Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brno: killed by kindness

After an hour of watching my samples rinse and listening to 'Man being strangled', 'woman screaming', and 'chopping' sounds from my Halloween Tunes (my mom blasts this creepy music on her porch on Halloween night, and she wonders why she gets so few trick-or-treaters...) I have decided to continue on with the trip-I'm almost done!!!

After our fabulous tour of Prague, we headed to Brno.

Back on the road, I was driving once again (amidst all sorts of complaints from those who did not offer to drive in the back seat). Fortunately, Brno was only a quick hour and a half drive from Prague.
We arrived at Brno and stopped off at a fabulous mall. Following ice cream at O's fav shop, we took a walking tour of down town Brno, which was charming in the European way, passed like 20 H&Ms (Europeans have all the shopping luck), saw the Brno Beach (pics may be the most helpful here), and had lunch at O's fav place ever (which turned out not to be my fav svikova ever and as I had eaten it already at least 5 times that week, I consider myself something of an authority)
My mom and I did a little crystal shopping. Regrettably we turned away from the chandeliers-I could not figure out how they would fit in our backpacks, and we bought crystal pitchers instead. L told us she was never going to get married and would consequently have no need of dishes-two odd statements actually.

Please notice Brno's beach behind us

Here is a close-up, yes, there are people sitting in the middle of the town square in their swim suits, it was bizarre, however I have to respect anyone confident enough to be there.

O and I walked the parentals and L back to the car (always relieved when we see the car-recall our situation in Stratford...) and we sent them-very nervously, on their own merry way (I was extremely relieved to hear they made it to their hotel, found a place to park, and turned in the car the next day!!)

By the restaurant

I'll admit I was pretty sad to see them go, we had such a good thing going. To cheer us up, O and I went shopping! We walked through some fab stores all afternoon, then ran into O's friend at the train station (his friend from SLC who randomly haunts Brno, I swear, I'm going to have to go to the moon to vacation in a place where O doesn't know anyone-except guarantee he'll find his cousin is the Dominos worker there!) It was actually a delight to see a familiar face. We found out about an activity at the church and headed over there.
The church activity was fun. I met several of O's good friends and sat in on a missionary discussion.
That evening we headed to Karl's.

Welcome to Tichnov!
I took this pic of Tichnov from the top of a tower-you'll hear about that below...

Tichnov is a little town 20 min outside of Brno. Karl and Hannah met us at the train station at 10:30 pm, wearing American flag T shirts and waving little American flags and shouting wildly. Racing around the tiny town they honked at friends and even pulled over and jumped out to see a parent of one of the exchange students, I was sort of buzzing with all this excitement going on and my lack of sleep but suffice it to say, these two were more festive hosts than I had ever envisioned! Karl is one of the principals O worked with for his student exchange project and has become a great friend.

Lets just say if kindness could kill, I would not be here right now. Our hostess had made baklava....with raisins (which I do not believe to be edible). As soon as we entered they sat us down and dished us up rather hearty portions (the secret about America's portion control problem is out). I shoved the dessert around on my plate but could not figure out what to do. Normally, whenever hosts/hostesses turn their backs, I hurry and shove stuff onto O's plate (he has been a missionary, he knows how to eat anything!) But these people, they never turned around! Finally, I started gulping it down, not even chewing, just put it in, swallow. Hannah was watching me in the oddest way. I won't even get started on the herbal tea issues-lets just say the whole next morning I had to linger in the room pretending to get ready in order to avoid it. There is just something about hot water, with a hint of fruity flavoring, that does not do it for me.

After skipping tea the next morning, we headed out to explore.
We stopped at Martin's (our host's son-in-law) to try out the electric bikes he sells. They were fantastic! I am dying to get one and show up at Dad's next bike race. imagine me breezing past him (though the shock might give him a heart attack).

