Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Czech Preschool

I think I want to be a teacher. I really like being around kids, and playing with the little children at an English speaking school in Olomouc really helped me remember how much I like to play!
Carole and I did Karate together (and her younger brother Tom too) when we were little, that's how we know each other. Carole decided she wanted to teach karate to the kids at the preschool she has been volunteering with, so she took me over on Tuesday to meet the kids, share Seymour with them (they were talking about families and pets in class) and play!
We had a great time running around and I was really surprised how well the little 4 year olds were chatting in English. Sometimes they would forget and babble on in Czech, but I just said I didn't understand and usually another kid would translate for me. How cool is that? Here are some pictures:

I am back in Alcala with Jess and Joy for only one night, then tomorrow I head to Granada to visit my Spanish friends and host family from studying abroad! I am so pumped! I will be there for several days, then next Tuesday come back to Madrid before flying to Nepal on Wednesday. I am not sure how much internet access I will have in Nepal so if I don't respond right away please don't worry! 

Take care everyone, I love hearing from you! And for all you skiers and snowboarders out there, get ready to make extra turns for me! :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Karlova Studanka....Bless you!

Yesterday I got to go hiking in what is so far the most beautiful part of the Czech Republic I have seen. It was absolutely fantastic for this Colorado girl to finally head for the hills!

Seymour, Carole's dog, had apparently eaten some indigestible toy part and as a result has been very sick and ended up getting surgery two days ago, so Carole stayed at home and made sure he was ok. He is back to his normal perky self! She took me to the bus station which was just on the edge of town and sent me off!

It was nice to ride the bus and see the rolling farmland of the Czech countryside. Everything here is still pretty green, although signs of autumn are starting to become apparent. When I arrived I chatted briefly with some young Czech hikers, one spoke a little English and asked where I was going and explained they hoped to find a trail with less people. I can see why; the path I was on was gorgeous but I have never seen so many people on a trail, not even on Long's Peak! The cool thing was there were people of all ages hiking, from very little children to older people, scrambling (sometimes slowly) over rocks, logs and bridges.

Karlova Studanka is a beautiful little town that seems to be the jumping off point for many hikes in the area. It is known as a spa town because of its healing waters. There is a little gazebo with faucets in the middle so anyone can fill their water bottles with the water. I assumed it would just be nice clear spring water, but it was fairly carbonated and tasted metallic and strange at first, but I ended up quite enjoying the taste. Here's the gazebo:

I had my first real difficulty with the language barrier yesterday. I got off the bus and didn't really know where I was going, so logically I headed to the information center I had seen in town. I walked in and asked if they spoke English or Spanish and the two women shook their heads...uh oh. Well, here we go! I had seen the word "mapy" on the building so I asked for that and they lit up and showed me a really nice topo map of the area with all the trails. Then with hand motions and broken English I got directions to the trail. The road leading to it was absolutely packed with cars and there were large groups of people starting out on the trail. Nonetheless, the lush, forested trail wound delightfully next to a clear little stream through the forest. Sunlight filtered through and made the green moss seem almost electrified.

The trail was really cool, there were all kinds of ladders and wooden plank walkways in areas the canyon got very narrow and steep. I hiked alongside families and listened to them chatting in Czech and really wanted to be able to learn every single language on earth instantaneously. 
As I climbed out of the canyon and higher onto the sides of the mountains, the forest looked more and more like CO. There was even a plant that looked like a species of Vaccinium (blueberry family), then a few minutes later I saw a bunch of kids picking berries and saying the word I saw on a blueberry yogurt drink in the store, so I went out on a limb and ate some too! Delicious!

I also saw a small bird playing in the stream that looked a lot like a dipper, but I wasn't sure until I was sitting quietly on a rock by the stream and watched it do the dipper dance! Then I saw a picture of it on an interpretive sign that was all in Czech so I took a photograph of the sign for Carole to interpret. Sure enough, I saw a Czech Dipper! Can you spot it in this picture? It has a white belly!
When I arrived at the top of the canyon the trail topped out a a ski area!!! There were lodges and restaurants with sunny decks to enjoy a nice lunch everywhere and even more people. I wandered through and back down a trail that paralleled the one I had taken up but was up higher on the side of the canyon wall and really reminded me of Colorado trails. When I got back to town I bought a delicious pastry and asked people where the lower parking lot was ("Autobus do Olomouc dolni parkavista?") and an old woman pointed me a few hundred yards down the parking lot I was standing in. Turns out "parkavista" means parking lot. Perfect. She then tried to explain something to me in Czech and I just said "Nemluvim Cesky" which means "I don't speak Czech" and she kept trying...I think she was telling me to make sure I didn't have to switch buses at a station but Carole had told me which bus to take directly to Olomouc, so I was good.
Ice cream!
The bus was packed and I ended up standing an extra 2 hours on the bus, but I made it back! Carole had to unexpectedly move to a new flat last night so we took Seymour to the vet for a checkup (he's great!) and moved into her new spacious lovely flat! Now we're off to the preschool where she volunteers and will begin teaching karate. 
Me on the packed bus

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome to Olomouc

Ahoj, pronounced AHOY!

