|A kitten joined our children at the cottage.
We kept putting off our trip to Czechia this year, until it became fall again. We had tried to
fly there in summer, which has its advantages, like the kids having their summer break and not
needing to catch up with school. There are disadvantages as well — expensive airfare, friends
who we would miss, for they themselves are on vacations, and hordes of tourists.
Hence, there is no completely clear and good solution; thus we tried this for a change.
It got helped a little by Tom's virtual school, which he could attend nicely even from granny's
flat in Prague. His schoolmates, in the end, had been amused by the time shift, when he reported
to them at half past eight a.m. that he just came back from visiting a ZOO, or Vyšehrad
We wanted to check out Norwegian Airlines, who got accrued both high prize and much condemnation.
We liked the ticket price, which is structured according to what one wishes to pay for —
luggage, food, sea selection. A system offering you to skip some perks, seems to me a very good
idea. At least one has some small control over few things on the cattle train — and can
afford a feeling of having chosen a cattle train, instead of paying exorbitantly for services
that one does no care for.
Our second reason to choose the Norwegians was switching planes at small airports. I've had it with
mad dashes across Frankfurt, jammed crowds at Heathrow, and endless staircases with smelly bathrooms
at Charles de Gaulle.
|Historic granary in Žirovnice.
|The castle sports many fifteenth century frescoes.
Naturally the Norwegians, to save money, don't fly from San Francisco, but from Oakland, although
the tickets proudly claim that it is SanFran (Oakland follows after a dash). Oakland satisfies our
requirement of a small airport, yet I would have welcomed if their services transcended third world.
As in — there were altogether two counters open to simultaneously process three
trans-continental, trans-Atlantic flights, hence we spent perhaps an hour in a line.
The queue did not fit into the hall, and so we formed a column along the toilets in the corridor.
Some belts to move the luggage were broken, and embarrassed clerks kept asking the passenger to
please drag their luggage farther on to a help next to the only moving belt feeding the belly of
the airport. Wifi may have been free there, but impossible to log on to; almost not worth
After we had said our good-byes to Sid, who was not flying with us, and finally passed through
security checkpoints to the gate, staff had announced that the flight would be delayed, since
airport services failed to pump out the on-board toilets. I smelled a rat, and ordered the family
to a booth with Chinese food. We did well; orange chicken had supported us throughout the next
delay (the airplane was held at the last moment, for only then they began to load cargo) —
we would not have lasted till the "dinner" at half past ten in the evening (not to mention
that by that late hour, one does not eat much anyway).
|Blowing glass is quite a workout.
|At Przewalski horses.
The flight proceeded as expected; fortunately, Vendula had forewarned us that we should pack
blankets and headphones, as those, too, can be had for a surcharge. We did not mind the delay, since
it shortened our originally five-hour lay-over in Oslo, Norway, to a relatively pleasant short stop
and recovery. People on the plane surprised me, who actually remained seated even after the
touch-down and let those of us disembark first, who were in a time crunch to catch their connection;
and the pilot, who during landing recited a long list of new departure times for those who had
missed it and got bumped.
We had a brinner
(like a brunch
, but including a dinner) in Oslo
(a nine-hour shift wreaks havoc in one's day rhythm), discovered that their
wifi was truly free, and stretched and ran a little. A short hop flight to Prague always feels
after the long ocean-crossing one like a total joke, and soon we were emerging at Ruzyně, to meet
grand-dad awaiting us. With a bit of improvisation, we even fit into his tiny car, and I could
cancel Kočička as my transport backup. Granny had expected us at Písnice; this year we figured
we would visit for such a short time, we could stay together with her in the one-bedroom flat,
to get as much time together as possible. This first night we naturally fell head-first into our
respective beds, and left unpacking for later.
|A chapel of holy Mary Magdalena in Skalka.
|At the kiosk with a campfire.
On Thursday, the rest of the welcoming committee, Kristýna with her girls, had arrived. A family
logistics ensued, transporting Olinka to her choir practice, but I did not participate — I
left granny in clutches of the children and set out for my car. Kočička came to my rescue again this
year; the little car belonging to their grandma had given us just the right amount of mobility.
Right on Friday, we could embark on a visit to Švajda's in Kyje — taking public transport
would certainly take longer and be more difficult; this way my greatest worry was not to get lost in
Prague's Friday traffic (An idea to use navigation on my tablet came a few days later). We found
ourselves, found Švajdas, and continued to the next street over to Rýzl's. Tom took refuge there
with Annie at some games, while Lisa went to chatter (and giggle) with Andrea. And I could chat with
On Saturday we left granny at home, and set out in the direction cottage by eight in the morning.
Grandpa was already there with my nieces, and so I mercilessly unloaded my own children and
continued to Telč, where I had arranged for a lunch with Pepe, who came from Vienna. Being proper
tourists, we ordered fried cheese and beer, and then coffee and a dessert in a pastry shop, but
still we did not cover everything in our chat. By then it was late afternoon and one had to return
to family and check whether the kids meanwhile did not wear out our grandpa. As far as I could
determine, they managed to get in a way of his making cider, to interfere with his lawn mowing, and
to acquire a random neighborhood kitten.
|Stations of the Cross.
On Sunday we drove out in full company of two cars to chateau Žirovnice. It's got a chateau status
only because of a historic clerical error of many years ago — otherwise it's a full-blooded
castle, albeit not anymore in its full glory — the third floor got destroyed by cannonade
during the thirty-year war. Extensive frescos from the end of fifteenth century had survived,
the largest of their kind in Bohemia — both on external walls and indoors.
