Nashville makes me feel like an elderly person. But I’ll get over it.

Disclaimer:  I KNOW that I need to grant myself a ‘settling in’ time so I feel comfortable in a new place.  This has happened before.  It usually takes 2-4 weeks and then I’m zipping around like a local and going to shows with my new friends!  BUT when I’m in it, this is how I feel… like an old lady who has NO idea how to do anything.  (Luckily, my new boss Laura is a patient and kind guide!) Just to give you a picture, these are random thoughts that floated through my head this past week:  Why can’t I figure out how to type my sister’s name into my Contacts list on this Android smart phone?!?  It keeps auto-correcting “Jessie” to ‘JESUS’!  Why do I have to drive on the highway just to get to the grocery store?  Why did my TWEET just post to my personal FB page and not the CampWarnerPark FB page?  If I’ve never used the handbrake on my car, will it be stuck forever?  If I don’t use the handbrake on my car, will it roll down the driveway and into my housemate’s car?  I think I need an APP to work the thermostat… it’s 62 degrees in here.  Brr. OK. OK. OK!  Enough of THAT!  Here’s a pix of a cherry tree!  They are blooming EVERYWHERE in Nashville!NasCherryBlossom This is what I’ve been up to lately:  I’ve spent this first week getting things set up for camp (Insurance, marketing, etc) and also getting to EXPLORE the 3,000 acres of Warner Park!!!  What a fun day at work!  Hiking and seeing Blue birds and OWLS!  And that counts as work!  Because of Laura’s vision, our new camp has access to this whole area;  forest, streams and field!  PLUS, Warner Park has a really amazing Nature Center  where they keep bees, a pond full of chirping toads, an organic garden AND a staff of naturalists who are going to lead activities with our kids!  Jackpot! Here are some photos from Warner Park.

River

Daffodils

Even the bathrooms are CUTE and naturey!

Bathroom

 

So camp is going to be great- I just need to get the word out and sign up about… 400+ more kids!

Yesterday, I drove to Columbia, TN, where Laura is the new Exec of a Community YMCA.  Their town is ‘famous’ for MULES.  (That’s right, the horse/donkey hybrid)  and they celebrate with a week-long festival called… Mule Days.  Saturday was the parade and BOY O BOY was it entertaining!

Check it out! 1- Horses in overalls  2- Lil’ Miss Paternity Testing  3- Cool old car  4- Giant Radio Flyer Horses in OverallsLil miss paternity   Blue Car ParadeWagon Car

And the fun doesn’t stop there! Horses with stars and guys yelling, “I say, WAFFLE!  You say, HOUSE!  WAFFLE!  HOUSE!”  Star HorseWaffle! House!

And don’t miss out on the Mule Train! 3 Mule team Mule Train The Saturday of FUN doesn’t stop there!  That afternoon I stopped by Laura’s house (in an old bank) to pick up some things and I got the grand tour!  The bank had to be majorly remodeled over the past decade to make it livable- and it’s awesome inside!  I don’ t have a pix of the 2 story vault that is now a library with a rolling ladder.

But I DO have a picture of me, riding on a cowboy fish in the ballroom.  Yup.
Laura's bank houseBallroom
Cowboy Fish
To cap off a great day, Laura fed me handmade Korean pork dumplings and took me to see some art.  OF course the ones made of crayons were my favorite.  I’m so sophisticated!
Crayon Deer
This arcade does an art crawl every 1st Saturday of the month.
Art

Remember when I used to write blog posts?


The last time I wrote a blog post, it was about our trip to Slovakia… we flew back into D.C. the day the gov’t shut down… October 2013.  Since then, I haven’t been overly inspired to do much more than post photos to FaceBook.  Lame, I know.  Here’s my attempt to get you all updated before I start posting about Nashville and how slowly people walk there (I’ve been warned!)

FALL 2013- WINTER 2014 UPDATE

This Fall was split between applying for Event Planner jobs, teaching swim lessons at the YMCA and helping my dad build a house.  (In the photo I am DRYING a house, but I did get real handy with an impact driver and did some actual work!)

Adrienne Dries the Wall

 

Then Cory came home for a wedding, the beginning of November and helped us out at the house.

November Cory

Then it got insanely SNOWY and FREEZING!  Dad and I had some very leisurely mornings, making eggs and watching Kelly & Michael on TV while the wind chill hovered around -18.  (Dad went through a lot of Hot Hands this winter…)  In late November, Mom and I went Silver Bells in the City- in Lansing. Freezing, but a fun time!