Here is O at his old apartment! I was amazed he could find it. It was fun to walk up there and see where so many of his adventures took place. We saw an old lady on her balcony that said she remembered the missionaries living there :)

After stopping off at O's place we headed to visit the town cathedral, which was lovely

Next we stopped in at the Brno museum. This seemed cool, until I realized that there was absolutely NO ENGLISH-which made this my fastest museum trip ever. O of course meandered along and took FOREVER. There were models of villages showing how Brno developed, as well as bones buried in dirt (I am crazily interested in mummies and such so whenever these came around I would ask O to translate, only he was so lost in thought that it took much too long and I ended up having to huff off on my own). From what I could gather (which was not really anything) Brno was settled before the iron/bronze age by people from Mongolia. Here O and I had a rather heated discussion when I told him that people should not have agreed to be serfs and should have demanded equal rights.  He did not manage to convince me otherwise :)

Initially I entered the museum because the pamphlet said there was a woolly mammoth there. I was completely amazed and excited-I have obviously never seen one!  (I don't even think the Field Museum has one of those!) I thought that for sure seeing a woolly mammoth would be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Well, it turns out, it was not in there, it is in some other building in Brno (though why they have one at all is beyond me). I was disappointed to say the least but I did add a new goal to my bucket list-see a woolly mammoth with the fur still on (one that has been frozen in ice). I think my best bet is Siberia (while I'm there I'll look at the fancy pet foxes they featured in National Geographic last year)

After the museum we set out for the fortress
The fortress of Brno: Brno's claim to fame. As I mentioned above, Brno did not fall to the Swashbuckling Swedes (the same marauding armies that stole all of the statues in Prague, very strange, somehow I missed that history unit...). The Swedes were stopped at the amazing fortress by some serious ingenuity. Spies heard that the army would retreat at noon the following day if they had not taken the fortress. Those on the inside were hard pressed to keep it together and came up with the brilliant idea to ring the bells twelve times, at 11:00 am. Well, the army heard the bells chime twelve times and retreat they did. So much for army intelligence. To this day, at 11:00, the bells toll twelve times.

The fortress is on the hill in the background. Imagine this-me walking from my current spot all the way up there, on the first warm (actually blazing hot) day of the trip!

 The fortress was worth the hike. It was straight out of Merlin! (which I am still into)
After serving in the honest position of fortress, the compound was converted  (by those Hapsburgs) into a palace and later a prison (I think it may have been a monastery at one point as well). One of the Joseph Hapsburgs sent political prisoners there and they were tortured and endured all sorts of horrendous horrors.
O and I took a tour of the compound. When we were buying out tickets we faced several options. We opted for the tour of the prisons, the fortress foundations, and the torture rooms (only the torture rooms turned out to be some sort of firework display-just pictures of fireworks that is. There was a little mistranslation via O, but I cannot be too harsh, I don't suppose he often talks about torture devices in Czech)

After touring the Brno Fortress we stopped off at a hospital to visit with the mother of one of O's friends-she was staying there for cancer treatment. Here we were killed with kindess once again, and by an invalid no less! She insisted on buying us desserts and drinks. The drink was a flavored sparkling water (the Earl would have been in heaven) but it was not refridgerated! Have you ever had warm Sprite?!?!?! (I cannot figure out what Europe's aversion to ice is!). O and the couple (her husband brought us) spoke Czech while I downed about 12 glasses of liquid pixie sticks and worried if the lady's robe at the next table was going to fall off completely. After a bit O started translating and Idid get involved. The woman was just darling and I was so glad to hear that she has been doing very well with the treatments.
After visiting for a bit we headed off to our next engagement.

Pizza and Principals:
O had planned a pizza party with several students from the student exchange program he organized. We also had the two principals and their wives-including our host Karl, and Karl's daughter and husband. The husband of the woman in the hospital (their son was in the student exchange program) also came by, though his kids were out of town. In the end, it was a random group but turned out to be a total party.

We started out awkwardly sitting around, wondering where everyone was-only two students showed up. We finally accepted that this was the group and started eating. The watermelon had seeds which turned out to be puzzling. People kept eating it, but I could not see what they were doing with their seeds. Eventually I realized, they were full on eating the seeds. I tried to pick peices that had no seeds but often times I would get a piece on my sticker fork, see tons of seeds, and be forced to put them into my mouth, chew them up, and swallow!

