center and the purchase of crispy duck with noodles from the Asian take-away…)

31st, afternoon: Since my house was occupied by a herd of really nice Italians who were in the middle of cooking and what not right around the time when I was in the middle of craving some sleep, I got lucky to be able to ‘surf the couch’ of a good friend of mine. I took all I needed, got there and passed out for a few hours.

31st evening: Right before 9pm, I was timely awoken by my friend (not by my alarm, which didn’t ring for some weird reason) and got on Skype call with mom and dad and our mutual good friend in Moscow. I got to listen to a part of Putin’s speech, watched my parents (in silly hats, no less!!!) hop around after the stroke of midnight and thus sort of celebrated the 2013 by Moscow time :). Then I had to run get ready.

31st, a bit past 9pm: My second attempt at fake eyelashes in life (first one was rather successful – for the show in Lloret del Mar) was supposed to be a quick fix to avoid bothering with mascara (hate using mascara…)… The ‘quick fix’ turned into a half an hour battle. These were a different type of lashes, less flexible (hard to make them follow the eyelid’s shape), and the damned glue would dry before I could even transfer the thing the 30 cm from sink level to eye level! Oh, of course I also forgot the tweezers… Roarrrr… I sorta fixed them on in the end, hoping they’d last at least the first 10-30 minutes of the party :). The remaining face-paint took the 10 minutes remaining until arrival of the taxi.

31st, about 11pm: Got to Dancers’ Club, had some tasty cheese and snacks, danced some Salsa and Zouk. Best thing was that everyone could bring their own drinks and food to the party :). Knowing that I usually get hungry half way through the night, I brought the duck…

31st, 23:50: Weather conditions: absolutely beautifully clear night, moon just past its fullness lighting the starry skies, fresh air.

Everyone got dressed and walked onto the roof terrace to watch the fireworks. Not the official city ones – the ‘whoever wanted to make any’ ones. It’s probably the first time in my life that I watched New Year’s Eve fireworks of any sorts live… Around midnight, we could them all around us – some pretty impressive, and some guys who probably robbed a Vietnamese-run pyrotechnic store of some sorts the night before were launching fireworks from the club’s street somewhere, so we had them explode basically under our noses :D. We launched a few of our own as well and then enjoyed the rest of the ‘show’. The city sounded like it was under gunfire :).

1st, 00:25: Weather conditions: so smoky after the fireworks that you can barely make out the stars and the panoramic flight airplanes circling the city that were perfectly visible half an hour ago.

We slowly start to freeze and return indoors.

1st, around 1am: Kicking off the hilarious competition of Street dancers vs. Zouk dancers, for some reason for one bottle of alcohol prize… In the end, it was a tie, so the drinking members of both teams had to somehow share 1 bottle between like 12 or so people :). The eyelashes were still attached, although the right one’s outer corner gave up… That’s about one hour better than I expected!

1st, around 2am: Time to make it to where I originally planned to be going tonight… I sent the duck flying back to my friend’s place (together with the friend, of course, who was also leaving but directly to the casa instead of any other party) – for some reason I wasn’t hungry at all (must be the cheese and other snacks I collected from around the place 🙂 ).

Some of the friends were taking a taxi to the city center, I hopped in with them. Took the taxi 30 minutes to arrive to us, but at least it was normal, cheap price – not the shark price we’d get if we caught one on the street.

1st, around 2:40am: Got to Bombay Bar. It was full, so they were only letting people in as others were walking out. Big group of french guys outside was ahead of me, but I was in after only about 10 minutes. First person I saw there was an old friend of mine I haven’t seen in ages – nice welcome :).

Had the greatest time at Bombay. Don’t know why, but it’s always a fun, positive, cool place for New Year’s, lovely atmosphere and people… If I’m ever in Prague again for the symbolic stroke of midnight, I’ll just go there directly for the night :).

People were dancing, fooling around, I had some huuuuuge (probably like 5 of me in diameter, but taller) Turkish guy lift me up in the air a few times. Better yet, at different times he lifted my friend up, too… And both of us… I guess just because he could… Good times :).

1st, some time around 4am: I started finding money on the floor. First I collected 70Kc in 10Kc coins… Then my friend found a 5 Euro note… A bit later I found a 10 Euro note… Basically, I got a full refund on the entrance fee :D. If this goes on like that for the rest of the year – I’ll be minted! 🙂

1st, hell knows when: Left Bombay to check out the club next door (former Fragola, forgot what it’s called now). Not many people there, but awesome music, so danced around a bit. Lashes still attached – I’m impressed!

1st, 7am!!!: I thought it was maybe 5 at best, but my friend said “are you aware that it’s 7am already?” WOOoooOOoOT! That’s what I call a good night out – when you have no idea what time it is and feel like you can keep going still, then it turns out you’re hours off your guesstimate :). No wonder I was getting sleepy! Left the club, walked to my other friend’s place.

1st, 7:50am: After another small battle with the surprisingly durable, given how badly they were attached to begin with, fake lashes (this time, trying to take them off…), final crash-landing on the couch…

1st, a bit before 5pm: Finally woke up (sort of). Had a very pleasant rendez-vous with a cup of coffee and last year’s duck. Got ready, packed up my stuff and made it to the street near the National Theater minutes before the official city firework display at 18:00. Lovely stuff, choreographed to music and all… It then took me roughly 20 minutes to cross the bridge (because of the sea of people) and less than that to walk all the way home :). Happy to see that my apartment is still there and Italian invasion is, thus far, seemingly peaceful :).

1st, 8pm-ish: a couple of friends popped in for a tea and a chat :). My wish to ‘have a relaxing 2013’ is already working: I might be going somewhere on January 4th for a few days…

1st, 23:16: Finishing this blog entry… Can’t wait to get into the shower but still have to wait a bit for the water to heat up…

So here is to the New Year, year of the Snake:

Dear 2013, a very warm welcome to you! I think I like you so far, and we hit it off pretty well right away. Wanna be friends for the remaining 12 months? Maybe you liked my shiny outfit that I greeted you in, or you’re simply aware of the fact that I like snakes, but you’re already being very nice to me. I appreciate it! :). Keep it up! I hope we can carry on along those lines all the way. Good to have you here, 2013 – let’s rock and roll!!!

