Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dolomities, Italy


I had the absolutely privilege and pleasure of joining Romana, her husband, two daughters and another couple and their son for a weekend of skiing in the Dolomities, Italy.  We left bright and early (9am) on Wednesday March 23rd for our 8 hour drive.   I think I had been packed for about a week, skis were loaded, bags stuffed into the two vehicles, and the five us were comfy/cozy stuffed into Romana's car.  Since it is ME we are talking about...nothing ever goes smoothly.  About 10 minutes outside of Tabor, Romana luckily pulled our their passports for some reason....all the blood drained from my face as I realized that I did not have my passport.  The family following us, pulled over and waited as we retraced our steps back to my flat so I could retrieve my passport....
me in Salzburg

The drive was great.  We stopped every two hours to rotate seats since the person that had to sit in the middle in the back didn't have the most comfy position.  We stopped in Salzburg for lunch and enjoyed the warm weather and much needed bathrooms.  Before we arrived in Austria, there is a stretch of road that a game is played.  Apparently it is played by MANY Czech families, since I have talked to some other people who also play the same game in this place.  The game is called:  Count the Prostitutes.   But since we were there early in the morning, we didn't see any....I guess it was too early for them to make any money.

Camp Vidor
After our long drive, we finally arrived at Camp Vidor, our accommodation.  It is a wonderful place where you can stay in cabins or you can bring your RV or simply just bring your tent.  Our cabin had two bedrooms (one for us girls and one for Romana and her husband), two bathrooms, and a kitchen!  It was JUST PERFECT!!!  We unpacked and settled in while Romana cooked us spaghetti for dinner.

our cabin was the top one
Thursday morning we were all up bright and early at 7 am.  Unfortunately none of us got any sleep.  All through out the night we all heard strange noises and were all thinking the same one had said anything outloud until the next morning when Romana commented that we had a ghost...sure enough...that is what we had ALL been thinking.  All night there were strange noises and they were loud so no one slept.  No one let our ghost bring down our spirits (get on words...ha...I crack myself up) and we doned our ski gear and headed out for what the wonderful Dolomities had in store.  On a side note, we ended up naming our ghost, Zach, and he was very busy every night.  We think it was actually the water pipes but we like the ghost theory better.

Pozza di Fassa
Restaurant at top of mountain
Camp Vidor is located in the Pozza di Fassa area and you could ski from right outside our camp to the lift.  It was brilliant.  On Thursday we just stayed and skied the Pozza Di Fassa area and skied Baffaure and Ciampie runs.  I cannot even express how amazingly beautiful the nature was.  The mountains were gorgeous and the snow and weather was perfect.  The sun was shinning, the mountain was empty, the runs were long and you really could not ask for anything better  (well...maybe a hot ski instructor but no such luck).  We skied all morning and stopped at top of the mountain (2354m) at the restaurant for lunch and sun tanning. The Italian pizza and coffee was superb.  The weather was so nice that most people sat outside in lounge chairs and soaked in the sun while taking a break from skiing.

me day 1
Again...since nothing is ever easy for me....the disaster was about to happen.  Around 2 pm we were skiing down a run and I got separated from Romana and the rest of the group.  Romana called me to find out where I was and through no ones fault, I misunderstood the conversation.  I thought Romana said to go done the mountain when she meant, go down to the lift.  So....I went down the mountain.  My luck, the run was the ONLY black diamond in this area and I FOUND IT!  Mind you, I am not an advanced skier, I am not a beginner either.  I am more of the take my time, I will eventually make it down the run, type of skier.  But I am definitely NOT a black diamond skier.  This is where the bad knee and tears come into play.  As I was going down, I quickly realized that I was NOT where I wanted to be.  About 10 minutes into the run, Romana called back and I tried to explain where I was.  A nice Italian couple over heard my conversation and waited to tell me where I was, that it was a black diamond, and that the only way to go was thoughts to that were:  DUH!!!!!!!!!  I sure as heck was NOT going to hike back up so the laws of physics dictates that the only direction to go is down!!!!!  ( pictures capturing the black diamond experience)

My mom taught me how to ski but since I have not skied in about 10 years I was/am a little out of shape.  My mom's voice rang in my mind, telling me to traverse back and forth, back and forth....while doing so, the tears started to fall, I think I swore a couple swear words, I know I definitely screamed, "I HATE SKIING" at some point through the waterfall of tears.  I finally made it to the bottom a little after Romana and crew zipped down the hill to meet me.  Through tears, I explain how I had fallen on the slope and twisted my right knee very badly and landed on my left shoulder.  If I was watching myself through the fall...I would have scored it a 8 for most classic, skies flying everywhere, fall. Priceless.

