A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Garden of the Gods, Colorado

This is an awesome city park on the outskirts of Colorado Springs.  The park is free and the many hiking and walking trails take you past beautiful red rock formations, many impossibly thin. One of the formations is called "Cathedral Spires," and it's an apt description.  If you're visiting or even just traveling through, check it out.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Southeast Wyoming Landscape

After my stay in the Czech Republic, this was a bit of a change.  Take a look at the countryside near Laramie, Wyoming.  Wild west, anyone?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Most interesting books read so far in 2016

I'm just about to finish reading my 30th book this year.  Here are a few of the most interesting or enjoyable ones:

--Hunting Monsters:  Crytozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths
by Darren Naish 
An exploration of the evidence of creatures like bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.  Mostly it debunks the myths, but in a way that leaves it open to possibility and philosophizes a bit on why so many cultures have similar myths.  It got quite repetitive, but if taken in small bits, it's very interesting.

--The Railway Children  
by E. Nesbit
This novel is my only 5-star rating of the year (so far).  It's warm and charming, and despite everyone being a little too perfect and everything working out a little too well, I loved it.  

--Wealth Woman; Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold
by Deb Vanasse 
A well-researched account of the life of Kate Carmack, the native wife of the man credited with starting the Klondike Goldrush.  I especially loved the parts about how her culture viewed certain actions and social encounters differently than her husband's culture, leading to various conflicts and misunderstandings.

--At the Water's Edge
by Sara Gruen
Rich, idle young people in World War II go looking to find vindication in the form of proof of the Loch Ness Monster.  Like an unfortunate number of other books, I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book.  Unique premise, great historical detail, lots of culture shock, good writing.  And then it just turns Hollywoody.

--Broken Angels
by Gemma Liviero
I almost gave this five stars.  It takes place in WWII, but has some very interesting characters in situations we don't always see in WWII novels.  I grew to love the characters, and I read the last twenty percent or so absolutely rapt, not stopping for anything.

by Josi Russell
A man has spent 5 years alone in space on a colony ship, taking care of all the people in stasis, even though the computer really does almost everything.  This part is fascinating--the endless loneliness, the feelings of uselessness, the grief for his wife who remains in stasis while he will age 50 years.  Then someone else wakes up.  Also interesting.  But then the author goes and ruins it all by introducing unrealistic magical aliens and sudden superpowers.  Still, the first part was enough to make me include it here.

by Robert Specht
Based on the story of a young woman who goes to the Alaskan frontier as a school teacher.  Very interesting culturally and historically, if a bit preachy.
Also some plain good adventure--with a bit of romance.

--A Wild Sheep Chase
by Haruki Murakami
Okay, I included this not because I liked it (which I only sort of did), but because I'd heard so much about the author and this was my first experience.  And it was...interesting.  I thought the writing was mostly quite good, with some unusual perspectives.  The premise was crazy in a cool way.  But the end...I guess I just don't like implausible wild goose chases.

--The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Beautiful writing, though sometimes too stylistic for my tastes.  Fantastic characters.  Distinct voice.  Sad ending with a little hope.

--The Good Soldier Svejk (pt 1)
by Jaroslav Hasek (translated by Zdenek K Sadlon)
Part BRILLIANT dark humor and social commentary, part heavy-handed ranting, this is an interesting book, and one of the big Czech classics.  Some parts dragged.  Others were immensely entertaining.  And Svejk's character is fascinating.  He's a national icon for a reason.  Read it and see.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bila Opava, Czech Republic

Bila Opava
Want a great hike in the Jeseniky mountains of the Czech Republic?  Try the Bila Opava.  

The trail follows a beautiful little stream, complete with many tiny waterfalls.  The second half gets a little adventurous:  potentially slippery rocks, occasional missing planks on the stairs suspended above the water, and ladders that may suit long-legged people best.       

The trail is only  about 5 km from Karlova Studanka up through the valley and to the nearest bus stop at Ovcarna (check bus schedules beforehand on idos.cz--the stop is "Mala Moravka, Ovcarna tocna").  However, since you're already so close, consider continuing on to Praded, the highest peak in Moravia (1491 m), before returning to Ovcarna.  It'll stretch your hike to about 12 fantastic kilometers with about 700 m elevation gain.  Plan some time at the top to enjoy the views.

