Reality Ranching July 2017

Hello again,

Rainbow seen from our front door this summer

It’s been ages since I wrote a Reality Ranching, not since last fall I believe. Part of the reason is that I have just been lazy and part of the reason is because things on the ranch have been relatively quiet (knock on wood). The spring calving came and went with nothing out of the ordinary for us. Sadly, our fellow livestock producers in Southwest Kansas went through a fiery “hell” in March.

No rain, an abundance of dry grass and high winds made for a “perfect storm” of uncontrollable wild fires. When the raging fire was finally brought under control it left in its wake thousands of dead cattle and cattle that had to be destroyed due to lung damage or horrific burns. Wildlife fared no better but amazingly and thankfully only two human lives were lost in Kansas. This was too many but hearing all the narrow escapes by many ranchers it was a miracle that more people didn’t perish. Fences were ruined, outbuildings and some houses burned. Even as I type this so many months later my stomach clenches as I think of what those poor folks had to face and how long it will take to recover from the damage, both physically and mentally. In the Flint Hills we had the same hazardous conditions and we know the devastation our friends in Southwest Kansas suffered could just as easily been us.

Not surprisingly, the ranching/farming community stepped up to do what they could to help those that lost so much in the disaster. Money, hay, fencing equipment, and volunteer labor came from all over the country. There were stories that lifted my heart and gave me hope such as the 4-H kids near the disaster area who took in orphaned calves in-order-to relieve some of the pressure on the owners who had their hands full coping with other things. Another uplifting story I read was about a group of FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids who gave up their spring break and went out to help rebuild some of the ruined fences. This is just a small example of the generosity that poured in to help the victims of the fire.

Rain arrived in April and the greening began

Our dry March was followed by rains beginning in April that have continued into May and June. The dry prairie that had us worried in March has turned into a green paradise with water gurgling through even the smallest streams. The cattle are feasting on the lush grass and the hay we have managed to put up between rains in June is yielding quite well. Since this blog has languished on the computer, our weather in mid-July has been scorching hot and dry.

Primrose on Soloscheid rd, one of the earlier wild flowers to bloom

I think this is Beebalm. Very interesting structure.

The wildflowers have been spectacular this year and I have enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of the various species that grace the prairie. The road from the highway to the entrance of our driveway puts on a wildflower show for us. I often walk the half mile from our house to the highway, camera in hand, enjoying and taking photos of the variety of flora scattered along the side of the road. There is plenty of bird song that provides a pleasant background to my morning walks, heavy on Dickcissels, but the songs of other grassland birds manage to weave their way through the four-note warble  of the dickcissels. I am cautious if I step off the gravel road to get a close-up photo of a particularly pretty bloom because Paul encountered a large timber rattler while cutting grass along the stone fence near our mailbox. Yikes. The slogan “Don’t tread on me” comes to mind knowing the rattlesnake could be hiding in the grass.

A Dickcissel singing heartily. I was shooting into the sun so the photo is a bit dark

One morning while walking along Soloscheid, I notice a few Compass plants are wilted as if they have been sprayed. That’s odd. I see that some weeds are also dying and assume Paul has sprayed them but I can’t figure out why the Compass plants were targeted. A couple of days later I see that the perky Black-eyed Susan’s are dying. I’m completely flummoxed by this, Paul is as much into the flowers and plants of the prairie as I am into the birds. Was Paul spraying something nearby and the spray drifted onto the flowers? When I ask Paul about the dying flowers, he grimaces, and says the only thing he can figure out is that the County Weed department must have sprayed Soloscheid Road. This doesn’t make sense either as Soloscheid is a township road.

I love the beautiful Black-eyed Susans.

Not so beautiful anymore

Colorful Butterfly Milkweed

A few days later they are reduced to this. I hope the plant near the fence escaped.

After discussing the sad situation of the once beautiful flowers, Paul sends an email to the weed department and our County Commissioner including before and after photos of the flowers. He points out that there were no noxious weeds along the road except for a clump of Johnson grass which he had already killed. There is a quick response to our email from both parties. Our commissioner quickly investigates and finds that the township contracted with the weed department to spray all of Farmer township roads which means this is out of the county commissioners’ hands and we must take our questions up with our township board. The weed department employee apologizes but says they were only doing what they were contracted to do. Paul then visits with one of the Township board members who also apologizes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that we now have shriveled, brown stalks to look at instead of the beautiful, colorful, flowers we had been enjoying. Paul asks the township board and the weed department folks to take Soloscheid road off the spray program in the future and tells them he will take care of any noxious weeds if they appear. The sad reality is we don’t know how long it will take for the wildflowers to come back.

The calf in the background is cute but ugh, the dead wildflowers.

Speaking of noxious weeds, the plentiful April rains brought forth multiple species of the unwanted plants. Whenever we went to check cattle in May we always took an empty mineral sack and a spade along since the odds were, we would find musk thistle in bloom. When any of us came upon the prickly, purple blossomed plants, we would pluck the blooms off, place them in the sack and then dig the thistle up to destroy it. Paul then burns the sack of blooms so the hundreds of fluffy-white seeds one thistle can produce are destroyed.

No photos of the notorious musk thistles but this shiny green bug on a milkweed is eye-catching, (yes it is dying too due to the spraying)

No idea what this bug is but he is quite interesting.

Paul and I were checking cattle in the Rock pasture on a cool May morning and came upon some musk thistle in full bloom. My job was to pick the blooms off the prickly plants while trying to avoid the sharp barbs.  Quite often a sharp thorn would pierce my leather gloves causing me to wince and call out ouch. Darned thistles anyway. When I finish my job, Paul sends the spade into the rocky soil under the base of the thistle, severing the plant from its roots.

The sprinkle of thistles in the pasture led us off the hilltop along a rock ledge where more of the noxious plants are growing. There is a large musk thistle with a dozen or so blooms on it growing next the rock ledge. I proceed to yank the blossom off causing the plant to sway every time I remove a bloom.  As Paul steps up to dispatch the tall thistle, I turn to go back to the Ranger. I have taken a few steps when I hear Paul exclaim “Oh my gosh” or something to that effect. I turn around to see him backing away from the thistle in alarm so I ask him what is wrong. “There is a rattlesnake under the thistle” is his reply. I am skeptical and ask him if he is sure it is a rattler because I can’t hear any rattling from an angry snake shaking its tail. Paul says he is pretty sure it is.

No Rattlesnake photo but other things hide in the grass too. Baby Fawn

We both cautiously step a bit closer and peer at the ground under the thistle just in time to see the snake slowly crawling into a cavity in the rock ledge. Feeling braver we step next to the thistle and see that at the end of the snakes’ tail there are indeed rattles, about four or five. The snake is trying to use its warning system but the sound is hardly discernible. The only thing we can figure as to why the sound is so quiet is that this morning it is very cool along with a heavy dew so maybe the rattles just aren’t working like they would on a dry hot day. I cannot believe I was standing right next to that snake, pulling thistle blooms which made the plant move every time I picked one and that rattler didn’t strike at me. Holy Smokes.

Since I have procrastinated in posting this blog for another three weeks, our searing triple digit heat exited Kansas in late July. We have had three wonderful rains, each a week apart which is perfect and our temperature is below normal for early August. We have dropped to the upper 50’s the past two mornings and I have had to put on a flannel shirt for a couple of hours before the sun warms things up. The grass is amazingly green yet in fact you would swear it is early summer rather than late summer. Wonderful.

This photo was taken a few days ago (with my new camera). It could be late May as green as it is. I wasn’t happy with the sharpness of this photo but I don’t think I had set my camera to super fine yet.

My old camera called it quits so I have included a few photos I took below while experimenting with my new bridge camera.

There is a setting that takes photos and formats them into a vintage look. I like it.

Hummingbirds at our feeder

This photo is nice and sharp of the curious calf

 

 

 

 

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Reality Ranching January 2017

 

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    REALITY RANCHING JANUARY 2017

 

       The fall calving season on the ranch came to an end in mid-December when the last holdout, cow 901, delivered a large bull calf. The calf was so large in fact that I’m pretty sure the little guy went past his due date by several days! We were delighted that the twenty-nine heifers delivered all their calves with no assistance from we humans. We did lose two calves on the mature cows but when you calve out one hundred eighty cows the odds are you won’t save every calf.

     I wish I could report that after the baby calves were born all was fine with them, but we have been fighting a lot of health problems in the calves this fall beyond what is normal. A new strain of pink eye has made an appearance in this part of Kansas affecting all ages of cattle. Many people fought the virus in their herds this summer but the nasty new eye infection didn’t show up in our herd until this fall. We have had ear infections, particularly in the first calf heifer calves, which is something that has been a problem for us in past years too. We also had four calves develop severe scours(diarrhea) in late November. Three of the calves survived but despite Randall’s best efforts in administering electrolytes and milk replacer via a tube, the fourth calf succumbed to the fast-acting disease after a couple of days.

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Our weather has been all over the place this winter. Above normal temps to normal temps to way below normal temps (our coldest morning it was -18). These extreme swings in temperature doesn’t help when calves are sick.

 

    Just when we thought we were “over the hump” with the calves, the babies on the first calf heifers went into a funk. The calves had no energy and stood around with their heads drooping, but they didn’t show any usual signs of illness like coughing and snotty noses. We threw up our hands and called our veterinarian who came out to see if she could figure out what was going on. On our vet’s advice, we revaccinated the calves plus she administered a different antibiotic to the calves then what we had been using. Dr. Amy checked the temperatures on the sick calves and found a third of them were running temperatures of 103 to 105 degrees! Even though the normal temperature for cattle is 101.5 that is still a high fever.  Our vet also took some swabs and KSU is running a culture on the samples in hopes that we can figure out what virus we are dealing with. The calves’ look much better now and were bucking and playing a few days after our vets visit. In addition to the problems with the fall calves we have had illness in our weaned spring calves to deal with too. This certainly adds a lot of stress to us three humans that are caring for the cattle plus it entails extra work in treating the ailing calves.

     As with all calving seasons there are events that happen out of the norm and are worthy of committing to the computer. As usual, the first calf heifers were kept at our house and I am normally the one that keeps a close eye on them. Often the young cows were calving without the giving the telltale signs that they were thinking about having a calf, so often when I went out to check on them I would find a soppy calf struggling to get to its feet or already on its feet nursing the new mom. These girls weren’t messing around, they just laid down and got to work delivering their calves.

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Petal with Sweetheart nursing

 

   One afternoon I was standing in the yard waiting for Paul to return as he needed me to go help him do something (I can’t remember what). Even though I had checked the heifers around an hour before something prompted me to take another look at them. Perhaps the reason was because Dalton’s heifer Petal was obviously going to calve “any minute” that I decided to take a quick look before I left. As I walked into the small brome field I saw Petal standing alone near the rock wall, her head pointed at the ground. Was she grazing or had she calved? As I got closer to the brockle-face cow I heard the gasping rasp of a calf struggling to breath. Oh no! I break into a run and see the calf lying in front of Flower. Flower is busy licking the baby but she is licking the rear end of the calf, not the head! The poor calf’s head and front legs are encased in the birth sac and the sac is wrapped so tightly over its head that the calf is about to suffocate from the lack of oxygen.

     I approach the suffocating calf but Flower decides to be super mom and lets me know by shaking her head and bellowing at me that I am not welcome. I retreat to the wall and literally stumble over a long branch on the ground. I grab it and rush at Flower, smacking the branch on the ground in front of her, which causes the new mom to turn tail and run a short distance away. I then grab the thick membrane and rip it off the baby calf’s nose before beating a hasty retreat because Flower is on her way back determined to defend her new baby. I stand and watch the calf from the safety of a tree, probably the one that provided me that handy branch, and give a sigh of relief when the calf’s breathing becomes normal. It seems like forever, but it probably was only a couple of minutes, before the little brockle-face calf lifts its head off the ground. Whew, the calf is going to be all right.

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Sweetheart is as unimpressed as Dalton with the fact that I saved her life.

 

 

    Later when I talk to Dalton to inform him that Flower has delivered a heifer calf his first response is a dejected “It’s a heifer!”.  I relate the story to Randall and Erin’s oldest son about how I saved the little calf’s life. I then lobby Dalton to name this newest addition to his growing herd, Nancy, thinking my heroic efforts are surely worth the calf being my namesake. The young man doesn’t seem impressed with this idea and later after the family has come to examine the newest member of the DD herd he happily informs me that he has named the calf Sweetheart. O.k. the heifer calf does have a small white mark on her poll that resembles a heart but I still think Nancy would have been a great name.

