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by Karen Fayeth

Sweet Gentle Prague

It was just a week ago yesterday that I found myself in the world class city of Prague with a personal day on my hands.

The work part of the trip had been both busy and exhausting. My coworkers all left for home that morning but I had a tourist Friday ahead of me. The challenge: To see as many of the must-see Prague sights as possible in one day.

Now just eight days later, it seems almost like a dream.

A week ago it was very real. So real I had a fair bit of anxiety and no idea what lay ahead. The Good Man managed to talk me down from nine timezones away and with a deep breath, I screwed up my courage and headed out of the hotel room.

As luck would have it, there happened to be a Metro station right under the hotel.

So this is where my journey began:



A simple suburban Metro station that would take me *everywhere*

The hotel where I stayed is in the suburbs of Prague, but the Metro is so damn good it was a less than fifteen minute ride and I emerged at the bottom of Wenceslaus Square.

I had done some reading before arriving in Prague and I knew a bit about Wenceslaus Square.

Well, I knew three things:

Thing 1) The square is dominated by a statue of King Wenceslaus. As in “Good King Weceslaus blah blah, on the feast Stephen, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh, deep and crisp and even…”

What the hell is that song even about, anyway? Wait, let’s hold that question for another time.

On that day, I knew that Saint Wenceslaus is considered the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

So I walked uphill and gawked at the shops and restaurants and soon found myself in the shadow of the Good King and his steed.



That there is a gooood king

Thing 2) Wenceslaus Square is incredibly historic, considered the very heart of the city of Prague, and it is a World Heritage Site because it was on that very square in 1989 that the Velvet Revolution happened.

What is the Velvet Revolution, you say? I’m so glad you asked.

The Velvet Revolution is when the then Czechoslovakia decided it had had just about enough (MORE than enough) and threw off Communist rule. They then became their own self-managed country with a parliament.

This is a very, very big deal. It utterly changed the course of the Czech people. For the better.

I have a coworker who grew up in Prague. She left as a teenager in 1984. She said, “We had to leave. We had so much despair. We believed it would never change.”

It would eventually change, but it would take a few more years.

So I stood on this square, a lost little girl from New Mexico, and thought about how much happened right where my feet stood. How these people took back their own destiny.



See where all those tourists are? History happened there.

Thing 3) At the top of Wenceslaus Square, behind the statue and in front of the museum something particularly sad and historic happened.

In 1968, a student named Jan Palach protested the invasion and eventual fall of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union during what was called the Prague Spring. He did so by committing suicide by self-immolation.

“…Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the ‘demoralization’ of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.” – from a doctor who treated Palach (wiki)

I think that sense of demoralization and despair runs strong through the history of the Czech people. In my experience, they are a very laid back and easy going people, but there is that sadness underneath. Well, maybe not sadness, just…world weary.

I wanted to find the small marker of Palach’s history that is embedded in the brickwork in front of the museum. I have to say I was greatly moved. There were flowers at the site, meaning people still remember and still care about what he did.



This is a simple but powerful marker

Well, that was a bit of a dark start to my day of exploration, but it also really touched me.

From there, I hopped back on the Metro and made my way to Old Town Square. The mood and attitude in the Old Town area could not have been more different.

The Old Town Square is beautiful, but incredibly overrun by tourists. Okay, sure, I was also a tourist, but you get what I mean.

Along with tourists there were an awful lot of flim-flam men (and women), grifters and pickpockets. At one point I stopped to look at maps on my phone to see if I was heading the right direction, and saw no less than three people make a move toward me.

San Francisco is a tourist town and I’m fairly used to this sort of untoward behavior, so each person got my patented City Stink Eye. The one that lets people know I am not to be trifled with.

They soon backed up, but that kind of predatory behavior was pretty rampant in the Old Town area. I was waving off sellers, beggars and all around questionable sorts left and right. I also kept a firm grip on my bag as I heard from several places that the pickpocketing is quite bad.

The main reason to be in Old Town, apart from admiring the amazing architecture, was to see the Astronomical Clock located at the Old Town Hall building.



Of course my favorite part was the skeleton

This clock was installed in 1410. Um, what? 14 freaking 10? Wow.

As luck would have it, I was there at about twenty minutes to the top of the hour, so I waited with all of the many tourists, in the rain I might add, to watch the clock’s mechanics at the top of the hour. A skeleton rings a bell, the animated figures come to life, and above the clock statues of the twelve apostles zip by and look out the windows.

It was very quaint and lovely, and I’m glad I saw it. Not much more to say than that. More than a Clark Griswald shrug, less than rapturous delight.

After taking some photos of the beautiful buildings on the square, I then made my way onward to the Charles Bridge.

The most famous of the bridges across the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge began construction in 1357.

