Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dívčí Kámen, Czech Republic

A real Czech Castle on Christmas Eve.  Dívčí Kámen was built in the 1300s, abandoned in the 1500s.

I love the scale of history here, especially being from a country that is younger than many of the "new" buildings in old town squares.

If you plan to go, see transportation and entry details at the end of the post.

Giant Lipa (Linden?) tree on the path to Dívčí Kámen from Třísov 

Yeah...this isn't what I remember Christmas Eve looking like the other years I was here in the Czech Republic.

Dívčí Kámen, near České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Between the castle gates

Me in a castle passageway

Dívčí Kámen

If you go, the quick route is on the red trail from Třísov train station to the castle, and then on the yellow trail to Holubov, where you can catch another train.  The whole loop is about 5 km.  Both Třísov and Holubov are on the train line between České Budějovice and Český Krumlov.  The castle is open year round.  Entry is 45 crowns (less for students and retirees).  Guided tours (for an additional fee) run during the summer.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Prague at Christmas

We were in Prague just before Christmas.  And though I think it's a shame how many visitors see only Prague--when the rest of the country is so amazing--I can't deny that it's a spectacularly beautiful city.  I loved my stay there.

Old Town Square, Prague

One of my favorite Czech treats:  trdelnik.  Baked on a spit and very delicious

Christmas in Prague

Prague Castle, from across the Vltava

Charles' Bridge

Traditional Christmas carp sold on city streets

Popular Czech mechanical "Bethlehems" showing every day country scenes

Nice skylines are everywhere here--Prague

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Book of Dragons, by E. Nesbit

This collection of stories—first published in 1900—is charming and humorous.  Written for children, but perfect for adults with a bit of imagination, the stories mostly feature inconvenient dragons and clever children.  It’s great fun, and the style is warm and easy.  I love the creativity, especially considering that Nesbit could take no inspiration from the last 114 years of fantasy literature.   

Sometimes the humor—as humor often does—goes just past where it should, stepping over the “funny” line into “silly” territory, but overall it’s well done.  A few of the solutions to these dragon problems feel a little too convenient, but I still really liked the book.

The first story was my favorite, I believe, but there were other really good ones too.  

Upon finishing the collection, I promptly downloaded several more books by E. Nesbit. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Europe in One Picture

A picture's worth a thousand word, and this captures Europe so well for me:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Krakow, Poland

 Had a great weekend in Kraków (Cracow), Poland
   -Met my dad at the airport!
   -Got hugs
   -Got fresh brownies Mom made and sent across the world for me
   -Wandered the Christmas Market
   -Learned about history  
   -Remembered some of my Polish words
   -Listened to street musicians
   -Met nice people
   -Saw folk dancers
   -Ate pierogy ruskie, bigos, mushroom soup, obwarzanek*
   -Bought little gifts

Beautiful Krakow, Poland
Happy weekend!

*Polish food favorites:
-Pierogy Ruskie = a sort of dough/pasta pocket full of mashed potatoes and special polish cheese.  The thing I miss most from Poland, food-wise.
-Bigos = hearty and tasty sauerkraut stew with tomato base and about 4 types of pork
-Mushroom soup = nothing like Campbell's (in a good way).
-Obwarzanek = what Krakowians claim is the original bagel.  They make 180,000 a day and sell them from little food carts all around old town.  They're sooo good!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mikulas in the Czech Republic

Mikuláš is St Nicolas' name day, and Czech celebrate it in a big way.

An angel and a devil accompany St. Nicolas on his rounds on December 6 and thereabouts. The devil (often rattling chains or wearing cowbells) tries to scare the children.  If they're brave and talk to St. Nicolas (dressed like a bishop), then the angel gives them gingerbread or other treats.  If they've been bad, St. Nicolas gives them coal or...potatoes.  At Mikuláš markets, I think it's fun to watch these costumed characters.  There are probably 10 devils for every St. Nicolas.  I guess we know which is more fun.