Silver Bells

When it was warm enough to breathe outside (without your nose hairs freezing) Mom and I would take walks and have adventures.  THEN, just before Christmas, we had a crazy storm that knocked out our power for 3 days.  I slept over at Uncle Pete & Aunt Kathy’s.  They had a FULL house and threatened to go to a hotel.  Family Rocks!

Icy Tree

 

We managed to cut a tree and put it up for Christmas.  It was decorated with 30+ year old salt dough ornaments that were G’ma Smith’s.  So adorable.  I miss her.  Merry Christmas!

Saltdough ornaments

 

Then we headed back to Pete & Kathy’s for Christmas Day.  It’s always nice to hang out with the Smith crew.

Mom, Emma Betty Jane Christmas

What a bunch of cuties!  Above: Betty Jane, Emma and Mom.  Below: Uncle Petey & Callie, getting along just fine.

Pete and CallieI rang in the New Year with the best bunch of college roomies a girl could as for!  1234 White Street may have been  such a generic name that they refused to deliver pizza to us, but we know how to have FUN!  So happy to have spent the evening with this crew!  Also, Cards Against Humanity?  You should buy it.  Tentacles.  That is all.

White Street NYE

In January Mom, Dad and I drove out to Colorado to spend a week with my siblings.  It DUMPED down snow on our ski day at Beaver Creek and the powder was almost to our knees.  It snowed all day and the hill was so empty that we could ski RIGHT back on the lift, no wait at all.  The NEXT day, there was a snow day and everyone flocked to the slopes.  People were waiting 1.5 hours IN LINE for the LIFT!  You could see the lines at the Vail lifts from satellite images.

Vail Daily

Then, 4 of us spent 2 hours shoveling 2-3 feet of snow off of Cory & Maria’s roof.  You do the math.  Epic snow.

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Jessie and I, doing a dance in our matching Patagonia jackets.  We’re so spoiled!

Sister PatagucchiSipFamily Christmas

It was also Dad’s birthday before we left for Colorado, then it was Mom’s birthday when we got back!  There was much celebrating!

mom and dad celebrate

Let’s just skip February… and now it’s MARCH!  My Aussie friend from YMCA Camp Jewell is doing a tour of the USA with his friends and invites me to meet them in Chicago for St. Paddy’s Day!  What fun!

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Troy & I, waiting for my favorite Irish Band, One of the Girls, to go on!

Chicago River Green

Chicago sure knows how to do a solid dye job!

Adrienne & TroyTroy wore that Kermit head all day.  Seriously, for about 14 hours.  Drunks LOVE Kermit!  (We have no idea who these girls are, but we will claim Sebastian- in the sunglasses.  Surprisingly, he’s not drunk- he’s just Argentinian!)

And we’re all caught up to present day!  Here is my motto for 2014…

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It seems to have worked, I’m moving to Nashville, as we speak and developing/running a nature day camp in a 3,000 acre city park!  Should be an interesting summer!

 

 

Meeting G’ma Sip’s Cousins

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

We woke up in Klato and Elena made us omelets + liquor for breakfast, toured a neighbor’s garden and had mushroom soup (made by Michael’s mother, Hana).   Mushroom Soup

Every time we left a relative’s house, we got presents- usually it included alcohol!  (See below: my bell + apron!)

Elena's kitchen

On our way out of town, we stopped in Nedanovce (a tiny town a few miles away from Klato) to plan a visit for the following week with another set of relatives.

Zdenka

(Zdenka & Marie: The sisters are 80 & 85 year old cousins of his mother!)  It was a pretty old-timey way to set up appointments.  They sure were surprised to see us!

Hana’s summer cottage is in Neda Nofsa and she took us over to the cemetery to visit dead relatives.

CemeteryLovas Grave IMG_0794

We headed back to our Slovak ‘home base’- NITRA- It’s a mid-sized college town where dad is friends with a Lutheran priest called Pastor Ivan.  We settled in at the Penzion Vila Aria and made plans to drive across the country the next day.  Luckily, in Slovakia it will only take us 4-5 hours.  :)

PenzionAria

September 23

In the morning, a tiny, hummingbird of a woman, Anka, made us omelets for breakfast and forced me to take a pile of salami for the road.  She didn’t speak any English, but she was very concerned that I might go hungry.  This often happened to me in Slovakia… I guess I just have that look about me. ; )

ANKE at the Aira

Before we begin our cross-country trip we pop over set up a visit with “Young Jan” who also lives in Nitra.  Dad knew where Jan lived, so we stopped over- but no one was home.  We called Jan’s cell phone and he answered but the connection was bad… until he stepped out onto the front porch!  HEY!!!!

