Thursday, May 29, 2008

Just Over the Horizon...

Hard to believe how close the end of the school year is. Oh yeah, and yet so far away. As I'm getting reports of people stateside finishing up in the next week or two, it makes it difficult to face the fact that I still have a month of teaching left. The thing is, the students seem to feel the same way. Class sizes are seriously dwindling, and our daily students take their big PET test in Karlovy Vary tomorrow, meaning they'll really not want to study after that.

We have our end of the year retreat coming up tomorrow, and I must confess that I'm really ready for it to be the end of the year. The days are finally warming up nicely, and all I want to do is sit on one of the many cafe' terraces and sip a nice cold Kofola. Okay, I'll confess, Kofola (the version of herbal cola designed in Czech during communism when importing Coke from the US or other Western countries was illegal) isn't exactly my beverage of choice. It looked really tempting yesterday when I was sitting in one of those lovely cafe's by the river, but as usual I was disappointed by the herb-y aftertaste. It's actually the ice cream on the square that's been working a number on me. It seems I can't go a day without a cone of citranova (lemon) and tvarahovah (sweet cheese) or some such selection.

One nice thing about these end of the year classes is that my students tend to want to talk in English more. At least if that means not doing another grammar page. I really think this is the best thing for them anyway. Most of my students are fairly advanced, and the best way for them to improve their English is simply to speak it. I provide correction on some things, and the more the talk the more they catch their own mistakes. I've been able to go to some of these cafe's recently with my classes, and it's so nice to talk about their gardens, baking, or summer biking plans.

Our retreat this weekend will be at a campground somewhere outside of Prague. I'm not sure exactly how excited I am about this prospect. It can't possibly be as low key as Apserkaha with it's three sided cabins, but the thought of lugging around a blanket and several layers of clothes on several train rides isn't exactly exciting. (sigh) They have promised a night of roasting marshmallows, however, and I'm definitely excited about that.

It's less than one month now until I board a plane and head back across the ocean. I'm very much looking forward to some time at home. It has been a rather long year in a lot of ways, but I find myself surprised to be looking straight into the face of June. I can't help but wonder what the next school year will hold, even as I want only to enjoy the relaxation that precedes it. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Weekend Review

As the year is coming to a close, and many of my friends are planning on not returning in the fall, the pressure to get in all those last minute sights is growing. Due to this rush, I spent this past weekend in Prague, hitting nearby sights with my friends Nicole and Crystal.

Friday afternoon we boarded the "communist" train and headed off for Prague. Due to
current reparations on the tracks, we go along for about an hour before being transferred to buses for an hour before returning to the tracks for the last couple hours. It's a real treat. Especially if you want to have a car to yourselves every time. We did manage, fortunately, which made it all much better. Naomi was actually with us for the train ride as well, so we all had a good time visiting on the four
hour trip.

Upon arrival in Prague we had to make a rush trip out to Kelly's in order to drop off our bags and pick up her extra set of keys so she didn't have to worry about our return. We thanked her profusely for her endless hospitality and then hurried back down the mountain (she lives up a crazy steep hill) and into town to meet up with some other friends for a movie. We went and saw the newest Indian Jones flick. It had it's ups and downs, but in all honesty, being able to have nachos for the movie was enough to make me really happy. :) We returned to Kelly's and spent the rest of the evening visiting with her.

Saturday mid-morning we headed out to the main square in town. The weather was nice, and we walked around a while as we waited for our train. We went into the biggest Bat'a store in the world there. Bat'a is a Czech shoe brand that is sold all over the world. Except in the US that is. The store was seriously huge, and we no doubt could have spent a long time there, but the train departure time was calling to us. We picked up some really tasty Gelatos and then got on the train to Kutna' Hora.