     A couple of weeks later, Paul and I are checking the cows in the brome field below our house with the Ranger. We buzz by Dalton’s second calf heifer, Sunflower, who is munching on the green brome grass. We give her a cursory look as we drive by and after Paul has driven a hundred feet or so we look at each other with the realization that Sunflower didn’t have her swollen calf belly anymore. Paul wheels the Ranger around and we drive back to the young cow. Yep, she has calved and she has been nursed but the question is where has Sunflower hidden her baby. We slowly drive around the area and as we approach the creek bank Sunflower comes on a run. Oh boy, the bank is steep here and the two of us get out of the Ranger to peer over the edge. The bad news is that indeed the calf has gone over the edge of the bank. The good news is that the little bugger is laying on a grassy ledge well above the deep pool of water below it. Paul and I come up with a strategy to get the baby back up the bank to its mama. I quietly make my way down the bank staying off to one side and come up behind the calf. This is to make sure the calf doesn’t spook and take a dive into the water below (yes it occurs to me that the calf could still spook and take me with it into the creek).  Once I am in position, Paul comes down, grabs the calf and pushes the wide-eyed baby back to safety as Sunflower peers down at us. I chastise the young cow for placing the calf near the steep creek bank but she completely ignores me, (Dalton told me one day when I was earnestly talking to some cows that “I don’t think they speak English” :).  Sunflower sniffs her calf and then leads her baby towards the herd.

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Sunflower, note the white mark above her eye

 

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This is Dandelion, the white splotch in the middle of her head is similar to moms that is above her eye.

 

 

 

    I call Dalton to inform him that Sunflower has calved and tell him how we rescued this heifer calf from her precarious perch. I suggest that since Paul and I were involved in this rescue that perhaps a good name for the calf would be Millie, short for Miller! Dalton’s reaction is an exasperated “It’s another heifer!” and I can hear mom laughing in the background. Poor Dalton, the youngster is facing a cash flow problem since he has passed the two cows for free mark so he really needs a bull calf that he can sell this fall. Dalton now must pay pasture and winter care on his extra cows and although heifer calves can be sold it is a tough decision to let go of one. Later, Dalton tells us that he has named Sunflowers’ calf, Dandelion. I look at Dalton and ask him what in the world we must to do to get him to name a calf after us to which he just shrugs nonchalantly! Man, impressing this boy is tough.

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Flower and Daisy

 

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Mickey the fall yearling heifer that Dalton sold the ranch for some much-needed cash

 

 

     Dalton has one more cow to calve and of course Flower has a heifer 🙂. I see Dalton in person and break the news to him. His shoulders literally sag when he hears the word heifer. This calf he names Daisy, so still no namesake for Paul or me! His cash flow problem is solved when Dalton decides to sell, Mickey, one of his heifer calves that was born last fall, to the ranch for a fair price. Dalton mentions the fact that he has had seven heifer calves in a row which would entail calves born in the last three years. As you can see, Dalton mostly has a flower theme for naming his cattle.  His brother Jacob on the other hand names his cattle after western movie characters. Katie Elder his only mature cow had a bull calf this year which he named Davy Crockett. Jake also has a yearling heifer that he named Crazy Alice, fortunately she hasn’t lived up to her name! Little sister Anna’s cow, Tulip, had a heifer calf which she named Barbie. I’m pretty sure that Anna was disappointed that the calf wasn’t pink.

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Crazy Alice who fortunately isn’t really crazy. Her mother Katie Elder however can be crazy.

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Jake’s bull calf Davy Crockett

 

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Anna’s cow Tulip and calf Barbie. Tulip was on high alert when I was taking this photo.

 

 

     Early in the calving season, Paul and I came upon two cows at Milton’s’ chasing after the same calf. Since the calf was tagged we knew the rightful mother was 324 but 298 was determined that the calf was hers. We couldn’t decide if 298 had calved yet (sometimes cows will try to claim a calf right before they calve) so we decided to return to check on this matter after we had finished looking at a couple more groups of cows. Upon our return, we found the two cows lying down in some tall dead grass. The rightful mother was lying several yards away from 298 and the contested calf. Obviously 298 had fought off the real mother of the calf and successfully stolen her baby. We also discover that 298 has calved as she has expelled her afterbirth while lying next to the calf she absconded. Great, we have a calfnapping and we have no idea where 298’s real calf is or if it is even alive! It is very unusual for mature cows to get confused and claim another cow’s calf, particularly when they are running on large acreage.

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The calf that was abandoned but then claimed by her mother. This photo is taken four months later. I can’t exactly stop and document these adventures when they are taking place! In fact I will just put some favorite cattle photos through this part of the blog since I have no photos of the actual event.

 

     There is a catch pen a quarter of a mile away so Paul and I grab the calf, much to the disapproval of the calfnapper, and load him in the back of the Ranger. We make sure both cows know where the calf is, then with Paul holding onto the calf and me driving the side-by-side we make our way towards the pen. 324 follows dutifully behind the Ranger but 298 has other ideas. The calf stealing cow runs in front of the Ranger which causes me to come to a stop so I don’t run into her. The old rip does this time and again, occasionally lowering her head as if she is trying to pick a fight with the Ranger, which causes me to hurl some unkind words at the thieving cow. We finally arrive at the corral and entice the two cows into the small loading pen by placing the calf in that pen. Cutting 298 into a side pen is no easy task because she is determined to stay with “her” calf.

     Randall is on the scene by now and 324 and her calf are hauled via trailer to the brome below our house. 298 is taken to the pens at our house so if we get lucky and find her calf we can work at getting 298 to claim her biological calf.  Finding that baby will be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The guys must leave to put water gaps in at one of our rented pastures so that leaves me to look for the baby calf.

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The cow who had her baby calfnapped by a herd mate.

 

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The calfnapped calf four months later

 

 

      I take the Ranger and head back to Milton’s place where I search the area where we first found the two cows chasing after the bewildered calf. I slowly and carefully drive the Ranger back and forth peering into the rank foxtail that has grown up in the brome field. I don’t find the calf so where do I look now I remember what when I checked this bunch of cows yesterday I was short several cows. I finally found them on top of the small wooded hill where the cows were munching on acorns. This year the acorns were thick and our cows were crazy for the nuts feasting on them as if they were candy. If we were short on our count in any of the herds, we would immediately head for the timber and look for oak trees where more often than not we would find the missing bovines crunching on acorns! Anyway, I distinctly remembered that 324 and her calf were with several other cows on this hilltop snuffling around the base of oak trees for acorns. I remembered 324 and her calf because we only had a couple of calves in this group so far. Hmm perhaps this is where 298 got confused and laid claim to 324’s calf.

      I park the Ranger at the bottom of the hill and as I walk up the tree covered hill I cast my eyes from side to side looking for a small black calf. When I reach the hilltop, I walk along the fence that separates this acreage from the meadow to the south. A baby calf can get pushed under a fence so I also peer out over the meadow as I traipse along. When I reach the west side of the hill I move over several feet and walk back to the east, trying to look in every grassy clump or bush on both sides of me. Five times I walk from one end of the small hill to the other with no sign of a calf. As I turn to walk back for the sixth time I have resigned myself that the unwanted baby isn’t here since I am on the crest of the hill and no cow would have had her calf on the rocky steep side of this hill. I have walked about halfway on this trek when several feet away, I spot the baby calf lying next to an old log. I’ll be darned, now the question is how do I grab the calf without spooking it and get it back down to the Ranger?

     I have no lasso or halter with me or in the Ranger but there is some twine in the bed of the side-by-side. The calf seems to have not noticed me so I decide to trek back to the Ranger for the twine. I make a careful note of the area where the abandoned calf is hiding before I leave. Once I get back with the twine I sneak up behind the calf and grab its back leg, fastening one piece of twine around its ankle. Wrapping the end of the twine around my gloved hand, I then kneel on the baby calf and tie the other piece of twine around the black calf’s neck. Surprisingly, the calf doesn’t struggle or even try to stand up while I am ensnaring him with the orange plastic twine.

    Once I am satisfied that I can stop the calf from running off with my flimsy twine rope, I try to get the calf on its feet. The little heifer either can’t stand or refuses to stand so that means I am going to have to carry her. Putting one arm around her neck and the other around her butt I heft the baby calf up. Thank goodness she isn’t a large calf, probably sixty or sixty-five pounds. That being said I’m not a youngster anymore and I find that I can only walk so far with a limp calf in my arms. When I start to huff and puff and my arms begin to protest the calf’s weight, I lay the calf down on the ground to take a rest. I haven’t gotten very far and at this rate my journey to the Ranger is going to be time-consuming! After a couple of minutes I reach down and hoist the baby calf up again and plod off but after a few steps the little calf decides enough is enough and begins to thrash her legs and head against me in earnest. I can’t control the calf and still walk so I set her down again making sure I have a firm grasp on the twine constraints.

My what big ears you have.

My what big ears you have. This photo has nothing to do with the story!

      Well shoot, maybe I can force her to walk down the hill to our waiting ride. Nope, the obstinate calf not only won’t walk but she lays back down and refuses to stand up again, just going limp when I try to make her stand. You little rascal, there is only one other way to get her off this hilltop and that is to drag her. I know, it sounds awful but luckily there is thick grass which will cushion her. I grab a hind leg and begin to pull the prone calf. She slides along surprisingly easy and after we have gone several yards I give the calf another chance at standing and walking. The little girl again refuses to stand and goes as limp as a rag doll at my attempts. I continue to pull the calf, often having to dodge around old logs, trees and bushes. When we finally reach the Ranger, I am exhausted despite stopping several times to rest and stretch out my back.

     Another problem arises as I need to transport the calf home to where her mother is. I have no way of restraining the calf as there is no place or way to tie her in the bed of the Ranger. If the calf will continue to play possum (lay still) it will be fine but if she decides to make a break for it what then? After mulling it over, I decide to lay her on the floor of the Ranger on the passenger side where she will be within my reach if the calf decides to make a get away. The next decision is how to get home, do I go through the fields where I must get out to open and shut three gates or go via the highway where I only have one gate to pass through? I opt for the route that takes me through one gate.

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This is an old photo but it shows the Ranger which I used to transport the calf home

    The scared calf lays quietly on the floor on our ride to the gate and while I get out to open the gate. However, when I jump out and run back to close the gate, I hear the baby calf scrambling to get to its feet. I’m sure the petrified calf has decided to make a break for it since that scary two-legged creature is out of sight. I jump into the Ranger just as the calf is trying to crawl up onto the seat and grab the would-be escapee. I force the calf back on the floor and get her to lay down again by flipping the baby on her side then holding onto a front leg so she can’t stand back up. Once the calf accepts that she is my prisoner again she ceases to struggle and I drive on.

     Things are going well as I turn out of Milton’s drive and onto the highway. The calf seems to have accepted her dilemma and is laying quietly on the floor. It is about a half of a mile from Milton’s drive to our driveway so I am hoping the calf continues to cooperate. Well that hope vanishes when the rascal decides that she has had enough of this adventure and starts to get to her feet just as I am coming into the sweeping curve not far from our driveway. Trying to keep an eye on the road and one hand on the wheel, I desperately grab for the calf’s leg as she climbs halfway up onto the seat. I silently admonish myself for making the decision to drive down the highway but it is too late now. I slow down but I don’t dare take the ditch as it is too steep, so I just grapple with the calf and continue towards our driveway. Once I turn into the drive I force the calf down on the floor again, waiting for him to calm down before driving the last leg of this journey. Good grief, I will never do that again!

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Hey wait a minute, I don’t have twins! Often first calf heifers tolerate other calves nursing them.

 

       I breathe a sigh of relief when I motor up to the pen where we placed the unwanted calf’s mother. I pull the calf out of the Ranger and this time the calf is willing to walk to the narrow, wooden gate and I push her through it into the pen with her mother. I watch as the cow walks up to the tired calf, sniffs it and unfortunately turns around and walks away. Well, the good news is that she didn’t try to butt or kick at the baby calf. The bad news is that the guys haven’t returned yet so I am going to have to put the cow in the alley, catch her head in the head gate and get some mothers milk into this very hungry calf on my own.

     I walk the cow into the working pen and to my surprise and delight when I herd 298 towards the alley she amicably walks right into and down the narrow passage way, puts her head into the self-catch head gate and stands quietly while I remove the boards that will allow the calf to reach her udder. I gather up the calf and hold my breath as I help guide her to one of her mother’s teats and squirt some milk into the calf’s’ mouth. This part is tricky because range cows don’t particularly like to be milked and often will kick at you or at the very least jump around in response to your touch. Again, I am pleasantly surprised that 298 stands as placidly as an old milk cow and continues to do so until her calf has filled its empty belly with milk. When the calf is finished nursing, I push her in front of his mom where 298 again sniffs at her but gives no sign of recognition that this calf is hers. Well phooey, I walk the baby calf into the big pen and then release 298 into the pen and shut the gate. I stand and watch the duo for a while, noting that the cow looks over at the calf which is now lying down on occasion but isn’t curious enough to walk over and check him out. When I get back to the house I call Randall and Paul on the two-way radio and they are delighted to hear the news that I have found 298’s calf.

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I sat down in the middle of the herd on this gorgeous October day and took photos of what went on around me. There were a lot of curious calves to take pictures of.