After setting up a visit for the 30th, we start our journey to Poprad, at the foothills of the Tatra Mountains.

tatras

The Agricultural Fair in Klato Nova Ves

Michael cheers DadWhen I last left you, we were just leaving the VINOTEKA – where we tasted BURCIAK (wine’s sweeter/younger/cloudier cousin) and gave the chandelier the ‘Ultimate Test’.  We headed towards Alena’s school through the grounds of an abandoned mansion- the family had collected ‘exotic’ trees that we recognized from Michigan!  Species like Black Walnut, Ponderosa Pines and Sycamore trees!Klato MansionThe Mansion was owned by the mayor and in 1901 his wife started a school in a spare room.  Now, Alena is the principal of that school, on the same property.  Today is the Agricultural fair and all the kids have brought their biggest vegetables/fruits to school to win ribbons.

Outside of the school, Veronica was gathering seeds for her garden.Nika picks seedsInside the school, the ballroom was lined with folding tables heaped full of the bounty of the backyard gardens of  the town of Klato Nova Ves.  It was pretty impressive!

The spoils of Nature

The school kids recreated the town with cardboard box houses, decorated with seeds  and leaves.

Klato recreated

This is the cutest Leaf-Fox I’ve ever seen.  Good job, Anetka!Leaf Fox

Mom found a BIG pumpkin and a basket of gourds!

Big PumpkinThere was also an entertaining table of door prizes – our favorite was a gift basket of wine, paired with a first-aid kit!  Just incase you injure yourself in a drunken stupor.  We headed out an hour later and stopped to admire the fountain in the ‘Nameste’ (Town square).

Klato fountain

Then, we head back to Alena’s house for leftovers! We’d spent 1/2 the day, wandering through this tiny town!  As we made our way home, these hearty geese chased us across their yard… eventually, I should post videos- these guys were SO NOISY!

Klato Geese

Slepacia, Slivovecia and wood-fired pork knee! Oh my!

Klato

We arrive at Alena's house just before noon and lunch smells fantastic!

Arrival

Meals are long and boozy when we are hosted by our Slovakian relatives. Every course begins with a shot of local liqueur called Slivovica, served in a fancy cut glass. Whoa! Mom & I play along- knocking back our shots and shouting, “Nastrovia!!!” Dad has learned that he can opt out of most celebratory drinking with a single word, “Chauffeur”, since the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.0%. Slovakians take drunk driving very seriously… probably because they take their drinking very seriously!

Nastrovia

*Upon closer review of this photo- this is breakfast. Omelets and shots = Yowza!

The first course is always Slepacia. Homemade, delicious chicken soup with delicate handmade noodle (if you're lucky). Alena had ordered focaccia with bacon from the bakery and I had to pace myself- everything was so delicious but there was more to follow.

Then, the pork knee arrived at the table, wood fired and full of flavor. (Did we have veggies?) There is a little plate of cut veggies & pickles- just like at G'mas house.

 

We sat for a while after dinner- Michael in the center of multiple conversations- and then dessert arrives on the table. Kolache! Dad's favorite kind of Slovak cake is a roll with walnut paste inside. There is also a poppy seed version that is very popular. G'ma Sip used to make both varieties. Two & 1/2 hours after lunch began & its time for a walk… Or a nap. We opt for the guided tour of Klato.

In such a small village, the principal attracts attention wherever she goes. We stop to talk to kids & parents as we head up the hill to the cemetery.Alena and her students

One of the older women we pass offers us handfuls of walnuts that she has collected.Walnuts

In the cemetery, we visit Alena's mother's grave, Stephania who passed away 3 months ago and clear the leaves off her grave and light a candle for her. In Slovakia, everyone takes care of their own family's grave – one family was there doing some landscaping with white quartz rocks.

Stephania

The town of Klato is so small that they do not have a church- the chapel in the cemetery holds services on Saturdays, when the priest from the next-town-over is available.

Klato chapel

We stopped in side to ogle the paintings on the ceiling and making sure our number wasn't up…

Now serving

Jesus is now serving number 888.

After leaving the cemetery, we make the logical next stop… the VINOTEKA!!!

On Tap

Slovakians grows lots of grapes and many of them make their own wine. This guy built a bar in his basement and it's awesome! He is also a metalsmith and really went all-out decorating the bar in a manly fashion.

IMG_0686

The owner really wanted to put up this sweet chandelier and then his wife pointed out that tipsy patrons may try to swing on it. So, he re-installed it to support up to 250 lbs. In the photo, Veronica + Michael are giving it 'the ultimate test'. It seems to be holding up!

