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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.
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It began with a photo of fish.
The photo was published in the online edition of the Albuquerque Journal. I often read the Albuquerque Journal so I don’t feel so far away from home.
A glance at the file information for the photograph gives a date of June 2002. I find that so hard to believe, and yet it’s true
The photo shows three fish that got stuck when their river home dried up. A rapid New Mexico drought took all the water.
I can’t recall which New Mexico river this happened to, I probably should have kept a screen shot of the newspaper article, but even as I know that New Mexico has struggled with drought for years (and today), I was amazed and shocked by this photo.
It is difficult to believe that water could evaporate that quickly.
Here is the photo:
The image didn’t leave my head, it rattled around in there and said so many things to me. My brain worked it over and a story began to form. The feeling of trying to draw a breath but only getting New Mexico mud.
The first draft of the story “Sangre del Toro” took shape in October 2002. Wow. Thirteen years ago.
Over the years I have submitted that story off and on to contests and literary magazines. I’d dig it up, edit and polish and try again with no luck.
I believed in the story, in the character, in the image, so I kept trying. And trying. And editing and trying and so on.
I did another edit and submitted it again for another round in the publishing meat grinder this last December. I have come to understand that publishing is as much about timing as it is about quality. And that’s why I kept trying.
On February 26, I finally got a yes from a literary journal named Jet Fuel Review.
It was almost surreal to finally hear a yes in response to this story and it’s even more surreal to announce that the Spring 2015 edition of Jet Fuel is live.
You can download the entire edition here: Full Edition
Or you can read just my story here: Sangre del Toro.
Woo! Whatta rush. Very excited about this one finally seeing the light of day. It was only by searching my hard drive to find that fish photo that I realized this published piece was thirteen years in the making.
Thirteen years of believing in a kind of sad story about a little girl caught out, just like the fish.
The editors of Jet Fuel told me they thought the metaphor was a little too obvious, which is probably true. I guess they still liked it enough to publish.
And so please give it a read and support Jet Fuel. They are a great group and I am forever indebted to them for taking a chance on little Adelida.
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This is where I ate my lunch yesterday:
Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth
A velvety red couch by the beautiful Douro River in Porto, Portugal.
Wednesday was a beautifully clear warm June day. I sat on the pleasantly comfortable couch with two other people who are counterparts from another company. Two people I genuinely like.
We sat together companionably and talked and laughed and told stories. We couldn’t believe our good fortune that the couch seating was open on such a gorgeous day.
Inevitably, time passed and it was time to go back inside the Alfândega Congress Centre, a historic former customs house, and go back to work.
Deep in very businessy conversations inside the cool stone structure, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering back to that place. That seat. That sun. That perfect moment. A delicious lunch with good and decent people on an oddly but fortuitously placed couch by the Douro river. In Portugal.
On the next break I wandered downstairs and back outside. After taking a photo of that now empty red couch by the river, I went down a few granite stairs and sat closer to the water. Small wakes from passing boats gently lapped the bottom step.
Then I started thinking. Lovely thoughts on a lovely day. A workday, no less! What a lovely city in a lovely country. Just that easy. Just that difficult.
And that, my friends, is how a good memory is made.
Filed under: aeroplanes, amazing, anxiety, awesome!, awkward, bragging, business is business, cloudy, curious, drama, first world problems, Frankfurt, gratitude, gravity, iPad, iPhoneography, jet lag, kerfuffle, make it work, Obrigada, Opinions, overwhelmed, play through, Portugal, San Francisco, show and tell, thank you, the globe, The Good Man, travel, w00t, woo hoo!, worried, yes boss
Or: Tales From The Upper Deck
When word came down at work that I had approval to travel to Porto, Portugal to participate in meetings with key folks from around the world, things began to follow a usual path.
Since the place I work for gets a lot of Federal funding, we’re bound to abide by the Fly American Act, i.e. when on Federal business, fly US carriers.
No problem. I’m used to shoving my cookies onto a United Airlines jet and riding around the world, so per the norm I picked out my United flight pairs and the admin booked them. I was all set.
Because I am a little weenie and need more leg room, I like to pay out of pocket to upgrade my government bought United economy seats to United Plus economy seats.
