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Eastern Europe Tour

Day 4 Wednesday May 23, 2007
Prague - Štramberk - Trojanovice

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I went to sleep at about 11, but I only slept until 1:30. I was concerned about work. I had never left something unfinished before departing on any of these trip. I never did get back to sleep, at least not for more than a few minutes. I heard all of the bells on the tower from 1:30 until 6.

One good thing was that my left arm had not been bothering me at all.

Sue and I joined Angela and Rawlins McKinney, who were originally from Birmingham, for breakfast. They moved down to the Florida panhandle when Rawlins retired. I learned that Rawlins ran until he was sixty, and both of them bike every morning. They told me that they had located a free wi-fi spot in Prague. I was just as happy not to have found it. I would have been able to send my dad a readable e-mail, but my computer would have downloaded all of the office e-mails, and I would have been tempted to keep looking at them.

We got packed and boarded the bus. Our driver's name was Bojan. On the way out of town Susana told us about Radio Free Europe, which is now based in the Czech Republic. Vaclav Havel gave the organization a place to stay after the U.S. government cut its funding. Terrorists have threatened to blow up the headquarters. The Czechs would like them to move the building, which was close to the National Museum at the top of Wenceslas Square, to a more remote or easily securable location.

We drove past the tower from which the Soviets jammed signals transmitted from the west. An artist has sculpted bizarre pink babies that crawl up its support beams. Susana told us that everyone in the city agreed that the best view of Prague was from the top of the Soviets' tower because that was the only place from which one could not see the tower.

We drove east out of Prague. I tried to work on the journal, but I was unable to get much done. The seats were too close together to type comfortably.

Susana suggested that we interview our buddies. Joanne Anderson came back and sat next to me. After she interviewed me she told me that she had been in the field of social work for her entire career and that she loved all of her jobs. She had counseled people on both sides of adoption – the birth moms and adopting families. She had also worked in foster care. She explained the difference between open adoptions – in which the birth mom knows quite a bit about the adopting family and may even interact with them – and traditional closed adoptions. She and her husband Lee, who hailed from Puyallup, WA, ran three miles every morning, and it definitely showed. Joanne likes chamber music, especially the romantic music of Brahms and Dvořak. She also has entered lots of contests and has won prizes dozens of times.

Bohemian countryside.

The bus stopped for a bathroom break at a really dreadful place. It was extremely crowded and smoky. I could not wait to get out of there.

We then introduced our buddies using the bus's microphone. Here is what I learned:

Mike and Marge Brimmer are originally from New Jersey. He first worked for HUD. Then he had quite a few other jobs that seemed quite entrepreneurial. She was a teacher. They retired and now live in southern Virginia. They also have a cottage in Vermont.

Lee Anderson taught global history and psychology to high school sophomores before he retired.

Paul Miller is apparently a Buckeye. The University of Detroit was also mentioned. I think that I heard that he was an electrical engineer before retiring to Venice, FL. His handicap in golf is ten. I think that his wife, Anne, is originally from Detroit. They met in junior high. She is the treasurer of a women's investment club.

Ray Cresap coached baseball and basketball. He likes fishing and boating. I think that his wife Joan also taught school. She plays bridge, but he doesn't. She is a Daughter of Norway. They have two children and seven grandchildren. They live on Camano Island, north of Seattle.

Andy and Pam Reistetter are from Fresno. I think that they were both teachers, too. Pam taught grade school. Andy is a ham radio operator, and he enjoys flying sail planes. They have three daughters and five grandchildren.

Rawlins McKinney has had several short stories published. He and Angela live in the panhandle of Florida. He was in the insurance industry before retiring eight years ago. Angela met him on a blind date. She works in a gift shop in Florida.

Liane Gerczak is a valley girl. She went to UCLA. She worked in the human resources field. Then she married Tony and they formed an HR consulting company. Tony has racked up a great many frequent flyer miles. They recently retired. They have been to Australia and New Zealand as well as much of Latin America. Tony has been recently involved in several home improvement projects.

Lauren Mills went to U Dub. She works for ETBD. Her main function is to edit the travel guides. She studied Norwegian, among other things. In 2000 she married one of Rick Steves's bus drivers. Her husband's name is Tony. In 1998 she appeared on Jeopardy. She has two stepsons.

Nedra Slauson is Lauren's mother. She also has two sons. She works part time as an editor. She has traveled a great deal. This is her fifth Rick Steves tour. Her favorite was the Best of Italy. She also participates in choral singing.

Barbara Post is Nedra's friend. She has two great grandchildren. She travels a lot, too.

