To man bag or not to man bag?

September 29th, 2011 | Posted by Klaraz in Lifestyle | Paul | Shopping - (Comments Off)

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. So when we visit new countries we want new experiences. For tourists or travellers these experiences are but fleeting moments and they may be remembered for some time after but never form the framework of everyday life.

For the expat however these experiences become part of a new tapestry or the very fabric of their everyday life. For example, the experience of riding on trams in Prague for a tourist will provide a pleasant half an hour’s experience and a handy holiday snap. For me as an expat these have become an everyday form of transport. This is not to say I find them mundane form of transport, like buses (which I loathe both in the UK & Czech Republic) Instead what has happened is I have had time to think more in-depth about the trams and whether I favour the ultra-sleek Skoda trams which glide gracefully into the tram stop and where the drivers sit in an cabin which looks more like an aircraft cockpit than  a tram cab. Or do I prefer the venerable clanking trams which have more character, but less comfort?

The expat then faces a more prolonged exposure to the culture, habits and manners of their adopted country. Which brings me to my main point. To manbag or not to manbag? Since I have been here in the Czech Republic. I have been watching the menfolk of Prague carrying their manbags around the city. Should I join them? I must admit they have a certain appeal. As a TEFL teacher I have spent the last few months lugging a hefty backpack around, something I do not relish. Before this in my business career I carried a briefcase. (consequently bought in Prague). The former and the latter are fine for carrying large amounts, but what about the simply intermediate amounts of objects you may need to carry. As a wannabe full-time writer I always like to carry a Moleskine notepad and my diary (also Moleskine) Add to this the everyday effects like wallet and mobile phone and you have a  certain amount of stuff which warrants a carrying capacity beyond the most voluminous of pockets.

Therefore, I think I will bow to peer pressure and get a manbag. The next question is which one and what kind of budget should I apportion to  it? Answers on a postcard please….

Pet Friendly Prague

September 27th, 2011 | Posted by Klaraz in Klara | Pets - (Comments Off)

If you haven’t noticed yet, when wandering around the city, that people in the Czech Republic are very tolerant of pets, especially dogs.   They have a very special bond with their furry friends.   You can find that all sizes and breeds are welcome in many of Prague’s bars, parks, restaurants and pet stores.  They are also allowed on public transport, but must be on a leash and muzzled.  All the attention and love towards these furry friends has made Prague a pet haven for all.  Where else can you enjoy the best beer in a pub while your four-legged friend sits next to you?

With all this love around you still need some laws regarding pet ownership.  If you are bringing your pet from another country, you will need to obtain a veterinary certificate, including a rabies vaccination within the past year, your pet must also have a microchip.  It used to be ok to just have the tattooed number for id, but a recent EU law passed states, that all dogs over six months old must have a microchip.  The procedure can be done at any veterinary clinic.

Also once you get settled into your new home, you must register your dog with your district within 15 days of ownership.  Only after your dog has a the microchip, you can go register yourself as a owner of the dog by filling out registration card at your district office.  You will receive confirmation by mail.  Also you are required to pay an annual fee for your dog.  For one dog you will pay 1,500 Kč and for a second dog 2,250 Kč.  If you live in a family house you will pay 600 Kč  and for every second dog 900 Kč.

When walking your dog, the official law states that they must be on a leash in all public places but that is not strictly enforced.  Although it is not unheard of to be fined for letting your dog run free.  Many large parks such as Letná, Stromovka, Kampa Park and Petřín Hill allow dogs to run free.  As far as picking up after your dog, it is the law and you can get fined.  Many neighborhoods now have supplies of special bags and bins for owners to clean up after their dogs.

Here are a few veterinary clinics and hospitals around Prague:

Vetnemo – Prague 4
This is a nonstop clinic with the highest level of veterinary medicine.  It offers a wide range of services including preventive medicine including vaccinations, de-worming and examinations before travel or pet shows, ultrasound tartar removal, advice for breeders, tagging of animals and tattooing, plus specialized diagnostics and veterinary treatment.

Horoměřice Veterinary Clinic – Prague – west
The family Veterinary Clinic of MVDr. Herčík in Horoměřice with an excellent reputation and long tradition is not only popular among breeders from Prague but also from distant parts of the Czech Republic.

Anděl Veterinary Clinic – Prague 5
It is supplemented by the same owner’s veterinary clinics in Beroun and Králův Dvůr and you can be sure that your pets will be taken care of in every clinic.

You can find many veterinary clinics around the city, usually each neighborhood will have its own.  I hope you and your pet will find Prague to be the true haven it is for all four legged friends.