Burchiok

Did you notice the pitcher of cloudy 'wine' in the photo of all the taps on the wall? No? Well, it may have been your introduction to BURCIAK- its midway between grape juice and wine. A lot of the sugar hasn't fermented into alcohol yet, so it's sweet yet gives you a buzz. And since we had WALKED there, Dad's usual excuse did not apply. This photo cracks me up!

The tour of Klato wasn't over, next we head over to Alena's school to check out the Agricultural Fair! We'll save that excitement for next time!

 

Sloooovakia! Leaving the fast-paced life behind.

September 19th, Thursday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Photo by Mom)

When we last left the story, we had escaped the frantic pace of Prague and we were cruising the back-country lanes of Slovakia. We arrived in Martin in the late afternoon and got settled at the St. Martin Hotel. Their aren’t really ‘hotels’ in Slovakia… we stay in places that are more like a cross between a motel and a Bed & Breakfast.

There were always comforters with duvet covers, folded sideways on the beds. Quaint and adorable.

We hopped back in the car and headed off to find Dad’s favorite spot for dinner, the Chopper Club. (Yup, it’s a Harley restaurant!)

CHopper Club

Dad has eaten there 3 times and always orders the Flintstone Platter; a sizzling slab of rock with a chunk of meat cooking on top!

With full tummies, we headed back to the pension and off to bed. The first day in Slovakia was a SUCCESS!

September 20th, Friday

After an (almost) uneventful breakfast (Dad’s ‘French Toast’ was covered in salty sheep cheese!) we hit the road. Heading to Banska Bystrica to cruise the pedestrian walkway and explore the gorgeous downtown.

Banksa BystriccaIMG_0587

There were clarinet-playing buskers serenading us with Stevie Wonder songs, a HUGE rock fountain and a whole slew of lovely saints, carved out of marble.

Virgin Mary

(Hmmm… taking a second look at this next one, I think her dress is telling me that she’s no saint!)

Banksa B

We strolled through the cemetery and then went in search of lunch. We found a lunch special at a cute little restaurant in the lower level of an alley but had a bit of trouble with the menu.

When the waiter came over we just pointed to the #1 and hoped for the best. Dad may look a bit skeptical, but we ended up ordering a 2nd plate! (It turned out to be fried PORK NECK with boiled potatoes & cabbage. YUM!)

Slovak lunch

After lunch we headed out of town and headed to Hronsek, to see a 300 year old wooden church. Slovakia is famous for their wooden churches, many with onion domes. Their interesting designs stem from a 1681 set of restrictive laws that were placed on the building of Protestant churches.

What kind of church would you build if it had to be built with the following restrictions: 1) No metal nails may be used. 2) Construction must be completed in 365 days. 3) Church may not have a steeple/ bell tower. 4) The front door may not be directly on the street. PFFT!  That sound difficult!

Hronsek Wooden Church

The Hronsek church is what they came up with in 1726. I’m pretty shocked that an uncoordinated altar boy didn’t accidentally burn it down, considering they must have held candle-lit services for many of those years.

JjIMG_0637

Next, we head to Nitra- Dad’s favorite Slovakian town! We stay Friday night at the Pension Zorboska.

Slovak Window

Slovak Window

This window at our Pension has many ‘Slovak’ details: 1) Lace curtains. (Every house in every Slovak village has lace curtains. Seriously. Every. Single. One!)

2) Geraniums in the window box! 3) No screens! Plus, cool windows that can be opened from one side or tilted in from the top so the blinds can still be drawn.

We walked into downtown Nitra for dinner. On the way we passed a new art installation honoring Cyril & Methodious – Slovakia’s patron saints who brought Christianity and written language to the Slavic people.

Even half-way around the world, Mom & Dad show their Spartan Pride!

We keep walking through town, til we get to one of Dad’s favorite parts of Nitra- the ‘Nameste’- or central square. It’s got a fancy fountain with color-changing lights!

Our hunger forced us to move on… until Dad found an Italian restaurant and we had a great dinner. Yum- lasagna and arugula pizza! Dad also drank three glasses of ‘apéritif’… which Mom described as ‘cough syrup with bubbles’. Blech.

Full & happy we walk Back to the Zoborska to bed down for the night!

Leaving Prague… if our car isn’t impounded!

Wednesday, September 18th

Recap: It's 4pm – Natasja just left us at the Ameriky Bar and we took Dad back to start his nap.

 

Mom & I head over to the Metro and make our way to Prague Castle.