Harlyn Thompson was an architect and a professor before retiring. He went on an archeological dig. He and his wife Audrey live in Winnipeg. They have traveled a lot, but Harlyn always made all of the arrangements in their previous trips. They once spent a summer traveling around with a tent. Harlyn reminded me of House. He reminded Sue of Dr. Johnny Fever. We asked Patti and Tom to decide the matter, but they split their votes. If you e-mail me your opinion, I will update the tally, which is currently House 2 and Fever 2.

House (Hugh Laurie)

Harlyn (Harlyn Thompson)

Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman)

Steve Sharp consults with the U.S. Navy. He is interested in scuba diving, his vineyard, and boating. He has a daughter in Pennsylvania. Janet Sharp also has done some kind of work for the Department of Defense. She employs the Carnegie-Mellon process. She is an avid birder and a master gardener. She has had eighteen jobs.

Lyle Worra is from Seattle. He worked for Boeing before retiring. He has three children and four grandchildren. He has traveled a lot.

Our driver, Bojan, and his wife run a bed and breakfast near Lake Bled, which Susana pronounces "blade," even though the guide book clearly stated that it should be pronounced like the English word "bled."

Susana's father was born and raised in eastern Slovakia; her mother was from Bratislava. Her father was assigned by the Communists to work in a coal mine for two years. Later he became an engineer. Her grandfather was in prison for a time. Susana's parents never joined the Communist party. When she was three, she, her parents, and her seven-year-old brother fled from Czechoslovakia to Vienna along with 250,000 others. They stayed in a photographer's studio for a while and then emigrated to Switzerland, which is where she grew up. Her father's engineering skills were greatly in demand there. Susana's rendition of her history was really riveting. For me it was probably the best part of the entire trip up to that point.

On the other hand, I really did not like this method of introducing the buddies. On both previous ETBD tours, the introductions had been a really special part of the trip. It was the smash highlight of the Village Italy trip; at one point I laughed so hard that I almost fell off of my chair. This time it seemed as if we were just going through the motions to get a requirement out of the way.

The scenery on the drive east from Bohemia to Moravia did not seem very interesting. I did not even bother taking many photos. In Brno we saw lots of apartment blocks built by the Soviets. Susana said that they were pretty nice when they were built in the 50's and 60's, but they got very run down. Now people are sprucing them up again.

We drove past the site of the famous Napoleonic victory at Austerlitz. I had no idea that Austerlitz was in the Czech Republic. There was a huge cannon on the side of the road. My camera was not at the ready, so I did not get a picture through the bus's window.

The maypole in Štramberk.

Susana told us that the western Czech Republic had an unemployment rate of about 11 percent. The unemployment rate in the east is nearly 30 percent. It was hard for me to imagine how this could be tolerated.

Hotel Šipka and the tower.

We stopped for lunch in the little Czech town of Štramberk. The bus for another tour group was already there. I could not determine why tour groups pick this village for visiting, but it was reasonably pleasant. There was a maypole in the middle of the square. Lots of kids could be seen and heard running around when we arrived, but they disappeared shortly thereafter.

Tom and I climbed to the top of the tower that overlooked the town. It cost twenty crowns. I got some pretty good photos of the village and the surrounding environs, but most of my shots were ruined by the haze. Two dummies were hanging inside the tower. There was no indication that we could see of what message they were supposed to convey. Quite a few members of our group climbed the stairs up to the tower, but I did not see anyone else inside it. We met Patti when we got down, but Sue was nowhere to be seen.

Scenery seen from the tower.

The town as seen from the tower.

That is Patti at the bottom of the tower.

One of the effigies in the tower.

Looking down the stairs of the tower.

The other effigy.

The beer hall from the tower.

Tom and his Radegast.

We were supposed to meet Sue at the beer hall, but when we saw about sixty tourists enter the hall we changed our plans and decided to eat at the Hotel Šipka. As we arrived, some of the other tour members were just finishing their lunches on the hotel’s porch. Our waitress laughed at our attempts to pronounce the Czech words. I settled on a bowl of garlic soup and a Pilsner-Urquell. Tom ordered sausages washed down with a Radegast. Patti had potato pancakes and white wine. Just as we were finishing, Sue came and sat down with us.

I saw some of these dog poop stations in Prague, too.

Patti and Sue bought Štramberské uši (gingerbread "ears") filled with whipped cream. [Evidently these are really famous. Jana asked us if we ate some when she heard that we had gone to Štramberk.] They had just enough time to eat them before boarding the bus.

The carnival was in town for some reason.

My camera began to exhibit a defect. After I snapped a photo, sometimes the little doors that cover the lens did not retract all the way. The next photo would then be ruined. I suspected that something sticky must have gotten onto the lens. I tried to wipe off the lens and vowed to be more careful.

Moravia as seen from the bus.

This corner of the Czech Republic is known as Moravia. It seemed to be much more traditional than the western part. We drove into Trojanovice, which is in the Beskydy Mountains. Although it had rained most of the day, the precipitation had pretty well ended by the time that we reached Trojanovice. There were, however, heavy low clouds.

