Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 4

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 4

Early this morning I look out our window upon the town square that is devoid of human beings. If it weren’t for a few parked cars it would be easy to think you had been transported back in time. With a little imagination, one can see horses clip-clopping along pulling carts and people in medieval garb bustling across the cobblestone square.

The town square early Sunday morning. Taken from our hotel window

The town square early Sunday morning. Taken from our hotel window

The rich peal of church bells are a reminder that today is Sunday. Jennifer, Paul, and I manage to find our way down to the first floor, (getting around in The Old Inn Hotel is a bit like running a maze), where the breakfast buffet is. The buffet here is a definite down grade from the buffet in Prague but that being said we sure won’t go hungry.

Our instructions from Milan were to meet in the lobby at nine so Paul and I arrive fifteen minutes early. This is amazing, we aren’t the last ones to show up but we are close to it! This morning we will tour Cesky Krumlov with a local guide who introduces herself as Sharka. I doubt this is the correct spelling but I spelled her name the way it sounds.

Sharka and the map of Cesky Krumlov

Sharka and the map of Cesky Krumlov

Sharka relieves Milan of his guide duties and we traipse behind her to a small park with an amazing overview of Cesky Krumlov. Our blonde guide stops in front of a large sign board which depicts the layout of the village which also shows how the Vltava River meanders through the town, separating parts of the city. A few of us, including me, begin to drift towards the safety wall where the best vantage point to photograph the stunning view is. The postcard picture spread out below us shows off lovely red-tiled roofs with the stately Castle dominating the scene where it sits on the hilltop. The striking vista is accented by a deep blue sky which is streaked with ribbons of white clouds. Sharka is not putting up with defectors however and calls us back, telling her wayward flock that when she is finished speaking she will give us time to take photos. Fair enough.

Cesky Krumlov the fairytale city

Cesky Krumlov the fairytale city

Sharka runs through a brief history of Cesky Krumlov telling us the town was created around the castle in the 13th century by the Vilkovi family. The Rosenberg’s inherited the castle from the Vilkovi’s, (we will see the Rosenberg coat of arms, which is a five petaled rose, throughout our travels in Czech Republic). Cesky Krumlov, (Krumlov means crooked meadow in German), was at its most prosperous under the Rosenberg’s too. The Hapsburgs purchased the town in the early 17th century and transferred it to the Eggenbergs a couple of decades later. The Schwarzenberg’s inherited Cesky in the 18th century.  That is a long string of “Bergs” connected to the history of Cesky Krumlov! Our lesson continues and we learn that after World War II all Germans were expelled from the country, it didn’t matter that many had lived here for centuries. The city was more or less left to fall into decay after this. Fortunately, Cesky Krumlov was spared from war damage hence the many surviving historic buildings here. Restoration of Cesky began in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution, (expelling of communists), and by 1992 it was placed on the Unesco World Heritage list.

Group photo Sharka took with my camera

Group photo Sharka took with my camera

The prettiest part of the castle in my opinion

The prettiest part of the castle in my opinion

Sharka is true to her word and allows us to take photos of the picturesque village and even volunteers to use our various cameras to take group photos. Once the photo frenzy is over, Milan shows up, and Sharka continues to the next stop. Jennifer and I observed in Prague how Milan was with us one minute and then, poof, gone the next when we were touring the city with Adella. That same habit holds true throughout our tour this morning. Jennifer came up with the theory, (I’m pretty sure a correct one), that Milan leaves us so as to not interfere with the local guide and then pops up out of nowhere to make sure our local guide is sticking to the time schedule.

Part of the castle complex. This is where we walked the passageway. We were never actually inside the buildings rooms

Part of the castle complex where you can see how they utilized some of the rock for the wall( to the left).

Sharka makes several stops on this city tour including St. Vitus Cathedral where she informs us that about 3/4 of Czech’s aren’t followers of organized religion. We can’t go inside the cathedral today however because mass is being conducted.  Eventually we end up at the Castle complex and at this entrance there are two captive bears, one on each side, living in the moat. One of the bears is out in the open but I have no luck taking a photo of the brown beast as it cavorts in its private pool.

One of the walled courtyards. What are you looking at Jennifer?

One of the walled courtyards. What are you looking at Jennifer?

We stroll along the walkway that passes under some of the buildings of the Castle complex. The Castle complex includes forty buildings and palaces so it is huge! One of the most memorable parts for me is two separate courtyards (?) whose towering stone walls are decorated with paintings while the beautiful sky can be seen above us. When we emerge from the passageway we continue to the lookout that allows a bird’s-eye view of the town.  This is where we were taking photos last night but this morning we must join the crush of tourists, all who are vying for an open spot at the rail for a photo-op. The view looking down on Cesky Krumlov is lovely but I for one am out of that mass of people as soon as possible.

I did squeeze into the mass of tourists to snap a photo or two of the village

I did squeeze into the mass of tourists to snap a photo or two of the village

Sharka giving us an intro to the Castle museum after which we say our thanks and goodbyes to her

Sharka giving us an intro to the Castle museum after which we say our thanks and goodbyes to her

We end our tour with Sharka at the Castle Museum where she dispenses more information about what is on display here.  After thanking the energetic guide for her knowledge and time we continue into the museum to browse the artifacts on our own. Passing through different rooms we peruse a variety of items including chamber pots, old furniture, and beautiful dishes from the various “Bergs” eras. One item on exhibit that I find rather creepy is the bejeweled skeleton of St. Reparatus on display in a glass case.

St. Reparatus

St. Reparatus

This was close by the St. Reparatus exhibit. I wonder what the 7 swords in Mary's(?) breast symbolize? Anyone?

This was close by the St. Reparatus exhibit. I wonder what the 7 swords in Mary’s(?) breast symbolize? Anyone?

Once we have finished the museum tour, Milan hands out tickets to those of us who want to climb to the top of the watch tower. Paul decides to sit this one out due to his knees as does one other group member.  Jennifer and I join the rest of our party in climbing the steps through narrow passageways to the top. It is gorgeous up here although a bit crowded as other tourists are also checking out the views. When we get back to the entrance/exit to the tower I can’t find my ticket. Jennifer and C tell me they saw a ticket on one of the steps but had no idea it was mine. I must have pulled the piece of paper out of my pocket when I was getting a kleenex. Shoot! You need to insert the ticket into the machine for the barrier to drop in order to exit the tower. D comes to my rescue and when he activates the barrier I sneak out with him. Thank you Mr. D

One of the many gorgeous views from the tower

One of the many gorgeous views from the top of the tower

Jennifer starting back down the stairs through the narrow passages.

Jennifer starting back down the stairs through the narrow passages.

Restaurant sign where we had lunch

Restaurant sign where we had lunch

It’s time for lunch and with Milan in the lead we arrive at the restaurant where we have a small room to ourselves. The meal of turkey, polenta and vegetables is tasty but the coolest thing is the half dark/half light beer that many people order. How did the bartender do that?

Milan posing for us with the half and half beer

Milan posing for us with the half and half beer

We have some time on our own before our afternoon activity so Jennifer, Paul and I visit the monastery, well the grounds of the monastery in Cesky. The place as one might expect is neat as a pin with a nice garden still producing a variety of vegetables. The item that really catches my attention is the oversized chair made of tree limbs. Two sculptures are near the chair so I guess the rickety chair is supposed to be art.

The Monastery the three of us visited briefly

The Monastery the three of us visited briefly

Art?

Art?

This afternoon we are rafting down the Vltava River. Upon the advice of Milan I have made the painful decision to leave my camera in the hotel room. Paul has brought his small camera since it is easy to stick in a pocket for protection from splashing water. The afternoon is perfect for being on the river since it is overcast and cool. We must walk from the hotel to where the rafts cast off and after donning the bulky life vests, grabbing a paddle, dividing ourselves into two groups, we climb aboard and cast off. Both rafts have a sturdy young man in the back and although we are told to help them out by paddling, quite often we don’t, (at least in our raft), and I think the captain is just fine with that.

Our happy companions in the other raft

Our happy companions in the other raft. All photos on the rafting trip are Paul’s

Cool rounded door in the rock wall

Cool rounded door in the rock wall

Paul is kept busy taking photos as there are many photos ops as we float through the beautiful village. Being on the river, as it was in Prague, gives a different perspective of the historic city. Most of the raft ride on the river is tame although there are a couple of man-made “rapids” that we go through. The river trip proves to be quite peaceful as we float along on the tannin-browned water. There are people fishing from the river banks while others are just out relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. Many other people are rafting or kayaking too, but the river isn’t over-crowded with boats. Our raft does encounter one problem when we are floating over some shallow riffles and it becomes caught on a big rock! It takes a little work, enough to make our raftsman grunt a few times, but he maneuvers us off the obstacle and we continue on. When we approach a bridge and see Waessik waving down at us we know our rafting trip is about to end.

"Scary" man-made rapids!

“Scary” man-made rapids!

Fishing on a Sunday afternoon

Fishing on a Sunday afternoon

We got a "kick" out of this bench

We got a “kick” out of this bench

Once we are all back on shore Milan gathers us around saying he has a reward for us for surviving the rafting voyage on the Vltava. Milan pulls a bottle of booze from his black satchel, (Milan is never without his satchel), and pours a small amount of liquor into the plastic cups he has handed out to us. After a toast to our successful river ride, we take a sip of the liquor. Yow, that is too strong for me but I notice that most folks, including Paul and Jennifer, find the liquor quite tasty and down the burning liquid. What an enjoyable afternoon this was!

Time for the celebratory drink.

Time for the celebratory drink.

This evening, dinner is on our own but Milan has offered to take us to a restaurant that serves local beer and also to introduce us to the traditional snacks that the Czech people eat with their beer. “Count me in” is heard fourteen times. Once again our guide could have had an evening to himself but generously offers to introduce us to more of the local culture! Milan orders three favorite beer foods of the Czech people for us, potato pancakes, toast with blue cheese and pickled sausage. I can’t remember the name of the local beer but we Kansans liked it better than the Pilsner that is so popular. All of the snacks were good but the toast with blue cheese was my favorite. In fact we liked the appetizers so well that those at our table ordered another round of the snacks instead of opting for a meal. Milan insists on paying for the first batch of appetizers (not the beer) but we make up a little bit for his generosity by sharing the second go round with him that we paid for.

Enjoying the dessert Jennifer bought for our 40th

Enjoying the dessert Jennifer bought for our 40th

After this fun experience, Jennifer, Paul, and I walk to the river where Jennifer is treating Paul and I to dessert in order to celebrate our 40th anniversary. We kept this occasion under our hats because we didn’t want anyone making a fuss about it. We choose a restaurant that sits next to the river where we are seated at a riverside table. We enjoy our yummy dessert, (thanks Jennifer), as lovely music drifts through the night air. When we have finished eating we go stand on the bridge with several other folks and enjoy the young man and woman who were the source of the music that accompanied our dessert. Paul drops some money into the couples open violin case before we leave.  The three of us wander back to the town square and sit down to listen to a classical guitarist. After enjoying a portion of this young man’s solo concert, Jennifer drops a few coins in his tip box and we call it a night.

After breakfast we walk to the bus and as we climb aboard Waessik as usual cheerfully greets us. The curvy, tree-lined road we are on follows the river so I watch for birds along or in the river. I see a few ducks, two herons, small hawks that resemble our kestrel (I’ve seen these small hawks other places already) and two large hawks. Not bad for bird watching at sixty miles an hour!

A poor photo of the road we traveled but notice there are no middle lines.

A poor photo of the road we traveled but notice there are no middle lines.

dscf5988

 

We arrive in Vyssi Brod, another beautiful village, where we are going to visit the monastery that dates back to the 13th century. Walking through the entrance we see in front of us a lovely church flanked by several other buildings. This monastery must be fairly large as there is a signpost directing people to the various sites. For some reason I found the signpost amusing, I guess it just seemed a bit out of place.

The Monastery

The Monastery

There is a young man who will accompany us on our tour of the monastery and our first stop is to tour the inside of the impressive white church that towers above the other buildings. As Milan is translating what our Czech speaking guide is telling us about the church, E and I are taking a few photos. Oops, Milan tells us that no photos are allowed in here. There was a “no photos” sign posted on the door but we missed seeing it. Well, I only snapped a few pictures and only a couple were decent (I kept them).

Milan translates for us that the monastery was founded by a member of the Rosenberg family in the 13th century. The legend goes that he fell into the river and he promised to build a monastery if someone would save him from death. A person, (or was it an angel?), did save him and he kept his promise by building this monastery in Vyssi Brod. The Rosenberg founder then invited Cistercian monks from Austria to run the monastery. The monastery was repressed under the Nazi’s and shut down under communism but now the Cistercian monks have reopened the monastery and are slowly restoring the buildings.