My employer doesn’t pay for business or first class and I don’t fly enough to rack up the miles to get me there, so I ride in the back half of the plane. Economy plus at least gives my long legs a little room. A little less sardine-like.
However, when I logged into my United account and tried to upgrade my seats, I was told I could not. That I would have to wait until the day before the flight to pick out seats. What?
It took a little work but I figured out the deal. Three of my four flights on this trek would not be on United planes but a codeshare on Lufthansa.
Well hell, I’d never flown Lufthansa before so this was an adventure.
Doing some research on the Lufthansa site, I also figured out that my plane for the San Francisco to Frankfurt leg of the trip would be on an Airbus A380-800 airplane. A gigantic double decker of a holy-crap-that’s-huge airplane.
In fact, it’s the largest passenger plane flying today.
Looking up the specs of this plane online, I found people affectionately call it “the whale,” and it’s no wonder. The configuration I rode seats about 500 people.
When I was finally able to select my seats, I found that the second floor of the airplane (this airplane has two floors!!) was mostly first and business class, but the back of the upper deck had a small grouping of seven rows of economy seats. So yeah, I scooped up an aisle seat upstairs right away.
On the day I arrived at SFO, I let out an audible “wuh-huh-hoooooo” when I saw the airplane sitting at the gate. Then I became filled with anxiety. “How will that ever fly?” said my worried mind.
I wondered if my brain had anything I could compare this to. Many years ago I worked for a Lockheed Martin site that was right next to a military airstrip. Every once in a while the military would practice “touch and goes” with various planes and pilots. We’d drag our desk chairs outside and watch the show.
What I’m trying to say is, I’ve seen a fully loaded C-130 execute a touch and go, so yeah, I realized that the A380 could certainly fly. And I was going to get on it.
As I walked down the jetway to the plane, my heart began trip hammering. I always have a moment of pause before boarding any plane but this was different.
I stepped through the nice wide doorway and saw a beautiful gleaming white staircase front and center. “Ah, that must be how I get up there,” I thought.
The oversmiling male flight attendant looked at my ticket and informed me that I needed to go all the way to the back of the plane and find a staircase there.
In other words, your economy-seat riding ass don’t climb these stairs, honey.
Fair enough. I set off on my journey to the back of the plane. I stopped rest once or twice. I had snacks to keep my energy up. I may have camped out overnight. Jesus, that’s a big airplane.
Finally I reached the end of the plane and scurried up the stairs, then slid into my seat.
It was still an economy class seat so it fit tight around the hips. I got snug like a bug in there as the plane began to push back from the gate.
The Lufthansa A380 features three live cameras, one on the nose pointing forward, one on the tail also pointing forward, and one on the belly looking straight down.
Here is a terrible quality image. It’s a photo taken with an iPad of my screen on the plane as we are somewhere over the Labrador Sea. It’s enough that you can see what the view from the tail camera looks like:
I wanted to stick my hand out the window and wave to the camera, but that’s mostly frowned upon
It was mildly surreal to watch this behemoth take off from a bird’s eye view but I was fascinated.
Once aloft, I began to realize why non-US carriers rock the casbah. It’s one word: alcohol. The wine flows freely on non-US airplanes. I had flown a Singapore Airlines plane a few years ago and was gently surprised at the wine served with meals. The Germans have the Singaporeans beat. Wine with snacks, wine with dinner, brandy and irish crème after dinner.
All of this is a plot, however. They ply you with food and booze then turn down the cabin lights. Pretty much everyone falls asleep right away. Except me, I have a flaw in my DNA. I can’t sleep on a plane. Not even a long haul. Nope.
The Good Man shares this flaw and it’s good when we travel together because we entertain each other like little kids while everyone else sleeps. Sadly on this trip I was alone.
The flight attendant overseeing our little cozy area of economy class seats was a rockstar. He noticed I was the only one awake and didn’t let up on the top-notch service. He checked in on me constantly and brought water, juice, snacks and some cookies that seemed way too delicious for economy class.
Even though I was packed into an economy seat I felt spoiled like a little princess up there, inside the white whale.
When she touched down in Frankfurt I was reluctant to leave my cozy little seat and my white glove service. It was a gentle landing as the plane beast docked next to its siblings.