The Dolomities
Then we went BACK UP the mountain to the restaurant where they dropped me off and went to ski some more.  At 4:30 they came back for me and we headed down the slope that would lead us back to camp.  It was an easy enough run but I was soo exhausted, my knee felt like a knife was stabbing it, and my legs were shaking so bad, that I had to stop every five minutes to rest.  I was soooo embarrassed, tears were falling again, I was a mess.  All I wanted to do was get back to camp, crawl in bed, and drink a lot of wine.

When we got back, my knee was completely swollen and we got snow from outside to make an ice pack.  From then on...I was the gimp.  Lucky me.  Lesson learned:  I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE the skiing atmosphere and being in the mountains, but I don't like skiing.

restaurant on way up to Sella Ronda
Friday everyone wanted to ski Sella Ronda, which is the HUGE, GIGANTIC mountain in the middle of the Dolomities that people ski around.  It is an all day ski experience and one that I was not going to be partaking in.  We drove to Canazei and I bought the round trip lift ticket so I could go to the top of the mountain, take pictures, look around, hang out at the restaurant at Belvedere (2377m) and then go back down to Canazei.  Canazei is awesome.  It is an Austrian/German looking ski resort with many restaurants, shops, and cafes.  The sun was out and it really was a win-win situation.  I got to sit at a cafe, read, drink Italian wine, coffee, ice cream, while the rest of the crew could ski and not be slowed down by me.

View from Belvedere

view from Belvedere

Views from Belvedere area near Sella Ronda

Sella Ronda

me just chillen at Belvedere

Sella Ronda

what I was doing while they were skiing

everyone has this picture but at the beach in a bathing suit....thought it was appropriate to give the skiing perspective of heaven :)

me finding things to do in town
Saturday everyone went to ski Marmolada which is another huge mountain area off from Sella Ronda.  I stayed back at camp, read, sun bathed, walked to town, drank coffee, shopped, read, shopped, read, and then met up with everyone around 4:30 for dinner, etc.  I absolutely had a blast, despite my hurt knee.  Even if I NEVER skied again, I would still go to the Dolomities for a trip.

Sunday we left around 8am for home.  This time, everyone was exhausted so most of the drive back was spent sleeping.  We were all eagerly awaiting the area so we could play our:  Count the Prostitutes game again.  Just when we crossed the border from Austria back into The Czech Republic we were able to play the game.  We counted 16 prostitutes in about a 2 mile stretch of road.  It sounds kind of bad to be excited to count the prostitutes but "when in Rome...."  I guess 16 is a new record.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Girls Weekend

