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We did it! 2020 has come to an end!
When I wrote my last monthly update, I wrote that we were leaving lockdown in Prague. And we did…for two weeks. Now, we’re back in the situation that dominated November: restaurants are closed, cafes serve coffee out their front doors, non-essential shops are closed, and we have a 9:00 PM curfew.
It’s fine. We’re at the beginning of the end of this nightmare. Vaccinations have begun. Keep holding tight and we’ll be in a much better position come summer.
Prague, Czech Republic
A staycation in Vinohrady. Yes, we did a staycation a 15-minute walk from our apartment! We had to get our apartment painted and there was no way that could happen with kittens running around, so we rented an apartment in the Vinohrady neighborhood for three nights.
Vinohrady is a very sexy neighborhood in Prague. It felt a lot like the Upper East Side and a lot like the West Village — long-established as one of the prettiest, most desirable neighborhoods in the city. Lots of beautiful architecture, parks aplenty, and many of the best restaurants and cafes in town.
I was shocked at how invigorating it was to just be somewhere NEW, even if it was just 15 minutes away. Traveling again! If you’re planning a trip to Prague, this apartment is where we stayed, and I recommend it. The mattress wasn’t the greatest, but that was the only flaw in a well-located, comfortable, and well-priced apartment.
We loved exploring Vinohrady, and our cats, Lewis and Murray, took well to their new home for a few days. I hope that bodes well for future trips!
Best of all was coming home to a freshly painted apartment. The salmon pink of the living room is now a brilliant white, and our pale yellow-green bedroom has been painted a pale, warm gray.
Two weeks of non-lockdown! Yep, that’s all we got before everything shut down again, and that’s okay. We visited a few restaurants, and dining at off-peak times often meant we were the only customers. Cà Phê Cổ, a brand new Vietnamese restaurant, was delicious, and I finally got to try Vietnamese egg coffee! And El Camino, a superb tapas restaurant and wine bar, may be my new favorite restaurant in Prague. Every dish, every wine was stupendous.
A low-key Christmas at home. No stress! Just hanging out, making food, listening to Christmas music, watching Christmas movies, Zooming with the families throughout the day. Good times.
A low-key New Year’s at home. We got takeout sushi, drank cocktails, and comforted the cats through the boom booms.
Kittens. They are the light of my life. They are some of the funniest and most adorable beings around these days. This crazy cat lady was always inside me!
COVID vaccinations have begun in the Czech Republic. Vaccinations began on December 26, with healthcare workers and the elderly first in line. I’m happy to see it and will be getting my vaccine at the earliest possible opportunity, hopefully sometime in the spring.
Lewis’s illness. Our kitten Lewis was sick for most of the month, and we couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After several rounds of antibiotics not working, we found out that he has a very serious illness.
I’m not ready to go into the details here (though I wrote about it on my Patreon — my patrons know everything about the situation). I will in the future once we have more to share.
The good news is that we found treatment for this illness and Lewis is responding to the medication OUTSTANDINGLY. He’s like a completely new kitten. Every day he does something he hasn’t done in weeks — playing with his feather stick, trying to climb on the dining table, running around with Murray, eating voraciously. He went from 1.7 kg to 2 kg in just a few days!
Taking care of Lewis is our biggest focus now — not just giving him his meds, but observing and documenting his behavior. He will be taking his medication for a few months, them we will enter an observation period for a few more months while continuing to monitor his health. We also got a new vet who is more experienced with this illness and has been very helpful to us.
Please keep Lewis in your thoughts. He’s past the worst part, but he has a long road ahead.
I messed up cinnamon buns not once but twice. First time, the yeast wouldn’t bloom; second time, the dough was sticky and weird and wouldn’t roll, it just stuck to the table. We actually went to a nearby mall to grab a Cinnabon and bring them home. They’re…not as good as I remember from my teenage years.
I got scammed! I thought I was buying a self-cleaning litter box for $29.95 plus $10 shipping, from a weird and random website based in China. (The best ones sell for more than $500.) I bought it on a credit card so I could easily dispute the purchase if necessary.