That was one of the most comfortable and happy international flights I have ever known and I am sure I will reflect back on it for years. It has become the high water mark by which all other flights will be measured.
Sadly, when going home from this journey, the Frankfurt to San Francisco leg will be on a plain old United jet, a Boeing 747-400. That plane also has a second deck, but only the pish-posh get to sit up there.
I’ll be seated among the cattle, in an economy plus seat but still among the unwashed. No first class cookies for Karen on the way home.
I think I’ll write a nice letter to Lufthansa to tell them how much I appreciated the flight attendant. As I have learned in my short time in Portugal, I will extend a hearty obrigada (i.e. thank you or much obliged) for his attention and job well done.
And I will wistfully dream of my time inside the whale, a modern day Jonah high above the bustling world.
Thar she blows!
Filed under: addictions, amazing, awesome!, Bay Area, beautiful, bragging, Celebration, cookies, good eats, gratitude, hellidays, Las Cruces, latent childhood, life, Love, make it work, melancholy, New Mexico, Opinions, show and tell, simpatico, sugar & fat & salt, thank you, where I come from, zia
I think it’s time to re-run what has to be THE most popular post ever in the six years of this blog.
It originated in a fit of the holiday blues and a massive case of homesickness back in December 2007.
It’s all still true. Every word on this list applies in 2013. Pretty much all of the links were broken, so they have now been updated. I also gave 2007 me a light edit. Who was I with the two spaces after every period?!
Special thanks to @NewMexiKen on Twitter for recently tweeting out a link the 2007 post. You rock!
1) Annual shopping trip to Old Town. A mom and me tradition. Every year I’d get to pick out an ornament that was mine. I now have all those ornaments in a Thom McAnn shoebox that, yes, Sunday night I opened and hung them all on my tree. They are like a history of my life. I remember buying most of them and it gives me a good sense of continuity to have them on my tree.
2) Luminarias. I was the one who made them at my house. My mom would drive me to an empty lot to dig up two buckets worth of dirt and I’d fold bags, place candles and light them. It was my job and I loved every second of it, every folded bag, every candle that caught the bag on fire. So beautiful.
3) The Bugg House, which, sadly, is no more. My sister lived over on Prospect and we’d go for a Christmas Eve walk in the evening to take a look at the outstanding display of holiday spirit. When I would go to Winrock Mall to shop, I’d always swing by the Bugg house to take a look. I miss it so much.
4) Neighbors bringing a plate of fresh made tamales as your Christmas gift. When you get three generations of Hispanic women in a kitchen with some masa and some shredded pork (and lard, gotta have lard), magic happens. Yum! I also miss that people would come to work with tamales in a cooler and sell them to coworkers. I was always good for a half dozen or more.
5) A ristra makes a good Christmas gift. I’ve given. I’ve received. I love ’em. They’d become a moldy mess here in the Bay Area, and that makes me sad.
6) Biscochitos. My love for these is well documented. (2013 edit: I made a huge batch on Sunday and shared them with coworkers today. Now they are cookie zombies asking me if I have more. 505 represent!)
7) Sixty-five degrees and warm on Christmas Day. I think one year there was actually snow on the ground for the 25th, but it was melted by the end of the day. Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love your weather.
8) Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Spanish with the overpowering scent of frankincense filling up the overly warm church. Pure torture for a small child, but oh how I’d belt out the carols. And then when we came home after church, we could pick one present and open it. The rest had to wait for Christmas morning. Gah! The torture of picking just one!
9) New Mexico piñon, gappy, scrawny Christmas trees that cost $15 at the Flea Market and were cut from the top of a larger tree just that morning. Look, to my mind, it ain’t a tree unless you are using low hanging ornaments to fill the obvious gaps. These fluffy overly full trees just ain’t my bag. If you ain’t turning the ‘bad spot’ to the wall, you paid too much for your tree.
10) Green chile stew for Christmas Eve dinner and posole for New Year’s. My mouth waters. It’s weep worthy. I can taste the nice soft potatoes in the stew, the chicken broth flavored just right. So amazing. And posole to bring you luck with red chile and hunks of pork. Yum!
Which is not to say I don’t have happy holidays where I live now, but sometimes I feel melancholy.
Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love and miss you so.
Image via The Vintique Object Blog.