One forbidden photo of the altar

One forbidden photo taken inside the church

The inside of the church is extremely ornate with lots of gold plating, an incredible altar, beautiful inlaid wood pieces, and in the choir loft is a huge organ with 2,000 pipes! We follow our young guide to another building that is a small museum. What I remember the most is the numerous framed oil paintings on the walls of the museum, some of which seem a bit risqué for a monastery:).

We then walk from the museum to the library where even I see the sign which warns you not to touch the books as this action will set off an alarm. We walk through one aisle in the library where we are surrounded by old books sitting on shelves that reach far above our heads. There are 70,000 books in the Monastic Library, and 1200 manuscripts (we didn’t see any of these). Everyone treads softly not wanting to inadvertently trip the alarm as the vision of being rushed by brown-robed monks is not a pretty picture :). We end up in an airy room surrounded by more books that someone is in the process of cleaning up and also reorganizing the old books on the shelves. It really is a miracle that the books survived under the Nazi’s and communists. When we have finished the tour, Milan once again reaches inside his magic satchel and produces a bottle of mead to cap off our visit here. I think mead is often brewed by monks. I really like this drink!

Milan pouring mead for everyone

Milan pouring mead for everyone

We leave the monastery; climb back into the bus and Waessik drives us to our next stop for the morning. We are off to Lipno Lake, which was made by damming the Vltava River, for a hike. When we arrive at the resort, Milan gives us the choice of riding the bus to the top of the mountain or taking the ski lift. We all opt for the ski lift. I have only been on a ski lift once and I find that sitting down on a seat that is moving is a bit tricky. I voice my concerns about the difficulty once we are safely seated and moving along the cable. Jennifer points out that I should try getting into the seat with skis on. Yow, that would be a trick to master! We enjoy the fresh air, the pine forest below us, and pretty views on our way up the small mountain. Getting off the ski lift and out-of-the-way of the slow-moving seat is really hard but I manage to stay on my feet and run away from the slow-moving seat.

Some of our party heading up the mountain on the ski lift

Some of our party heading up the mountain on the ski lift

Our hike today is called the Treetop Walk and once Milan buys our tickets we are ready to go. We actually will be hiking on a wooden walkway that leads to the base of a 130 foot tower. The air is chilly and it is starting to look as though it could rain so Jennifer and I take off at a fast walk. The walkway gradually gains in height so by the time we reach the base of the circular tower the wind is quite brisk.  The wind becomes stronger with every circle we make while climbing higher on the tower.

Looking back on a portion of the walkway

Looking back on a portion of the walkway

On the last circuit before we reach the tower top, Jennifer and I stop to stare and laugh at a several pair of plastic human legs that are hanging above us. The lifelike legs are mechanically running in place and we wonder out loud what they symbolize. A man passing by, who is carrying his young son on his shoulders, stops and tells us in broken English that the legs represent the most famous Czech distance runner in the nation’s history. He informs us that this running phenom won three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics! Later, Milan gives us more info about Emil Zatopek who won gold medals in the 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter, and the marathon over a span of eight days. What an unbelievable achievement and Mr. Zatopek certainly deserves the honor of the running legs memorial. Plus you must admit that this is a very unique memorial!

Emil Zatopek memorial- one of several pairs of running legs

Emil Zatopek memorial- one of several pairs of running legs

Holy Smokes it is windy up here plus the clouds have rolled in so even though the views are wonderful if the sun were shining I think we could see for miles and miles. We don’t linger on this windswept deck and quickly wind our way back down to the boardwalk. At the bottom of the tower there is a metal tube that you can slide down which will deposit you near the entrance gate if you don’t want to walk back the length of the walkway. Jennifer, Paul, and a few more people from our group decide to throw caution to the wind and go for the shortcut. The problem is the man that sells the tickets for the dry toboggan ride has disappeared. No way am I sliding down that claustrophobic tube so I join N and we start back down the wooden trail. When we reach the entrance gate we don’t see any of the adventure seekers and we assume that they are still waiting for the ticket guy to show up. We continue to stand near the ride but there is no one being ejected from the white tube. I hear familiar voices behind me and turn to see a disappointed group coming our way; it seems the ticket man was a no-show so they had to walk down after all.

Lipno Lake

Lipno Lake. The rain clouds are rolling in

A different view from the tower

A different view from the tower

Jennifer and I had planned to hike through the forest rather than take the bus back down to the parking lot, but about the time the thwarted tube riders arrive; big fat raindrops are starting to fall. The drops turn into a hard shower so the good news is that waiting on the ticket man saved Jennifer and I from getting soaked on the forest trail! We all pile into the bus when it arrives except for D and C who began hiking through the forest before it started to rain, poor things. It seems the hiking couple was prepared for rain as they were carrying rain coats so they weren’t soaked through after all.

Another beautiful town on the river

Another beautiful town on the river

We drive to another picture perfect town along the Vltava River and stop at a nice restaurant to have lunch. Milan brings out two shot glasses of liquor and presents them to the heroes of the day, D and C, for hiking through the rain at Lipno Lake. The rest of us applaud the deserving couple as they laughingly accept their reward.

Enjoying the scenery after lunch

Enjoying the scenery after lunch

Upon our return to Cesky Krumlov, Jennifer decides to go shopping for gifts while Paul and I visit a museum that Milan had recommended which is dedicated to a local photographer named Joseph Seidel. The museum tour was self-guided and our recorded narrator explained what we were looking at in the various rooms as long as you pressed the right numbers! Once we got the hang of the electronic device we thoroughly enjoyed walking through the house of this excellent photographer. Paul and I agreed that Seidel’s work and the way he would go out of his way to get photos, (including strapping on snow skis to reach his subject if need be) reminded us of our own Wabaunsee county photographer Otto Kratzer. Both men took excellent black and white photos in the early 20th century and both photographers would go to great lengths to capture ordinary life around them. It was a great way to end our afternoon.

Joseph Seidel museum

Joseph Seidel museum, Paul’s photo

Tonight dinner is on our own so Jennifer, Paul, and I eat at Two Mary’s restaurant where we enjoy our delicious meal sitting at a table that overlooks the Vltava River. This is our last evening in Cesky which is a little sad for me.  I have so enjoyed this fairytale city and all the other sites we took in while staying here.

The last time we walked down this narrow street to our hotel.

Walking down to our hotel on this lovely street for the last time.

Next blog-Budweiser Brewery, Trebon and Slavonice

I love this photo of the couple sitting under the apple tree Paul took even if they are a bit blurred. We were on a moving raft after all.

I love this photo of the couple sitting under the apple tree Paul took even if they are a bit blurred. We were on a moving raft after all.

We passed by these hilarious chairs and I couldn't resist. Paul's photo

We passed by these hilarious chairs and I couldn’t resist. Paul’s photo

A different look from the tower

A different look from the tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 3

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 3

Today we traveled to stop two, three, and four.

Today we traveled to stop two, three, and four.

This morning we set our luggage outside our door at 7:30 and we go down for breakfast where I enjoy the yummy croissants for the last time.  Paul and I return to the room to gather our personal luggage and check to make sure we have not left anything behind. Everyone is in the lobby by 8:30 and we climb into the bus. Waessik, who is Polish, greets us with a big smile and a “good morning”.  Once we have all settled in our chosen seats we are ready to hit the road to explore some more of the Czech Republic. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Prague but the three of us agree that we are ready to move on.

Once we leave Prague, Waessik drives the comfortable bus down narrow, curvy roads that travel through farm country and villages. On occasion Milan will speak to us about various topics via his microphone as we are driving. I spy two deer grazing in a hay-field this morning, someone sitting behind comments on them too; we also see cattle, a few horses, crop ground, and lots of big round hay bales.

After driving an hour and a half we reach our first stop of the day, the Vojna Memorial, a camp first built to house German prisoners of war. Vojna then became a forced labor camp to mine uranium when Russia took control of Czechoslovakia from 49 to 51. The communists then used Vojna to house political prisoners until 1961. The political prisoners were mostly people who supported democracy.dscf5663

The first thing we see when we get out of the bus is a sign over the entrance gate and Milan tells us that it says “work will set you free”. Milan points out the irony of the statement since it is exactly what the sign over Auschwitz concentration camp declared. Our group walks through the gate and we look down the path between two barbed wire fences where the guards would patrol. There is a sculpture on the grounds showing a man at the top of a ladder while other prisoners are burrowing into the ground. The sculpture depicts how people tried to escape the misery of the camp to gain their freedom but rarely if ever did they succeed.

Patrol path with watch tower in the distance

Patrol path with watch tower in the distance

Notice the benches in the music room

Notice the benches in the music room

Milan leads us through the partially reconstructed camp relating grim and cruel stories as we go. There was a cultural building with a “library”, all communist material I’m sure, and a music room where the listeners had to sit on slat benches that were backless and rounded to make sure the prisoners couldn’t use the time to sleep. We walk through a small building that is a hospital which the inmates had to man themselves. Milan explains how much sickness there was among the inmates since the prisoners had no protective wear for the uranium mines they were forced to work in, plus they had to sleep in the same clothes. This left the men in constant exposure to the uranium which was obviously detrimental to their health. Many survivors suffered from cancer and leukemia in later years.

Milan has a "captured" audience. Seriously, Milan was a walking encyclopedia and his words brought the topic to life. Amazing guide.

Milan has a “captured” audience. Seriously, Milan was a walking encyclopedia and his words brought the many topics he covered to life. An amazing guide.

Paul taking it all in.

Paul taking it all in.

Surgery room for the prisoners

Surgery room for the prisoners

Milan leads us to the barracks where beds are crowded together in the small rooms and in tiers. There were also examples of solitary confinement cells making the crowded barracks look quite luxurious. Milan explains that the prisoners were paid a salary which allowed the communists to say that they were treating the prisoners fairly.  The rest of that story is that the prisoners were also charged for their food, lodging and clothes so the prisoners ended up with a pittance of their pay. Milan told us that the prisoners were put to work early in the morning with no breakfast and their lunch and dinner would be very inadequate, (an example is watered down soup), thus adding to the deterioration of their health.

Crowded barracks

Crowded barracks

Isolation cell

Isolation cell

In the building that housed the Camp commander there was a memorial in remembrance of all those that had suffered or died in Vojna under the Stalinist times. There was also a sign with the names of those that were executed at this depressing place. Milan has one more stop for us and that is the underground cell where prisoners were put for the ultimate punishment. After sticking our heads inside the cell, most of us take a deep breath and step into the concrete pit. The tall people in our group can’t stand up straight in here and at 5’6″ the top of my head is close to touching the ceiling. There are not any windows, or any place to go to the bathroom, places to sit or lay down. Once that door was shut there would be nothing but darkness. How in the world could any human stand these conditions for long?  It is time to move on down the road and although it is sobering and tough to visit places like Vojna it surely is important to do so to honor the victims of these atrocities.

Names of the political prisoners that were executed in Vojna

Names of the political prisoners that were executed in Vojna

The entrance into the underground cell

The entrance into the underground cell

After we have been driving for a while, Waessik pulls the bus off the road into a gas station area and brings it to a halt. Milan, with a quizzical smile, faces us and points to a small patch of green weeds across the road identifying the “weeds” as a marijuana field. Milan says he had our driver stop here because he has never seen this big of a field of marijuana. Milan informs us that the Czech Republic has recently decriminalized the drug and Milan says that they will have to wait and see what happens. Paul and I are more intrigued with the person that is stacking round bales of straw in the adjacent wheat field going up seven layers high! I also enjoy the colorful kites that are on display outside the gas station and think to myself that people can fly a kite while getting high as a kite:). Go ahead and groan that was bad.

Marijuana field. Men loading big round bales. Unfortunately the photo of the 7 layer stack was blurry.

Marijuana field and men loading big round bales. Unfortunately the photo of the 7 layer stack was blurry.

Colorful kites for sale

Colorful kites for sale

Our next stop today is Pisek, a town founded in the 13th century. Milan first takes us to the Parish Church but we won’t be going inside as there is a wedding taking place. Milan says that it is o.k. to peek in the open door if we are very quiet. The church is full of wedding goers but what is really intriguing to me is that there is a seat for the bride and groom to sit on. This must be some long ceremony! We all quietly laugh at the basket outside the door that contains a horse collar, a ball and chain, and a bolt cutter. It would be fun to see what the wedding couple does with these items.

Parish church in Pisek. I believe it is one if not the oldest churches in the country

Parish church in Pisek. I believe it is one of if not the oldest church in the country

I took a photo of the wedding in progress

I took a photo of the wedding in progress

This oddly colored cat was looking down at us from a window ledge

This oddly colored cat was looking down at us from a window ledge

We walk down cobblestone streets laid in artful patterns as we pass by brightly painted houses whose window planters are filled with colorful flowers. Most of the businesses are closed and few people are on the streets, maybe they are all at the wedding! Milan fills us in on the history of the town as we walk towards the restaurant where we are to eat lunch. Milan points out the sand sculptures across the Otava River which we will visit after lunch. On the way to the restaurant we pass by stands where people are selling food, candy, and beer. It seems there is a beer festival going on today perhaps another reason the old part of town was so quiet!

