Thursday, May 19, 2011

20th Anniversary of Czech Fulbright Reception

On Tuesday May 17, 2011 I was invited to a reception at the US Ambassador's Residence in Prague.  All current and past Fulbrighters in the Czech Republic were invited to the reception from 5:30-7:30.  It was a great time to mingle with other Fulbrighters, Embassy employees, and Mr. Ambassador, Norman Eisen, himself.

American Fulbrighters currently in the Czech Republic
Me, Ambassador Eisen, Calan, and Brock

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dream Come True

This past weekend I went to Olomouc, a city about a 3 hour drive east of Tabor, for the weekend.  Some of my Czech friends were going to introduce some their Czech friends to some of my American friends.  On Saturday we went to the zoo and took a nice walk through nature.  The zoo is situated within the woods so it was a nice stroll.  When I saw the giraffe's I was overly excited.  I eagerly ran up the stairs to the platform where you could see the giraffes more clearly.  At the platform the giraffes could come up to the platform to say hi.  It was the first time IN MY LIFE that I have actually touched a giraffe.  Not only did I get to touch the giraffe, but it licked my hand....Calan couldn't grab my camera fast enough to catch history in progress.  Now all I need to do is go to Africa and see a giraffe in its natural habitat!  It definitely was the best part of the weekend for me :)

Our drive there was slowed because of a tractor on the road...funny to see that the license plate is from IOWA....go figure...

me OVER JOYED at being able to touch the giraffe...I don't think I could smile any bigger...I think if I was a tree, you could count how old I am by all the wrinkles on my face...jeez louise....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Final Day in Belgium: Leuven and bus ride home

Saturday April 30, 2011

Saturday was our last day in Belgium.  I awoke around 6 am with an extreme pain in my back.  It hurt so bad to breath or lay down so I got up, packed my bags and took a small walk around Jette (the suburb where our hostel was).  At 8:45, the teachers packed up the bags and we headed to St. Pieter's College to pick up our students.  The students said good-bye to their host families and we boarded the bus.  The Belgium students were going to take the train and meet us in Leuven, a small town outside of Brussels.  We were not leaving for Czech Republic until around 6 pm so we had all day to explore the beautiful city.
    As the day went on, my back pain got worse and worse.  It felt like if my ribs were in my back, stabbing into my muscles.  It hurt to breathe, sit, stand, basically I was a mess.  But the trooper that I am, I didn't let on about how much pain I was in until later in the day (to be explained later in the story).  When we arrived in Leuven, we split into two large groups.  Each group was led by some Belgium teachers who took us on a tour of the historic city.  Even though it may not look it, it actually costs A LOT more to live in Leuven than it does to live in Antwerp or Brussels.
   We started our tour in another  Beguinage establishment.  Just like in Brugge, women came there to live and created a community.  Nowadays, it is used for University Professor housing or for students who are at the university on scholarship.  Leuven is mainly a university town.  About 80 percent of the town is attending the university or once they have graduated, have settle down in Leuven and opened a business.

   After our tour, we gave the students an hour for lunch, and us teachers, had a great lunch at a cafe in the market area.  The market has over 37 pubs and restaurants and is a favorite spot for university students to come for lunch and in the evening to relax...or party....depending on your preference.

At the end of the market is a statue of a lady on a bench.  The lady is "nanny" of sorts.  There is a Dutch word, but I cannot remember it.  She is like the "house mother" of the children at the dormitory and watches of them and helps them with their homework.  She looks tired and exhausted...and we all know as teachers how hard it is to take care of kids all the time :)

We then met up with the students at the Grand University Library.  When the library was built, they needed help with the finances and so several American Universities help to finance the library.  All along the walls of the library you can find names of American Universities sketched into the stone.  We gave the students a couple hours for shopping and us teachers did the same. I only did some window shopping, since my back hurt to bad to try on any clothes.

