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.