Listening intently to Milan in front of the Parish church.

Listening intently to Milan in front of the Parish church.

Colorful houses and beautiful flowers

Colorful houses, beautiful flowers and  marijuana for sale

I tried to show the artful pattern of the cobblestone street Jennifer is walking down. It is easier to see in real life!

I tried to show the artful pattern of the cobblestone street Jennifer is walking down. It is easier to see in real life! It made me a bit dizzy truthfully.

dscf5741

dscf5743

As usual there are tables reserved for us in the restaurant which is quite crowded with customers. On the menu today is wild boar, hey this is why we travel, to experience new things in new places. The wild boar meat which is swimming in a tasty brown sauce isn’t too bad for someone like me who doesn’t care for wild game. I feel a little bad though as there is a wild boar head hanging on the wall right next to our table. When we have finished our meal, we go outside to a tent where beer on tap is being sold. Milan gathers us around him looking very pleased with himself as he tells us about the bartender in the restaurant where we ate. It seems this man is a master bartender who has won many medals in beer drawing competitions in the Czech Republic. He is so famous that bartenders from Prague and elsewhere come to learn from the man. Milan has spoken to the fellow who has agreed to demonstrate for our group the art of drawing a perfect beer. The bartender is supposed to put on the demo at this tent but the man is so busy that we have to return to the restaurant and crowd around the bar to watch the Master at work.

Paul and D eating the wild boar.

Paul and D eating the wild boar. Those are dumplings on the side

dscf5747

We clog the area around the bar while the first thing the bartender explains via Milan is that the glasses must be washed and rinsed properly through three different tubs of water. The next thing he tells us is that you never draw beer into a dry glass, the glass must be wet. After that I am lost as he demonstrates different ways to draw beer to make a completely different tasting beer from the same tap. I didn’t get around to sampling what I think was called milk beer but those that did said it definitely was smoother than a normal beer. Anyway it was another one of those unexpected events that Milan often added throughout this tour to make our time here even more special. We thank the busy bartender and leave him and his real customers in peace.

The master bartender instructing the group on drawing the perfect beer

The master bartender instructing the group on drawing the perfect beer

Our group strolls back through the various food and beer stands and Milan stops at one place where dough is being wrapped around a rotating cylinder and then cooked over charcoal. Milan buys one of the wonderful smelling treats called Trdelnik (nope can’t pronounce it) and hands out a sample to all of us. Oh yum, that is so tasty, trdelnik is so good in fact that Paul goes back to buy another one which he shares with Jennifer and me and whoever wants a bite. We stop in front of another vendor’s tent where Milan explains some of the different candies that are for sale there. One of the sisters buys a fudge type candy and she is kind enough to have the proprietor cut it in enough pieces so all of us can sample the sweet treat. Mmm, that is really good too.

Making the delicious Trdelnik.

Making the delicious Trdelnik.

All kinds of candy for sale at this stand.

All kinds of candy for sale at this stand.

The bridge spanning the Otava River

The bridge spanning the Otava River

Milan takes us across the bridge to the sand sculptures which are standing near the river’s edge. The sculptures depict characters from Czech fairy tales and include a really cool, fire-breathing dragon, humans, and a donkey that looks a lot like the one in Winnie the Pooh. I love these sand sculptures! There is a cute little girl who walks up to the dragon and poses by it while her mom takes her photo (as do I). Then she turns around and appears to slightly curtsy to the beast now and then, it takes me a moment to realize she has seen her shadow and is moving slightly to make her shadow move. How cute is that!

Sand Sculptures, they were huge.

Sand Sculptures, they were huge.

Can you do this shadow?

Can you do this shadow?

Terrible light but hilarious Minion cookies

Terrible light but hilarious Minion cookies

Milan now takes us towards the small carnival where we pass by a booth that is selling cookies in various shapes such as hearts and minions! The minion cookies are hilarious and for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about they are characters from one of my favorite animated films, Despicable Me. What a hoot. Again one member of our group generously shares some of the licorice type candy she bought with all of us. The rides here are mostly for children but we see a father and son having fun in the bumper car ring which makes Milan reminisce how the bumper cars were his favorite thing at carnivals when he was a kid. I preferred the merry-go-round as a youngster myself:).  We reach the bus where our driver cheerily greets us and soon we are on our way to our final destination today, Cesky Krumlov.

Bumper cars that brought back good memories to Milan.

Bumper cars that brought back good memories for Milan.

We reach Cesky Krumlov by late afternoon and because the streets that lead to our hotel are so narrow, Waessik has to let us off at the bus stop where we walk to our hotel, carrying our personal luggage with us. The large suitcases will be delivered via a van to the hotel. As we near the old town the view is just breathtaking. I feel like we have been put down in the middle of a fairy tale as I gaze over the red-tiled roof tops and see the stunning castle on the hill overlooking the town. Wow just wow! We reach the main square and there is our hotel, The Old Inn Hotel, right on the square. It gets even better when Paul and I discover that our very comfortable, third-floor room looks out on the beautiful square. This is wonderful. Before dinner we Kansans wander around this lovely village discovering picturesque views around every corner.

One of our first views of Cesky Krumlov. I loved it at first sight!

One of our first views of Cesky Krumlov. I loved it at first sight!

Looking out our hotel room window.

Looking out our hotel room window at the town square.

We oohed and ahhed over this scene as we crossed the bridge.

We oohed and ahhed over this scene as we crossed the bridge.

After a tasty dinner, Paul, Jennifer and I decide to walk up to the castle since according to Milan the view of Cesky at night is not to be missed. The three of us bump into the California sisters and the couple from Michigan and together we search for a way to the top of the castle complex. Our impromptu group notice people coming down some unlit stairs and we figure what the heck. Sure enough the stairs lead to the complex walkway and we are rewarded with a dazzling view of Cesky after dark. We join others in snapping pictures of the twinkling town below us. All of us then stroll down this walk way which takes us through some open air parts of the dimly lit castle. We emerge at the opposite end of the complex where the part of the castle with the distinct pink turret stands. It was beautiful by daylight and it is stunning at night! It is a wonderful way to end our day.

Crossing the same bridge at night. Beautiful

Crossing the same bridge at night as we did this afternoon. Beautiful

The castle complex lit up.

Our climb to the top was rewarded with this view of the Castle complex bathed in light

The distinct turret taken from below as we exited.

The distinct turret seen from below after we exited the castle.

What a day we have had from the sobering Vojna Memorial to the festive town of Pisek and last but not least to the “Fairy Tale” city of Cesky Krumlov.

Next blog, Exploring Cesky Krumlov

Paul and Jennifer looking at the sand sculptures from the bridge.

Paul and Jennifer looking at the sand sculptures from the bridge.

Our hotel

Our hotel

I got a kick out of this photo as I thought the windows in the walkway walls looked like frogs eyes.

I got a kick out of this photo as I thought the windows in the walkway walls looked like frogs eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 2

Jewels of Bohemia map and route for our 2 week journey.

Jewels of Bohemia map and route for our 2 week journey.

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 2

We are to meet our friend Birgit at 2:30 at the entrance of the Old Jewish Cemetery. Milan was kind enough to help us select the cemetery as a meeting place prior to our journey to Europe.  The restaurant where we ate lunch is just a block from the Old Jewish Cemetery so this is perfect.

Jennifer, Paul and I arrive on time but upon looking about we don’t see Birgit. We are debating on whether we should walk down to the actual entrance, which is across the street but below street level, when I hear Paul exclaim “here she is”! I turn around and see a smiling Birgit standing by Paul. After giving Birgit a hug, I introduce her to Jennifer and then ask Birgit if I am finally pronouncing her name right. Birgit, in her matter of fact way, tells me that I still am not saying her name correctly but assures me that she has become used to my mispronunciation of her name and that it’s okay! Ha, this is one of the things I like about my friend Birgit; she tells it like it is!

This photo of Birgit and me was actually taken the next day but it is the only one we took!!

This photo of Birgit and me was actually taken the next day but it is the only one we took!!

Paul, Birgit and I met when we were all part of a group in 2010 that traveled to Russia and joined Biosphere Expeditions, an organization studying the habitat for snow leopards in the Altai Mountains. Birgit and I discovered that we had a mutual love of cats, nature and that we simply enjoyed each other’s company. Since our meeting in Russia six years ago we have continued to stay in touch via email. When I told Birgit we were coming to Europe she made time in her busy schedule to travel from Austria so we could spend some time together.  As I step back and take note of my petite friend I see she hasn’t changed at all and she sure hasn’t gained an ounce!

The four of us are going to Vysehrad the site of Prague’s first castle although the castle no longer exists. I had researched the web for places that most tourists don’t visit while in Prague and Vysehrad was always near the top of the list of recommended sites to see.  We know that we will have to take the metro to Vysehrad but we don’t know where the nearest metro station is. As luck would have it, Milan and the rest of our group appear on the corner not far from where we are making our plans. I walk over and ask Milan where the closest station is and he says that we need to walk back to the restaurant and continue on for a couple blocks. I might add that this afternoon is scheduled as free time for our group but Milan has unselfishly volunteered to take anyone who wishes to go with him for further exploration of Prague. I believe the rest of our group took Milan up on his offer.

We wander around a bit but eventually find the metro station. Birgit, (because she speaks a little bit of Czech) approaches the woman in the ticket booth to buy our tickets. Birgit requests senior tickets for we Kansans but the ticket seller informs her that only Czechs are eligible for the discounted tickets. Oh well, the tickets don’t cost much anyway. Tickets in hand we walk over to get on the escalator and see two or three freestanding “posts”, each  equipped with a shining green light, situated a few feet from the entrance to the escalator. People are just walking past these curious structures as they step on the escalator. Green means go right?  We join the other metro riders and get on the escalator that takes us deep under the ground.

I thought these "lions" flanking each side of the top of the gate were very odd looking

I thought these “lions” flanking each side of the top of the gate were very odd looking

We find the metro red line that will deliver us to Vysehrad station and soon the underground train arrives. We pile into the nearest car and within minutes we have arrived at our destination. I am completely disoriented once we are above ground but my cohorts, using a map and common sense, decide we must go “this way” and sure enough we soon find a sign for Vysehrad prominently displayed. From here on all we do is follow the frequent green signs pointing toward Vysehrad and after a nice stroll we arrive at the ancient castle grounds.

Entrance gate into Vysehrad

Entrance gate into Vysehrad

We walk under the arch of the massive stone gate and are immediately struck by the sparse number of other humans. A few people can be seen scattered around but most are natives enjoying the peace and quiet of this attractive green space. How nice to be in this solitude after the crush of tourists and bustling activity of the city this morning.

St. Martin Rotunda

St. Martin Rotunda

One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to see the St. Martin Rotunda which we spot a short distance from the arched gate. This unique stone structure is touted as one of Prague’s oldest surviving buildings. There is a sign on the door giving the times that mass is held in this 11th century chapel but I can’t see how in the world many people could fit inside the fascinating rotunda. If I recall correctly this rotunda is only one of three original rotunda that have managed to survive wars, “progress”, or just the decay of time.

Another reason I wanted to come to Vysehrad is to see the cemetery which is located next to the Church of St. Peter and Paul. I read about the uniqueness of the cemetery at home where one writer described it as an open air art exhibit, where prominent Czech composers, artists, writers, scientists, etc. are buried. I found that description quite intriguing and thought the cemetery would be worth visiting.

Walking towards the Church of St. Peter and Paul

Jennifer walking towards the Church of St. Peter and Paul

Again we follow the signage directing us to the Church, although it isn’t long before we can just walk towards the obvious spires of the church. After using the restrooms, (where I ended up tipping the attendant the equivalent of two dollars because I didn’t pay attention to what the coin was worth), we walk back to the cemetery. Birgit and I wander through the interesting monuments while Jennifer and Paul sit down on a bench, one to rest a sore back, the other to rest a cranky knee.

Not the sharpest photo of the Fallen Eagle

Not the sharpest photo of the Fallen Eagle

Birgit and I visit as we wander the cemetery pathways often stopping to photograph or comment on the unique monuments of various graves. Naturally, I have no idea who the people or what their occupation was that lay beneath these interesting gravestones. Knowing that information probably would have helped understand the monuments that marked the graves. One of my favorites is a stone sculpture of a fallen Eagle lying on its back with an obvious broken wing, claws clenched and bill open in death. Some markers, like the one where three hands appear to be trying to turn a wheel, leave me completely bewildered.

I found this marker very intriguing

I found this marker very intriguing

A very modern grave stone

A very modern grave stone

When Birgit and I have toured most of the cemetery we rejoin Paul and Jennifer who have seen much of the cemetery too and we walk over to an adjacent park. We casually stroll through the park where stately trees tower over us while unseeing statues appear to be staring at us. There is a high point on the edge of the park protected by an iron rail fence and we climb the stairs to see what is up there. Ooh, what a beautiful view of the Vltava River. There are two people standing on what look like surf boards paddling down the placid river. There is a formidable wall below us that I assume was part of the ancient castle fortress walls.