On the way to the tram, we pass this lovely fountain- landscaped with curly kale!

Momma and the cutest curly kale.

Then, it starts to rain. Again. Mom kept saying that the rain made the cobblestones look so pretty.

What do you think? (That's me, trying not to fall down on the slippery cobblestone.)

Ok- back to our trip to the castle… the Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. It is basically a walled city with a huge cathedral in the center of it. In fact, it doesn't really look like a classic 'castle' but there are guards posted at every entrance.

Mom really enjoyed the view- those red roofs are her favorite. You might notice the cloud cover is thick.

The only benefit of the rain was that we got to see the downspouts on the cathedral do their thing.
There were some pretty neat building in the castle compound.
What a pretty city! We got back to the hostel @ 7pm to wake Dad up and take him to dinner!

Photo Copyright: © OUR PLACE, The World Heritage Collection

We had a traditional Czech dinner (which turns out to be very similar to a Slovak dinner) of meat & gravy, boiled potatoes and dumpling- which are a steamed bread, sliced. It looks something like this…

This is also where we discovered the magic of Medovnik- a layered honey cake! Yum!!! No photo, but you can check out the recipe & a pix, here: http://www.czechinthekitchen.com/2012/03/31/honey-cake-medovnik/

We also had a yummy Czech beer, so now we're tuckered out! Plus, we have to pack up & get leave Prague

in the morning!


Thursday, September 19th-

Good-bye, Prague! The Sipkovsky's are off to explore Slovakia!

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not so fast! Remember how we had to put the rental car in the parking garage when the parents arrived? Well… It turns out that we royally messed that one up! We knew to park in the underground structure of the Ibis hotel, next door. We were not staying at the Ibis, so we parked in the green area marked, VISITOR. Easy, right? The green area had some parking spaced roped off, like they had just been painted, so we drove past those and a huge steel door slid open and there were open spots! Great! Let's park here!

Upon our return, the door that had magically slid open for us was LOCKED! No answer from the intercom box, either. We headed upstairs & the hotel desk clerk informed us that the green area was for the law firm next door… they moved their offices 2 years ago. She could not help us- besides, we might have been towed already!!! EXCUSE ME?

Freak out time!!! Dad kept his cool & we left Mom to wait with our luggage while we tried to get our car back. There was another hotel that shared the garage & when we told them our sad story they called in a guy with a walkie-talkie. Making no promises about whether our car was still there or not, he followed us down to the inpenetrable steel door. The intercom worked for him! After a lively conversation in Czech where he explained that the American 'tourists' had created a 'problem' with their 'auto', THE DOOR OPENED! Deep breath…. and our car was STILL THERE!!! Apparently, the other cars we saw in that area belonged to the construction workers who were renovating the old law firm. We were so relieved! We paid the $60 parking fee ($30/day) and high tailed it out of that crazy city! (Dad has sworn never to return. That means Budapest too, so don't even ask if he'll go there!)

Whew. Now we can all relax. Road trips are totally our thing!

 

Prague: The story of the Parents & their patron Saint Ludwila.

Tuesday, Sept 17th

YAY! Mom & Dad's plane arrives in Vienna at 9am this morning! I'm super excited!!! Natasja and I took a spin around Praha since it would take them 3.5 hours to get to here.

On our walk we took note of the very pious beggars on the Charles Bridge, saw a lady getting a fishy pedicure and watched chilly newlyweds make a video in the Old Town Square (they held hands & twirled).

Then we started back to Miss Sophie's to wait for the call to go meet my parents at their hotel. And we waited… and waited… and then when I couldn't wait any more I called.

They were lost. :( Super lost. For at least an hour. I waited another hour and when I called back they were stress-driving through Prague (did I mention they HATE big city driving?). Mom was trying to read the street signs (in Czech) and I'm trying to find them on my map-app on my ipad and tell them where to turn. Meanwhile, Natasja and I are standing on a streetcorner in the 14th largest city in Europe hoping to spot them as they drive by! We… we needed some help.

Nameste Miru

Then help appeared~ in the form of St. Ludmila! (The Gothic church at Nameste Miru!) Mom says- “I can see two black steeples!” We could see them too! There was lots of excited squealing, then dad pulled off the side of the road and Natasja & I hopped in! SUCCESS!!! Finally reunited!!! It was 5pm. Mom had optimistically predicted a 1pm arrival. Whew. We directed Dad to a parking spot and decide to grab some dinner while we evaluated the (super-jetlagged) situation. Finally! They were done with 26+ hours of traveling! Yawn!