 

         There is a happy ending to this story as sometime in the night 298 has decided that this is her calf after all. When Paul and I check them in the morning the calf has nursed and 298 is uttering some motherly sounds towards her. In another day 298 has turned into a protective, loving mother, and on the third day we turn the happy pair with the herd that is on the Rock place.

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One of my favorite photos I took that afternoon.

 

 

      As unusual as this calfnapping is among mature cows, Randall had the same thing happen again in the same herd at Milton’s. He had tagged two new baby calves one morning whose mothers were standing nest to each other. Randall told us that something about that scenario was bugging him all day and so he went back that evening to check on them again. Randall found one of the cows with the calf he had tagged in the morning but she also had an untagged calf with her. The problem was that this was a big burley calf while the tagged calf was fairly small so it seemed unlikely that they were twins. Since it was getting dark and the cow seemed to be taking care of both calves he decided to sort things out in the morning.

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You can add your own funny caption to this photo.

 

 

     Well, we did sort the mystery out in the morning as it seems the cow Randall had seen with two calves last night had claimed the twin of the other cow and then later gave birth to her “real” calf. This calfnapper left her real calf behind during the night but luckily the abandoned calf was still lying where Randall had seen it last night. This morning the calf’s’ mother showed no interest in him so we took the calf home and put him on a bottle. A couple of weeks later the rejected calf was adopted by a cow who lost her calf at birth so things turned out alright for both of them! Nancy

A handsome coyote on the brome patch by our mail box.

A handsome coyote on the brome patch by our mail box.

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Cattle on a hazy morning. Taken from our yard

 

 

    

    

    

  

   

   

    

      

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 blog 10

     Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 blog 10

Stop 9, our final stop.

Stop 13, our final stop.

Super highway we traveled on to Budapest

Super highway we traveled on to Budapest

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Two hours after leaving Gyor we arrive in Budapest a huge city bustling with traffic, full of people, and with a haze of smog drifting above the skyscrapers of the city. Budapest is cut in half with Buda situated on the west bank of the Danube and Pest on the east bank of the mighty river. Waessik winds through the busy streets of Budapest and turns down a narrow street where our hotel is situated. There are cars parallel parked on both sides of the street which hardly gives our big bus room to squeeze through. A problem arises when to our right a small sedan hasn’t parked properly and is sticking out into the street a few inches and our bus needs every inch it can get to continue down the street. Waessik eases up to the poorly parked car and shakes his head at our demise. Waessik gets out of the bus and tries to push in the rearview mirror on the car to our left hoping this maneuver will give him a much-needed extra inch or two. Unfortunately, the mirror is fixed so our driver’s common sense idea doesn’t work. Waessik climbs back into the bus and continues to slowly ease the bus forward. I stare open-mouthed at the parked car to our left, certain that we are going to scrape if not pull the rearview mirror off. Ms. D can’t even bear to watch and ducks down in her seat. When no screeching of metal on metal is heard and we safely pass through the bottleneck, a collective sigh followed by nervous laughter rolls through the bus. Another round of applause please for our superb bus driver!

Our spacious room

Our spacious room

We unload in front of the K+K Hotel Opera, enter the hotel, and collect our electronic key and go to find our assigned rooms. Paul, me, and three other members of our group are in one corridor having problems in getting the door to our rooms open. We finally figure out that the handle we are trying to turn to open the door is only there for looks! Boy, do we all feel silly after tugging mightily on a handle that doesn’t move.  When our group meets back in the lobby everyone admits that they too tried to open the door using the fake door handle instead of the little knob below it. Weird.

A glimpse of the interior of the opera house.

A glimpse of the interior of the opera house.

Tonight, we walk to a restaurant that is several blocks from our hotel for dinner. On the way, we step into the Opera house that is situated near our hotel, hence the name K+K hotel Opera I suppose. We can only stand in the foyer of what is considered one of the best Opera houses in the world, to admire a small portion of the beautiful interior because if you want a full tour you must pay for that. As we return to the street we hear a motorcycle engine revved up to a whine and soon the cyclist appears imitating Evil Knievel as he travels by us and beyond doing a spectacular wheelie. I must admit my mouth fell open in admiration at the driver’s stunt :).

We reach the restaurant and just before entering there are a few of us snapping photos. Across the street are several men, they have had a bit too much to drink I would guess, who make snide remarks about we tourists and our picture taking. We ignore them but I must say this is the first encounter we have had on our trip of people deliberately being rude and mouthy. Milan has tables reserved for us of course, and we settle into our chairs. The restaurant is busy and noisy but the food we are served soon makes us forget this. The wait staff serves us chicken which is placed on top of what our waiter calls potato stew. We have had wonderful food on this trip in my opinion but the potato dish tonight is at the top of the list.

Despite the damaged walls, people still put flowers in the windows

Despite the damaged walls, people still put flowers in the windows

When we have finished eating, Milan leads us through a part of the city which was once the Old Jewish Quarter which has now been converted to bars and restaurants. The area is full of people, mostly young folks, and it is still early. I can’t imagine what the crowd will be like later this evening. Milan points out an entrance to a popular roof top bar and says it has a great view of Budapest. Many of our group expresses an interest in checking it out but Paul and I aren’t one of them. Going to a crowded, loud, smoky bar just doesn’t appeal to us. We all return to the hotel, where Paul and I wish the others fun tonight, and then we retire to our room.

One of the many bars in the old Jewish Quarter

One of the many bars in the old Jewish Quarter

We have a leisurely start to the day as we don’t leave the hotel until nearly nine o’clock. Milan takes us to the metro and reiterates the importance of validating than keeping our tickets until we leave the underground system. I had written in my first blog that the metro escalator in Prague was so fast that it was difficult to get on and off. Actually, I got mixed up on the metros, as it is the old yellow line, (built in 1896), in Budapest that has the fast escalator and was not situated so deep under the ground. When we exit the old metro, we go deeper beneath the earth to catch a ride on the newer metro that takes us to our destination.

Taking the escalator down to the metro, Paul's photo

Taking the escalator down to the metro, Paul’s photo

Our guide in front of the incredible Parliament

Our guide in front of the incredible Parliament

Memorial to the 1956 victims shot in this square

Memorial to the 1956 victims shot in this square

Emerging above ground again, Milan takes us to the Parliament building, (this building is huge and is touted as the 3rd largest in the world), to meet our local guide for the morning. Milan introduces us to the elderly gentleman who then leads us to wooden benches in front of the beautiful Parliament. Once our group is sitting down we listen to our guide relate history about Hungary, particularly the 1956 revolution. This man, I forget his name, was eleven years old when the Hungarians, led by workers and students, revolted against the Russians who occupied Hungary in a fight for the country’s freedom. It was in this very square where peaceful protesters were fired upon by the government which killed several people and wounded many others. This incident was what escalated the revolt of 1956.  I can’t relate the history of the short-lived revolution without writing pages about it. To put it very simply the Hungarian people amazingly had success against the Russians for a few days but then the Russians brought in the big guns so to speak and the Hungarian people were crushed, many of the revolutionists fleeing to Austria to save themselves. A great book to read about this incredible story of ordinary people going up against a military giant is James Michener’s nonfiction book called “The Bridge at Andau”.

A different view of the Parliament building, I never could get the entire building in my camera frame!

A different view of the Parliament building, I never could get the entire building in my camera frame!

President Reagan out for a stroll, Paul's photo

President Reagan out for a stroll, Paul’s photo

Our guide takes us to Freedom square where a larger than life statue of Ronald Reagan stands looking as though he is out for a stroll. President Reagan is much admired here for his efforts to fight communism. Our knowledgeable guide then leads us to the Danube Promenade to see what is known as the shoe memorial. Here there are dozens of pair of iron shoes lined up along the bank of the Danube River. The shoes are a memorial to the thousands of mostly Jewish people who the Arrowcross militants murdered from 1945-46. The victims were told to take their shoes off before the fascist group shot them, shoes being valuable at that time. The victims’ bodies then dropped into the Danube to be washed away. We have seen many, (too many), memorials to Jewish victims of the war on this trip but the shoe memorial is just gut-wrenching and the one that has a lingering effect on me.

Shoe memorial by Danube

Shoe memorial by Danube

A child's pair of shoes. How can you not be touched by this?

A child’s pair of shoes. How can you not be touched by this?

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We say good-bye to our local guide and proceed to take the metro back to the hotel where we load up on the bus. Waessik drives us to the small town of Szentendre where we eat lunch in a small restaurant which is packed with patrons due to its popularity. After the tasty lunch, we hike up to a high point in the village where we look out over the town and countryside. After Milan talks about the history of Szentendre and its historical buildings, some of our group returns to the shopping area while the rest of us follow Milan to take a closer look at the beautiful buildings. We meet back at the bus at 3:00 and return to the hotel. I might add that it is really hot today!

Beautiful church in Szentendre

Beautiful church in Szentendre

What a unique building

What a unique building

There is a Jewish festival taking place nearly in front of our hotel so Paul, Jennifer and I listen to a young woman sing a couple of songs. Her voice is beautiful but it is so hot we retire to the comfort of our air- conditioned rooms! The three of us meet in the lobby at six o’clock and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself, having only eaten a yummy quinoa salad, but when we pass an ice cream stand on our way back to the hotel we all cave into the temptation. Our will power is pathetic!

Woman singing at festival taking place by our hotel

Woman singing at festival taking place by our hotel

Our group meets in the lobby at 8:00 tonight as we are going for an evening boat ride on the Danube. Milan tells us that he wants to make an unscheduled stop before catching our boat since we have plenty of time before the boat casts off. We get off the bus and join other people walking up Gellert Hill. We reach the first of many points on our uphill march where we stop to look over Budapest. The city is lit up like a Christmas tree and the Danube is sparkling due to the lights reflecting in the water. Our group exclaims with delight at the stunning view as we take photos of the scene below us. Milan who I think is tickled with our reaction to this impromptu stop, leads us farther up Gellert Hill until we reach the summit. At the top of the hill there is a statue of a woman holding a palm leaf over her head which is called Liberation Monument. The monument is bathed in floodlights giving it an ethereal glow. After admiring the sculpture for a time, Milan informs us we must head back to the bus. On our descent, we can’t help but stop now and then to soak in the sight of glittering Budapest.

Budapest at night from Gellert Hill

Budapest at night from Gellert Hill

Taking photos of Liberation Monument

Taking photos of Liberation Monument

Liberation monument

Liberation monument

Waessik delivers us near the dock where we will board the ship for our cruise on the Danube. When we reach the steps that lead down to the mooring, Milan leaves us standing behind a large group of Russian tourists while he goes down to where the boats are docked. When Milan reappears, he climbs up a few steps and gestures for us to come on down. As we cut in front of the Russians some unintelligible words are pointed our way. Milan laughs when we have left the Russians behind and says “they don’t know that I can speak Russian”. Milan doesn’t tell us what the Russians said so I guess we probably don’t want to know :).

We assumed that we were sharing a boat with the group we jumped ahead of and this was why they were ticked off. To our great surprise, our group of fifteen has a boat all to ourselves. How wonderful (and expensive) is that! There are chairs set in the prow of the boat so we have an unobstructed view of the glorious sights along the banks of the Danube. Once we are settled into our chairs, the captain casts off and we are cruising down the Danube. Milan disappears into the cabin behind us and becomes our moderator for the cruise, telling us about the sites that we are floating by.

Example of what we were treated to on our cruise on the Danube

Example of the beautiful views we were treated to on our cruise on the Danube, Liberation monument gracing the horizon

I am having a hard time getting a decent photo and I become somewhat obsessed and whiny about my inability to capture the beauty of the buildings that are awash in lights. Jennifer suggests that I just sit back and enjoy the scenic ride and I realize that I should take her advice! I still try to take some photos, particularly when we glide by the extraordinary Parliament building, but I do sit back, relax, and enjoy the beauty of this cruise.

Oh my word, the Parliament is shining so brightly that there are a flock of seagulls circling above the vibrant building, the poor birds must think the sun is coming up.  At some point on our tour, Paul quips that Hungary could supply the whole country with power for a month with the energy it takes to light up the buildings along the Danube for one night. Hmm, he could be right but boy is all that “wasted” energy a feast for the eyes.

The terrific Danube cruise comes to an end and we thank the captain before disembarking from the boat. On our way to the bus all of us express our gratitude to Milan for treating us to such an exhilarating evening. This was definitely a highlight, (among many), of our Jewels of Bohemia adventure. A very happy and satisfied group of people are delivered back to the hotel about ten o’clock.

Parliament building taken from a different angle

Parliament building

Paul and I are up early as he wants to use the hotel computers to print out our airplane tickets for our very early flight tomorrow. After Paul has our tickets in hand we go to breakfast. Soon after breakfast we leave for a city tour with our local guide, Helga. As we drive through Budapest, Helga points out various buildings and recites the history of them. Our blonde guide also remarks on how restoration is still ongoing in Budapest so it is possible to still find bullet holes in the facades of various buildings. We arrive in the parking lot adjacent to Hero’s Square and Helga snaps an order that we should try to be off the bus in two minutes. Whoa, I think our guide is channeling a past life as a drill sergeant. We do manage to get off the bus in the specified time and we march behind our guide, across the street onto the impressive Hero’s square.