Freelancer Moving to Prague? Consider Coworking

September 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Klaraz in Guiri Guest | Work and Employment - (Comments Off)

Guiri Guide Guest: Will Bennis, owner Locus Workspace


Locus Workspace

Are you a freelancer, entrepreneur, writer, or other independent worker thinking about making Prague your home, at least on a temporary basis? Wondering how difficult it might be to set up shop and create a productive work environment for yourself in that foreign city? Joining a coworking space—a shared, community-oriented, work spacecan make this challenge easier than you might think.

I own and run Locus Workspace, one of Prague’s coworking spaces that is particularly oriented toward Prague’s expat community and to solving the work/life challenges that group most often faces. While I can’t present an unbiased picture of Locus relative to other coworking spaces in Prague, I can tell you a bit about the coworking movement, about why I wanted to start Locus Workspace, about some of what makes Locus special, and about some of the resources available to learn more about coworking and the options available in Prague.

What is coworking?

The term coworking (as used here, without the hyphen) was coined in 2005 by Brad Neuberg, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur and coder seeking to bring some of the benefits of a traditional workplace (the community, resources, and structure) to freelancers and other independent workers, without requiring them to give up their independence. In his own words from his original blog post in 2005:

Traditionally, society forces us to choose between working at home for ourselves or working at an office for a company. If we work at a traditional 9 to 5 company job, we get community and structure, but lose freedom and the ability to control our own lives. If we work for ourselves at home, we gain independence but suffer loneliness and bad habits from not being surrounded by a work community. Coworking is a solution to this problem. In coworking, independent writers, programmers, and creators come together in community… Coworking provides the “office of a traditional corporate job, but… Even though each of us is doing separate work, perhaps programming or writing a novel, we can feel each others presence, run ideas by the community, or take breaks together at the “watercooler.”

Neuberg’s idea didn’t take off in its initial conception, but with contributions from other people who supported the idea and were active in the open-source movement—most influentially Chris Messina and Tara Hunt—the concept caught on. They set up a coworking wiki and a Google group (initial with just a handful of people looking for the first permanent coworking space), and they set down five basic values that guided their project: collaboration, community, openness (in the sense of transparency), accessibility, and sustainability. Six years later the Google group now has more than 3,500 members, the wiki has more than 3,000 contributors, there are more than 800 self-identified coworking spaces around the world (including three current and three more upcoming spaces in Prague), there’s a dedicated online coworking magazine (deskmag.com), and there are several coworking-space finding services and apps (see, for example, loosecubes.com, deskwanted.com, desksurfing.net, or liquidspace.com).

Not all businesses that identify as coworking spaces embrace the five values noted above, and many spaces with similar values and idea existed before the coworking movement got its name or momentum, but the general idea of shared workspaces for independent workers who don’t want to work alone has caught on (under the rubrik of coworking) and is spreading rapidly around the world. For independent workers seeking to get started quickly, effectively, and affordably in a foreign land, coworking spaces provide a powerful tool that was unavailable until less than a decade ago, and in Prague until just over 2 years ago.

Why start Locus Workspace?

I wanted something like a coworking space for doing my own work but couldn’t find anything like it. I had been working toward a Ph.D. in a discriminating graduate program (that largely left the project of writing one’s dissertation up to the students after they had finished their initial course work). I was struck by the relative frequency of previous-high-achievers who were struggling for years to finish their dissertations, and also had several friends from outside academia who had gone the freelancer route who were similarly struggling to achieve, not for lack of creativity or intelligence or skill, but for lack of motivation, discipline, and clarity of vision. I was beginning to struggle with my own enthusiasm for my dissertatation and did not want to fall into the same rut I had seen so many peers fall into. At some point I concluded that it was largely in the nature of the non-structured work environments themselves. Much as Neuberg wrote in justifying his idea of coworking, there is a clear appeal to working independently, to creating things that have personal meaning and value rather than working on things you because it’s your job (that’s why most of us had chosen this particular graduate program), but it’s also damn hard to stay focused and motivated over an extended period once you take away the externally defined expectations, incentives, and disincentives common to traditional workplaces. The problem seemed to me to be largely at the environmental rather than individual level, and there seemed to me to be an incredible amount of lost human flourishing as a result.

In 2007, with the good luck of having a friend describe a potentially profitable version of this kind of business and an agreement with my wife that we would move from Chicago back to Prague, a city that I thought would be perfect for coworking for a number of reasons, I began to think seriously about setting up this kind of business, and soon after discovered the term coworking already existed and seemed to be getting ready to take off. By the time we finally moved to Prague at the end of 2009, it already had its first coworking space, Coffice, and a second much larger space was in the works as part of the Hub franchise. But by this time I had a pretty particular view of what I wanted for a coworking space which none of the other spaces provided, and I was sold on the idea of coworking as something that could thrive in many shapes and sizes as long as each individual space was of high quality. Locus Workspace might succeed or fail, but not because there were other coworking spaces in Prague, any more than a new Sushi (or pizza or Thai) restaurant would succeed or fail because there were already some other restaurants in Prague, or even some other Sushi (or pizza or Thai) restaurants. Just the opposite might be true: for a coworking space (or a restaurant) to succeed, there needed to be enough of them for people to know they exist and to see their appeal.

