Monday, January 30, 2012

Communist-era buildings that Jeff actually likes!

Lest I come off sounding down on Bratislava, I thought I'd share some examples of Communist-era architecture in this city that actually work. These buildings were created during Communism's most innovative and creative architectural era, the Khrushchev years (late 50s-60s). Under Khrushchev, the Soviet bloc underwent a cultural and political thaw, and architects were no longer constrained by Stalin's fascist-looking "socialist realism" aesthetic (kind of a streamlined, angular, and pretentious take on neoclassical, similar to what fascists were into at the time). Architects during this time took their newfound freedom and ran with it, creating some truly unique and stunning buildings.

The first example is the Slovensky rozhlas, the Slovak radio and communications building.

The inverted pyramid shape is fun, while the lines and details lend it a nice futuristic aesthetic. The Communists deserve credit for not trying to cram this thing into the medieval historical center. I mean, after the damage they did to make way for the UFO bridge, it wouldn't have surprised me if they'd plopped this thing right next to the castle. Thankfully, the Slovensky rozhlas sits about a kilometer and a half away from the medieval center, which is a good thing, because as cool as this building is, it's not the kind of structure that blends seamlessly into the urban fabric of your typical European historical area. By the time the Slovensky rozhlas was built, much of the area around it had already been transformed into office panelaks (like the sprawling technical university and the post office palace across the street), so it doesn't really clash with anything, per se, and is allowed to occupy its own space without making a fuss.

I haven't had a chance to go inside, but the interior houses a beautifully designed music theater, that I would love to see in person someday. The office spaces and lobby look cool, too.

Next up is the Hotel Kyjev and My Bratislava shopping complex on Kamenne Square, which is right next door to our apartment. Now, clearly a lot of buildings were demolished to make room for this complex, and I kind of don't want to know what they were. All I've seen of it is this photo:

Hotel Kyjev is looking a bit dumpy these days (and it's currently closed for a complete interior overhaul), but it's not your typical grey panelak. The lines, the suspended box form, and the nice marble along the sides sets it apart from the usual drab Communist concrete monstrosities. It sits (almost hovers) dramatically on the eastern end of a long, white marble-clad rectangular strip, which houses several businesses including a large Tesco. Adjacent to this at its western end is a tall, triangular building with matching white marble, containing more department stores and a cafe. The appeal is definitely subtle, but when you step back and take it all in, follow the lines, the design is pleasantly modern and pretty well thought out.

Hotel Kyjev has an ornately futuristic lobby and adjacent bar. Both are said to be prime examples of adventurous 1960s Communist architecture and design. I really wish I could have seen these rooms before the hotel's closure.

Tacky contemporary signage and a junky jumble of colors and goods seen through the shop windows all detract from the overall effect, but it's still more stimulating than your average shopping complex. If I saw what was razed to make room for this thing, I'd probably cry. On the other hand, at least this does not scar the historical center the way that the UFO bridge does, and its construction did not decimate the history of the city's Jewish population. I can't say I love this complex, but there are things about it I like, and I can see where they were coming from with the overall design. (Strangely enough - a developer who recently bought the complex initially wanted to demolish the whole thing! History repeats. But a huge outcry from both the public and architectural community saved it, so the Kyjev will live on for now).

In my last post I had some pretty harsh words for the hideous appendage to the front of Water Barracks wing of the Slovak National Gallery. Nothing will change my opinion of that heaping turd. However, at the rear of the Water Barracks, is an add-on that looks like this:

This is modernism that works. It's playful and eye-catching, if a wee bit clunky. Yet strangely, it can only be seen from a narrow side street. Now, had they worked something like this into the front of the Water Barracks, I could forgive that it wouldn't integrate well with its more neoclassical styled neighbors. But at least it would be pleasing to look at! But no, this was added to the rear of the building, in a back alley where few people ever lay eyes on it. Go figure.

My last example is actually in the town of Banska Bystrica, the capital of one of Slovakia's central regions.

This is the museum of the Slovak National Uprising, which details the epic and bloody struggle during WWII between the Nazis and the Soviets, as well as the partisans who rose up against Nazi control of Slovakia, and who were eventually aided by the Soviets. The structure is truly stunning, and has to be one of the coolest Communist-era exteriors I've seen. Yeah, it's a little strange that there are no windows on the outer sides (I think you could've made it work without comprising the design), but it's still a striking and tasteful example of modern architecture. The curvy, oblong shapes are playful yet dramatic. The building is wisely set apart from the historical center, inhabiting its own space. I like it. I haven't gone inside, but I hope to on our next visit to Banksa Bystrica. See more (and better) photos here and here.

