Thursday, September 14, 2017

Kutna Hora, Czechia

My main reason for choosing a tour to Kutna Hora was timing.  I needed a half day tour, after 10 am, and this worked.  So I signed up, paid, and went.

It was actually quite interesting.  It was one of the richest towns in Bohemia because of the silver mines.  So rich that the local cathedral, Saint Barbora was one of the only cathedrals not built by royalty or nobility.  It was built by the miners, and so there are frescos and stained glass showing the work of the miners.  And here is a statue; the miner is dressed in white not reflecting piety or purity, but for a practical reason:  in order to see him better underground.

The town is, of course, picturesque.  And they bragged about their food.

But the real draw of the town is the Sedlec Ossuary.  I had never seen one before.  This was my first view:

My first thought:  This is way cool!  And I started taking pictures of it all.  Then I realized that these were actual people once, and it felt really macabre.  But here is the brief story.

Back in the crusades, 1278 to be exact, the abbot of the monastery brought back some dirt from Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.  He sprinkled it in the cemetery and this made it a desirable place to be buried; people sent remains from all over central Europe. Various renovations and repairs and burials unearthed graves, and these people had to be reburied.  In all there are about 40,000 skeletons there, some estimates go up to 70,000.

There is a central chandelier, for which you must look elsewhere because my picture is out of focus, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body.

So...these arrangements were made as a way of honoring those people, not as mere decor.

Friday, September 08, 2017


Stephan and Merel told me this is the best theme park ever and were really excited about taking me there...even though I am old enough to be their grandmother.

So we went, because that is what grandmothers do.

These two pictures prove this is not your average everyday theme park.  The first is the entrance.  I never did find out what the second building was.

I am old, but to prove I am not quite decrepit, I did go on 2 roller coasters.

The first one was themed as a dragon fight.  Fortunately, it was raining (this is the Netherlands, after all) and we were not burned as we went by.  There were two roller coasters going at the same time, which I think also confused the dragon.

The second was the Flying Dutchman,  We waited in the docks for the boats, after passing through the buildings upstairs in the picture.  Don't ask me to tell the tale of the Flying Dutchman, it was all in...Dutch!

Fortunately, we all survived the encounter with the ghost ship and landed in the water.  Stephan had warned me not to sit on the edge of the boat, so I only got slightly wet.

I have decided that, by the time I go to the next theme park, I will be too decrepit to ride a roller coaster.  I prepared for this by electing to watch Stephan and Merel ride the scary one.

We got tickets to what Stephan described as a horse show.  Well, it did have horses.  It also had a tale of a kidnapped princess, a fire breathing dragon with 4 or 5 heads...Not all attractions had dragons.  There was a Dutch version of Disney's "small world," which, fortunately, had a tune that did not stick in your mind.  And an Arabian Nights display, a fairyland, overpriced food, everything you could want in a theme park.  Except Elephant Ears.  OK, back to the dragons.  And there were horses, so I guess you could call it a horse show.

And, as we were leaving, we found the headphones that would have given me the story in English.

All in all, a fun day.  Because that's what grandmothers do.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Netherlands....Again

At this stage of my life, it would seem prudent to go to as many different countries as possible before my back refuses to let me go on a plane for 10+ hours.  But that does not take into account the human is more fun to visit people than places.  I realized that a few years ago in Paris...I was there for the people, Paris itself was incidental.

So...back to the Netherlands.

This time I made an amazing discovery.  Who would think that, in the summer, in a country that is below sea level and filled with stagnant scum covered canals, that there would be mosquitos?  Add that to my list of stupid lessons learned.

Of yes, I was supposed to talk about people.  Well, I got to see Stephan again, and his parents, and his little sister, who is now 4.  And I met his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's parents.  So I met a bunch of neat people.