You know how sometimes Europeans give Americans a wry smile when we talk about our deep history? Yeah, this is why. In 1357 they were building bridges that would safely transport my tired little toes across the same river some 659 years later. America wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Columbus in 1357.

The stroll across the bridge was certainly lively. Lots of people, lots of selfie sticks (ugh), quite a few pickpockets and an awful lot of Catholic statues. Like, a LOT of Catholic statues.

Felt like I needed to go to confession when I got to the other side, ba-dum, tish!

It was hard to pick just one photo from my walk across the river, but let’s go with this one:



The walk across the bridge was quite pleasing especially since the rain had moved on and a bright blue Czech sky emerged. Quite lovely.

The part of Prague on the other side of the bridge is known as Lesser Quarter, which I find quite a rude name. There was nothing lesser about this side of the bridge in my opinion. It is much quieter, calmer and less busy. It suited me just fine.

At this point, my legs, feet and bladder asked nicely if we could stop, so I landed at a coffee shop.

Over a lovely icy coffee, I tweeted exactly how I felt in that moment on that day.



As my legs relaxed, I listened to a group of four Czech students argue and debate and I watched life happen outside the glass door. I felt enormously contented. It’s those moments I will remember long after I’ve come back to my regular life. It’s those moments I wait for on each international trip I take. It’s what makes all of those long and ugly plane miles worth it.

Yeah. Seriously, may I never forget how good I felt in that moment.

Now fortified, I moved on to my last stop of the day, St Nicholas Church.

The guidebook I pondered over coffee told me that it was a beautiful example of a baroque church. I do like to see some of the old and over the top churches in Europe, so I was game.

The guidebook also mentioned the bell tower at the church. How it had been used by the communists to keep an eye on the American Embassy nearby, and that it offered some of the best views in all of Prague.

Impulse overtook me and I smacked down 90 koruna for a ticket and began climbing the stairs.

What in the utter hell was I thinking? One, my legs were already tired, two I’m in okay shape but stair climbing is tough, and three my asthma was like “hey, what’s up?”

But I kept climbing the spiral stairs and narrow ladders until it got more and more exhausting and claustrophobia inducing (and I don’t often struggle with claustrophobia).

At more than one point I had to remind myself that I managed to get myself into this situation and had to figure out how to get myself out.

My bullish determination kicked in and I made a promise I would make it all the way to the top.

Along the way I found the watchmen’s quarters, a sparse room with a small bed, rough wood table and open brickwork fireplace.

When there were windows, I looked out then kept climbing. Finally, I could smell the fresh air of outside and found myself at a narrow deck that encircled the tower. There was a guide there and she told me to go outside (I didn’t understand what the signs meant and had hesitated).

Wow. Truly. Wow. I was stunned at seeing all of Prague laid out before me.



The sky stippled with clouds and the sun began its slow descent toward the end of the day and there I stood taking it all in.

And hey, I wasn’t even at the top of the tower yet. After taking quite a few photos with both of my cameras, I kept climbing. The very, very top of the tower, at the end of 215 steps, was less interesting. It was low ceilinged, cramped, stuffy and the windows were small.

So I went back down to the narrow deck and took another spin.

With that, I declared myself done for the day. Ready to head back to the hotel.

I came down all 215 steps a lot faster than I went up and made myself dizzy. Wobbly on my pins, I chose instead to stop for some dinner and I’m glad I did. I found a funny little restaurant where they treated me nice and I ate something they called Slovak gnocchi, which a short Google search later assured me is actually a thing.

A very delicious thing.

I wanted to have a nice Czech beer alongside, but worried a beer would drop me right to the ground so I opted for something milder.

After eating my fill, I set out back across the Charles Bridge. The mood on the bridge had changed. I crossed east to west at about 2:45pm and came back west to east at close to 6:00pm. There were more people out and the Friday revelry had begun. It was funny how quickly the mood had shifted.

On the way back, I made sure I touched the two lucky spots on the bridge, once with my left hand for my husband, the southpaw, once with my right hand for me.



One of the two lucky spots, though a bit grim. So this priest was thrown in the water…

A nice twilight stroll and I soon found myself back at a Metro station waiting to head back to the hotel and the end of my stay in Prague.



There are quite a few more things I wish I could have found time to see while in Prague. The Apple Museum, the castle, and the art gallery, to name but a few, but I was grateful to have one full free day to see the best of what Prague had to offer.

Prague is a gorgeous, easy and fun city. I loved every minute of my time there and wonder if someday I will ever find my way back.

I suppose I can dream.

Meanwhile, at a week later I think my legs have finally recovered. Seriously, 215 stairs? C’mon!

And to the good people of Prague, I say děkuji for treating me so very well.






All photos ©Copyright 2016, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with either a Canon G10 or an iPhone6.