Kutna' Hora is a city about an hour from Prague. Back several hundred years ago it was the second largest and most important city in Prague. It is home to several silver mines which led to its former fame. Now, however, the greatest attraction (at least for us) was Kostnice with the Ossuary Chapel. For those unfamiliar with ossuaries, they are receptacles for bones. My dad used to do children's sermons in which he would talk about ossuary boxes from the old days, and then would tell the kids that he had an ossuary box containing real human bones as well. He would then pull out a small box and reveal the teeth of his children. I always loved that. :)

As the description indicates, this chapel is the "home" to the bones of around 40,000 people, most of whom died during the Great Plague. In the 19th century an artist chose to use these bones to decorate the chapel with the bones of the people. He had some ideas about the spiritual implications of displaying the bones, but I can't remember all the piece of paper that served as our tour guide said. All I can really say was that it was an awe inspiring experience to walk into the tiny chapel and be surrounded by so many bones.

The pyramid piles of bones aren't held together with anything but gravity, which makes them especially impressive. There is also a chandelier that consists of every bone in the human body. It was all just so fascinating. We are such temporary beings on this planet after all.

After the bone church we made our way into the main town. We were hungry and decided to stop by a gas station for drinks and snacks. It turned out to be a pretty nice place, way to go Jet, and so we ended up eating at a little table in a corner of the shop. It worked out quite nicely.

The weather has again taken a happy turn and was spectacular for traipsing around in. The walk was fairly long, but the cute town was worth it. We wandered aimlessly around the streets for a while, enjoying the architecture, before finally finding our way to the main square and the information center. From there we were sent in the direction of the largest church, St. Barbara's, where we again enjoyed some photo ops, including a great picture I took of some old Czech ladies just taking in the sunny afternoon.

After the church we headed back to the train station where we had to sit a while and do our best not to get on the wrong train. For some reason it seemed like everyone was confused about the trains today. Maybe it was partly because most everyone at the station was a tourist...There was one couple that we kept running into who seemed particularly confused. I felt a little bit responsible for them, just because I kind of know what I'm doing. In the end, amidst all the confusion, we're pretty much certain they got on the train heading to Brno instead of Prague. Doh! But we could only do so much.

We got back to Prague around 6 and met up with Naomi and Kelly for dinner at Bohemia Bagel. It's always a hot spot with the Americans as it serves food that tastes like home and is the only place I've found in this country where they have unlimited drink refills! Oh the beauty of it all!

After dinner we had a nice back to Kelly's enjoying more of Prague's famous sights.

Isn't the architecture just so much fun? Makes me think a little bit of all the great buildings in Hong Kong.

We had a real European cultural experience back at Kelly's. This was the night of the Eurovision final. Eurovision is a big European music contest, where the countries are supposed to send their best musical offerings. If these are the best they have to offer it's a really sad statement about European music. It's definitely on an amature level. It did provide hours of laughter however. Honestly, you can't even begin to imagine how ridiculous most of the acts were. Imagine Latvian Pirates. That's about all I can say about that. There were a couple that were decent, but sadly all the countries bowing to Mother Russia made it impossible for the good bands to have a chance. "And Ukraine's 12 points go to Rrrussia" (spoken with a REALLY strong and meaningful accent).

Sunday morning the three of us headed out once more, this time for Karlstejn. This is home to one of the largest castles in the Czech Republic. It was really a beautiful sight. Sadly, you can only go through it on a tour and they don't allow photos to be taken inside the castle. I still managed to get some sweet shots from the outside.

And don't even get me started on the really annoying tourists who kept taking photos inside despite constant reminders that they weren't allowed to do so. Honestly, what is wrong with people?

After the castle we wandered down and got a really tasty pastry with nutella inside. It was still warm from being cooked on a big hot pipe. Hard to describe, but it was good.

We had to carry our backpacks around here and decided we deserved a nice meal after the heat of it all. The place we went was pretty nice, all except for the random and horrifying charges. It was bad enough that they charged exorbitant prices for soda and dipping sauce for my smazeny syr (fried cheese), but when they charged me 40 Kc (over $2) to have my left overs put in a little styrofoam box, I was really NOT impressed. But there wasn't a whole lot I could do at that point. (sigh!)

