Friday, May 17, 2002

I'll have a Bohemian Road Trip with Sardines, please.

One of my students, Zele, took Marsha, Sissel, and me on a trip to his hometown, Ostrov, near the border with Germany. There were several goals for the trip. One was to meet Zele's parents, another was to visit some towns where Marsha's ancestors were from, and yet another was to have a nice relaxing time in the country. I'm happy to report that all three goals were met.

We left the school in the afternoon on the Friday of my birthday, which was the 26th of April. Our first stop was Zele's Prague flat, so that he could introduce us to his living room, kitchen, library, and bedroom, all of which occupy a different wall in his small cube-shaped abode.

We then visited a nearby Del Vita grocery store to stock up on food for our trip. While it's not absolutely essential that you know what kind of food we bought, I'll tell you anyway. We bought some onions, pasta, tomatoes, fruit, musli bars, water, bread, frozen corn, and a few other assorted odds and ends. As we were going through the checkout line, the cashier (a portly middle aged woman) talked to us in Czech. She said "Dobry den" which means "Good day," and some other polite Czech phrases, and we replied in Czech, but she could tell that we were foreigners and assumed that none of us could understand Czech very well. Well, the bill for the food added up to around 600 crowns, so she counted up 400 crowns change for the 1000 that Marsha handed her. As she was counting up the change, she was talking to herself in Czech and saying things with an English equivilent of "La dee dadee da, I'm counting up your change, yep, counting up your change, here's your 400 crowns, but you're all foreigners, so you can't understand what I'm saying. Yep, yep, yep."

Well, then Zele, who had been standing behind the rest of us, said "We do too understand!" And she turned beet red and said "FAKT YO?!?!?!" Which means "IS THAT A FACT?!?!?!?!" or just "REALLY?!?!?!?!" Then she apologized profusely and the four of us just chuckled all the way out the door and up the hill back to Zele's apartment.

From there, we set off on our journey across Bohemia. Zele was driving his sister's car, which is an older model Citroen. It was a typically small european car so it took some arranging to get all of our packs and food stuffed into the trunk, but we managed it alright. Getting out of Prague was the most difficult part of the trip. Due to the constant traffic jam in the northwestern corner of the city, it took us over an hour to escape the city and really begin our trip. But it was all fine with me, since this was the first time I had even been in a car for an extended period of time since leaving America last August.

It was nice because once we actually started moving, we were able to see a lot of the Czech countryside, which is really nice in the Spring. Along the way, we stopped at a place called Angel Hill. It's a small hill with the ruins of an ancient Roman outpost which overlooks the surrounding countryside. On a clear day, you can see for miles, but at this particular time it had begun to rain, so our available line of sight was considerably less. It was still nice to wander among the ruins of an ancient Roman outpost on top of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside, since that's not something that most Americans get the chance to do every day.

That evening we arrived in a town called Bozi Dar, which means God's Gift. The town is in the mountains of West Bohemia, and there is a hotel there, which is owned by Zele's former boss. We were lucky enough to be able to stay in this hotel for cheap. Since it was the off-season, we also had the hotel entirely to ourselves -- kitchen and all. There weren't even any staff in the place. All I've got to say is that we've gotten the hook-ups since we've been here in the Czech Republic. So that night we made supper with some of our previously bought food.

The one food item we forgot to buy was cooking oil, which was important for frying up the onions to use in spaghetti sauce. Sissel convinced me to use water to saute the onions instead. "All the oil is for is lubrication, water will do the same thing..." WRONG! I knew this was ludicrous to begin with, but she was the girl and I figured it wasn't impossible that, being a girl, she might know something about cooking that I don't. Yeah, I don't trust people anymore, ever. Even if they tell me grass is green, I verify their source of information. I've never had worse tasting spaghetti sauce in my life. Steamed onions simply are not, nor will they ever be, sauteed.

After our improvised meal, we were all pretty tired, so we decided to go to bed. Well, as I was getting ready for bed, Marsha and Sissel decided to come in and smother me under their down comfortors from their beds as a "birthday present." This, naturally, led to revenge, and pillowfights, etc. Eventually we did get to bed though.

The next day we spent exploring the area around Ostrov. We drove to the top of the highest mountain in the area, and the plan was for us to take a chairlift back down to the bottom. That didn't work out because, for that day at least, this particular mountain was also the windiest and coldest mountain in that area. We walked around for a little while, or in other words, until we couldn't take it any more, and then decided to drive to a place where there were a few big pits to see. Pit viewing being one of my favorite pastimes...

The first one we saw looked a lot like a rock quarry, but it was actually a collapsed silver mine. It was about 100 meters long, and maybe 40 meters deep and 20 wide. The second pit was a little different. It was a very deep, fairly long crack in the ground. This pit always has snow and ice in the bottom of it, even in the middle of summer. At the time we were there, there was a layer of snow and ice probably 15 feet deep in the bottom. We walked on it as far as we could, until the crack was too narrow to go any farther. During wars in past ages, ice from this crack was used to treat soldiers with injuries, which is your bit of interesting trivia for the day.

After our visit to the pits, we took the car into the historical town of Ostrov and visited Zele's parents at their flat. His mom had prepared a nice Czech meal for us, so we ate with them and then chatted for a little while. Zele had to translate, since neither of his parents could speak English. After the meal, it was time for a tour of Ostrov.

Zele's father also happens to be the mayor of the town, which has about 30,000 people. He walked with us around the town and showed us the oldest building, which was built in the 1300's if I remember correctly. He also took us to an art exhibit of decoratively woven tapestries, as well as on a tour of the town hall. It made us feel important to be walking around town with the mayor. After finishing our tour, the mayor went off on his mayorly business, and the rest of us hung out in a courtyard which had been designed by Zele, who is trained as a draftsman.

Everywhere we went he was pointing out buildings and things he had designed. Anyway, when we were finished hanging out in the courtyard we went up on a hill overlooking Ostrov for a while, and then wandered around behind the hill to find an amazingly large field of green grass. You have to understand that fields of green grass are rare in Prague, and especially fields of green grass which are not also commonly frequented by hundreds of dogs and/or homeless people. This field was quite a find for us. We happened to have a frisbee along, so we played frisbee for a while until the sun went down. Then we headed back to the hotel and ate supper. After supper we had to come up with something to amuse ourselves with, so we decided to play sardines since we had the entire hotel available to hide ourselves in.

We ended up playing for a couple of hours, until we had exhausted the hiding places. It was one of the funnest games of sardines I've ever played, and Zele with his broken English, added a lot to it. At one point in the game, Marsha and I were hiding under a couch in one of the hallways, and he found us, but there was no more room for him to hide. I told him to sit on the couch and act like he had given up. Sissel was upstairs at that time. Eventually, she came down and saw him sitting there, which puzzled her, so she asked what he was doing. He said, "I gived it up!" At that point, both Marsha and I burst out laughing, which gave us away, otherwise Sissel wouldn't have seen us.

Anyway, the next day we spent mostly in the car driving to different towns in West Bohemia for Marsha. It was nice to be able to see so much of the countryside, and with clear skies, flowers in full bloom, and picturesque scenery, you couldn't have asked for a better day for driving. We went to one town in the middle of nowhere which had an old castle, so we walked around it and took pictures. There was also a plaque there, although it was labeled as a "Plague," in honor of Patton who had apparently liberated this town back at the end of WWII. After we were done driving around we headed back to Prague and got ready for the next day of teaching.


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