Travel- Blog

Last Saturday we *almost* had the quintessential Czech weekend. I say almost because a hike in the woods wasn’t included, just through a small park.
So this is how it goes – Early Saturday morning, we get up, pack some snacks and head for the train station. Buy tickets and board train, which thankfully is not jam-packed…yet. After traveling a few stations, we approach the next station where the platform is super-crowded. Dang! Thought we had dodged that bullet! People cram onto our train with their backpacks and walking poles, which are all the rage here. Our kids stand up to allow others to take their seats, knowing it could be the whole ride they’ll be standing. Luckily the majority of them got off after only 30 minutes or so.
After another 20 minutes or so, we arrive in the small town of Březnice which used to be important enough that it has quite a large church and a beautiful chateaux. We know the keepers of the castle, so we tromp through the extensive castle park and go inside for our private, behind the scenes, tour of this gem that dates back to the 13th century.
After our tour, it was lunch in a local pub which, of course, included the locally brewed beer.
On to a gallery opening in the newly restored monastery. They were exhibiting a collection of photographs from the day, 70 years ago, when the American army liberated their town from the Nazis.
After the gallery, a walk across town to meet some more old friends and dinner together before heading back to the train station. With home-made kolač from Eva in a re-purposed ice cream container, we hop on the train and get home after dark, tired and satisfied, and feeling very Czech.

IMG_20150502_114306[1]

ceiling in the 16th century library - oldest library in Bohemia

Ceiling in the 16th century library – oldest library in Bohemia

Coffee in the castle herb garden

Coffee in the castle herb garden

Train ride home with my silly kids

Train ride home with my silly kids

My boys are 17 years old. Wow, how did that happen? They’re old enough to drink beer in Germany, and it’s time to figure out what they’re going to do for college. So last weekend we went to our first university “open day”, at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands.
Geography lesson: The Netherlands is the name of the country. North and South Holland are just 2 of twelve provinces of the Netherlands. North Holland includes Amsterdam, and Rotterdam is in South Holland – that’s where my folks are from. Groningen is way up in the north of the country, in the Groningen province, of course.
Now back to my story – We drove the 8 hours from Prague to Groningen only to completely fall in love with the town, the university, and the north of the Netherlands in general. It was ridiculously picturesque, and the people were so friendly. After 6 months in Prague where the shopkeepers are notoriously mean (topic for a future post), it was lovely to experience the open friendliness of the Dutch. Did I mention that because my boys are EU citizens (they have dual Czech/American citizenship) their tuition would be just over $2000 per year – all the way through PhD if they choose? Um, yes, we like that part too.
We’ll continue looking at other universities, but so far, Groningen is at the top of our list.
IMG_20150131_150954[1]

IMG_20150131_170203[1]

IMG_20150130_141350[1]

I visited my dear friend, Eve, the other day. I met her over 20 years ago when I lived in the Czech town of Slaný, not far from Prague. She was a pillar in our little group that gathered weekly to have a beer and speak some English. Eve is now 85 years old and she’s still sharp as a whip, able to switch back and forth between Czech and English with ease.

If you follow me on facebook, you might have seen a recent post about how people who are actively bilingual have better functioning brains. It is also believed that bilingualism will help protect the brain from deterioration as one ages. Eve’s sharpness is most certainly in big part because of her active use of English as her second language. She has inspired me to ramp up my efforts in studying this extremely difficult (for me, anyway) Czech language. Because when I’m 85, I want to be like Eve!

Me and Eve 1993

Me and Eve 1993

Yesterday Maia came home from school, handed me a little scrap of paper and said “Tomorrow I’m supposed to go here.” In Czech teacher handwriting it said “8:00-11:40, Shopping center Smíchov, 60 crowns.” “Okay, why?” “I don’t know.”
And she didn’t. This is the kind of thing that happens when you send your child to a school where she doesn’t understand the language. I’m sure the children were told what kind of field trip they were going on. She just didn’t catch it.
Some people think it’s cruel of us to send her to this school. In fact, one embassy employee’s wife at an American, British and Aussie Women of Prague meeting I attended said it would be much more ‘humane’ to send my children to an International school where they teach in English. She kept saying ‘humane’. I left there feeling like Cruella de Vil.
Two things; Maia is totally up to this AND she is learning Czech. Both of which are awesome. Plus, she’s becoming that person, who, in the face of a problematic situation, will say “Okay, I can handle this”, instead of panicking and shrinking away.
So this morning Maia and I caught the #16 tram to the mall at Smíchov. The stores, except for the grocery and bakery were all closed and dark. We walked deeper into the mall, no signs of her classmates or clues as to what they were actually going to do. Finally a woman whom I’d never seen but Maia seemed to recognize greeted us, “Dobrý den.” Maia gave me that hug that says “Thanks mom. Now please leave.” So I did.
I still have no idea what she’s doing there with her 60 crowns and her class, but I’m sure she’s safe, she’s learning, and she’ll manage just fine.
IMG_20150107_103448
IMG_20150107_080123