Valašské Klobouky, a village near Vsetín, has a famous Mikuláš market, where you can buy Christmas goods, handicrafts, and local food.  There's traditional music and dancing.  But the coolest things is the number of devils running around, cowbells ringing.  It's a lot of fun.  

Here are some pictures from my trip with fellow teachers and friends.

A devil and angel welcoming travelers to the historic steam train
Valašské Klobouky, Czech Republic

St. Nicolas (Mikuláš)
Valašské Klobouky steam train

Mikuláš with my friends, Lance and Jana, and their son, Lucaš

Running devil, Valašské Klobouky market

Another style of devil, Valašské Klobouky

These devils like swatting innocent passers-by with their little jalovec (juniper) trees.
All in fun.
Valašské Klobouky, Czech Republic

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Winter Wonderland in Vsetin, Czech Republic

This is what happens when you have snow the day after freezing rain. Gorgeous.  And I had the morning off, so I got to take a hike in in.  Lucky me!

Icicles--Vsetin, Czech Republic

Every branch encased in ice--with snow on top

Reminds me of iron filings on a magnet

This looks like a white flower, but it's a pocket of snow.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Movie

I saw Mockingjay Pt 1 last week, and I really enjoyed it.  I've heard critics say that it didn't have enough action.  Don't we have plenty of action in Hollywood?  Don't we need more of what Mockingjay was all about?  A bigger game, subtle moves and counter-moves, twisted political ethics, repercussions that make the main characters question everything they're doing, an exploration of heroes' motives?

I really liked it.  I know it didn't capture everything in the book, but I think it did pretty well.  Good job, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Red Skies, by Kay Bratt

“I feel empty, as though I’m leaving behind a piece of myself.” 

As the daughter of the town scavenger, Mari grew up knowing hardship, but she could have never anticipated the struggles facing her as an adult. Feeling alone and isolated, she dreams of a better life. On the other side of town, a little girl is forced to live on the streets, but silently she longs for the one thing she’s never known—a family. Max, a struggling American photojournalist, arrives in China with only one goal in mind; to face his demons and put an end to his own unbearable suffering. In Red Skies, the fate of three people who’ve never met will converge in profound and unexpected ways. 

From the bestselling author of 'A Thread Unbroken' comes a fresh glimpse into the life of Benfu's remarkable family. Be swept up in this emotional yet hope filled story of Red Skies, the fourth book set in the world of Kay Bratt’s 'Tales of The Scavenger’s Daughters'. 

My Review:  

This story is set in China, in a world so different from what I know, and I really enjoyed learning about the culture and food and daily life there.  I didn’t mind the somewhat predictable ending, because it was one of those satisfying moments you’d waited for, and I was happy for the characters.  

There were a few plot holes and unbelievable bits.  I especially couldn’t understand how intelligent, sensitive Mari didn’t guess what might have happened to Max’s daughter.  However, these issues didn’t stop me from enjoying the story.

It could have done with a little trimming of the repetitive thoughts and explanations, but overall the writing was good:  warm and engaging.

And I LOVED the part where the two girls wove their own mythology around the photo of Max’s daughter.  Great touch.

I would read more of Kay Bratt’s work.  

Four Stars

Also available at other retailers

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic

Twenty-five years ago, On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that’s what most Americans remember about the beginning of the end of Communist control in Eastern Europe.

A week later, demonstrations started in Bratislava.  On November 17, high school and university students began protesting in Prague.  Over the next few days, demonstrations sprang up all over Czechoslovakia, and as many as 500,000 protestors had banded together in Prague.  Keep in mind that the current population of Prague is only about a 1.2 million.  On November 27, the top dogs of the Communist party in Czechoslovakia all resigned.  By the end of December, walls and fences had been torn down along the borders with Germany and Austria, parts of the constitution had been changed, and Vaclav Havel had been elected president of the first democratic government since the war.

Not a single person died.  And thus comes the name:  the Velvet Revolution.

Today is a public holiday here in the Czech Republic, where I’m living.  There’s a party down in the park later, special programs on TV, and I just heard sametová (the word for velvet) on the radio. 