We got back to the cottage for lunch, and left grandpa nap in the afternoon, while the rest of us
went mushroom hunting. Grandpa rumbled that we would not find any, and the kids were a bit
obnoxious about not wanting to go for a walk, but after finding first pieces, spirits in the company
rose rapidly. The forest had been obviously picked clean on Saturday morning, but in the autumn
drizzle, new mushrooms grew within the day and a half; we even found a few king mushrooms, and Elsa
became quite passionate hunter. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning our bounty, and cutting
it up into a new dehydrator, which grandpa had providently obtained — without it, I don't know
where we would otherwise put all the mushrooms.
On Monday morning, headed for Prague, we stopped at Janštejn glass works. After a little back and
forth, we managed to get a tour. My great-grandfather used to work there, and then various relatives
of mine, until one summer break, when I myself got a job. It's a small piece of my family history.
The Glass Works today operate twelve furnaces, and produce illumination glass, as the only
manufacturer in the country.
Surprisingly enough, old craftsmanship and art survive here — lots of
processes still rely on manual skills and personal experience of individual glass workers. The rest
of it is unadulterated, underpaid hard labor. I would probably not last long at quality control,
which consist of gazing into a naked light-bulb across a glass sheet, amids racket and water spray
In the end, Tom was selected as the strongest specimen to try blowing one bulb — given how
much he turned purple while blowing, I reckon that the casual attitude, with which the chaps there
walk around with their pipes and add color glass layers, is not at all easy.
|A view from Černolice Rocks.
|A view from Vyšehrad battlements.
My virtual friends and me had agreed on a get-together on Tuesday. The kids were more or less left
in granny's care, and I sat for many hours with girls, of whom many I saw in the flesh for the first
time in our lives — and some arrived on my account even from the other end of the country.
I must say that this year I did not quite manage to keep my jet lag in check, thus even on Tuesday
I went through phases of low energy — depending on how much coffee I had in me at the moment.
The girls laughed at me saying that I was getting tired because of speaking Czech and that I did not
understand them, but I swear it was not the language, but pure tiredness.
A trip to the ZOO awaited us on Wednesday. I don't know when exactly it became a tradition; perhaps
just the first year, when Elsa was only a baby. I had thought that our pubescents wouldn't want to
go to the ZOO, but they went with gusto. Prague ZOO is quite worth it, and thus even this time we
had to see ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. I was most captivated by Senegal bushbabies. We had also seen
cheetah kittens, baby elephants, llamas and Przewalski horses, monkey, crocodiles; simply EVERYTHING.
Elsa and Olinka discovered a ponies in the end, and they had to ride. Lisa had fortunately acceded
that having Ljufur at home, there's no point of being led along with little children on ZOO ponies.
We let the kids go up to the watchtower, while granny and I had coffee to let me extend through our
drive home across the whole Prague, for the jet lag got caught up with me.
|St. Martin Rotunda at Vyšehrad.
|Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
Granny and grandpa had planned a trip to Skalka baroque complex, near Mníšek pod Brdy for us on
Thursday. I was again glad for Kočička's little car, which allowed us the trips out of Prague.
That day was a state holiday and thus the parking lot was full; people were hauling baskets full of
wild mushrooms back to their cars. We had had enough our our own mushrooms back at the cottage,
and so we just enjoyed a walk to a cliff with a church of Saint Mary Magdalena by Christoph
Dientzenhofer. There is also a Way of the Cross in the complex, leading to a Hall of Prayers, Skalka
Monastery, and remnants of historic service buildings. Our children, however, found their greatest
attraction in a food kiosk, where they sell you a cold sausage on a paper plate with bread and
mustard, and you can roast it yourself over an open fire pit right there. I had to replenish my
level of caffeine; on this stay, I had drunk much more coffee than beer, somehow. Driving back to
Prague, we stopped at Černolice rocks. Though being a rather famous area, I had never climbed there,
and thus it was interesting for me as well. Kids, of course, liked best swings on a playground
below the rocks.
On Friday, we met grandpa and the nieces at Smíchov — grandpa had decided to take the kids
present-shopping — there were the nieces' name days, our kids had birthdays; choosing presents
is the most amazing activity. Surprisingly, we managed to drop some of the presents off at the
nieces' home, and visit Vyšehrad, the original seat of Czech rulers. The Vyšehrad complex had
undergone many wars and fights, and there is not much left of its original shape, but at least one
important building had survived — St. Martin Rotunda of 2nd half of 11th century. A cannonball
from Prussian siege of year 1575 has been embedded in a yard-thick wall. At tourist informations we
got a map, which kept Elsa busy for a relatively long time, as she tried to lead us to interesting
places by the map. Alas, before we circumnavigated Vyšehrad all the way to Devil's Column, kids had
lost their interest to the map and history, and time came to head back home. In addition, we had to
pack for our returning flight.
|Legendary Horse Jump spot.
I managed to squeeze in a dinner and chat with Kočička, and in the morning we were loading ourselves
and granny into the car, heading for Ruzyně, which meant returning the car to Kočička and letting
her husband Roman drive us the rest of the way to the airport. Grandpa and nieces came to say
good-bye. It was a low key good-bye — most interesting moment was a model of the airport
made from Lego in the departures hall.
Prague airport competes with Oakland in quality of facilities. Dysfunctional wifi, three hundred
crowns ($15) for coffee — non of which amused me. Eventually I had found a cheap coffee
machine producing a brew so awful that its only positive attribute was warmth. Copenhagen airport
was only marginally better (wifi access only after surrendering intimate personal informatory), but
then we finally found ourselves on board of the intercontinental flight. Which was half-empty and
we soon conquered more space. Still, something was wrong, perhaps with air-conditioning, for I had
worried I would not reach Oakland without the loss of a meal. Tom had similar feelings —
something much like motion sickness made me balk at the thought of a long drive home — but
in the actual car, I got much better, surprisingly. Still I was ready to crawl into my bed, for
the whole winter, if possible...