Also very much worth noting are a couple of extremely groovy interiors. First is the lobby of the Trade Union House, which is quite a striking contrast from the building's hideous, grey, blah exterior. Second is the stunning reception lounge for guests of state at the Bratislava airport (which, sadly, I'll never get to visit unless I win a political office), which looks totally Star Wars.

The moral of the story - for a little while, architects in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia were allowed to let their imaginations run wild, and as long as they weren't butchering vast areas of historical centers to make silly looking bridges, they came up with some genuinely exciting and innovative stuff. (There is an interesting looking book on this very subject). Sadly, this period came to an end in the 70s during a phase called "normalization," when Petrzalka was built and drab panelaks spread like wildfire across the country. Many of these visionary architects were involved with or sympathetic to the Prague Spring uprisings in '68, and were punished for it by being forced out of their jobs/careers, bringing this chapter in Slovakia's architectural history to an abrupt halt.

(Click to see photos taken this month of Bratislava and recent day trips to Vienna).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Erasing history pt. 2: more Communist-era urban planning blunders in Bratislava

When doing the research for my "Erasing History" post, I stumbled upon some more damage inflicted on the Stare Mesto during Communism, just up the street and around the corner from Zidovska (the focus of the last post). This bit of destructive urban development also came at the expense of a synagogue, which was demolished in 1961. There's less info out there on this one, but it appears to have been damaged in WWII, and like many synagogues in Slovakia, abandoned. The synagogue was located on Zamocka (Zah-mots-kah) ulica, which runs into Zidovska's northern end. By the 18th century, when this synagogue was constructed, it appears that the Jewish community expanded in both directions from Zidovska - down toward the Danube, and up Zamocka (sometimes referred to as Castle Street), which wraps around the northern (rear) and western sides of the Bratislava castle hill. It appears that many of the buildings up and down Zamocka were demolished over the years due to street widening, as well as to make way for the eastern end of the tram tunnel that cuts through castle hill. I also read that a once-proposed street would have gone up the hill directly to the castle, necessitating the demolition of some of Zamocka's buildings. While the tram tunnel is most definitely there today, this proposed street to the castle never materialized. 

Here are some photos. Zamocka looks nothing like this today. 

Zamocka pre-demolition. Notice the synagogue in the upper center region of the photo. 
The same view today. Notice the first building on the left is the same in both photos, but everything to the right of it has changed. 
Zamocka from further down. The street that you can see going left at this intersection would have been Zidovska. 

Here is the tram tunnel, viewed from about where Zidovska and Zamocka intersect. If you stood in the spot where the photo above this one was taken, and turned left to about 10 o'clock, you'd be facing this. Something on this spot was obviously demolished to make way for the tunnel, but I haven't found any photos that clearly show what it was. 
A better view of the synagogue and adjacent buildings. 

Adding insult to injury, at some point in the 1960s, some douchebag had the audacity to propose razing the Bratislava castle and replacing it with whatever the hell this is(!).  

The Communists, strangely enough, kept the castle and restored it (albeit, inauthentically, making the interior courtyard resemble a prison yard; the castle was re-restored more faithfully a few years ago), but as this photo would indicate, it appears there was at least some discussion about putting the castle on the chopping block. Crazy!!! 

There are a few other Communist-era architectural calamities worth pointing out. The most egregious is the front of the Water Barracks wing of the Slovak National Gallery. Prior to Communism, this is how the Water Barracks looked from the front. 

Then during Communism, someone got the bright idea to put this piece of crap over the front of it, making it resemble a California junior college library on steroids, or the entrance to a football stadium. 

You can make out the original Water Barracks building behind/underneath the Communist-era appendage.  I'm not sure if the out-of-date billboard sized banner ad covering the facade makes any difference on its visual impact, or lack thereof. But I will say this: you sure as hell don't see colossal ads stretched out across the front of the Guggenheim in New York, or San Francisco's MOMA. The fact that this giant ad obscures a big portion of the SNG facade makes me suspect that few tears were shed when covering it up. 
Notice the lengthy wall of empty, staggered concrete planter boxes that only allows for a narrow entry right in the center. This is a textbook example of terrible use of space - you want people to feel like they can flow freely inside, make it feel inviting, not closed off or barricaded. Instead you've got this forbidding monolith that looks like it's going to drop down and mash you against its jagged lower teeth. The neoclassical building to the right of this monstrosity is the main wing of the SNG complex. 
Like the UFO bridge, there was clearly no attempt to (or intention of) harmoniously integrating the SNG add-on with the existing urban fabric. It sticks out, arrogantly and stupidly, like the sorest thumb you've ever seen. Sure, the Pompidou in Paris sticks out too, but at least it's interesting to look at, and features a truly innovative and visually stunning design. But this thing?