The center monument in Hero's Square that Archangel Gabriel graces.

The center monument in Hero’s Square that Archangel Gabriel graces.

One "walls" housing Kings and important leaders of Hungary throughout their history

One “wall” housing Kings and important leaders of Hungary throughout their history

Helga

Helga

Helga maneuvers us near the tomb of the Unknown Soldier where we listen as she identifies the various people who are represented in the many statues here. The center sculpture is topped by the Archangel Gabriel and below him are representatives of the seven Magyar tribes that settled this part of Europe, all of them astride horses. Helga continues moving through Hungary’s history and at one point talks about the German occupation of Hungary. Oops, Milan has already discussed with our group how Hungary seems to be trying to rewrite their history by saying that Germany occupied them when in fact the two countries were allies. Our guide’s body language shows that this statement doesn’t set well with him but showing his class, he says nothing to refute Helga. Before Helga is finished speaking to us, we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the heat and there is a bit of grumbling about where we are standing. All the other groups are situated in the shade of the memorial walls that house the statues of various kings and prominent leaders of Hungary’s’ past. We are not quite sure why we didn’t join them in that shade. Once the history lesson is over, we are given time to peruse the solemn statues and take photos before returning to the bus.

A poor photo of St. Stephens Basillica

A poor photo of St. Stephens Basilica

Beautiful marble columns inside the Basillica

Beautiful marble columns inside the Basilica

From Hero’s Square, we venture on to St. Stephens Basilica for a tour of the enormous church. The Basilica is gorgeous with beautiful marble columns, stained glass windows, and of course stunning frescos on the ceiling. Helga escorts us to a room where we join a line of people waiting to see the hand of St. Stephens. Soon it is our turn to view the mummified hand which is contained in an ornate box. Helga gives the caretaker of the hand some money and he illuminates the box so we can look at the sacred hand of St. Stephen. Personally, I can’t make a hand out of the dark object that sits in the box but frankly I don’t really care because I find this a bit gruesome. However, St. Stephen is so admired by Hungarians that every year on the 20th of August, the hallowed hand is presented to the people via a parade in the city.

An example of the stained glass windows in the Basillica

An example of the stained glass windows in the Basilica

St. Stephen's hand is inside this ornate box.

St. Stephen’s hand is inside this ornate box. I can’t make it out at all

Our next stop on our tour with Helga is Castle Hill which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Helga informs us that the famous Castle Hill is still a residential area with many people living here despite being such a popular tourist destination. We follow Helga through the old town until we reach the Matthias Church where another statue of the renowned St. Stephen stands in front of nearby Fishermen’s Bastion. Helga fills us in on some more history about Castle Hill then we are given some free time. Before we break ranks Helga suggests we use the restrooms in the Hilton, but also adds that “you didn’t hear this from me”.

We stopped here to learn about the various types of paprika for sale

We stopped here to learn about the various types of paprika for sale

Matthias Church

Matthias Church

Once we are on our own Paul, Jennifer and I wander around in the heat admiring the fantastic buildings, esp. the 700-year-old Matthias Church, and enjoying the view from the Fishermen’s’ Bastion. Jennifer and I need a bathroom break but Paul decides to take a seat on a bench rather than walk down to the Hilton with us. What a relief when we walk into the lobby of the plush hotel and cold air rushes over us. Jennifer and I run into Mr. B and Ms. A who direct us to the restrooms. We encounter more of our group on the same mission as us who also heeded Helga’s advice. Jennifer and I decide to take a cue from Mr. B and Ms. A and we sink into a couch in the lobby and enjoy the cool air since we aren’t due at the bus pickup zone for a while. Paul probably is wondering where the heck we are! The two of us reluctantly leave the comfort of the Hilton and Paul is still sitting where we left him. The three of us stroll to the bus stop where many of our group is already waiting and the rest of them soon show up. There is no shade to be found here so all of us are very happy when our bus arrives.

View of the Budapest and Danube from lower level of Fishermens' Bastion

View of Budapest and the Danube from lower level of Fishermens’ Bastion

I'm not sure what this man did to entertain but the raptor is what really caught my attention

I’m not sure what this man did to entertain but the raptor is what really caught my attention

From Castle Hill, we proceed to the Covered market. I can’t recall when Helga left us but I’m sure we all thanked her profusely for her time. I do know that Milan has taken charge of us again when we walk to the market. Paul and I have been to many markets around the world so we had some idea of what we were about to experience. Upon entering the large structure, Milan informs us that the floor where we are now is where vegetables, meat, etc. is sold while the second floor is where crafts, clothes and food stands are located.

The Covered market

The Covered market

Paul taking photo of one of the many vendor booths

Paul taking photo of one of the many vendor booths

Since we are all hungry we make a beeline for the second floor. Milan has recommended trying langos (sp?) since they are a traditional Hungarian dish so Jennifer, Paul and I settle on langos for lunch. When we find the stall that is selling langos we join a line of people waiting to place their order. Langos appear to be a version of fast food as you tell the vendor what toppings you want placed on the flat piece of bread and pay per items you choose. There isn’t a lot of room to sit but a young man who is standing at a table nods to me and I see that there is room for us at his table. The three sisters also end up at our table which livens up our lunch!  We enjoy visiting with this polite young man from Romania who came to Hungary to run in the marathon yesterday. He is delighted to learn that Paul and I have visited his fascinating country. He informs us that he has tried to obtain a visa to the USA three times but his requests were denied. The fellow says that he really wants to see America but due to the time and cost involved to try to procure a visa he has given up his dream. How sad is that.

Chicken legs and Duck's head. Paul's photos

Duck legs and Duck heads. Paul’s photos

Not sure what this was but the designs in the jars were amazing. Paul's photo

Not sure what this was but the designs in the jars were amazing. Paul’s photo

After lunch, (the langos were tasty but very hard to eat), the three of us return to the lower floor to look at the various stalls piled high with all varieties of vegetables. The meat cases have items we would not see in our part of the country such as duck legs and duck’s heads. Yikes. Jennifer wanders off to do some shopping and Paul and I spend a lot of time taking photos of the interesting displays of food. I do join Jennifer on her quest to buy some paprika, Hungary is famous for paprika, as I want to take some back to Connie. Once that task has been fulfilled we look around a bit more before we must converge with the rest of the group at the allotted meeting time to return to the bus.

Piles of vegetables for sale

Piles of vegetables for sale

Our group has gathered at the entrance where Milan is waiting for us. Milan pulls out a sack of candy from that magical satchel and urges us to try the popular Hungarian sweet he has bought for us. The candy is quite tasty and I believe some people have a second piece, Paul included. Milan gives us the choice of riding back to the hotel on the bus or walking. Mr. D and Ms. C opt to walk but the rest of us climb into the air-conditioned bus. We return to the hotel mid-afternoon where Jennifer, Paul and I agree to meet in an hour or so to explore a bit more of Budapest, and to also have a beer :).

Look who we bumped into!

Look who we bumped into!

Bullet holes in the wall. Paul's photo

Bullet holes in the wall. Paul’s photo

Once in our room Paul and I do most of our packing and then rest for a bit. We meet Jennifer in the lobby and walk down to the main street. We turn down streets that we haven’t been on before and just wander. Paul discovers some bullet holes in a building along with chunks of stone missing here and there, which is probably war damage too. We stop to watch a film crew at work across the street and run into the three sisters who are also out exploring. Settling at an outside café to have a beer we are waited on by a young man who takes time to visit with us. Again, we hear the story of trying to get a visa to the USA but he too did not have any luck. He intends to try again and feels like he may have a better chance this time. We wish him well. We return to the hotel to freshen up before dinner. We do have a short meeting before we leave for dinner in which Milan tells us the time most of us will leave for the airport, (our flight is at 6 a.m.), when to have our luggage out, and so on. He also asks us for any suggestions for this trip and most of us say we would have liked to have another day in Bratislava. We all express our delight with the trip and with our guide and Ms. J does an exceptional job in thanking Milan for all the extra work he does that we aren’t aware of. Everyone then hands Milan a more concrete form of appreciation for the spectacular job he has done and he tucks the envelopes containing the tips into his black satchel.

Delighted with our entertainment

Delighted with our entertainment

This evening we again walk several blocks to the restaurant where we are having our farewell dinner. Milan has arranged for us to be serenaded throughout the meal with gypsy music which entails a violinist and a pianist. Ms. A is thrilled with the violinist since she used to and perhaps still does play the violin. Ms. A requests a piece of music that she played at her recital as a youngster and to her delight the musician plays it for her and plays it beautifully! The meal is delicious with way too much food to eat as usual. It was a great farewell dinner that everyone thoroughly enjoyed.

Upon our return to the hotel we say goodbye to the energetic sisters and to Mr. D and Ms. C who are not flying out of Budapest at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.! The rest of us will say our goodbyes at the Budapest airport although Ms. D is on the same flight as we Kansans back to the states. It has been a wonderful trip through fascinating countries, with a fun and interesting group, lead by one of if not the best guide Paul and I have ever had. Until our next adventure, Nancy

Even a dog riding in a bicycle basket needed a drink due to the heat!

Even a dog riding in a bicycle basket needed a drink due to the heat!

A close up of statues representing the Magyars

A close up of statues representing the Magyars

Even the manhole covers in Europe were pretty.

Even the manhole covers in Europe were pretty.

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 9

                                      Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 9

Visiting stops 11 and 12 after leaving Bratislava

Visiting stops 11 and 12 after leaving Bratislava

 

Our group is on the bus and we are rolling out of the parking lot before six on our way to try some of the local wine at a restaurant in a nearby village. There are vineyards here and there on the sides of the small mountains on our drive to our dinner destination, some of the vineyards are being tended too while it appears some have been abandoned. When we reach the village, Waessik lets us off on a main street and we walk to the restaurant/winery from here.

Restaurant and Winery where we had our last dinner in Bratislava

Restaurant and Winery where we had our last dinner in Bratislava

A young woman meets us at the entrance of the restaurant and we follow her past diners eating at outside tables, to a very cool room that looks like an old wine cellar. Milan explains to us that we will be tasting three local wines, all white wine if I recall correctly. There is also some fresh grape juice for those that don’t want the wine. We all try the wine, and unfortunately I don’t care for any of it. However, I do like the grape juice very much! Most of our group really likes the wine so it just goes to show you what I know about the fermented grape drink!

The cool room where we tasted wine and ate dinner

The cool room where we tasted wine and ate dinner

The three bottles of wine we had samples from and the grape juice is included with our meal but once the bottles are empty everyone must pay for any extra wine. As you can imagine, three bottles of wine for 15 people doesn’t go far after we have all had a taste. While most order another glass of wine to accompany our meal of delicious salmon, Paul and I plus two of the sisters (I believe) finish off the bottle of grape juice.  Have I mentioned that Waessik often eats with us at meals but as our driver the poor guy can only watch as his passengers enjoy wine or beer.

Once we have finished dining on the delicious salmon and imbibing in the local wine or grape juice, Milan suggests we visit the local festival that is taking place in the village. Fourteen people agree that it sounds like a great idea. After walking a few blocks we enter the area where the party is taking place. There is a band playing and singing to a crowd of locals. Jennifer can’t resist the music and she does a few dance steps which catches the attention of a male bystander. The handsome fellow looks at Jennifer and nods his head towards the dance area. Jennifer smiles but shakes her head to decline the hunky guy’s invitation. Jennifer’s suitor doesn’t give up and again tries to get her to dance with him but again Jennifer stands firm against the wiles of the charming Romeo. Alright, I might have stretched the description of Jennifer’s’ admirer a bit, he was shorter than me, slightly balding and probably several years older than Jennifer but the part about him wanting to dance with her is absolutely true!

A really bad photo of the entertainers at the festival

A really bad photo of the entertainers at the festival

This festival is a family affair; people of all ages are standing around enjoying the performance of the band. Fathers put little children on their shoulders so they can have an unobstructed view of the band. We foreigners get a few curious looks but no one pays much attention to us, they are having too much fun. We decide to go see what the vendors are offering but many of them have already packed or are packing up their wares. There is one tent where the people are just beginning to put away the beautiful ceramic dishes but when several people from our group begin to look in earnest at the pottery the boxing of the dishes stops. I just admire the table ware as I know we have no room to pack any of these fragile dishes in our luggage. I am sure the couple that is tending to this stand is glad they still had things on display as many in our group, including Jennifer; buy a dish or a mug from them. After visiting a bit with the vendor, Milan takes us back through the dimly lit street toward the band which is still playing. As we leave the festival behind, Milan performs a few traditional dance steps and some of us mimic him as we make our way to the bus. What a fun way to end the evening.

Talking to the "shop" owner where many of our group bought a piece of the beautiful ceramic dishes. If you want to get a better look at the dishes the web site is on the front of the tent flap!