And they wanted me to have a true experience of the Netherlands, so they took me to Madurodam. This is a place with replicas of important Dutch buildings, like palaces, canals (complete with tour boats that are barely larger than the carp swimming in the canals), and the Mars candy factory (which will deliver a small candy bar for the cots of 10 cents) and Schiphol airport.  (Which is pronounced Skip pole, not Ship pole.)  Well, here is the building nicknamed the "Cookie Jar," and its replica, followed by a palace in Den Haag.

The coolest part, I think, was replicas of the storm control devices on the North Sea.  One of them you can operate yourself.  There are two types of people there...those that wanted to protect the cities and villages of the Netherlands from the storm surge, and those that wanted to see just how much flooding the villages could take.  (Fortunately, most of the Dutch were not of the latter type.)

Oh, and tulips are big in the Netherlands.

And here they are together.  Aren't they cute???

OK, so this post was about Buildings and what not, but it wouldn't have been so much fun without them!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Obligatory Travel First Post: Toilet Humor

Unfortunately, this time I did not encounter any interesting toilet signs.  I did, however, get away from where English-speaking tourists regularly go and encountered this choice:

Any guesses?

The top is men, the bottom women.

By mutilating the pronunciation of the bottom, which is kind of zjeny, but with a soft j, I got "Jenny."  I also got some raised eyebrows and a snort of exasperation.  But mutilating the pronunciation of foreign words is what we are good at here in the U. S. of A.  At least I did not change the meaning, which is also one of our talents.

Pension (or sometimes Penzion) means hotel.  SOKOL is the name of the hotel, and means "falcon."  I warn you though, I used Google Translate for this, and it gave me "economy" when it should have given me "lord," and "jerk" when it should have given me "sing."  So trust me at your own risk. (You can trust me that muzi is men and zeny is women, because I was talking to actual Czech speakers who are also competent in English)

Inside, I encountered my first pull string toilet.

How to flush this toilet is obvious.  Just pull the string, right?  Well, you have to pull the string for a second or two, or flushing is...incomplete.  Some people at camp must have been in a hurry.

Also, if you pull the string too hard, it can break.

Ask me how I know this.

And I should probably warn you:  do no use the public toilets in the main square of Cesky Krumlov.  You are better off holding it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Best Year Ever, Right?

I was worried about this year about my exchange students.  There were only 6 of them, 2 at my house, and this means I had to change almost everything I did.  What if I held a potluck dinner and one family couldn't come?  There goes 1/5 of my students.  Or even 1/3.  Pizza/Hockey:  There is no point in reserving a room at a pizza place, and you don't get a discount hockey tickets until you have 10 people.

And, the most important point, what if they don't like each other?

Well, not to worry.  They like each other.

And my minivan has room for 6 more people.  The skinniest people were in the back seat.  That meant Ella, Marta, and Lorenzo.  Poor Lorenzo.

On November 11, a day off from school, I suggested to my two boys that we go climb Badger Mountain.  Before you know it, everyone else is coming (well, except Julia who broke her leg), and I am driving.  And then we all had to stop for coffee  (well, it was cold).  And then on to my house where Lorenzo and Marta were in charge of dinner.

One day I was informed that all 6 of them were making brunch for Jack and me.


Meals at my house happened frequently.  All I did was answer questions, stay out of the way, and hope they did not burn the place down.

I gained weight.  Fortunately for them, they did too.

And they frequently told me that this was my best year ever, right?

Well, I will miss this group a lot.

Julia, who just quietly made friends, talked to people, and who wanted, to get along with everybody.  And inspired an argument about who was tallest.  This argument was only settled by me, when I looked up heights on their applications.  

Ella, maker of the best cinnamon rolls ever, and who made frosting pictures on my gingerbread house, and who took 3 suitcases home.  She trimmed the guys' eyebrows.  I should have let her trim mine...I can't see to do it myself anymore!

Sami, who at first I thought was going to be trouble.  He asked some pointed questions at the first meeting, until I finally asked him what rules he intended to break.  But he has a heart of gold...Instead of running down Badger Mountain to get out of the cold with everybody else, he walked down with me and kept me company, and we froze together.  And he misses our sunsets.  (I am still waiting for the list of rules he broke.)