Over Beuf Bourguignon, soup and Mushroom Risotto Mom & Dad decided they were just too tired to try and find their hotel. They were going to stay at Miss Sophie's too! After checking, in we parked the car in a ramp across the street and walked down to Wenceslas Square to give the parents a little taste of the city.

Good King Wenseslas was raised by his Grandmother, Saint Ludmila (the double steepled church was named for her) and became the Duke of Bohemia. Wenseslas was known for caring for the poor and was so beloved by the Czech people that he was crowned King, after his death in 935.

We managed to keep Mom & Dad up until 8pm- then after tucking them into their bunk beds (yes… they were both on top bunks) Natasja and I went out for a Czech beer. Dang, those monks really make great beer! Tomorrow we'd get to play Prague tour guides. For now we rest.


Wednesday, Sept 18

9am we decided to take the 'rents out to breakfast at Zanzibar, (the restaurant by the fantastical monster fountain) and had great omelets and ginger tea.

Then, we tried our hand at the public transit system… That was a bit of a debacle! We bought tickets and got on a bus… headed the wrong way. So we got off and caught the bus going back but decided it wouldn't take us to old town, so we got on a tram.


A nice younger woman on the tram overheard us being confused and told us the correct tram to find! (This woman is nice for giving us directions but super nice for not swearing at the 80 yr old woman who patted her 'baby belly' and offered her the seat! She was NOT pregnant. Awkward.). We switched one last time and arrived at our destination- Malo Strana, just west of the Charles Bridge.


One of the smaller bridges, covered in 'Love Locks'. The Charles Bridge is below with Powder Tower on the right.

We made our way down to the riverbank to find some swans to feed- we had saved them a piece baguette from breakfast because Mom read about it on a website. We found 2 swans, but mostly just some ducks. So we headed across the bridge to check out the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.

The photo on the left is me, on the Charles Bridge, approaching the Powder Tower. The center is the clock with all the hype. Gorgeous clock, but the hourly 'performance' is lackluster. The sign in Czech, Karluv Most means Charles Bridge.
Trdlnik is a yummy treat! It's bread, curled around a wide, wooden dowel, rolled in cinnamon sugar and slowly rotated over hot coals. Delish! (Photos with Adrienne in them were taken by her mom! Trdlnik by Natasja)

Natasja & I led our 'tour' through the square (there were some loud banging noises coming from inside the statue!) and to the Municipal House.

The restaurant was full, so we had warm beverages in the Ameriky Bar. Mom found it entertaining that the waiter spoke zero English but had a US flag on his uniform. The waiter didn't find it as funny… Then it was time for Natasja to head to the airport. :-/ We hugged goodbye, then she headed off to catch the Metro. We ended up heading back to the hostel 5 min. later to refresh & drop Dad off for a nap. But didn't see Natasja on the train. Bye!

At 3pm, Mom and I headed out onto the rainy city streets to explore Prague castle. Dad slept until we woke him up for dinner. You'd assume it was the jet-lag, but he considers a 'good nap' to be 6 hours.

Next time, Prague castle, Czech dinner & how we got the rental car out of accidental impound. Oops.

 

Prague: Mucha, Hemingway and the 800Kr ticket.

Natasja was excited when we found an Irish pub in Prague that served a full Irish breakfast. I was excited because it was called O'Reilly's and made me think of Jessy and John! Eggs, hash browns, beans & toast!

I met a guy traveling in New Zealand, who took photos of the man-hole covers in each town to chronologically document his trip. It's a good idea, so now I do it too! The sign on the right initially freaked Natasja & me out! Were we in an area where people were mugged at gunpoint?!? Nope, someone had used a Sharpie to alter the sign. (But we still haven't figured out what the words say…is that 'N' backwards?)

Off to find Mucha! I must admit that before I'd arrived in Prague I had never heard of Alfonse Mucha. I was definitely a big fan of Art Nouveau art/architecture but I appreciated it more as a genre and hadn't really considered the individuals artists behind the art. Today, that was about to change!

The museum was small, only 3 rooms but it was a great introduction to the life of my new favorite artist. Alfonse Mucha was born in 1860 in Monrovia- the area that currently divides the Czech Republic from Slovakia. He had attended art school in Vienna but hit the big time in 1894 in Paris when he was commissioned to create show posters for the legendary actress, Sarah Bernhardt. He was instantly famous and the posters that accompanied Bernhardt's shows became as anticipated as her next performance.