March 18-20, 2011

Calan came to visit me this weekend and it was just what I needed.  Calan lives in Vsetin, which is about 6-7 hour train ride away.  She arrived around 8 pm and I picked her up at the train station.  After dropping off her stuff at my flat, we immediately went to our favorite restaurant, The Indian Restaurant, in Tabor.  I cannot brag enough about their food.
     The previous weekend the weather in Tabor was brilliant.  The sun was out and I enjoyed getting outside and walking around "in the nature".  Unfortunately this weekend the weather was not as kind.  It actually snowed all day on Friday and then on Saturday it was super cloudy and absolutely freezing.  The wind alone was enough to chill you to the bone.  Since being outside was not a viable option, we decided to stay indoors, plan future trips, and cook.  :)
      Our first culinary item was chocolate "chip" cookies.  They don't have chocolate chips here in the Czech Republic (or at least they are not easily found) so Calan had an ingenious idea of taking a chocolate bar and cutting it into strips and then little pieces.  It was so fun to bake and visit.  Cooking is so much more fun when A) you have someone to cook for and B) you can visit while doing it.  The cookies turned out to be a success which in my cooking experiences, is always a positive sign.
       Later that evening, we made a homemade pizza.  We made the dough from scratch which was kind of hillarious because you are suppose to whip the dough in a bowl but what the directions don't tell you is that the dough takes on a life of its own and starts to climb up the beaters...and quickly.  So after cleaning up the flying dough and mixing the dough completely we prepared our pizza with pizza sauce, yellow peppers, and onions.  Our pizza turned out well...which again is a highlight in my cooking journey.
          Saturday night was spent watching chick flicks and visiting and it was just what was needed.  I wish Calan lived closer but since she doesn't, the time we get to hang out is always the best!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in many countries on March 17th, except the Czech Republic.  I guess I can understand why....there don't seem to be many Irish people living in the Czech Republic.  Starting on Wednesday, I started teaching my Czech students about this holiday.  Doing so, I even learned a few things myself.  I know that America has a habit of celebrating just about anything without knowing exactly why they are celebrating.  During early immigration, many Irish people came to American.  In fact many Americans have an Irish background.
   In my small town in Lake Stevens, WA most people go to the one Irish bar and drink green beer and get probably a little more intoxicated than they had planned when arriving.  I am pretty sure than maybe 10 percent (and that is being generous) are actually Irish.  American, Irish, non Irish celebrate this day and it has become an important holiday celebrated in America as well as in Ireland.
    Did you know that Seattle has the largest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the Northwestern Region???  Did you know that Chicago colors it river green for the day?  Along with Chicago, many other cities also color their rivers or fountains green for the day.  New York has the biggest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the WORLD.  They are even bigger than Ireland.
     As I was doing my research to educate my students, I learned many things.  I didn't think St. Patrick's Day was as big in America as I found out.  Traditionally the holiday is based off of St. Patrick, a Catholic Saint who was sent to Ireland.  He eventually became the Saint Patron of Ireland and the holiday bares his name.  The shamrock is the symbol of the day because St. Patrick used the flower to explain the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and so the color green became associated with the day.  Now St. Patrick's Day is a day where the Irish can show off their culture and believe me, American's are very happy to help celebrate.
     This day is the number one drinking day in America.  Many Americans cram into Irish bars and partake in drinking green beer and enormous amounts of Guinness.  Along with drinking, parades, parties, Irish food, Irish music, and dancing help make the day what it is famous for...having fun.
     Sooooo....I figured since the Czech's LOVE to drink, they would love to celebrate this day as well.  On Thursday, I brought in green sugar cookies that I had made as well as green Czech Potato Pancakes.  I was able to tie my task of cooking something new each week into the St. Patrick's Day celebration.  On a side note, I wanted to make my sugar cookies green as well as the Potato Pancakes but for some reason the green coloring substance did something to the ingredients of the items and they didn't turn out like I had expected.  They taste much better than they look. :)  Also the Potato pancakes did not turn out to be as round as they showed in the cook book, so I put my brilliant mind to work and I came up with the perfect solution.  MINI ME Potato Pancakes.  I used a shot glass to get the round shape and no one is the wiser of the way they actually turned out (well...except all those reading this blog)
    I asked my students to wear green on Thursday and I just love sharing part of my culture with my students.  Even though I am not Irish, like every good American, I love a fun tradition and wearing green so  you don't get pinched seems as fun as any.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Czech Cuisine

Everybody that knows me, knows that I can't cook.  That occupation was left to my mom and brother growing up.  Food that I made usually bounced when it wasn't suppose to or was identifiable after cooked.  In my pursuit of self discovery, I have decided to cook (or attempt) something new each week.  The first week I made Czech goulash, and after the hours it took me to prepare it, I actually have to admit it was a success.  WAHOOO.

The second week I was gone for spring break, so when I returned  so did my desire to improve my cooking abilities. Last week my goal was to make Bramboraovy zavin s uzenym masem which means:  Potato roll stuffed with smoked ham.  The recipe said it would take 45 minutes and the picture in the book looked really delicious.  After 2 hours, my final result was mashed potatoes with pork instead of the pretty potato roll that displayed in the recipe book.  Needless to say, it was NOT a success.

Not to be discouraged, this week I am going to attempt 2 recipes to make up for my failure last week.