Last week, one of my classes had an assignment to bring in a photo that was important to them and describe what was happening in it.  I assumed they’d bring family photos.  Out of six students, four for them brought pictures of the Velvet Revolution:  flag-waving protestors, peaceful demonstrations, Vaclav Havel before he became president.  They told me how the crowds had grown and grown, and how the masses sang for freedom.  Out of those six students, only one remembers the Velvet Revolution.  The rest weren’t even born yet.  Still, it holds an important place in their hearts.  

In another class, I asked if anyone there remembered.  One student raised her hand.  “I was in university,” she said.  “I went to the demonstrations.  In the middle of it, I didn’t believe things would change.”  But they did.
And now my older students—who once had to do gas-mask drills in school, just in case the Americans attacked—have me for a teacher.  Sometimes words and songs and hands without weapons can change the world.  


Friday, November 14, 2014

Spider Webs, Fog, and Dew Drops

These are pictures from my foggy and mysterious hike this morning in the hills above Vsetin, Czech Republic.  Nature is so dynamic!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pulčínské Skály--A Czech autumn hike

Czech forest in fall
Yesterday I hiked with friends to Pulčínské Skály, near Lidečkoin the Czech Republic, and then on to Huslenky.

It was a great hike, misty and mysterious in the morning, blue-skied by the end, and all of it through the colorful last gasps of fall.

I love the Czech countryside!

Petra, Jiři, and James at Pulčínské Skály

Golden larch trees add color to evergreen forests in the Czech Republic

This was my second time at Pulčínské Skály.  If you want more specifics, check out my travel article about the trip on Go Nomad:"Wallachian Rock; Off the Beaten Track on the Czech-Slovak Border"  

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Czech Republic in Fall--Vsetin's park

This is Vsetin's town park, which I get to walk past every day on the way to work.  Lucky Me!  I love watching the seasons change here.

Vsetin, Czech Republic, Nov 9

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All Souls' Day in the Czech Republic

November 2:  A beautiful day to remember the dead.

Cemetary in Velke Karlovice, Czech Republic

All Souls' Day, Vsetin, Czech Republic

World War Two Memorial, Vsetin

Monday, October 20, 2014

Alaska Traveler, by Dana Stabenow

Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America's Last Frontier

This is a collection of travel articles on Alaska, most of which Dana Stabenow wrote for her column in Alaska Magazine.  The articles are interesting and the content is pretty varied, from general travel tips and descriptions of glaciers to vignettes of life in the bush and accounts of local celebrations.  I learned a ton, and it inspired me to return to Alaska.  However, the style and structure can get a little samey if you try to read too many close together.  I recommend enjoying them in small doses.

And you can easily read them this way, because it's FREE on Amazon!

Some of my favorite articles:

Ch 4: “Alaska Travel Etiquette”—handy for tourists and culturally interesting.
Ch 12: “I Hear the Train A-Coming”—about the Hurricane Turn flagstop route on the Alaskan Railroad
Ch 16: “Thar She Blows”—about Sitka’s Whale Fest
Ch 17: “Dogs and Beans”—about the start of the Iditarod, from the point of view of normal residents of Anchorage
Ch 20-21: “In the Shadow of the Great One”—about Denali
Ch 24: “Carving History in Ketchikan”—about totems and other carvings by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian
Ch 29: “Two Points, Big Team, Two Points”—about the basketball culture of small-town Alaska
Ch 38:  “Boardwalk Boogie”—about a music festival (and life) in the tiny community of Pelican.
Ch 46: “Some Say in Ice”—about an ice-carving festival

Ch 57: “Marine Pilots”—about the pilots who guide big ships into ports and such.

My overall rating:  FOUR STARS

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Czech Hikes--Troják to Jablůnka

Here are some pictures of my hike last week from Troják to Jablůnka, near Vsetín in the Czech Republic.

The Czech mountains in early fall, along the ridge from Trojak to Maruška
The new Maruška View Tower
Changing Leaves
One of many, many mushrooms
How much better can it get?
The trail headed down to Jablůnka