How did your New Year’s go – anything fun? Unusual? Exciting? Share the story below! 🙂

Posted in All about me | 1 Comment

Happy New Year 2013!!!

Dear all, I would love to wish you a very successful 2013! To avoid double-entries, here is the link to this year’s New Year’s Eve Message to the World :).

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Insights into promiscuity: confession time.

It is confession time, my dearest, and I’d lay it all out for you plain and clear, no secrets. Here is the truth: I may have a favorite man, or maybe a few, but I can never get enough. Each new one is an opportunity for different experiences, and those experiences allow me to grow. Most often I have little control of who comes up and gets a hold of me. I actually hardly ever say no… Almost anyone has a chance… On occasion, I venture out after someone myself… I will tell you a few stories of how it sometimes happens and leave you be the judge…

It’s always great with the favorite ones… We already know each other’s body and movement, we already can easily read one another… I know I can trust them not to hurt me and to do everything just the way I like it, so I simply relax, close my eyes and enjoy the ride. Their hands find their way to all the right places, we fall into the hypnotizing rhythm and at times I am so into it I forget to breathe… Most of the times we end up accidentally discovering some new tricks we are actually physically capable of – this ability to venture out of the comfort zone, to leap into insanity, this is what marks my favorites out for me… I give in to it 100% – this is what people call “flow” or hypnotic trance… It is my oxygen and dopamine and my raison d’etre all in one. Whatever minutes actually pass, they seem eternal while they last and short as one moment when it’s all over. By that time we’re both usually high, sweaty and slightly out of breath, hearts pounding, yearning for more… On lucky occasions we can carry on to round two or three, but then the rules kick in and we have to swap – until the next chance…

Other times it’s complete strangers. Once I was looking and I saw someone interesting. The more I watched, the more I liked what I was seeing. It wasn’t long before I made my way towards him to have a go… Introduction was customarily very short – people in these settings go pretty much right down to business within seconds. There is little time to be wasted. So it was more or less a mutual “hello”, a couple of smiles and then hands right on each other. I was correct in my assessment – he definitely knew what he was doing! It was a smooth and jazzy ride with a lot of joy and several pleasant surprises along the way, a fair deal of fun and definitely a lot of passion. I even came back for seconds a few times during the night :).

Another time I was taking a break when one guy came up to me who I’d probably never even notice out in the street. Or maybe I would – he wasn’t the smallest kid on the block – but certainly not in the same way… I thought to myself “wow, okay this looks risky but what a hell – let’s see what happens. After all, I’m sure I can survive at least one session, however terrifying it may end up being…”. I went ahead and said yes – did I mention I’m not too choosy? To my astonishment, it was one of the most memorable experiences in my personal history! What we managed to do together was an absolute masterpiece of crazy sweaty fun, and not for a second of all the five encores that we had did I feel his size!

I was even approached by a few girls at times – they surprised me as well. This is what’s great about swapping – you never stop being amazed, surprised and pleased. True, on occasion it’s just an average experience, but most of the times it’s really much better than drugs…

I’m sure you’ve guessed what I’m talking about ;).

(p.s. if you enjoyed this, you’d probably have even more fun reading about my life-long addiction, or about something wet, warm and pleasing…)

Posted in All about me, Experiences worth having, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Terminal afterpaaaahhhrty… And related stories.

Maybe it wasn’t as extreme as in the movie “Terminal” (watch if you haven’t seen yet!), but I did get to bond with Schipol airport a bit closer than I expected to over the past week… I swear it wasn’t MY fault! It’s just that SOME people seem to have been jinxed in some strange travel-related way and spread the jinx over to some of the rest of us mortals, including the guess-who’s-writing-this person… This is what happened:

It all began in Prague… Actually, scratch that. It all began in Zurich, because this is where the fateful star alignment brought together the main protagonists of the whole shebang to begin with.

Saga cast
(main characters): your humble servant (whose every plan of a chill-down summer has been shattered mercilessly by this heartless bitch called ‘unforeseen circumstance’); Aline (someone who probably regrets having a driver’s license and a car by now :D); Fabiano (aka DJ Nyx, who must have either angered or enchanted – we’re still debating which one – enough Schengen gods to be so determinately held back from leaving the zone)
(supporting characters): Dadinho (THE man who coined the currently trending in select circles inclination of the word ‘afterpaaaahhhrty’); Kendra (Nyx’s gorgeous dance partner, and a beautiful human being whose ability to keep her cool in all situations and remain absolutely charming no matter what is something I want private lessons in); Jonathan (Kendra’s boyfriend/Fabiano’s good friend, entangled in parts of this mess entirely by proxy, who probably didn’t expect quite THAT much adventure out of this vacation); Natasha (partially responsible for the Tarzan story and for organizing everyone to transfer orderly from BraSa to Candela for the nights out 🙂 ).
in episodes: a load of other people.

Chapter 2 (because chapter one was in Zurich, remember 😉 ): Post-Prague Samba/Zouk Congress 2012-Stress Disorder.

The Prague Congress (August 16-19) was fun, although a bit smaller than I expected turnout-wise. On top of that, my intelligent strategy of hiding behind tall people didn’t quite work…

Trying to stay out of Sofie’s line of vision to avoid being dragged into the competition…

Someone tipped her off and she got me…

I did NOT agree to this, rrrrrrrrr!

We were supposed to parody this bit of choreography:

And, of course, it didn’t end well…

Popular poll suggested we actually won, but the prize was awarded to a different couple – they had more friends and those were louder… There is never any justice in such competitions!

Anyway… The congress, of course, didn’t lack the customary set of afterpaaaahhhrties (drinks, talks, laughs, music and even some food 🙂 ), but they are not the focus of the current story. The focus is the events that began on Monday, August 20th. The three musketeers – Fabiano, Kendra and Jonathan – were bound to go to London on that day, which they did. Except that they have managed to win the Murphy’s Law-ttery and run into the most grungy immigration officer of the day. Hours of unpleasant nonsense later they were back in Prague Ruzyne airport…

Cut to my crib, circa 00:30am. My Dutch crew of congress guests is gone. I am still under the legitimately substantiated impression that I have a flight to catch to Paris in a few hours, so I am amidst an extensive clean-up before leaving Prague yet again for a month. Enter the Facebook message (in reply to my inquiry on how was the flight) from Fabiano: “well… things didn’t go as planned”. And here began the international rescue/reorganize operation of the upcoming 24 hours.