My photos from this vantage point were all blurry. This one of the old wall was the only one I could salvage

My photos from this vantage point were all blurry. This one of the old wall was the only one I could salvage

We leave the pretty park and walk back toward the entrance gate but notice people walking up a hill near the Rotunda. The four of us decide to find out why people are climbing the hill. Wow, this was worth the climb as we have a wonderful overview of Prague and the river. We can even see Prague Castle far away in the distance. Looking down on people strolling along the Vltava River, I suggest we find our way down to the river’s edge and perhaps even walk back to our hotel following the river for much of the way. I think we three women are more enthused about this idea than Paul is!

What a view of Prague and the Vltava River

What a view of Prague and the Vltava River

As we try to find a different way out of Vysehrad that will deposit us next to the river, we watch in awe as Birgit runs down a steep hill to see if the arch gate in the fortress wall below us might be an exit. Birgit also runs back up the hill and informs us that the gate is locked. Holy Smokes, now I know why Birgit does so well in the orienteering races she participates in. I am feeling very old and out of shape after witnessing that!

We do find our way to the river and stroll along the water’s edge on the uneven cobblestone walkway. There are lots of people here, mostly locals with a majority of them appearing to be college age kids. It isn’t hard to figure out why this is a favorite place for young people as there are open air bars every few feet it seems. Some of the restaurants and bars are situated on old ships docked all along the river’s edge. There are also joggers, bicyclists, and people feeding the numerous ducks and swans that ply the river’s edge. The atmosphere is very laid back in this area.

No beach, no problem. We will put one on a ship.

No beach, no problem. We will put one on a ship.

The four of us meander along the calming river, taking time to sit down to allow Paul to rest his knee from time to time. At one point Paul has about had enough walking but Jennifer consults her handy-dandy gps on her phone and we find that we are only a half mile from our hotel. We decide to stop at the first suitable cafe once we are back in the city center to give us all a longer break from walking as my legs and hips are pretty sore too. Jennifer who carries a fitbit informs us that we walked around nine miles today!

Birgit, Paul and Jennifer along the Vltava River

Birgit, Paul and Jennifer along the Vltava River

 

Once we leave the river it doesn’t take long to find a cafe with outdoor seating. I don’t recall what we ordered for dinner but we did enjoy people watching while eating our meal. One thing we notice is that many of the local people have leg tattoos, lots and lots of people smoke, and we marvel at how many women manage to walk on the rough cobblestone in high heels! When we have finished eating our waiter is walking by and I call out “check please”. I know what I’ve said immediately and Paul bursts out laughing.  Paul says he had this vision of the waiter returning with all of the staff in tow. We all laugh over the double meaning in this instance and the use of the word check becomes a running joke throughout our time in the Czech Republic. Oh well, maybe you had to be there.dscf5573

Feeling refreshed, we continue towards the hotel. We pass by a storefront with a lit sign hanging over the door that says beer spa. There are advertising posters in the window and one pictures a handsome man soaking in a barrel of beer while holding a stein of beer in his hands. On other posters scantily clad women are shown serving beer to the beer spa customers. Which poster do you think I photographed?  Someone, (Paul?) wonders if you just fill your empty beer glass from the vat you are soaking in:).dscf5574

When we reach our hotel, Paul and Jennifer decide to go to their rooms. I walk with Birgit to the train station where she takes me inside to show me how huge it is. After “checking” out the modern train station we return to the street where we say goodnight. Birgit is staying at a hostel that is on past the train station in the opposite direction of our hotel.  It is getting dark and I am a bit nervous about walking alone as there is a small park across from the train station where several inebriated people are sitting and standing around. There is a young man pulling his suitcase along the street and I do my best to stay close to him. I am definitely out of my comfort zone in this situation.

We are up at six, eating breakfast at seven, and sitting in class at eight! Yes, you read that right; we are having a lecture from a history professor this morning. The woman whose name I can’t recall talks to us for an hour and disseminates information over a long time span of Czech history. Unfortunately she has a soft voice and I have to strain to hear her part of the time and I am sitting right next to her. The professor also talks very fast and I’m afraid I and others had trouble keeping focused the full hour.

Milan gives us a ten minute break after class and then we meet in the lobby where Milan will take us via metro to the Charles Bridge. Paul, who for some reason after the fact read the directions on our metro tickets we bought yesterday, hands Milan his metro ticket that we never validated. Milan looks shocked and tells us we are so lucky not to have been stopped by a metro controller as we would have had to pay a fine. We then hear the horror story of another couple in this group who visited Vienna prior to coming to Prague. They had validated their tickets at one point but not at the next point if I remember right. The two were checked by the controllers and were ordered to pay a fine, on the spot, of 103 Euros each. They didn’t have that much money on them so the metro “cops” reduced the fine to 103 Euros for both of them. Are you kidding me! Wow, we really were fortunate that we weren’t caught with non-validated tickets.

At the top of Wenceslas Square

At the top of Wenceslas Square

Milan takes us to the upper end of Wenceslas square first where we look out over the statue of St. Wenceslas and the square. There is a cross laid out amidst the cobblestones where we are standing and Milan tells us the story of this icon. In 1969 a 21-year-old college student, whose name is Jan Palach, set fire to himself on this very spot to protest Soviet occupation. By committing this extreme act the young man hoped to inspire the Czech people to not give up hope of becoming a free country. As hard as the Soviets tried over the years to stamp out the memory of this young man,(who died three days after setting himself on fire), the Soviets failed to do so. Twenty years later the Velvet Revolution took place and Czechoslovakia was a free country.

Cross that marks the spot where Jan Palach set himself on fire.

Cross that marks the spot where Jan Palach set himself on fire.

A modern sculpture dedicated to Jan Pacha we saw near the river.

A modern sculpture dedicated to Jan Palach we saw near the river.

Milan then takes us to the metro station where he shows us how to validate one of the tickets that he handed out to us in the lobby:). The escalator seems to be very fast and it is a little scary getting on and off of it. We pack into a car on the yellow line and after a couple of stops we get off and go deeper underground to catch the red line (I think) that will take us to a station close to Charles Bridge. Milan tells us to hang onto our validated tickets until we are above ground as the ticket checkers can be anywhere!

At the base of Charles Bridge, Milan goes to buy tickets for our river boat ride that we are taking this morning. Birgit isn’t here yet so I give Milan some Czech crowns so he can buy her ticket when he purchases the groups tickets, I don’t want Birgit to miss the boat! Birgit arrives shortly after this and explains that she stopped to watch the pageantry of the Astronomical Clock on her way here.

Boat similar to the one we were on

Boat similar to the one we were on

Our group climbs aboard the small, enclosed boat along with a family that includes three young children. Refreshments are passed out before we cast off and our captain welcomes us aboard. Between taped recordings, (first in English for us then repeated in German for the family), with some input by our Captain, the history of Charles Bridge and of the buildings we float by is narrated to us. Our Captain also has photos of some major events, including the blowing up of the enormous Stalin shrine that sat high on a hill above the river, once the Soviets were expelled. He also shows photos of the devastating flood of 2002 that affected much of Central Europe. I found the boat tour a pleasant experience plus we received a different perspective of the bridge as we sailed under it and of the city of Prague as we look up at it from the river.

Going under the Charles Bridge

Going under the Charles Bridge

Part of Prague as seen from the river boat

Part of Prague as seen from the river boat

Once we dock, Milan and three members of our group leave for Nizbor to take the optional tour of the Ruckl Crystal Factory, (optional means it will cost you 120 bucks to partake in the tour). The rest of us strike out on our own to visit more of Prague.  Our quartet walks across Charles Bridge to Lesser Town as we want to explore this area a bit more. We take some photos of each other on the bridge and then search for a place to have lunch. We get off the main street in hopes of finding some cheaper eating places but don’t have much luck. We end up back in the busy part of town and sit down at an outside table in front of a small café.

Jennifer, Nancy and Paul. Birgit is the photographer

Jennifer, Nancy and Paul. Birgit is the photographer

A shot of Lesser Town taken from the Charles Bridge

A shot of Lesser Town taken from the Charles Bridge

There are menus on the table but they don’t include prices so Paul asks to see a priced menu. Well, it is a little high but not bad for being in the midst of a tourist area. Hmm, what did we eat? I don’t remember but I do recall Paul looking at the bill and seeing an eight dollar charge that he can’t figure out. When he asks the waiter what the charge is for the young man informs Paul that it is a cover charge. Oh get out; no wonder this place isn’t very busy. We made a mistake of not writing down or taking a photo of the name of this cafe because Paul surely would have written a review on Trip Advisor warning other Prague visitors to steer clear of the cafe. Live and learn I guess.

Moorhen and one chick

Moorhen and one chick

After lunch we are looking for Wallenstein Gardens, another place the website author recommended to visit for a quiet refuge. We find the small side door cut into the imposing white washed wall and walk in. Once inside the walled garden the noise level decreases substantially. There is a maze of manicured, hedge-lined paths, so we choose one path that leads us to a palatial building which is the home of the Czech Senate. Another path takes us alongside an enormous fish pond where colorful fish are swimming and an impressive fountain sets in the middle of the pond. A moorhen and her two chicks are hiding among the tall reeds that grow in clumps here and there.

Absolutely gorgeous.

Absolutely gorgeous.

There is also a refuge for owls on the grounds that I want to see but when we ask a young woman in the museum where the owls are located she has no idea what we are talking about. Our foursome leaves the museum building and walk along the perimeter of the spacious grounds in hopes of stumbling upon the owl refuge. We come upon a bizarre manmade wall that looks like dried mud stalactites. There are faces and creatures hidden in this strange wall and we have fun searching for and finding several of them. At the end of the stalactite wall is an enormous wire cage with a half-dozen owls perched high in their enclosure. They remind me of our barred owls at home but are much larger. After admiring another part of the gardens filled with statues depicting Greek mythological scenes we leave this beautiful place.

What a weird but interesting wall. Can you find the faces?

What a weird but interesting wall. Can you find the faces?

We use an exit on the opposite side of where we came in and see an intriguing street that we decide to explore. The street climbs steadily up and we find ourselves in the midst of buildings for foreign ambassadors and government workers. This is a very upscale neighborhood and even the massive doors are impressive and imposing.

Fancy wooden door

Fancy wooden door

Beautiful arch on this quiet street

Beautiful arch over this quiet street

It is time for Birgit to return to the train station to catch the train that will take her back to Austria. We walk to the metro station that is next to Wallenstein Gardens and say our goodbyes to our Austrian friend. Birgit invites us to come to Austria sometime where she would like to show us some of Austria’s’ National Parks. We tell her perhaps we will come and that she should visit Kansas someday too! So much to do and so little time. Being able to spend time with our friend gave special meaning to our trip to Central Europe. Thanks for putting out the effort to come see us Birgit.

Not far from where we were eating was this pig roasting on an enclosed spit.

Not far from where we were eating was this pig roasting on an enclosed spit.

Jennifer, Paul and I debate what we should do now and for a time we just sit and rest outside the metro station. We talk about going to the beer museum which a colleague of Jennifer’s suggested was worth the visit but it is in the opposite direction of our hotel, and by now it is late afternoon. Instead, after punching our tickets, we take the metro back to New Town, take a seat outside at a cafe, order a beer (Bernard beer which we all agree is better than Pilsner), and watch the parade of people go by which includes a group of Hari Krishna’s playing homemade instruments.

Hari Krishnas parading past our table

Hari Krishnas parading past our table

On our way back to the hotel we find a restaurant close by our hotel so Jennifer checks the reviews about it using her phone and finds that it has very good reviews. When we get to the hotel Jennifer wonders if we should make reservations for the restaurant. Since non-smoking areas are limited we decide this is probably a good idea. Jennifer has taken a photo of the restaurant’s name and shows it to the woman at the front desk who is happy to call and reserve a table for us.

The restaurant is very nice and our waiter is delightful. Jennifer orders the deer steak which is one of their specialties, Paul orders smazak (fried cheese) which is a Czech favorite, and I opt for a vegetable/mushroom dish. The food is quite tasty and we all share some of our meal with one another.

After eating we decide to walk over to Wenceslas square and Jennifer takes the lead. Jennifer turns on a random street to cross over to the square and we find ourselves walking down an “adult” themed street. The explicit names and steamy photos on the various buildings don’t leave any doubt what is being advertised!

Ugh, we reach the square and there are just too many people here for us. We walk back to the hotel and decide to have a cup of tea on the restaurants small terrace. We about choke when we pay the bill as we each just consumed a cup of four-dollar tea! A small beer costs a bit more than a dollar! Beer please :).

Next installment-Leaving Prague and traveling to Cesky Krumlov

Looking at the Charles Bridge

Looking at the Charles Bridge

A poor photo of the three hands grasping the circle or wheel.

