Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Na Shledanou... Ahoj

Now that's interesting.... If you type "goodbye" into Google Czech Translate you get "Ahoj".. but when you type in "Na Shledanou" you get "goodbye".  Just a simple example of why Czech is so challenging; but an excellent exercise for an retreaded brain and worth a continued effort to try and subdue the language.

"Goodbye"; regardless of how it translates, it is now time. We leave Letohrad tomorrow morning to fly to Amsterdam for an outward bound visit with Jan and Rosa, Danny and Renata's son and partner who live there.  On Saturday we board an Icelandic Air flight to Dulles via Keflavik.. hope the weather is clear and I can get a window seat since I have not been that close to Iceland before.

During the stay here I conducted a couple short Christian contemplation exercises.  In the process of collecting material I came across this gem about meditation. I would like to take the liberty of adapting this to our stay here in the Czech Republic for the past six months.   So...

"What have you gained from your visit to the Czech Republic?"  Well, nothing! However let me tell you what I have lost:
Indecisiveness, Impatience, Paranoia, Introversion and Prejudice.

So far, I have had ample time to experience life and there is not much that really shocks me anymore (especially after the last year and a half of American politics!) But the six months here have allowed me to identify values already recognized but in dire need of fine-tuning.  One of the most notable qualities of the community here is the ability to move through and past 'inconveniences' with little to no afterthought; it simply is what it is and you move on.  Also, I have noted several occasions in which I would have obsessed over the details of some coming event only to be told, very nicely, to chill and all will be well.... and it always was!  Being basically an only child (I do have a sister but she is seven years older and was always in another social strata - annoyed by the little brother) and not having any children of my own, I have had the tendency to isolate myself whenever possible. You can't do that here. You are continually sucked in at every angle by a tireless tendency toward community.  Lastly, being from America with its relative isolation from the horrors of WWI & II as well as the Soviet dictatorship, I may have had a perception of superiority in view of 'those unfortunate' central European countries.  After several visits in the past and this extended stay, I now bow to the moral, ethical and cultural stability here and will seek every opportunity afforded me to return for another round.

That's about it.  See you back in the ole USofA really soon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Just a Quick Heads-Up.....

FirstPres Annapolis
ECCB Letohrad
B.J. and I arrived here in Letohrad the week prior to the March Equinox 2017... It's now only a few days before the September Equinox 2017.....

The sun is now signaling the end of our half-year here in the Czech Republic.

Just as the sun will soon be heading to its second home in the southern hemisphere, we will be heading to our second (first??) home in Annapolis.....

Let's just call Annapolis and Letohrad co-homes!!  

We should be arriving back at Dulles on September 30th.  While we are sincerely reticent to leave our family here we are equally energized with the prospect of returning to our family there.

Keep tuned... will have some final thoughts later.

A Holiday Vacation or A Vacation Holiday??

Holiday or vacation?-- the terms can get confusing. In the U.S. we consider a holiday as some period associated with a celebratory date, say Easter or Christmas while we use vacation to be the specifically designated timeframe we have away from job or our everyday routine.  Here in Europe, the term vacation does not resonate ... and holiday is a more generic term which can be the months of July/August, a particular day, or your defined period away from work/daily routine.  Which brings up the quandary of being an American in Europe coping with those terms.  Our 'holiday period' effectively began the third week in August when we ceased all our program commitments (although we had scaled back somewhat since the middle of July or so).  So now technically we were 'on holiday' -- was the Paris trip then a vacation??  Whew.... life can be tough!  So add fuel to the fire with the projected two weeks 'vacation?' with Dan and Renata Popelář and my head is really spinning.  But recover I did and no matter what you call it, we were off on the adventure....

Overall plans include an automobile trip - to increase flexibility and aid logistics; four people, four bicycles and lots 'o stuff.  Now as fate would have it, Danny was temporarily unable to drive so I became the designated driver... a role I immediately savored since the prospect of driving a straight shift on unknown European roads was a welcome challenge.  OK... here we go but please keep in mind the following list defines only the route; we did not necessarily visit all these places; our stay was concentrated in Italy and Croatia. Two weeks along this route interspersed with biking, hiking, touring and bunches of 'Ahhhh-ing'!

Letohrad, CZ - Prague, CZ - Munich, Germany - Innsbruck, Austria - Lago di Garda, Italy - Verona, Italy - Padua, Italy - Venice, Italy - Rovinj, Croatia - Rijeka, Croatia - Ljubljana, Slovenia - Vienna, Austria - Brno, CZ and back to Letohrad.