The bus at the U Kociána hotel.

Sue and I were assigned room number 7 at the hotel. The room was quite nice. It had the same sort of puff cover for the bed that the room in Prague did.

As always I immediately did what was necessary to get all of my batteries recharged. I plugged the surge suppressor for the computer into an outlet. I then extracted the battery charger from my suitcase. It was soon apparent to me that when I had removed it from the outlet in Prague, which was down beneath the shelf next to the bed, the two-prong European adapter had stayed in the wall. We did not have a spare adapter, and I doubted that it would be easy to find one. However, I judged that I would be able to get by with sharing recharging time between the computer and the AA charger. I was a little upset at myself for not noticing what had happened, but this was by no means the first item that I had left behind in a hotel room.

Comfy beds.

The work area.

The startling colors of the bathroom.

The hallway was certainly unusal.

Radegast: Why a duck?

I took some photos of the room and the interior and exterior of the hotel, which was named U Kociána. In the lobby I discovered a very large wooden statue of Radegast.

Susana had told us that supper would be at the top of the mountain at a small restaurant. There would be two ways up – via a chairlift or by bus. The group for the chairlift would be leaving at 4:15; the bus would depart at 5:30. I decided to take the chairlift; Sue opted for the bus.

In this hotel the bible stays next to the television.

I unpacked clothes for the next day and loaded my backpack with what I would need for the evening. I then immediately went to sleep. Sue took a shower and then woke me up at 4:10 as I had requested. I hurriedly grabbed my pack and headed for the door. I was the last one to arrive. A few minutes into the hike up to the chairlift I realized that I had left my camera in the room. I should have gone back to bring it, but I decided to continue on with the group.

The chairlift ride was something of an adventure. Each seat was big enough for two human-sized creatures. I shared a chair with Barbara Post. She was an old hand at this sort of thing. I had done it exactly once in my life. That was once more than Patti. I was astounded that she had come with us; she is a little uncomfortable with heights. On the other hand, she has often surprised me.

On the way we passed an entertainment area called High Ropes Tarzanie on the left. I had never seen such a thing. It seemed to be built right into the woods. There were lots of contraptions built with ropes that one could climb on. It was aimed at kids, but I think that I would enjoy it.They started the lift at 5 p.m. It took about 20 minutes. Almost halfway up the mountain we entered the clouds. Lauren, in the chair in front of us with her mom, yelled out, "Heathcliff!" Shortly thereafter we encountered a small group of people coming down. One chair contained a guy and his black dog, which he held by its harness. When we reached the top we both got off OK, but I did not do a good job of avoiding the chair, which, of course, keeps on moving after one gets out. Tom and Patti were a few seats behind us, and Tom had the same problem.

Patti's pictures: The restaurant Koliba u Záryša.

A hearth in late May? Remember: we dined on a mountaintop.

Most of us then went on a hike to the statue of Radeggast. It was slightly uphill, but it was not a very difficult walk. Some of us then climbed the statue to rub his belly. I went first. The legend is that if you rub his belly, you will return there again (unless you die first). This was really the only good moment for photos. The clouds were so thick that there were no good views. Quite a few people took photos of everybody up on the statue. I really regretted not going back for my camera.

The bus had already arrived when we made it back from the hike. I was hoping that Sue might bring my camera, but she did not notice that I had left it behind. Oh, well, I would not be able to take pictures of the charming hall or our supper. Patti and Tom said that they would e-mail us theirs.

Barbara, Joan (Beverly), Ray, Liane, Tony, and House.

Audrey, Susana, Lyle, Mike, Marge, and Bojan.

Lee, Joanne, Angela, and Rawlins.

We ate supper in a restaurant called Koliba u Záryša. They served us a shot of some kind of quite strong clear liqueur called Slivovica. The four Connecticut travelers sat with Lauren and Nedra. This was a good idea because Lauren did not want her drink. She also passed on the cabbage soup, which I thought was quite good. The main course was a non-descript chicken breast with fried cheese and spätzel. They also brought out a big cauldron from which you could serve yourself goulash with cheese. That was probably the best part of the meal. We had to buy our own drinks. Tom, Sue, and I had Radegast beer. Patti had white wine.

Va Bene Bunny found a dancing partner.

Sue's pictures: The Moravian folk dancers cut a rug.

I could not help thinking that Koliba u Záryša would have been a great place to do the introduction of the buddies. However, Susana had other plans for the evening.

We all piled in Bojan's bus for the drive back to the hotel. Dessert and folk dancing were scheduled for the breakfast room. Sue and Va Bene Bunny were definitely looking forward to this event, and they hurried downstairs to the show. I collapsed of exhaustion on the bed and went to sleep a little after nine.