A poor photo of the three hands grasping the circle or wheel. Anybody know what this means?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 1

JEWELS OF BOHEMIA SEPTEMBER 2016 Part 1

Jewels of Bohemia map and route for our 2 week journey.

Jewels of Bohemia map and route for our 2 week journey.

 

The day has arrived for Paul, me and our good friend Jennifer to drive to Kansas City and board the first of three planes that will deliver us to Prague, Czech Republic. Can it really have been a year since the three of us chose to book the OAT tour called Jewels of Bohemia?

Our trip is off on a good note since all of us received pre-check tickets when we printed them at home yesterday. This means we don’t have to practically disrobe nor remove our liquids from our bags. Boy does that speed things up. Our flights to Minneapolis, then to Amsterdam, and finally Prague are on time and smooth, actually we arrive early in Prague. The early arrival proves to be the first hiccup in our journey, (other than the fact that none of us slept on the planes much), because there is no placard with our names emblazoned on it in the maze of drivers waiting to deliver plane passengers to their hotels.

The three of us continue to scrutinize drivers as they walk into the arrivals area but none of them are holding up a Miller/Gehrt sign. Jennifer spots a young woman who is holding up a Grand Circle placard which is affiliated with OAT travel. We approach her and tell her we are traveling with OAT but there is no one to meet us yet. The friendly woman whose name is Adella (sp?) promises to call on our behalf if no one shows up in the next few minutes. Adella knows that Milan is our guide for this Central Europe tour and adds that she will be the local guide for our Prague tour tomorrow. Terrific, sometimes things just work out.

When no one has come to claim us after ten minutes, Adella calls Milan, who calls the driver and then Milan calls Adella to say our transport man will be with us shortly. The miracle of cell phones! Within ten minutes a stocky, tattooed man rushes over to us and breathlessly apologizes in broken English for the fact that we had to wait for him. We assure the fellow that it is no big deal and we follow him out to his van. Our luggage is loaded into the van, (which I am proud to say consists of only carry on luggage for all of us), and we continue on the final leg of our journey to Hotel Esplanade.

As we wind our way through a long and circuitous path to our Hotel, I must say my initial impression of Prague is not too favorable. Everywhere I look there is graffiti scrawled on doors, retaining walls, building walls and any other flat surface that the vandals can find to mark their territory. Ugh.

Not the best photo of the exterior of Hotel Esplanade but it is the only one I too.

Not the best photo of the exterior of Hotel Esplanade but it is the only one I took.

We arrive at Hotel Esplanade which is rather impressive at least from the outside. We check in and once we have settled into our very nice rooms, we Kansans ask the polite receptionist if there is an authentic Czech restaurant nearby. The woman tells us to turn right as we walk out the door, walk to the corner and turn right again. She informs us that there are two restaurants within a couple of blocks. Great, let’s go!

We walk into the first restaurant we come too and note that there are only locals eating here. This is exactly what we were looking for. The small cafe has long tables which seat 6 or 8 people and most of them are full. There is a table where one man is dining alone. We get his attention and indicate we would like to sit at the table too. He nods his head at us and goes back to eating his lunch. Since the menu is in Czech I just point to what the man at our table is eating as it appears to be stroganoff and looks delicious. Jennifer opts for this dish too. Paul points to what he thinks means goulash on the menu and says goulash and the waiter confirms that he is correct. We also order our first beer of many on this trip.dscf5387

The food turns out to be delicious and cheap; if I remember right our meals were about four bucks apiece including the beer. The goulash Paul is served is nothing like the macaroni, onion, hamburger, tomato sauce mixture that I used to make. This genuine goulash consists of chunks of tender beef smothered in a tasty brown sauce accompanied by four slices of dense dumplings. I realize half-way through the meal that this cafe called Ferdinanda was a recommended restaurant on a website I found while searching for Prague restaurants frequented by locals. Talk about getting lucky.

After finishing our tasty lunch we wander around a bit and end up on a bustling boulevard that is lined with restaurants and shops. There are throngs of people here, both tourists and locals, quite a contrast to the street where we ate lunch. A huge statue of a man on a horse looks out over the area from the upper part of the wide street. We look around a bit but our long and sleepless flight is catching up with us. We meander back to the hotel, stopping at a small shop near our hotel to buy bottled water. Paul and I take a nap once we are back in our comfortable room.

The group is meeting in the lobby at six p.m. and Paul and I arrive a few minutes early. Everyone else is already there except one other member. Wow, we aren’t used to being the last ones to show up. Once we all are assembled our very tall guide, Milan, introduces himself to those of us who weren’t on the pre-trip to Berlin. Milan then asks us to go around and give our names and say where we are from. When Jennifer, Paul and I have finished giving our spiel, one woman pipes up and asks if Jennifer is our daughter! Well, one member of this Kansas trio is feeling quite good after that question:).

Jennifer looking quite happy in Prague

Jennifer looking quite happy to be in Prague

Milan leads us out into the Prague night; it is already getting dark at six p.m., and talks about a few things along the way. He points out the Opera house that is very near the hotel and the Natural Museum which is undergoing renovation. We find out the busy area we were on this afternoon is called Wenceslas square and that the man on the horse is the patron saint of Prague, St. Wenceslas. This part of Prague is called New Town, never mind that it was laid out in the 14th century by whoever was King then, as a horse market!

Milan leads us away from the noisy, lit up square and takes us to a restaurant several blocks away. This is our welcome supper meant to give us a chance to visit and get to know members of our group. Oh yes, there are 14 people in this group, of those 14 there are only 3 men! Everyone but we three and one other woman, have traveled with OAT multiple times, anywhere from three to seven trips with OAT if memory serves me right. That is a good testament to OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel). I don’t recall what we had to eat that night but remember that the food was very good. Unfortunately the place was so noisy that it was next to impossible to visit with those sitting around you. Oh well we have two weeks to get to know each other. We return to the hotel around nine; well actually I think the three energetic sisters from California go off to explore Wenceslas Square. We Kansans are out of energy and ready to hit the sack so return to the hotel.

There is no rush to get up this morning as our tour doesn’t start until nine o’clock. We enjoy the breakfast buffet which has a wide variety of food from cereal, fruits, breads, eggs, cheese, bacon, and so on. I discover that the croissants are superb as is the yogurt which almost tastes homemade. If the meals so far are an indication of what is to come the old waist line will be expanding if we are not careful.

Adella our local guide and our helper at the airport

Adella our local guide and our helper at the airport

Ach, we are one of the last to appear in the lobby even though it is not quite nine o’clock. It looks like we will have to up our game to keep up with this group. Our bus and driver are waiting for us as we exit our hotel. Adella is also here and we all load on the bus where Waessik, (I think it is pronounced Veesik, hope so as that is what I called him), drives us to Prague Castle. You can’t miss Prague Castle as it dominates the landscape above the Vltava River. Before we disembark Adella warns us to keep our valuables close as there are pickpockets around. Actually, Milan has recommended that we leave most of our valuables in our room safes including our passports! Leaving my passport behind was very hard to do but he convinced us that just carrying a copy of our passports in Europe is fine.

We approach the castle from a side entrance and since we are a bit early, Adella takes the opportunity to give us some information about the castle. I will admit right now that I don’t remember much of it:). I do know Prague Castle is a Unesco World Heritage site and that this high point was chosen for building a castle back in the 9th or 10th century. The president of Czech Republic lives here today and building have been added through the century’s which has made Prague Castle the world’s largest castle complex that is still in use. Our group dutifully follows Adella in to the castle grounds. Our group enters a courtyard where we are overshadowed by a towering cathedral called St. Vitus. I do recall that it took centuries to finish this impressive building. The cathedral was started in the 14th century and finished in the 20th century (o.k. I had to look those dates up).

Inside St. Vitus Cathedral

Inside St. Vitus Cathedral

I loved the design created by the sun shining through the stained glass window

I loved the design created by the sun shining through the stained glass window

Another beautiful stained glass window

Another beautiful stained glass window

There is a large group of monks, some staring in awe at the cathedral, which helps me imagine that we are back a few centuries ourselves. We are not taking a tour of St. Vitus but we are allowed to enter the nave and we gawk at vaulted ceilings and gorgeous stained glass windows. Of course there are lots of other lookers so getting jostled is to be expected while taking a photo without being photo bombed proves to be tough.

The monks in front of St. Vitus Cathedral. Paul's photo

The monks in front of St. Vitus Cathedral. Paul’s photo

A small portion of the face of St. Vitus Cathedral

A small portion of the face of St. Vitus Cathedral

Upon leaving the interior of St. Vitus we scrutinize the exterior more carefully. The rain spouts are gargoyles and I find them very grotesque as they look like they are throwing up. The Cathedral spires are so tall I find I can’t get the whole face of the building in a photo. Adella leads us around to the side where we can kind of see the various building stages of the cathedral. There is also a cool statue of St. George fighting a dragon, along with other beautiful buildings.

Yikes, that fellow is scary

Yikes, that fellow is scary

St. Peter slaying the dragon

St. Peter slaying the dragon

Looking at St. Vitus from the side

Looking at St. Vitus from the side

Adella leads us out of this courtyard and into another area that has the appearance of a small town. There are two enormous sculptures depicting men in mortal combat flanking the gate we walk through. Across the way two real men catch my attention because they are suspended by cables from the roof top of a grandiose building. The two fellows are busy painting and even though they have a small seat to sit on it looks like an extremely uncomfortable position to have to work from.

One of many statues on the Castle site.

One of many statues around the Castle site.

Men at work. Glad it's not me.

Men at work. Glad it’s not me.

A close up look at the tethers and seats that hold the men!

A close up look at the tethers and seats that hold the men!

We walk across the street from the Castle to a restaurant, settle into the outside seating which are shaded by umbrellas and enjoy warm apple strudel. The view from our seats is stunning as we look over red-tiled roofs of the houses below. Milan points out a small white building in the distance and informs us that it sits on the grounds of the American embassy.

Restaurant across the street from Prague Castle. Paul's photo

Restaurant across the street from Prague Castle. Paul’s photo

Jennifer and apple streudal

Jennifer and apple strudel.  Paul’s photo

When we have finished our strudel, Adella tells us that it is time for the changing of the guards in front of the Castle gates and we walk back across the street where we will be close to the action. Our group along with many others watches as the blue clad guards trade places with those that have been standing for an hour in their small striped shelters without moving. How do the men do that?  Can you imagine the discipline it would take to not scratch your nose if it itches?? Once the men have swapped places and the guards that were relieved have disappeared, one of the fresh guards turns his back on us to attend to something we can’t see. Adella is astonished and tells us that this is not acceptable and she has never witnessed this behavior before. I would love to know what the heck the young man was doing.

Fresh guards being escorted to the watch stations.

Fresh guards being escorted to the watch stations.

Guard being relieved waiting until the new man is reading to assume the post. Didn't take a photo of when he turned his back on everyone.

Guard being relieved from watch duty waiting until the new man is reading to assume the post. Didn’t take a photo of when he turned his back on everyone.

Narrow cobblestone street in Lesser Town

Narrow cobblestone street in Lesser Town

Painting over a house door

Painting over a house door

It is time to move on and as we leave the Castle grounds we are astonished at the long line of tourists waiting to enter the inner courtyard. Wow does it pay to come early at these popular places. Adella and Milan take us to Lesser town from Prague Castle and we walk old, narrow cobblestone streets where the houses have wonderful paintings above the doorways. There are more beautiful buildings to be admired as we shoulder our way through other tourist groups. We reach Charles Bridge and are pleasantly surprised that it isn’t packed with tourists. There are musicians playing for tips and artists displaying their wares on the historical, statue-studded bridge. The most famous statue, St. John, has two places where the bronze gleams from tourists who rub the statue for good luck. Our group is no exception and I think most of us join in the tradition of touching the statue in hopes of good luck.

Arch leading to the foot of Charles Bridge

Arch leading to the foot of Charles Bridge

On Charles Bridge looking back at Lesser Town

On Charles Bridge looking back at Lesser Town

One group of musicians among many playing on the bridge

One group of musicians among many playing on the bridge

St. John and two bright spots where tourists rub the statue for luck

St. John and two bright spots where tourists rub the statue for luck

Once across the Charles Bridge we enter Old Town, (I know, it’s very confusing), and Adella tells us about more of the historical buildings along our path. Adella then takes us to the Astronomical Clock which is 600 years old (I think) and we stand around waiting for the clock to strike on the hour. Once the hour chimes the apostles appear one at a time in the open door and on the outside a skeleton nods and turns an hourglass over. At the very end the golden rooster gives a rather weak cock-a-doodle-doo. I can’t say this was a spectacular show but when you consider how old the clock is you have to admire it.

Old Astronomical Clock

Old Astronomical Clock

One of the apostles seen through the door that opened when clock struck on the hour

One of the apostles seen through the doors that opened when clock struck on the hour

Creepy moving skeleton

Creepy moving skeleton

Adella leaves us after the Clock spectacle and we all thank her for the wonderful morning and for sharing her knowledge of Prague with us. Jennifer and I thank her again for her help at the airport yesterday. Milan takes over now and will walk us to a restaurant for lunch. Along the way, Milan dispenses more history of Prague and the buildings we pass by.