In 1900, he designed the Pavillion of Man for the Paris World's Fair. In 1906 spent time in New York, doing portraits & looking for a financial backer for a series of 20 enormous paintings depicting the history of his beloved Slavic people. 1910 he returned home to lend his skills to the Municipal House in Prague (below).

Attribution:Jorge Royan (used by creative commons license)

In 1918, after WWI, Mucha designed the money & stamps for the new Czechoslovakia. In 1931, he completed an immense stained glass window for St. Vikus, the cathedral in Prague castle.

Unfortunately, when the Nazi first came into Prague, Mucha's Masonic activity & fame made him a target. He was one of the first people 'questioned' by the Gestapo and died from pneumonia shortly after being released. If you're still reading this you may appreciate Mucha's website, http://www.muchafoundation.org/.

Natasja & I used TripAdvisor to find the best museums & restaurants in Prague, and that night we searched out a tiny place known for their unusual cocktails called the Hemingway Bar. It did not disappoint. It was a small door in a dark side street that opened into a cozy, dark bar. We sat at the bar & Ondrej came over to give us the menu & the Hemingway etiquette rules. Natasja had already broken #5 by talking to the guy next to us, 'Hi! What are you drinking? Are you from Tibet?' Nope, he was Russian…

Luckily, the Russian (Danzan) was in town to see the Dali Lama and open to conversations with nosy tourists. By the end of the evening Danzan & Natasja were Facebook friends (breaking rule #7) sharing sips of Absinthe. Absinthe is not designed to be enjoyed straight up, Ondrej explained the process to us.

A small amount of the greenish, anise-flavored liqueur is put in a glass. A flat, slotted spoon in placed across the top of the glass. A sugar cube is placed on the spoon & a steady dripping of water melts it into the glass. It's all very classy. Or maybe it was Ondrej's suspenders that made it classy. We had a great time chatting with our new friends & when we decided to head back to our hostel they were protesting, “Don't go! Stay for one more!” Maybe if we had stayed longer, the 800Kr ticket wouldn't have happened…

Natasja & I are still a bit unclear on why the 15 min metro ticket we bought was not valid. But the facts are clear. We caught the Metro home from the bar and as we exited the escalator a giant, burly man Ina dark blue jacket asked to see our tickets. We proudly produced 2 tickets, and were told that they weren't valid for use in the city center, only the other zones. Arg. In case you'd like a reminder of what those blasted machines looked like… Here!

Natasja made a valiant effort and asked the man if we could just purchase the proper 24Kr tickets right now, since it was an honest mistake made by silly tourists. Nyet. He showed us his 'badge' and we were informed that he could give us EACH an 800Kr ticket if we'd rather. No thanks. We made one last plea to not pay the stupid fine but the guy didn't budge. In fact, he pulled out his phone & asked if we'd like him to call the police in to clear up this confusion. This guy was serious! So we paid and fumed back to our room. Thank goodness we had some spectacular new roomies to tell the story to, Priya & Remona! I got up on a chair so they coud get an idea of how big & grumpy the ticket man was! We laughed a lot and Natasja got to tell them her story of bribing a train conductor in order to get to an Ashram in Priya & Remona's country, India. Gotta love making new friends!

 

Prague/Praha/Praag: It all depends on how you see it.

Saturday, September 14th

Elly & I had a relaxing morning; I packed and then we walked to the park to recap our adventures and drink a Club Mate'. They sell it at every refreshment stand in Berlin. Elly was sure that this was some kind of local beer, but then saw a librarian drinking it at work! Turns out, it's locally made, carbonated tea with a syrupy sugar flavor. It's what you would call an 'acquired taste'.

All this talk of Clib Mate' reminded me of this: fun with Googlie eyes!

1- A trash can (thanking you for the hotdogs.)

2- A cherub (You can tell that the tall cherub is totally spreading rumors.)

3- Club Mate' is more appealing with eyes.

After our shenanigans, we hugged goodbye and I caught the U-Bahn at the station near Elly's (SchlesischesTor) and made my way towards Hauptbahnhof (a big train station & 4 floors of shops).

I had just enough time to buy Natasja some Duncan Donuts and find my reserved seat on the train. I had attempted to buy my tickets on-line, but they wanted to charge me 18€ to mail me my 75€ tickets. While in Berlin, I went to the train station and bought the same ticket 'on special' for 44€! Score!

The ride was 4.5 hours long, the first hour was just industrial wasteland as we exited Berlin. After we passed Dresden we were following the Elde river and it was picturesque! Often, the far bank had a paved trail and we saw many people biking, hiking and even camping along the river.