November 17th this year was quite a day to be in Prague. That day was the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution, the citizens’ actions that led to the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
On the evening of November 17, 1989, my husband, then 20 years old, went with some of his Charles University classmates to join what was to be a peaceful but, to the Communists, defiant act of commemorating International Students’ Day. They knew they were risking possible ejection from school for gathering, but they felt it was worth the risk. When their planned marching route was unexpectedly blocked by police, they re-routed. Their numbers grew to the thousands – adults joining them in the march and people cheering them on from windows above.
When the group approached the center of Prague, they were stopped at a wall of police officers decked out in full riot gear. Tom and his friends decided that this peaceful protest of theirs was not going to be allowed to proceed, so they turned to go home. It was then that they discovered the police had surrounded them. There was no way to leave. The group had been lighting candles, singing songs, and chanting phrases such as “We have no weapons”, but the police seemed determined to teach them a lesson.
The students were violently beaten that night. Nobody left the area without passing through an arcade lined on both sides by police. They beat the students with their billy clubs as they ran through trying to reach safety. One former colleague of Tom’s walks with a limp to this day from injuries he received that night.
University students from Prague traveled all over the country in the days that followed, sharing their stories and showing videos of this terrible event. This helped to unify the Czechoslovaks against their criminal government. Demonstrations and strikes took place all over the country, including a 2 hour nation-wide general strike on November 24. Ten days after the students’ march, the Communist Party leaders resigned. By the end of December, playwright Vaclav Havel was president and a new, brighter era began for the country.

People visiting the memorial to the 1989 student protesters that lies in the passage where they were violently attacked by police.

Visiting the memorial to the student protesters in the passage where they were violently attacked by police in 1989.

So I step outside my front door this morning, and in front of the restaurant across the street I spot a whole pig hanging from a tee-pee like structure (already dead, thank goodness). Guess they’re going to be cooking that today for the lunch crowd. I have a bit of a hard time looking at it – I have to admit I am 0% farm-girl, cadaver lab is much easier for me to handle than butchered beasts – but seeing that whole, live just a few hours ago pig out there makes me think about something I’ve been noticing here in Prague. While the food is not 100% healthy by any stretch of the imagination (the amount of sugar and while flour consumed is through the roof) they use a whole lot less of food additives than we do in the States. The restaurants here cook from scratch using real food, not pre-packaged, preserved, artificially colored and flavored stuff. That’s pretty rare in the States except in the swanky or granola places. And even the packaged junk foods you get in the grocery stores and convenience stores here have a lot fewer ingredients with chemical rather than food names… I mean a lot fewer.
So, why can’t we do that in the States?
I don’t have any answers… this is just what I’ve been thinking about this morning.
Have a good one.

Look closely and you'll see the pig down there. I'd get closer for a shot, but I don't want to;)

Look closely and you’ll see the pig down there. I’d get closer for a shot, but I don’t want to;)

We’ve been traveling like crazy! Mostly within the Czech Republic, and mostly to our daughter’s hockey games, but this month we took an extended weekend trip to Frieburg, Germany for a medical interpreters’ conference Tom attended. Now I’ve added Freiburg to the list of places I want to live! Take a look:

Freiburg town gate

Freiburg town gate


Freiburger Munster detail

Freiburger Munster detail

Freiburg sidewalk

Freiburg sidewalk – note the little canal along the side

They say if you step in one of those little canals which run all around the old town, you’re destined to marry a Freiburger.
We all kept our feet dry on this trip.

In the Czech Republic most every family has a cottage. It’s often in a different town than where their home is. It’s common to spend weekends at the cottage, especially in the summer. This is where Czechs grow their gardens, because the majority of people who don’t live in villages live in apartment buildings and have little space there to grow things. During the communist times, a garden was especially important because there was no depending on supplies of fresh food in the grocery stores. Even if you knew which day the fresh delivery of carrots would arrive, there was no guarantee you’d be in line early enough to get some for your family. Your own garden, and that of your granny from the village, was your main source of fresh food – and some other things. In our recent semi-frenzy to furnish our home, I asked Tom which would be a good store to buy pillows. He responded “Buy pillows? Nobody buys pillows. Your grandma makes them for you with the feathers from her flocks.” Oh, of course.
My husband’s parents are lucky enough to have a cottage big enough to live in comfortably, which they did for many years after they retired from jobs in the city. Now they live mainly in Prague in an apartment to be close to their kids. They now travel the 150km (about 90 miles) to their cottage in the village of Království (Kingdom) regularly enough to keep a thriving garden going. Tom is looking forward to trips to Kingdom to help his dad with the harvest this year, and of course, to have a couple beers with him as Czechs like to do quite regularly.

Here are a few shots of our last trip to the cottage in Království, including one of Tom and his dad waiting for the train to take us back to Prague.

kids at Kral

The kids at Království

Playing in the garden with the neighbor's dog, Bibi.

Playing in the garden with the neighbor’s dog, Bibi.