Step 1: get them a taxi from the Airport to my place. One trick was making Fabiano tell me which exit they are nearest to (to tell to the taxi driver where to park). Then, somehow even though I sent the address of the destination, the taxi driver didn’t have it when he arrived, so an extra trip to an available WiFi hub was required to get my address.

In the meantime: I learn that Paris is off. Way to tell me – a few hours before the flight! Could well have been done on Friday, but oh well – gives me time to sleep the Prague Congress off :). That, and I can help out with the current situation better from the home base…

Finally, the weary travelers arrived.

Step 2: organize sleeping spots for everyone, all the while listening to what all happened at Heathrow airport. In short, it was some silly miscommunication (advice to travelers: always know the address of where you’re staying in UK when you travel there – might help! 😀 ) that resulted in immigration services saying that every one of them is required working visas to enter the UK (even Jonathan, who wasn’t involved in anything in any remotest way). That is, even for visiting friends… Yeah, go figure… And consequent un-pleasantries… We look up what times are the US and UK embassies open for the morning.

Step 3: get a little bit of sleep.

Chapter 3: A long day in the city.

Morning of August 21 – vaguely memorable to me because I slept through most of it. Up-date from the misplaced crew was amusing (in a “WTF” kind of way): no one at either embassy could believe that whole situation even happened. Oh and by the way, unfortunately, working visas to UK for US citizens applying from within EU are only issued in the main headquarters in Warsaw. Ah, but they only communicate on those issues by e-mail, not phone. Ehm, but it takes them roughly a week to answer e-mails… Should I mention that everyone’s flight back to the USA was scheduled to depart from London on the 28th?..

Step 4: spend a few hours of group online/on phone efforts trying to re-route everything and explore other available options. In the end, Kendra managed to get through to an airlines clerk who said it was possible, after all, to waive the fees for changing the outbound flights’ departure point. New route was set: instead of flying from London, flying from Amsterdam. Bus tickets to Amsterdam were arranged and we finally went for a well-deserved dinner (joined by Dadihno and Leo). The rest of the night was spent wandering around Prague, wondering why every bar seemed to be so empty (besides it being Tuesday and summertime…), eating some sausages on the Venceslaw’s Square, making a final pit-stop at McD’s and finally heading back to the casa around 6am. Curtains down, blackout…

Chapter 4: By the skin of their teeth...

I set my alarm to 14:00. The bus was leaving at 17:00. That would give everyone enough time to wake up, eat something, get ready and go. I also presumed everyone else also had alarms set… Whether they did or not, the next time I woke up (after hitting the “off” button) was 15:25 – roughly half an hour before we should have ideally left for the station.

Cue: mild panic and futile attempts to make Fabiano – of course, THE one with most stuff out of the bags – wake up, start moving and pack everything.

Kendra and Jonathan were awake and pretty much packed up from the night before. With some collective effort, we managed to leave about 16:15, arrived to the station 12 minutes before the bus departure (could be 15 but wasted a few because out of all the days when this could have happened I got caught without the ticket by the control. Saddest part? I DID send a text message to buy the ticket. I always do in the metro. Except this was a special day and I sent it to the wrong number. Here go 30 Euros… Granted, I found some money hidden away between my papers a day before AND was riding the system dirty for many years, I figured I won’t let that episode upset me… ), had (almost) enough time for the guys to get some food. Kendra and I were at the bus platform with the suitcases 1 minute before departure time, Jonathan and Fabiano joined 1 minute past departure time. It was THIS close, but I told them right away they’re NOT missing a connection under my supervision :).

Chapter 5: A few extra days in Prague

Only for me. I was so tired that I didn’t even bother telling anyone I was still in the city and slept it all off for a couple of days, finishing the clean-up in between. Besides, I got a request to help someone work on a specific piece of writing, so all the relatively sane waking hours were devoted exclusively to that task – all the way till the end of the story :). On 24th and 25th I stopped by shortly for the parties at Dancer’s club and then finally packed for Amsterdam.

It’s not me! I’m not here!

I’d make a good fan-operator!

Great fun dancing with Kamacho, if only he could understand me when I explained that the more force he applies to me, the less controllable I become because I start fighting back 😀

Somebody heeelp! There, in the background – I’m being kidnapped! 😀 Oh historic event: managed a dance with Adilio Porto that night as well – something with a probability pretty near zero 🙂

In the meantime: Fabiano owned another nickname (Tarzan… For this (although you may not be able to see it due to privacy settings… Here’s viewer’s digest: after one of the parties in Amsterdam, a canal near Leidseplein. Roughly 5am. Natasha and Fabiano decide to take a picture on the boats, jump into the canal, swim to the boats, take the picture… Natasha swims back, Fabiano catches a big tree branch and swings towards the shore… Video ends there, but a few seconds later he crashes right back into the water… In other words, just a regular night out 🙂 ) and they got to teach a last-minute workshop in Paris on the weekend.

On the 26th I, of course, haven’t managed to sleep (hardly ever happens when I have such an early flight). The whole home – Prague airport – Rotterdam airport – Rotterdam Central – Amsterdam Central – Wilco’s place stretch was one zombified blur, but at least I packed my MP3 so it had a soundtrack :).

My very kind host has a twisted sense of humor, I suspect… First he subjected me to torture-by-camera, otherwise known as ‘an interview’ – in my current half-dead state! And then, of course, there was a party to go to (I mean, who would have ever thought…) at Monte Christo – good news was that it’s just a stone’s throw away… I managed to forget my irreplaceable hairbrush (yes, they exist) there, but picked it right back on Monday afternoon :). Otherwise it was a nice but early (thank goodness) night, followed by well needed sleep.

Chapter 6: Goodbye party Vol. whatever…

This is kind of the day where it all began to get more spooky… August 27, Amsterdam, evening. Meeting up at BraSa then going to Leidseplein for the last night out with the whole crew whose flight back to USA is tomorrow: Nyx, Kendra, Jonathan.

Last night out in Ams – for some people…

Kendra and Jonathan were tired and went back to catch some sleep. The weird and crazy people carried on… One of the Latin clubs we went to had a House party, so we went to Candela. They had an open mic night there and we ended up having a live concert by the very one person responsible for all the hassle 🙂 :

Unexpected performance 🙂
(Natasha, hope you don’t mind that I used those couple of pictures – I don’t have any others from that night!)

Round of applause

So far so good… The end of the night was slowly approaching and, finally, it was so late/early that Aline realized we might just as well drop Fabiano off at the airport. We grabbed some coffee and croissants at a gas station while he was getting ready, then picked him up and went to Schipol… (keep track now, this is round 1)

All the customary goodbyes behind us, we parted ways. We just left the parking lot when Fabiano messaged to tell that Jonathan and Kendra were not at the gate and he won’t be leaving without them… A few phone calls and messages later, however, they showed up and all was quiet on the Western Front – for the time being. I was back soon and in bed right away, so I had slept through the further developments of that day…

The developments were rather ‘interesting’. Namely, Fabiano didn’t get on that flight! He was stopped for questioning at the gate or something like that and didn’t make it… So he had to get back to Amsterdam – yet again… Aka “Just when I thought I was out – they pulllllled me back in!”…

Tuesday night everyone was so tired that even the already-customary evening out was skipped.

We did, however, go for (yet another) goodbye party on Wednesday 29th. This time Jonathan and Kendra were not there – they were back in the US. It began, yet again, at the same place where you can get 10 shots for 10 Euros:

Jeger!!!! Since I’m not into shots, and definitely not into Jeger, I’m the one taking the picture :). For those more interested in that offer, the joint is called, I think, Pancake house and is on Leidseplein on the corner right next to Burger King

We were joined by a few other crazy Zouk people – it was good fun :).

The last last goodbye party 🙂

We then moved on to Candela (yet again) and had a lot of fun dancing and fooling around. As last time, by the morning it has been decided that we might as well drop Fabiano off at Schipol (round 2)… In a Groundhog Day type of a deja-vu, we also used the time he took to get ready to go to the same exact gas station for the same exact croissants/coffee/apple juice deal :). Except this time we also danced a bit near the coffee machines, to great amusement of some random guy who popped up to fill up the gas tank :).

Maybe our ritual dance at the gas station appeased the Schengen gods, or maybe us praying to the airport deities when we got there had an effect, but this time the scenario in Schipol repeated only partially. Oh, and we were smart enough to try to arrive there well ahead of time – he thought the flight was at 09:50, but it was actually 09:15! Phew… So even though the ladies at the check-in already recognized him and said welcome back – the story had a different ending. For one thing, Fabiano’s suitcase gave up on all this bullshit (as in, tore) and had to be sealed. For another thing, this time he actually got onto the flight – wheee!!!!

Hence finished our party spree with DJ Nyx (by the way, if you haven’t heard this yet, you’re from the wrong planet!), but not my strange ‘love affair’ with Schipol airport (and, to be fair, Candela as well 🙂 )…

Chapter 7: Amsterdam Zouk Congress – afterpaaaahhhrty!

Okay, so I fell asleep at the Thursday night congress pre-party… I mean, every number of sleepless nights has its limits… By the way, I have a complaint to make: on the website (and at the door to the pre-party, when it concerned ALL the other people) it said that the entrance was FREE for both full pass holders and PARTY PASS holders, like myself. Several people with party passes I spoke to confirmed this. However, when I had arrived, the girls at the door said that I had to pay the 5 Euro entrance fee… Why? So girls, whoever you were: please give 5 Euros back to Wilco, who was kind enough to chip in for me (I didn’t plan on spending anything, so I left the wallet at home), because I TOLD you at the door I had a party pass and I thus didn’t have to pay to get in. I mean it – I’ll check later on if you did. It’s bad karma for you.

As for the congress itself – seriously, what else can you do when it finishes at about 3am (for NO good reason, mind you, as I’ve recently learned… No it has nothing to do with permissions/noise levels… Which means that if certain people made slightly different arrangements, which would NOT cost them all THAT much more, we all could go on dancing well into the morning hours, getting far more than 3 hours of dance-time for the money… Yes, this is supposed to be a hint 😉 )? Exactly – go for an afterpaaaahhhrty! Friday and Saturday nights this is exactly what has happened. I think the fact that bouncers at Candela started greeting us like friends by now speaks for itself :). I am probably missing someone, but this time the composition of the crowd roughly included: myself, Aline, Nicky, Natasha, Sula, Dadinho, David, Kamacho, Nicolas and a few others.

Dancing in Candela

Buncha posers hehehehe 😀

THE afterpaaaaahhhrty crew 🙂

Morning after Candela

Sunday Congress party finished at 4am – same time as Candela closed up… But by the time everyone said goodbye to everyone we realized that, well, we might just as well drop Dadinho off at the Schipol airport (round 3)… So we did, then I went to get a bit of sleep and later that same day – Monday August 3d – I went back to… you guessed it – Schipol airport (round 4)! I was catching a train to the Hague from there.

So here I am now, with a slight flu after all this, finally able to relax a bit after what started to seem over the past few weeks as one never-ending party with very short breaks :). As far as the magic goes: what do YOU think – were Schengen gods enchanted or pissed off?

Posted in Dance, Experiences worth having, Funny videos, In my spare time... | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

7 Free Education Websites You Don’t Want to Miss – Goodnet

Great news for all the knowledge-savvy people out there: some good quality stuff IS out there for FREE! Take advantage!

1. COURSERA

WHAT Coursera strives to make education accessible to anyone.

HOW Free courses online from world-class universities, including Princeton University and the University of Michigan. The topics are varied, and lectures are formatted into series of 15-minute-long clips.

BONUS POINTS Freedom is the name of the game: students can watch videos at their convenience and in their own time.

2. UDACITY

WHAT A free education website for brainy types, founded by four Stanford roboticists.

HOW Udacity currently offers 11 courses , all of which are in science and math-related topics. According to the website, plans are underway to expand the curriculum.

BONUS POINTS Udacity is free of deadlines, free of prerequisites, free of quizzes and other annoying school stuff. Needless to say, courses are also free of charge.

3. OPEN CULTURE

WHAT High-quality cultural and educational media.

HOW A staggering collection of 400 courses, online, for free, from Ivy League universities, such as Stanford, UCLA, Columbia and Oxford University. Courses run the gamut from science and art to math and economics.

BONUS POINTS Classic and indie films, including many from the 1940’s and 1950’s, are available to watch for free.

