Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exploration of Beauty

Saturday December 17, 2011

Saturday morning, Michal, Katerina, and I dressed in our warmest clothes, packed a lunch and set off to explore the beautiful country of South and Central Bohemia.  Our first stop was about 40 km north east of Tabor, to a village called Selmerk.

Selmerk Castle now stands as a ruins in a cultural center but it was a beautiful castle in its time.  It was probably built around the 14th century.  For me to be standing inside something that was built in the 1300's is just mind boggling.  There is nothing even that close to old in American and in essence I am standing on history.  The castle was finally abandoned in the 17th century and was destroyed during the Thirty Year War.  Michal and Katerina told me that people organize sleep overs in the ruins.  How cool is that???  I would love to camp over night in an abandoned castle ruins...
What the castle use to look like
Our next stop was to a Jewish Cemetery outside a small village Vilice.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, Jewish people were not allowed to be buried within the village walls and they had to be buried just outside the villages in the woods.  Most Jewish Cemetery's are outlined by a rock wall in the woods at a high point on the hill.  People stopped being buried in the cemetery's in the 1940's and they were never maintained until recently.

In some of my pictures you can see that the trees are "killing" the headstones and the names on most stones are barely readable.

After the cemetery we drove to Maly Blanik (small mountain).  There is a famous Czech legend about Knights of Blanik, led by St. Wenceslas,  that are sleeping in the mountain near the watch tower on Velky Blanik (big mountain).  The soldiers have been there for centuries and will come to save the Czech Republic at their end times.  According to the legend, four indicators must happen before the soldiers will awaken.  First the Czech Republic must be invaded from four different directions.  Second, what is left of the Czech Republic would be able to fit into a wagon.  Third, some pond in the Czech Republic would fill with blood. Finally the fourth indicator is that the spring on Velky Blanik will start to have water again and the water will make a giant oak tree and then the water will wake up the soldiers.

During hard times in the Czech Republic, the Knights of Blanik provided hope to the citizens.

You can easily see the watch tower of the soldiers on Velky Blanik.  We decided to hike up Maly Blanik because it wouldn't be as touristy and it would be more picturesque.  At the top of our, what seemed FOREVER, hike up, is an abandoned chapel.  Chapel of Mary Magdalena was abandoned during the 19th century.  Legend says that after it was emptied, a hermit lived there and planted two spruce trees (Velky Monk and Maly Monk) to have for friends.  The big spruce tree (Velky Monk) is said to be the largest Spruce tree in the region.    Again, it was just so surreal to be walking inside something so old.  We had our picnic lunch there inside the chapel where the Velky Monk stands.  It is so interesting that trees are now growing on the walls and there is no roof so the Spruce tree can grow as high as it wants.  The tree is said to be about 200 years old.

While there it started snowing...for me the FIRST snow is always the most exciting.  I always look forward to the first day it snows and this year it was doubly amazing.  Not only was I in this old chapel, but I was in the Czech Republic for the first time it snowed this year.  Seriously, it could not have been more picturesque.  I felt like I was living in a movie.

Katerina and me.  Velky Blanik is on the left and Maly
Blanik is on the right.
After the chapel we drove to a near by village, Votice.  Katerina had heard there was a great restaurant there but when we got there we saw that it wasn't open until 4 and we were there at 3. So.....Katerina talked to a local and he suggested that we try the restaurant, The Blue Cat.   I had a very big blonde moment as I was looking at the menu.  Katerina was translating the Czech food items and the last one I thought said cat.  I was absolutely shocked that they served cat at this restaurant.  I know some cultures have dog as their main meal, but cat???  Immediately Katerina and Michal started laughing at me.  The word I thought was "cat" was actually the word for bean.  Same pronunciation (close) but spelled completely different.  Well...just goes to prove that you can have "blonde moments" in any country :).
Old Czech Brewery.  It was right next door to the church
In this town there is   beautiful castle.  The owners use to own the Borotin Castle as well.  The original owner was a woman who had to immigrate because of Nazi occupation.  She was a big supporter of Literature and free thinking...everything opposite of Nazi belief.  