Also, take a look at what happened to Bratislava's quaint, main train station in the 1980s (yesterday and today). This was much less an artistic/idealogical statement than simply a functional add-on created to expand what was an inadequately tiny train station. Again, you've got more of that lovely utilitarian, California jr. college look. And even the junky add-on isn't really sufficient today - it can get fairly cramped inside. Bratislava could definitely use a more "grown-up" train station. 

I should point out that, obviously, the Communists were not the first to demolish or deface older buildings and replace them with something seen as more practical or in vogue. This has been going on ever since humans started building cities. Many major European cities were the recipients of massive and highly destructive cosmetic makeovers over the past few centuries. Consider the damage Haussmann did to Paris in the 1800s when he carved sprawling, wide boulevards out of narrow medieval lanes, totally disregarding centuries of historical roots. Haussmannization became all the rage, and many cities followed suit. When Florence was to be the capital of a newly united Italy in the 1860s, an entire medieval market square and adjacent Jewish quarter was razed to make space for the vast, Haussman-influenced Piazza della Repubblica. At the time this trend was seen as reducing congestion, and sprucing up facades in whatever style was trendy at the time, but the number of historical structures destroyed in the process was incalculable. Also, consider how many medieval, gothic churches and palaces were criminally coated in goopy layers of baroque throughout the 16-1700s.

So, clearly, this was nothing new under Communism. What makes it different now is that these days, people seem to have a little more reverence for historical structures, and do not want the history that these structures represent to disappear. Plus, in Europe, that history translates into tourist dollars. And today, people here battle passionately to prevent Communists-era structures from being torn down by capitalist developers, so the cycle continues.

(Click here to see recent photos I've taken in Bratislava).

(Click here to see photos from recent day-trips to Vienna). 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Old photos of Terka

After boring the pants off everyone with my pedantic and (probably for most people) mind-numbingly dull (but heartfelt!) post about the Communists' raping of Bratislava's Stare Mesto, I thought I'd lighten the mood with this next post. We visited Terezia's parents in Podrecany this weekend, and went through their stash of old photos. I found some real gems among the pile, and so now I present you with Terka through the years!

Havin' a Communist Christmas!

Vacationing in Bulgaria at the Black Sea.
School photo, 7 or 8. 

And we skip ahead to 18, at Terka's prom...

Dancing with Dad. 

Terka workin' it in a fashion show.

Moving right along into Terka's early 20s...

Around 20-ish, just after her two year stint in Germany, and right before invading the US. 
Terka in the US - age 25, Mountainview. 

(Check out photos taken this month in Bratislava here!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Erasing History

It's clear to anyone who has spent more than an afternoon in Bratislava that the small city straddling the Danube possesses many charms. However, there are reasons why Bratislava usually gets brief and ambivalent write-ups in travel guides. Some tourists even deride Bratislava as dreary, drab, dumpy, and grey, and few visit for more than a day. One chief explanation for this neglect is that the Communists really worked Bratislava over, seemingly using it as a testing-ground for redeveloping a city as cheaply, functionally, and efficiently as possible, with an arrogant disregard for its rich history. This resulted in large swaths of the city's historical sections being razed to the ground and redeveloped as the Communists saw fit. Rather than preserve and restore older structures from centuries past, Communist urban planners simply knocked them down if they stood in the way of perceived progress, or if they proved too ruined and costly to repair. It's been said that Bratislava suffered more damage under Communism than during World War II. Apparently, Bratislava lost as much as a third of its historical center during Communism. The sad fact remains, many travelers come to Europe to revel in its stunning Old World charm, but the Communists built over a sizable chunk of Bratislava's.