That's how you say hello and goodbye in Czech. But seriously, this place is full of pirate dreams and jokes, not told by me, incredibly enough.

So far my time here has been incredible! The reason I decided to come to the Czech Republic is my friend Carole. She did Med School here for several years and had come back for a couple months to visit so I decided to catch a flight on over to see her. She has been fantastic to hang out with and has made my time here a dream.

Carole and I near the church... no open contain laws here!
I arrived in the afternoon in Prague and Carole met me in the airport, then we went to see a few sights in Prague. The Prague Castle, of course, the St. Charles Bridge over the river that leads to the Stare Mesto (pronounced starry miesto) which literally means Old Town. This area was very crowded and touristy, so we split pretty quickly. I wanted to buy a Czech patch to sew on my backpack so I went into a store and in the process of buying it I promptly broke a glass ornament with my pack and got scolded (I assume, I actually have no idea what he was saying but I understood I had to pay for it...oops!).

Charles Bridge looking at Prague Castle
Septacycle in Prague!
We tried to go see the museum of miniature art near the castle but it was closed by the time we got there, so hopefully we can go the day before I leave. Then we caught a train over to Olomouc (say Olamoats) where Carole studied and is living now.

She lives in a flat right off the main square which is filled with an enormous church, several fountains and a big tall statue, probably 60 or 70 feet tall at least, of apostles, the Holy Trinity and other religious images. It's really beautiful, with gold shining at the top and an interesting juxtaposition of time with the McDonald's right behind it.

Carole pointing out Olomouc on one of the many fountains in the square
Carole has a little dog named Seymore who accompanies us everywhere! He even gets his own bus/train tickets! He's very well behaved for the most part and is quite fun to have around. Right now he's still in his pajamas....haha!

When we got to Olomouc we did the right thing and went to meet one of Carole's friends for a beer on a patio in another square with more delightful fountains and statues. We have been exploring the city, which is very cool, not too huge but definitely large enough to have lots to see. There is an atomic clock in the square that was built in either the 1300's or 1600's that has the positions of all the planets, stars, the day of the year it is, the time and the month. There is a beautiful mosaic surrounding it with images of the months and people farming. There are also little people that spin around at noon while music goes and a golden rooster that crows at the end, my favorite part!

SoundRabbit at the Olomouc Atomic Clock! Can you see the Golden Rooster in the middle?
We also went to the ballet at the local opera house! It was really beautiful with very cool costumes but we were still a little confused some of the time, even having read the synopsis before going. The music was all classical when they were dancing, but for some reason when the lights went out for each scene change there was all this modern dance music for a few seconds, then it would switch back to classical right away. Weird.

After the ballet we went to a pub with some of Carole's friends and walked through the park on our way, where I was delighted to learn that there are native HEDGEHOGS!!! We got to see 5 of them in one night! They are so cute, we got to touch them gently and took some pictures. Mrs. Brighton, that one's for you!

Seymour and me with a hedgie! Jesek in Czech
In a pub with some good cheese and beer
Today we went to the house of a little boy Carole taught English to when she was studying here. His name is Honsa, and his brother is Mishka. They have a swimming pool so we brought our swimsuits for a dip in their indoor pool! The house was gorgeous, in the outskirts of town so I got my first taste of the landscape outside of the city. Very nice rolling hills and a beautiful church on top of one. The kids were so cute, they didn't really speak any English so I just smiled and said the few words I know.We met them yesterday at the track where Honsa was doing an "athletics" class, basically a bunch of 6-8 year olds doing all kinds of silly relay races to get energy out. It was very cute and fun to watch.
Mishka in his backyard... beautiful!
My waterproof camera really came in handy in the pool! We took a bunch of underwater shots, here are a few of them. SO COOL! The kids were so stinkin cute!

