Our First 10 Days In The Czech Republic 2012

It’s been an unusual summer, to say the least, all the way around.

First we went to my niece’s wedding. This was unusual for several reasons. First, it was awesome because Lindsey, that’s my niece’s name, is such an awesome, beautiful person. I mean it. I don’t say this lightly. She is lovely in all the right ways that matter and even all all the ways that don’t. She has this wonderful approachable personality, and it’s a good thing cause she radiates physically too. Anyway, she found this equally terrific guy to be her perfect match. Her adores her in a way that every woman would die to be adored. It was the kind of wedding that you want to attend because you know it’s a great match. The equally lovely hostess of this envious wedding was my sister, Kay, a single mom. She has raised this wonderful daughter and an amazing son, my nephew/Godchild, Jonathan. His rehearsal dinner toast to his sister was enough to make you laugh and cry for days. Then he, Jonathan, proudly walked Lindsey up the aisle. Raise your glass to my sister for her success and to Lindsey’s fabulous wedding. Ok, enough already, I’m tearing up! Here’s a pic of the happy couple:

Mr. and Mrs. T. J. Sprague

Then directly from there, the boys and I left for Prague. It was so good to reunite our family again. We missed Dennis. Hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks. We made it safe albeit exhausted.


I’ve already written about our first “field trip,” Terezin. Next we took a road trip with all the students, or should I say bus/road trip. Cameron and Carson, who got a late start getting to know Dennis’ students, wasted no time jumping right in. Within and hour, they had names down and had picked out the ones who could “hang” with their energy. We stopped in Telč saw a wonderful castle and had lunch. Then we headed over to Slavonice. At this point it started to rain which put a damper on our walking tour, so we dodged into a little place where wemade memento t-shirts to take home and also memento ceramics.

 

Church in Slavonice, by Cameron Darling

Typical Sgravito Building Exterior In Slavonice. (Sgravito is scratching designs into the stucco.)

The next morning we took a brief tour of Slavonice, but by noon we were off to Treboń. This is a fish town. I say that because they are known for their Carp. Yep, I know, in the states we don’t really eat Carp, but in Treboń they not only eat it, they celebrate it. It’s their favorite meal during holidays of any kind. Carson and I had lunch at a very nice little place, and I had fish soup which was actually pretty good. But the fried Carp with this special dill sauce was terrific. Of course, anything fried is good.

Trebon, by Cameron Darling

We also had a beer at this local brewery right before getting back on the road to head off to another favorite city in the Czech Republic, Césky Krumlöv. We arrived to a beautiful sunset, walked around town, and the kids picked where they wanted to have dinner.

Looking Down From The Castle on Cesky Krumlov, by Cameron Darling

View From Our Dinner Table in Krumlov, by Carson Darling

They picked an authentic Czech restaurant that served us 17th Century food at a table overlooking the Vltava River. The temperature was perfect. The food was interesting and filling. After a great night’s sleep and fine breakfast, we toured part of the castle. We could practically give this tour ourselves and all of us Darlings have been there now 5 times. However, this city doesn’t get old to us. It’s like a mini Venice but with cars.The castle has a moat but instead of water in it, there are bears. This wasn’t for protection, it was a nod to the family crest of one of the families who lived there.

Bears In Moat by Carson Darling

 

We went white water rafting down through town, drank mojitos on the river and ate these fabulous pastries called Trdelniks, pronounced with rolled r’s <tr•del•neek>. Some of the students nicknamed them “turtlenecks” which is kind of what they look like. They are a pastry wrapped around and cooked on a hot cylinder and then rolled in a cinnamon sugar and various other things.


Our one disappointment was that our favorite pub closed. Last year when they were out walking the town one night, they stumbled on it and the kids thought it was cool, but they didn’t stay for a coke or anything. It was a vampire bar where you sat on coffins up to the bar and bizarre things decorated with walls. On our one night there this year, the kids were looking forward to their first trip to this bar for a soda. It was not be.

Thanks for reading. More posts to come.

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Just Arrived, Prague 2012

We arrived less than a week ago and were immediately off and running. The very first day we dragged our tired, jet-lagged butts out of bed and went to spend the day in Terezin. Many of you have heard me talk about Terezin before. Terezin is a Concentration Camp just out side of Prague. It’s a very sad place, but when you get to meet survivors, as we have, it restores your faith in the strength of humanity even in the middle of such unimaginable circumstances.