You also might want to spend some time in the spa town of Karlova Studanka, just admiring the architecture, strolling the parks, and trying the supposedly healing mineral water.      

Bila Opava

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Another day, another border

Next on the gallery of me with border markers:  Austria (Österreich).  I hiked from Znojmo, Czech Republic, across the border to the nearest town, hung out for a bit, bought some local apple juice with my leftover Euro coins, and walked back.  Very fun day.

The hike was beautiful:  I took the yellow trail trail from Znojmo along the river, up to a great viewpoint (Sealsfield Rock), down to an old mill valley, and through vineyards and to the little town of Mittleretzbach where one street had row upon row of old wine cellars dug into the ground.  I walked back along the road through the now-abandoned border crossing station and caught the bus from Hnanice.  Highly recommended trip.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Secret of Platform #2

Coolest retro train marquee ever!  You pull down a lever to raise the appropriate train so the passengers know where to wait.  They're even in red for the fast trains and black for the slow trains, just like nowadays.  And they still work fine.  :)

It's worth scheduling a change in the station in Přerov, Czech Republic, just to see this.

Platform #2

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Good Soldier Švejk, by Jaroslav Hašek

The Good Soldier Švejk
(The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War, Book I) 
by Jaroslav Hašek 
Translated by Zdenek K Sadlon

I had a strange reaction to this book.  I'd heard so much about it, living here in the Czech Republic.  References to and cartoons of the Good Soldier Svejk are everywhere, his character embedded in the collection consciousness.  So I finally decided to buy it.  I researched the various translations—about which there is much debate—and finally settled on this one.  Since I haven't read any other translations, I'm not sure exactly where my critique of the novel and my critique of the translation begins and ends.  But here goes.

Okay, first of all, I'm not a huge critic of book covers, but...seriously?  This is the worst cover ever.  Maybe they didn't want to use the classic Lada drawings because they wanted to focus on the grittier, earthier side of the story.  Maybe there were copyright issues.  But every time I look at this it looks like a nose-less, mouth-less, one-eyed alien with a bow on his head.  And everything else about it is equally bad.  Sorry.  Why not incorporate the guy below?     

Josef Lada's view of Švejk  

Now for the actual book  Some parts are absolutely brilliant.  The beginning is darkly humorous.  I laughed out loud several times, then felt rather guilty because of the direness of the subject matter..  But the bizarre humor and serious commentary are brilliantly balanced. 

However, other parts really drag.  For example, the chaplain's speeches are way too long without striking much of a funny note with me.  The songs are annoying and boring (of course, I pretty much always dislike songs in books).  Other parts go on too long.

The stories Svejk tells began to feel formulaic—not the stories themselves, which are usually amusing and creative—but the way he comes up with one for every situation and the way he frames them all in the same manner.

And then there's the vitriolic afterward by Hašek himself, which really put a damper on my enjoyment of the book.  I suggest letting the novel stand on its own.

Some of the language feels too modern, which has to be the fault of the translation.  Or perhaps Hasek was just ahead of his time.  Also either the fault of the translator or perhaps the e-book converstion, I did find several typos and errors.  One thing I liked about the translation was the footnotes.  These included cultural, historical, or linguistic explanations that helped readers understand, but would have felt odd if included right in the text of the novel. 

I love the commentary on war and patriotism and oppression.  There's one scene near the beginning where a bunch of men are in jail for heinous crimes such as saying unflattering things about the Archduke or making jokes about the war.  The sixth man, "staying away from the other five, said hat he wanted nothing to do with them, lest he fall under suspicion.  He said that he was sitting there merely for the attempted robbery and murder of a farmer…"  And here's another pretty powerful line, as the chaplain and Švejk are going out to give a sermon to the troops:  "The great slaughter of the World War cold not proceed without a priestly blessing."

Also absolutely brilliant:  Svejk's character.  Is he an idiot?  Or a genius?

Overall, I enjoyed it, and will probably read the next volume, but I think it's the sort of thing that's best spread out over a little time.