Our guide for the whole trip, Milan

Our guide for the Jewels of Bohemia trip, Milan

One of the beautiful street views as we walked to the restaurant.

One of the beautiful street views as we walked to the restaurant.

Milan leads us through the front room of the “Restaurace Mlejnice” restaurant where people are allowed to smoke. We continue to the back room which is nonsmoking where a long table has been reserved for us. When the waiter appears to take our drink order I ask for lemonade. The waiter states “mint or lemon”. I look puzzled and tell him I want lemonade. The young man testily repeats “mint or lemon” to which I say lemon since I don’t know what the heck I would want mint for! It seems that lemonade can be flavored here. Anyway I wasn’t the only one stumped by the question from the brusk waiter. The lunch of salad, roast pork and mashed potatoes was delicious but the portions were huge. This is my kind of food!dscf5540

Next installment. Exploring Prague with our Austrian friend Birgit

I found the horse and man on the Segway an amusing contrast.

I found the horse and man on the Segway an amusing contrast. Gorgeous buildings everywhere you look.

Someone was creating bubbles on our walk to the restaurant. I just liked this photo

Someone was creating bubbles on our walk to the restaurant. I just liked this photo

That is colorful!

That is colorful!

I just liked the lantern and shadow photo too.

I just liked the lantern and shadow photo too.

Old man patiently waiting for a fish to bite. Taken from Charles Bridge

Old man patiently waiting for a fish to bite. Taken from Charles Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality Ranching August 2016

Reality Ranching August 2016

Photo taken in mid June

Photo taken in mid June

What a roller coaster weather ride we have had in our little corner of Kansas this spring and summer! We had flooding rains in May only to have Mother Nature turn the tap off for the entire month of June. June was also very hot with several 100 plus degree days that caused the big bluestem grass in our pastures to stop growing and begin to yellow in color in what should be the prime grass month in the Flint Hills. Corn, beans and milo gamely hung on (how I don’t know) and when a storm system blew through the first week of July providing the parched earth with a much-needed drink, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders.

Within two days of this wonderful rain, the pastures turned green again and the crops were noticeably taller. However, the heat came back with a vengeance and we suffered days of searing heat often accompanied by strong winds that felt as though you were in the middle of a blast furnace. Soon the pastures were again looking weary while the cattle found relief in the shade of trees or by immersing themselves in the stock ponds. We had two rains just a couple of days apart the third week of July along with a drop in temperature which raised everyone’s spirits. We knew it wouldn’t last and sure enough the heat and humidity returned with a vengeance but again we were saved by rains in August. Things really look good now especially for this time of year. Just goes to show you can never out guess what Kansas weather will bring.

Looking out our back door in mid August. Unreal

Looking out our back door in mid August. Unreal

Corn field in mid August. Notice how green the hill is in the background!

Corn field in mid August. Notice how green the hill is in the background!

I have often come home from various travels somewhat disappointed with the bird life and wildlife that seems thin compared to what we have on the ranch. One day in early June as I was listening to various bird songs drifting through the open windows of the house, I decided to walk the perimeter of our “yard” and make a list of the birds I saw or heard.

Stepping out the back door my first bird sighting was a squadron of barn swallows diving, swooping, banking, and doing loop-de-loops( well not really but I think they could if they wanted to) in pursuit of flying insects too small for human eyes to see. The reason for the bird’s frenzied pursuit of this prey is that they have mud nests in the rafters of our barns full of hungry youngsters. As I move into the yard, some of the bug-hunting parents decide I am a threat and begin dive bombing me, uttering angry bird expletives, warning me to not go near their precious broods.

Once the baby phoebe left the barn swallows moved in and raised a nest full of their own.

Once the baby phoebe left the barn swallows moved in and raised a nest full of their own.

Turning the corner of the house I peer up into the solo mud nest that is glued to the side of our house and find the single Eastern Phoebe chick peering back at me. The adult Phoebes managed to lay claim to this barn swallow nest before the rightful owners/builders of the nest took up residence. From here I look over at the hummingbird feeder where a pair of the speedy birds is taking turns sipping the sugar-water. Well, they aren’t really taking turns as one hummingbird will chase its competitor away and dash back for a quick sip, until the other winged bullet returns and chases the dining bird away so it can get a quick meal. There are four feeding stations at the feeder but the two contentious birds can’t stand to share the feeder. What a waste of energy!!

A hummingbird taking a short rest

A hummingbird taking a short rest

I wander over to the cattle corral that borders the south end of our yard where a bluebird house is attached to the fence. A male Eastern Bluebird is sitting on the fence, his blue feathers glowing in the sunlight. I’m pretty sure his mate is brooding eggs in the wooden house. Near the bluebird house are a clump of cedar and oak trees and a male Cardinal is belting out his territorial song as Chickadees insert their “namesake” chorus into the Cardinals boisterous singing.

Bluebird. I took no photos on the day of my bird inventory so these photos are from other walks around our place.

Bluebird. I took no photos on the day of my bird inventory so these photos are from other walks around our place.

Walking towards our shop/garage I find Brown-headed cowbird perching on the electric lines in another of our cow lots. I don’t care much for cowbirds as they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests leaving the rearing of their young to whatever bird is unfortunate enough to have their nests hijacked by the lazy louts. Even worse the young cowbirds will often push their step chicks out of the nest to their death. I guess the one interesting fact to this weird habit is that once the young cowbirds leave the foster parents nest the youngsters join up with their own kind without a second look back at the birds that worked so hard to raise them.

I hear a Baltimore oriole singing (it is one of my favorite bird songs) in the towering hackberry tree that stands near the shop. As I am looking for the bright orange and black bird, I spy a Robin sitting on its nest that is well situated on one of the trees sturdy branches. Cool, I had no idea that this robin’s nest was here. I do find the Oriole and watch the bird for a bit as it rustles through the leaves of the hackberry in search of bugs and worms.

I move on to the grove of walnut trees near the western border of our yard. A Red-bellied Woodpecker is pounding with brain-rattling intensity on a dead limb in one of the walnut trees but decides to fly away upon my intrusion. Walking along the wire fence I arrive at a dead tree and I am surprised to find a Nighthawk doing his best to melt into one of the lifeless limbs in order to hide from me. The camouflage of these birds really is incredible as their mottled pattern blends into the bark of the tree. It is just a bit unusual to find a nighthawk this close to the house.

Nighthawk dressed in great camouflage

Nighthawk dressed in great camouflage

Wait a minute! Why is there a bull in the little brome field? The culprit turns out to be the young bull we had put with a small group of heifers yesterday. We had turned the cattle on this brome patch and then opened the gate that leads into the pasture. When Paul saw the cattle grazing in the pasture later in the day he shut the gate. I interrupt my bird watching to inform Paul that we need to put the bull back out into the pasture with his herd, (evidently the yearling bull wasn’t too impressed with his harem), and then find out where the breach in the fence is that allowed the bull to get back into the brome patch. The silly bull decides he doesn’t want to be herded to the gate, so Paul goes into the pasture and calls out to the black heifers. Since the young heifers have been accustomed to being fed grain they come running to the gate in anticipation of receiving a bucket of pellets. Once other bovines are within sight of the silly bull he decides that walking to the other end of the small field is acceptable after all. We shoo him out the gate where he is reunited with his herd. I’m not sure, but I think the heifers would have preferred grain instead of the bull:). Paul and I figure out that the bull did not exit the brome field when the heifers did yesterday and we actually locked him in the brome field by himself overnight! I still saw birds on this unexpected detour including more bluebirds, Tufted Titmice and a wren that was scolding me from the safety of a dense bush.

The silly young bull

The silly young bull

I wander out by the vegetable garden where a chipping sparrow is hopping around on the ground. I hear a Blue-grey Gnat Catcher talking to itself in the foliage of a nearby tree but I never catch sight of the tiny bird. Leaving the garden area, I go back to our driveway which takes me by the lilac bushes which are filled with English sparrows conversing in their rather tuneless chatter. More barn swallows swoop and dive near the barn where we store mineral and a tractor. Halfway down the gravel drive I hear the nasal honking of a White-breasted Nuthatch as it scurries up and down the trunk and branches of a big old oak tree. I love these busy little birds that are as comfortable going up a tree trunk as they are walking head first down a tree trunk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

When I reach the iron gates at the bottom of our driveway a Red-tailed Hawk takes to the air from its perch at the top of a tree. This hawk has been hanging around in the general vicinity all spring. I’m surprised my yard rabbits haven’t been thinned out by the raptor. Across the road in the pasture I listen as a Dickcissel calls out its name over and over. There is also a Great Crested Flycatcher calling from one of the trees that line our driveway.

I turn around and plod back toward the house where I make another left turn once I reach the border of our front lawn. This road takes me next to the lagoon where I spy another bluebird sitting on the top wire of the fence. There are several crows flying over the treetops near the main creek, their raucous cries piercing the air like arrows. As I walk through an open gate a gorgeous Indigo Bunting flies from its perch, its brilliant blue plumage flashing in the sunlight. Continuing on I walk down to the creek crossing where a Great Blue Heron is standing like a piece of yard art in the water. He gives a hoarse croak of surprise and launches himself out of the creek. With deep, ponderous wing strokes the ancient looking fowl flies off to the south.

Great Blue heron but this photo is taken at Wabaunsee Lake

Great Blue heron but this photo is taken at Wabaunsee Lake

View from the creek crossing where I saw the Great blue heron

View from the creek crossing where I saw the Great blue heron

Returning to the road I turn right at the gate and walk the grassy path that runs along the creek for a short distance.  Our house sits maybe 300 yards north of the path I am on so I consider this part of the house grounds! I don’t see much on this short jaunt although a pair of goldfinch fly out in front of me, the male as bright yellow as a lemon drop. When I reach the cattle lots there is a Killdeer calling out plentifully as it runs around in the south lot. There is no dragging wing display so I don’t think the brown and white bird has a nest. There is also an Eastern Meadowlark sitting atop one of the trees growing in the cow lot, singing at the top of its lungs.

Purple Martins. Please come back next summer!

Purple Martin. Please come back next summer!

I have circled back to the shop and am walking toward the house when a pair of Purple Martins land on our martin house animatedly conversing with one another. I am delighted to see the Martins who showed up in our yard a few days ago. We have been putting the martin house up for several years now and there have been lookers but no takers. I have high hopes that this pair will decide this is the perfect spot for them and return to rear their young next year. Last but not least as I approach the back door of our house a House Finch is warbling from his perch in our Sycamore tree which puts a smile on my face at the sound of the pretty tune.

So, in forty-five minutes time more or less, I identified twenty-eight species of birds on our property close to the house. I was surprised not to see any Mourning Doves in the yard and I didn’t see or hear a Belted Kingfisher while near the creek. I know I would have seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Upland Sandpiper, and Red-winged Blackbirds if I had walked toward the highway once I reached the end of our driveway. Not a bad tally for such a short time! Later, Nancy

No turkeys seen on this walk but they are common. Out our back door.

No turkeys seen on this walk but they are common. Out our back door.

 

 

 

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs and Red Canyon, Utah 2016, part 5

Parowan Gap Petroglyphs and Red Canyon, Utah 2016

Today we are going to seek out the Parowan Gap Petroglyphs. This is another site that Joy researched and found on the web prior to the reunion and suggested we take one day of our trip to see the petroglyphs. We all agreed that it would be a nice change of pace so to speak!

Highway 14 over Cedar Mountain is the shortest route to our destination and this is the road Paul and Joy took to pick up Doris and Lois. The highway climbs to over 10,000 feet and there is still deep snow for several miles at the top of the mountain.  There is also black volcanic rock piled up in places, from some long dead volcano, which makes for an interesting contrast with the crusty snow.

Snowy photo taken from the car

Snowy photo taken from the car

We stop at the tourist information center in the small town of Parowan, which the woman is kind enough to open a bit early, when she notices some of our party peering in the window. The woman is very friendly, chatty and helpful as she directs us to the Parowan Gap Petroglyphs. The dark-haired women also tells us that we should  stop at the small park where dinosaur tracks can be seen in rocks just a few miles before we reach Parowan Gap.

We are driving through farm country on our way to the petroglyphs. It appears that the biggest crop around here is alfalfa. The irrigated hay crop looks quite good and in my opinion appears to be ready for harvest. We also see grazing cattle along with some farmers out preparing their fields for planting.

