Prague: last day (sob)

Published January 7, 2014 by Charlotte McClain

Since we had done everything we planned, we lingered over breakfast and then spent a while sitting in the room after packing everything up. After checking out, we went out to revisit anything we might have missed. We really hadn’t missed anything. Not that Prague is short on sites, it’s just that they’re all very close together. So it was back to Wenceslaus Square and back to Old Town Square and back to the Charles Bridge. My companion wanted to get a kolbasi sandwich until she realized that it was walking food so we went to a restaurant and had a plate. I have determined that Czechs do not like vegetables. The first meal I had here was pork loin and dumplings. No vegetables. The second meal was goulash with dumplings. No vegetables. The third meal was pork ribs. Those came with a vegetable if you count the raw onions or the horseradish. I ate the horseradish as it was excellent, but not the onions. The fourth meal was pork rids at a different restaurant. This came with a couple pieces of lettuce, which my companion thought was for garnish, but I ate them anyway. This last meal was an eight-inch chunk of kolbasi with mustard and horseradish, which was, if anything, better than the last horseradish.

Once it started getting dark we set off for the hotel to wind out the last few hours before pick up for our flight and naturally got lost. I figured no matter which way we turned in that part of town we were going to get near where we needed to be and lo we turned a corner and were at the foot of We    nceslaus Square.

And travel days still suck, but this one not as much. We ended up lingering in the hotel bar for 6 hours before our driver arrived, but it was a straight flight back to Abu Dhabi so no long layover and I had the window seat so I managed to sleep a lot. The new E-gate system was super fast. We got to skip the enormous Immigration line and breeze right through. The luggage arrived about the same time we did. The drive home was uneventful. Then I just had to stay awake until I could go to bed and completely miss what festivities there were. Did I mention we arrived home on New Year’s Eve? Fire works? What fire works? Didn’t hear a thing.

And now a few things I had to share.

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Ham. Four hams. Four hams roasting over an open fire. Mmmmm, ham.

 

 

 

 

 

On the first day of our trip one of the other memebers of our tour group asked about this pastry she had seen on the street, but didn’t know the name of. She said someone told her and it sounded like “turtleneck.” Jana, our guide started laughing. Trdelnik! In Czech slang a trdelnik is someone who has a good heart, but is kinda stupid. I looked at my travel companion and said, “New code word!” So should you ever hear me say someone is a turtleneck, you will understand. Trdelniks are beyond tasty. Just pastry dough wrapped around these huge wooden rods, rolled in sugar and almonds and hung over coals to roll, really fast, until they are browned on all sides. I didn’t have one until the last day and I’m very glad I didn’t or I would have been snarfing then down everyday and all the walking in the world would not have saved my hips.

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These last two shots amuse me. Jana, our first guide, was pretty young. She was still in elementary school at best when communism fell. To her it was history like bell bottoms, pill box hats and flappers. Our WWII guide was about my age and in high school or college when communism fell. He remembered textbooks that had been rewritten and had lots of fun tidbits about where the KGB used to operate and the biggest statue of Stalin in the world that was not quite finished when Brezhnev started saying that maybe, possibly Stalin was a teensy bit wrong and all those deaths were a bad idea. He sort of viewed commission like you might view a slightly crazy uncle who smelled funny and was a little scary, but doesn’t visit anymore.  The tour guide who took us to Terezin, she was an adult when communism fell and she hated it with a personal fire. As we waited for the bus, she pointed out the National Museum at the top of Wenceslaus Square, particularly the light spots. It seems that in 1968 during Prague Spring the Soviets decided to fire on the Prague Parliament. They took aim and shot – the National Museum. The parliament building is no where near Wenceslaus Square and it does actually say in huge letters over the door “Museum Regni Bohemiae.” One can only assume that the person responsible could not read Czech. Either that or he didn’t want to move the tank all the way across town so he could shoot at the right building. The second picture is the monument to Wenceslaus with a picture of Vaclav Havel in front of it. In front of that are candles in memorial to the two students who immolated themselves in protest of the Soviet clamp down. Behind the monument is the National Museum. The actual memorial to the students in set in the sidewalk where they set themselves on fire in the form of two lumps in the bricks connected by a cross.

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Prague: Day Four

Published January 6, 2014 by Charlotte McClain

Sunday we had decided to go on a WWII tour, but my companion wanted to attend mass so we went to the later tour. The guide was fantastic and had visual aids. He had his exact spots on the sidewalk picked out so that we kept ending up facing exactly where he wanted us looking.