Roughly one fourth of Bratislava's Stare Mesto (old town) was bulldozed in the late 60s for one single project: the Novy Most (New Bridge, aka UFO Bridge), and the short stretch of freeway connected to it, called Staromestska. The Novy Most is a major artery bringing traffic in and out of the Stare Mesto, while Staromestska links the bridge with the busy intersection just north of the historical center at Grassalkovich Palace, where several large, busy streets converge. To make space for this development, much of the centuries old historical Jewish quarter was razed, including the old and ornate, Moorish-styled Rybne Namestie Neolog Synagogue. Making room for the connecting strip of 4-lane freeway involved ploughing a deep, brutal scar through the western edge of the historical center. The freeway itself was laid down directly in front of St. Martin's cathedral (Bratislava's largest, most historically significant church), running little more than 10 feet from the facade. As Rick Steves notes, "if [the freeway] were any closer, it would go through the nave." Adding insult to injury, according to this article in the Slovak Spectator, St. Martin's "foundations [underwent] restoration to compensate for the vibrations generated by the traffic passing over the nearby bridge." 
Novy Most
Rybne Namestie Synagogue
Notice how close the freeway comes to the cathedral. 19 Hungarian kings and queens were crowned here in the 15-1600s when the kingdom of Hungary was ruled from Bratislava. 
While one could argue that this was a practical bit of urban planning (at least with regard to making the city more drivable, for what that's worth), it is difficult to deny the devastating effect this had on the Stare Mesto's urban fabric, history, and identity. The number of buildings that were demolished is considerable (estimates put it over 230), while the total area that was razed represented a sizable chunk of Bratislava's otherwise beautiful, centuries old historical center.

The freeway slices right through the historical center, isolating the Bratislavsky Hrad (castle) from the medieval centrum. Back in the middle ages, this strip of land between the castle complex and the walled medieval centrum laid more or less vacant. But around 1599, Jews were instructed to settle "in [the] narrow zone between the castle hill and the city fortifications. The so-called Judengasse, a part of the area controlled by the Castle, remained the only place Jews were allowed to live until 1840" ( The neighborhood expanded southward towards the Danube, fanning out in a southwesterly direction, into the space between the riverbank and the foot of the castle hill. Even though the castle and centrum were originally separated from each other by fortifications, the development of the Jewish quarter essentially linked them together, forming a somewhat seamless flow of buildings from the medieval centrum, over the western wall of the center, and about halfway up the eastern side of the castle hill. The entire southwestern portion of the razed neighborhood, a triangle-shaped area between the castle hill and Danube, remains undeveloped to this day, consisting mainly of bare, grassy knolls and circular freeway off ramps. At the far western tip of this area, you can still see a small cluster of the original neighborhood's foundations.

The area total area demolished for the Staromestska freeway and on/off ramps is highlighted by the black and white "lasso." (Click photo to enlarge). You can see how the freeway cuts through the historical center. 
Zidovska (Slovak for Jewish) street, the main artery of the Jewish quarter, ran between the castle and the old town, stretching down toward the Danube, past St. Martin's and the Synagogue, before spilling into a spacious, bustling, asymmetrical public square that connected with the western end of Hviezdoslavovo Namestie. Zidovska street remains more or less intact, currently running parallel to Staromestska (just above it to its west). However, based on old maps of the city, it appears that all of the buildings along the entire length of Zidovska's eastern side were demolished to make Staromestska. Those lots would have backed up against the outside of the centrum's western wall, which today is exposed along the length of the freeway. Very few of the original buildings along Zidovska's western side survive today, as most were knocked down and rebuilt.
Here are some before and after shots. Notice the synagogue with its two Moorish towers at the upper  right corner of the square. 
In this photo, you can see what's left of the square today,  as well as how all the buildings along the left side of the square have been replace by the Staromestska. The synagogue was sandwiched between the cathedral and the second building you see here from the right.
The road veering to the right in this photo is Zidovska. 
Here is the same view today, with the Staromestska freeway having replaced all that was built along the eastern side of Zidovska. Tragic!
The Staromestska freeway's construction not only destroyed the heart of the Jewish quarter, but it choked off the pedestrianized flow between the centrum and the castle by creating a wall between them, only passable today at a few key points. And not just any wall, but being a freeway, one that contrasts violently with the centrum's historical look and feel. The freeway obliterated what appears in pre-war photos to have been a lively, bustling public square, which also served to connect the larger, less intimate Hviezdoslavovo square with the streets leading up the castle hill. In this photo below, the square is shown to have been used as a public food market.