Honza and Carole in the pool
Honza and I underwater

Honza and Carole
Cousin Karen, get excited, I just got a pedicure for the first time since your wedding! It's really nice here, they have all kinds of tools that get all the dead skin off your feet and make them very soft. I feel like my feet are the prettiest they've ever been, thanks Carole!

This weekend we're going hiking and next week we get to go visit a preschool where Carole is working. I am so excited to play with the kids, although it's very tough not being able to understand anything here. I am so lucky Carole is fluent in Czech and can translate for me, it makes the culture much more accessible. I know how to say please and thank you, I don't speak Czech, bathroom, women and hedgehog. What else do I need? :)

Aaaaand for those of you who know me well, this should be funny...

Monday, September 21, 2009

What we Saw...La Noche en Blanco

Giant screen with guys teaching everyone a hip-hop routine

People spinning upsidedown around the earth
Crazy suspended dance...those are people above and below the earth

Procession right below Jess and Joy's balcony

Sunday, September 20, 2009

La Noche en Blanco

Last night there was a festival in Madrid called La Noche en Blanco, or The Night in White. Jess, Joy and I knew that it was a celebration of the arts and there were things happening all over the city, but we weren't entirely sure what, so we decided to meet up with some of the other people in Jess and Joy's program and head to Madrid.

We arrived around 11pm and the metro and streets were packed with people! When we got off the metro we saw a stage with a big image of the globe floating above the stage. There were lots of people waiting so we decided to see what was going on while we waited for the rest of the group to show up. Well, were we in for a treat! It turned out to be a modern dance kind of thing with people hooked up to cables and flying through the air and spinning around upsidedown and lights flashing! Then there were 4 kids who were raised up into the air behind the globe so they were resting against a wall behind it. They did a sweet coreographed dance that used the vertical wall as the ground so they were perpendicular and upsidedown in the air, suspended, dancing! It was so cool!

We hopped back on the metro to go to the real center of the city to see a giant burro and the botanic gardens. The burro was anticlimactic-just a flat sillouhette of a burro and the gardens were packed with a huge line to enter, so we wandered around and found that every few blocks there was an enormous screen set up. On each screen there was a different recording of a person teaching everyone in the street a different kind of dance! First we learned ballet, then bellydancing (where we got free scarves to dance with), then hip hop, which was really hard and we ended up just bouncing around.

It was pretty ridiculous, at first we were like "Really? Is anyone actually doing this?" Then we looked below the man teaching ballet and there were probably 70-100 people following right along! So much fun!

There were also concerts every so often which we danced to then moved on. One of my favorite parts was the fact that most of the main city center roads were closed to traffic and just filled with 12, 1, 2 in the morning! We had to catch the bus back to Alcala which is about 45 minutes outside of the city, so we left around 1:30 to make it home. What a funny event!

In Alcala there have been signs of festivities as well, but we have no idea what they are for. Suddenly, to our surprise yesterday, a procession appeared on the street below Jess and Joy's apartment. There were lots of people carrying different flags from different churches, some men carrying an image of Mary (Kind of like Semana Santa but less ornate and a lot smaller), and a band marching behind. Who knew?

Well, gotta go! Peace to everyone!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Images of Barcelona

Chipmunks for 22 euro

Sunset in Barcelona

Inside the Sagrada Familia. The pillars are supposed to be trees

Sagrada Familia
Las Ramblas

Pilar and me on the bus
Obama in Spain
mammoth in the Park!

Karina Barcelona
Parc Guell

Busquer on Las Ramblas


Hola a todos!

I left San Sebastian early Monday morning to catch a 7 hour bus to Barcelona. I hadn't slept much the night before thanks to the perils of sharing a hostel room with 5 other people so I was excited to sleep on the bus. I was in an aisle seat trying to get comfortable when the man sitting next to me asked if I wanted to switch places so I could use the window to lean against. After making sure he didn't want to sleep, we switched and I got a couple hours of sleep, really needed.

When I woke up I began to chat with the kind man sitting next to me, who I learned was named Chus, short for Jesus. He looked to be in his mid 30's and was going home to Barcelona after a few days vacation in San Sebastian. He is so wonderful! He showed me where my hostel was in the city, where the bus station we were arriving was, told me which metro line to take and fooled me into thinking he's buddhist :) He bought me a coffe and croissant since I am travelling and we passed the rest of the busride chatting happily about different foods I should try in Barcelona and his pride for the city. When we arrived he got me a metro map, pointed me in the right direction and wished me the best. It felt great to start the trip off with kindness. Let me just add that I carried on a 4 hour conversation in Spanish just fine! YES!