What sets Locus Workspace apart?

There are two domains that I think set Locus apart from other coworking spaces around the world, not just Prague, and a third that are more like a checklist of good features, some of which some other spaces have, but which together few have. I already mentioned the first domain above: Locus is particularly oriented toward Prague’s expat community and to solving the work/life challenges that group most often faces. The language of the space is English, there are Czech (and English) lessons offered on the premises at intentionally low prices. The approximately forty members come from more than twenty different countries, and all of them have gone through similar challenges regarding what it takes to successfully live and work for oneself or a foreign company in Prague. And there’s a solid base of contacts to service providers often needed by independent workers, whether they be lawyers, accountants, graphic designers, or potential partners. There are also a number of Czech members who find value in this international community and can help bridge the gap between expat and local.

The second domain concerns Locus’s commitment to building an environment that helps bring out people’s best. The Ph.D. I eventually received was in Human Development, and my particular area of research emphasizes the interaction between culture, environment, and cognitive processes in how people think and behave. The idea of creating a social-cultural and physical environment that brings out Coworking.com people’s best is directly in line with both my passion and expertise. There’s still a long way to go in this domain, but a big part of Locus’s emphasis on the social stems from an understanding of how important human social interaction can be to well-being and performance. Locus has regular events, like weekly afternoon coffee breaks, poker and movie nights, and occasional outdoor adventures to help break down barriers and help those inclined to get to know one another a bit. There are regular early morning tea meetup for those who want some concrete commitment to get their day going right. We’ll soon begin weekly meetups for writers, just to sit together, check in with goals and how things are going, and then write like mad. There have been and will continue to be talks or workshops on how to most effectively set and manage long-term and short-term goals, how to effectively deal with procrastination, and time management. And there is a commitment to ongoing education and training to help people excel and feel a sense of mastery in their own work.

Finally, there are several more practical features of Locus that each on its own is not so special, but that together make Locus a great coworking space. It is just 50m off Wenceslas Square, about as central for walking and public transportation as any location in Prague. Members get their own keys with 24-7 access so it’s possible to set working hours that suit your needs. The space itself has top-quality office furniture and infrastructure, ample natural light, and beautiful interior design that’s hard to beat. Locus is a member of the coworking visa program, an agreement across hundreds of coworking spaces around the world to let members of those spaces use each others spaces (for a limited number of days depending on the space).  The prices are hard to beat, with unlimited 24/7 access for as little as 3,000 Kč / month, day passes for as little as 300 Kč / month, and a few options in between. Most importantly, there’s an amazing group of members from around the world who care about and contribute to the space and make it what it is far more than the space managers could hope to do.

How can I learn more about coworking, especially in Prague?

A great resource for finding out what coworking spaces exist in Prague is also the best resources for learning about coworking spaces around the world: the space directory of the Coworking Wiki. Check back often because at least three new spaces are slated to open in the near future. Coworking has received an incredible amount of press across a range of prestigious newspapers and magazines, so you can learn a lot just by searching Google for “coworking” alongside your favorite daily newspaper or business weekly. But nothing can beat trying out a few different workspaces for a day or even a month to see if its the right fit for you. Mention this article and you can work in Locus for a day for free. And I’d be happy to point you in the direction of the other coworking options in Prague as they suit or don’t suit your particular needs. By virtue of location alone, Locus isn’t for everyone, and there are some great alternatives to choose from!

Poolin’ around in Prague

September 20th, 2011 | Posted by Klaraz in Fitness | Klara | Lifestyle - (Comments Off)

Podolí indoor pool

There are many great outdoor swimming pools around Prague but summer is pretty much gone and most outdoor pools have closed their doors.  Luckily, Prague has a decent number of indoor pools that cater to those wanting some water fun all year round or just enjoy swimming as exercise.

To make your Prague indoor pool experience a little easier, here are a few things to remember.  Pools in Prague usually charge by how long you stay.  The prices are listed by the hour at most places.  When you first arrive, you leave a deposit or your ID in exchange for a locker.  Your key will come with a wristband so you will be able to swim with it.  Most of the time it is safe to leave your valuables in your locker but if you don’t feel comfortable, a lot of the times they have a safe at the front desk you can keep your valuable items in.