B.J., Renata and Selfie Fool in Italian Alps

Austrian Alps
View from bathroom window!!

Gondola rides anyone??
Guess where......

Verona, Italy

When did your last vacation include two first century Roman coliseums? 
Pula, Croatia

Venice, of course!!

Rovinj, Croatia night street scene.

Verona, Italy sunset.

Mediterranean coast in Croatia.

Whew!! What a 'Holiday Vacation"!

Saturday, September 2, 2017


P.S.  Family Camp Week
The 'Natural' Castle
During one of the many rock walks that week, we came upon the most unique piece of antiquity I
After adapting into a castle.

The original rock foundation.
have seen to date in Europe.  I guess it's the engineer in me but I was fascinated by its ingenuity.  In one area named the Bischofstein Rocks, there was the ruins of a very unique castle aptly named 'The Rock Castle".  These clever guys took a natural rock formation and adapted it into a castle.  We had a chance to crawl around it and I was very impressed and wanted to share it.
Part of the castle ruins.

The Wooden Church
Also during Family Camp Week, we had heard from several
The 'Red Dot'
people who had visited the day before that we should experience the wooden church.  So off B.J. and I went in the highly appreciated 'red dot'.  As you will agree with the logic, most any structure made of wood in times past had a very low percentage chance of surviving.  The church  was built in the 13th century and referred to in the historical documents as the 'Old Parish' church and functioned as a cemetery church for funerals.  And yes, it did burn in 1421 but there is controversy as to how much survived...but in any case it was restored in 1450 and is now the single oldest preserved wooden structure in central Europe.

P.S.  Paris
Footwear in Paris
I wish I had the sneaker concession in France!  For the six days we criss-crossed Paris and its suburbs
almost every male was wearing some version of sneaker.  There were, of course, the usual women's high heels and mens shoes for the professional working contingent but otherwise, for the men, EVERYONE had on sneakers.  The women did, of course, wear stylish sandals but for ALL the men ... nada.  The entire time there I counted five men with sandals (of course, I was one of the five--who would have thought to bring sneakers to Paris!!!).

Beer, French Style
You gotta be kidding!!
OK, I just spent over five months in the Czech Republic.  One does get a bit jaded as to the availability of wonderful beer.  You have heard the saying that 'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy'.  Now, I had few illusions about the availability of beer in Paris but come on, this beer champaign glass was just the last straw.  Enjoyed the wine, I did, but really glad to get back to beer nirvana.

Friday, September 1, 2017

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Pari??

The two hour French wine tasting
Arc de Triomphe
I've known Jack and Toni O'Neill for over 40 years... Jack was the guy that took me on my first 90-day submarine mission back in 1974. So when he and Toni notified us they were going to be at a relative's apartment on the outskirts of Paris what were we to do?? Ignore the obvious eventuality?!? Nay, I say!  But what, you ask, does this have to do with our Letohrad trip.  Let me tell you.  Back in 2009 there were 11 Czech visitors from the church here that visited FirstPres in Annapolis.  Now, Jack and Toni live on Charles Street and were having a block party that fateful day.  It seems that one of our visitors, Maria Luxova, had wandered away from a gathering at the church and became disoriented.  I get this call from Jack that, quote, "I have your check."  What, I don't owe you anything, what do you mean I have your check...  Yea, you got it... "I have your Czech."   So we saunter over and find Maria contently having a glass of wine with the block gathering.  Jack and Toni have been well aware of our Czech connections over the years.
Versailles Hall of Mirrors
A quick plane ride from Prague to Paris and, Voila, the City of Lights.  We had a couple nights downtown and then transferred to their apartment some 13 miles outside Paris... a bedroom community of the great city.  Since it was only an hour bus/train commute downtown, we spent the rest of the visit on day trips downtown.  We had been to Paris about 15 years earlier but were then travel neophytes and did the usual tourist things.... this time was quite different in that we integrated into the  spirit of the city and enjoyed our time together.  Hope you enjoy the selfies as much as we enjoyed doing them.

Liking Biking

Bikes are a way of life here -- not nearly like Amsterdam or Copenhagen where it seems there are more bicycles than people -- but still the two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicles are a mainstay.  While most are for recreation you still often see a local rider to and from the store.  If fact, Aleš would ride his bike the six miles to work daily if it were not for the winter or the rain.  We have not ridden our borrowed bikes nearly as much as we would have liked but still do manage the quick 5 mile commute back and forth to Žamberk whenever we can.