The party really started when the elementary school principal and his wife (who is the principal of another school) came rolling in. He is wearing a tank top, baggy shorts, and plenty of bling. He gave O a "baseball" (using the term extremely loosely) hat that said Represent the Love in the most Gangsta font imaginable and asked where the chain smokers should sit. Then the high school principal, not to be outdone, puts on his captains hat (he was already wearing hot pants) and starts telling all sorts of hilarious jokes (which I could not understand but everyone was laughing uproariously so I suspect that is what was going on). I just though, what are parents thinking when they drop their children off to these wild headmasters?? I was particularly interested to hear about the enrollment in the wife's school-she is soooooo ultra conservative/reputable-looking!! (of course I then recalled how they spontaneously decided to get married on their last trip to Utah, which was likely a big shock to their children back home, and realized she must have a wild side as well). O says the kids just love them and I don't doubt that, they were tons of fun!
here is a photo of the group:

We awoke to a great breakfast prepared by Hanna. They jokingly said something about the svikova being venison. Ya, that was the last bite of that. After the mystery meat, we raced to a bell tower that their son-in-law maintains. We climbed all the way up-lets just say, I'm pretty sure no one but Martin has been in there for the past 500 years! Yes, it could not have been safe. The fire marshal would have a fit if he saw the state of the stairs. Well, they opened the door and I saw...spider webs everywhere. I thought, I'm going to be killed! But here we go again, they were being all nice, arranging this especially for me.... so I just charged in. I started bounding up the stairs, practically spanking poor Martin who was leading the way. By the top I was panting but I made it up without seeing any spiders. You should have seen me on my way down. I thought, I'm going to take a tumble and break my legs, in several places. But, that did not slow me down. I literally flew out of that place. O secretly whispered later "I saw some spider webs in there and I was nervous you would notice them." He thought I did not notice them?!?!? I am not entirely blind!! Even a blind person could have felt the creepy spider filled silence of the place.
The view from the top was nice-see my pic above :)  I noticed everyone had these little greenhouse things. When I asked about it, it turned out they are actually little swimming pools-I have never seen anything quite like them.

From there we hopped over to the train station. Our whirlwind visit of Brno was over and we were off to Bratislava!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Prague Day 2

Don't worry, I'm not still watching the marionette man on Charles Bridge! (I've just been busy the past few days, vacationing nonstop and racing about to Targets fetching the Missoni items...)
I'm throwing some photos into this post (finally getting them off my camera) so be prepared, it will be long!

Our second day in Prague began bright and early. Once again we started off with an excellent breakfast (including these strange tea biscuit things L thought tasted just like chocolate chip cookies. My only response-I don't think she has any idea what chocolate chip cookies taste like...).

Jana, our walking guide, picked us up once again at 8:30 and we were off. We started out walking across Charles Bridge, passed another St Nickolas Cathedral (the one from the day before was way better!), checked out some of the original cobblestones from long ago (either 1000AD or 1600 AD, I cannot seem to remember). We walked to the Jewish quarter, passing fab shopping streets and admiring the architecture. (Prague is one of the few cities that was not bombed during WW2 so the buildings are all still intact. The communists appropriated everyone's property and moved people out to large flats and let many buildings fall into complete disrepair, however, they did not destroy the buildings. After communism (1989), people began reclaiming their property and fixing everything up. The few buildings that are still looking decrepit, all boarded up, are the ones that the ownership dispute has not been settled). One of the most beautiful streets reminded Mom quite a bit of a street in Spain.

Charles Bridge

fashionable streets-lovely architecture

The Jewish Ghetto:
Prague has one of the best preserved Jewish Ghettos in the world. It was established in the 1500s. For starters, Ghetto does not refer to a gangsta area-it was a neighborhood that Jewish people lived in. Jews were not always entirely popular in Europe. They lived differently than many people so the general population thought they were a little strange. Unlike Christians, usery (money lending) was not forbidden to them. They were often extremely wealthy and many people, including emperors and kings, were often in debt to them. They had rules and often had to live in certain areas of towns and pay a tax to the king (I'm puzzled as to why they did not try to go for the secretly Jewish thing). Generally, when the debts got too high, people would run them out of town, they whole ghetto would be expelled, etc. They were often accused of witchcraft and all sorts of devilry (people thought they drank the blood of young boys) and, as they were quite hygenic, escaping the worst plagues and such did them no favors with the other locals. They were some emperors in Prague that were more lenient with the Jewish people so Jews started moving in from all over Europe (increasing in numbers until the other people were quite nervous they were going to be taken over), and a strong Jewish community was established as early as the late 11th century.

Prague also has the oldest working synagogue in Europe. It was built around 1270. One leader of Prague allowed it to be built by a very wealthy Jewish man who had lent him a considerable sum of money. Twice, fires came up to the very walls, but did not consume the building.

the oldest working Synagogue in Europe and Mom's fabulous hat (I was very amazed when she would come out of her room each morning with a new head ornament-I cannot imagine how she packed them!)