What arrived? A floor mat shaped like a paw. I went to the website, prepared to dispute with my credit card, but then I realized the website was worded so carefully (and the picture of the litter box INCLUDED the paw-shaped mat in the photo!) that I wouldn’t have a case.
Oh, well. Lesson learned.
Top Post of the Month
My Favorite New Destinations of 2020 — My two favorite destinations that I visited for the first time in 2020 were Bacalar, Mexico, and Vis, Croatia. Find out why, and see what else made the list!
My Favorite Books of 2020 — I narrowed my list of 50+ down to the 12 best books of the year.
My Best Travel Moments of 2020 — The most wonderful moments from Mexico to Croatia to the Czech Republic, plus some recommendations of favorite experiences that you guys can replicate yourselves!
My Worst Travel Moments of 2020 — It was 2020. There were a LOT of them. A very pandemic-flavored list!
9 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait to Return to Riga, Latvia — Looking back at some of my favorite memories in a city I can’t wait to revisit.
This Month on Patreon
On the Adventurous Kate Patreon, I publish exclusive essays that you can read for $6 per month. I use this as a place to publish a lot more of my special, personal writing, and we have a private Facebook group for the 180+ of us to network and share travel stories!
This month, I published two big essays: one was the full story of Lewis’s health challenges and how we found an underground community that operates in the shadows and cures cats, quasi-legally, around the world!
I also wrote one called “What happens when something goes wrong?” about what happens when you’re being sponsored by a brand and something does not go well, including five examples of disasters that happened on press trips and campaigns.
Book Club This Month
Our next book club meeting is on Sunday, January 10, at 1:00 PM ET. We are discussing Mexican Gothic by Mexican author Silvia Moreno-Garcia — a huge bestseller this year that I’m sure some of you have already read. It even has its own playlist on Spotify by the author!
“After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside…There are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.”
If you want to join, it’s not too late! The book reads surprisingly quickly and I blew through 25% of it in an hour while sitting on my couch this morning.
You can sign up here for our meeting on January 10. It’s pay-what-you-wish and I suggest $5. Adventurous Kate Patreon subscribers get in for free.
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
It’s a gif! Charlie and I took a Christmas card photo with the kitties and ended up with this awesome gif.
For more updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
What I Baked This Month
I’ve been really getting into baking lately! Nothing crazy or revolutionary, and I’m still a beginner, but it’s a nice quarantine hobby.
The absolute best thing I made this month were these soft and chewy snickerdoodles from Sally’s Baking Addiction. They were FUCKING AWESOME, perfect flavor, perfect texture, and a good alternative for when cinnamon buns didn’t turn out correctly!
Another highlight was Joanne Chang’s lemon bars. A bit more time-consuming than regular lemon bars, but a nice, tart, mature version of a treat that is often made too sweet. From my favorite Boston baker.
What I Watched This Month
I forgot to do this category last month! I enjoyedThe Undoing (yay evil Hugh Grant! Boo Nicole Kidman’s shifting accent!), as ridiculous and unrealistic as it was. I mean, no wealthy Upper East Side woman dresses like it’s a Renaissance Faire seven days a week. It made me miss New York a lot, even though Crazy Rich New York was never my New York…or was it?
(Charlie: “Did you go to fancy parties like that fundraiser?” Me: “No…well, actually, I did go to a gala for Qatar Airways…and I went to a gala for The Points Guy…I guess I DID go to fancy parties like that fundraiser!”)
We’ve been watching a lot of Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience, and Grand Designs as our casual shows.
And I finally got Charlie to watch Tommy Boy and The Muppet Christmas Carol for the first time!
What I Listened To This Month
Spotify is amazing, isn’t it? They always know what I want before I want it. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately.
Because I love a good genre mash-up, I’m a huge fan of saxophonist Mike Casey’s cover of “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-Z, Kanye West and Frank Ocean. I never would have thought to cover this song with a jazz trio, but it’s wild and funky and dazzling in all the right ways.