The Millers looking high and low for ancient dinosaur tracks

The Millers looking high and low for ancient dinosaur tracks

I found this mounded blooming cactus unusual and pretty

I found this mounded blooming cactus unusual and pretty

After ten miles over paved and gravel roads we stop at a very unassuming area with a sign proclaiming that we have arrived at the Parowan Gap Dinosaur Track Park which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are various paths that wind around and through various sized boulders that appear to have tumbled down from the rocky escarpment that towers above us. Some of the dinosaur tracks need the use of a good imagination to see them, others have a toe broken off, but there is one dinosaur print that is quite distinct. I don’t know the particulars of how the tracks were preserved after thousands of years but it is pretty cool.

The clearest track in the park with the metal track showing you what to look for in the rock

This was the clearest dinosaur track in the park with the metal look-alike print showing you what to look for in the rock

A raven has been hoarsely croaking the whole time we have been here. Scoping out the cliff face we find the unhappy bird standing on the ledge of crevice near what appears to be a nest made of sticks which explains why the glossy bird is scolding us. We also see an unconcerned jack rabbit that is kind enough to hold still so I can take a photo of this long-eared bunny.

The cooperating Jack rabbit

The cooperating Jack rabbit

We drive on down the road to the Parowan Gap Petroglyphs and Paul pulls the car into the parking lot where one other car is sitting. It appears we will not be fighting any crowds here. The first petroglyphs are just a few yards from the car.  There are placards, one quoting Native Americans and another quoting a scientist, theorizing about what all the chipped out figures stand for but another sign admits that the true meaning of this rock art likely will never be known. The density and variety of the petroglyphs on the rock faces we encounter first is almost dizzying. Despite the mystery of the meaning of the petroglyphs, the amount of time the artists must have spent pecking their art into the rocks is mind-boggling.

Rocks filled with petroglyphs

Rocks filled with petroglyphs

One of the signs with the Native American theory of the meaning of the petroglyphs

One of the signs with the Paiutes theory of the meaning of the petroglyphs

There are more petroglyphs at the other end of the gap; there really is a gap here in what is known as the Red Hills. We walk down to have a look at what are more simple works which include a deer, mountain sheep and birds. We then cross the highway and climb up to where more petroglyphs have been etched to get a close up look at the rock art since no barriers hold us back at this site.

Petroglyphs of a deer, sheep and ???

Petroglyphs of a deer, sheep and ???

A close-up look. Some moron has added their initials unfortunately

A close-up look of the petroglyphs. Some moron has added their initials unfortunately

More interesting drawings

More interesting drawings

Once we have soaked up all we can of the petroglyphs we are ready to drive to Cedar City for lunch. We make a quick stop at a Dollar Store so Doris can buy duct tape because the sole on one of her hiking boots has come loose. Paul wraps the black tape around the toe of the boot and it is good as new:).

Hurray for duct tape although none of us had ever seen this tape in black before.

Hurrah for duct tape although none of us had ever seen this tape in black before. Joy’s photo, Doris’ feet:)

After lunch we drive to Kolab Canyon which is on the north side of Zion National Park. We stop at the visitor center of course to inquire about hiking trails and show the senior pass which allows us access to the park. There is a five-mile scenic drive through the canyon and the road certainly deserves the scenic designation. We are again surrounded by rugged mountains and canyons that leave me gaping at the beauty of the landscape. At the end of the scenic road Paul pulls into the parking lot where there is a trail that we have decided to hike. The view from this overlook is fantastic and after some hesitation I decide not to go on the trek. The main reason I decide to stay behind is that it is really hot and at least from here it appears that the trail has no shade at all. Although the view when you reach the end of the mile long trail is supposed to be wonderful, I decide the beauty I can see from here is enough for me. So the four Millers leave to traverse the trail and I find a rock that is situated under the sparse shade of a pine tree to sit on while I await their return.

The Miller sibs reading an information sign on our scenic drive in Kolab Canyon

The Miller sibs reading an information sign on our scenic drive in Kolab Canyon

Information sign in the parking lot where the hiking trail began in Kolab Canyon

Information sign in the parking lot where the hiking trail began in Kolab Canyon

This view was good enough for me

This view was good enough for me

While the four are gone I basically stare at the mountains across the way and find all kinds of figures and faces in the stone. The most compelling imaginary face I see is a man with his hand covering his mouth while his index finger points toward an opening in the mountain. Hmm, I can’t help but use my binoculars to see if there is anything in that small cave the man is pointing at:). Well, I can’t see anything so I guess the stone faced man’s secret is safe.

Photo taken while sitting under the pine tree trying to stay cool.

Photo taken while sitting under the pine tree trying to stay cool.

Can you see a mans face and his pointing finger? Hint his thumb is covering his nose, there is a distinct eye and his ear is above the small opening to the cave. Good luck

Can you see a mans face and his pointing finger? Hint his thumb is covering his nose, there is a distinct eye and his ear is above the small opening to the cave. Good luck

The foursome return from there hike and Joy tells me that they have seen a Mountain Lion. Yea right, like any self-respecting cat would be out in this heat and where there are lots of people walking. There is a woman sitting on a boulder next to me, scrolling through the photos on her camera, who looks up and asks me if they really saw a cougar. I laugh and say no, they were just teasing me. This is how rumors get started!

We arrive home to stew that is devoid of liquid due to an ill-fitting lid on the crock pot. Oh well, I just dump in a couple of cups of water and the stew is still pretty good and only a little burnt on the outer edge.  Lois takes us on a delightful trip via a slide show to Cambodia and Myanmar tonight (I think). What beautiful and interesting countries. Or perhaps we visited Italy this evening where Lois did some major trekking in that lovely place. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing Lois’ photographs of the trips she took since we all met in England.

We are up in good time again as we want to get to Red Canyon to beat the crowds and hike while it is cool. To my delight there are several elk grazing in the field across the highway. I slip out onto the balcony to snap a photo. The flighty elk soon drift into the cover of the trees that edge the meadow.

Elk that were out early this morning

Elk that were out early this morning

We arrive at the visitor center well before it is open but this is not a problem. There is a trail that begins from the parking lot and the five of us set off to see what The Pink Ledges trail has to offer. The early morning light is gorgeous as it makes the interesting formations of Red Canyon literally glow. In fact the light is so brilliant that many of my photos are blown out unfortunately.DSCF4740DSCF4735

There is plenty of admiration from the five of us both verbally and through the liberal use of our cameras along the trail. We find some scrubby dead trees that humans have decorated by placing red stones in the forks of their branches. It is amazing how many rocks have been loaded in these trees. I don’t get it but have to admit I laugh at the ridiculous sight of these stone adorned trees.

One of the stone adorned trees

One of the stone adorned trees

Look at that sandstone glow in the early morning light

Look at that sandstone glow in the early morning light

Beauty around every corner

Beauty around every corner

DSCF4778

Pink Ledges Trail is not a lengthy trek but it certainly is a beautiful one, where new wonders are presented around ever bend in the gravely path. There is one place that is so picturesque that after I take a photo of the siblings, I agree to a photo of just Paul and me. Those of you who know me well know I try to stay behind a camera and avoid being in front of one if at all possible! I think Joy, Lois, and Doris all had a single photo taken with their own cameras too. As we near the bottom of the trail, Joy asks us to sniff a certain tree and see what odor comes to mind. Definitely vanilla in my opinion! Lois takes the assignment very seriously and I’m sure if a stranger happened upon us at that time their eyebrows might have raised a notch or two. It was funnier than heck and I have the photo to prove it :).

Paul and Doris looking at the trail map

Paul and Doris looking at the trail map

Group photo time

Group photo time

DSCF4773

Lois I had to include this photo. It is so funny

Lois I had to include this photo. It is so funny

When we have finished this wonderful hike we walk back to the visitor center which is now open. The human traffic has also intensified and I am so glad we were on the trail early as lots of folks are beginning to walk it now. Paul and Joy inquire about more trails, and the man they are dealing with is quite a card. After much banter between the three they finally get down to figuring out another trail for us to hike. I wander around the gift portion of the center and find a nifty jigsaw puzzle featuring rock formations from the various Utah national parks. My mom is a jigsaw puzzle junkie, so I decide to buy it for her, (she let me know recently that she finished putting it together already).

We all congregate back at the car, where I throw my purchase in the back, then we agree to trek Birdseye trail which also starts from the parking lot. We actually walk back where we finished our morning hike but veer off in the other direction to begin walking the Birdseye Trail. Along with the rise of temperature there is a definite rise in highway traffic which runs along the edge of Red Canyon. This is the one negative I have against Red Canyon, you can see and hear the constant line of cars that are traveling to Bryce Canyon.

Hiking Birdseye Trail

Hiking Birdseye Trail. Love that gnarly tree

Paul checking out the scenery

Paul checking out the scenery

Another twisted tree along the trail

Another twisted tree along the trail

This is another winning hike which we have mostly to ourselves. Hoodoos, sunlit red cliffs and gnarly trees are sights that greet us as we mosey along the trail. We soon become spread out along the pathway and I take a fork in the trail that leads me straight up a smooth surfaced mountain side. When I am nearly to the top of the mountain the path becomes barely visible plus the rock is quite slick. Obviously this trail was made by hikers getting off the beaten path. When I turn around to go back down the slippery slope I wonder what the heck I was thinking. I turn my feet slightly sideways and take short shuffling steps while using my walking sticks to help keep my balance as I make my way back down to the real trail.

Taking a short break

Taking a short break

Birdseye Trail ends at the highway’s shoulder and we cross the road and follow the biking path back to the visitor center. It is only mid-morning so Paul suggests that we try to find another hiking trail the staff member highly recommended. The road to the trail is in the direction of home anyway so the rest of us agree that we might as well go for it. We turn on the gravel road and trundle down the bumpy road for several miles. We drive past a lot where a few cars are parked but we don’t see a sign for the trail. Paul drives on and around the bend are more stunning red sandstone formations ahead of us. Somehow it is determined that we must go back to the first place we passed for The Arches trail head but that extra drive was well worth it due to the pretty landscape we saw.DSCF4845

Again there are very few people here and most have already finished the hike. We must cross a dry river bed to get to the actual trail so I keep my eyes on the ground in case there might be an Indian artifact that washed up in the river bed. No luck in finding any arrowheads unfortunately. The Arches trail is a bit challenging in places with narrow walkways or small loose gravel that can cause you to slip on descents but we all manage to stay upright. The trail has its own charm with a small arch here and there and plenty of hoodoos to look at. There are more twisted dead trees to try to incorporate into photos, mostly with no decent outcome for me though.

No signs explaining this rock structure

No signs explaining this rock structure

An arch partly obscured by tree limbs

An arch partly obscured by tree limbs

Interesting formations

Interesting formations

Rock window

Rock window

I would assume this rock will eventually be separated into hoodoos

I would assume this rock will eventually be separated into hoodoos

Paul and Joy enjoying Arches trail

Paul and Joy enjoying Arches trail

When we have completed the hike we return to the house. Paul grills hamburgers for lunch and then it is time to begin readying things for our departure tomorrow. We want to leave as early as possible in the morning as we are taking Doris and Lois to Cedar City before we begin the long drive back to Joy’s mountain home. Doris and Lois will take a shuttle to St. George where they will pick up a rental car and continue their tour of the Southwest. The two will travel to the Grand Canyon and then to Sedona and Phoenix. Paul and I of course will have another long drive to Kansas after spending the night with Joy.  It has been another fun Miller reunion and we are all looking forward to the next one. Nancy

A beautiful sunrise on our last morning in Utah

A beautiful sunrise on our last morning in Utah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A break from hiking on Day 3 and Escalante National Monument on Day 4, Utah 2016

A break from hiking on Day 3 and Escalante National Monument on Day 4, Utah 2016

Beautiful sunrise seen from the balcony

Beautiful sunrise seen from the balcony

After two days of physically pushing ourselves, we decide that today we will just kick back and relax. I am still up early enough to see a very lovely sunrise and enjoy the mule deer that come to graze across the highway or in the lush pasture by the house. Oddly enough I hardly have any photos of the deer; I guess I was more interested in the elk that came every evening.

Mule deer in the pasture next to the house

Mule deer in the pasture next to the house

Joy has convinced us that we should go play miniature golf, a tradition of the Miller sibling reunion if we can find a miniature golf course where we are vacationing. The miniature golf course Joy found online is at a resort not far from the east side of Zion National Park.

We manage to find the turn off of Highway 9 that leads to the Zion Ponderosa Resort and find ourselves climbing up into the mountains on a winding road. It is a gorgeous drive so that is a plus to our foray to play putt putt golf. When we arrive at the resort we go inside the reception area to pay the fee for using the course. Colorful balls are chosen, green for me, and golf clubs handed out.

The Zion Ponderosa Resort miniature golf course

The Zion Ponderosa Resort miniature golf course

We walk back to the tastefully designed golf course that is fashioned after the landscape around us. There are no plastic crocs whose jaws open and close, instead the course has native boulders scattered on the fairways for obstacles along with some water hazards here and there. When the game is finally concluded, Paul and Joy must have a play off since they end up tied for first. Brother and sister choose to play on the fairway where most of us put our balls into the water hazard. Joy goes first and her shot carries the ball safely past the water hole. Paul ends up hitting his ball in the drink so Joy ends up with the five dollar pot. Paul evidently is worn out from the stress of the golf game so I drive back to the ranch house.