So, how could anyone muster the nerve to demolish a historically significant Jewish quarter? Basically, like much of Eastern and Central Europe, Slovakia was an immensely nightmarish place for Jews during WWII. Huge numbers of Jews were deported and sent to concentration camps like Auschwitz, while those who could flee did just that. According to,

"Approximately 105,000 Slovak Jews, or 77% of their pre-war population, died during the war... Of the approximately 30,000 Jews who resided in Slovakia following the end of the war and the restoration of Czechoslovakia, thousands emigrated to the newly created state of Israel, to the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries after the establishment of the Communist regime in 1948. Despite efforts to revive Jewish community life and organizational activity, the obstacles provided by the authorities, gradually eroded the ability to do so. Jews concealed their Jewishness, built new lives, and maintained the official silence surrounding Jewish history and the Holocaust."

So after the war, you had Jewish communities of varying sizes all over the country that had been largely abandoned. In fact, in some towns today you can still see old, abandoned Synagogues just sitting there, boarded up, gutted, weed-strewn and languishing. There's one in Lucenec that I've driven by numerous times, and another in Senec, to name just a few. Some of these synagogues haven't been in use since the 1930s. The mass desertion of these old communities resulted in many of their structures falling into disrepair and crumbling away.

Putting the pieces together, I'm guessing that this is partly why Bratislava's Jewish quarter fell victim to the bulldozer. I've come across numerous old photos of the neighborhood that showed some of its buildings to be in pretty rough, dilapidated condition. It's quite possible that some structures sustained damage during the war and were never repaired. By the 1960s, the area was probably seen by some as derelict and blighted. I'm not sure of the condition of the synagogue at the time of its demolition, or whether it was still in use, but it apparently just happened to be in the way. If many of these structures were abandoned, that could partly explain the Communist's apparent eagerness to demolish them. However, surely there must have still been people living in some of these dwellings, but at this point I can't find any information on who or how many people were relocated. Regardless of who was still living there, most traces of the Jews' historical presence in the city were effectively wiped out by the redevelopment.

Here is how the area looked, pre-Novy Most, from the edge of the castle hill. 
Here's how the area looks from that same spot today. The synagogue was located just to the left of the building at the center left of the photo, and would be partially obscured by the counter ballast on the crane were it still there. 
Of course with Communism having been a state-run system, neighborhoods like this couldn't rely on commercial real state development to run in and save them. Given that the money would have to have come out of the government's pocket, and that cash was in short supply, it was in the state's best interest to redevelop urban areas at minimum cost and maximum efficiency. From their perspective, why blow millions on restoring a bunch of dilapidated, old buildings? Turning the properties around and selling them for a profit wasn't an option, since private ownership of property was forbidden. It was far more economical to knock them down and build something new, which as sad as that sounds, is exactly what they did. Little did the Communists realize how this drastic approach to redevelopment would severely limit a major cash cow in the future: tourism.

It seems there was also an attitude of general indifference (if not outright hostility) among Communists toward architecture of the past. The Communists had something to prove, not just in terms of economic strength, but in creating and asserting their own aesthetic or identity. The Novy Most represented that aesthetic, both in its futuristic design and its structure (being a modern suspension bridge with only one support pylon). As far as the Communists were concerned, it was much more important to mark their territory with their own structures and monuments than to preserve old ones that had nothing to do with their vision or ideology.
The Jewish quarter from the other end, looking towards the direction of the  Danube. 
And here is that view today, albeit a block or so to the left; the Communists' middle finger to the past.  
Thankfully, historical sections of Eastern Bloc cities like Prague and Krakow somehow managed to make it through Communism (and WWII, for that matter) relatively unscathed. But Bratislava did not fare nearly as well. While Bratislava can boast of a beautifully restored historical center representing architectural eras from the medieval through Art Nouveau, it is fairly small and compact, and would have been quite a bit larger had the Communists been more interested in preserving the town's historical heritage and urban identity. Today there is a thick band of the Stare Mesto surrounding the historical center that has become a mishmash of architectural styles and eras - from ornate Hapsburg-era palaces to brutalist Communist panelaks - rendering the area architecturally incongruous in a sometimes jarring way. But this isn't entirely the Communists' fault. In fact, as early as the 1930s, well before Slovakia came under Communist rule, rational functionalists were knocking down old buildings on the outskirts of the historical centrum and replacing them with modern, boxy, streamlined apartment dwellings and shops. Some of these structures, like the Manderla building, possess their own distinct, historical charm. But again, that incongruity, while interesting to geeks, does not typically jive with the romantic, postcard image of Europe many tourists envision themselves strolling in.