Talking to the “shop” owner where many of our group bought a piece of the beautiful ceramic dishes. If you want to get a better look at the dishes the web site is on the front of the tent flap!

Waessik drives us safely back to the hotel and backs the big bus into its little space in the parking lot. We all call it a night and return to our rooms. As we are getting ready for bed we hear the distinct sound of fireworks exploding. Paul and I walk out on the balcony, where we say hello to Jennifer on the balcony to our left. The three sisters are down two balconies on our right, (one wrapped in a bath towel :)), and we all stand in the warm evening air and enjoy the colorful show. The fireworks are being shot from a barge that sits in the Danube and the brilliant pyrotechnics light up the sky and reflect in the river water. Fantastic. I take photos now and then just to have a record of this impromptu free show we are being treated to. A wonderful way to end our last night in Bratislava!

And another one lighting up the sky

And another one lighting up the sky

This morning Jennifer and I get up early and take a stroll along the Danube. It is a beautiful morning and we have the path mostly to ourselves. There are River Cruise Ships moored along the banks of the Danube where a few passengers can be seen looking through the large windows of their rooms. I suppose we walk a half mile along the placid Danube before we reluctantly decide to turn back since we still need to eat breakfast.

The balcony's outside the hotel rooms that looked over the Danube

The balcony’s outside the hotel rooms that looked over the Danube

A River Cruise boat we saw on our early morning walk

A River Cruise boat we saw on our early morning walk

After enjoying the delicious buffet, it is time to load up on the bus for our last destination in Central Europe which is Budapest, Hungary. Our group very much enjoyed our stay in Bratislava and I for one would encourage anyone traveling in this part of Europe to add this delightful city to your itinerary.

Wind towers marked with reflective tape or paint

Wind towers marked with reflective paint

Our road trip today includes stopping at ruins of the Roman city of Carnuntum, which happens to be in Austria. I knew we were visiting Roman ruins but didn’t realize they were in Austria, so we can add another country to our list of places we have been! We are on a super highway today that travels through a lot of rural area. Also, there are many wind towers sprinkled throughout our route. Most the towers are in Austria and they have reflective paint decorating the tips of their long blades. I wonder if this is an attempt to make them more visible to birds since wind towers slaughter over a million birds and even more bats every year. If so, I question whether it will do much good as I understand that it is the speed of the blade which kills the birds, it is tough to dodge something that is turning from 50 to 130 mph!dscf7133

Waessik pulls the bus into the mostly empty parking lot of the Roman ruins, great no big crowds to endure here! When we enter the grounds where the ancient Roman city once stood, we are met by a fit young man, (we haven’t seen many people in Central Europe that aren’t fit), who will be our guide through a portion of the ruins. Following our energetic guide, our first stop is to watch a well done film that depicts life as it would have been during this time. Next our guide takes us over to a replica of this once grand city to show us the size and scope of Carnuntum when it was at its peak Moving on we stop to look at old pottery that has been dug up in a small plot near a restored house. I’ve always thought it would be so exciting to work at an archeological dig and uncover ancient things like this pottery.

Our local guide

Our local guide

Wouldn't it be exciting to dig something like this up!

Wouldn’t it be exciting to dig something like this up!

Sitting in the restored room of a Roman house

Sitting in the restored room of a Roman house

We trail our guide to an area where the wealthy would have resided and tour a restored house. Our guide takes us to a true to life kitchen where the staff here will actually prepare food on certain occasions, perhaps when school children are touring the place. We move on to a beautiful, airy room where we sit on the replica furniture while listening to our guide explain the uses of the room. Our guide leads us across the street to where multiple buildings have been beautifully restored, their red-tiled roofs glinting in the sun. This area is just stunning and to think this city dated back to around the fourth century AD is mind-boggling.

Restored buildings and the foundations of other buildings that they are unsure of what they were.

Restored buildings and the foundations of other buildings that they are unsure of what they were.

The "dressing" room for the Public Bath house

The “dressing” room for the Public Bath house

We follow our guide into another building and enter a large room with decorated walls where rows of tables are set up. I can’t remember what this room was for but I do remember that the decorations on the wall are modeled after pieces of the original painted murals that miraculously survived all these centuries! Our next stop is the public bath house which has been spectacularly restored. Again, they found parts of the actual baths so were able to base their restorations from the ancient baths. There is also a working sauna that is using the same technique to heat the water and room as the ancient Romans did. None of us linger in this room long as it is quite steamy.

The public bath

The public bath

The steamy sauna

The steamy sauna

Our tour is nearly over but we do walk along a replica of shops where again our guide stuffs more info into our overcrowded brains, at least mine is. One item I remember this fellow talked about was the myth put forth by Hollywood movies, that gladiators fought to the death. He states the very logical point that these men were super stars and to kill one of them off in every fight would be ludicrous. Just like we have favorite super stars in sports today, the fans back then also had favorite gladiators and wouldn’t have taken kindly to their demise our guide tells us. Gee, I’m stunned that the movie version that gladiators fight to the death is wrong:).

This is where our guide set us straight about gladiators.

This is where our guide set us straight about gladiators.

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Beautiful stone work

Our enthusiastic guide leaves us and Milan takes us back to the ticket office so we can use the restrooms. He also gives us a few minutes to look at the items in the gift shop. As we women are checking out what is offered for sale, I overhear one of the men, who shall remain anonymous, say to another man “they are like a bunch of vultures”. I laughingly call out that “I heard that” but I can’t truthfully disagree with the analogy. Perhaps a kinder statement would have been “we are like butterflies drawn to flowers”:).

Beautiful restoration of a small portion of Carnuntum

Beautiful restoration of a small portion of Carnuntum

It is time to move on down the road where our next stop will be in Hungary. When we arrive at the Hungarian border, Milan tells us that a few weeks ago there was a large migrant camp on the Hungarian side erected here which has now been removed. I can see no evidence that anything or anyone was there at all.

Yikes!

Yikes!

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We are eating lunch in Gyor which proves to be another lovely city.  Waessik drops us off and we walk through a small section of Gyor to get to the restaurant. A small farmers market seems to be winding down although there are still some bright flowers on display. We pass by booths selling crafts and stroll by more pastel painted buildings. Arriving at the restaurant the special is posted on a sign with the price of 1,990 written by it. Even though we know this is priced in Hungarian Forints the large number is a bit intimidating. When you convert the price of the meal from Forints to US dollars it is around seven bucks.

For lunch, we are served duck liver for a starter, (it is very rich but not bad), Hungarian goulash which was delicious, and a yummy blackberry dessert. I over ate but everything was so tasty that I had to eat it all. Once lunch is over, we waddle, (at least I do) out of the restaurant and walk across the square to St. Ignatius Church. There is an area in the middle of Szechenyi square where geysers of water shoot up unexpectedly and this fountain is extremely popular with the children. You can’t help but smile as kids either try to elude the spouts of water or enjoy being sprayed by the water jets.

Our group trailing Milan into the restaurant in Gyor

Our group trailing Milan into the restaurant in Gyor

Most of the group took the chance of eluding random geysers, I walked around the water maze.

Most of the group took the chance of eluding random geysers, I walked around the water maze.

Little girl having fun in the unpredictable spouting water

Little girl having fun in the unpredictable spouting water

Milan takes us inside St. Ignatius Church and informs us that we can take photos without flash. That is a relief because the inside of this 17th century church is jaw-droppingly beautiful. It is also being readied for a wedding so white bows are affixed to the pews and two chairs wrapped in white material are awaiting the bride and groom.

St. Ignatious Church

St. Ignatious Church

We also visit the Cathedral Of Our Lady which dates back to the 11th century. There are people waiting outside the church and the way they are dressed it appears that they too are waiting to attend a wedding. The cute little girl dressed up in her fancy purple dress catches everyone’s eye. We are afraid that because of an event that appears to be taking place here we will not be able to tour the church but a man appears, unlocks the front door and invites us to enter. This church is huge and as all churches we have seen on this trip there is a lot of gold plating covering various items, incredible paintings, and fabulous stained glass windows.

Little girl dressed in a fancy purple dress. How cute is that.

Little girl dressed in a fancy purple dress. How cute is that.

Gold plating everywhere

Gold plating everywhere

Our group spent an hour after lunch exploring this pretty city, depending on Milan to give us the pertinent information about what we were looking at. Besides the two churches we enjoy many ornate buildings, unique fountains, and impressive statues. A city definitely worth seeing.

Unique Fountain

Unique Fountain

Beautiful park by the river.

Beautiful park by the river.

Next blog, Budapest

Paul looking out the kitchen window at Carnuntum

Paul looking out the kitchen window at Carnuntum

Walking in Gyor

Walking in Gyor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 8

                          Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 8

 

This morning I stepped out on our little balcony to gaze over the Danube in the early morning light. There is very little traffic or people to distract from the peaceful scene of the iconic river. The UFO above the bridge is still in the same position as last night, either taking off or landing :). As I stand on this balcony so far from Kansas, it is a good time again to remind myself how lucky Paul and I are in being able to travel this fascinating world!

A morning view of the UFO bridge. The UFO is actually a revolving restaurant

A morning view of the UFO bridge. The UFO is actually a revolving restaurant

Paul and I make our way to the breakfast room and survey the large spread of food that is laid out for the hotel guests. If you can’t find something you like at this buffet you are much to persnickety. There is a half-dozen types of juice to choose from, (I rule out the green colored juice immediately, Ick), along with meats, fruits, eggs, cakes, numerous types of breads and things we normally don’t eat for breakfast like vegetables.  I place a piece of bread in the nifty “conveyer belt” toaster, watch the bread disappear and then come out the bottom toasted to perfection. Later I watch in awe as a woman about my age, alright an older woman, places five pieces of bread through the toaster and then adds them to her already food-heaped plate. Holy Smokes, that is a lot of food to consume.

Nora our local guide

Nora our local guide. Lots of the Czech and Slovakian women were so petite and quite lovely.

Our group gathers in the lobby, yes, most are there before the scheduled time. This is a good time to share a conversation I overheard between Paul and Mr. D at some point in our tour when we still were struck by how people showed up so early before the actual rendezvous time. Paul comments to Mr. D that we should start coming an hour early to get here with the rest of the group and Mr. D replies, “No, I think we will have to show up the day before!” I had a good laugh over that line. Anyway, Milan introduces us to the local guide, a petite young woman named Nora who will tour us around Bratislava’s Old Town.

Bratislava Castle in day light

Bratislava Castle in day light

The tower that St. Michaels gate passes under.

The tower that St. Michael’s gate passes under.

The shop where Milan bought the croissant specialty of Bratislava for us

The shop sign with a likeness to the special croissant of Bratislava.

Nora takes us more-or-less along the same route as Milan did last night, through the parking lot, by the American embassy, (which is surrounded by a wire fence which didn’t set well with the locals when they put it up), and into the small square, (actual name is Hviezdoslavovo Namestie Pedestian Mall), which is full of tourists this morning. Nora talks about history, buildings, statues, etc. with us in excellent English as we stroll through the square. Much of what we cover with Nora was touched on last night but everything looks different in the bright sunshine. Milan has disappeared like magic again as our group diligently follows Nora around Old Town. Nora points out Bratislava Castle, gleaming white in the sunshine, where it sits atop the hill above the city. Our guide talks about St. Michael’s Gate which is a gateway located under a stately 14th century tower. We pass by a shop that sells a croissant filled with different fillings and we learn that is a Bratislava specialty. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the pastry.

Milan preparing to hand out the pastry treats.

Milan preparing to hand out the pastry treats.

Nora leads us on to another small square and “tada” Milan the wizard suddenly appears, an impish smile on his face, and his black satchel bulging.  Milan reaches into the magic bag and pulls out some of the Bratislava special croissants and gives us a choice of walnut or poppy seed. Oh, my gosh, I am still full from breakfast but I take one of the walnut pastries and bite into the half-moon treat. Yum, of course I eat every crumb of the delightful specialty.

Jennifer and Paul enjoying the croissants.

Jennifer and Paul enjoying the croissants.

We continue exploring with Nora who is quite funny and informative and not afraid to speak her mind. What a difference a few decades make on freely speaking because she tells us the story of her Grandfather who made a disparaging comment about the communists when they ruled and soon found himself working in a uranium mine. Nora also tells us that his health has suffered greatly from that forced work detail.

You can't help but smile looking at this statue

You can’t help but smile looking at this statue

There is a lighter side to our tour such as the statue of a pleasant-looking man who is tipping his top hat. It seems the figure was erected in honor of a local man who would stand on this corner and tip his hat at all the ladies while giving them compliments. Because he so endeared himself with his kindness the people wanted a statue to honor him. I love that story. We also pass by the happiest city worker which is a bronze statue of a man part way out of a manhole. The fellow is resting his chin on the sidewalk and smiling. Why is he smiling? Because from this vantage point he can see up the women’s skirts as they walk by, thus the happiest worker in the city. HA! Naturally, we all rub the top of his head as is the tradition and many have their photo taken with the rascal.

The happiest City worker!

The happiest City worker!