Log, Log, It’s Big, It’s Heavy, It’s Wood

The photography club I attend monthly has been going through a lot of flux over the past year. A few of the main members have left (retired, mostly) and new folks have joined. We have a new leader and he’s got a lot of ideas. It’s a lot of change. For the good, I’m sure, but change anyway.

I’ve talked a bit about this group. It’s made up of both scientists and engineers and is overwhelmingly male. These guys are very much tech head photographers who are all about gear and photographic perfection. Their photos are technically precise but in my opinion lack emotion…which suits them just fine.

It’s a debate we have a lot in the meetings. Art vs Technical. Let’s just say, my storytelling approach to photographs is in the way, way minority. I can often actually *hear* eyes rolling as one of my photos rolls across the screen during critiques.

I have learned a lot from this group. I work hard to make my photos better. To improve. To get technically cleaner. That said, in some ways, I also like to goad them. Poke the tiger with a stick.

One of the things we seem to struggle with as a group is our monthly theme. It’s hard to come up with jazzy ideas every thirty days. This year’s themes are some good and some weird. All are great in my opinion. I love being challenged.

A few of the more rigid photographers aren’t having as much fun with the themes as I am.

For March, our theme was “wood.” Seems easy, doesn’t it? But it’s harder than you’d think to come up with a good, unique, and well crafted photo of wood. It’s almost too broad.

We get two entries each month. I did one that was a bit more “clean” though it still could use some technical work. And I did one storytelling photo.

Neither were very well received.

Presented for your perusal:


Palm, Pine, Maple, and Telephone


Copyright ©2016, Karen Fayeth


I presented this as a study of the wood types found in my neighborhood, each pattern more interesting than the last.

Ok, the image has a joke there at the end. And with the title I was yanking their chains, as these nature photographers get quite sniffy about the precise genus and species of flora and fauna they photograph.

This photo garnered four votes in our monthly contest. Not terrible, but not close to winning either.

Here is my other shot. I very much enjoy the story in this one. It got one vote. (At least it got one?)


Log


Copyright ©2016, Karen Fayeth


When faced with the conundrum of properly conveying the feeling of “random log in parking garage,” I chose to go with moody.

This photograph was not subjected to Instagram filters. A color photo of this wooden beauty was lightly desaturated then pulled into Photoshop for burn and dodge to bring out those beautiful loggy highlights.

The squarish shape is due to cropping out surrounding cars.

I really love this photo. I mean…why the hell is there a log in the parking garage at work?

Also, could this BE any more perfect for the theme of wood? Nailed it!

One vote. At least one other photography club member gets it. It’s something to build on.





Both photos are Copyright ©2016, Karen Lingua. All taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app. First photo also utilized the free photojoiner.net site to combine the photos. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.





The Awkward Chronicles

It seems as each year goes by, I get a little more awkward. I mean, I’ve never really been cool as the other side of the pillow, but over time it seems it’s tougher and tougher to just, you know, maintain.

Yesterday, I heard that one of our young intern employees will be leaving the company. I don’t know the guy that well, but he helped on a few projects I worked on and I found him to be an all around good person and hard worker.

As a manager and mentor, I wanted to stop by to thank him for his work, encourage him in his next role and offer to be a reference if he needed.

It’s the kind of thing I wish a few more people in leadership roles would have done for me in my career. I certainly remember with much gratitude those that did.

So I had a good opportunity during the busy day yesterday. I walked to his cubicle and stopped to ask, “Hey, I hear you are leaving tomorrow?” When he confirmed, I said, “Just wanted to thank you for your hard work and support. You have been invaluable to us. I hope you are able to find a new position very quickly. You will bring so much value wherever you land next.”

He thanked me and started talking about how he really loves the culture here at our company and how he has liked the job and hopes he finds something equally supportive. And how much he appreciates all of the leadership here and……you get the drift.

As he’s talking, my left eye began to betray me. I have terribly dry eyes and it’s also allergy season. Before I knew it, a tear welled up and slid onto my cheek.

And the kid noticed. He saw the tear and kind of stopped speaking.

“Um,” *awkward laugh* “Yeah, sorry man,” I said as I wiped the tear away. “I’m not crying, it’s just allergies.”

“Oh.” He said, trying to be nice but now a little weirded out.

“Hey, you know, dry eyes, allergies, kind of funny right! Like I’m so broken up right now because you are leaving, ha ha ha….” Then I awkwardly reached out to lightly punch him in the arm.

Which he awkwardly took to mean I was going in for a hug.

So yeah. There was a clumsy punch-hug thing that happened. I quickly stepped back and said “Hey, yeah, good luck! Let me know if you need a reference or anything!” and then scuttled off like the bottom dwelling weirdo that I am.

Lots of people might say, “But Karen, these kinds of things happen to everyone sometimes.”

I might reply with a maniacal laugh, “If only these kinds of things happened sometimes. How about all the time?”