What I Read This Month
It was a big month for reading. I ended up finishing 58 books total for 2020. Much lower than usual. This was a strange year and I didn’t have nearly as much of my usual reading time (like long subway rides and nights alone in my apartment), but I’m getting better at carving out time for reading here in Prague.
The tough thing about December is that I publish my Best Books of the Year post before the month is over, so inevitably there are a few that slip through the cracks for consideration. There is only one that should be on that list: The Best We Could Do, a graphic memoir. I expect to read many more graphic books in 2021!
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui (2018) — Thi Bui escaped Vietnam with her parents and siblings as a toddler and eventually ended up in the United States. This graphic memoir tells the life stories of each of her parents, who came from two different worlds but each faced shockingly sad circumstances. It illustrates her family’s escape to Malaysia, resettlement in the United States, and growing up as a bicultural refugee.
OH, THIS BOOK. If you’ve ever turned your nose up at graphic novels, stop, because this book shows just how good they can be. This book is engrossing and heartbreaking, and it clearly illustrates how trauma can be compounded and compounded over generations. Her parents’ life stories will make your heart hurt. It’s also a good reminder to Americans that the war may have ended for them, but most Vietnamese were living in terrible circumstances long after.
Caste: The Origin Of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (2020) — In a year when books about antiracism dominated the bestsellers list, this book turns every other antiracism book on its head. It takes all of the information you know about American racism and reorganizes it into a new taxonomy: America is a caste system. White people are the upper or dominant caste. Black people are the lowest caste, not unlike how the Dalits, or Untouchables, are treated in India.
It’s not about treating people based on the color of their skin, the way it was explained to us as children, nor is it simply the compounding horrors of 400 years of disenfranchisement. A caste system instantly assigns each person a role in the system, and that decides how people interact with each other.
This book compares America’s caste system to the Indian caste system and the caste system of Nazi Germany (and the Nazis based their system largely on how Black people are treated in the United States — and they used this as a legal discrimination system for the Jews).
This is the single most impactful book that I read in 2020, and I wish that all of you would read it, too. I feel like I see American racism in an entirely new light, and this has given me additional resources to continue the fight for justice.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (2020) — Presidential memoirs read as defensive. And yet a presidential memoir is fascinating because it shows you the inner workings at the White House, all the initiatives, all the bills, all the backstage drama. I was here for it all. And while I was an early supporter and volunteer for Obama and I followed his presidency closely, there was so much that I had no idea was going on.
The book is more than 700 pages of detailed political work, and some of it is a bit much, like everything about the financial crisis. But there are parts that absolutely draw you in. I loved reading about his dinner at Medvedev’s dacha in Russia. And the climate summit in Copenhagen, where he pulled “some gangster shit” to get China to cooperate, as one of his colleagues said. But especially the process that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, which is the end of the book. Yep, this is only volume one!
It’s Obama’s work, so of course it’s going to read beautifully. His writing is like Murakami’s — it instantly makes me feel calm, like the words are a babbling brook in the middle of the forest. (Murakami minus the weird sex stuff, anyway.) It was so nice to return to his voice, feel calm, and feel like adults are in charge.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (2020) — Camino is a teenage girl living in the Dominican Republic. Yahaira is a teenage girl living in Manhattan. Neither knows that the other exists until their father is killed in a plane crash. This tragedy brings the two girls together, trying to figure out how to live without a father they adored, a father who kept his two families hidden from each other.
I loved this novel in verse — beautiful, sad, poignant, and perfectly spare writing. Elizabeth Acevedo is actually from my Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan, and her writing reminds me of the neighbors in my building. I felt so deeply for both Camino and Yahaira, and I loved how she centered a queer character without making their queerness part of the plot. Without giving anything away, it has a very satisfying ending.
New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019) — In this award-winning graphic novel, Jordan is a middle schooler from Washington Heights in Manhattan who begins attending the prestigious Riverdale Academy. This book is about his first year in school: the disorientation of being a brown kid from a working-class background among his white, wealthy classmates; the nonstop microaggressions he faces on a daily basis; and his struggle to exist in two worlds and not quite fit into each one.