What's all the more frustrating about the Novy Most is that at the time, the festering scar it created really wasn't necessary. In the late 60s, Petrzalka (the borough of the city south of the Danube) didn't even exist yet as we know it today (a massive sprawl of grey, concrete council estate housing). Back then it consisted of a public park, a small village or two, and acres of green space. There really wasn't a need at that time to bring large numbers of people back and forth across the river. Of course it's possible plans for Petrzalka's ambitious and large-scale redevelopment were already in the works, but they easily could have rebuilt or expanded the pedestrian-only Stary Most (old bridge) which lies not even a half mile down the river from the Novy Most (and remains pedestrian-only today). And if it truly was necessary to run a major artery right through the old town, they could have tunneled under the river and centrum. I mean, they had no problem tunneling through the castle hill to run a tram line to the city's western end.

At any rate, visitors standing around the western edge of Hviezdoslavovo Namestie today may have no idea just how much was destroyed to make room for the bridge and freeway. While the bridge's sci-fi design is quirkily photogenic (if a bit silly), I'm sure many people find it vexing that a noisy freeway was ever allowed to sit just spitting distance from the cathedral's facade. And there's almost nothing to indicate that a Jewish community once thrived here. However, in the empty square where the synagogue stood, in what is now called Rybne Namestie, is a monument dedicated to Jewish holocaust victims. Additionally, on the side of the freeway wall facing Rybne square, there is a silhouette of the synagogue's facade engraved on black marble. It's not much, but I suppose it's better than nothing. It is deeply upsetting to contemplate how this area might look today if the Communists hadn't brutally decimated it. And it's equally distressing that such a huge piece of Jewish history was wiped out. I mean, the sheer gall it took for the Communists to carve out such an ugly scar in what today would qualify for protected national heritage status. Alas, the best we can do is remember what was destroyed, make sure it never happens again, and accept that the Novy Most has become an offbeat and ironic symbol of Bratislava that we all have to live with; a symbol representing a maddeningly arrogant regime, but also another layer in the rich urban history of an old, European city.

An aerial view of the Stare Mesto and castle hill, facing west, pre-Novy Most. You can see St. Martin's cathedral in the center of the photo, below the castle. Few would deny how much nicer this area of the city would look today had the Communists not gone through with their plan. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weekend in Prague!

On Thursday we headed up to Prague for a little weekend getaway. I really love the fact that we can hop on a train and a mere four hours, wind up in Prague. We hadn't been there since December in 2010, so we thought it would be good to get out of Bratislava for a few days. And I will always happily go to Prague, so it's not like I needed any convincing.

See photos here!

Prague is such a stunningly beautiful city, I'm in a constant state of awe when tromping through its winding streets. Its spire-spiked skyline is so... inspiring. Yes, I've met a few well-traveled snobs who think Prague has been tainted by tourism and its resultant garish tchotchke industry. But people who say that must never venture much beyond Karlova street and Havelska market. The city is an architecture geek's paradise. It's also got a bustling and energetic pulse, and for us it offers more of a cosmopolitan experience than Bratislava. And lucky for us, the city was relatively empty this weekend. It was also nice to see the old town square free of all the Christmas market crap that cluttered things up last time when we were there in December.

Obviously, a couple of days is not enough for Prague, but I'll take what I can get. A full week would be ideal, though. At any rate, we managed to see some things that we didn't see last time, like the Museum of Czech Cubism. I really dug this because not only did I get to see examples of Cubist furniture, but I was introduced to some really nice works by a slew of artists I'd never heard of before, like Josef Capek and Emil Filla.

Aside from family and friends, the thing I miss the most from the US is Thai food. We've both been craving it like crack. Prague has several Thai restaurants, and we tried two of the more centrally located ones, both of which received lots of positive reviews. Unfortunately, one of them was almost offensively bad despite an uber-stylish interior, while the other was adequate, but nothing we'd come clamoring back for. And I'm sure you're thinking, "why would you try Thai food in Prague?" The answer, of course, is that living in Slovakia, we can get Czech and Slovak food (the two are extremely similar) any time. Plus, most younger generations in Prague are more likely to eat food at the myriad ethnic restaurants there than traditional Czech eateries. I'm convinced we'll find good Thai food *somewhere* in Europe , I just hope we don't have to go to London to find it.

At any rate, I hope to have more of these occasional weekend getaways to impossibly cool European cities that are easily reachable by train.