Yes, there are many horrific, tragic stories, but there are also many stories of kindness. One woman, Doris, that we know had 4 birthdays in Terezin, as she puts it. She herded goats while there. She was always under the eyes of the guards. The Germans changed out these guards every 3 months, so they didn’t get too friendly with the Jews held there. Right before the war was over and the Jews were rescued from the camps, the last set of guards were in place.  One of those last guards asked Doris where she would go at the end of the war when she would be set free. She was clueless. All her family, she was sure, had been killed. After all they had been shipped off to Auschwit with the exception of her mother who died there at Terezin. She had no place to go. He told her he had a daughter who had died years ago, but would have been her age, 19. Then he told Doris she could come live with him and his wife. She said she would like that, but didn’t really believe that he meant it. When it was over, he did send a car for her. He had to stay at the camp, but she was sent back to live at his house with his wife. She couldn’t believe it. Now the wife did not like Doris at first. She thought that she might be her husband’s girlfriend or something. She quickly realized the error of her judgement as she got know Doris. After some time living with that family, her brother, who did survive, found her. Then she came back to Prague with him. But she still considers this guard and his family to be her family. She visits them regularly. They are all very close. Doris is now 86 years young.

Sometimes something beautiful does peek its way out of all the ugly. Doris is an amazing woman to listen to, to spend time with, and she gave all of Dennis’ students  and our family an enlightening day at Terezin. Photos below by Cameron Darling.

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Castles, Beer and Music

We’ve returned from a nice weekend around the Czech Republic. On the way we toured the Hops Museum in Zatec (pronounced zha•tets). In case you don’t know, hops is one of the main ingredients for beer. This town makes the top hops (haaa) in the world. They make them into hop pellets and ship them all over the world. This phenom is known as Zatecky Chmel. Afterward we went to lunch and Cameron and Carson sat at an all boys table with Dennis’ students.

I'll Drink To That

 

All Boys Table

 

Then we went by the Plzen brewery where Pilsner Beer first came and was named for the town. When pilsner beers first began to get a great reputation, many places tried to imitate the beer, so the brewery in Plzen named their beer Pilsner Urquell which means “original source”. Then no one could copy them. Interesting fact: Czechs drink more beer per capita that any country in the world. Germany is a distant second. Czechs are very proud of this dubious honor. As a result though, they have pretty strict drinking and driving laws too.

Unpasteurized Beer, Plzen

 

Brewery Tour, Plzen

 

 

Our final stop of the day, and where we would spend the next two nights was Cesky Krumlov (pronounced “ches•key    croom•luv”). This was our 3rd trip there out of 5 years coming to Prague. Krumlov, for short, is a lovely small town in the southern Czech Republic with the Vltava River zigzagging through the middle of it. Incidentally, the Vltava is the same river that runs through Prague. Its stunning castle, built upon the rock/mountain above the town, looks down over the town. The town has the feel of a teeny, tiny Venice. It has become quite the tourist spot especially at this time of year.

Krumlov Bird's Eye

Cesky Krumlov at Dusk

 

Dennis' Students Walking Through Cesky Krumlov

Every year we tour the castle in Krumlov and every year we love it. The entire castle has over 300 rooms, but we only saw about 20. They had bedrooms galore. Ones that they slept in usually, and ones that they used when they had “company”, wink, wink nudge, nudge. It is, hands down, one of the best preserved castles from the Baroque period in existence in the world. One of the reasons it is still in existence, our guide told us, is that the Nazis, during WW II, felt like this area of Europe was part of their German history, so they were not so destructive here. The castle has been owned by several different families over the centuries. It was known as the House of Rozenberg in the 1300′s, then Emporor Rudolph II owned it in the 1600′s. His son, Emperor Ferdinand II inherited it and later gave it to the Eggenberg’s  who had it until the 1700′s. Then it became The House of Schwarzenberg until 1945. Note: the kids loved the Schwarzenberg family shield. It has a raven pecking out the eye of a Turk. This was  because Schwarzenberg himself had battled the Turks and won. He then put the head of a Turk on the end of his sword (nice) as he rode through the carnage. A raven landed on the head and began to peck the eye out of the Turk’s head, or at least that’s how the legend goes, giving him the idea to add it to his family shield.

Raven On Turk

When the Czech Republic was given to the communists after WWII, the town was pretty much ignored which was also good because some of the older restoration processes would have done more damage than good in actually preserving the castle.