Wow, I adored this book! It may be about a middle schooler, but there is a lot of wit that adults will appreciate. It shows the defenses that you need to have as a brown kid in a white environment — there’s never a moment you can turn it off, and if you do, you’ll be branded as a troublemaker, even among the well-meaning liberal teachers. Some of the characters (especially the teachers) are hilarious in their stereotypes.
And at the end, I was swept into Jordan’s story and intensely curious about how his life would turn out. You can’t ask to connect with a character more than that.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2016) — In this day and age, it’s possible to lose your entire reputation with a single tweet. Ask Justine Sacco, who tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding, I’m white!” and by the time she landed in Cape Town, she had lost her job and permanently damaged her reputation. In this book Jon Ronson examines public shaming on the internet, compares it to historic shaming practices, and tries to figure out how a person can be immune to public shaming.
Well, if nothing else, this book will encourage you to think twice about EVERYTHING you post online, ever! I felt like it was an interesting dive into this subject, and included lots of current examples. Yet somehow the book left me wanting. I felt like it could have gone a lot further. It also notably didn’t mention anything from an intersectional perspective — pretty much nothing about how privilege can play into shaming.
Trust: America’s Best Chance by Pete Buttigieg (2020) — Trust is the backbone of American democracy, yet it’s a quality that we’ve been losing in recent years. This collection of essays is a mix of memoirs from the campaign and essays on how America has frayed the trust it has with its allies and the trust its citizens have in government. If we’re going to move forward, one of our biggest priorities will be to replace the trust that’s been lost over the years.
There’s a lot I like about Pete, and I also recognize his flaws, but I always enjoy hearing what he has to say. That said, this was clearly a book written and released at lightning speed — and as a result, it doesn’t seem to have a solid focus. I don’t begrudge him for it — if I were in his position (and had the six-figure student debt he mentioned he and Chasten have), I would have done the same! But I think it could have been a lot better if he and his team had spent more time on this.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl (2006) — When Ruth Reichl accepted the position of the New York Times restaurant critic, she realized that she would be recognized everywhere she went. This book is about her process of putting together disguises and new identities so she wouldn’t receive the all-star treatment in restaurants.
What a strange book. On one level, I loved her writing style and all the descriptions of her work as a restaurant critic (I can’t get enough about memoirs about work!). It was an interesting time capsule of mid-90s New York City, seen through the eyes of a white woman so privileged she actually has an elevator attendant in her building.
On the other hand, Reichl seemed to be incredibly judgmental of everyone within her line of vision. Unmarried women are to be pitied, as are women without children. Asian women serve as nameless exotic muses. A younger attractive woman with an older man is clearly a sex worker who doesn’t belong in a nice restaurant. And even though Reichl is Jewish, her description of a Jewish couple as ferret-faced cheapskates struck me as borderline anti-Semitic!
This book left a bad taste in my mouth. It was interesting stuff…but I did not enjoy spending time in her head.
Coming Up in January 2021
We have just about nothing planned for January — other than celebrating Biden’s inauguration, of course! We’re still under the strictest lockdown with restaurants closed, nonessential shops closed, and a 9:00 PM curfew each night, with no end in sight.
This month will be all about taking care of Lewis and Murray — and most importantly, nursing Lewis back to health.
Starting January 1, my trade license becomes active. Not only will I be paying Czech taxes, due each June and December — I will officially be on the Czech public healthcare system, paying about $110 per month and zero copays. In your first year as a self-employed person, you pay the minimum; in the second year, each month you pay a rate equivalent to 6.25% of your average monthly net income of the previous year.
I am hoping that my family reunification visa will be finalized this month (a different category of paperwork unrelated to the trade license), but with COVID scrambling everything, it may get pushed out into February. If it takes longer than that, I’ll be able to renew my bridge visa until the process is finished.
Any plans for January? Share away!