We looked around at some small shops and fell in love with a pottery store there. I bought several really beautiful pieces, but the joy of having them wrapped in bubble wrap and packing tape is dissuading me from reopening them to take photos. They'll just have to wait until they're stateside and I can open them up again. :)

After spending a nice piece of change there we headed back to the train station. Again we had a bit of an ordeal figuring out where we were supposed to be, and in the end almost didn't get on our train, but eventually everything made sense and we managed to get back to Cheb by 6.

In all it was a really nice weekend. Just another thing to help remind me that it really is pretty amazing to be able to live in Europe for a while.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Randomly obsessed with flowers

Recently I've found myself becoming obsessed with flowers. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it has something to do with missing my Mommy. Or maybe it has something to do with being really pleased with thoughts of Spring. The freshness of renewal. I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, I've been taking lots of flower photos and thought it would be nice to share some.
This first one is of flowers around one of the cottages down by the Ohre River. I really love walking down here and checking out the flowers. I was really thankful that I managed to get the photo before they mowed the lawn because there was something extra special in the wildness of it all.

When we went to Karlovy Vary the weekend before last I took these photos. I'm not sure what kind the first one was, but they were really nice to look at. The second one is a magnolia. The Magnolia trees were really beautiful there.

And here we have the "bombaliskas" with the "hrad." They actually really like their dandelions around here, and they grow so tall. I was glad that I got this photo before they mowed as well. Rather cheery after all.
Now I'll just throw in a few other photos of the past couple of weeks that I've been meaning to put up and just haven't gotten around to.

These two photos are of the hiking trip we took in the nice fresh healthy air.

Here we have a picture of one of a May Pole (Maja) in Loket, and a traditional "commie" car as we like to call them :)

These last three are of the weekend Jonna came to visit us. We had a Bridal shower for Che, who is getting married in less than two months now! Then we had a curious experience that involved our square suddenly being filled with convertibles. I'd love to add the video of that, but after the endless amount of time it took me to put that last one up, you're just going to have to wait 'til you see me.
May flowers brighten your days!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Making an attempt

Having never tried to download video anywhere, I'm not sure how this is going to work, but I thought it was time to share a little tour of my "amazing" little flat. Just in case you want to see how those of us in Panaloks live.