They ran out of money to finish building the church
that is why one side is shorter than the was suppose
be much taller as well.
This is my favorite picture.  You just
turn down a side street, and you find
yourself seeing the most amazing views
This picture is for my dad.  A local
artist created this to represent how
you preserve insects.  My dad has
a butterfly collection done the same way
    Finally we all met up again at 6pm and said our good-byes to our new Belgium teachers/friends and the students said good-bye to their Belgium partners.  Some students were sad to leave their new friends, we even had an exchange romance between a Czech girl and Belgium boy that had started three months earlier when he had come to Tabor.  Some students were very happy to leave their Belgium partners.  Not every student made long lasting friendships, or friendships at all, but everyone appreciated the fact that they got to experience a new culture and learn new things.
     We left Leuven at 6pm and didn't arrive in Tabor, Czech Republic until 6am.  That was the worst 12 hours of my life.  My back was in excruciating pain and there was just not comfortable position to get into.  I managed to sleep for an hour here and there but the bus stopped about every two hours on the way home, so there was no way I was sleeping much.  About 2am, I was in so much pain, the tears flowed and there was no way to stop them.  I was in so much pain, I was so tired, and I just wanted to get home so I could sleep in my own bed.  To give a simile as to what I was feeling, it was like a hundred knives being stabbed into my back and being twisted and twisted and then re not good.
   I finally made it to my own bed at 7am and tried to sleep.  The pain became worse so I called Romana and she took me to her doctor.  The doctor was very nice and I was so thankful that she would see me on a Sunday.  I got an injection and some pain medication and hoped that I would feel better.  The diagnosis:  a strained muscle.  My stupid back muscles were inflamed and not happy with me.  I am only 35 and my body should not be falling apart.  I guess I slept wrong and all it took was one wrong move of my body and my muscles raged war against me.  I stayed home from school on Monday because I couldn't move and Romana took me back to the doctor.  I got another injection and made an appointment to see a rehabilitation massage therapist on Tuesday. Here in the Czech Republic some massage therapist are licensed doctors...the Czech Republic actually sees the medical benefits of massage here, unlike in the USA.
It is hard to see, but the darker brown colors
are the acupuncture band-aids.  Beneath
those "band-aids" are needles stuck in
my ear.
   She is AMAZING.  She worked on some pressure points and was able to get me so that I could breath a little bit without pain.  She also did some acupuncture in my ear.  I am willing to try new things, so this was a first for me.  I have never had acupuncture before but now I have three needles stuck in my ear.  It is the coolest thing.  It really does help my back.  You can't tell I have needles in my ear, it just looks like band-aides, but on the other side of those band-aides are needles in my ear.  I am suppose to keep them there for about a week. I had to stay home from work on Tuesday as well and went back to work on Wednesday.  I saw my massage therapist again on Wednesday and I am definitely making progress.  I still can't take large, deep breaths but at least I can breath, walk, sit, and lay down with minimal pain.  Always so new adventure for me....if things went the way they were always suppose to go, or if everything went smoothly, well then...I would have nothing to blog about :)


Friday April 29, 2011

The Belgium teachers definitely created an enriching, fully packed program for us while were in Brussels.  Everyday we were off to see something new and learn something new about their countries culture.  On Friday it was our day to explore Antwerp, or as they call it, Antwerpen.
    According to many Belgiums, Antwerp is a city unto itself.  People from Antwerp think they are the best and when you refer to Belgium, you must be referring to Antwerp because it is the only city worth mentioning.  I definitely got that entitled vibe while visiting the city.  Despite the arrogance of the natives, the city is a beautiful place to be.  It is located next to the port,which is and was an important port for importing and exporting goods. Most of all the fresh veggies and fruits, materials, etc come through Antwerp.
   We started our tour at the Port of Antwerp's Museum.  There we were given a detailed presentation about the history of the port and why people of Belgium should never forget their Antwerpean roots.  During WW2 Hitler tried to destroy the port because he knew that it was the life line for Belgium and luckily the port survived WW2 destruction.

After the museum tour, we met at the "Friday Market,"  where they have a huge flea market every Friday.  Since it was Friday, we were able to see the many "items" that were being auctioned off.  Last year apparently some Czech students bought a huge lamp and had to carry it with them through out the whole day. This year, the students were much smarter and saved their money for better things.  At the market, we met up with our tour guide for the day.  Bert (Belgium teacher)'s father usually gives a tour of Antwerp, since he is from there, but unfortunately he was ill in the hospital so Bert's father's best friend took his place.  Mark is a priest and a FANTASTIC story tell to boot.  He took us around Antwerp and filled us in on all the inside scoop that a normal tour guide would never tell you.  His animated gestures kept us listening to every detail ( at least).   Hopefully in this blog, I can do justice to the great stories he shared.

In the square our first story started with the weather vane.  During WW2, much of the square was destroyed by Hitler.  As a reminder to the destruction, they created a weather vane with a rocket on it.  It is a constant reminder of their endurance to succeed in the face of such horrible destruction.

After the Friday Market, we headed to the Pedestrian Passage that takes people and bicycles under the Schelt (the river).  When you enter the Passage, you take a long wooden elevator down below until you reach a long tunnel.  Because of time, we couldn't walk the passage but it was cool to see nonetheless

Then we crossed the street and went to the Castle.  The Castle looks like a typical castle.  It is situated next to the Schelt.  Mark our tour guide told us the story of Long Wapper.  Long Wapper is the huge statue that is guarding the castle.  It is said that Long Wapper condemns all those people who drink too much.  Now adays it has become an everyday idiom.   When you drink too much, you say that Long Wapper threw you in the Schelt and you lost track of time or that you "saw" Long Wapper and you were afraid to go home, so you had to stay at the pub and continue drinking, until it was safe to go home.  You can see in the picture to the right, that Long Wapper is standing tall above the drunk men, who are begging for forgiveness.  Long Wapper is lecturing them to never get drunk again.