3 Darlings At Cesky Krumlov Castle

 

Darling Boy Bikers

One of the most marvelous Krumlov Castle sights was the theater. It was designed just like the Viennese ones of the day, but this one, built as a gift, was only used a couple of times and then left to sit. This turns out to be a blessing because well-used theaters of the day usually burned down. Why? In an effort to magically make scene changes without notice to the audience, they regularly set off fireworks inside these theaters to distract the viewers and maintain their suspension of disbelief. Needless to say, there are few theaters in existence from this time period since indoor fireworks is as dangerous as it sounds. In the event of a fire many of the patrons were killed, not good for business you could say. This theater was about 60 meters deep, but with a perspective that made it look far, far deeper. Midgets or children riding miniature horses pulling carriages across the very back of the stage appeared as adults. The performers/actors were set at the very front edge of the stage so they didn’t look like giants. It had side balcony box seating, but the most impressive was the box at the back of the room for the Lord of the manor. It had curtains for privacy in the event he wanted a more “intimate” type of entertainment. He could also come and go from the performance from his box seat which was a must since these opera performances would typically last 6 to 8 hours.

Cesky Krumlov Castle Theater

We also went white water rafting, and I use the term very loosely as the river moves quite slow, down the Vltava right through town. We first did this last year and almost went down the wrong shoot at one point which not have been good. It was not marked at all which shoot out of three rafters should go down. This year the signage on the river is much better and they clearly block off the ways they don’t want you to go. We had a successful and fun ride. It was cooler this year, so the only one who went in the water was Carson who doesn’t mind a brisk dip. There was a couple of drunk Czech guys who came out of who knows where and jumped into the raft of a group of our students. One stood with his foot on the bow like George Washington motioning ahead with one arm. It was pretty funny. The other guy was a bit more obnoxious and tried to throw one of the students overboard. We all watched in stunned confusion trying to decide what to do. Finally he slipped off the boat and we all paddled as quickly as we could to get some distance from that group.

Oh here’s a treat. We really love to eat these cinnamon sugar pastries here in the Czech Republic too. We ate a lot of them in Cesky Krumlov, but they’re typically Czech pastries.. They’re called Trdelnik (pronounced trrr•del•neek). They are hollow bready things rolled ion cinnamon sugar. Here they are bring made:

Trdelnik Delight

The next day we made a pass by a castle called Hluboka (pronounced hlu•bo•kah, the Czechs pronounce every single letter in a word). Hluboka Chateau is regarded as one of the most beautiful stately homes in Bohemia. It is a monumental Romantic chateau – originally a Gothic castle – remodeled in the Baroque style in 18th century. Later it underwent a significant transformation in the 19th century when it was transformed into the English Windsor-style Gothic and became the official seat of the Schwarzenberg dynasty. Recognize the name? Think raven pecking out the eye of a Turk. Yep. The Schwarzenberg family also owned Cesky Krumlov castle for a while remember, but they never really got attached to Krumlov Castle, probably since it was a gift. Wish someone would give me a castle. What I was given was a chance to play this very old piano once played by this guy named Mozart. Seriously. They asked if anyone in our tour group could play, so I raised my hand. Yep, Mama, the lessons finally paid off. I’m now a legend in my own mind. I played For Elise by Beethoven.

Helen On Piano At Hluboka

We also saw a couple of photography galleries over the weekend too. We returned to Prague Sunday night and immediately headed off to our family favorite restaurant, St. Norbert’s Strahov Monastic Brewery. They have this beer that the monks brew there every June. It’s a summer beer called Weissen which many of you may have heard of, but you’ve never tasted it like this. It’s a wheat beer like we’ve never tasted. Even the kids and I like this beer. They have brewed it since the 13th century. Carson and I had my favorite Czech dish, svickova (pronounced   sfeets•ko•va   with the accent on the last syllable). Yummy! It’s a beef dish with a tan gravy that has a slight orange taste to it. It is served with Czech dumplings, which are like round slices of dense bread, and a spoon full of cranberry compote on top of a spoon full of whipped cream. Delicious! It’s almost reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

Now let me tell you that taking 18 students, plus a prof and his family on a whole weekend, chartering a bus, booking all those hotel rooms, dinners and arranging the schedule is quite a complicated dance done by Jarka (prounounced yar•kah), our CET point person. CET is the compnay that facilitates all our needs while we’re here in the Czech Republic. She has been working with Dennis for a few years now. We think she’s awesome! She speaks very good English, she’s young and hip, gets all our American humor and she is very efficient. Who could ask for more? Thank you, Jarka!!! Here she is on our trip wearing Denis’ coat and Cameron’s hat.