4. TED-ED

WHAT TED, The powerhouse of jaw-dropping lectures needs no introduction. Now, they’re bringing their talent into education with an offshoot, Ted-Ed.

HOW A treasure trove of beautifully animated and gripping videos on a wide array of subjects, such as The Power of Simple Words  and How Many Universes are There.  All videos are under 10-minutes-long.

BONUS POINTS Supplemental materials such as quizzes and discussion questions are also available.

5. MENTORMOB

WHAT Curating and ordering learning materials.

HOW MentorMob is like the YouTube of learning materials: users create learning “playlists” from first-rate websites.

BONUS POINTS MentorMob is a community, whose members share and rank each others’ learning playlists.

6. MEMRISE

WHAT Effortless learning based on three pillars: science, fun and community.

HOW Based on scientific methods for implanting new information, Memrise proves that what may seem impossible is in fact doable – yes, even learning Mandarin Chinese.

BONUS POINTS The Guardian Wallcharts are mapped Memrise style, teaching you all about cheeses, herbs and other wonders of life.

7. LEARNIST

WHAT Learnist is the Pinterest of learning.

HOW The interactive platform allows users collect teaching materials and educational content that are grouped into “boards”.

BONUS POINTS The platform is equipped with the Learn it! bookmarklet, which enables picking images anywhere on the web and automatically shoots them to your Learnist board.

Know of any other websites that should be on this list? Tell!

via 7 Free Education Websites You Don’t Want to Miss – Goodnet.

My own addition to that list:

8. LIVEMOCHA

WHAT Platform for learning the basics of a foreign language.

HOW Following online courses and conversing with native speakers.

BONUS POINTS Your exercises can be reviewed by actual native speakers, helping you to learn the language more organically. Video and audio content as well as in-built homework assignments and tests available.

9. DUOLINGO

WHAT Again – learn a language for free – this initiative deserved its own TED talk!

HOW Online courses.

BONUS POINTS Wile completing exercises, you are simultaneously helping to translate digital library of human knowledge (for example, Wikipedia entries) into different languages.

Posted in Inspirational, Useful, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Logical puzzle… of a kind…

I’ve recently come across a “great mystery” that keeps bugging me: I can’t seem to solve it because I fail to see the logic in it, so since it usually helps to vent stuff that bugs me out, I’ll try to outline this one in writing as well – maybe it would help to see to the solution :). Fair warning – fully irrelevant to anything relevant, just an interesting little life situation that puzzles me :D.

Ok let’s imagine the following as given:

1. You have a best friend who moved to another city from where you live. You only get a chance to see each other every few months. Usually you end up going there for a few days because your schedule is more flexible. Your best friend is very busy and usually has very little free time to dedicate to anything and you know it, of course.

2. Both of you keep talking about taking a long weekend trek into the mountains. In fact, you’d both absolutely love to go, and definitely together – to relax, catch up and simply interact outside of the usual “between working hours and other engagements” setting. You’ve been talking about it on/off for almost a year though but, sadly, somehow there’s just never much time, especially on your friend’s side.

3. You two are really, really close and value each other and the time you spend together – especially since it is so rare. You on your side, having the flexibility at hand, on the very few occasions your friend makes it to your city for a visit, make sure to completely clear the schedule so that you two could spend as much time together as possible.

4. One of those rare times you go to visit your best friend for a couple of days. You, obviously, find what to do during all the “work and other engagements” times. Your best friend is still your best friend, however, and you are having, as always, a great time after hours.

5. Then you hear from your best friend’s new pal that they are going for a week long trek into the mountains. You’re not invited. You don’t even know about it coming up. Your best friend is as busy as always with a lot going on and a few deadlines approaching, yet somehow managed to crave out not a day or two from the busy schedule but a whole week. This means your next chance to go anywhere together is pushed over to “at least another year later”, most likely, due to a limited number of days that can be taken off work by your best friend.

And basically this is where my cognition fails me because, like… WHAT A FUCK?

The situation described is 100% hypothetical and purely illustrative, but the line of logic is preserved. My question is, in a given scenario, is it just me who would see a bit too wide of a gap between words and appearances and actions, or is there simply too wide of a gap? What could possibly cause such dissonance?

I can think of two scenarios:

A. The best friend is sincere in intentions and truly values your friendship.

B. Or not.

For the sake of making the puzzle more complicated (because in case of scenario B, the answer is rather self-evident 🙂 ), let us presume scenario A applies.

Question: how could such a situation possibly arise?

And voila, can’t solve this one, so… any help/guesses? 🙂

Posted in Mind queries, Thoughts | Leave a comment

I am a crazy jet-setter!

Well, maybe not as crazy as some, but I’m doing fine on the travel tales that can be fit into the ‘huh?’ category :). My latest and greatest were the trip to Italy and getting from Moscow to the Hague via Prague – while practically not sleeping for 3 days :). Here’s how it went:

1. Italy.

I just got back from the Berlin Zouk Congress and was looking forward to chilling off. This was not, however, meant to be. It turned out that two Russian ladies who spoke absolutely not a single word of any other language bought themselves tickets to Italy for a conference and a specific event following it. My mother asked me to go with them to help them out… I have to say I can’t imagine how they were hoping to manage the trip alone, but it sure was an adventure!

To begin with, I booked an EasyJet flight to Milan, having checked and double-checked everything several times. Or so I thought… On the day of the departure, I arrived to the airport but my flight was nowhere on the ‘departures’ table… I found the office and asked them to check it, since I don’t have a printer to print out the ticket and only had my booking number. It turned out that I managed to book the ticket for the right dates… but the wrong month – July instead of June! The lady in the office gave me the EasyJet service center number, where they were kind enough to change my ticket for the right month without the administrative fees. Since it was about 1pm and the flight was leaving at 10pm, I went back home and slept…

Thing is, I actually needed to get to Turin. I found out that there was a direct bus from Milan Malpensa to Turin at midnight, but wasn’t sure whether I’d make it. Alternatively, I could spend the night at the airport and leave in the morning… Luckily, we landed around 23:20, so I was able to take the bus. I arrived to the hotel where the Russian ladies were already chilling since afternoon in the middle of the night and went to sleep for a bit.

The conference wasn’t the focus of their trip, but our technician was actually able to connect them to the Russian translation line. So far so good.