My first recipe was Kvetakova polevka (Cauliflower Soup).  The directions were very vague but with the help of the internet, I learned how to make butter roux and successfully made my cauliflower soup.  For those of you like me and have NO IDEA what butter roux is...let me help is an equal mixture of flower and butter and it is used to thicken up soups.  I tried my product and I have to give it two thumbs up.  I know you can't see this, but I am giving myself several pats on my back right now.

My second recipe is Bramboreve placky (potato pancakes).  I have been told my several Czech that this traditional Czech meal is one of the easiest to make.  Although those words gave me hope, they don't mean much to me since even the simplest recipe I can somehow destroy.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Anne Frank Student Questions


1.       Was Anne Frank’s house similar to what you pictured it?  No….It is a lot different inside than I thought it was going to be like from the outside.

2.       What does it look like?  It is VERY tall and narrow.  Most houses in Amsterdam are about 6 meters wide so I remember thinking how steep the stairs were.  There were so many stairs and they were very long and steep.  The rooms are so small too.  I can’t imagine 8 people crammed into the “living room”.  The floors are very creaky too so they must have had to be absolutely silent during the day so they wouldn’t have been discovered

3.       How big is the building where she stayed? About 6 meters wide and 
       very narrow.

4.       What are any objects left in Anne Frank’s  secret hideout from the Holocaust? After the were captured, the Nazis came back and took all the furniture.  Otto (Anne’s dad) didn’t want the museum to refurnish the house because he wanted it remembered the way they left it.  There are some pictures that Anne had pasted to the wall still in her room.

5.       What is the most interesting thing about the Secret Annex?  How steep the stairs were, small the rooms were, and the bookshelf.  The bookshelf was sooo small and behind it, hid the secret annex.  It was amazing.

6.       Is it cool to see and know that Anne Frank could have possibly been where you are? Yes.  I am and was in awe to be standing where Anne Frank had been living.  I touched the wall where she had pasted her pictures, I sat on the steps that she used to go up to the attic to “escape”.

7.       Do you think you could hide there for two years?  No.  She and the rest of the members there, must have realized the severity of the situation and their survival instincts kicked in.  I think I could do what I needed to do to survive but it would not have been easy.


8.       How are you?  I am doing fabulously!  I absolutely love this experience I have gotten from the Fulbright organization.  I believe that life is a life long process and 
      I am learning something new everyday.

9.       Do you like the school there?  Teaching is definitely different here in the Czech Republic.  There are some benefits to the Czech School system and there are some benefits to the American School System.  I do love the dedication that the students have to their education.  They all try very hard in all that they do and I appreciate that I don’t have to spend learning time with discipline issues.

10.   Is it cool to be there?  I absolutely love the Czech Republic.  It is an amazing culture, atmosphere and the food is absolutely delicious.  I am truly lucky to be doing this experience with Ms. Kubesova.  She has amazing friends here in the Czech Republic that have been taking care of me so I am very lucky.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


The last leg of my journey brought me to Amsterdam.  I arrived on Tuesday March 1st at 10pm.  I easily found my hostel, Heart of Amsterdam, literally in the heart of the Red Light District.  It was a long day of traveling and I was happy to find my next home for the remaining 4 days of my trip.  I have never been to Amsterdam and I was a little nervous to travel to this place by myself, but quickly my fears were put to an end.  It is an AMAZING city and everyone is so relaxed and cool.  I am sure the fact that most of them are high, probably helps the chill atmosphere but I didn't feel unsafe at all. Since I arrived so late, I went to sleep.

    Wednesday morning I was up early and set out to find Anne Frank's House.  Along the way I stopped at a cafe for breakfast and coffee.  The city is so architecturally crazy.  Most of the buildings are not built straight and they are all lop sided and it feels like I am walking in a Dr. Seuss book.  The buildings were built around 6 meters wide and some are even as small as 1 meter wide.  Unique to Amsterdam are the gables at the top of the buildings.  Since the buildings are so narrow, it is impossible to get furniture up the extremely narrow steps so each building has a hoisting structure to lift the furniture up to the level.
Cafe where I had breakfast