Eventually (maybe the 1800s) the wealthy Jews moved out, the neighborhood became home to the poor and unwashed masses. Diseases became so rampant the city and the Jewish community agreed it must be rebuilt.
Today there are three synagogues, a few museums, and a cemetery. The cemetery was insane, talk about saving space! The Jewish law was that once a body was buried you could not move it, but, you could put a layer of dirt on top and bury another person there. So, the headstones are only an inch apart because they have so many layers of burial sites. In some places the ground rises quite high because they just kept on adding layers of dirt. Dad asked-are they still burying people here? we were all thinking-of course not, not since the 1800s (I think...) where were you for the entire tour? But it turned out he was only pointing out that the ground could still be raised. According to Fred (who we all know is quite the amazing packer of Uhauls), there is still room for many individuals to be buried there (the rest of us could not see it though). On many headstones there are little rocks. According to Jewish custom, people do not leave flowers, but stones, on the graves.

(yes, Fred is going to find more room here somewhere...)

After walking through the cemetery we headed into the museum in the Spanish Synagogue. The synagogue was amazing, rather Eastern and exotic feeling with lots of gold and mosaics. Around the top they have a Holocaust museum. Hitler's troops took all the belongings from the Jewish people here, and collected all of the important objects from their synagogues and carefully cataloged them. Rather than destroy them, as was done in other parts of Europe, he gathered everything together with the intention of creating a museum of an extinct race. It was absolutely horrific to see the photos of people at the concentration camps-the sort of gateway camp to all the others, called Terezim, was right outside of Prague. One memorial had the names of all the Jewish people from Czech Rep painted on the walls-of the 118,000 Jews living in Cz Rep before and during WW2, 97,000 were killed. Of the 15,000 children, 132 survived. There is one room in the museum that had paintings done by the children at Terezim. These were heart-wrenching. It is impossible to imagine the things done in WW2. While we were talking about these things, we could not fathom how people could have stood by and let this happen to their neighbors and friends. My mom had a quote from Edmund Burke-all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Later in the day Mom and I went to another Jewish museum that had furniture and articles and explained the life events, birth, bar/bat mitzpha, marriage, death, and day to day living. It was really interesting. They also had an entire museum on the charity group that helped organize the funerals-they considered it like the highest honor of all, the most popular and powerful society figures were all on the burial welfare committee (very strange actually).

After the Jewish quarter we went to Prague's Old Town to see the clock. A famous clockmaker made the clock, then, to prevent any other town from having such a wonderful town centerpiece, the government promptly blinded the clockmaker-hows that for gratitude. The clock chimes every hour, all 12 apostles come marching out, ringing bells and such, quite a site to see.

the unwashed masses out to see the apostles marching

 Old Town Square
Here we also saw the Jan Huss (sort of the Martin Luther before Martin Luther) memorial (O is his biggest fan ever!)

Ever heard of the Hussites? They were Jan's followers.

After this we walked through the New Town (which is really quite old) and finished our tour in the square where the velvet revolution took place-the students all came out and stood in the square to protest communism and it fell, called velvet because it was such a peaceful transition.

With our walking guide Jana in the square-I told them all before meeting her-I bet our guide has purple hair.

After a lunch-where we ate pancakes, goulash, etc, Mom and I went to the museums while the other three went home to play computer (I think). We met back up that evening, went to dinner (every meal Mom kept saying, we can go to McDonalds if you like. A few days later Dad told us he could go to McDonalds for every meal for the rest of the trip. I told him-to no avail-you did not fly all the way over to Europe to eat at McDonalds!)

Our little lunch tavern (I think I enjoyed goulash at least once a day on this trip).

some extras:

(St Nicholas' Cathedral where we went to the concert. Pity you cannot see clearly how St Nicholas is spearing some poor souls crawling around on the ground-I suppose there are worse things than a lump of coal)

Owen enjoying fried cheese (cannot go wrong there) and fake beer (which was absolutely horrid. Heard some scandalous tales of youthful folly-the things people suddenly open up about when they have been together for days on end...)

 The American Embassy-we had no idea Fred was so interested in politics until he told us he might try to get a job there when he retires.

Dum um Velke Boty-our hotel. Rick Steves said-just look for the geraniums.

Prague Castle and Charles bridge at night. Shortly after I took this, lanterns began floating up into the sky (and L's teary Rapunzel moment began)

Prague was magnificent-more photos to come!