As our tour winds down, we end up in the Pedestian mall, (I’m not spelling the full name out again), where we started from. As Nora is talking to us she suddenly looks towards two women and states “those are pickpockets”! All of us stare at the women who are dressed like tourists and appear to be part of a small group of tourists. The group is perusing crafts that are for sale in various stands that have been put up in the square for the day. Just to be ornery, I decide to take the pickpockets photo which results in the women immediately turning their backs to me. Well now. As we continue walking I look back occasionally and see one of the women is still shadowing a man in the group. I don’t know if the pickpocket gives up or if the woman got what she was after because later I see her walk away from the target. I can guarantee you that I would have never suspected these women at all as they seamlessly blended in with the tourist crowd!

A view of some of the area in the Pedestine mall

A view of some of the area in the Pedestian mall

Nora dispensing information to us.

Nora dispensing information to us.

With this part of the tour over we return to Hotel Devin for a short break to use the toilets and then board the bus for the drive up to Bratislava Castle.  When we get to the street where we are to unload, Waessik must turn the bus around on a busy not exactly wide street and he does so with such alacrity that our group gives him a well-deserved round of applause. We disembark by the Parliament building where Nora talks in disapproving tones of their government. Gee, that sounds very familiar. We had learned yesterday from Milan that Slovakia was hosting the EU officials for six months, evidently the EU alternates around to the member countries every six months. Because of the EU presence we cannot get into the Castle so Nora just talks about its history as we stand outside gazing at the enormous white structure. Nora points out a building that was the stables long ago and says it was turned into a gym, including a sauna, for the politicians and intimates that perhaps the money could have been spent on more important concerns. Our guide repeats a joke the citizens like to tell which is that at least the stables is a proper place for the politicians since the people liken them to the posterior end of a horse. I thought that was pretty funny. There is a viewing platform near the castle which overlooks the Danube. Although it is hazy we can just make out the spinning wind towers in nearby Austria.

The front of Bratislava Castle. You can see the tape across the entrance to keep people out.

The front of Bratislava Castle. You can see the chain across the entrance to keep people out.

Viewing platform in front of the Castle looking over the Danube with a hazy view of Austria in the distance

Viewing platform in front of the Castle looking over the Danube with a hazy view of Austria in the distance

Waessik meets us at the load-up point and Nora says that her part in our Bratislava tour is over. All of us thank her for the informative tour she gave us and we say goodbye when the feisty woman gets off at a bus stop down the street. Our morning activity isn’t over yet as we are doing in home visits with local people now. We are leaving the historical part of Bratislava and venturing into the housing projects that were built in the communist days.

Waessik drives the bus over the Danube, (using a bridge of course), and Milan explains that we will divide into groups, each group being guests of a different family. Since Paul, Jennifer, Mr. D & Ms. C, and I are sitting closest to the front of the bus, we are being dropped off at the first stop. No one is waiting for us but we spy a young woman in a flowered dress running our way. A bit out of breath, she apologizes to us for being late, which we assure her is no problem. After introductions and Milan informing Stella when they will return to pick us up, we follow Stella to the cement block building where she resides.

I was amazed that the plastic booties fit over Paul's big feet.

I was amazed that the plastic booties fit over Paul’s big feet.

When we reach the apartment where Stella, and her parents live, our hostess asks us to either take our shoes off or put plastic booties over them. We all choose to put the hospital-like covers on our shoes and then we are allowed to enter the apartment. Stella’s dark haired mother is there to greet us as we walk into the small hallway. We are then asked to wash our hands, which we do one person at a time in the tiny bathroom. I wonder if this is a normal procedure for guests in people’s houses or is someone here a bit of a hypochondriac?

Once we have finished the hand washing ritual, we follow mother and daughter into the sitting room. This room has been painted as colorfully as the bathroom and hallway, which maybe is a compensation for all the years they lived in the drab grey apartment buildings. The outside of many of the apartment buildings have also been painted in different colors now, thank goodness. The sitting room is crammed full of stuff. There are enough chairs in the tiny room for all of us to sit down but if you shift positions in your chair you risk bumping into something.

Stella welcoming us to their home.

Stella welcoming us to their home.

Once we have carefully settled into our seats, Stella welcomes us and then gives us information about her folks and herself. Her mother is an artist/model which is validated by the many paintings that cover the walls of the room. I believe her father is also an artist but works with wood, including making frames for paintings. Stella, who speaks English fairly well, is still going to University and hopes to get a degree in marketing. Her goal is to help her parents and friends with selling their products, perhaps via the internet. Stella’s mother, I can’t think of her name, doesn’t speak English so Stella is translating for us and her mom.

The dessert our hostesses served us. Paul's photo

The dessert our hostesses served us. Paul’s photo

After visiting a bit, the two women retreat into the kitchen and bring back a generous bowl of ice cream for each of us. We spend much of our time together asking questions of one another. One of us asks Stella what her memories are of living under communism as a child. Stella replies remembering how hardline communists would scold you if you wore a bright-colored dress. She also recalled the long lines you had to stand in while shopping for everyday needs, plus what a treat it was if oranges or such were available. Then someone asks if they miss anything about communism. After a few moments of reflection, Stella translates her mother’s answer that it was easier to sell art work then. I didn’t quite understand the reason why this would be but I believe it was because people wanted something beautiful and colorful in their houses and that there wasn’t as much competition in those times as there is now. They both talk about how quickly more things became available once the Velvet Revolution took place. They also mention traveling to Austria just to look in awe of the variety and abundance of things available there for sale when the iron curtain came down.

We are asked about our professions and where we live, also what our religion is which I thought was rather interesting. Our photo book would have come in handy at this visit! Stella’s mom brings out a photo book full of pictures of herself posing with various works of art. We are then shown a large book about Slovakian artists in which her folk art is featured.

Mother and daughter

Mother and daughter

At one point in this visit, Stella begins telling us about some product that is supposed to cure a lot of ailments and cites how her stomach problems cleared up after taking it. We are having a little trouble following her but it appears that we can go on a website for the product and purchase it under Stella’s name. This is a bit weird. Stella announces that it is time to go as Milan and Waessik are due in a few minutes. Before we leave, Jennifer presents a sunflower dish towel to our hostesses to thank them for letting us spend an hour in their home with them. As we are preparing to leave, Stella asks if we would like to buy any of her mom’s paintings that are sitting on a small table. Well this is awkward. We hem and haw around then Ms. C states that they didn’t bring any money and Jennifer tells the duo that we don’t have room in our luggage to take one home. Both statements are completely true but I’m sure this is disappointing to the women.

Stella escorts us to the bus where we again thank her for graciously having us in their home. We then drive around and pick up the other members of our group who are exuberant about their home visit experience. Let’s be frank here, one group was served liquor so that might have added to their happiness :). No really, we all enjoyed this unique experience of spending time with ordinary people and seeing how they live.

As we are driving back to the hotel, after talking about our home visits, Milan relates a story about living in the communist housing projects (Paul and I disagree if this was his own personal story so I have made it a generic story). Because all the buildings were the same color, height, with no landscaping, (can’t have any personal touches here), children would get lost trying to find their way back home. Honestly, how scary would that be!

These communist era buildings are not in Slovakia but it is the only photos I have of the apartments for some reason. You can see how painting them livens the buildings up.

These communist era buildings are not in Slovakia but it is the only photos I have of the apartments for some reason. You can see how painting them, livens the buildings up.

This afternoon is free but Milan has promised to escort me to a pharmacy so Jennifer and Paul tag along. To make a long story sort of short I have been having terribly sore lips off and on for a couple of months. I’m not one to run to the Doctor so I waited until the day before our departure to see my doctor. She diagnosed my condition as cold sores and sent me to my pharmacist for a prescription. The pharmacist said that I should be fine in five days. A week later my condition was worse and I emailed my good friend Connie asking if she would contact my health clinic for advice. The doctor sent the name of a different medicine and said I should be able to get it at any pharmacy. Hence, our visit to the pharmacy. Thanks again Connie!

Paul printed the email from our Dr. at the hotel so we could show it to the pharmacist in hopes the staff would consider it equal to a prescription. I lay the email in front of the young woman who waits on us and point to the name of the medicine. The pharmacist nods and asks if I want the pills or the ointment. I tell Milan to ask her if there are any side effects of this medicine that I need to be aware of. Milan grins and says “why don’t you ask her; she is speaking English”. I can hear Paul snickering behind me and Jennifer says “hello” as I feel my face turn a bright red. I am so flustered that I forget to ask about the side effects but do ask if I can buy both items. The smiling pharmacist says of course and tells me how  often to take and apply the medicine which turns out to be over the counter not prescription. Paul pays the very reasonable price for the medicine and we leave the pharmacy. In my weak defense, I have become so used to having Milan translate for us the past ten days I just blanked out the fact that the pharmacist was speaking English :). I profusely thank Milan for taking a part of his free time to help me out at the pharmacy. After Milan departs, I take my purchases back to the hotel while Paul and Jennifer find a bench in the Pedestian Mall to wait for my return.

Paul waiting patiently for Jennifer and I as we look through the craft stands

Paul waiting patiently for Jennifer and I as we look through the craft stands

Once I join up with Paul and Jennifer we decide to just wander through Old Town to see what we can see. There are more tented stands selling crafts in the main square so Jennifer and I decide to take a look at what is being offered. Paul finds a wall to lean against and people watches as we shop. Jennifer purchases a couple of crocheted angels for family members that are really nice and just as important, easy to pack. We step into the nearby church that stands next to Bratislava Old Town Hall. Mass is taking place so we stand quietly and listen to a soloist singing, what a beautiful voice she has.

No those beers aren't all for Paul.

No those beers aren’t all for Paul.

The three of us decide to go in search of a place to eat and find a café that is selling Kozel beer which we prefer over Pilsner. We eat a light lunch as between the croissants and the big dish of ice cream at our home visit, we aren’t’ all that hungry. We just enjoy sitting at the outside table and watching life go on around us. The three of us agree that we just feel comfortable in Bratislava and like the laid-back attitude. Also, my sense of direction is working here unlike in Prague where I was always confused to my where abouts!

One man band

One man band

Young girls practicing their dance routine

Young girls practicing their dance routine

We decide to visit the St. Martin’s Cathedral and along the way we watch a one-man band serenading passersby’s. There is a group of young girls in costume practicing a dance routine on a side street, and a group of kids with musical instruments are preparing to perform near the cathedral.

Inside St. Martin's Cathedral

Inside St. Martin’s Cathedral

The lamb on the end of the pew makes sense but there are dragons and a raccoon reading a book etc. Anyone have an explanation?

The lamb on the end of the pew makes sense but there are dragons and a raccoon reading a book etc. Anyone have an explanation?

Entering the quiet cathedral, Jennifer and I proceed to take photos of the opulent interior, as do two other tourists. As with all the cathedrals we have toured on this trip there is incredible woodwork, lavish alters and beautiful ceilings. A nun is kneeling in a pew at the front of the church in deep meditation. There are pews in the chancel where fairy tale-like creatures are perched on the end of some of the pews. In a corner is a large sculpture of a man on horseback cutting his cloak in half to share it with a destitute fellow. So many interesting things to look at in this cathedral. Paul walks up and tells us that he has just seen a sign that states “no photos”. How did we and the other people manage to miss that sign? Too late now, but frankly we have photos of just about everything in the church already!

St. Martin's Cathedral

St. Martin’s Cathedral

Sharing his cloak

Sharing his cloak

The three of us return to the hotel to freshen up before our outing to a nearby village for wine tasting and dinner. We are in wine country after all.

Next blog, Wining and dining in a nearby village to end our day in Bratislava, and traveling to Hungary tomorrow.

Close-up of the dragon on the end of one of the pews in the cathedral

Close-up of the dragon on the end of one of the pews in the cathedral

Men in Black. There was a lot of security around the city due to the presence of EU leaders.

Men in Black. There was a lot of security around the city due to the presence of EU leaders.

Getting ready to perform.

Getting ready to perform.

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 7

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 7

Today we traveled to stops

Today we traveled to stops 8, 9 & 10

 

This morning we leave Slavonice at 8:45 instead of 8:30 because we must drive to the Ceramic shop to pick up our finished projects. After enjoying the delicious buffet, we say goodbye to charming Pavel and the two hard-working women that run Dum U Ruze. I so enjoyed this charming hotel.

My "UCO" project, cat, carp or whatever. I don't have any photos of the worthy ceramic projects so had to use mine!

My “UCO” project, cat, carp or whatever. I don’t have any photos of the worthy ceramic projects so had to use mine!

When we arrive at the ceramic place, Milan runs into the shop and soon returns carrying a big box filled with our ceramic projects. Milan says he must wait to pass them out as they are still hot from the oven, literally! Perhaps a half hour later, Milan opens the individual boxes and holds the item in the air, describes what it is and waits for the owner to claim it. When he holds up a flat disc and proclaims it is a Kitty cat, I call out to claim it. However, this item looks like a cat so I must let the actual artist take possession which is Ms. D. When Paul receives his polka-dotted hippo, he takes one look at it and states that “this is awful”. Ha, at least he didn’t put a lot of time and effort into it. When Milan gets to my “uco”, he says here is the carp, (yesterday I jokingly said my project was a carp since it sure didn’t look like a cat). I claim my art work and just laugh. I thought several of the other people’s projects were quite nice.