Jarka in Krumlov

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Lidice

Ok, first of all I’d like to happily report that the very next day a nice Czech man came to repair our washer. He came right when he said he would and things are up and running again, thankfully. We are off to Cesky Krumlov this weekend for what is usually our favorite excursion of the whole trip. More on that in another blog. Now…

Warning: This is a very sad blog. I found this to be a very sad place. If you are not in a good place to read this tragic true story, please move on.

Lidice Sign

 

Lidice, Czech Republic. This is/was a small town just outside of Prague.

In 1941 Hitler put a man named Reinhard Heydrich in charge of rooting out all resistance, beginning the racial census of the Czech people in preparation for the their assimilation, deportation or annihilation, and beginning the forced concentration of Czech Jews at the Terezin Concentration Camp. Note: Terezin was not a death camp because it did not have a gas chamber. That did not mean, though, that people were not intentionally put to death.

At this same time, there was a group of Czech paratroopers training in England as part of The Resistance. A team of those paratroopers were sent to assassinate Heydrich. They were only able to wound him, but he did later die of his wounds. They eventually hunted those parachutists down and found them in a Catholic church in Prague and they were either killed of killed themselves swallowing cyanide pills. But Hitler did not stop there.

In a show of power and horrific determination, he ordered the obliteration of the town of Lidice. The people of this small farming town of about 600 people never knew it was coming. You would think the Nazis would have killed everyone or sent them to camps, right. Well, they were even more efficient than that. They first brought all the men to the largest farmhouse in town and shot every one of them. The youngest wasn’t even 15 years old. Then they took all the women, approximately 15 years and up, and sent them to a work concentration camp where many died. The children were brutally separated from their families. Of all 98 children of Lidice, 9 were arian-looking enough to be adopted into german families. some were sent to an orphanage, most were sent to Chelmno, a concentration camp. They were all sent with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Many didn’t even have shoes on. Some children wrote letters to whomever they heard might still be alive begging for some food and shoes or anything at all. Not that it did much good.

What Happened To The People of Lidice

Still the Nazis were not done. They blew up every structure and carted away most of the rubble What was left they used to fill in the earth. They dug up every dead body in the cemetery, burned to bodies and crushed and grave markers. Then they dug up every tree, roots and all, and burned them. They left no sign that anything had ever lived on the brown ground once known as Lidice. They did this as a warning to anyone stupid enough to cross them, that their vengeance would stop at literally nothing. The Nazis did this to nearly 50 towns during the war, equally as thoroughly as they did in Lidice.

What would make them pick Lidice. Well, they were never able to verify for sure why they picked Lidice. There are theories that a young man from Lidice wrote a letter to a woman, possibly to impress her, claiming he was part of The Resistance, and that letter found it’s way into Nazi hands. Another theory is that another Czech soldier who happened to be from Lidice was also being trained in England.  In the end we may never really know why they picked Lidice any more than we will ever understand the tenacity of pure, unbridled hatred.

Just over a handful of the children lived to see the outside of the orphanage. Most died. One was actually adopted out. None of those who left Lidice alive were allowed to speak Czech again. They were severely punished if they were caught trying to speak their native tongue. The few that survived and were eventually reunited with a family member or person from the town, had to relearn Czech. There was a mother and daughter who saw each other again just before the mother died, but they could not communicate without a translator.

As for the women sent to the camp, many died as well. Some were worked or beaten to death. Some were gassed. If the Nazi couldn’t gas them in a chamber, they gassed them another way. They put them into trucks and hooked up the exhaust to them. One guide said that the average time to die in a gas chamber was ten minutes. He asked if that sounded like a long time. Of course, that sounds like an eternity. He said then, to be gassed in a truck took an average of 45 minutes to die. You could hear a pin drop.

Now once the Czech government was back in control after the war, they sponsored a competition for leading architects to design homes to build a new Lidice next to the original town site. The homes are lovely and well kept, but few survivors ever lived there, although some of their family now do. A museum was erected on the edge of the site of the original Lidice, and is very well done. They have mostly photographs, video and a few artifacts they found on site. You could fit everything in the museum into a small backpack and yet it is one of the most powerful, impressive museums I’ve ever visited. The lights are very dim, around 7 different videos are playing, some with sound, some without, and it is laid out with respect and in a way that accurately conveys the mood of the subject matter. We meandered each by ourselves, as if we needed some space to take it all in.