The day was filled with so much exploration of the beautiful Czech country side.  I learned a lot about Czech legends and historical context.

Learned today:  The legend of the Knights of Blanik

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pani Ucitelka Day Two

Thursday December 15, 2011

Today was my second day of teaching at school.  Again, Katerina had a wonderful schedule planned for me and I was more than happy to meet with the students and talk with them.

The first class I met with I actually have met some of them before.  I met with the V3G and V4G students who are 12 and 13 years old.  Last year when the one group was V2G they performed the Thanksgiving skit for me and I spoke with them about Culture in America.  A lot of the students remembered me from last year so I was welcomed with huge smiles as I entered the room.  I talked with them about Washington State and American Christmas traditions as well.  They had some good questions to ask me when I was done talking.

The second group I met with was 1C. I had met them yesterday and I was not actually teaching them today.  They were performing their Landlady skits.  Katerina had created an amazing lesson where the students read the short story, The Landlady, by Roald Dahl.  My American students also read that story so it was a common topic that our international students could communicate about.  After the Czech students had read the story, Katerina had them get into groups from 4-7 students.  They had to create a skit based off of one of the scenes from the story and also do it in another genre.  The students were very excited to perform their skits for me and I was excited to see them.

They were such great listeners to each other and showed interest in the skits performed by others in their class. You could also tell how natural Katerina is in teaching and also with working with drama.  I think she must have been a director in another life because she has a keen eye and a wonderful presence with the students.  It was an honor to be in her classroom and watching her interact with the students.

I am excited to do the skits with my students next year.  The kids looked like they were having fun turning the Landlady into a melodrama, horror, or sci fi movie scene.  It was hilarious to see that aliens were incorporated into the Landlady and a little romance as well.  Students used technology along with props and they paid close attention to detail, so much so, that I felt like I was actually in the Landlady's living room.  One student was even the "stuffed dog" by the fire place.

After that class, I got to meet with my former class V7G, now V8G.  They had a worksheet to fill out as I talked about American holidays.  They asked questions about what we eat, what we do, how we celebrate each holiday.  Again time went by too fast.

After V8G, I was done with my teaching.  Katerina offered for me to come to her V1G class to just watch, which I eagerly jumped on.  It was great watching her teach English to 11 year olds.  They did very well in their pronunciations and sentence structure. It was interesting to see the differences in British and American English too.  The English books were teaching phrases like, "empty the rubbish bins," and "have a shower," whereas in American English we say, "take out the garbage," and "take a shower."

After school I got to meet with some of my former students for coffee and catch up with what is going on in their lives. They are what we would call "seniors" this year and they were talking about how nervous they are for their maturita exams.

It was a very busy day but a FABULOUS day as well!

Learned today:  the lead fortune telling superstition and that if you want to be a Kindergarten teacher in the Czech Republic you have to pass an artistic exam.  You have to demonstrate a talent in either singing, painting, or something like that...just to be a kindergarten teacher.

Pani Ucitelka Dykstrova

Wednesday December 14, 2011

Students in the Czech Republic stand when a teacher
enters the classroom
Wednesday was my first day back at Pierra De Coubertina to teach.  One of the main reasons I was back in the Czech Republic was to be an American Guest Teacher and it was wonderful to be back in the classrooms. Katerina planned a great schedule for me and I was welcomed back with open arms.  Romana made the comment that it was like I hadn't I had just gotten back from a weekend trip and was right back to normal activities and I couldn't agree more.

My first class I spoke with was 1C (15 year olds).  I was very nervous even though I had no reason to be.  The students were very welcoming and very attentive.  I talked about American Christmas traditions and since there was some time left over, I shared a little about Washington State.  At the end there was time to pass out the letters that I brought from my students in USA.  Each Czech student picked a letter and was excited to respond back.

