Monthly Archives: July 2014

Base Camp – Tchorovice, CZ

Last blog post for Czech Republic trip, written in Ohio


Four kids and four adults took a field trip about one hour south to Truskovice (a very small village) and Helfenburk (ruins of a 14th century castle. I wanted to visit the village to take photos for my friends, the Whites. Their great-grandfather Tomas Trobl emigrated from there to the USA in 1914.  Truskovice is a very small village, near Ceske Budejovice, home of the original Budweiser Brewery. Fortunately, it has a nice little park that kept the kids happy while I tromped around with my camera. Three years ago, I went to the home village of Bill Sedivy’s great-grandfather. Fun fact: Dave White, Bill and I had grandparents living within 40 miles of each other in South Bohemia. I wonder if there’s a market for visiting ancestors’ homes and taking pictures for families in the USA? Something I could really get into!

Not far from the village is Helfenburk. The elevation is 2,200 feet and you hike up a forest road to get to the castle.  The coolest aspect of the castle for me was the fact that you could walk or climb everywhere. Liability issues in the Czech Republic seem minor compared to home. Here there would be fenced walkways with signs warning you to keep off the grass.


Alena and I went for a 13 mile bike ride around neighboring villages. Since we don’t really speak much of each other’s languages, with Lenka’s help we got our signals straight before leaving. Alena would go ahead and be sure to wait for me at any turns. I would walk up any hills where walking was quicker than my riding. The rolling hills and humidity challenged me, while Alena, who rides 100 K with her sister, had an easy day. We saw a balancing boulder, visited a folk museum, climbed a forest tower with a great view, and had a pub lunch. Cycling is popular in the area and routes are well-marked. It was a memorable ride.

bikeride bikeridecadov bikeridechanice bikeridechurch bikerideforest bikeridetower bikerideview


The village historian, Mr. Krejci, paid us a visit to share information about the past. This young 70-something spent 3 hours answering questions and talking about the local history. He was careful to differentiate between hearsay and fact, and had fascinating stories that he was eager to pass on. He was very passionate about his research and shared a 300 page digital document that he wrote. My curiosity has always been about how my grandfather, Frantisek Drnek, came to leave Tchorovice in 1903 and emigrate to the USA. Mr Krejci validated the story I had heard on my previous visit, but had more details (which he carefully said he could not prove, but it’s good enough for me).

In 1903, rural poverty in Bohemia was common and several older teenage boys from the village figured out how to get some money.  One of them came from the Drnek home that is now my cousins’ weekend house. Grain that was the property of the local nobility was stored in the village’s 14th century fortress. The boys decided to steal the grain and sell it to a Jewish man in the next village, Lnare.  At night, they filled bags with grain by using a pipe that went  from a window to a bag on the ground below. When someone reported them, they went back to the buyer to get money to leave the country. If he did not give it to them, they would tell the authorities who bought the grain and implicate him in the crime. Clever entrepreneurs whose families came first? Or thieves and extortionists? I like to think they used their profits for food for the families and had good intentions, but no one can know what really happened. Either way, my grandfather came to America  and here I am.

This leads me to explain how I met my Czech Drnek family. While cleaning my parents’ attic, I found postcards sent to my grandfather before World War I that were photos of family members. Unfortunately, my dad couldn’t tell me anything about them. After he passed away, I decided to go to the Czech Republic on an REI hiking trip. I also found out I had my grandfather’s eighth grade graduation certificate from a school in “Thorovich”, which I couldn’t find on the map.  I got everything translated, copied it, and took it with me on the trip in 2004. My trip guide  was very interested and insisted on making phone calls for me when we got to Prague. Long story short, through a series of calls, she got to my cousin Lenka, the family member who was fluent in English. Two days later I was sitting in the village house and spending a day with Drnek relatives I did not know that I had. It turns out that only my grandfather and a sister emigrated, which helps explain why I have so few relatives here. I returned in 2006 and 2011 and each visit has been great. Each time, I’ve met more family members and feel more and more at home.


Mr. Krejci’s history


Tchorovice 2004

Tchorovice 2004

Tchorovice 2011

Tchorovice 2011


Friday was July 4th & the local grocery had “American week”, so I made a USA-style cookout celebration. The cheeseburgers, potato salad, hot dogs, chocolate chip cookies and s’mores were a hit. Saturday we went to a folk festival in Chanovice at the folk museum. All the vendors sold hand-crafted items, most of which were historically traditional Czech crafts. The musicians were a Czech bluegrass/country band. I loved it when they played “Country Roads” and did the last chorus in English. I did my best not to think about the fact that I would fly home Monday and to enjoy the last few days. Before driving back to Prague, we spent a pleasant afternoon in Jiri & Alena’s pool in Cimelice.

geocachers  IMG_0579 IMG_0575 IMG_0573 IMG_0565

J & L - house

Joan and Lenka


I really hate to say goodbye, so I left with the certainty that I’ll return, hopefully with improved Czech language skills.

Mary Poppins - aka Teta Joan in 20 years

Mary Poppins – aka Teta Joan in 20 years

Peppa Pig - the always present video favorite of Oto's. Goodbye Peppa!

Peppa Pig – the ever present video favorite of Oto. Goodbye Peppa!

More Trip Highlights – Czech Republic

Second-last blog, Posted from Ohio, after the trip. I’m still re-entering the real world!

After returning from the mountains,  I went with Ivo to see his friend’s Klezmer band play in a deconsecrated synagogue in Prague. Viktor is a human rights attorney who moonlights as a drummer and obviously loves it. The band was great and included members from Belarus and Romania.


Following the Berlin trip, the remainder of the trip was based at the weekend house in Tchorovice. I was glad to be back after packing in so many experiences the previous week.  Recovery time for the Berlin trip took two days.  It felt familiar and the slower pace was good. I felt comfortable driving to Blatna and negotiating the grocery stores. Anyone who knows me, knows that I tend to garden wherever I go. I had decided earlier to “adopt” it & have fun with garden therapy. It’s actually a small, fenced yard with lots of potential and plants inherited from the grandparents. In Cimelice, I enjoyed Alena Drnkova’s beautiful flowers and yard. The snails in these gardens are HUGE.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When Ivo returned to Prague on Sunday night for the workweek, I rode along for one more day in the city. It’s my fourth visit, but I can’t seem to get enough of it.  It was a long day, with several metro rides, museums and walking around the city.  The best part was feeling confident using the metro. It’s a fairly new, easy system that is heavily used. The only intimidating part is the steep escalators.  I noted that people are reading books, magazines and newspapers everywhere. Lots of smartphones, but the digital media impact seems less than at home. That evening we met friends for a pub dinner and walked along the Vltava River. From my perspective, the river is the heart of the city. With it’s many bridges, boats, restaurants, botels, riverwalk, walkers and cyclists, it’s alive.

I took the bus back to Cimelice the next day, a very pleasant 1.5 hour ride. Another example of a user-friendly public transportation system. In order to finally get this published, I’ll save the rest of the story for another blog post. Now that I’m home, my own yard is consuming my time when I’m anywhere near it. I haven’t been inside much to sit down, edit photos and write.

Contrasts – The Mountains & Berlin

Friday, June 18 -Krkonosy Narodni Park

The day I returned from Marianske Lazne, I drove with Ivo about 3 hours north of Prague to a mountain area adjacent to the Polish and German borders. This is one of two national parks in the Czech Republic and very popular for hiking, biking and skiing. The area was once the Sudetanland and German influences can be found everywhere, as well as German tourists. We joined Lanka and the kids who arrived earlier with Ivo’s mother Tanya. Our destination was a pension tucked away in a valley surrounded by old growth forest. The sign on the outside said a hunting lodge occupied the site since 1725. It was also the Stag Horn Tavern. Once we unloaded the vehicles, the park required them to be parked in the nearby town. The house had a cozy, warm feeling, rustic yet comfortable. The staff was friendly and efficient.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Saturday we hiked after a big breakfast. Have I mentioned the breakfasts here? Hardy is a good word for them. Meat, cheese, bread or rolls, fruit, yogurt…you get the picture. Our hike followed the old path, no longer on the maps. For a good reason. We climbed a narrow winding path for about 1.5 hours, that included a marshy area and some bushwhacking. The parents with the boys in backpack carriers, the mom & me. It was beautiful, but not easy. Our destination was a café for coffee at the intersection of the main hiking routes. And the weather turned cold – low 40’s at the summit. The views were beautiful. Our real reward was a good lunch (aka dinner) at another guesthouse. From there we followed a road and a challenging forest path down the mountain and back to our house. We were gone 5 hours and covered 6 to 8 miles. People of all ages were out hiking and biking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Berlin, Germany

Monday morning I took a bus to Berlin. My plan was cheap transportation and accommodations. The 5 hour bus ride was about $120 roundtrip. I stayed in the 180 hostel for $30 per night. Great choice if you don’t mind sharing a room with 5 other people. My thinking was that I would be spending minimal time there for a two night stay. It worked out very well as my roommates were 4 20ish year old Swiss girls who went out each night around 10:30pm.I don’t know when they got in, but I left before they were up.

I chose to go to Berlin because in 1974 I studied German there for 3 weeks as part of a Marquette summer program. Of course, we stayed in West Berlin, but went to the East for museums, theater and opera. I was really curious to see the changes in the city after the wall came down. This time I stayed in the East end at Alexanderplatz. The city is amazing. Diverse, colorful, flowers, parks, tourist-friendly, great metro and tram system and lots of ENERGY. I took a hop on & off city bus tour to see everything. The English speaking guides were very informative. I spent time in the Holocaust Memorial & museum, Gendarmenmarkt, Charlottenburg Palace and the area around Alexanderplatz.

I also effectively wore myself out walking about 10 city miles in 3 days! There’s something about 9 hours of walking on pavement that’s exhausting. You also have to really watch out for the speeding cyclists. I’ve never seen a city with so many bicycles. You can rent them everywhere, but I’d be too afraid to ride in traffic, with or without the many bike lanes.My recovery time took 2 days. I talked with many English speakers and got to use my German, which was pretty funny.

My solo trip was great. Traveling alone is confidence-building. I like it because you get to do exactly what you want. It also forces me to push the envelope more & figure things out. Fortunately, I don’t mind getting a little lost sometimes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.