Our first stop today is in Trebic where we are going to visit the Jewish ghetto. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of Europe’s best preserved Jewish ghettos.  We follow Milan across a bridge and then enjoy a lovely stroll along the river on our way to the Jewish ghetto. There is a man fishing across the river and as we walk by his cork begins to bob, I hope he caught that fish! As we survey the surroundings while walking down narrow streets, Milan fills us in on some of the history of Trebic. We learn that Jews were not allowed to live in Christian parts of the city but that Jews and Christians managed to co-exist from the middle ages until the 20th century. Most of the Jews were sent to concentration camps during WWII and after the war the Jewish population in Trebic was no more.

Crossing a bridge in Trebic. The river was really low.

Crossing a bridge in Trebic. The river was really low.

Narrow street in the Jewish Quarter

Narrow street in the Jewish Quarter

A young woman is our guide for our tour of The New Synagogue. We are escorted to the sanctuary where we take a seat on the benches. There is Hebrew writing on the sanctuary walls and the ceiling is painted with interesting designs. The young woman fills us in on the history of the Synagogue giving us information such as the Synagogue was built in the 17th century, that the last service in the synagogue was held in 1926, after which the Synagogue was used as a storehouse. I can’t recall why services ceased to be held here. The synagogue was renovated in 1995-1997 and now is used as an exhibition and concert hall.

Ceiling of the Santuary

Ceiling and part of the wall of the Sanctuary

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that was displayed in the Sanctuary

Memorial to the victims of the Holocaust that was displayed in the Sanctuary

We follow the young woman upstairs to look at the permanent exhibit which includes a model town of the Jewish quarter, old photos, and religious items from the synagogue that are kept in glass show cases. Our guide leads us to an adjoining building where several rooms are decorated to show how a Jewish family’s house would have looked in the past. There is also a room that is set up like a store with a mannequin that is a likeness of the actual owner. Perhaps the rooms we toured were also his family’s house. Hmm, I don’t remember now. I do know the tour was very interesting and sobering.

Kitchen in the house restored to show the way a Jewish house looked at that time.

Dining room in the house restored to show the way a Jewish house looked at that time.

The store and the mannequin of the man that owned the store.

The store and the mannequin of the man who owned the store.

On our way to the bus we pass by a farmer’s market in the town square where flowers and vegetables are being sold. The stands, topped with colorful umbrellas, stretch for some distance through the town square. We also see a building or two whose walls are covered with the stunning sgraffito designs that was Slavonice’s claim to fame. This is one architecture design that even I can remember. I love it!

Farmers market in Trebic's town square.

Farmers market in Trebic’s town square.

Close up of sgrafitto

Close up of sgraffito Now that I look at the photo closely is this just painted on?

Our next destination is Lednice which ends up a longer drive than expected due to road construction. Milan and Waessik spend a lot of time conversing while they try to find their way through the convoluted detour. I believe our lunch was to be at 1:00 but due to the lengthy detour we didn’t reach the restaurant until 2:00 a.m. The late lunch just made the food that much more appreciated! Our tour has gone like clockwork up to this point but no one can do a thing about road construction! A note to sister E, I haven’t forgotten the restroom incident but didn’t know how to write about it!  I hope it makes you laugh all over again now that I reminded you of it:).

Lednice Castle. The yellow building was the stables

Lednice Castle. The yellow building was the stables

One segment of the Castle.

One segment of the Castle.

Layout of Lednice Castle property. It is like a huge park.

Layout of Lednice Castle property. It is like a huge park which is free for people to use it that way

After our lunch, we tour Lednice Castle a beautiful but ostentatious structure where even the stables look as though royalty might reside there! The flowers and sculptured gardens surrounding this summer home are stunning. The young guide escorting us through the mansion informs us that this is his first English led tour but you would never know it as he speaks the English language with ease. We follow the animated fellow down a hallway where enormous deer racks are mounted on the wall. We next enter a large room with an unsupported staircase, (how does that work) where some more luckless creatures are showcased on the rooms walls. From here we meander through and are told stories about the numerous grandiose rooms, all of which leave me shaking my head in wonder. There is beautiful furniture, magnificent ceilings, a stunning spiral staircase, and much more to admire. We learn from our guide that this is part of the Lichtenstein’s legacy where some of the family’s wealth and power was acquired through beneficial marriages. That was a common way in those early century’s to acquire these elements. The Lichtenstein’s reigned over 600 years and just kept amassing wealth and power throughout this time. The Lednice Castle we are touring today dates from the mid 1800’s. I still can’t get over the fact that this magnificent mansion and the park around it was just a summer home!

Our guide showing off a nifty chair that can be folded out to make a step ladder.

Our guide showing off a nifty chair that can be folded out to make a step-ladder.

A unicorn! We were told that the horn actually is from an ocean dwelling fish?

A unicorn! We were told that the horn actually is from an ocean dwelling fish?

Incredible spiral staircase

Incredible spiral staircase

The weirdest, well it is actually disgusting, story our guide tells us is about the wife, (don’t recall her name), who is shown in a painting with an African boy at her side. The first thing he tells us is that it is very unusual to see a pregnant woman depicted in a painting but this woman seemed to always be with child, (could I remember correctly that she had nineteen children?). He then tells us that this woman was very close to the servant in the painting and when the fellow died she had the man stuffed! I about choked when our guide delivered that information!dscf6746

When our tour is over and we thank our guide for a job well done, Milan says we have time to tour the greenhouse if we desire to. Paul declines the opportunity but most of us do walk through it, admiring the various plants and flowers. In retrospect, I would walk the hedge lined paths of the garden in front of the Castle instead of visiting the greenhouse if I had to do this over again.

People enjoying the gorgeous garden in front of the Castle

People enjoying the gorgeous garden in front of the Castle

Greenhouse bloom

Greenhouse bloom

We make our way back to the bus and to a smiling Waessik, load up and due to the construction detour, traffic is backed up and we slowly crawl out of Lednice. It is early evening when we cross into Slovakia. Our destination is Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where we are staying at Hotel Devin. Waessik manages to back the bus into the only space in the hotel’s parking spot that will accommodate a bus; he truly is a professional driver! What a great location as the hotel is located next to the Danube River, well there is a street between the hotel and the river but still it is wonderful!

Melting the Paris ball.

Melting the Paris ball.

Paris ball.

Paris ball.

Milan takes us into the dining room to give us information about the breakfast buffet and our evening walking tour of Bratislava he is taking us on. He also has a treat for us before we go to our rooms; a local specialty called “Paris Balls” which some of the restaurant staff serves to us. The round chocolate shells filled with ice cream symbolize the cannon balls that Napoleon shot at the city.  Once a staff person puts the dessert in front of you another server pours warm milk on it making the thin shell melt and revealing the chocolate ice cream inside. The whole concept of the dessert was great fun and the Paris ball was absolutely delicious. I got my chocolate fix for sure!

A view of the Danube and what the Slovakians nicknamed the UFO bridge.

A view of the Danube and what the Slovakians’ nicknamed the UFO bridge from our room balcony

Fountain in the square next to the American Embassy.

Fountain in the square next to the American Embassy.

After settling in our lovely room, which has a small balcony that overlooks the Danube, we meet in the lobby at 7:30 for our evening tour of Bratislava. Milan takes a short cut through the parking lot and the first building we walk by is the American Embassy. There is a wonderful square next to the Embassy with numerous cafes, a bubbling fountain, and lots of inviting places to sit, relax and enjoy yourself. Milan leads us to the main town square where a large fountain, lit up in various colors, commands one’s attention. This area is bustling with people but I feel very comfortable here. Milan leaves the more popular areas to let us explore side streets where he relates the history of the various places we visit. One softly lit street gives us a striking night view of Bratislava Castle.

Fountain in the Old Town Square

Fountain in the Old Town Square

Night view of Bratislava Castle

Night view of Bratislava Castle.

Milan, with Jennifer listening intently, discussing this old building but I hate to admit that I don't remember what it was!

Milan, with Jennifer listening intently, discussing this old building but I hate to admit that I don’t remember what it was!

When our night tour of Bratislava is finished, Milan leaves us on our own to explore more of the city or return to the hotel. Mr. D and his wife C, Paul, Jennifer and I decide to find a café and have a light meal before retiring for the evening. We want to sit outside but what few empty tables there are around the cafes have reserved signs on them. We finally do find a place to sit. Those of us from Kansas just order appetizers while D & C have pizza with beer for all of us. The food is tasty; the beer is cold and the company is good. You can’t ask for much more than that but we get a bonus as fireworks are lighting up the skyline in the direction of the Danube. What a great ending to our day.

Next blog- exploring Bratislava in daylight plus a home visit

I loved this desk/chair that was in Lednice Castle

I loved this desk/chair that was in Lednice Castle

Ceiling shot in Lednice Castle.

Ceiling shot in Lednice Castle.

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 6

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 Part 6dscf6286

 

Before I begin relating the adventures of the day, I wanted to comment on the people in our group. I never asked to use any of our companion’s names in my writings, thus the vague reference using initials.  It only took a couple of days traveling together for us to know that we were with a great group of people. Everyone had a terrific sense of humor, we are all adventuresome, more than prompt :), laid back, and interested in everything. Of course, it helped to be led by a guide who was very passionate about the countries we were touring, patient, and also had a good sense of humor!

The breakfast buffet this morning has just about everything you could want and then some! Surely all this food isn’t just for us! The heck of it is I have vowed to stop eating so much as my pants are definitely fitting a bit tighter then when I left home. I do keep my vow and limit my intake of food this morning but it wasn’t easy to do. Everything I ate was really tasty which didn’t surprise me at all. Pavel and the two women that took care of us last night were on duty again this morning. I wonder if they are the only employees?

Turning Slavonice into a movie set

Turning Slavonice into a movie set

Two of the children that were part of the movie. Notice the lace in the back wheel of the bike.

Two of the children that were part of the movie. Notice the lace in the back wheel of the bike.

Last night, Pavel informed Milan that a movie was being filmed in Slavonice and if they were filming in the town square we would have to work around them. No photo bombing allowed! Some people in our group said that when they looked out their windows this morning it was a bit disconcerting to see the square full of German soldiers. In fact, when we walk out the hotel door for our village tour the square is full of movie equipment and props, movie actors and extras, and lots of people bustling around that work behind the scenes. They aren’t filming right now so we are free to take photos or just stare at the, soldiers and period dressed town’s people and children, who are standing around waiting for “action”!

Does this woman look the part or what!

Does this woman look the part or what!

There seemed to be a lot of standing around and waiting.

There seemed to be a lot of standing around and waiting.

Milan and one of the locals chosen to be extra's

Milan and one of the locals chosen to be an extra

Milan gets one of the local men that have been cast as an extra to come and talk to us. As Milan asks questions and then interprets the man’s answers to us, I notice a woman who is with the movie company sternly looking over at us.  Eventually the dark-haired lady calls out to Milan. It seems they are getting ready to shoot some of the movie and they need us to be quiet plus they need the man we are talking with to come back and do his part. We move away from the hubbub of the movie making and get our first look at ancient Slavonice.  The 13th century village is special because so many buildings still retain the sgraffito that has been painted over, (probably with those pretty pastels we have been admiring), in so many other villages.

Sgraffito on the façade of this building. Awesome!

Sgraffito on the façade of this building. Awesome!

A close up of one small section.

A close up of one small section.

As we wander around looking up at the awesome old artwork on the side of the buildings, you can’t help but be amazed at the intricacy of the work covering the entire facade of the structure. If I understand the technique that produces sgraffito correctly, a dark layer of plaster (?) is laid over the wall’s surface and then the artist scratches his work through that layer to reach the lighter color underneath to create these incredible scenes. Milan gives us info on Slavonice as we walk and gawk at our ancient surroundings. Milan greets a man who is standing on the sidewalk and says that this fellow is going to show us a special place in a building that he is caretaker for.

Loved the cat

Loved the cat

Milan and his friend standing by the door that leads into the secret room

Milan and caretaker standing by the door that leads into the secret room

Of course I have a photo of Paul unlocking the door!

Of course I have a photo of Paul unlocking the door!

The man takes us across the street and leads us through the big wooden doors of an old house, well; all the buildings are old here! There are many historical items on this floor but this isn’t what we are here to see. Milan and his friend take us upstairs and stand beside a door and tell us that it leads to a secret room where Protestants used to worship during the time when Catholics ruled and practicing another religion was prohibited. Paul has the honor of unlocking the door and we all file through into the spacious room. As there were downstairs, there are items any museum would love to have in the room but the main treasure is the original 16th or 17th century frescos that are painted along the top of three of the walls in the room. Milan talks about the frescos and then leads us to a faded painting where some people are being confronted by a big lizard wearing a huge hat. The theory is that the lizard represents the pope because it is wearing a pope’s mitre. I don’t think this painting was meant as a compliment to the pope in this era! Just imagine if these people’s secret had been discovered in those trying times!