On the 2nd day of the conference I skipped the afternoon session to walk around the city, take pictures (coming up soon – I’m still working on Berlin album!) and enjoy the warmth of the summer sun. I walked all around the place and got to the cemetery around 5:40pm. It said it was open till 6pm, I thought it was small enough to walk through in 20 minutes… However, since I was busy taking pictures, I ran a bit late. When I made it to the entrance gate, it was closed and I was locked in :D. Good news is there was an emergency button, so some guy arrived a few minutes later to let me out :). I was also smart enough to hide my camera before he got there because I noticed the sign that taking pictures is prohibited without permission (ops!). He asked me how come I was still there, I told him I was far from the gate and by the time I walked back it was locked :D. It was kind of true, but in reality when I realized it was 6pm, I decided to not rush it, finish picture-taking then work-out my escape-plan later on…

The ‘fun’ began when on the 17th it turned out that instead of June 18th, the exact event the ladies were so determined to attend was moved to June 19th – and we all had return tickets for that same date… Thus began a session of an international effort (involving my mom in Moscow) to change (most importantly) their tickets for the 20th.

Towards late evening it was finally determined that a) their tickets weren’t possible to change b) they didn’t care and were willing to buy one-way tickets back instead c) there were two acceptable flights (price-wise) back to Moscow – this time from Milan, one morning and one 14:50pm and d) since my own (newly changed) flight was at 19:50pm on the 20th, I would not go with them to the airport if they would decide to get the morning flight (and they kept saying that they didn’t want to fly the airlines that had the 14:50 flight)… 

Around midnight we tried buying their tickets. My mother had to walk to the bank in the middle of the night (around 2am) to deposit some money into her account since neither one of the ladies had a credit card… Unfortunately, the initial transaction didn’t go through due to a technical error, but the money was blocked from the account (they’re due to return within 30 days, but it’s bloody annoying that the sum gets blocked for a month when transaction doesn’t even get confirmed!). My mom said that this means we are on stand-by till later on the 18th because she’d need to find some more money to throw into the account to buy these same tickets from the other website…

When the rest of the group has left to the next city on the itinerary on the 18th, we stayed in Turin (in case we wouldn’t be able to sort out the tickets – since their original flight back was from Turin) and did some souvenir-shopping (well, my ladies did…), while we were slowly advancing towards the main train station. Early evening was when my mom finally gave us green light to proceed with the trip – new tickets were bought.

At the train station, we were relieved to learn that we won’t need to get an overnight train to Cesena (the event was to be held there), thus loosing 1 paid night at the Turin hotel. We could get an early morning train with a change in Piacenza. We bought the tickets there and also from Cesena to Milan on the early morning of June 20th – to get to the airport. Thank goodness my ladies agreed for the afternoon flight! In the evening I checked how to get from Cesena train station to the hotel, we packed and passed out to sleep a bit.

Around 5am we walked to the Turin train station, took our train and made it to Cesena by half past noon – totally frozen! AC in the trains is set on super-cold for no good reason :(… We then caught one of the buses we could take and then walked for about 10 minutes to the hotel…

The rest of the group was supposed to return at 3pm. We relaxed, showered and waited for them. No one showed up. Better yet, everyone’s phones we tried were unavailable… Had we known they’d be running late, we could go eat something, but oh well – we didn’t know if the program didn’t change again, so we waited, hoping they’d re-emerge soon. At about 5pm we found out the address of the venue for the event and wanted to go there by a taxi – we even called one. However, 2 minutes on our way I finally got through to one of the people – turned out they were simply late, everything was pushed to later in the evening and they were on their way to the hotel to refresh. Oh, and the venue was in some black hole where there was no cellphone reception… We turned back – luckily, because the venue was quite far away and it would cost us a fortune for no good reason to get there.

We got a ride with someone from the group to and from the event (which finished right around midnight) and, happy with the sense of ‘mission accomplished’, returned back, packed and slept a bit.

The next morning we took the first train to Milan, froze once again, but made it otherwise without much adventure. At the central station, my ladies discovered a few more things worth buying, so it took us a while to get to the airport express bus. I had a mild panic attack when it turned out the bus would take longer than I originally thought after checking online to get to Malpensa airport, but we made it about 15 minutes before the end of their check-in, so I successfully waved them goodbye, finally took out the magazine I was planning to read on that trip and spent a few hours with it, some pizza and coffee before transferring to terminal 2 to catch my own flight back to Prague.

2. Moscow-Frankfurt-Prague-Eindhoven-Utrecht-Hague in 24 hours and 3 sleepless days :).

My next unplanned trip (courtesy of my parents, yet again :)), was to Moscow. We had a financial 3-day seminar with a new marketing plan and a master-class by one of the most experienced in our mode of business figures on June 30th and July 1st. The last day was actually July 2nd, but I already had a flight booked to the Netherlands for the early morning, so we were lucky to find a flight from Moscow to Prague on Sunday evening.

My flight to Moscow was on June 23d. I was, for some reason, convinced it was at 7-something pm. I was smart enough to check the time online at around 4:35 to discover, to my horror, that it was at 18:10 (and the 19:50 was my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Moscow, ahem… Maybe i should buy a printer?), I won’t be making it if I took the bus, and I was still unpacked. Therefore, I called a taxi and threw everything into the suitcase in under 7 minutes. So far so good :).

But the real fun began on Friday. As it turned out, the Moscow Zouk & Samba congress was held that same weekend. Of course, I decided to attend at least one of the parties. I was late for the warm-up open-air party on Thursday, so on Friday night I went to the congress itself. There were roughly twice as many girls as there were guys! Something must be done next year to address that issue! The party finished around 4am – a silly time, since metro is still closed and most public transport isn’t running yet. I took a taxi back home, but by the time I got there and into the bed, and by the time I chilled down enough to get sleepy, my parents woke up and made enough noise to keep me awake. A short while later, it was time to get up anyway and get ready for the seminar…

It finished in the evening, much later than I hoped for. I was planning to catch a nap but it didn’t work, so I went to the Saturday night party without any sleep. Whatever :D. On Sunday morning we walked around with another Zoukeiro from the Netherlands trying to find a specific cafe, but we couldn’t. We found a 24h supermarket instead though and got some food, then waited for the metro to open. Needless to say I got home too late for much sleep, since yet again we needed to leave by 9:30 to the master-class.