Marta, who is an expert not only at making pasta, but at making sure that everybody has enough.  She was shocked that we put meat and pasta on our plates simultaneously.  She thinks I am the best coordinator ever.  Someday I will believe that.

Lorenzo and Alex lived in my house, and I can not just say a few sentences about them.  Lorenzo never wanted his picture taken, and made sure to ruin them.  (He succeeded about 90 percent of the time.) He loves good food.  He appreciates everything you do for him.  He got so involved at school that we didn't see him, especially about 2 weeks before opening night of a  play.  He was shocked at all the things we do with pineapple:  pizza, ham, hamburgers, salsa...  He is reliable.  He is organized.

Alex liked to win at games, and he did it noisily.  He was equally noisy when he lost.  I introduced him to French onion soup.  He was always willing to help.  He was always willing to go to coffee.
He can do a 3X3 Rubik's cube in about a minute.  He was really good at sleeping.  And eating.  And talking.

I miss them already.  My van, however, is looking forward to a rest.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Preplanning. Theory only.

Today started yesterday.  My six exchange students (2 actually live in my house) decided that they have to get together  AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE before they all exit the country and live further away from each other.  This creates a problem, because rule number 13 is that exchange students don't make decisions well.

The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who didn't make a decision.

This saying does not inspire them.

They finally decided that go-karts are too expensive (potentially being against the rules didn't faze them) and they would go mini-golfing instead.  Now they are given another decision:  lunch first, or mini-golfing first?  Guess who decided.


I also decided on time and who is driving whom.  This made them happy, especially the part about not starting until noon which enabled them all to sleep in.

Then I find out that one host mom (who lives 30 minutes away) not only has not been informed, but has a bad headache.  Plans changed; I picked those two up instead.  (Plus I had to get gas, which was not in the plans either.}

Mini-golf was a success in that 4 made holes in one!

Then it started to rain.  (There is a saying that you are not so sweet you will melt in the rain.  I would like to correct this statement:  rain does not melt things, it dissolves things.  The wicked witch of the east (or was it the west?) just wasn't educated in chemisty.) So we sped things up.

Now there is another decision:  where do we eat?

After some discussion, mostly around cost, we went with Lorenzo's (Lorenzo is into good food.  He is also The Guardian of the Nutella.) original suggestion:  Fujiyama's, which was moderately expensive but they all decided they could handle it.  And, of course, Lorenzo has to test the grill to see if it was hot.

Ironically, it was Marta who got all the ice packs.

I am going to drag Jack into that restaurant.

Then Ella had a great idea:  She would make cinnamon rolls at my house.  This was met with universal approval (YES!  A DECISION) and so we left, via a coffee shop drive through in which we managed not to confuse the barista too much.

And this is the result:

Ella makes the best cinnamon rolls ever and it is a good thing that she did not live with me. I already gained a lot of weight with Alex and Lorenzo's cooking!  I should also mention that nutella is good on these things.

Then Ella also decided that everybody's eyebrows needed tweezing; I escaped.  so did Jack.  so did Alex.

Now they are watching a movie.  It took 20 minutes to decide that.

I am going to miss these guys.  Even this one:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

And How Was Your Day?

My French exchange student never fails to ask me "Did you pass a good day?"  (I like the wording so much that I haven't told him that this is not standard English.) (But it ought to be.)

Well, today I have a longer answer than "fine" or "crappy."

First, you have to know that I am having my kitchen counters replaced and the sink changed. Yesterday they took the old counters out, leaving me with no sink, no dishwasher, no way to clean the stove, and a clear view of the contents of the top drawers.  I was able to choose a bottle opener without searching through the back of the silverware drawer, and I opened the phone book to look up a number, again without opening the drawer.  Twice.  Convenient, no?