Historical Tour of HK
However, sometime we get a chance to do it right and have an extended
The confluence of the
Elba and Orlici Rivers
(on the Tour!)
ride.  Recently we joined Aleš, Renata and Danny on a wonderful trip to Hradec Králové.  We (B.J., Aleš,  myself) initially took the train from Letohrad, via Žamberk to pick up Danny and Renata, and made the run to Hradec.  (Note:  I have lauded the public transportation system many times and will do again.  Nearly all the local trains have a rail car designed to store bikes; and the local busses, on weekends usually, have specially arranged trailers in tow filled with bicycles!)  In Hradec, Renata took us on a multi-hour historical bike tour of the city after which we set out for the run to Potštejn and the new beer pub just opened this season; a mere 26 miles.  We
HK ECCB Church
(ditto on Tour)
started a bit late -- almost 14:30 by the time we hit the bike path -- and we pushed pretty hard, but the path(s) were in very good shape and Danny's GPS kept us on track (except for that one little glitch.....).  (Note to self: buy a pair of padded biking shorts!!).  The new pub proved worth the sore butt and we all enjoyed the time.... except Aleš who was insistent on taking the bike back to Letohrad -- another 11.5 miles, some of them rather hilly.  Nope, not going to happen; us wimps bade Aleš a safe trip, had another beer, and took off for the local train station for the ride back to Letohrad. Aleš beat us back of course, but in fairness we did have to wait for a late train.

On another occasion, B.J. and I wanted to visit the labyrinth in the nearby town of Brandýs nad
2014 ETTC Crew at Stopping Point
Orlici. (Sorry, another set of parentheses, but need to let you know that in Czech there is no distinction between labyrinth and maze. Yes, there are different terms used but the concepts get confused... we actually were bound for a maze but it is labeled a labyrinth.)  We had been on this route before but only realized it after passing a very familiar beer stop on the trail.  It seems part of the 2014 English to the Church contingent made it this far on the way to visit the maze but pulled up short.  We did, however, continue on and were rewarded with the challenge of finding the center of the maze.
Selfie From Center of Maze

It's that way out!!

An Iona Sunday

Soon after arriving, B.J. and I mentioned that we would like the church here to think about us
Iona Service Program
Although it looks very brief, the service took the
allotted time; the program was condensed
for this service format.
contributing to a Sunday service using material we collected in two pilgrimages we made to Iona; an island off the east coast of Scotland.  In 563 the Irish monk St. Columba established a monastic settlement there that brought Christianity to large parts of Scotland and the north of England and in the middle ages became the site of a Benedictine abbey.  Well, be careful for what you ask.  As we progressed into our stay I discovered that I had been assigned a Sunday during the holiday period to create a service.  OK..... a bit more than I anticipated but so be it.  During one of our Iona trips we bought the Iona Abbey Worship Book at the bookstore there so we had ample material.  We have become familiar with and enamored by Celtic Christianity and its love of the Earth so we chose the Creation Liturgy from the worship guide and, with the valuable translation skills and guidance of Renata Popelář, composed a service for the period when the pastor, Jiřina, was on sabbatical.
Replacing the live tree branch
after attaching paper leaves and flowers.
(The Connie Moran memorial chandelier is on the right.)
Initially, we had planned for a brief sermon but opted for an extended Bible reading from the creation story in Genesis and a passage in the Psalms about care and love for the earth.  After assembling several passages from the Worship guide and selecting music (one English song and the remainder in Czech) we wanted to include an action during the otherwise meditative service.  Renata came up with the idea of  removing the pulpit and having a live tree branch displayed in the front of the sanctuary and have the children attach paper flowers and leaves.  With all in order we arrived the morning of the service and quickly organized the music, readers and props.  As mentioned, the service was a combination of songs, readings, and a couple recorded Taize tunes during the children's tree branch activity.  At the end of the service, I was very pleased with the final arrangement; as everyone filed out of the
The final, expanded Reception Line
sanctuary Renata and I acted as hosts and shook hands with each as they filed by.....but, instead of leaving, the members of the congregation simply fell in place by us and extended the 'reception line' around the outer room which grew as all the people took their places.  Eventually, everyone was encircling the room until all posed a final greeting and then headed for the coffee and cakes.  Super thanks to EVERYONE who made this so meaningful!