We only stayed for the 1st session with my mom and then left back home to pack. I think I managed to sleep for 10 minutes but it didn’t really help much. Finally, it was time to get to the airport…

At least I can sleep in airplanes – I know some people who can’t! Frankfurt was hell this time – I had 1h 10 minutes between the flights, some people had even less time, and in that window I had to go through passport control (which took forever, because only a few windows were open), walk a mile, go through security check, then make it to the gate which, of course, was on the opposite bloody side of the airport. Needless to say this was a rather athletic experience, but I made it :D.

I was back home in Prague around 1am. I had just about enough time to unpack my suitcase and pack again for Holland, take care of a few things, have a cup of tea – and then I headed right back to the airport again to be there in time, since my flight was at 6am… Like a BOSS!!! :D.

Once in Eindhoven, I took a bus to the main train station, then a train to Utrecht, where I was meeting my friend in the Starbucks. We had a ‘breakfast’ then got to her place, where I finally got a few hours of precious sleep in the row – after 3 days of only occasional snoozes! We then went to get lunch and I set off to the Hague. I got there around 9:30pm and spent about 2 hours in the shower trying to make a human being out of myself again :D. I then finished the rest of my take-away beef noodles from lunch and, happy puppy, went to bed. PHEW!

Ready for the Scheveningen Salsa-Zouk Beach Congress I am now!

Posted in All about me, Dance, In my spare time..., Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Social Fixer for Facebook fixes annoyances, adds features, and enhances existing functionality to make Facebook more fun and efficient

“Social Fixer for Facebook” (formerly known as Better Facebook) is a free browser extension that improves the Facebook site by eliminating annoyances and adding lots of great enhancements and functionality. It runs in most browsers and installs in just a minute. Click below for details, screenshots and downloads.

via Social Fixer for Facebook fixes annoyances, adds features, and enhances existing functionality to make Facebook more fun and efficient.

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A near car-crash, state of zero gravity, a crazy mouse, a bench up the tree and a murdered dog: just another normal Friday.

16.03.2012. Morning.

I’m not sure if it was lack of sleep the night before, lack of coffee in the brain cells, or a simple system failure, but during the morning driving lesson I was supposed to turn right at one of the crossings.. except I think I at first continued to go straight, and then remembered that I should turn – a bit too late :). The wise thing to do would be to keep going straight – but nooooooo, I had to try and make it, at a speed unfit for doing so with my current beginner reaction-time.

The instructor hit the brakes – just in case. Well-done! I’m unsure I wouldn’t wreck the car straight into the mid-road concrete blocks… Then again, were I alone, I’d never bother trying to correct for missing the turn (or simply forgetting to?), I’d just keep going straight and suffer a slight detour – I only gave it a try because, after all, I was told to go right, not ahead… Other than that – I had passed the theory and maintenance tests this Monday and next week on Wednesday will be the moment of truth – the driving test :).

16.03.2012. Afternoon.

After a brunch that ran a bit too long and got us late, my friend and I went to Roudnice nad Labem to pilot a little airplane :D.

My friend went up first, while I took a short rest in the sun. Then it was my turn :).

The pilot was a fun guy. He did a couple of sharp turns and free-falls; on the second zero-gravity ride some car phone charger flew over from behind the seats into my lap - we had an epic laugh at that :D. We flew around the area. Operating the little plane is tricky - you need to stay aware of the horizon and your direction of flight, as even the slightest push/pull or torque sends you elsewhere. Plus there is a decent lag between your action and the plane's reaction to direction change.

The pilot even had some music playing in the headphones! :D. It also turned out that the little hill we flew around is allegedly the exact spot where the father of the Czech nation had began it.

We both saw some castle from up above and Petr suggested we check it out. Except we both forgot the name of that thing and where exactly it was located...

16.03.2012. Early evening.

After a long online search for some castles nearby, one was discovered that also promised a geocaching opportunity.

When we got there, it wasn't the castle we saw from above - in fact, there was no castle and just the hill left from it.

We walked around searching for the hiding spot of the geocach... Obviously, whoever chose the place ignored the "private property" sign 🙂

Each hiding spot has some container with random items and a notebook. You're supposed to write the date and names of who and when found the place. You can also take some item from the jar in exchange for another. We discovered this crazy mouse - it was super cute, but I thought it'd be more practical to keep a picture instead of the item (not like my house isn't already flooded by random items :D) - so here it is :).

After we hid the container, we went to search for another nearby spot and stumbled upon those guys on the way. We watched for a little while how they learned to control the wings - looks like it's pretty sophisticated! I've mentally added this one to my bucket list :).

A lovely spot to watch the sunset! Pretty big bench on the tree - I wish I wasn't wearing a white jacket and had more time to monkey around that tree, but the sun was setting and we still had to find the other container and make it back to the car before total darkness fell.

The phone GPS kept sending us around in circles again, but we found the container, signed in, hid it back and hurried to the car. I managed to earn a significant blister somehow and happened not to have a band-aid with me 😦

16.03.2012. Evening.

I only ate a piece of pizza and an apple pie that day, so I was HUUUUUNGRYYYYY!!!! We dropped by a cool sandwich place at Andel for some soup and sandwiches and I headed home with a firm intention to sleep, because I only caught on about 1 hour of snooze the night before…

16.03.2012. Late evening.

Which, of course, never happened. Unfortunately, my Christmas presents arrived… (They didn’t make it to the country by December, and then I was away, and then Petr was away, so he finally passed on the two books he got me today – lovely to stretch x-mas to March!).

I checked out the first few pages of “A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at the sandwich place… I shouldn’t have… I was only done with the book by way past midnight and I wish it was thick like an encyclopedia!!! If you haven’t read it – I highly suggest you to! Absolutely loved every page of it!

Of course, not every Friday of my life is so eventful – some Fridays I spend lazying around the house in my fluffy bathrobe :D. But I have to admit having friends who can talk you into something random – like flying (or jumping with a parachute… Or bungee jumping… (I am STILL scared!!!) ) – definitely can make an occasional Friday (or any other day) much more memorable :).

Posted in All about me, Experiences worth having, In my spare time... | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Designer-fever?

Springtime. Regular humans start seasonal clean-up, fall in love, combat post-winter fatigue or get hay fever. In the meantime, I designed a dress while riding on the tram…

It’s a great dress. It is classy and gorgeous at once, has unusual elements and I totally want one! So what’s the big deal, you may ask? The big deal is that I’m just about as much of a designer in any respect as I am of a proverbial rocket scientist.