I found my hostel without a problem and introduced myself to the guy checking his email there. His name is Jan and he's from Poland. I asked if he had been to Parc Guell, Gaudi's park and he said he'd like to go...after a nap. So I took a stroll down Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most well-known street lined with trees, busquers in elaborate costumes, vendors selling everything from flowers to postcards to Tamias minimus...chipmunks! Jan and I went to the park and as we were getting off the metro it started pouring rain. I pulled out the fantastic umbrella my Da gave me and covered myself (Jan denied my attempts to jump high enough to hold the umbrella over his head and just wore his hood) and we wandered toward the park.

The rain stopped right when we arrived which meant very few people and a sweeeeet arcoiris (rainbow) shining over Barcelona! My camera battery died about 3 minutes after arriving in the park so all the pictures are in my mind. It was so fantastic to wander through trees and walk on soil, not concrete. We made it to the top of the hill and found a large cross statue from which you could see the entire city! BEAUTIFUL!

Jan was craving pizza so we stopped on the way back to the hostel for dinner. I'm still not entirely sure what to think of him because the way he spoke always threw me off. Since English was his second language he was usually quiet for a few moments after I had peppered him with about 6 questions, thinking about how to formulate his sentence, then throwing me off by a) his perfect English and extensive vocabulary (I now know how to say "couch" in Polish) and b) his quirky answer and usually silly face that he would make. It took him a bit to understand my sense of humor but we got along fine.

The next day I got up early to go see the Sagrada Familia- Gaudi's most celebrated piece of architecture- before the crowds were too big. It's still under construction, especially the inside, but still mind blowingly beautiful. I took a tour with headphones through the towering tree-like pillars and signs saying "silence please" as jackhammers and heavy machinery moved about inside building the church interior.

After the church I went to the Museo Picasso which was SO cool! I had no idea Picasso was only 14 when he was cranking out gorgeous portaits of people and how different his style was as he progressed artistically. Tons of people but really worth it.

After wandering into a nice place for lunch I took the metro to Placa de Espanya where there is an enormous museum of contemporary art and lots of fountains that only run Thursday -Sunday...just missed them but the pictures look amazing. I have to go back to see them! The Museum is up on a hill/park so I wandered around, took some pictures of the sun setting over the city, then went to a delicious tapas bar and met a nice Spanish woman who let me tried her fried fish. My new favorite drink: cerveza clara. Beer with a hint of lemon and a bit of sweetness. Mmm!

I hung out with Jan and a new arrival named Sam in the hostel for a bit then crashed...or at least tried to between other people coming in and the hostel doorbell being rung incessantly at about 3:30am. I went out on my own again the next morning and returned to Parc Guell to get some more pictures. An old man on top of the cross statue said "Buenos dias" and I replied "MUY buenos dias!" and he exclaimed (in Spanish) "You speak Spanish?" and I replied "Sorpresa!" which means surprise! We walked and talked a bit then he bid me a good day as I headed toward the metro to go up to the castle above the sea on the other side of the city; Montjuic.

I never made it to the top but I did get some great views before grabbing some tapas and catching my bus to Madrid to spend a few days with Jess and Joy before going to the Czech Republic for a week to visit my good friend Carole.

On the bus I sat next to Pilar, a young Spanish woman who I learned was like my Spanish sould sister! She was AWESOME! I haven't met many Spaniards that have travelled or have any desire to travel, but she has been to India 3 times for months at a time! She took a yoga class there, did a 10 day silent meditation, has a cat and was really really sweet. We talked almost the entire time about everything from how it's beautiful when life flows because you're happy to her dogs and cat, and she gave me a little lavendar flower. I really like her a lot and I hope we meet again. Actually, she might be in Thailand in November...who knows!

I'm here in Alcala for 4 days to relax and do some reading. it's so fantastic to be with Jess and Joy, I love them and feel so fortunate to have this place here!

Wishing everyone the best! Besos y amor!

Images of San Sebastian

One of the endangered lizards! They're actually all over the place on the monte.

Sunset in San Sebastian

Shoreline- looking at a monte

Panorama of San Sebastian from one of the "montes". This one has an amusement park from 1912 on top, the other one (bump on the left side of the picture) has a large statue of Jesus.

Boats in the harbour

My friend Arden really pumped about a pinxo- that's what they call tapas up north.

Novios taking wedding pictures!

Me on the monte with Jesus

Monday, September 14, 2009

San Sebastian

Hola a todos!