Also, remember to always take your shoes off before entering the changing room.  There are usually signs telling you to do so.   Make sure to check the operating hours of the pool you will be visiting.  Some close in the middle of the day, or other parts of the day as well.

I wish I could give some advice on pool etiquette but I have not figured it out yet :(  There have been many times I have been very frustrated when I am trying to swim laps and some slower swimmers or people just splashing around will not get out of my way.  It would be easier if there were lanes designated for fast swimmers as well as for the leisure swimmers.  That is clearly not the case and I am beginning to think that there are no rules.

Now that you are familiar with the basics of going to an indoor pool, here are a few options:

This place is massive and is located near Vysehard.  It consists of one Olympic sized 50m indoor swimming pool, two outdoor swimming pools of 50m and 33m length, plus a paddling pool for children.  The indoor pool is open all year round as well as the 33m outdoor pool which is heated during the colder months.  In addition to the swimming pools, there is also a fitness center, sauna and a café/restaurant.

Axa gym indoor pool

Axa Gym
It is open to the hotel guest as well as the general public, this impressive 25m heated indoor swimming pool is just 10 min walk from both the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.  Other services include a sauna, solarium and massage facilities.

Holmes Place
This is a sport club with three locations located in Smichov, Cerny most and Karlin.  In Smichov the pool is 17m long and you can also find a weight room, spinning classes, dance classes, kids activities and classes for pregnant woman.  In Cerny most the pool is 25m long and has the same activities as the Smichov location.  Karlin has a 17m pool with a weight room and spinning.

There are many more pools around Prague.  You can find all the locations and websites here.

Happy swimming!

Finding a happy home in the Golden City

September 15th, 2011 | Posted by admin in House Hunting | Logistics | Paul - (Comments Off)

Prague area map

You’ve arrived in Prague, unpacked your rucksack or suitcase(s) and you’re looking for a place to base yourself. So where are you going to live? Well the good news is that there’s plenty of choice, and plenty to suit all budgets. Let’s assume you’re not in the position to buy quite yet.( If you are lucky enough to be in this position, then take a look at last week’s post by Guiri Guide’s guest writer) and like most people first aim to rent. Property pundits always use the maxim, ‘Location, Location, Location’ to describe the most important factor when selecting a new home. This it to some extent true, but is probably truer for larger European cities like Paris, London or Berlin, where the size of the cities mean you really need to choose your area carefully or possibly face being marooned in the suburbs. In Prague, this is somewhat less important. Prague is a pocket-sized city and has excellent public transport which means most places are in reach of the city centre.

View of Barrandov neighborhood

If you want a home at the heart of the city then Vinohrady and Letna could be for you. The former is full of classy apartments in the city centre, this comes at a premium and apartments can be costly. The latter is a pleasant area close to the city centre and the expansive park. However, in my opinion it seems a little bit sad to move to a new country only to go and live in a ‘ghetto’ of expats. Other areas which are my personal favourite are Barrandov, for its access to the forest and open countryside, and Brevnov, an upmarket area, where you have access to Ladronka, where you can sit, chat, run and roller-blade to your heart’s content. There are many other areas, to choose from and as I’ve only been here three months I’m not qualified to comment.

As you’re going to be shelling out a large portion of your hard-earned money, it’s important to make sure you’re happy with the place you live. Finding flats or apartments via a friend or work colleague is usually the best way to find a place. There are also a plethora of websites where you can find places. One of the best is www.expatz.cz.

It’s always best to take a look at the place you’re going to live as well, don’t just take a couple of pics sent via email (just think how estate agents always manage to avoid the motorway flyover or electricity pylon in their pictures!) Also don’t necessarily jump into the first place that you like a little bit or because it’s a bargain. There’s nothing wrong for waiting for the right place to come along. An interim place where you live in a shared apartment can be a cheaper short-term solution while you check areas out. (this is what I did) There are many landlords who will rent you rooms or apartments on a monthly basis. – Just make sure you get the terms and conditions in writing. If it’s an informal arrangement, you might find it difficult get your deposit back when the ‘rules’ change!

When working out if you can afford your apartment, just remember to consider the possible extras on top of the ground rent. Most apartments have some kind of service charge. Check what is and isn’t included in the monthly rent. That incredibly low rent suddenly takes on a new meaning when you add all the bits and pieces. Additional services like broadband/internet may also not be included, so just ensure you are getting what you want and paying accordingly. Likewise with the deposit, which is usually required by most landlords check just where it is being held and what the rules regarding its return or the conditions where it can be withheld. Ideally it should be in a third party bank account or at least a separate account where both you and the landlords know it is held away from other money.

Happy house (apartment) hunting!