Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I'm really sorry about dropping the ball on the blog this month. It's pretty pathetic when my dad tells me they're considering renaming me Jared due to my lack of blog activity.

Here in the Czech Republic, it's květen - the month of blooming flowers. It's been beautiful here, but it's also been like a whirlwind. I have been super busy and the time has been flying by. I've actually been a little exhausted from the pace.

I owe you a couple of pictures from the witch-burning, which actually took place at the end of April - here they are:


After: Ding, Dong

I've seen a lot of new things this month. On Armistice Day, May 8, I went to Terezin. It's an old fortress town which was used as a concentration camp by the Nazis during the war. It is famous as the setting for the Nazi propaganda movie which attempted to paint a picture of concentration camps as happy destinations for Jewish families. Of course, the reality was much different. This trip was, predictably, quite depressing and sobering - although the surrounding countryside was extremely beautiful.

I've really been enjoying my experience in the Czech countryside. I get to see a different side of the Czech Republic when I'm travelling to the villages around Mlada Boleslav than I see in Prague. The spring brought lush green to the fields and beautiful flowers - the Czechs love gardening, and I love admiring their gardens!

Here are a few random pictures from my wanderings - some snails I found one morning while I was jogging, and a picture from a walk through a huge old cemetery in the center of Prague. Also, a couple of pictures of myself, so you know I'm really still alive :). I've still been seeing the hedgehogs, but I'm happy I've decided not to harass them. In fact, I ran into a little ježek (their Czech name) on my way home this evening and stopped for a minute to talk to him.

This month also brought a new teaching opportunity. My private student in Mlada Boleslav, Miroslav, has a Czech-Australian friend, Petr, who runs an intensive English weekend program in a town called Poděbrady, about an hour from Prague.  Petr needed more teachers, so Mira gave him my phone number and he called me to see if I would be able to come work there for the weekend. I did, and it was a great time. It was nice, because I was teaching adults, which was a nice change. I love teaching kids, but it's nice to have a balance.

The teaching there went well and I'll be going back next month to teach again for the weekend. The program takes place once a month. Poděbrady is really pretty - it's a spa town, based around the natural springs there. The town has a promenade stretching through the center in front of the train station with fountains and flowers all around, and there are plenty of places to go for a nice walk or bike ride along the river. For the weekend, we stay in a hotel where the classes are held and meals are provided there. It's quite nice.

The only difficult part about the weekend teaching was that it meant I had no day off for two weeks straight. I also was very exhausted by the extra lesson planning going in to the weekend. It should be easier next month, since I know far in advance I am going to do it and can start preparing now.

On my first day off after the two-week marathon, I took a day trip with my friend Bob to Kutna Hora, a town about an hour from Prague which is most famous for its "Bone Church". I had been excited about seeing this since before I even left the United States, but I just got around to visiting. It was the perfect day to go as the weather was fantastic.

We first visited Kostnice, the Bone Church. It is so weird! Apparently some dirt from the Holy Land got scattered in the graveyard of this church at some point, and it became a much sought-after place to get buried. Eventually, the cemetery was extremely over-crowded, so the monks had to take up some of the older bones to make room for new ones. Legend has it one crazy monk started putting the exhumed bones into patterns. Apparently this really took off, and now the church is estimated to contain the bones of up to 40,000 people, which are arranged into bizarre architectural and decorative formations.

One of the most famous features is the Bone Chandelier, which is said to contain at least one of every bone in the human body. It's truly bizarre when you see it up close and start identifying the bones. Who knew that if you arranged hip bones and skulls in a certain way they resemble flowers? Who thought of turning pelvises and spinal cords into sculpture?

After gawking at the Bone Church and taking a bunch of pictures, we walked about a half an hour to the center of the town, where we visited St. Barbara's Cathedral. Kutna Hora was a medieval mining town, and St. Barbara is the patron saint of mining. This is a gothic cathedral, which many say is the most spectacular of its kind in the Czech Republic. I have to admit it was impressive. I especially appreciated the ancient frescoes in some of the chapels and the beautiful windows. The view from the hill the cathedral sits on of the town and countryside surrounding is really breathtaking.

Finally, we went for a tour of the silver mines. The tour was conducted in Czech, but they gave us some pages of information in English, so we were able to follow along. We put on hard hats and white robes and followed the guide 65 metres down into the old mine shafts - it was pretty tight squeezing through some of those tunnels! They asked to make sure we didn't suffer from claustrophobia before we were allowed to begin the tour.

The website I had used to get information for the trip to Kutna Hora had suggested a restaurant, so after the tour of the silver mine, we followed their advice and went there for dinner. It was really great! We sat outside in the sun, and ordered yummy, fresh grilled food. For an appetizer we had grilled goat cheese with cranberry sauce, served with toasted baguette. For my entree I had grilled pork loin with tarragon butter and grilled asparagus. So delicious. It was a great trip.

The next day I went to my meditation group, then took a long walk with my friend Leila - it's becoming our Sunday routine. The weather was fantastic again that day, so we walked for hours. She showed me a couple of parks I hadn't been to, and a couple places with really nice views. This picture shows a nice view of Vinohrady, one of Prague's many beautiful neighborhoods.

As usual, I have to plan a few lessons and get everything in order now for my classes tomorrow. In the morning it's off to Mlada Boleslav again for the next couple of days. I forgot to mention that last Thursday, Marta, the teacher I work closely with at one of the schools in MB, invited me to her house after class. She has two young children, both of whom I've had the pleasure of teaching. She also has a beautiful home, and she made delicious blueberry dumplings, cakes and sandwiches for me - a great hostess! We talked and visited and played games with the kids. It was a really nice time. She mentioned going to see one of the local castles or something soon.

I'll really try not to go so long without writing again... it wasn't intentional, I just got really busy there for a little bit. Still, it's not an excuse - thanks to everyone who reads this stuff and misses it when I don't post - I'm glad you are reading!