Saturday, October 30, 2010
Let's get the potty talk over with right now. In the Czech Republic, a small country sandwiched between Poland, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia in central Europe, you have to pay to use many public restrooms.
An attendant was usually there to collect your 15 or 20 Kc, or crowns. (Seventeen crowns equals 1 U.S. dollar.)
After spending two weeks in the Czech Republic earlier this month, I came home with more questions than answers.
Purpose of the trip was to visit our son Ben who is teaching English in Hradec Kralove, a small city east of the capital. But we did a fair amount of exploring on our own too.
Even though it was mid-October, we were treated to mild temperatures and sunny days for almost the entire trip. My wool socks and sweater never came out of the suitcase.
Two weeks is not enough time to more than scratch the surface of a new country, especially when the language is so, well, foreign. So what I can safely tell you are the observations I made, in a number of areas.
As anyone who has been to Europe knows, public transportation is light years beyond anything we know in most of the western U.S. In the capital, Prague, it took us no time at all to figure out the metro, tram and bus system, which connected to a train system that would take one anywhere in the country-or beyond.
One of the things that surprised me was the politeness of passengers. Apparently I was an elder, because young people, and sometimes not-so-young people, gave up their seats for me, which I always gratefully accepted.
Fares varied from 26 Kc in Prague to 15 Kc in Hradec Kralove.
The first dog I saw was a wirey terrier-type dog, who leaped onto the bus at a stop and bee-lined through the legs of startled passengers, and launched himself onto the lap of a pretty young blonde woman. He was delirious with happiness, and so was she. A man followed the dog, smiling indulgently and clutching a paper-wrapped sunflower as he watched the reunion.
We saw dogs regularly, often off-leash, especially in Prague. Dogs rode buses and trams, but wore muzzles onboard.
I can count on one hand the number of cats I saw. There was Pussy, a long-haired tortoise shell napping in the Dvorak Museum in Prague. I saw a harnessed cat draped over a woman's shoulder in Hradec Kralove, a black cat hunting in a field, a black and white cat strolling on the wall of a cemetery, and another black and white cat named Miski who greeted visitors at the Adrspach Rocks Park.
There was also the whimsical cat carved from sandstone and standing alongside a trail near the Adrspach Rocks.
We discovered one way to sample the local cuisine without feeling like we were playing roulette was to go to a cafeteria or deli where everything was in view. I would describe the food as what we call "comfort food." Lots of gravies and sauces, potatoes cooked any way you wanted them, and bread. Fresh greens were scarce. The food was very filling, which was unfortunate, because there was never room for the exquisite-looking desserts.
The Czech Republic is known for its good, and abundant, beer. Pilsner is a well-known Czech brew that originated in the city of Plzen.
The most informative place we visited was the Communism Museum in Prague. Nearly two generations of Czechs grew up under Communism, and it has only been 20 years since the Czechs gained their freedom, and 40 years since the Soviets entered Prague with tanks to halt a move towards independence.
Prague has an abundance of statues commemorating King/Saint Wenceslas. His statue, astride a horse, stands at the head of the boulevard called Wenceslas Square.
We know him as the "Good King Wenceslas" in a familiar Christmas carol, but he ruled in the 10th century as the Duke of Bohemia. He was well-educated, literate and benevolent, and is credited with Christianizing the nation.
We spent several days in Hradec Kralove, the small city where Ben teaches English to employees of a utility company. He lives in a Communist-era apartment building, and bicycles to his job. The bus stop was less than two blocks away, and we made good use of it.
Hradec Kralove is at the confluence of the Elbe and Orlice Rivers. The town site was occupied in the era of Ancient Rome and Slavonic fortified settlements.
In more recent times, the town is distinguished by the variety and quality of its architecture, and it is known as a classroom for architecture students.
We'll spend some time learning a few key phrases, and maybe sorting out how Czech words are pronounced. We'll be ready to venture into more of the countryside. And if we're lucky we'll find an English-speaking Czech who can answer some of those questions.
Carrie Chicken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 522-5289.