Today I write to you about San Sebastian from Barcelona!

It was awesome, but also very hard to be there on my own for the first time. San Sebastian is on the northern coast of Spain right near France in Basque Country. It is a beautiful coastal city with a ridiculously perfect crescent beach and two ¨montes¨on each side of the entrance to the cove. I spent the first afternoon on the beach and wandering around the city feeling pretty dang homesick. I walked up one monte with a huge statue of Jesus on top which was really nice and relaxing because it was all trees and green with lizards that are native only to that monte in the whole world! I got to see some. Then I met the other girl in my room who was from Australia and we got some tapas. Bummer about not being in Granada: tapas are not free! But they are delicious!

We saw all kinds of festivities happening, lots of Basque traditional dances and music on stages around the city, and people dressed up like dragons and strange people with huge papier machet heads that chased children and hit them with balloons...we asked if there was any festival happening and they said no, just boat races. Any chance to party, eh Spain?

The next day I got up early and walked the beach to the other monte where there is an amusement park from 1912 on top...strange but true. I was feeling really sick and the women at the farmacia I went to were very sweet and gave me something for my stomach for free! I felt a lot better and walked up a winding street to the top of the hill instead of riding the funicular and there was still a woman at the top charging people to enter! It was a gorgeous view, well worth it!

On the way down I saw a swimming and apparently biking race begin as people swam out into the ocean. As I was walking down they all started passing me on their way up the road I had walked as part of their race! I got to watch and cheer them on before continuing on my way back down. I ended up at the beach again still feeling homesick but better this time.

The next day I switched hostels and immediately made friends with Arden, a guy from NYC and two Aussies. We went downtown to eat and discovered all kinds of activity because there were boat rowing races that day! Lots of partying all day long. We again went to the beach in the afternoon for a siesta on a beautiful day, then relaxed on the terrace outside our rooms...from which we could see the beach! SO COOL!

We then went out to enjoy the night and eat more delicious tapas, or pinchos as they´re called up north. A wonderful night and I ended up feeling much more confident in myself and the trip, especially after meeting a wonderful man on the bus today who was very kind and fun to talk with. he helped me get oriented to Barcelona before getting there!

Headed back up Las Ramblas to my hostel to meet a new friend to go to Gaudi´s Park. More soon!

I love and miss everyone, send me your Love and I will give it to Spain!

Love, Karina

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bienvenidos a Alcala!

Hola a todos!

Live, from Alacala de Henares, a pueblo outside of Madrid, Espana.

I arrived here in Spain 2 mornings ago excited to find Parque de Buen Retiro, an enormous central park in Madrid, to take a nap. My good friend Jess, who I lived with when I studied abroad in Granada, was to arrive that evening and we had decided to meet in Alcala where she is renting a piso (apartment). She is living and working teaching outside of Madrid for her Master's with our other friend Joy and they invited me to stay with them. Since she didn't arrive for another 10 hours, I had planned to kick it in Madrid for a while.

I had gotten some sleep on the plane but I must have been running on excitement because instead of heading straight to the park, I decided to ask some other people waiting for the metro where I could find a good bookstore. When I got off the metro and above ground, I realized that I really WAS in an enormous city and had no idea where the bookstore was. After a search, I found books but none about Nepal in English (go figure). So I hopped back on the metro and wandered the park, took a nap hugging my bags to me from which I awoke abruptly every time I actually fell asleep.

After snoozing, I decided to catch the train to Alcala, get some dinner then wait for Jess, so I promptly started heading the complete oppposite direction from the train station. Luckily some nice Bolivian ladies set me straight and I was on my way!

After a reasonable dinner consisting mostly of meat and fried things (my fave) I waited for Jess in the main Plaza de Cervantes. Alcala is where he was born so there are all kinds of things named after him and statues everywhere of him, like this one!

Joy and I with Don Quixote

I called Jess and we met up then went out for a cerveza with her Spanish friend Alvaro, who thought we had lost it because we were both giddy from the travels.

Yesterday Jess and I went grocery shopping, figured out internet and headed back to Madrid to pick up Joy from the airport. It's so nice to have a clean, safe and friendly place to start my trip with some great friends. I also got to skype my parents and Spencer which was fantastic!

Today I'm doing some planning: heading up north to Barcelona and San Sebastian, then hopefully to the Czech Republic and then Granada. Then to Nepal!

Besos y abrazos!
Cutting my hair real short for the trip.

Jess in Alcala below her piso