Thursday, September 26, 2002

Malevolent Mushrooms and Hussite Sieges

Last weekend, Marek and I organized a trip to go see two castles: Zebrak, and Tocnik, and a big pinnacle of rock called Vrani skala, which means Raven's rock. Five of the teachers went, along with seven students, and six of the Czech youth from the church. It was a 22 kilometer hike, which drew several complaints from lazy people and prevented them from going. Too bad for them... Nobody who went regretted it. The weather was perfect, and everything was beautiful.

We took a train about an hour away from Prague and hiked through a town and out into a cornfield. After a while we got into a forest and the Czechs among us began to observe the mushrooms we were passing by. Mushrooming is a Czech national pastime.

I was bringing up the rear of the group, and five of us got distracted for a short while by a very nice mushroom growing alongside the trail. While that took place, the rest of the group went on ahead, just out of our sight. We followed shortly thereafter, and continued up the trail trying to catch them. We were all speaking Czech because there were two girls with us from A1, the beginners' class, who can't understand a bit of English. We had been following blue blazes on the trees, but after a while I noticed that I didn't see any more blue blazes. There were only white ones. So I asked if we were on the right trail, and they all said, "Of course we are." Sometimes I should really be more assertive with my knowledge, because we were not, in fact, on the right trail, just as I suspected. We continued down this trail for some time and still did not see any blue marks on the trees.

I finally convinced Eva (Marek's wife) to call Marek and ask if the group had split off the trail we were on. She did so, but he had no signal to his phone, so I suggested that she try calling Edik, and luckily he did have a signal and was able to inform us that we were idiots (in Czech), and yes, they had taken a fork in the trail about 1.5 kilometers back from where we were. Luckily for us, the trail we were on was parallel to the trail they were on, which we discovered after yelling at the top of our lungs. We were able to continue on our trail until it reached another trail which joined with their's. So, while we went in a slightly roundabout way, we didn't have to hike too far out of our way to join the group again.

We continued to the first stop on our trip which was Raven's rock. It is on top of a mountain that sticks up above the surrounding countryside and affords a very nice view. We were able to see the Zebrak castle off in the distance on top of another mountain. After a little while on top of the rock, we headed off in that direction. We ate lunch at Zebrak and toured the castle. It was being built during the time of Jan Hus (John Huss is the translation of his name for you English speakers), and was finished around the time he was burned at the stake (early 1400s). Later it was actually besieged, unsuccessfully, by a Hussite force of 700 cavalry, and 9000 infantry. I don't know exactly why that was the case.

Anyway, after seeing Zebrak, we went down the hill to Tocnik which was a smaller castle replaced by Zebrak due to being damaged by fire. The king wanted a stronger fortress to guard the royal treasure, so he had Zebrak built on top of the hill. After that, we hiked another 6 or 7 kilometers to the train station, and rode home. There was a lot of good bonding with students, teachers, and Czech youth.

I should mention that the Canadian teachers got here last week. They were thrown directly into teaching after a day of observing other teachers in classes. They had one practice teaching session with us acting as students, and then started off the next day. They're doing well now, although they were a bit exhausted, understandably, after the first week.

Seven of the teachers, including myself, are going to Marianske Lazne this weekend, since it's our first free weekend of the year. It's another spa town, near Karlovy Vary, and one of the new Czech teachers for this year, Daniela, lives there. She has invited us to stay at her house for the weekend. She's a lot of fun; we all acted as students during her job interview earlier in the year, and she had us all laughing.


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