 

 

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This is the Prague Town Hall. The left picture is pre-WWII. I took the right picture. There was no blitz in Prague because there was no heavy industry in the city. One bomb did hit the city, but that was a squadron of American fliers got off course in the clouds and mistook Prague for Dresden. There are no hard feelings. If my tour guide is anything to go by, the Czechs probably would have invited bombing if it meant getting the Nazis out of their country. But that’s not what happened to the town hall building. After World War II was declared over and while the Czechs were waiting for the Soviets to come collect the Nazis, the Nazis were trying to get away from the Soviets. They weren’t stupid. Americans might try them and put them in jail, but Stalin was going to ship them to a gulag that would make Terezin look like a seaside vacation. The Czechs also knew the score and really wanted the Nazis in the hands of the Soviets. There was fighting for four days and during that fighting the town hall was set on fire and the majority of it was destroyed. Just as a fun aside, the KGB used to use the bell tower of the town hall to watch the Czechs.

czpr017-2When taking the above picture, the Alphons Mucha Museum was directly behind me and this unassuming building was to my left. Why have I included a picture of this particular building? Because then Albert Einstein was teaching at Charles University he lived there. Honestly, you can’t go five steps in Prague without stepping on some significant spot. Oh yes, when Einstein was living here, he was hanging out with Kafka.

 

Prague: Terezin

Published January 5, 2014 by Charlotte McClain

DSC02862We had an appropriately gloomy day for our trip to the WWII Jewish Ghetto. A bus picked us up at our hotel and took us to the tour offices. Several tours were scheduled to start at the same time so for a while there was a large group of miscellaneous tourists standing around before we were divided into language and tour destination groups and loaded onto buses. As we waited my travel companion and I fell into conversation with the lone gentleman who was also at our hotel, but we discovered later, not on our tour. Turned out he works as a recruiter for Sprite in Texas. My travel companion’s husband will be looking for work in a few months. Texas is at the top of their short list for destinations. The recruiter then asked ‘would you be willing to live in Dallas though?’ Apparently, this is a sticking point. My companion and her husband are perfectly okay with it though. At that point the tour company finally had their act together and started separating us onto buses so I encouraged her to chase him down before he got away and get his info, which she did. Twenty-first century job hunting at its best.

Terezin is an hour outside of the city. Add to that, the bus driver didn’t really know how to get there. We took a circuitous route through Praha 2 before heading out of the city in the correct direction. We passed the location where Heinrich Reinhardt, father of the Final Solution, was assassinated by three members of the Czech Resistance. We also passed some Soviet apartment blocks. Uglier than advertised.

The first stop at Terezin was the Jewish Cemetery. This is not an extermination camp, but overcrowding, overwork and malnutrition will do the job without the use of harsh chemicals. First, they were burying bodies. Then they built a crematorium and put the ashes in wooden urns. Then they couldn’t make urns fast enough so they started using “paper urns.” The only image that came to mind was a manila envelope, but one hopes not. The mortuary was locked because of the season so we didn’t get to go inside.

The secondDSC02864 stop was the ‘little fortress.’ Terezin was originally built as a fortress for the Franco-Prussian Wars, but the wars were finished before the fortress was so the Hapsburgs used it as a political prison. That certainly made it easy for the Nazis to retrofit when they started moving their own political prisoners in. Our guide had an uncle (or possibly great uncle) who was a prisoner there. He died from the brutal treatment. Her aunt, arrested at the same time, got off comparatively easy. She was taken to Berlin where she was tried and executed. The first commandant the Nazis installed wasn’t a bad guy. He and his wife smuggled in messages for the prisoners, tried to get them decent food and didn’t allow random cruelty. At the end of the war when he was tried, he was let go without punishment. But the Nazis got wind that he wasn’t a sadist and replaced him with someone who was. This second commandant was sort of a genius for cruelty. One of the things he liked to do was save up the prisoners care packages and let them have a feast. Sounds good so far, right? Well, for this feast everything in the care packages was dumped into a big pot and cooked together. Meats, chocolate, pencils, cigarettes, sewing needles. Yum. Another of his food based punishments was to starve the prisoners (moreso) for a couple of days and then give them huge portions of over salted, over spiced food which they were required to eat all of.

DSC02869One of the more famous residents of Terezin was Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austira, sparking World War I.

Third stop was a museum housed in what was originally a school and, after the town was taken over and turned into a ghetto, a boys dorm. The first floor was devoted to the children, which was just crippling. Drawings and poems with the birth dates and usually death dates of the creators. None of then more than 14.