According to this it looks like it worked, so we'll wait and see. It went so quickly I have trouble imagining that it worked, but maybe.
Okay, so I'm not sure how this is all going to work because I just figured out that the upload takes a really long time, and it doesn't really want to let me add photos at the same time. So this might end up being just my video, if it ever manages to all get on there. I knew it wasn't possibly going to be that easy.
Well, I don't have a whole lot to say on this stormy Wednesday afternoon. The weather is still quite warm, but storm clouds have blown in to make things crazy today. There's been some pretty serious thunder and lightening as well as a torrential downpour or two. Very exciting of course.
My friend Nicole managed to make it back from Canada last night. I'm very excited about that. She really helps to lighten my days and keep me entertained. We're going out to dinner with her tonight after class, so that should be fun.
My Czech Colleague, Tomas, has a very big and important German test on Monday. This is his third and final time to take it, so it's very important that he pass. If he doesn't, it somehow negates all the work that he did in university. I'm not exactly sure how the whole system works, but it's really not very cheerful. He's currently staying at his brother's house so he can study all night and not have to worry about any distractions. This means I'm teaching extra classes this week. It's not so bad, but it does mean extra time in the office. And now that the storm has hit, I can't exactly get outside to enjoy the day.
This evening I'm meeting one of my classes in a "Pub" for class. "Pub" is a term used loosely here for pretty much all restaurants, although I'm sure there will be drinking. It tends to be very important in Czech society. They call beer "Czech Bread," and are very proud of it. It's always nice to be able to meet with them outside of the classroom. It gives us a chance to be more relaxed and talk about things other than grammar. Although I have one student in this class who particularly doesn't like to have class outside of the class for that very reason. She really likes grammar. Can you believe it? I promised I'd bring her a work sheet so she wouldn't feel like the lesson was completely wasted.
So life goes on in it's usual way. Ice cream (Zmrzlina) has become all the rage these days. The sunny days bring out the people and they all seem to be licking ice cream cones. (Wow, I think this video is really going to take FOREVER to load. I'm only up to 9M out of 41. Hmmm...might have to let it sit on it's own for a while so I can do some work.)
I'm getting more and more excited about having a chance to go home. The nice weather has made it easier to be here, but it will be so nice to be back on the other side of the world for a while. I enjoy Czech, but more and more I'm looking forward to being while people who understand me without words. I guess, in a sense, it seems like the people here sort of have to understand me without words, but it doesn't really work that way after all.
Jonna, another ESI teacher, came for a visit this past weekend. It was really good to see her, and she was full of these thought provoking life type questions. She asked what it is we feel like we have learned this year. It's a difficult question.
In a lot of ways, I feel like I've known myself pretty well for quite a while now. I'm pretty accustomed to most of my quirks and irritating habits. Doesn't mean they don't still annoy me, but I'm familiar with them all. I've lived overseas, and am well aware that it can be difficult and trying at times, but for the most part I feel up to the challenge.
I'm also well aware of my need for people. I know I don't do well when I don't have an outlet for my feelings and frustrations. I know how much I depend on the people who know me well to help me through the bad and dark days.
There have been issues that have come up throughout the year, but none of them have really surprised me. It's more a matter of, "Yep, there's that one again."
I think the only thing I've found to be a surprise in my life is how hard it is for me to come up with prayer requests. That might sound strange to most people, but it's really true. I find it so difficult to come up with something personal to ask other people to pray about. I'm find with ideas to pray for other people about, or for asking obvious things like during decision making time, or support raising and what not. But as far as asking for people to pray for something that's really personal, I'm at a loss.
I tend to be pretty open with people generally. I find that I often relate information about myself through stories. They might not always directly be stories about me, but as I share about the people that I love the most, or the places that I've come to call my homes, I reveal a lot about what makes me tick. Talking about music or movies also tells a lot about me. And in the end, I can see that, while I can make personal statements, I'm the kind of person who really doesn't like to ask for help.
I'm pretty self-sufficient. I mean, I've lived all over the world. I've done all sorts of crazy things. I've gotten a degree. I've survived substitute teaching. I know how to get things done, and how to take care of myself. Asking for help doesn't fit so well into that whole picture somehow. Perhaps that's the sort of thing I still have to work on. After all, knowing myself as well as I do, I'm pretty much aware that perfection is still a long way off. So, yeah.
And my video is now about half way downloaded, and I'm really starting to run out of things to say. So I might just have to let it go, and hope it manages to be all there before I have to head to Incognito.
I just finished my monthly team report and suddenly it looks like the video is almost done so we'll see if this works after all. If so, I hope you enjoy these little views of my clearly marvelous flat.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother Dearest Mother...

So it's Mother's Day, and I'm incredibly far away from my mother. I was watching an elderly woman walking slowly along the sidewalk to the train station, gingerly lifting her canes one at a time, and I thought that no grandmotherly type woman should be alone on Mother's Day. But I don't speak enough Czech to say anything, and they tend not to take overly kindly to strangers, so I just sat on the bench with my friends and watched her walk past.

In church today the children went up on stage and sang and recited poetry and words of thanks to their mother's, father's, and grandparents for about half an hour. They were so cute up there, especially the little boy in the bow tie. I was especially impressed by the girl who can't be more than 4 who sang an entire song by herself into the microphone. Reminded me a bit of myself back in the day, when, not to be outdone by anyone, I would gladly stand up in church and sing some special or another. Ah, those were the days.

They only officially celebrate Mother's Day here, and supposedly they kind of honor father's on this day as well. Still, the main word I got out of their singing was "Maminka" which means "Mommy" and "Bombališka" which means "Dandelion" a word I only recently learned, and therefore was extra aware of. They seem to be considered beautiful flowers here, which my friend Crystal heartily agrees with. We've decided her neighbors are going to have words about her and her children in future town meetings as she encourages the blowing of dandelion seeds in the future...

I guess I really just wanted to take a moment to say how much I appreciate my mother. It is difficult to spend a lot of time in a foreign country. I love to travel and to have new experiences, but I truly do miss being around my family. Every time I walk past cheerful gardens, or bright flower boxes I think of how much my mom would love to see them. While I often feel like the world is a very small place, I know that its size makes travel difficult, and that my mother will likely never see this funny little place where I live. I feel so blessed that she and Dad were able to come and visit me in Hong Kong, and would really love to have them here, but I remain aware that some dreams aren't likely to ever come true. So instead of spending Mother's Day with her, all I can do is wish her all the best from far away as I practice singing our annual song:
Mother Dearest Mother,
How great God's love must be,
Who in His wisdom chose you,
To guide a child like me.

I would gladly if I could, you repay,
Doing all the things I should,
Walking in God's way.

Mother Dearest Mother,
How great God's love must be,
Who in His wisdom chose you,
To guide a child like me.

On that note, I did discover a solution to her inability to post on my site. So Mom, and anyone else who doesn't have an official "identity," if you are reading this and want to comment on my blog, after typing in the code word for verification that you are, indeed, a real person and not a machine, all you have to do is click on the Anonymous identity, and you'll be able to post without having a blog of your own. You don't even need to put in an e-mail address. They just want you to admit that you exist.

It's another beautiful day and my lessons are planned, so I think I'll go out for a nice walk through the square and down by the river. I'm still determined to take advantage of every lovely day possible for fear that it'll start snowing again before I know it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Healing Waters, Healing Air?

The Czechs are huge fans of natural remedies. They look to nature as a source of life and healing. The part of West Bohemia where I live is loaded with "Spa" towns. These are places where people come from all over, especially Germany and Russia, to find healing in the mineral water fountains that are built all over these yellow painted towns. They believe these waters have curative powers for many ailments, but especially problems with the stomach. All I know is that when I tried some of the water the problem was with my taste buds,and it was the water itself that caused the issue!

Today I had a great opportunity to spend some time in the Czech countryside with my Czech teacher, her husband (who is also occasionally my student) and her son, as well as Naomi and Tammy. We took a train, that left a good ten minutes late from the station for no reason that any of us could figure, to Lazne Kynsvart. Lazne is the Czech word for spa. This particular spa town is known for it's healthy air. That's right, air. Apparently the air down in the town is not that special, but if you climb up into the mountains it works wonders.

The spa buildings here are mostly for children who suffer from asthma. Iva, my Czech teacher, informed me that the children usually come here for a couple of weeks to a month in order to breathe the air and get a lot of outdoor exercise. They even have a school for the children while they are there, and her father used to teach there. Parents are allowed to visit on the weekends. Such an interesting idea.

As we hiked up into the forest the air really was awfully nice. Definitely no pollution, and not a whole lot of pollen either. The weather was fabulous, and we all really enjoyed a chance to be out in the woods. As we walked I tried to really breathe deeply and see if I could feel any sort of difference. I must confess that I didn't, but it was very nice all the same.

We hiked about 10 km total, and ended up in Marianske Lazne. As we reentered civilization, it didn't take long for us to notice that this spa town, like most of the others, was highly populated by the elderly. Honza, Iva's husband, joked that the average age of the people there was about 110. Probably not far off. I made a joke to him about how our presence was confusing them, and that we should tell them we'd discovered the fountain of youth. A moment later and old man moved out of the way for us and said in German that he would move out of the way for the young people. It was pretty hilarious.

We sat near the fountains and I experienced sun in this town for the first time - this being the third time that I've been here. It was really a very nice day. After drinks by the Colonnade we headed for the train station and returned to Cheb where the sun continues to shine.

Today is a holiday in honor of the end of WWII, so I'm sitting in my office at 6, rather than being in class. It feels a bit like a Saturday, but it's back to work again tomorrow. Wonder how many students I'll have...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Easy to forget

When you move around as much as I do, it's easy to forget all the little things that make life fascinating to people who live a stable life. There was a question in our lesson yesterday asking how old people were when they first moved. I thought it would be even more interesting to expand this question and ask how many times they have moved, or if they've ever moved at all. In a class of 14 the person who had moved the most had moved three times, and there was at least one and possibly more who had never moved at all. Insanity!
Since I graduated from college 7 (Ahhh!) years ago I've lived in three countries, three states, and 7 towns! Not a very good track record, I know. Due to all this getting around, it's hard for me to have a very firm grasp on what most people consider to be normal.
Here are a few instances from my day that didn't seem very typical North American:

1.)Cigarettes. I know we have them in the US too, but definitely not in the quantity I see them here. They're still allowed in most public buildings, or at least all restaurants, and it's amazing the number of cigarettes you find smoldering on the ground. Wouldn't exactly fly with our pollution/littering laws. Not to mention the large number of young kids I see huffing away with no regard to anyone. No attempts are made to hide the fact that they're 12 and they're smoking. Hmmm...

2.)Purple hair. I won't even go into mullets, and the numerous horrifying hair styles. The really crazy bit is how often you see little old ladies with really purple hair. Not just a bluish tint to their white, but serious purple.

3.) Public urination. As I was walking toward the square today I saw a mother standing next to her son (he was probably about 8) while he relieved himself into a grate in the street. While I occasionally pass drunk men doing this as well, I typically see mothers holding toddlers in a sitting position along the side of the road to do their business. I just find it a little odd.

4.) A dog named Sara. Okay, so maybe this isn't totally unheard of, but it is a bit disconcerting to be walking down the street and have a woman shouting a name similar to my own at an over exuberant (not to mention really ugly) Sharpe. Let's just say I don't really want to have any connection to a wrinkly dog!

5.) The Lump Mobile. I just thought it was time to give "The Lump Mobile" its day in a post. In the Pedestrian Zone that leads to the main town square there are a couple little food vendors that are open most days of the week. The most notable is "The Lump Mobile" where you can buy a hotdog wrapped in a bun. That doesn't really do it justice. It's more injected into the bun. We're not talking a bun you open up and put the dog in, but one that is baked around it, sorta like pigs in a blanket, but somehow more disturbing. Besides the curiosity of the name, and the mystery of the meat, this particular cart is decked with a Colorado license plate. Again, just an interesting little addition.

There are countless other things that daily make life in a foreign country fascinating. Just the fact that you really can't fully communicate with 95% of the people you see every day has its challenges. With fewer than 10 native English speakers living in this town of around 35,000, it's easy to feel conspicuous and voiceless at the same time. Just some things to ponder on a lazy Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How I almost went for another ride with random Germans...

Life in a foreign country really is a rather fascinating thing. There are so many things we take for granted in the US. For instance, being able to speak and be understood, and conversely to understand most of what the people around you are saying. Then there's the ability to get in your car and just go. Any time, and place. If you want to be there, and can afford the crazy high gas prices, you can make it happen.

Generally speaking I'm a fan of public transport. It's usually fast and effective. The price is lower because you're not completely supporting the price of getting from point A to point B. It is relatively comfortable to take the train, although it would be awfully nice if they learned a thing or two about WD40 and didn't deafen me every time they stop! There is less pollution created, and fewer traffic jams. Well, at least in theory. However, there are days when I get internationally screwed. Yesterday was one of those.

I had a nice afternoon with Crystal in the little town of Loket, which has a lovely castle we were too cheap to actually go in this time. The weather was less than perfect, but we still managed to do some wandering and take photos of some glorious old Communist era cars. We also enjoyed fabulous thick hot chocolate at our favorite cafe where they generally speak English and have a really nice and clean bathroom.

We also checked out an old church we'd never been in before. While I'm not usually overly thrilled by the gaudy decorations in the old European churches, they usually possess some beauty, and a certain feeling that the people who put so much time into decorating them really did so with good intentions. This church, however, felt like something out of a horror film somehow. At every moment I was waiting for something to come crashing out from behind the curtains around the altar. The walls were cracked and the paint was mostly gone. The statues around the room looked gaunt and hollow. There was an obnoxious wind that kept blowing the doors open and causing them to squeak eerily which served to knock it up from mildly creepy to verging on haunted. Crystal did take a moment to light a candle, and I tried out the feeling of the confessional booth, but we both were pretty happy to get out of there, except that the rain was falling again.

The rain drove us out before very late and we headed back to Sokolov for the rest of the afternoon. I had a round trip ticket, and generally if you get off and have already had it stamped for a portion of the trip they won't let you back on, but fortunately the conductor seemed to recognize us from when we were traveling to Loket, and didn't stamp our tickets so I felt pretty confident that I'd be able to just get on in Sokolov and make it back home without having to buy another ticket.

We decided I should go back on the 6:15 train, giving me plenty of time to run through the grocery store before going home. In the end we rushed a bit to get there, but we managed to be on time. Thing was, the train wasn't there. A notice was given over the loudspeaker indicating a delay of some kind, but not being able to actually speak Czech, we just had to satisfy ourselves with the fact that 6:15 was only a rough estimate for my departure time. If only we'd realized then just how rough.

After about half an hour Crystal decided to run to the store in her town before it closed, and said she'd come back and see if I was still there after her shopping was done. I waited restlessly and watched as other travelers were growing impatient. An older lady started chewing out the conductors for the horrible treatment, and was clearly demanding a bus to take her to her destination. I didn't blame her, but had no way of throwing in my two cents worth.

At about 7 one of the conductors started explaining things to a teenage boy who was standing in expectant annoyance nearby. The boy headed off, and the conductor began to address all of us. Thing was, I had no clue what he was saying. Apparently the people standing next to me had no idea either. They were German, and could make even less sense of Czech than I can.

The conductor, who clearly spoke neither German nor English, came closer and continued to explain. With some patience I figured out that he was telling us of a bus we could take. I had trouble hearing if he was saying at 19 or 20, but eventually he wrote it down and pointed at a couple other teen boys, indicating that we were to follow them. The Germans and I shook our heads resignedly and followed the two boys toward the bus terminal nearby.

On our way there we ran into Crystal. She couldn't believe this was happening either. We stood at the station (it's all outdoors here) and waited as buses came and went, but none of them were for us. Somehow the 7:20 bus to Cheb never made an appearance. Crystal texted her roommate Che for more bus and train times, but it was far from hopeful. The next bus wasn't until after 9, and supposedly the next train would be there at 8:30, but that wasn't sounding very optimistic either.

We could only spend so long watching some of her students milling about the bus station bar, which is apparently a hip place to spend a Friday evening. Clearly carding isn't even thought of around here! The drinking age is 18, but these kids weren't even that old. Eventually we were too cold and frustrated to stand there any longer. Crystal suggested walking back to the train station to wait for the next train where it would at least be a bit warmer. It was at this point that the Germans decided to take action.

The man was really nice. He said they'd decided to call his brother who lived nearby in Germany to come and pick them up and they would be willing to drop me off in Cheb. The only problem was that they didn't have a phone. I was more than happy to lend them mine with the prospect of getting the whooha out of Sokolov. So he made the call, and Crystal agreed that it was no doubt as safe to travel with them as it had been when she and I randomly got a ride from my German student Fred who I had only met once before. My German skills are decent enough to understand what he was saying on the phone, and it was clearly all on the up and up, so we decided this was probably my best option to not end up staying there all night.

The brother agreed to come, and the Germans and I headed back to the train station while Crystal hurried home to drop off her perishables. The couple was very friendly. They'd been enjoying the day biking in Loket and Karlovy Vary. Sadly the weather hadn't been quite to their liking either. They asked me about my job and why I was in Cheb, and it was all very pleasant.

After several minutes in the train station the boys who had led us to the bus stop - and who had consequently gotten so bored of waiting they'd pulled out a lap top to entertain themselves, the joys of modern technology! - arrived back in the train station. They went to the counter and proceeded to express their unfortunate plight, in which we were also suffering. A few minutes later another conductor looking person came in, looking very hurried. He ended up coming over to the boys, and it appeared that he had a bus for us. I asked if it was going to Cheb and he nodded, so I thanked the Germans for their kind offer of a ride and bid them goodbye as I hurried out to get on the bus.

No one ever checked my ticket.

The bus did, indeed, take me back to Cheb. I arrived at my flat a full 3 hours after we went to the Sokolov station. Usually it would only take an hour total for the ride and the walk home. What insanity.

So like I said, public transport may have it's benefits, but there are definitely drawbacks as well. I'm just thankful I was finally able to make it home.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Happy May Day!

I know we don't really do a whole lot for May Day in the US, but here they get the day off. Pretty cool. It has actually translated into a four day weekend. Unfortunately I didn't know in enough time to think of anything spectacular to do, and having spent last weekend away, didn't really have the financial means to just go running around the countryside. So I have the day off and I'm sitting in the office on the computer. (sigh)
This will give me the chance to finish up on talking about my trip to Rothenburg. Besides all the natural beauty of the place, we also enjoyed the beauty of the food there. The city is famous for it's dessert called the Schneeball (snowball). These confectionery masterpieces are truly a sight to behold. All along the streets we were in awe of the displays. Schneeballs are made of a dough similar to pie crust. The dough is dripped into oil and fried, then collected together in the shape of a ball and soaked in plum schnapps for over a week. The balls are then dipped in one kind of frosting or another, or merely sprinkled with powdered sugar, giving them the appearance of a snow ball. How could we possible pass up this mouthwatering invitation?

Unfortunately, as we all should know by now, looks can be deceiving. I think Crystal described them best when she said it was like eating the dry crust of a pop tart! Eww! The frosted outside part was good, but once you got beyond the edges it was just dry and tasteless. Nevertheless, we were so taken by appearances that we actually gave them a second try, only to be disappointed once again. But you really do have to give them an A for presentation.

We had a chance to sample some other interesting German cuisine as well. While my students found it difficult to believe that there was anything worth eating in Germany, we really enjoyed our meal. I even managed to try one of Nicole's bratwursts. I must admit that, in my mind, a bratwurst is a really big sausage, by reading the menu I learned that bratwursts were originally developed during an era when it was illegal to sell take away food after a certain hour of the day. In order to get aroudn this pesky little detail, bratwursts were developed to be small enough to fit through the keyholes. Fascinating little bit of trivia there. I ordered a meal that was like glorified macaroni and cheese. It was very tasty, and the other girls enjoyed sampling it as well.

I guess I don't really have a whole lot more to say about the trip. It was just a lot of fun. It's so nice to be able to escape the daily routine a bit.
I will make one more round of comments about May Day though. It really is a pretty interesting celebration here. Last night in the town square we came across a massive throng of people. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen so many people in Cheb. There were all sorts of small children dressed up as witches and carrying Chinese lanterns. I felt a bit like I'd stumbled on the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong instead of the May Day festivities in Cheb.
In the middle of the square the people had gathered around a crew of dancing witches ranging from very small girls to teenagers. A band played enthusiastically as the witches danced and twirled, throwing batons in the air. After several songs the procession continued on in a grand march. Naomi and I joined the crowd and followed them up to the theatre, listening to them screaming in the distance. Very exciting. At the theatre they danced again. Sadly, Naomi and I were both really hungry, so we headed home before the fireworks started.
The thing I'm really saddest about is that I missed out on the big burning ceremony. They take a witch effigy and burn it to symbolize the end of winter. It's really quite fascinating. But Naomi had plans to leave early in the morning and Tammy had gone to one somewhere else, and not knowing exactly where it would be, I didn't want to wander around in the dark among the drunken crowds on my own. (sigh)
I asked my class about the celebration last night and learned some more details. Every village has a special tree that they must protect. It only has branches at the top, and there is a large wreath with streamers hanging from it. The young men are supposed to stay up all night and guard it from boys from other villages who want to come and chop it down.
The final celebration of the holiday has to do with kissing. Girls are supposed to be kissed today beneath the cherry blossoms or the birch trees. Those who are not kissed are destined to have a "dry" year. Hmmm...guess we all know how things are going to go for me in the next year in that case...