Group shot after the golf game was over

Group shot after the golf game was over

This evening if I remember correctly, Joy’s slide shows are transferred to a flash drive and we go down memory lane to last year’s reunion in England. After having fun reliving our time touring the area around Oxford, Joy then takes us on a colorful trip to Cuba via excellent photos accompanied by lively music. Perhaps this is the night that Paul and I lose more money to his sisters when we play two rounds of “Left, right, center”, a dice game that is pure luck. Lady luck shines down on Lois and Doris I believe and they win the five dollar pots.

Beautiful light on Red Canyon rock formations.

Beautiful light on Red Canyon rock formations.

This morning we are up early as we are traveling to Escalante which is the longest distance we will drive on our Utah outings. Escalante is northeast of Bryce so we get to enjoy the fanciful formations of Red Canyon once again. We reach the Escalante visitor center after two hours on the road and enjoying looking at all the educational displays plus there is a mosaic of stunning photographs on the wall. Not far from the visitor center there is a pullout with a breath-taking view of the plateau we are traveling through. We also stop in at another visitor center; it’s very small and located in a” bump in the road” town, but I’m not sure what the name of the center was. There are displays of Native American items and Mormon settler items to peruse. The women rangers manning the desk suggest we hike Lower Calf Creek Falls trail and give us a map with directions to the trail. We also meet a French couple here who are traveling in the states in a small pickup with a camper in the bed. The reason we meet them is that there is a cat lying on the pickup dash and Joy and I are pulled as if by a magnet to go over and admire the feline. It turns out that the cat is blind and not particularly inclined to being petted by strangers. I can’t imagine traveling with a cat, let alone a blind one!

Desert landscape on drive to Escalante

Desert landscape on drive to Escalante

Scenic overview after we left the visitor center

Scenic overview after we left the visitor center

By the time we reach our destination it is late morning and the day is heating up. We are a bit confused on where the trailhead is but figure out we must walk down the paved road a ways to get to the trailhead. Paul and I don’t take a brochure which proves to be a mistake because soon our group of five is spread out along the sandy trail.

Joy reading the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail sign.

Joy reading the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead sign.

A portion of the trail

A portion of the trail

The trail is near or follows alongside a small river bed which is full of trees and greenery, literally an oasis in the desert. Birds are singing throughout the verdant valley and there is one song that is predominant throughout the hike.  I finally see one of the birds singing near the trail and figure out that the feathered troubadour is a Spotted Towhee. I have seen this bird before but I am still delighted when I not only hear but actually see several of the uniquely marked birds by the time our hike is over. There are small, drab-colored lizards that scurry over the rocks near the well maintained trail. There are numbered posts along the track marking points of interest, and if Paul and I had taken a brochure, we would know what the heck we should be looking at! Paul and I do recall that there is a petroglyph at number 9(?) and with the use of our binoculars we find the three shamans painted on a smooth mountain face across the valley. It isn’t until I see my photo on the computer that I notice a fourth figure to the right and slightly below the group of three figures.

We saw lots of these lizards on the hike

We saw lots of these lizards on the hike

Paul looking for the famous petroglyph

Paul looking for the famous petroglyph

I had to use my cameras full zoom but still got a decent photo of the petroglyph. Notice the fainter figure to the lower right.

I had to use my cameras full zoom but still got a decent photo of the petroglyph. Notice the fainter figure to the lower right.

Although a lot of this trail is fairly level there are places where there are some steep climbs or descents over rocky terrain and I am happy to have my hiking poles. We enjoy a variety of flowers in various colors that are growing along the trail, down in the valley and on rocky precipices above us. In places, Mother Nature’s arrangement of flowers, grasses, and shrubs couldn’t  look more planned than if a gardener had placed them in such a pleasing design. The mountains that edge the valley give us a wide diversity of terrain to contemplate as we hike, including thin swirly layers of sandstone, holes etched in rocks in the oddest places plus horizontal and vertical striped cliff faces.

I loved this arrangement by Mother Nature

I loved this arrangement by Mother Nature

This cactus bloom is nearly translucent in the harsh sunlight

This cactus bloom is nearly translucent in the harsh sunlight

I think this is Indian paintbrush

I think this is Indian paintbrush

I love this striped mountain face.

I love this striped mountain face.

Paul and I continue plodding along but I am getting in that childish phase of asking “are we there yet”? The falls are 2.5 miles from the trail head but it seems like we have been walking forever. I begin asking people we meet that are on the return hike how close we are to the end of the trail. The first people I question are young, fit, hikers who tell us we have about twenty minutes to our destination. Once they move on I tell Paul that means at least forty minutes for us. We move on down the trail and the next youngsters we meet and question about the distance to the falls tell us we still have a bit of a walk but soon the trail will drop down next to the small river and it is much cooler there. I must look as hot as I feel! Sure enough we do descend into shade and boy does that feel wonderful. We meet a middle age couple and kiddingly ask if there really is a waterfall on this trail. The couple laughs and agrees that the hike took much longer than they had anticipated too but that it was well worth the effort. They suggest that we take our shoes off when we get there and put our feet in the water to cool off. Gee, we really must look overheated.

Lois, Joy and Doris

Lois, Joy and Doris

A nice view

A nice view

Paul with a gorgeous layout in front of him

Paul with a gorgeous layout in front of him

We continue hiking in the wooded area with the soothing sound of  gurgling water as background music. The one downside to this part of the walk is that there are webworms hanging from the trees, many of the greenish worms dangling over the trail. Not that they bite or anything but occasionally my face connects with one of the squishy feeling buggers which is a bit gross.

There it is! We see the grand finale of this hiking trail seen through the hazy screen of greenery! We still are an eighth of a mile away probably but at least we know there really is a waterfall at the end of the trail!

Our first glimpse of the falls

Our first glimpse of the falls

Getting closer

Getting closer

Once we arrive at the bottom of the falls, Paul and I find a rock to perch on like the dozen other people who are sitting around enjoying watching the water cascading down the slick rock. I had fully intended on soaking my feet in the cool water but there are no rocks next to the pool plus it appears to be muddy next to the water’s edge. A young man and woman decide to take a swim in the inviting pool but they don’t stay in the water long, it appears that the water is very cold! The change in air temperature here is wonderful, and Paul and I are soon cooled off.

It was hard to take a good photo with half of the falls in shade and half in light

It was hard to take a good photo with half of the falls in shade and half in light

Doris, Lois, and Joy arrive a bit later and take a rocky seat. Everyone eats a snack as it is well past lunch time and our picnic lunch is over two miles away sitting in the car. Joy decides to start back after just a few minutes rest and Paul and I join her. Lois and Doris say they will catch up with us as they want to enjoy the waterfall and rest a bit longer.

Lois and Doris join the rock sitting tourists admiring the falls

Lois and Doris join other rock sitting tourists admiring the falls

The three of us encounter a middle-aged couple down the trail who assume we are birders since we are all wearing binoculars. The two ask if we saw the American Coots and their chicks that were swimming around in the stream near the beaver dams. We admit we didn’t see the birds but assure them we will certainly look for them when we reach that point. Paul and I are following another hiker, (Joy has left us in the dust), that is stopped by a couple still walking towards the falls. When they ask the person how much farther to the falls, Paul and I burst out laughing. Once the hiker tells them that they still have some distance to cover before they reach the falls, Paul and I apologize to the couple who had cast a puzzled glance our way when we were laughing. We explain to them that we too had asked several hikers the exact same question as they had, thus our laughter. We encourage them to continue as the falls as it is well worth the long walk. We visit with them a bit and they remark on the beauty of the valley, adding that a lot of the people they have seen hiking the trail don’t seem to take time to look at their surroundings. The two ask if we saw the Shaman pictographs and we reply that indeed we saw the impressive art work. The man then asks if we saw the old granary the Native Americans built in the crevice of the mountain. We admit we didn’t see that because we don’t have a pamphlet that would have told us where this ancient structure was situated. The friendly couple then gives us the number of the post which marks the granary site after which they describe where to look for the granary on the mountain face. We thank them for the information and vow to find the old structure when we reach that marker.

Another portion of the trail with the striped cliff

Another portion of the trail with the striped cliff

DSCF4585

Our group is beginning to draw near each other and we end up together where the granary is supposed to be. After following the couple’s very good description on where to look for the stone granary we soon find the structure which is in amazing shape. Paul notices a pile of similar rocks strewn around the crevice floor and we assume that another granary stood there in the past. We all ask the question, “how in the world did the natives carry their grain down to this sheltered granary tucked away on the mountainside”? Did they lower the grain and themselves over the edge of the mountain, or maybe they had steps carved down to that ledge. Whatever the answer it took a heck of a lot of work to build the granary and to get the crops to the structure for storing. Wow.

Lois, Paul, Doris and Joy taking a well deserved rest on the way back to the car.

Lois, Paul, Doris and Joy taking a well deserved rest on the way back to the car.

Soon we arrive at the beaver ponds and we begin to search for the Coots and their brood. As if on cue an adult coot emerges from a weedy area in the stream into more open water with two chicks following in the adults wake. The chicks are absolutely a hoot as they have dark bodies with fuzzy yellow down sticking out along their neck and wings. The most comical feature is a bright red/orange beak and what appears to be a pinkish bald spot on top of their heads. Why?? Most of the time bird and animal coloration makes perfect sense but sometimes, as in this case, I can find no practical reason for such brightness in the wild. The color of the chicks seem to be screaming, here I am, come and eat me! There are several more of the brightly clad chicks that don’t seem too concerned in staying with a parent. Paul also finds a pair of ducks with ducklings in the vicinity.

American Coot and two of the chicks

American Coot and two of the chicks

Enlarged photo of the coot chicks. Isn't their coloring wild!

Enlarged photo of the coot chicks. Isn’t their coloring wild!

The end of the trail is in sight and with my stomach telling me that I have had very little to eat since this morning, I find my second wind and step up my pace anxious to get back to the car and lunch. Again there are handy picnic tables near the car and my turkey sandwich sure tastes good! There are several striking White-crowned sparrows foraging around the picnic tables where we are eating to provide some entertainment too.

Our hike took nearly five hours round trip, granted that included a lot of stops for photos, an occasional stop to take a breather, and of course time to enjoy the beautiful falls. However our day is not over as there is a scenic drive depicted on the map to the town of Boulder which isn’t far from where we are. The Anasazi State Park and museum is located in this small town and this was recommended as an interesting place to visit.

After our very late lunch we situate ourselves in the car and proceed to drive the scenic road to Boulder. We are able to look down on parts of the trail we just walked as we drive the steadily climbing highway. Soon we discover why this highway is designated as scenic because along either side of the road there is suddenly nothing more than sky. We are driving what is known as the Hogback section of highway 12 and it is terrifying. I am not generally bothered by heights but it feels like the car is making its way over a tight rope plus there is next to no shoulder. Paul who does not like heights is staring at the road, (thank God), though he finds enough humor in the situation to make a quip about hoping he can find his manhood again when this drive is over. You don’t want the actual quote:). I make the mistake of commenting that if there was any crumbling under the road bed a car would have nowhere to go but down into the abyss. That observation did not go over well. We pass a turnoff called Hells backbone and I can’t imagine what that road must be like, and none of us want to find out. O.k. I did scan the vacuous space on both sides of the car on occasion and looking down on mountains was quite spectacular but it is nothing I want to experience again any time soon. Oh wait, we have to come back this way!  I couldn’t even unclench my hands to take any photos!

We finally get through that stretch of road from hell, (can you imagine having to build the darn thing?) and continue on to Boulder. We find the museum but once inside decide we really don’t want to pay the entrance fee, plus the Indian village outside of the museum is just a replica, not the actual excavation of the village they are working on. Truthfully between our long trek and that scary Hogback ridge road, I think our energy is depleted. We pile back into the suv and guess who gets to drive back over the strand of spider web highway in the sky? That would be me, as Paul says he could do it but would prefer to hand the reins over to someone else.

When we reach the Hogback section of the highway, I crowd the middle of the narrow road and never take my eyes off the pavement. There is very little traffic, (gee I wonder why:)), and surprisingly it doesn’t bother me all that much once I set my mind to driving this crazy road.  Paul says that for once he is more comfortable not driving and he is even able to look out over the open space at the scenery far below us.

The sun is riding low in the sky when we reach the rental house and after such a long day what is left of the evening is pretty low-keyed. As usual I am off to bed before the rest of the group but I don’t think they lingered too long after I hit the sack.

I might add that overall, I think this was my favorite hike of the trip. It is hard to compare them really as all were so different but Lower Calf Creek Trail had so much variety to offer. The pictograph, ancient granary, bird life, reptiles, fantastic mountains, lush trees and bushes, and of course the picture postcard waterfall!

Butterfly on the trail

Butterfly on the trail