The last stop was a different museum that had more art and a replica of a barracks room, which for some inexplicable reason we were not allowed to take pictures of. I say inexplicable because we had just been in the real thing complete with unevenly worn floors and that cubical with the hole in the floor that served as a toilet for all several hundred people crammed in there. So what did this one have over the real thing? Set dressing. The second floor I could have spent hours looking at the drawings alone. These artists were professional artists before the war and they were astonishingly good at portraying more than just a snapshot of life in the ghetto.

 

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This last photo I took because I thought it was one of the more cruel punishments. It’s the view of the town from the shower room. Impossibly close and impossibly unreachable.

Then it was an hour’s ride home. My companion and I decided to stop for dinner in Wenceslaus Square. The first place we stopped was too expensive, but further down the road and inside a gallery we found a place with the most divine ribs. While we were eating this guy came in. He overheard us talking and asked if we were in banking. Turns out he came to Prague to teach and is now in real estate management. Excellent source of information should we end up moving here.

Prague: Day two

Published January 4, 2014 by Charlotte McClain

DSC02839Friday we went freelance and revisited some of the places we’d earmarked on the tour yesterday. Naturally, this required getting lost. We found Wenceslas Square easy. We found Old Town Square easy. Charles Bridge was totally unfindable for at least an hour, though in that hour we found tons of lovely places and tasted some amazing honey wine.

Yes, this enormous stone bridge. We couldn’t find it. Worse, after studying the map later, we realized we had been within three blocks the entire time and just kept turning the wrong way.

This was a shopping and walking day. About four we headed back to the hotel for a rest period then went out for diner.

We had decided early in the day to have dinner in the neighborhood of our hotel because it’s a little less touristy. Naturally, the staff spoke decent English. I had goulash with Czech dumplings, which appear to have a lot in common with American stuffing though unflavored. The dumplings I had on the tour yesterday had the consistency of potatoes so much so that I though I was eating really weird potatoes for half the meal. These dumplings were much better though not at all what I call dumplings. They were cubed, toasted bread mushed together with something into a tube shape and steamed, then sliced. Looks like bread, tastes like bread, not quite bread. My travel companion had pork ribs. Believe me, that order was a struggle. I wanted those pork ribs, but I’d had goulash on my mind since I arrived in the country.

Tomorrow we’re going to Terezin, a “model Jewish community” from World War II. Apparently it involves some walking. That will be a nice change. I haven’t been navigating enough cobblestones this trip.

Prague: The All Inclusive Tour

Published January 3, 2014 by Charlotte McClain

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We got very lucky on the tour. The bus picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the end of the tour. Across the river and up, up, up to the most defensible spot in the city where the palace complex sits. Our guide was very funny, making jokes about the flag meaning the president is in the country, but that doesn’t mean he’s working. It was bloody cold, but we were moving. It was also St Stephen’s Day so the churches were having mass and we couldn’t go inside. After the complex tour we looked at the view for a minute. Then we surveyed the thousand or so steps to the bottom of the hill and our next destination. A thousand. Does that sound like hyperbole? It’s not. I didn’t count, but there were about ten in each set and there were more than ten sets. Had we started at the correct end of the tour we would have had to walk up those steps – at the end of the day.

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That church on the left? Mozart played there. The steam rising in the distance? The river. We went all the way down and across the river to, see those pointy spires on the left side of the picture, but to the right of the green church roof where Mozart played? Walked there. Not in a straight line.

So we went down down down to New Town as the guide explained that Prague was originally four cities that joined together so the districts of New Town, Old Town, the Jewish Quarter and Wenceslas Square were once separate legal entities. We walked all these places. It was a lot to take in. Around the middle of the tour, we had a boat ride on the Moldau that largely repeated what we’d heard while walking, but from a different perspective (on the river and from a different person.) Then, we stopped for lunch at a medieval restaurant where we ate in the basement. The name of the restaurant was something about a spider. If they had told me that ahead of time, I might have opted out. There was no spider and the food was yummy. The sauerkraut was sweetish and the light was to low, but I think the red stuff was a different kind of sauerkraut. Oh and that bottom picture? The dumplings, accidentally taken with flash. Actually, this is the only time I saw them.

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When the tour ended in Old Town, our tour guide told us our hotel was just that way behind those houses. We set off. We found Wenceslas Square okay. Our hotel is only two or three blocks off the main square. After about six blocks I said, not, this isn’t right and pulled out my map.

I thought I had lost my mind. The map made no sense at all. So we went back to the last place we recognized and tried again. We had better luck (and I wasn’t soaked to the knees like I was in Venice.) In the hotel we got hot chocolate in the bar and I pulled out the map to see if I could make sense of it.

It was in Russian. No wonder I couldn’t make heads or tails of it on the street. Next time, Ill try a map in a language I can read or at least decipher.