Blurry picture of the moody Museum at LIdice

I walked the grounds of what was once Lidice with a knot in my stomach. It makes me more certain than ever that I have never known pain, horror or sadness on this level. I can’t imagine that such hatred could exist or that it could sustain in so many people for such an extended period of time. Further, it is hard to believe that there are those who still maintain that this never happened.

Lidice Children's Monument

Since then I keep wondering about people everywhere who harbor this kind of hatred, and I worry about how much power they may have now or may yet have.

Hitler Stamp

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I Broke The Washer

But I did not shoot the deputy…..

Ok, I’m laughing my traveling fanny off right now, otherwise I’d be crying. As I said previously, we’re in a new apt this year. New apt, new washing machine too. I just thought I’d throw in a load of laundry as we left today for about 5 hours or more. No big deal, right. We do this all the time. However, this was my first time in this apt in this washing machine. At MOST the machine should have been done in a couple of hours. Come to think of it, the machine was making some pretty big clanking sounds before the kids and I even left the apt, but I was more worried about whether I put too much soap in it though, so I blew the loud clanking sounds off. Once we got back though, 5 hours later, I had a sinking feeling something was amiss. You see, its the world’s tiniest washer as it is. It’s a top loader of sorts. But the extremely small tub inside is a metal cage. You have to lock in inner metal tub before you close the lid and press the start button. Apparently. Unbeknownst to me. The machine sits in this dark little corner of our apt, so I couldn’t really see it to be honest. I never saw two metal doors that needed to be closed. I swear I didn’t. If you don’t lock those metal doors though, that little cage thing cannot successfully spin around. It probably clanked around for one spin, though, before it got stuck. 5 hours later, we return to realize there was an issue. Now, we have no tools since we are visiting for a mere month. I did what any self-respecting cajun genius would do, I grabbed a spatula. Hey, it was the best I had. Then out came the wire coat hanger (that fixes anything doesn’t it?) and an umbrella, don’t ask. All I’m going to say is that I was not victorious. The repairman will hopefully be here tomorrow to fix it all. I mean, I can’t go very long with 2 kids and no washer, can I? Here’s the shot of our little broken machine at the moment. Notice the 2 ridiculously small boxes of detergent on the floor.

The Victim

It was truly a day of misses though. Cameron was eating his favorite sandwich. He and Carson had begged to have it for lunch. A smazeny syr, fried cheese sandwich. They really are pretty tasty. Notice how he is happily eating in the first two pics. However, he’s making the fatal mistake though of picking at his sandwich to watch the cheese string out. You never, ever do this:

Good Sandwich!

 

Yummy!

 

And then…………………………..

Lunch!

 

Manna From Heaven!

 

Yep, he dropped it on the nasty ground. The pigeons had a good lunch though. Cameron was crushed. Too late to get another sandwich too. We had to get to the museum where we were meeting Dennis’ class. Tough luck!

Life is fair. The other day, I accidentally left Carson’s coke on the tram. It was almost completely full. He was bummed. That’s an expensive error too as those cokes cost about $2.50 each. Whew! More better news to come. Love my grammer, huh?

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Prague Summer #5

We have arrived in Prague, Cz. about 6 hours ago safely, thank God. This is now our 5th straight summer to come here. We are desperately trying to stay awake right now preferably for another 2 hours still, so we can sleep hopefully through the night. We are pooped. I slept a bit on the plane as did Carson, but Cameron maybe slept 20 minutes. I don’t think he’s gonna make the whole 2 hours. Dennis is glad to see his clan for sure. We are staying in a different apt this year. It seems about every two years we change to a new locale which keeps things interesting. This is a much older building than last year, but it has been redone on the inside. Oh yeah and its strawberry season here. They are soooooo much better here. I don’t know why the ones we buy there have less flavor. The kids totally notice it. One final funny, I went to get my metro pass today. It is very complicated. You have to go 2 offices and they ask for your passport and everything. Our Czech facilitator took me there. The woman behind the counter typed in my name, with my passport right in front of her, and typed:

Darlink

That’s actually how they like to pronounce our last name. So, I am now Helen Darlink. What do you think? We didn’t go back and change it cause it would have been another long wait in line. Anyway, you don’t have to show your passport if you get carded on the metro. I guess Darlink, it is.

Hope everyone is doing super back stateside.

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