16th or 17th Frescos in the secret room

16th or 17th Frescos in the secret room. The beams are impressive too.

The painting with the unflattering depiction of the pope as a lizard(that is the theory anyway).

The painting with the unflattering depiction of the pope as a lizard(that is the theory anyway).

Old barrels and hat molds

Old barrels and hat forms

When we leave the house with the clandestine room, Milan takes us to where part of the original rock wall that surrounded the town in the past still stands. As we are heading back to the hotel Paul and Ms. J find a funny sign posted in a window. Paul catches up with me and insists that I come back to see it. Hilarious, I hope that the photo of the sign will make you laugh as hard as we did.

Part of the rock wall that has survived

Part of the rock wall that has survived

The sign that made us laugh out loud.

The sign that made us laugh out loud. Under the donkey are the words E Pluribus Smart Assimas:).  I did wonder why there is an English language sign here though?

Ceramin shop

Ceramic shop

 

We dodge through the movie equipment and people to get to the hotel where we take a short break. We gather in the lobby, walk to the bus and drive to a small town where we are going to make a ceramic souvenir for ourselves at the local ceramic shop. The first protocol is to put on aprons and to see the three men in these garments is an added bonus to our activity. Since Paul and I have little room in our luggage we select a simple item to paint. The rest of our group chooses mugs or bowls except Ms. D who also selects the flat piece that I did, both of us thinking we could turn it into a cat. After instructions are given all of us get to work. My cat turns into a “UCO”, unidentified ceramic object; Paul paints dots and a smile on his hippo. I look at other’s projects of flowers or geometric designs that people are painstakingly painting on their projects and I am impressed.

Donning aprons

Donning aprons

Paul's spotted hippo:)

Paul’s spotted hippo:)

Leaving our friends to finish their master pieces, Paul and I take a walk through this tiny town which Milan told us is just starting to come back to life after being abandoned for years. Paul and I enjoy our exploration though it doesn’t take long because this really is a tiny place. As we return to the ceramic shop, Jennifer joins us and we hike in another direction and discover a lovely pond with a yellow house across the way. The house sits near the edge of the pond where its reflection is painted across the water’s surface. It is so peaceful here but we must return to the shop as it is nearly time to depart for Slavonice.

Pond and house we discovered exploring the small town.

Pond and house we discovered exploring the small town.

Milan has another surprise for us and instructs Waessik to drive down a very narrow, tree-lined road, intimating that perhaps buses aren’t supposed to drive this road but he muses if we don’t meet any police we will be o.k. Ha! We reach a highway and get out of the bus. There are two people sitting on a bench, (is this a bus stop?), who seem quite surprised to see a bunch of tourists disembark in the middle of nowhere. Milan leads us to a white cement post and shows us that we are in Czech Republic now but if we step to the other side of the pillar we will be in Austria. Cool! Of course, all of us walk across the “border” and visit Austria for a few minutes while snapping photos of one another.

Paul stepping over the Czech border into Austria

Paul stepping over the Czech border into Austria

Once we return to Slavonice, Milan has another fun suggestion for us before we have lunch. He will give each of us the Czech name of an ingredient that will be used in making an appetizer. We are to go to the grocery store, find and buy the ingredient, after which we will make the appetizer. Once we have the name of the item, pronounced by Milan but not spelled out, all of us walk to the grocery store which is just a short distance from the hotel. It is a great little store which is well stocked with a variety of food stuff and household needs. Paul and I try to find our food item, Hemernin, without help but as expected, we are at a complete loss. Milan comes along and tells us what section we need to be looking in. We still can’t find it so finally he just shows us where it is. Cheese! We go to the counter and pay for the cheese then return to the hotel.

Hard at work making the pickled cheese appetizer

Hard at work making the pickled cheese appetizer

All of us gather in a room next to the dining room to start putting together the appetizer. Wait a minute, where are Jennifer and Mr. D and his wife Ms. C? Milan heads back out the door and after several minutes have passed returns with our wayward friends. The trio missed the grocery store and I think Milan had to run them down and show them the way to the shop :). We get down to business and take turns doing various tasks to prepare the dish. Paul helps chop onions, others chop garlic, I add ingredients to the plastic container, a tough job but someone has to do it. Our effort results in a pickled cheese/onion/garlic appetizer; I can’t remember the real name. Even though this dish must be refrigerated for several days, surprise, surprise, we sit down at tables in the restaurant and Pavel and the young woman serve us the spicy appetizer! Lunch is on our own today and since we are already seated comfortably in the restaurant most of us just stay here for lunch. Paul, Jennifer and I don’t eat a big meal but what we order is really good. I tell Paul that I must go back to the grocery store and buy one of the many chocolate baked goods that were on display, (so much for my vow of eating less) and Paul wants ice cream from the shop we passed on our tour this morning. I have a terrible time deciding which chocolate goody to buy but finally decide on cake that has been dipped in chocolate. We then cross the street where Paul takes his time deciding on which flavor of ice cream to buy. As we savor our treats, we explore some more of the village. Upon our return to the hotel we get barked at by one of the movie people indicating we must get off the street. We are within a few feet of the hotel so I just wave towards it and keep walking. If you lived here, after a while this movie stuff could really become irritating!

Which chocolate goody do I want. They are all tempting

Which chocolate goody do I want. They are all tempting

World War II meets Mad Max

World War II meets Mad Max

I wonder if this elderly woman remembers the real occupation of the Nazi's?

I wonder if this elderly woman remembers the real thing?

We convene in the lobby at mid-afternoon to explore sites on the outskirts of Slavonice. Waessik drives us to Landstejn Fortress/Castle. Even though this place is a ruin it nevertheless is an impressive sight. Towering stone walls dominate from the hilltop and leave me in awe of the people who built such structures in the 13th century. Milan leads us up the pathway into the first “floor’ where we admire our surroundings. We continue onward and upward, looking in at a small room that was a chapel and then climb many steps to the top of the tower. From this height, we can see for miles which was one of the purposes of the Fortress, being able to see your enemies from a long way off. After enjoying the views, we leave Landstejn Fortress to continue exploring the countryside.

Landstejn Fortress

Landstejn Fortress

Looking down at the first floor of the castle

Road leading up to the entrance of the Fortress

Road leading up to the entrance of the Fortress

Milan tells us he would like to take us to a small segment of the Iron Curtain that is nearby if we would like to see it. Everyone is on board with this suggestion and soon we are driving down a dirt road where Waessik parks the bus next to a farmer’s field. The owner is kind enough to allow people to come see this sad reminder of Czech’s communist past and was wise enough to preserve a small portion of the Iron Curtain.

A small section of the Iron Curtain that fenced the Czech people in.

A small section of the Iron Curtain that fenced the Czech people in.

We walk over to the small section of the preserved Iron Curtain, which are just wooden posts strung with nasty barbed wire. Milan recounts the story of the day communism fell and how his parents went out with myriads of others to help tear the fence down. Milan emotionally relates how vividly he remembers as a child of nine (or 6?) when his folks returned crying with joy and carrying a piece of barbed wire from the Iron Curtain with them. What a feeling of elation that must have been, knowing that you were free to travel to neighboring Austria, or anywhere as far as that goes, that had been off-limits for decades.

Milan explaining what the sign says and relating the story of his parents when the iron curtain came down

Milan explaining what the sign says and relating the story of his parents when the iron curtain came down

Our last stop for the afternoon is to look at WWII bunkers in the National reserve known as Czech Canada. We walk down a rough country road to reach the forest where the bunkers are located. Upon entering the forest, we walk by the first camouflaged bunker, an innocuous round dome hunkering among the trees. I catch movement to my left and am startled to see a tow-headed boy gathering pine cones in a bucket. I look around but there doesn’t appear to be anyone else around. Weird. We pass two or three more bunkers before arriving at the “show” bunker and a man is waiting for us here. Ah, the mystery of the lone boy is solved as this is his father.  Milan talks about the work and cost of the bunkers the Czech government expended on the project meant to protect the Czech border from an invasion by the Germans. In the end, the government made the decision not to fight Germany. It is ironic that the bunkers were used during the cold war to keep Czech citizens from escaping to the West to freedom.

Gathering pine cones

Gathering pine cones

One of the bunkers in the forest

One of the bunkers in the forest, another can be seen in the distance

Milan introduces us to the fellow that is going to unlock the bunker so we can tour it and then we file into the concrete fortifications in groups of three. You understand why the bunkers are placed so closely together because the area that the two machine guns can cover is very limited. The bunker is cramped for space due to all the equipment that is stored in it but wow is it interesting.

A look inside the bunker and the man who unlocked the bunker for us

A look inside the bunker and the man who unlocked the bunker for us

After this fun and interesting afternoon, we return to the hotel where we have an hour before our next activity this evening! Good old Waessik, cheerful as ever, drives us to a nearby village where we are being hosted by a family who is cooking dinner for us. As we pull up to the house we are greeted by a pretty woman who takes us into a large back yard. My first reaction is that they have enough firewood here to last for two years! Hey, the drummer/singer from the band last night walks out to welcome us to their home and introduces a neighbor and her daughter who are helping prepare the meal. The first order of business is the welcome drink which is liquor made from the pears from their tree. Oh yikes, this sounds a lot like the horinka we were given in Romania. Once we all have some of the liquor in hand a toast is given and most people in group down the drink in one gulp. I take a sip of the burning liquid, sigh and figure I may as well get this over with and copy the example of my cohorts. It makes me gasp but at least I didn’t offend our hosts by not drinking it! The majority of our group, including Paul and Jennifer, think the pear liquor was quite good.

Our group filing through the door into the back yard of our hosts house.

Our group filing through the door into the back yard of our hosts house.

Welcoming us to their home with a drink of liquor made from their pear trees.

Welcoming us to their home with a drink of liquor made from their pear trees. There is a lot more wood around then what you are seeing in this photo!

Once the welcoming ceremony is finished we traipse into a large open room in the house where we sit on chairs and couches sitting around the perimeter of the room. The couple is going to demonstrate how to make one type of dumplings that we have been eating with so many of our meals. They work very well together as they show us the secret of cooking the perfect dumplings. The only hiccup in the cooking demonstration is when the woman remembers that she forgot to grease the mug, (yes they cook the dumplings in coffee mugs), after her husband had packed the dough in it. The good news is that she remembered her faux pas on the very first cup that her husband filled with dough.

Our hosts preparing to demonstrate how to make dumplings

Our hosts preparing to demonstrate how to make dumplings

There are two tables for us, one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. Paul, Jennifer, the three sisters and me occupy the table in the kitchen. Our personable hosts serve us a delicious potato soup to start the meal and honestly, the generous bowl of soup would have been enough for our meal. It is followed with two kinds of pork, roast and ham, dumplings and vegetables. It is all fabulous but the ham was my favorite part of the meal.

This soup was delicious.

This soup was delicious.

The main course. The ham was wonderful.

The main course. The ham was wonderful. The white round pieces are the dumplings

We have some drama after the meal, the first event being that one member of our group can’t get the bathroom door unlocked so Milan and our host must push in on the door and talk her through the trick to unlocking the door! When we leave our table, and join the others in the dining room there is a flurry of activity in the kitchen by our table. It seems that a napkin caught fire from one of the candles on our table! Holy Smokes that could have been bad. Once the napkin is extinguished, everyone in the group presents our host family with a gift we brought from the U.S. Paul and I let Jennifer present our gifts since she came up with the idea of a dish towel with sunflowers on it, which is the state flower of Kansas. We also give them a ball cap that Jennifer’s son who works for Kansas Wildlife and Parks donated to us for one of the gifts. Jennifer also used Google translate to write a card to our hosts, thanking them for hosting us and to explain the reasoning behind the gifts we brought. Milan went over what Jennifer had written yesterday before Jennifer wrote it in the card and made a few changes for her. Milan seemed pleased with this personalized touch of the card. Way to go Jennifer!

Paul has brought our photo book that we take on trips to show people photos of our ranch. After everyone has presented their gifts and we are preparing to leave, Paul takes the book over to our hosts and is explaining the photos in the book. Because some of our group is beginning to leave our hosts feel the need to escort us out and they place our book with the other gifts! Oops, Paul didn’t know how to explain that he wasn’t giving the book to them; he just wanted to share a little bit of Kansas with them. Oh well, no big deal but I bet our hosts wonder why we thought they would want a book of photos of a Kansas ranch from people they don’t even know!

Next blog, Leaving Czech Republic and going to Milan’s home country Slovakia

 A different angle of Landstejn Fortress

A different angle of Landstejn Fortress

Slavonice citizens watching the movie making from their window

Slavonice citizens watching the movie making from their window

Another cool door handle and door knocker

Another cool door handle and door knocker