Next class I went to was 1B.  They are also 15 years old and just as welcoming as the first class I taught.  I spoke about Washington State and Christmas again and I could see that the students were very excited to hear how Americans celebrate the holiday.  To be honest, I felt a little bit like a celebrity which I don't feel like too often at home.  Some of the students even stayed after class to talk to me.

My third and final lesson for the day was with the younger students.  I met with V1G and V2G (11 and 12 year olds).  There were four classes put together for the lesson and their teachers had them prepare questions before I spoke with them.  After introductions, we started with the questions.  The students asked me things like, "who was my favorite actress/actor" or "who was my favorite athlete?"  Of course, my mind went blank and I couldn't think of one actor or actress to save my life.  I finally gave the standard Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie answer because I figured they would know who those people were.  They were a WONDERFUL group of kids and I had a great time with all the classes!!!!
Before I knew it, the class was over and it was time to go home.

I had a little bit of down time before my colleagues/friends from the Kabinet (office) came over to Katerina's for a small party.  everyone brought a potluck item and we just had a chance to visit and catch up.  There was about 15 people that came and it was great to just have some social time to find about all the things I missed while I was gone.  Of e of the many great conversation that we had was about various superstitions that the Czech culture has.  Obviously not all Czechs believe in the superstitions but all the was fun to hear about them.

For example:

If you are having a baby (one of my teacher friends is pregnant so that is how we were on the topic):
---you place a red ribbon over the baby's crib for good luck
---you have the baby shower AFTER the baby is born because it is bad luck to have it before the baby is born
---You can buy a stroller but you cannot keep it in the house otherwise it is bad luck
---The day after the birth of the baby you take the baby to get licked by a cow for good luck

---Guest cannot help clean up after a meal or the daughter of the house will not get married (maybe that is why I am still single)
---No sweeping underneath someone's feet or they won't get married

---pour led into cold water.  The led gets stiff and from the shape it makes, you can see your future.  People actually still do this one apparently.  I asked how you see your future and they responded that it just depends on what you see in the led.  If you see the shape of a baby...maybe your future holds children...if you see the shape of a flower, maybe your future is one of happiness....

Learned today:  All about various Czech superstitions

Prague Christmas Markets

Tuesday December 13, 2011

One of the things that I was looking forward to during this trip was visiting the Prague Christmas Markets.  We don't have Christmas Markets where I live in Washington so it was definitely on my "to do" list.   Johana got to take the day off from school so she could be my "tour guide".  Her English is AMAZING so her mom thought it would be good for her to spend the day with me and have an authentic English conversation who doesn't like playing hookie from school?  Johana and I took the 8 am train and arrived in Prague just before the markets opened at 10.  It was a perfect time to go because there was not very many people there yet.

The weather was perfect.  The sun was shining, a crisp breeze was blowing, and the atmosphere of Christmas was all around.  The smell of sausages cooking, and medovina (hot honey wine) was surrounding us as we walked up and down the aisles of Christmas stands.  I found some ornaments for a project I am making and then we treated ourselves to a Trdlenik.  I would compare it to a Pilsbury Dough Boy dough that has been toasted and then covered with cinnamon and sugar.  It is a big tradition and a fan favorite among the people of the Czech Republic.

After an hour or so, I then treated Johana to a hot chocolate at Starbucks.  While Johana was saving our seats, I went up to the counter to order our drinks.  I asked, in Czech, if the woman spoke English, to which she replied yes.  I proceeded to order our drinks and inserted my Czinglish ("yo yo yo" or "diky moc") into the conversation.  They laughed as I attempted to butcher their native language, in a nice way.  They had big smiles on their faces and appreciated the fact that I was trying to use the Czech language. I clearly made their day.

We took the 12:16 train back to Tabor and Johana and I took a much needed nap.  I forgot how so much walking can take a lot out of a person who is out of shape.