Statue of Anne Frank

Bookshelf leading to Secret Annex
Anne's Bedroom
      Anne Frank's House was amazing.  I have been reading, The Diary of Anne Frank, with my students for the last 4 years and to actually be standing in her house is amazing.  I have seen pictures of the apartment but to actually be inside was quite a different experience.  I was amazed about how narrow the building was.  The staircase leading to each level was EXTREMELY narrow.  The rooms were sooo small as well.  There is no furniture in any of the rooms because after the Nazis captured them, they came back and confiscated the furniture.  Otto Frank, Anne's father, did not want the museum to "refurnish" the rooms, he wanted it to be left how it was when they were taken.  The most interesting experience was walking up to the "secret annex" behind the bookshelf.  The book shelf was shorter than I am and it opened up to a secret staircase.  We were able to go up the stairs which led to the bedrooms, living room. It is so hard to see how their living room, not only was a bedroom and the gathering room.  Anne's room still has some of the pictures she put on the wall.  She had pictures of famous actresses and she was like any other girl her age, who pasted pictures all over the walls.  I was not allowed to take pictures, but I could not miss an opportunity to show my students what it really looked like.
Anne's House is the one with the flag pole
cat rescue house boat
    After Anne's house, I walked around Amsterdam to take in the ambiance and ended up taking a canal tour.  The tour took about an hour and we were able to see the city from a different point of view.  I learned that there are 2,500 house boats living on the canal.  They are part of an "old birth" and "new birth" boats are not allowed.  The only way a "new birth" can happen is if an old birth boat left.  There was even a house boat full of cats.  Amsterdam is the mecca for cats.  The Czech Republic is the country of dogs and Amsterdam is the country of cats.  Almost even house has a cat sitting in the window.  I have not seen so many cats in my life.

1 meter wide house

Central Station
Floating Flower Market

Famous view of the 7 bridges
different types of gables
coffee house

The next morning, I got up early to go on a tour of the Dutch countryside.  Our first stop was at Makken, a cheese making factory.  I have to admit that I do not like cheese but since I was there, I actually tried some and wait for it....I actually liked some.  I did cake the cheese with a lot of mustard but I have to admit that some of it was really good.  This doesn't that my hatred of cheese is over but there were some baby steps made today.  Outside of the cheese factory, you could see so many authentic windmills.  I just wish the weather was better so the pictures would have come out more clearer.

 Some more homes in the village

Me outside cheese factory with windmills in background.

Windmills at Makken

Windmills at Makken


 After Makken, we went to a clog making factory.  We watched our guide make some actual shoes.  The are made with a type of wood that is waterproof and long lasting.  Many Dutch people still wear clogs today out in the garden and in their everyday life.  They protect the feet and if they get stepped on by a cow it won't hurt because the clog's are made out of wood.  The original process took 5 hours to make one pair of shoes. Now modern technology allows them to make the shoes in 5 minutes, in the same fashion as a new set of keys are made.

         Then we ended our tour Volendam an original fishing village.  We had an hour to tour the village.  I had a good lunch and then walked around the town.  It was soooo chilly and the wind was brutal but it was nice to see the hand made dikes and fishing boats. 

Me at Volendam

Me looking out and dreaming about undiscovered places

Dykstra in Dutch means a man who lives by the dike. And since I am part Dutch, this is my interpretation of that.  This me, sitting on a dike. (also a reference to a picture that was taken in Australia when I was 12)

in the Voledam village

 It took about 40 minutes to get back to Amsterdam.  When I got back and hung out with Justin for a bit and then ventured to explore the city for awhile.  That night I walked around Amsterdam  and hung out with my American friends for "thirty minutes" and then watched a  movie.  My 7am check out came too quickly and I was very sad to leave Amsterdam.  I had a great time, met some hopefully new friends, and had the best, last night in Amsterdam.

Red Light District

Red lights on in the Red Light District

Amsterdam at sunset

Floating Flower Market

Floating Flower Market

inside one of the floating flower market shops.  Just across the street, I stepped into a cafe for the best Dutch Pea Soup I have even eaten. For dessert, I had a piece of Dutch apple pie.  It was delicious but nothing on my grandma's apple pies.  Sorry Dutch people, but true.

At night in the Red Light District, hundreds of swans would appear.  They were so beautiful and so ironic in the district of sin, such purity floated by.

Red Light District at night

Red Light District at night.  My hotel is on the left

My tour of the city the last night.  

The city is so beautiful at night.  It is all lit up with lights and perfect for evening strolls

Amsterdam at night