Fact 1: When it comes to visuals, I don’t have much of a creative vision. I only have creative hindsight. What it means in practice is that I normally have a very hard time coming up with something visual that I haven’t seen before – and it is probably the worst when it comes to clothes and shoes. On the other hand, once I see something – then I can say if it’s great or not. I can also tune it up a bit, but I’d never probably live to the day when I can creatively combine items to create a killer look from scratch. Namely, because

Fact 2: I wear jeans. And something I grab from the closet on top. With enough layers of something else I grab from the closet to keep me warm when necessary (read: almost always). That’s about where it ends. What it means in practice is that I vote for function in my clothes and I don’t give a slightest damn whether the ensemble goes ensemble or whether its parts would rather scatter in opposite directions in protest – if they so could. So my daily ‘style’ can be summarized as checking for a) is it clean? b) can I move in it? and c) does it keep me the temperature I need to be kept in under current weather conditions?

My own mother occasionally tries to trick me into using a bit of make-up during the day – just to make, say, the eyes stand out, and to make me buy and wear something prettier and more “appropriate for your age already, not some teen stuff!”. Score to date: me = 1, mom = 0. Sorry, mom!

I was, actually, a better dresser when I was a teenager – but only because I had to. We often had different work-related dinners and events and I had to ‘represent’ the family, too. If it wasn’t for that, I probably would never learn to walk in killer heels, wear anything but pants, use make up and deal with my hair.

Fact 3: I actually really like nice clothes and style. I enjoy seeing people who are very well-dressed and have a cool style. I just honestly can’t be bothered though :). Which is why I don’t follow fashion/trends either.

Fact 4: My graphic skills haven’t progressed past those of an average 10-year-old. What it means in practice is that I can’t draw – unless it’s a little plan on how to get somewhere. Trying to sketch an idea on paper? Yeah, GOOD LUCK, me!

These are exactly the reasons why I had a rather ‘WTF?!’ reaction to my all of a sudden very clear vision of the dress. I managed not only to work out the details while on the tram, but also sort of ‘draw’ the idea down while I landed at the pizzeria for lunch! I am shocked.

At least it paid off that I decided to carry the notebook – I did because way too often I come up with my native domain of creative while in the worst possible places for recording anything: trams, stores… After one too many times of having to write down the incoming stream of (mostly) poetry on stuff like napkins, tram tickets, phone or my own hand, I finally geared up on paper, a few pens, and a random pencil (thank you, pencil! I’d never sketch the dress in a pen – I hate smudging and erasers don’t work on pens 🙂 ).

I’m not sure what was it about driving the car today that triggered such a traumatic response, but if it goes on at this rate I may have a fashion line by the age of 149 :D. Or earlier, if another system glitch happens to me of the type that did when I was on the plane from Casablanca to Barcelona…

Now, THAT was pure torture! Not the flight – the glitch. On descent to Barcelona, my brain went into one of its weird modes, but instead of giving me something I can work with, you know what it puked out? An entire bloody fashion line. That’s right. Details and all. From trousers to coats to dresses to suits to you name it. Of course, that happened exactly when I neither had anything at all to even attempt to sketch anything on, nor the time to focus on that task without losing all the fast-coming ideas forever again to that bottomless black hole of ‘I forgot’.

So I was sitting there buzzed-up with this first-time-in-a-lifetime experience of such a vivid, colorful video rolling in my mind full of some pretty awesome stuff and absolutely incapable of doing anything productive about it. The ‘buzz’ continued through baggage claims and slowly wore off as my friend and I got anywhere where I could have potentially tried to capture at least the basic outlines of some items I liked the most from my own private fashion show. Thank you, brain. You seriously ARE a major jackass sometimes… (Yes, I am STILL pissed off at you, brain. Next time please consider the consequences of your decisions on people).

That was, until today, my one and only (rather traumatic) case of imagining apparel. Makes me think that maybe there exists such a thing as ‘designer fever’ and one can get occasionally infected by it? It’s difficult to presume that there is an actual inner designer in ME, out of all people, waiting to be unleashed – I write. I take lots of pictures. I dance. Designing though? Puhlease! I’d blame this one on springtime :D.

Oh, and is anyone good at proper fabric-selection and relatively complicated clothes-making, by the way? ‘Cause I DO want that dress!

Posted in All about me, In my spare time..., Inspirational | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Those cars!

You may be aware I am amidst earning my driving license… Well, yesterday I began to doubt I deserve one!

My driving instructor, of course, told me that every car is different in terms of the pedals, reactions, steering wheel etc. But THAT different?! See, one of my friends for whatever the reason was willing to jeopardize their car’s safety by telling me we can practice somewhere. Choosing that somewhere to be in the city center, however, was far from a wise decision. It turns out that I can drive pretty fine – but only the car that I am learning on :). That one is a small Fiat that reacts to slightest touch on the pedals, starts rolling with geared up clutch alone (no gas needed – great thing for parking/wheeling out of parking spot) which hooks almost right at the floor level, and is light as a feather.

Well, my friend’s car – not so much… The clutch catches on half way up, but that won’t be as bad if this car didn’t need a serious amount of gas to even move! I also was horrified to learn that the brakes don’t even realize I’m using them until significantly pressed to accept that fact – the Fiat’s brakes react to slightest touch. Needless to say it took a while to get out of the parking spot and while the first 300 meters while the car was moving around were, thankfully, uneventful, I, of course, managed to get the engine to die right at the first street light :D. My friend said that after 10 years of driving even he had trouble with this car at the get-go and had it stop dead on him at numerous occasions, but it probably didn’t help the confused guy waiting behind us at the light :D.

The wise decision was made to swap seats right at that damn light and leave experiments to a location with no traffic, where I could figure out the tricky pedals without freaking out any poor drivers around, including my poor friend, although I must say I doubt I will catch on to THAT car as easily as I got used to the driving school Fiat… My next lesson is only in a week’s time, so it would be nice to practice, and in theory it would be good to learn to operate a heavier, less responsive version of the transport as well (otherwise they really should give you a license for just one kind of cars you learn to drive!), but I’m starting to really miss my little responsive vehicle! See you in about a week, little Fiat!

Posted in All about me, In my spare time... | Tagged | 1 Comment