Later that night we met Iva and Martin at my favorite food establishment, the Indian Restaurant.  My Chicken Korma with Nan was eagerly waiting for me....mmmmm....I can still smell it now.

Unfortunately my jet lag was still causing me to exhaust early so after a quick drink at the cafe next door, we set off for home.

Learned today:  that even kids in the Czech Republic play hookie from school too

Chistmas Decorations

Monday December 12, 2011

Monday morning I got up early and met my friend Jana at the train station in Tabor. She works part time at the hospital in Tabor but lives in Prague. Since I left last year, she and her boyfriend bought a flat (apartment) in Prague. She is now a doctor in Prague but still works sometimes in Tabor. We rode the train together to Prague and then had to take the metro to her stop. It was interesting because we were talking in English as we entered the metro and of course I got stopped by "control". I only got stopped because I was speaking English. They were checking to see if I actually purchased a metro ticket, which I had. As soon as Jana spoke Czech to them, they waved her off. She told me on the metro later that her boyfriend had got stopped once and had forgotten to sms (text) his ticket to himself and he got stopped by control. They demanded a fine before he could leave. A $1.50 metro ticket turned into a $40.00 one after the fine was paid. The control mainly targets tourists hoping that they don´t know the system and therefore get them to pay a large fine.

After we got to her flat, we had a great visit and then decided to get some coffee at a cafe near her place. She and I were speaking English and a man sitting at a table asked me where I was from in English. I responded that I was from Seatlle (most people in Europe probably don't know where Lake Stevens is so I go with the standard 'Seattle' response). He got very excited at my answer and proceeded to tell me that he just watched a great movie about Seattle. He couldn't remember the name and by his clues, I finally guessed it was a movie about WTO...which I would not put anywhere near my top 10 list of best movies. Always something interesting happens and gives me something to write about.

After my time with Jana, I took the train back to Tabor and took a much needed nap. Later that evening we decorated the Christmas tree. Michal got a tree from the Ecology school in Tabor. Normally in the Czech Republic they decorate the tree on the 23rd or 24th of December. Since I was here, they wanted to decorate it early so that we could enjoy the tree while I was here. Johana (Katerinas daughter) was organizing the ornaments while Katerina and I were placing them on the tree. From my observations they have beautiful, simple oranaments made out of wood or straw. Johana had also made many of the ornaments that we placed on the tree out of clay. Michal placed the last three ball ornaments and we stood and admired the wonderful tree.

Learned today:  that metro police can charge any amount of fines that they want if you don't have a ticket

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of ¨Music

Sunday December 11, 2011

I didn't get much sleep since my internal clock is still off.  I slept in until around 10 am but that that only because I slept from 5am until really not much "sleeping in" going on...just sleep.  We celebrated Michal's parent's birthdays at a local Czech restaurant.  I had some amazing Goulash with white rice...mmmm...goulash.

After lunch it was around 2 pm and still light outside so we all took a drive "into the nature."  We packed a light snack and some thermus's of coffee and tea and drove about 20 minutes outside of Tabor and parked in an open field.  We walked to the top of this hill that had an abandoned church at the top.  Perfect story and location for my American students who are writing their Tales of Suspense story.  The hill was at a high point so you could see for miles and miles of open fields and "nature".

Michal brought his kite and was hoping there was enough wind to fly it.  Unfortunately there wasn't really enough wind but he gave it a gallant effort anyway.  While he was flying his kite, Katerina, Johana, Eva, and I explored the church.  From the outside it looks like it is all locked up but the door is unlocked and you are free to go in and look around.  Katerina and Johana ended up singing some Christmas Carols and I felt like I was in the middle of a movie.  The acoustics were spectacular and it just seemed so surreal.  I just kept thinking that Julie Andrews was going to walk in and recruit them for the Sound of Music Part 2.

We were there for about an hour and then drove back home.  What a wonderful way to spend and afternoon.

Lesson learned:  You are never to old to fly a kite.