Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sitting in Moscow...

Yep, I'm back in Idaho. The trip was long and tedious. I was fortunately able to stay awake with no problems all night in the airport. I had a wee bit of journaling to do let's just say. I made it easily on all my flights, and all my luggage arrived, although I have yet to go through it to make sure nothing broke.
Cheryl and the girls picked me up about 2 minutes after I came out thought customs, so it really couldn't have been any more perfect. Well, I wouldn't have minded not having to drive for 7 hours, but at least there was the option of a 32 oz Dr. Pepper. was worth the wait.
I managed to keep myself up until about ten last night, then crashed out pretty hard. The nice thing is, it's daytime here and it feels like daytime. I'm still a little groggy, and have to go through all my stuff, and hopefully find more clothes that have been buried somewhere at mom and dad's, but at least I've arrived.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Who knows where the song lyrics come from. They just appear!
Today is our last day of classes. This morning we have our daily students their certificates of completion, along with class photos. It is sad to see them go. I think a few of them will be back next year for evening classes, but after being with them for so many hours, we will really miss having them around. They are each so very special. Oh the endless goodbyes.
I'm not exactly sure how my classes will go this evening. In all truth, I haven't done much real teaching for a while. I'd like to just go out and hang out for the evening, but it's hard to know how many students will come and what thoughts they will have in their minds.
The weather is pretty stifling right now, so the thought of sticking around in Winfield with it's lack of circulation isn't exactly pretty. I'll just have to wait and see.
I'm really looking forward to getting home. I bought my bus ticket to the airport today, so at 9:30PM Friday night, I'll arrive at Prague airport where I'll be sitting around all night waiting for my 6:15 flight Saturday morning.
It is strange to be leaving. This year has been both fast and long. Hard to really express how I feel sitting on this end of it. I'm sure I'll come up with more thoughts as time progresses, but for now I'm just curious about where the time really went. I've been blessed with some really amazing students, and I really wonder how my classes will look next year. You just never know.
Anyhow, it's been a good year. I will be missing fellow teammates next year as well, but I'm looking forward to meeting the next round of friends that will come. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, right? After all, I know that He is the one who is in control of all my steps. It's a good thing as my thoughts can be awfully fuzzy at times.
Well, class starts soon, so I'll leave you for now. I should have internet access at home, but it could be a while before I have time to say anything more as I'll be surrounded by children and busyness. Good times :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Final Countdown

The days are really getting short now. A week from today I'll begin my journey back to the US. Due to the excessively early nature of my flight, I have to leave the night before and spend yet another night alone in an airport. Can't say I'm really looking forward to that. I just hope they don't decide to kick me out, as standing outside the airport with my luggage doesn't exactly appeal to me. Especially not after the night Naomi and I spent outside the Plzen Bus Station. But I'm guessing a serious international airport is probably going to let me stay inside.
We have our big end of the year party tonight, and I'm quite excited about it. A Czech band will be performing. They sing in English, even though their lead singer doesn't speak the language. As part of the special feature Tomaš has arranged for Naomi and I, and possible Tammy if she decides to do so, to sing with the band for one song. Should be interesting. It's been a while since I hung out with band boys so I'm looking forward to it ;)
I'm down to only three days of classes, and I'm excited to spend the last few lessons hanging out with my students. We really haven't done much academically all month, but seeing as how this is the last week, I'm hoping to be able to go out for drinks with them all and just talk about the summer and their plans. I think they've all heard about what I'll be doing too many times, so hopefully they have some interesting things to share.
It's quite sad to end with my daily students, as very few of them will be taking any classes here next year. Most of them have been busy taking entrance exams to get into University, which will take them to Prague or Plzen or some other larger city. I understand the need to get out and see the world, but it will be sad not to have them around next year.
I'm hoping to be able to keep most of my other students next year. I've really enjoyed getting to know them, and I'm hoping that we will be able to do more on a personal level next year. During this past month it's been really nice to have relaxed lessons where we can just get to know each other better. Of course, I'll have to get back down to business in the new school year, but there should still be plenty of time for hanging out.
Well, right now I'm just sitting around my office waiting for Crystal to show up for the party. Should be a good night...if it doesn't rain that is!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And as promised...Cesky Krumlov

I have to admit that it feels a bit wrong to write the name of this city without the diacritical marks because it doesn't really tell you how to say it correctly. If I were to write it phonetically it would be more like Chesky Krumlof. So that's sort of how you say it. I guess it doesn't really matter, but this makes me feel a bit better.

This past weekend a bunch of people from the Central European Teach Overseas group got together in this picturesque city to enjoy one last hurrah before the diaspora. There was a canoe trip planned, but not being overly huge on the idea of possibly being drenched with cold water and not being able to breathe, I opted out of that plan. I have to say I'm quite pleased with my choice, especially considering the temperatures this weekend. Let's just say there was nothing about it that really made me want to be wet at ALL. And when I saw how cold and droopy all the canoers were when they returned, my feelings didn't change at all!

So instead of being miserable and wet, I enjoyed taking in the sights that the city had to offer along with Naomi, Crystal, Tammy, Kelly, and sometimes Kassidee (who is recuperating from surgery last week and therefore couldn't canoe.)

I have a small confession to make before I go any further. Anyone who knows me very well, and especially those who have lived with me, are WELL aware that I'm not exactly anyone's idea of a morning person. Quite the opposite really. However, I've been giving the ESI retreat crew some false impressions. See, at pretty much every retreat I've been the first person up! The main reason for this is that I require a certain amount of comfort in order to sleep well. I can't really say that beds in the Czech Republic, and particularly in hostels, were designed to give Sarah a good night's sleep. Small point of interest, this Saturday, the 14th, marked the 16th anniversary of my comfy bed requirement. Amazing how a split second decision on the part of my sister in 1992 still effects the way in which I sleep.

In order to continue with the deception, once again I was the first person up and out on Saturday morning. I've come to enjoy getting the first shower on these occasions, and being up so much earlier than the other people gives me a chance to get out and be alone long enough that I can actually be a fairly friendly person by the time I have to deal with people. It also gives me a chance to take photos alone so that when I'm in a group I don't have to look like the snap happy one :)

Um, did I mention that this place is really beautiful? Well, it is!

After walking a couple laps around the town I met up with some of the girls and we walked a bit more before looping back around to the hostel for breakfast. The city is built mostly in the bend of the Vlatva River. It reminds me a lot of the city of Loket near where I live. It's just a wee bit bigger is all.

Most of the crew took off after breakfast for their canoe trip, but we West Bo Girls and Kelly continued to take in the sights. We went for a tour of the castle first. The castle is "guarded" by bears. This tradition began several hundred years ago when one of the former residents thought it would be good to keep up with fashion and put them there. Since that time, there have always been bears living around the castle, and when they "retire" they are removed to the floors of the castle :)

They didn't allow us to take any photos on the tour, just like at Karlstejn, so we had to be satisfied with a group photo afterwards, followed by pictures surrounding the castle and in the gardens.

I specifically took pictures of the "hoppers" on the fountain. Just for fun!

We had lunch in the park by the lake and there were joined by some of this years bigger ducklings. They were very friendly, and not in the least bit afraid of us. They actually ate the bread right out of our hands! I'd never fed a duckling from my hand before, and I must say I thought it was pretty cool!

After a day spent wandering around the town, the rest of the group returned and we had a Bohemian feast. I didn't end up getting any good photos of it, but we did feel pretty Medieval eating it. Afterwards Crystal, Naomi, and I went around for a night tour where we got a little silly :)

Good times in small places.

Even after all the late night frivolity, I still managed to be the first one up and about come morning so I was off once again looking for things to take pictures of!

The first picture there is a view of the castle from below, just so you know. You walk across the blue section in order to get to the castle gardens. It's all really lovely.

After breakfast some people started heading out, but our train wasn't until the afternoon so we decided to take in some more sights. We went to the tower from the first photo in this note and got some great views of the city.

Naomi spotted a pretty field while we were in the tower, so she decided we needed to go there, so after the tower we hiked over and got some fun pictures looking back toward the tower. Yeah, and I've pretty much become a poser these days.

We headed back to the hostel to pack up, then ran to a cafe for one last little treat. This Cocoa Marlenka cake was pretty much amazing! And then we were off for the train ride home.

So there you have it. A view through the eyes of the well traveled transient drifter.

(oh, and I can't totally take credit for this photo because it was Crystal's idea to take it first. Just had to add that little admission.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A bit of a back log...

So I really had intended to get this out BEFORE I had another big weekend, but then I ended up not having functioning internet in my flat. I really do want to make sure that doesn't happen next year. It would be so much nicer to be able to just type whenever I really want to type. But for now, I'll do my best to make up for it and fill in a few things from LAST weekend.
Last weekend Yara, who is kind of like the ultimate Winfield Student, took us for a little drive around the area. Yara is in his 60's I think, and doesn't have enough to do with all his time, so he has decided to take up English. I'm not sure exactly how many years he's been studying at Winfield now, but he shows up to multiple classes every week, at least when he feels like it. He also spent a few months in Canada last year to study some more. Anyhow, we were thankful that he was willing to drive us around and show us some places it would have been difficult for us to get on our own.
The first place we went was a tower in the small town of Krasno. The ride there was a lot of fun, especially for Naomi who didn't grow up on the river road, and was freaking out around pretty much every corner. I don't know what she'd do if I ever took her for a ride down HWY 96. Probably cry ;)
It is always interesting to see the differences in the trees and things around here. They have some typical looking evergreens, but when you get up closer, they really are quite different. I was particularly fascinated by the way the cones grew on this one.

I've just never seen anything quite like it.
We continued up through a field, which made Naomi feel more at home, and suddenly, there before us, we saw the tower.

The view was really nice when we climbed to the top as well. However, we had to wait until the massive tour group was finished before we could really see very much, and then, almost immediately, we were surrounded by small children all over the place. Hmmm... Made it a little hard to just enjoy the view, but it was good anyway.
Yara didn't know exactly how old the tower was, or exactly the purpose. He'd actually heard some rumor that it was built to remember Hitler, which was rather disturbing. I'd prefer to think that it was some ancient watchtower built to warn the villagers when some sort of danger was approaching. So I have an imagination, it really can be helpful...
We wandered around the small town for a while. The name Krasno is a derivation of the word beautiful, and the place really was very quaint. I must admit, however, that I have been in sooooo many quaint little towns over this year that it's getting hard to keep them all straight.
when we were finished there he drove us to a nature reserve called Kladska'. There was a really nice nature trail there, and we walked around for a while enjoying the interesting nature, and, naturally, posing :)

After our walk, Yara "invited" us to have a little snack at the cafe there. Tammy, who had a bit more knowledge than we did, didn't fully warn us that when we ordered the blueberry dumplings we would be getting a dish so massive that there was NO way we would be able to finish it. Three dumplings might not sound like a lot, but let me tell you, I could scarcely make it through one! The dumplings they make here are of a bread dough base. Inside they're filled with some kind of fruit, in this case blueberries, and then they are drenched in butter, and sprinkled with Tvarovah, which is a kind of sweet soft cheese. Not really cream cheese though. They're good, but VERY heavy to say the least!
So that was last Friday. Now I'll end this off with a few fun pictures I've taken around Cheb recently. You'll have to wait for this past weekend until at least tomorrow.

That last picture there is of the Lumpmobile that I mentioned in an earlier post. Gotta admit it's pretty amusing. And now I'll end this lovely little post with a picture of my favorite little ducklings!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Tour of Frantiskovy Lazne

Seeing as how numbers have been low in classes lately, I wasn't overly surprised to have only one student in my "Ladies" class this evening. She came prepared, however, and told me that if no one showed up she had informed her husband that he was to come and collect us and she would give me a tour of Frantiskovy Lazne I've been to this small spa town, located about 7 KM from Cheb several times before, but it was a great idea for the evening.
By 10 past 5 it was obvious that none of the other students would be coming, so she called her husband and 15 minutes later our chauffeur arrived.
Nad'a's husband doesn't speak a lick of English, but he made sure she pointed out important things like sheep in a field and the fact that the cars in the area are sporting flags at the moment due to the big European Football (soccer for the Americans) championships. He dropped us off near the town square and Nad'a proceeded to give me a nicely guided tour.
There is a statue in the town called Frantisek, which is a small naked boy holding a fish. It is believed that if you touch his penis you will have a baby in the next 9 months. Nad'a said that for her it was true, 9 months after touching the statue she had her son Petr. Pretty interesting. While I don't really buy into such things, I decided it was best not to touch him at the moment :)
We walked amongst the many beautiful yellow and white spa buildings, and looked at the bubbling hot springs. I opted not to drink any of the "healing" sulphur water, and she agreed that it tasted awful and that it was mostly good for you if you were having problems with diarrhea (which happens to be one of her favorite words, right up there with smithereens.)
After seeing all the beautiful buildings and walking through the Oak (Germany's national tree) and Linden (Czech's national tree) forested parks, we returned to where her husband was waiting. Frantiskovy Lazne was established originally by the Germans, and remains a very popular tourist destination for them, even though they were forced to leave the area after World War II. A fascinating history really.
I was returned to school right on time for my next class, and the rest of the evening proceeded nicely, despite an awful downpour in the middle of class that I feared would positively ruin my walk home, but fortunately was well good and over by the time I left.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


That stands for "End of the Year Retreat" signifying that the year should now be over. But, oh yeah, it's still not. I had to drag myself into class yesterday, wondering if anyone was going to show up now that the majority of them had taken their PET (Preliminary English Test) over the weekend. I was surprised to have about 8 show up at one point or another. After a session of the Julia video series I went with them to sit on a terrace and enjoy the beautiful weather. They were also meant to be speaking English, which they managed to do at least part of the time. It was a nice way to start the week, but I'm really wondering what I'm going to be able to do with them over the next month!

Now I should get back to talking about the retreat we went on this weekend. I must confess that before going I was feeling a bit apprehensive. I can enjoy camping, but I like to do it on my own terms, as in I have made the decision that I want to go camping, not I have had a camping trip mandated to me. However, my somewhat negative approach to the weekend didn't end up spoiling what turned out to be a really great experience. After traveling 4 hours by train and bus to reach Prague, we met up with the most of the team and went by train for a little over an hour south east of Prague to the town of Caslov. Despite the heat, we had a good time visiting in the train as we mulled over the prospect of soon being able to purchase Taco Bell again...(sigh)

From Caslov we had chartered a bus that took us up into "the Nature" as Czechs refer to the great out of doors. The windy bus ride took us through fields, up and down hillsides, past castles and ruins, and eventually down a long gravel road to the Na Pilce camp. As we finally pulled to a stop I was immediately taken with this beautiful place. The cabins didn't look half bad, and the sun beating down on my shoulders encouraged me greatly.

The left window in the cabin in front was my room. The bed was not much softer than the ground, but I did manage to get a little (emphasis on the little) sleep in it.

It was after 7 by the time we arrived, and my stomach was pretty much ready for food, but it was still some ways off so Crystal and I took the opportunity to do a little exploring in order to stave off our hunger. We weren't disappointed with what we discovered. There were lovely little trails heading in every direction, and upon crossing the little one sided bridge I was assailed by the smell of hot dried pine needles that brought back all the mystery of Camp Apserkaha. Magical indeed.

I was later pleased to discover that, amidst all the rather dodgy sausages that people were roasting over the fire, there were some that were at least close to being traditional hotdogs, so I didn't have to starve all together. And after the meat we roasted marshmallows and had s'mores. Can't get much more American than that!

The evening was finished off with a late night hike through the woods in which Joseph nearly destroyed his ear when he fell and hit a tree, and Kassidee almost lost her engagement ring, which we fortunately found with the use of the light of a mobile phone. We returned to the big field by the camp and watched shooting stars and satellites and basked in the glory of all that God has created and deemed to be good.

By the time I curled up in my bunk that night I was ready to crash, but between the hard bed, the drunken Czechs partying outside, the early morning sunrise and the endlessly happy birds, I only slept about 4 hours. I have to say that my retreats have rather made a lie of my life for those that don't know me in any other context. These people are starting to think of me as...horror of all horrors...a MORNING person! Oh how deceived they are! But I can't really blame them when I was wide awake at 5:15, and in the shower by 6:30 because I just couldn't lie to myself anymore.

The early morning walk did allow me to get some great photos of this lovely place. As my friend Crystal commented on her blog, it's no small wonder that they have chosen this place to film things like the Narnia movies and "A Knight's Tale."

Ten points to whoever spots the extra point of interest in one of these photos :)

Besides having a chance to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings we had several meetings discussing the end of the year and how to deal with reverse culture shock. While I was generally addressed as a first timer, I pointed out that, in truth, this is something I'm very familiar with. I have to say I'm less worried about it this year than I might normally be. Right now I'm just really excited about the chance to see people and enjoy the summer. But it's always good to remember that there is always a bit of a challenge with reentry.

Saturday afternoon we took a nice hike in the excessive heat and I ran across a sight that will really confuse the people I've been trying to explain current affairs to.

A relic of the past for sure! But it amused me.

We hiked for ages only to completely miss whatever it was we were trying to find to begin with. After walking and walking, sometimes on a path nearly completely overcome by the bushes, the signs quit referencing the place we were trying to find. Ah well. It was still a goodly amount of exercise, and I told myself that all that sweat was enough to justify the Magnum bar I let myself buy after dinner. :) For those unfamiliar with the wonder that is a Magnum ice cream bars, let me just throw the word divine at you and leave it at that. They're just that good, and pretty much just that expensive as well, which is why this is the first time I've had one since my summer in Italy almost 12 years ago.

In the evening we had another short meeting, and then watched the End of the Year slideshow. There were some pretty amusing photos, and it was amazing to see all the places that people have managed to visit over the course of the year. We've been pretty much all over Europe. Afterwards we played cards until after 12 and then headed off to bed.

Despite being exhausted from the long day in the sun, the short night's sleep, the slight head injury I suffered from falling backwards off a swing (don't ask!), and the dizzying effect of playing Nerts in dim lighting, I still woke up by 6. Once again I went for a trek, and managed to snag a few last fun photos.

After breakfast and another short round of meetings, during which I was recognized as one of the leadership members for next year, we enjoyed our last few minutes in Na Pilce. It was sad knowing that some of these people will not be here next year. I'm really going to miss the Moores who I won't be seeing again. I had a great time, once again, playing with Jack and Andrew, as well as having a brief moment to hold Natalie, their two month old daughter. Retreats just won't be the same without the kids!

Before leaving, I had to join the many people who I'd seen passing through over the weekend, and I took a moment to ring the bell. I have no idea what it was exactly supposed to signify, but I just couldn't leave without taking part in whatever the ritual was.

It really was a great retreat, although when I got back I felt more exhausted than refreshed. Only 25 days until I fly home! Yippee!