Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Šumava: The definition of peaceful

In the winter, when summer seemed so far away, we began to imagine a holiday. We don't really do conventional holidays. I tend to travel with friends or alone to new lands. My Other Half likes driving day trips around his homeland. But we decided this year to really take a week off and go "somewhere".

As we had started hiking last year, we had a vision of being in the Czech mountains and doing lots of walking trips. We invited along our dear friends who live in Germany and everything looked ready to go. We found a cute little apartment complex in a tiny village in the Šumava Mountains, tucked into the south-west corner of the Czech Republic on the German border.

The first set-back came with my legs. With the medical problems I had in the spring, hiking was out. Secondly, we had expect late spring/early summer weather. We got an autumn chill at the end of June. But not to be deterred, we had ourselves fun and adventure anyway!
Bog viewing, Chlapuská slatˇ

The name "Šumava" has an onomatopoeic quality in Czech. The soft 'shh' sounds reflects the wind blowing in the trees. This background noise created a peaceful soundtrack to our daily activities. Some of the highlights were a walk in the historic Prachatice square, exploring protected marsh lands and bogs, finding a free owl sanctuary in our village, skipping rocks across a cold mountain river, eating Czech dumplings nearly every day, walking amongst the trees on the German side of the border and watching "Večerníček pohádky" (Czech nightly cartoons and fairy tales for children) with dinner.

This will not be the last week we spend breathing in the good mountain air. We already have a plan for next year...

Skipping rocks, Rechle u Modravy

Rechle u Modravy

Šumava mountains

Tree Top Walk, Bavarian National Forest, Germany


Rechle u Modravy

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I love playing hostess. I like cleaning in preparation, I like planning an itinerary, I like to show new place to good people. And what I appreciate most about visitors is that when friends visit, they remind me of things I may have forgotten:

1. The Czech Republic is a beautiful place.

2. This country has some good food...and a brewery is always a good bet!

3. Lots of little towns have cute little museums.

4. Spring is unpredictable.

5. There are so many things that I haven't done yet!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Vietnam: HO CHI MINH CITY (part 5)

If I'm honest, I didn't like Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) at first. It is big and loud and in your face. It reminded me of all those metropolitan mega cities like NYC or London, but with a distinctive Asian flavor. But then HCMC grew on me. Little by little she wooed me and eventually persuaded me that I really did appreciated her modernity which is mixed with a bit of history, Euro-influence and a lot of enthusiasm.

Streets of Saigon
Until I reached HCMC I had been purposefully avoiding the American War (as the Vietnam War is known in Vietnam). I wanted to experience the country as a country, not as a war. But I knew in HCMC there was one museum that I needed to see: The War Remnants Museum. It is often said that the winners write the history, and this museum is a reminder of that. The exhibitions are certainly biased, however this did not detract from the reality of the horror of war for all peoples. There is an excellent Photojournalism component of the museum where the pictures speak for themselves. At the end of the photo exhibit there are about 20 follow-up stories about US soldiers and Vietnamese civilians whose photos were captured during the war. It was a sobering two hours and left with me with a deep desire to learn more about this period in Vietnam's history, and the history of my own homeland.

Notre Dame Cathedral
A good place to start to learn history is in a book, and as I wrote in my blog post Bookworm: Vietnam Graham Greene's The Quiet American was on my list of Must Reads. Because I was avoiding The War, I actually read it when I returned from my trip, but I did research into the places where the book is set and had my own little Graham Greene tour in order to fully appreciate the book later. Key sites are: The Opera, The Continental Hotel, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Main Post Office. The Lonely Planet guidebook does a great job of leading you through these site with a walking map explaining a bit about each site.

There is so much to do and to see in a city this size that it is hard to hone in on a favorite. However, I did find my favorite place in all of HCMC. It is the Fine Arts Museum. It is a bright colonial era building with colorful tiles lining the floors. It brings a welcome coolness from the Vietnamese heat. There are two floors of art works, mainly modern pieces but a few rooms are dedicated to historical art piece also. What always strikes me about art is how we humans have a fundamental desire and drive to create. Even when our societies seem to be at their most destructive, someone somewhere is creating something of beauty. The Fine arts Museum was a welcome balance to the void left in me after the War Remnants Museum.

Other HCMC memories include a day trip to the Mekong Delta, late nights of drinking local Vietnamese beer called "bia" on the street, afternoon treats of fresh fruit smoothies, pagodas and temples, people watching, warm smiles, markets and bargaining, large green parks and pressing heat. And then our time in Vietnam was over. The adventure had left me with a deep respect for this people, whose culture spanned thousands of years. Even as I sat on the plane taxing away from Vietnam, I knew someday I will return....because "once in a lifetime" is never enough.

The Main Post Office

Mekong Delta

Ho Chi Minh sitting in the midst of Gucci and Prada

Tropical fruit

Ben Thanh Market

President Clinton ate in the same restaurant as we did!

Exercise park

Crossing the street

Fine Arts Museum