Prague: Arrival

Published January 2, 2014 by Charlotte McClain

Our flight left at 2:15am so we were on the road at 9:30pm to get to the airport with plenty of time to get lost because I’ve never gone to the airport in Abu Dhabi and not gotten lost, GPS or not. There was a very crabby couple with two kids in line ahead of us. They had waited in line for forty-five minutes! What was going on? I’m not sure what they planned to do with their time. The kids were better behaved than their parents and the flight wasn’t leaving for two more hours. Shop duty free? The next hurdle was that they had seven bags. Four people. Two adults, two boys around ten/eleven years old. Going on vacation for a few days. Seven suitcases. Plus, it says very clearly on the ticket one piece of checked luggage per person. One per person times four people does not equal seven. The parents had fits claiming that it didn’t say anything on their ticket about luggage restrictions. When I got up to the desk, as I was the very next person after these nincompoops, I plopped my bag on the belt and said, one bag I can count! The lady at the counter laughed and changed our seats to a row with more legroom.

We arrived in Prague just before six local time and landed in fog. The immigration guy here was just as sour and silent as the guy in Dusseldorf. Maybe they are related. Luggage pick up was flawless and, since ours was the only flight arriving, so was finding our driver. We got to the hotel, checked in and went up to our room.

The time was 7:00. The day after Christmas. St. Stephen’s Day.

Yeah, not much going on. We decided to do an all inclusive tour (called The Prague All Inclusive Tour) but it didn’t pick us up until 9:15 so we set off down the road just to see what we could see. Would you laugh if I said we weren’t three blocks from the hotel when we started saying we could live here? Our hotel is on the edge of the touristy area so we were finding general life pretty quick. Banks, restaurants, churches, a theater (live), gorgeous architecture.

Tomorrow: the tour.

The Enchanted by Elaine Cantrell

Published June 25, 2013 by Charlotte McClain

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The Enchanted

By Elaine Cantrell

Blurb:

Forced by his father into a marriage he didn’t want, Prince Alan soon finds that his bride isn’t the sweet, submissive creature he expected. Morgane has the heart of a dragon and beauty beyond compare, but she isn’t thrilled about the marriage either. When black treachery threatens the kingdom, Morgane and Alan embark on a perilous journey that has an excellent chance of ending in failure and death for them and all their people.

Excerpt:

Morgane advanced on her enemy with deadly purpose.

 

“No!” Alan roared. “She has a knife.”

 

Morgane tried to retreat, but it was too late. Aili’s knife caught her in her thigh. Blood spurted as if from a fountain. Renweard was closer to her than Alan. His sword rose. Aili breathed her last as Morgane swayed and slipped to the floor.

 

Alan ran across the room and cradled her in his arms. In seconds he was coated with blood. “ʺWe must stop the bleeding!” he cried. “Where are the healers?”

 

ʺI will find one.” Renweard left the room at a run with King Bowdyn right behind him.

 

Morgane’s eyes fluttered open. “Your arms around me. No heaven can compare.ʺ

 

Alan pressed a kiss to her hair. “I love you, my brave Morgane.”

 

Morgane sighed. “I could not let you face this battle alone.ʺ

Author’s Note:

After spending most of the last ten years writing contemporary romance, I decided it was time for a change. So in the spring of 2012 I wrote my first romantic fantasy, The Enchanted. Several challenges immediately presented themselves. First, I knew that I didn’t want the fantasy to overpower the romance which meant I’d have to balance my world building details with the romantic elements.

Challenge two was finding characters who’d fit into my newly created world. I didn’t want plastic, stereotypical characters. I wanted real people with warts and human imperfections, people whose lives and problems would draw you in and make you care about them.

My third challenge was to craft a plot that included fantasy elements, yet at the same time allowed my characters to be in charge of their own destiny and in the process grow and change.

I’m pleased with the way it turned out. I enjoyed the experience so much I have another fantasy/sci fi romance in the wings waiting for December and its turn at publication. Given my new love affair with fantasy romance, will I write contemporary romance again? I sure will. I’m working on one right now, and I just love it. It will be my first full length romantic comedy.

Author Links:

http://www.elainecantrell.com

http://www.elainepcantrell.blogspot.com

http://www.twitter.com/elainecantrell

http://www.facebook.com/elainepcantrell

The Enchanted is sold at most online retail outlets.

 

Reviews:

A sweet story, easy read, fairytale/fantasy/romance 5 stars.
Teresa Cypher on Amazon

A wonderful story that has swept into my heart. I will be remembering this one for a long time and reading it again.
                                                   Tifferz Book Reviews on Goodreads

 

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