That evening when I arrived at Prague's main train station (Hlavni nasrazi) things got a bit tricky. I felt like I was on The Amazing Race! I had to get Czech Krona in order to buy a ticket into town, but no one spoke English. I eventually found a 'Bankomat' (no wonder saying 'ATM' didn't help me) and got $1400Kr. But the ticket machine only took coins! (Later, I figured out there is an attendant at a ticket window.) Next, I bought a yogurt, so I had change for the machine and with the help of my guidebook, managed to purchase a ticket (12Kr)! It was only 2 stops on the Metro, then I was wandering the dark street, looking for my hostel, Miss Sophie's.

After a 20 minute confusion with our bed assignments, I stashed my bags in the under-bed-rolling-locker (great idea!) and walked toward Wenseslas Square.

I found my way down to the National Museum (Narodini Muzeum) – (the awesome desk staff informed me that from 8pm- 1am was Free Museum Night (Prazska Muzejni Noc)!) but the line was long so I headed back to Miss Sophie's to see if Natasja's plane had arrived.

And she was!!! YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY!YAY!YAY!YAY!YAAAAY!!!!

We headed back out to the museum where we admired 3 huge portraits of Franz Jozeph, used a 150 year old printing press and tried on a fancy gentleman's hat.

(Do you think he noticed I was wearing his hat?) We stayed at the museum until 1am, then caught the 'futuristic' Soviet metro back to our hostel.

 

Sunday, September 14

The next morning, near a traffic circle with a fanciful fountain, we found the restaurant Zanzibar. They served fresh ginger tea and had great eggs/omelets! Then, off we went, down 'Ameriky Street' to wander around Old Town.

 

We saw the Charles bridge.

Natasja took this awesome pic of Wenseslas Square (which is more of a boulevard than a square…) The National Museum is at the top of the hill.

There were some pianos strewn about town, for people to play. And we found Wenseslas riding an upside down horse in the Lucerne building. (Also, lattes!)

Then we headed down to explore the Old Town square, where all the tourists converge.

The square (namesti) is huge, surrounded on all sides by gorgeous buildings and old churches. The astronomical clock is here as well- it was built in 1410 as a tourist attraction and people are still gathering to watch it every hour. It is beautiful but keep your expectations low, it's hourly 'performance' consists of two little doors that open to reveal…the 12 apostles!!! Yahoo!

We wandered the market, had tea and at 2pm headed back to that blasted clock to meet up with our Royal Free Walking Tours guide. She was awesome & had many sad stories to tell us about the history of Prague. For example, the man who built the clock in 1410 was Master Hanoush and Prague was so worried that he would make another clock for a different town that they poked out his eyes! He ended up throwing himself into the clock gears & the clock didn't work for the next 100 years because no one was smart enough to fix it. Ha!

Enough heavy stuff, just look at these cute pix of Natasja to help you feel better.

The walking tour was 2.5 hours of interesting history with Bianca- we learned about Charles the 4th, who built the bridge & university that, 600 years later, still bear his name. That's him, in the left panel of the photo below.

Prague was also home to Franz Kaftka, the photo on the right is from one of his stories about a man who finds an empty suit walking by his window and rides it through town. Thanks to Alfonse Mucha, the building is the most interesting Art Deco design in Prague- the Municipal House. In a city so full of Art Deco design, this was my favorite, there will be more photos later. Promise.

Bianca told us that Mozart loved Prague too. He wrote the opera, Don Giovanni, for the Czech people. Alfonso Mucha was a big Czech patriot as well, and at the end of WWI, when Czechloslovakia became a country (1918) , he lent his artistic talents to the new government. Mucha designed their printed money, postage stamps and other materials. I bet they were pretty, just like the lady in the photo below. Mucha rocks.

Bianca also clued us in to Prague's tumultuous last century. It started in the 1930's with the Nazi, then the Communists ruined Czechloslovakia. Resistance grew during the Prague Spring in 1968. The next year, Jan Palek, set himself on fire in front of the National Museum. 180,000 demonstrators arrived at Palek's funeral, but the Communists weren't forced out until the 'Velvet Revolution', two decades later.

The weather had been fairly rainy and when we went to explore the Prague Patagonia store, Natasja ended up buying a sweet jacket! The staff were great & even pulled up the Facebook page of the Portland Patagonia store so I could show them my friend, Matt!

Later, Natasja & I found a spectacular little Italian restaurant to escape the rain and I had the best mushroom risotto ever! It was mushroom season, so all the mushrooms were fresh & wild-picked! Yum!

Tomorrow we see the Mucha museum & drink Absinthe at the Hemmingway bar! Stay tuned!