The castle is regal in its stature and I am sure was grand in its day.  Now it is empty and a place for tourists to explore.

inside the castle

After the castle, we were led to the Cathedral.  The Cathedral (Our Beloved Wives Cathedral) stands majestic in the center of the city.  It is one of the tallest cathedrals I have seen so far, I think.  There is a story behind the cathedral as well.  Apparently many many many many many years ago when they were trying to build the cathedral, they could not build the foundation.  Every time the towns people built the foundation, it would flood and collapse.  One day, a local farmer came up with the idea of using cow hides to soak up the water.  He went to the city hall and told the officials that he knew a way to build the foundation.  Since he wanted to become rich from the idea, he would not tell him his plans.  He told them he would build the foundation, they could come see, and if they liked what they saw, they could pay him to finish the job.  Unfortunately, his son does not know how to keep a secret and told how his father was building the foundation.  When the church was built, they would not pay him for his plans since he could not "patent" it and he climbed to the top of the tower.  He jumped off the tower and his body exploded into many pieces on the ground.  On the ground is a plaque with gold dots.  It is said that is where parts of his body were found.  Believe or not to believe.....hmmmm...

Right next to the cathedral is a well made of iron.  The iron work was amazing and so detailed.  There is a story behind the well, as well.  The story is apparently is that their was a young blacksmith.  Everyday he worked with his hands so much they were covered in black soot.  The young blacksmith fell in love with a painter's daughter.  According to the painter, the blacksmith was not good enough for his daughter.  So, the blacksmith learned how to paint (and actually became a famous painter).  One day he sneaked into the painter's house and painted a fly on an unfinished portrait of the painters.  When the painter returned to his house, the blacksmith hid behind a curtain.  As the painter was finishing his painting, he noticed a fly on the painting.  He kept trying to swipe the fly awake, with no luck.  Upon closer observation, he realized that it was painted onto his portrait.  He claimed that the person that painted that fly, is a true artist.  At this point, the blacksmith came out from the curtain and took credit for the fly.  The painter granted permission for the blacksmith to marry his daughter.  The blacksmith then created the iron well as a memorial to his love.

We continued our walk and ended up at a market square.  In the middle of the market square is a statue of Brada.  The statue of Brada and the giant stands in front of the City Hall.  I love this story of Brada and the giant.  At the beginning of Antwerpen, there was a giant (Antigoon) that guarded the port.  When anyone wanted to cross the port, they had to pay Antigoon a fee.  If they didn't have any money, the giant would cut off their hand.  One day a very strong man (Brada) came upon the giant.  He wanted to cross the port but didn't have any money and of course he didn't want to lose his hand.  A huge battle began and in the end Brada won and cut off the hand of the giant.  That is how Antwerp got its name.  Ant in Dutch means "hand" and twerpen means "to throw" so Antwerpen means to "throw a hand".  There is a statue in the middle of the square to commemorate the great battle between Brada and the Giant.

We then continued our journey and came upon St. Paul's Cathedral.  From the outside, it looks like a small church with not much inside.  As you walk through the cathedral doors, you are amazed at what is behind those doors.  I have visited many churches in my exploration of Europe but so far, this has to be one of the most beautiful churches on the inside.

Next we went to explore more of the city streets of Antwerp.  We were told the story of the Madonna you see on many street corners.  Not only are they a religious symbol but they also provided light before electricity was invented.  At the top of the Madonna's cover, a lantern was placed and the cover was used to protect the lamp.

City Hall and statue of Brada and the Giant

With all the wonderful stories that I heard and learned from Antwerp, there is some negative experiences as well.  Apparently there is a rule that you cannot take someone's picture without paying them a fee for their "photo".  If someone sees you taking a picture of them, they can come up to you and ask you to pay them for the picture.  There is no set fee, it just depends on what the person thinks they are worth...

I had a interesting experience with this "rule".  Some students and I saw this beautiful old car and we walked up the "public" street to admire the car.  I wanted to take a picture of it so I could show my dad.  As I was about to take a picture, this man walked out onto his porch and told me I had to pay him for the photo.  The girls and I were stunned.  I told the rude man that I hadn't taken a picture (which I hadn't). I tried to smooth the situation by asking him what kind of car it was.  He said smugly, "well, you should know, it's English."  I stared back at him and said, "I'm not English, I am American," and he still wouldn't answer the question.  He was SOOOO rude and disrespectful.  Now I really wish I HAD taken a picture, so I could show you all, what all the fuss was about. And after all that, I still don't know what kind of car it was...oh well...sorry dad, no photo.