This past weekend I went with Mark to Susice, a small town in south Czech, to visit his grandmother. As I wrote in my last post, there was a crazy storm here that did a lot more damage than I had realized. When we went to the train station we were informed that we would be delayed a good twenty minutes and would have to take a bus because the tracks were littered with debris (meaning large trees) that had been blown about during the storm. So, we were off to a bit of a rocky start, but were still eager to see what the trip had in store for us.
Before leaving we had been told a little bit about his grandmother's boyfriend, and we were both curious to see what the man was like. I think precious is the best word to describe Fanda. At 87 years of age, he is quite the character. Shortly after our arrival in Susice we were being served a huge meal (we'd eaten in Plzen on our way there because of the train delay and weren't exactly hungry) but how do you say no to a sweet Babicka? So our plates were filled and we were promptly informed that there was more available if we wanted.
For the first round of lunch drinks I was able to get away with drinking only water. Quite sufficient for me really. But Fanda used to work in a bar, and is Czech through and through. He couldn't seem to understand that I really wasn't interested in drinking beer, and so after my water was finished he promptly (or as promptly as an elderly man can manage) refilled my glass with beer. Again I ask, how do you say no to a sweet little old man with his encouraging smile and twinkling eyes? He then insisted that we must have music. So he put in an old cassette of classical Czech folk music and began to sing along in a shaky old man voice, pounding the table for emphasis when the music required it. This, however, was not quite enough. Music was made for dancing, wasn't it? And dancing is what he had in mind. His ideal partner? Well, apparently that would be me. So after being stuffed with a hearty Czech meal, served a small glass of beer and an unsolicited shot of peppermint liquor (which tastes like drinking mouthwash)a dance was clearly in order. So dance I did. That is if you can call what I did dancing. Definitely won't be winning any competitions, but I managed not to ever be stepped on too seriously. And all the while Mark just laughed and cheered Fanda on.
After the entertaining first meeting Mark and I headed out to see some of the town. The whole place was full of memories for Mark. It was really wonderful to be able to see so many places that were important to him as he was growing up. We hiked up a mountain to a lovely little chapel. Mark told me the legend of the place. It was originally designed to be a lookout over the town to protect from attacks and disasters. One day a boy was playing there and he was bitten by a poisonous snake. He should have died, but an angel came and saved his life, so they built the chapel there to give thanks for his deliverance. We weren't able to go inside the building, but we enjoyed the view and had a nice walk around.
We headed back to the house and Mark visited with his grandma, who naturally insisted on giving us more food :) It's amazing we were able to walk after being so stuffed, and she always made sure to let us know that there was more if we wanted. Super sweet.
Around 8 we headed out for the music festival. The sky had grown dark and there were a few drips of rain so we both had umbrellas along, but were hoping it wouldn't be too serious since we were going to an outdoor festival called Sumava Rocks We bought our tickets and listened to the first girl up for a while. Then there was a break so we went for a little walk. While we were out the storm began to settle in. At first the rain wasn't too heavy and the thunder only seemed to be competition for the festival drums, but it quickly began to grow in intensity. We went back to listen to the second band and the rain really started to come down heavily.
Charlie Straight provided us with some serious amusement. A group of boys who looked about 17, trying hard to act like real rock stars. We're talking tight pants and bad dancing, trying to get the crowd to clap as they really only wanted to stay dry under their umbrellas, even an over the top entry into the crowd whilst playing the guitar. It was...special to say the least. It was hard to tell if the drunken crowd was making fun of them or honestly encouraging them, but when they cheered for one more song at the end it was pretty evident that, regardless of how ridiculous we felt them to be, they had a fan base.
By the end of their show the rain was coming down in buckets. Sadly, the band that Mark really wanted to see was coming up next. We left the grounds for a few minutes, and found a roof to huddle under. Mark was already soaked to the skin, and I wasn't far from it, my feet sliding around inside my sandals making every step an effort. But we really wanted to give it a try, so we waited until we thought they should be up and headed back.
Things hadn't gotten any better in the few minutes we'd been away. If anything the rain was coming down harder than ever. Each time I thought it couldn't become any more torrential, it would seem to double in its intensity. There was a question over whether the band would be able to go on or not, but, after another ten or twenty minutes of us watching the water rise up from the ground around our feet, the crowd surged back around us as Ivan Mladek and his banjo band took the stage. I'm not sure if the link will work, I was having some issues with it, but I'll try to describe them a bit. We're talking an ancient group of musicians, straight from a Czech folk sorta fest. I was the only one in the crowd who couldn't sing along with every word. They were definitely classic showmen. It was a lot of fun, and the rain definitely POURED down.
After three or four songs Mark was so freezing that as much as he loved it, he felt it was time for us to go. And a good decision it was. As we tried to rush away we were soon confronted by a serious stream of water that used to be the trail. With squeals and shivers we plunged ahead, the water surging around our ankles with every step. A few times it appeared as though we were going to rise up from the water, only to discover we were passing through waves. We were getting closer to home, but suddenly the water went more up to my knees. It was definitely an act of God that we turned from our chosen path at that moment. We would later see in the morning that had we continued in our current direction the trail would have become the actual river and we would have been facing more serious problems than just being wet. We slogged our way through a playground and finally made our way to the street where we fared a bit better than on the path. What a relief to finally make it back to the house. Unfortunately sleep wasn't an easy thing to find either. Not only were there constantly people shouting in the street (rather a shock considering the weather) but at about 3 AM an air raid style siren went off ordering evacuation. They apparently said something about fire, but it was actually about the river. We learned later that it was a warning for the people who were camping for the festival.
When we got up in the morning we looked out to a crazy watery world. We could see then that our path disappeared directly into a raging river. We were definitely thankful that we'd been rescued from that disaster.
After a small breakfast with "Babi" we were taken on a little trip by Fanda. I remember how frightening it was the last time I rode with my own grandfather, and that was a good many years ago. This was...well...worse. We set off in the ancient red Skoda, praying that all would be well. There were no seat belts in the back of this classic beast, so prayer really was what held us together.
I'll spare you the details of the drive, but harrowing would be a decent word as we wound our way up through the forested hills to the small village of Dobra Voda to see the museum dedicated to Dr. Simon Adler, a Jew who died along with his wife in Auschwitz. He was a very important man back in his day, and his sons had sponsored this museum about his life and the lives of other Jews who had lived in the region.
It was pretty interesting, as was the nearby church that we learned had housed horses during Communism. The whole area had been off limits during that era because it was near the border so only soldiers were allowed to be there. It's now a very peaceful farming area complete with hillside fields surrounded by thick woods and filled with a variety of brown cows ranging from deep maroon and white to a soft honey color. I tried to concentrate on the lovely region rather than the somewhat questionable driving. But the driver was precious and he did manage to get us safely back to the house where, of course, there was more food ready for us, and we were also instructed to warm up with "Grog" (a shot of rum mixed with boiling water, lots of sugar and a little lemon juice). I sipped mine gingerly and was thankful for the warmth having run about the countryside in shorts and a t-shirt, totally freezing because my jacket and capris were still soaking wet.
After lunch Mark and I took a little time to look around the town. It was a lovely little place and we're hoping to have a chance to visit again.
Here you can see a picture of the house where we were staying, and how it's so close to the river. By the time I was taking pictures the water had already gone down dramatically. You can also see the path we were taking in the night. In this photo there is still some water crossing over it, but in the night the entire area was part of the river. Pretty scary really.
Overall it was a really interesting and emotional trip. Before we left I had another dance with Fanda and after it he said that I was "Nase" which means "ours." He was pretty much ready to keep me there. He drove us to the station, where, I'm not going to lie, the back door of the car popped open in transit. Fortunately I was able to close it (and no, it wasn't the door on the side of the car that I had entered so I really wasn't to blame.) But again, we got there safely and said a sad farewell. Mark and I both agreed that it would be good if we could go back again before we head to the US. Family is so important after all.