Monday, January 30, 2012

Walking In A Winter Wonderland Part 2

I'm really having trouble trying to decide if I should post all these great pictures in one post, or break it up into two. There's just so much good stuff in here, but I don't want to overload a single post. We'll see... Like I said, I took this great walk last week, and was definitely snap happy. The best part was that so many of the pictures turned out looking good in my own personal opinion. I know all sorts of people swear by having the right camera. Well, let me just say that my little Olympus that I bought in Hong Kong 8 years ago, still does the trick for me. Plus, it fits in my pocket. And, it has survived being dropped and visiting sub freezing temperatures on multiple occasions, so I really can't complain. Sure, it gets grainy when the lighting isn't right, and there is only one lens, and the effects are limited, but when I snap a moment of brilliance, it turns out and that makes me smile :)

Again, an apology for if these paragraphs all get smashed together. I promise I pushed return and added an extra line for space, but this program has been idiotic for the past month or so, and continues to push it all together in a hard to manage mass. Perhaps they're hinting that I would write shorter blog posts so as not to intimidate people. Who knows, but it does bug me, and I want people to be aware that I still know how to properly construct a paragraph. End Vent.

After walking around Usovice for a while, I took a turn to steeper trails and made my way up into the woods. I started out walking through a little park that houses a lovely spring. It was currently closed, but still looks sweet at the end of the trail.

I was feeling adventurous and decided to follow the signs. I've walked this way several times in normal weather, but the snow was about to get extreme.

I did find one spring still open along the way. There was an assortment of plastic cups sitting there, but I opted just to take photos and to leave the funky tasting, and naturally very healthy, water for someone else to enjoy.

I wish you could see how the water literally bubbles up here. It's hard to tell from the pictures, except for the expanding circles, but this spring produces three liters a minute, so that's quite a lot of water passing through.

At the top of the stairs leading away from the spring I walked through this lovely snowy meadow. I didn't bring a measuring stick, but I would say there was at least a foot and a half of snow up there. A lot more than down in town.

The trail came out up near the Boheminium park which I think is closed at this time of year, and also near a little enclosure where they have some unusual deer. They were pretty far away, so I climbed up the tower to get a peek at them. The snow on the stairs was deep, and the climb was steep, but I was up for it :)

I was still determined to reach the Rozhledna Hamelika, which is a nifty observation tower, so I kept on going, until I heard random music playing in the air. I had hiked this way plenty of times in the summer, but never when the ski slope was actually open. Oops. So I had to do a little improvising to skirt around the slope. I'm sure the skiers thought I looked crazy, but eventually I made it around and at last reached the object of my hike.

I did actually climb to the top, but it was fairly hard to get a good picture due to the low hanging snow clouds that kept sending down little flurries along the way. I then proceeded past a place that makes me sad. Back in its heyday, Marianske Lazne was very popular with tourists from around the world, who made the pilgrimage here to care for their health. As a part of their cure, they would walk along the magnificent trails, and take in the fresh air and lovely views. In order to make the whole experience even more romantic (as Anne Shirley would no doubt find it) they built lovely hotels in the woods with little cafe's where the seekers could find a good cup of coffee and a spectacular view. Most of these places are now closed, including some of the incredible hotels in the town itself. Makes me longer for those "Golden Days" of yore.

All right, I've decided to leave myself up amongst the trees for now, and save the city pictures for my next post. Imagine me sitting at the old cafe and warming up after my freezing walk, and come back for more soon :)

(Oh, and I just might have figured out the paragraph issue. They seem to have added a new options bar to assist me after I sent feedback saying the new program was driving me crazy. Here's to hope!)

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Walk Around Usovice

I took a walk a couple of days ago, and ended up with so many great pictures that I have decided to break it into several posts rather than throwing them all out in one go. We'll start right here, basically in my back yard, in the area of Usovice. I'm not sure how all the exact distinction lines run. Our address is Marianske Lazne, but this area is called Usovice (pronounced Ush-o-vits-eh, sorry I don't have any haceks on my computer to make it diacritically correct). Perhaps at some stage, in an era long gone, this was a separate town, but it all just blends together at this point. Anyhow, I wanted to get more exercise, and enjoy a day when the snow was fresh and fluffy, rather than nasty slushy soupy muck, so I hiked all over the place. My first area of observation was the Usovice church. As you can see by the date over the door, it's been around a while.
I've never actually been inside this church, but the views from the outside are lovely, especially in the snow.
How cool to have a little church like this just a short walk away. If there hadn't been quite so much snow I would have sat on this bench to just enjoy the solitude for a while.
Instead, I continued my walk down by the fence.
I made my way up a little hill and passed under this old bridge.
Then turned back to check the trail signs. The trails in Czech are well marked with these colorful painted squares. I heard once that there was a special society that goes around and keeps them fresh, but that most of the people in it are getting older and they're having trouble getting enough young people to keep things going. How true this is, I have no real way of knowing, but it's a sad thought to me.
I headed briefly back in the direction of home, and stopped to check out the fountain. I was really surprised to find it running, because all the other outdoor fountains I know of have been sealed up for the winter.
I didn't record the wet side quite as well as I would have liked because it was just a bit too wet, not to mention cold. This is where I'll end this part of the tour. Stay tuned as I head up into the mountains where the snow got really deep...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What a Wonderful Weekend With the Wendels!