Today actually started yesterday at 3 or so, when the contractor called.  He said that the counter people and the plumber would be at my house shortly before 3 (just when I am picking up the French exchange student from school), and have I bought a replacement faucet yet?  This is something that I don't think we discussed explicitly, because it is only 18 months old, and I would have no reason to purchase another.  I verified it was not left at the house.  The contractor found it in a dumpster underneath some siding, and concluded I really did not want it back in the sink, and offered to compensate me for a new faucet.  Which I now had to go and buy.  Well, I was about to retrieve the other exchange student, gather decorations for my potluck dinner, and take both exchange students to their potluck, go to mine, and return home about 9:00 without stopping at Home Depot, so I planned to buy it today.

Now on to today.

Today's list included teaching an 11 year old how to finish the binding on her first quilt (which has a Christmas deadline), from 10:00 to until we finished about lunchtime, then buying the faucet, and stopping at place to pick up lunch that was not a hamburger joint.  Something classy, like a sandwich shop, or possibly the Safeway deli, and being home in plenty of time for everyone to arrive at 3.  I could not buy the faucet before 10, because it it laundry day, and the first load, which finished at 10, is officially titled "the load that will wrinkle if you do not pay attention to it right away, and then I have to iron everything, and I hate ironing."

My daughter called at about 9:30.  She has a doctor appointment for the youngest, who has had a cough for two weeks, and it is getting worse this week.  It is at 1:00.  Can I take him, or does she need to take time off work?  Yes, I can take him.

I called my husband, who is at a slow time at work, to see if he can get a faucet.  Maybe.  I need to check back on when the quilting sessions ends.  deep breath.  OK.

My little quilter shows up at 10:15, and everything is going just great until the countertop guys show up at 10:30.  We do a little talking, they make a phone call, confirm that the contractor was mis-informed, I give my little quilter (and her grandmother) directions and head off to Home Depot to buy a faucet.

The trip was without incident.  I made all the stoplights both ways, even the one I always stop at (well, except for 1, but really!).  There is one section of freeway which is officially 70 mph, everyone goes 50 because in only 1 mile there is an exit that most of them want to take, so why speed up to the flow of traffic?  I was able to get up to 80 on the section!  (You didn't see me, and I'll deny everything.)

Then I remember the phone book I left open in the now covers two drawers.  I envision cutting it apart (it is in a 1 inch plastic 3 ring binder) in order to remove it from the drawer, and I hope I get home before they get to that section of counter.

I get home without getting a ticket, deliver the faucet, discover the counter has actually been installed over the phone book, successfully remove it without destroying it or anything else, and tell my little quilter what to do next,  Then my daughter calls.  She is on the bus to work, but forgot her ibuprofen. Can I deliver some?  She doesn't need it until 2 or 3.  I promise to try, and think to myself, I am going to forget.

I call my husband to say he is off alert for the faucet.

I go back and forth between the countertop guys and my quilter, successfully multitasking.  My quilter leaves at 12:30.  The countertop guys leave at 12:40.  I leave at 12:41 to pick up the grandson, get some information on his cough, install his car seat, get a permission slip from his dad, and make it to the doctor with 2 minutes to spare.

During the visit, the baby throws up all over himself and my sleeve.  I assure the doctor this is nothing, his mother threw up in my mouth once.  (Only once.)  We leave the office at 1:30, a half hour earlier than I had thought.  I am thrilled.  I deliver the baby to his dad, with instructions.  Then I go home and change my shirt, and plan to get lunch and deliver ibuprofen.

I discover that the plumbers have been there, almost 2 hours ahead of schedule.  I call them.  They have nothing else to do, so they come back and install the faucet and reconnect the dishwasher.  I get a text from the exchange student...can I come?  The library is closing.  The plumbers are almost done, he said to call when I get there.  The plumbers leave, I leave.

At school, there is no response to my calls or texts.  I finally enter the school, find the kid.  Then Laurie asks for the ibuprofen again.  I go home, get the drugs, go to Wendys for lunch, and eat lunch while waiting for Laurie to come to the parking lot to get her drugs.  It is 4:00.  Time for coffee.

And that was how I passed my day.

And I finished all the laundry.