Walking to the pond at Kral

Walking to the pond

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

While I still love the cobblestones here in Prague, my left hip doesn’t! Walking on the uneven surfaces has brought out a problem I’ve had for a long time, but always have kept under control with regular chiropractic treatments. Since I no longer share an office with a chiropractor, I finally decided it was time to try out my shiny new ‘insurance for foreigners’ card and see if I could get some help for this aching hip.
I called the number on my card on Monday morning. They told me to go to the local hospital where I would be able to see a doctor. Sure enough, with a $15 copay (and a whole lot of pantomime to go with my broken Czech), I was with a doc within a couple of hours. He did an exam and prescribed an adjustment and some physical therapy – I go tomorrow for that. (still hurting, true)
The hospital wasn’t fancy, and they were a little bit gruff and impatient with my poor language skills, but boy am I glad to have the ability to get treatment when needed. Hopefully that won’t be too often.

Here's a shot of the map of the hospital I had to decipher to find the right place to go. Made me a bit nervous.

Here’s a shot of the map of the hospital I had to decipher to find the right place to go. Made me a bit nervous.

Some hospitals have these little auto-mats where you pay your copay before going into the building. At first I thought they were to pay for parking. The copay is typically 30czk, or about $1.50. This time mine was higher because I haven't yet chosen a primary care doc.

Some hospitals have these little auto-mats where you pay your copay before going into the building. At first I thought they were to pay for parking. The copay is typically 30czk, or about $1.50. This time mine was higher because I haven’t yet chosen a primary care doc.

Boy is the US ever missing out on the whole walking thing. After just 4 weeks in Europe, I can already understand how the Europeans would balk at a family of 5 owning 2 cars – like we did just a few short weeks ago. Whether you’re in a big city like we are, or a smaller town or village here, you’ll find public transportation and/or a town square or center within walking distance where you can find pretty much all you need. Of course the fact that gas is like gold here helps to inspire people to walk as well.

We don’t have a car here, so when we arrived in Prague, the whole family got metro passes. These are good for the trams, underground, and city buses – which run day and night. We go everywhere on foot or public transportation. Of course, using public transportation always means walking to the nearest stop, which, I’ll be honest, is more than I ever walked back in the states. The fact that we’re staying in a 4th floor flat without an elevator adds to the daily workout too!

I have to say it feels real good. I have never been good at exercising just to exercise. For some reason, exercise for me, right or wrong, needs to have more of a purpose than just to get myself in shape. I’ll play volleyball for hours, or hockey because they’re fun. I’ll take a long bike ride if I’m going somewhere… but to go to the gym and work out, or go for a run just to run? Ugh, that has never been my thing. So now I’m in luck. I’m finally getting some decent exercise every day and it has purpose!

And just look at the cool patterns on the sidewalks and streets here!

IMG_20140713_100547

IMG_20140713_122952

IMG_20140713_100533

Most vacations would be winding up by this time, but we’re not in vacation mode. It’s almost surreal that we don’t have our house and all our things to go back to in Viroqua. We live in Prague now. Even though we’re in a borrowed apartment, we’re home.

We’ve been spending lots of our time going to offices of various kinds, getting the kids signed up for schools & hockey teams, getting health insurance (yay!), having the proper photos taken for the various ID cards we’ll need, filling out forms for those ID cards, and so on. As the only foreigner in the family, Tom and the kids are all dual Czech/American citizens, I have some extra offices to visit and forms to fill out. But it’s all good. If I get a job here, I’ll qualify for the same health insurance as Czech citizens. If not, I’ll still get a decent deal on insurance, just not quite as good. We’ll see. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to enter the Czech workforce yet. I think before I get a job, I should probably be able to say more than “Hello, my name is Susan. Can you please tell me if this is gluten-free?”

Speaking of food, finding good things to eat hasn’t exactly been a piece of cake here (ha). It’s a process, but it’s coming along. At first sight, it would seem like the Czechs eat nothing but bread, cheese and meat. That’s pretty much what I did when I lived here 20 years ago, sans the meat – I was a vegetarian then. But now, as we dig deeper and learn where to look, we’re finding good farmers’ markets with good local foods as well as shops that sell ‘bio’ (organic) foods and even have gluten-free selections. It would be easier to just pop into a Whole Foods if there were such a thing. But there isn’t, and we’re learning the ropes of eating well in Prague. It’s actually kind of a fun challenge.. when we’re not too hungry.

Here’s a view from the window of the flat we’re staying in these first 2 months:
IMG_20140701_193830

It has not yet sunk in in the slightest that we actually LIVE in Prague. We arrived here Monday night after a fiasco of a trip. It doesn’t seem to matter how much you plan and orchestrate your travel. If the airlines don’t cooperate on the day of travel, you’re just plain out of luck. Somehow we managed to keep ourselves in pretty good spirits throughout. I suppose we were just grateful for the adventure.

Here’s a pic from one of our first walks through the old town of Prague on the day after we finally arrived.

2014-06-17 18.20.57

Come back soon and see what happens next.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *