Monthly Archives: August 2019

Czech Republic Trip Part 2: Traveling and Exploring Prague

This is Part 2 of my belated trip blog. While staying with my cousins in Prague, I used weekdays to explore the city and take some trips. It was a long visit and I wanted to see more places and give them a break. My destination list for Prague and surroundings keeps growing so I had plenty of choices. This year I checked several of them off.

Being more comfortable with the Czech language helped. I have a wonderful Czech language tutor at home and have been studying with Jana since 2017, usually from October through April. My progress has been slow and I get frustrated. Learning a language in your 60’s is a real challenge. When I learned that Czech is a difficulty level 4 out of 5 on the U.S. State Department’s list of world languages, it was comforting and I felt a little better. The studying paid off. I can’t carry on an in-depth conversation, but I can get around on public transportation, order off a menu, talk a little with the boys & other Czech speakers, understand and read a lot more than two years ago. It makes everything easier and people appreciate it when you try to speak their language.

Dresden – Only a two hour bus trip from Prague, Dresden is a vibrant city. Literally a phoenix risen from the ashes. Dresden was fire bombed by the Allies during World War Two. The Altstadt (old town) was destroyed and 25,000 people killed in one hour as incentive to end the war and retaliation for the Blitz. Rebuilding did not begin till the 1990’s, post communism. This was fortunate because the Altstadt was restored to it’s original state. Ibis Budget Hotel was the perfect location adjacent to  Altstadt market platz, and an easy walk from the train station. In spite of rain, I wandered the city, enjoyed a walking tour and museums and logged 16 miles in 2 days. The Kunsthof Pasaj, an artsy alley in New Town, the Frauenkirche and the Zwinger Palac were the highlights.

Brno – The second largest city in the Czech Republic (380,000 population), with a much lower number of tourists. My mission was to see the Vila Tugendhat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, It was designed by modernist architect Mies Van der Rohe in 1930. I became interested in it after reading the book The Glass Room. Apparently, many people did too because the tickets are sold out several months in advance. I got lucky and found one the week before.  The house tour group was only 12 people and really worth it. I stayed overnight in the city center and enjoyed the Spilberk Castle and park, an art museum, wandering around and the Zelny Trh (Cabbage Market) underground tour.

Karlovy Vary – another pleasant bus trip one hour from Prague. This is a spa town in the West Bohemia region has 13 main hot springs and was founded in 1370. It has been a popular tourist destination since the 1800’s. It is fun to spend the day walking along the warm Tepla River, visit the different springs and park areas,  and people watch. I tasted all the springs, but did not find one I actually liked. The architecture and colors of the buildings are amazing. The steep funnicula up to the Diana Tower gets you a great view of the surrounding forests. In June it Karovy Vary is the site of a large international film festival. Photos of American movie stars are all abundant in hotel restaurant windows.

Amsterdam was my longest solo trip of four days. Flights are cheap within Europe so I flew to save time. It is only a short ride on the Prague Metro to a connector airport bus so that was easy. Then a quick train ride from Schipol airport to the city center of Amsterdam. I really wanted to stay in a canal house and booked a little hotel in a lovely neighborhood not far from the museum area. It was relatively inexepensive and no frills. My room was at top of the house overlooking the canal. Translation: the attic. The last flight of stairs was almost a ladder and it was fortunate the weather was comfortable because there was no air conditioning.

I walked everywhere  and found the city easy to get around. As long as you are ALWAYS watching for cyclists. My favorite must-do’s were an evening boat ride, the Van Gogh,  World War 2 Resistence museums and the Rijksmuzeum. I loved all the canals, bridges, squares. sidewalk cafes and the Dutch building styles. I ate a pancake the size of a platter for breakfast and enjoyed some good beer. One evening I met had  dinner with a Olga Be.liuskina, a young nuclear physicist from the Ukraine who works in Finland, Meeting interesting strangers is one of the perks of traveling alone.

Bruges – From Amsterdam, I took a bus trip to Bruges, Belgium. It was a six hour round trip and a 12 hour day, but I was so happy I went. The ride went through beautiful windmill country. The city is another UNESCO site, with a charming city center. In Bruges, food is a thing: mussels, beer, chocolate and waffles. The old city center is the perfect size for wandering and admiring one great building after another. Six hours wasn’t enough, but I got there.

Prague – random pictures from my wanderings. I have still only scratched the surface of this fascinating city – another good reason to return.

Czech Republic Trip: Part I, Family Time

This year’s trip was May 8 – June 11, the fifth variation of visiting family and exploring new places. I stayed with cousins Lenka, Ivo, Oto and Eda in their Prague flat, explored new destinations in the city and traveled during the week. After two years, I was afraid that the boys would be shy around me, but I was still “Teta Joan” and it was like it had been two weeks instead of two years. Five and seven year olds are great like that.

Two active boys and plus two working parents equal one BUSY family life. I remain This time I made beef stew and macaroni and cheese along with my chocolate chip cookies as part of the American menu. I am always amazed at Lenka and Ivo’s energy and attentive parenting skills in the face of a very demanding schedule. I’m very grateful to be able to slip in and be a part of it for a month.

On weekends, like many residents, we left Prague for the countryside. Tchorovice, population 200ish, in South Bohemia was the destination for the first two weekends. Except for one big traffic jam on a return trip to Prague, the 60 mile drive is beautiful, especially when you leave the highway and weave your way through, fields, forests and villages. Whenever we arrive at the family home and open the gate, it  strikes me that I can’t believe I’m really there. It’s been 15 years since my first discovery visit and it is always a peaceful thrill. The surprise this year was a large gazebo shelter next to the wall.

Sumava National Park is 38 mi/60 km South of Tchorovice, on the German and Austrian borders. We hiked on a trail out of Modrava and saw Kasperk Hrad/Castle on a day trip during our second weekend. The terrain is forested with small mountains and beautiful rivers. It’s a popular weekend and holiday bicycling and hiking area. Oto’s social life kept him and his mom in Prague, so Alena Drnkova (Babicka/Grandma) joined us for the day. The same day Eda mastered riding his bike. Jirka (Deda/Grandpa) went hunting and brought home a trophy.

The following weekend I went to Plzen and spent the weekend  at the chalupka/cottage of cousin Jarda Drnek. I was there there in 2016 and found a magical place. It is in a forest preserve area near Manetin. His friend Liba once again translated and we laughed a lot when she would speak English to me, forget and continue in English to Jarda. We had a great time. Saturday was rainy so we toured Manetin Zamek/Manor House. The next day we hiked there through the forest for lunch. My fitbit told me I had 19,000 steps for the day.  It was an easy train and metro ride back to Prague. Jarda is a good host.

The weekend of June 1, we went to Desna, North Bohemia near the Polish border. Lenka and Ivo own a second weekend house there and use it as a rental property. It is near Krokonose National Park, and another popular mountain location for hiking, skiing and cycling. This time, Tanja, Ivo’s mom, spent the weekend with us. We hiked in the Jizerka Hory area.  Sapphires and rubies are found here and people were panning in the stream we followed.  Most of the trail was paved and flat, until the climb at the end. It was a beautiful day. This time my fitbit recorded 13.000 steps.

June 8 was the date for the 6th almost annual Drnek family party in Tchorovice. It’s always an honor that the extended family gets together when I visit. This year the party started at 2pm and ended around 2am. The weather, food, drink, music and guests all contributed to another wonderful time. People continued to come after we took a group picture and we missed others who could not come. We even Facetimed with Jana Drnkova, Jr. in New Zealand. Lenka and Ivo know how to throw a party! I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

We made good memories during my visit (which is long, but always speeds by). Now we it is back to Facetiming and staying connected on Facebook until we meet again. Hoorah for technology!