Subtitle: The joys of Great Coffee and Cuddles with Cuties :) After three years (hard to believe it could possibly have been so long ago) I finally had a chance to visit with the Wendel family again. They had to move back to the US for a while, so I missed out on seeing them my last year here, but they have been back in Czech since early summer or so last year, and were good and prepared for visitors. The fat squishy baby I enjoyed cuddling with the last time I hung out with them now prefers sword fighting and keeping his toys away from his younger sister. He has been replaced as the baby times two, but maintains the opinion that he should still have his fair share of time in center of attention land. I headed out of Marianske Lazne on Friday morning, and enjoyed the nice long train ride. There is just something about the train that speaks of foreign lands and promises of interesting sights to me. I must confess, I'm reading Anne of Avonlea right now and it has definitely affected me to a certain extent. I'll have to watch that I don't get too flowery as I work on my book editing process. I'll just have to leave it for the blog. Anyhow, my heart has been craving artsy-ness, and the train provided me some chances to play.
I arrived in Ceske Budejovice with no problems, and was happy to meet with my fabulous family of friends once again. There are now six children in their family: Erica 8, Claire 7, Elisha almost 6, Gavin 4, Adelaide 1 1/2, and Jonas 7 months. Yes, that spells busy. The oldest two girls are in Czech school for part of the day now, so they were there at the station with their dad to pick me up. We headed back to the house where I was instantly greeted by little Adelaide. Can we say, spunky? That girl's got plenty of sparkle, and was eager to have someone new to tote her around and do her bidding. I was instantly smitten.
And then there was the sweet squishy baby Jonas. Seriously, so sweet. While he did have a propensity for regurgitation, I was more than willing to sacrifice a sweater or two to the laundry.
Gavin the Brave (better known by his chosen name of Darth Vader) is also quite a little poser. He was more than happy to smile for the camera. Just don't let little sister touch his dinosaurs or his swords or try to join in the game :)
Claire was shy, and all the pictures I tried to get of her ended up blurry, and Elisha was sick quite a bit, so he wasn't around a whole lot. It's amazing how when you just go for a normal visit it's easy to miss out on photo ops, but I did get at least one of Erica working on her Mario game. She's quite obsessed with Mario, and created 9 levels of Mario world. She and I played her game at least 4 times. Let me tell you, games created by 8 year olds are pretty fascinating :)
This was taken on my last morning there, when the girls were already at school, but I got the rest of the crew in it.
Besides all the great kid time, I also really enjoyed having the chance to visit with Cari and Steve. They're just so great and relaxed. It might seem hard to imagine how hanging out in a little house with 6 kids could be relaxing, but their parenting style is just so easy in a comforting kind of way. Sure, there was occasional screaming, not to mention a little whining, and a dose of instigation, but there was no animosity in any of the interactions. It was great to share about my mixed cultural life, and to learn about the ups and downs of their ministry and life in the Czech Republic as well. Just all kinds of blessings. Not to mention the amazing coffee. Wow. Big shout out of thanks for that one. I've been drinking lots of instant cappuccinos around here, and they just don't compare. (sigh) The time flew by quickly. The kids usually started waking up around 5 AM, which meant they went to bed around 7:30 or 8, leaving me with plenty of time to catch up on some movies in the evening. I got a few phone calls in with Marek, who stayed home to work. While I think the kids might have thought I was there forever, it was over before I knew it, and I was headed back to the station for my return trip. I had about 25 minutes to wait for my train, so I did a quick spin through the nearby part of the city. I only breezed in and out of H & M and didn't quite make it all the way to the old Square, but I got in a couple pictures just to make sure it looked like I was traveling in Czech and not just hanging out in America with an American family.
I had to rush to get back to the train, and somewhere in all of that rush, I had a little mishap. There are many things I love about the Czech Republic. Obviously, I'm quite attached to it's citizens, but there are somethings that just don't compute to my American way of thinking. In the process of walking to the train, my backpack came open. I have no idea when or how, but I do tend to cram it pretty full. When I set it down on the train seat things were about ready to fall out, and I discovered that my little gray Roxy jacket was gone. The entire time I was walking there were people all around me, but no one thought to point out that my bag was open, or to pick up my jacket and hand it to me when it fell out. There was no time to go back and look for it, so I just had to remind myself that it was just a thing, and that I have more than plenty of jackets in my closet to make up for it. (sigh) But I really liked that little jacket, and it did make me sad and frustrated that people here can be so self focused and uncaring. (bigger sigh) Thanks to the lunch and dinner prayers of Elisha, my trip home went well. There was the part where I was delayed for an hour due to electrical difficulties, but at least they noticed there was a problem, and we didn't get into any sort of accident. I made sure to get in a couple shots of Hluboka as we rushed past. It's a really beautiful castle, and there is a great view from the train. Too bad they aren't clearer, but you can at least get a feel.
These next shots are just random ones along the way that I thought turned out rather nicely. They show that bit about how you're just going along and, Whoop!, there's a castle or cathedral, or something cool.
The next one is thanks to the train delay right outside of Plzen.
And last, but certainly not least, I have always enjoyed the view of Stribro when traveling past, whether by train or bus, but have never captured it. At the beginning of this post you can see one blurry shot where I made an attempt, but on the way back I got this little beauty. No filter or doctoring done on this one. It is just purely the effect of a dirty train window on the move.
So, as promised, a healthy dose of pictures and plenty of cuddly baby fun.