So, let’s bright side this thing: 1) No one else saw this sad awkward exchange, 2) the guy is leaving the company and so I only have to face him in the break room for one more day and 3) odds are low our paths will cross again soon. I mean maybe, but it’s unlikely.

Okay, I’m grateful for my blog-as-confessional as a place to work out the feelings around these kinds of things.

Onward to my next awkward encounter!




Nah man, it’s totally allergies. I swear!




Photo by Fred Fokkelman and used royalty free from freeimages.com.




Too Much Time On My Hands

Perfect posting for a Friday…

On Monday I had an early morning video call with a company in London. Oh those pesky time zones. Did you know that the US and the UK go to Daylight Savings Time (British Summer Time) about three weeks apart, and the US goes first? Monday was the first workday after the US moving ahead an hour, while the UK didn’t.

Yeah, I remembered that in the small hours of the morning and quickly dashed off an email to sort out the timing. Thankfully everything worked out.

To prepare for the video conference, I got up extra early and came into the office to set up and test all of my video gear. I just moved into an office a couple weeks ago and my video gear was in a heap in a drawer. Great.

I was able to quickly get it set up and tested and then ten minutes before the call, I was ready to go.

Ten minutes. That is a funny amount of time. Not enough time to really get anything going with work. I mean, I could have dived into email but then I just knew I would get engaged in something and would lose track of time.

But ten minutes is also kind of a long time to sit around and do nothing.

So I did what any adult professional in my situation would do. To “test” my video camera set up, I fired up PhotoBooth on my Mac and played with the effects.

I tried the one with hearts around the head, then the birds around the head. I tried the one that gave me frog eyes and one that produced a disturbing cartoonlike square jaw.

But none were quite as impressive as this. Let’s call it Alien Accounts Receivable Clerk. And your payment is overdue.



“Please remit payment or I will be forced to terminate your account”


So yeah, when the top of the hour finally rolled around, I entered the video conference still giggling.

A little too jolly for a fairly serious meeting with stoic Brits. *Ahem*

But I cleaned up my act, greeted the others on the call and then behaved like a grown up for a WHOLE HOUR!

Amazing. (hee, hee)





Photo ©2016 Karen Fayeth, taken with the PhotoBook App on my Mac and ten minutes of downtime plus post Daylight Savings Time exhaustion on my hands. Subject to the Creative Commons License in the right corner of this page.





Yeeeup

File this under “The Joys of Owning a 15-Year-Old Vehicle”

Yesterday was a weird day. I mean, when you are me most days are weird, but yesterday was especially so.

To kick off the festivities, I forgot my work badge and had a meeting in a special super secure location. It was okay, I simply had to run the security gauntlet which included one security guard keeping a sharp eye on me while the other spoke in low tones to the Human Resources Department.

Turns out I’m still an employee so they grudgingly let me through.

After the meeting, I went back to my building and because I didn’t have my badge, I couldn’t get into the garage. The alternative was to park on the street outside.

After parallel parking, I gave my car a visual sweep because this neighborhood has a pretty bad smash and grab problem. Satisfied that there was nothing of any value in the Jeep, I headed inside.

At the end of the day, weary from a long day of solving other people’s problems and fighting fires, I walked to my car to discover that during the course of the day someone had smacked hard into the back bumper of my beloved hoopty. Someone in a white car by the looks of the stripe now tattooed into my black bumper.

Joke is on them, under that bumper is a solid steel towing package that is attached to the frame of my treasured Jeep. My bumper is a bit dented but they caught the worst of it, that is for certain.

With a sigh and a shrug, I got into the driver’s seat and I thought “something looks different.” My tired eyes roved around the Jeep, heart sinking, expecting something bad.

That’s when I saw my rearview mirror wedged between the passenger seat and the floor.

They smacked my bumper so damn hard it knocked the mirror off my windshield! Sonovabiscuit!

Let’s be fair, at fifteen years of age that mirror likely wasn’t very strong in it’s moorings anyway. But kind of a nuisance to see it laying on the floor.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I never really realized how often I look in the rearview mirror when I drive. It’s a lot. Which I suppose is good.

On the plus side, with no mirror in my line of view it was a lot easier to see the crazy college kids who rabbit out from between cars in my neighborhood. Next week is their Spring Break so they are especially hoppy lately. (nothing compared to finals week though, oh my)

So yeah, my tired old Jeep is a little worse for the wear. I will call in an insurance claim because parking around here is so weird that this isn’t first smacking the bumper has taken.

The insurance claim is a crapshoot, the cost to fix it may be more than the vehicle is worth. We’ll see. Maybe they can factor in how much the vehicle means to ME? Anyone? Huh?

Ah well, I have the side mirrors to guide me home and some sort of made up inspirational quote about not looking too much in the rearview.

Or something.




And I thought happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my rearview mirror.





Image found on Pinterest, attribution included on the image.





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