Friday, June 27, 2014

Just Bead It!

Glass Sculpture
One of my passions is glass beads and what better place to visit than the home of those little jewels in Czech Republic. Of course, some of the Near-Normal Travelers will say without equivocation that the best place for glass is the Moser glassworks in Karlovy Vary. And if your interest lies in that sort of art, you’ll agree. Glass making, particularly at this quality level, is no easy job.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Art, time after time

Karlovy Vary park sculpture
There is no excuse in either Germany or Czech Republic to be late because no matter where you look there’s a clock tower. These lovely towers are part of the art that abounds in Bohemia. Most of what I saw was architecture and sculpture. I only visited one museum, which was surprising since I am such a museum addict.

While clocks are on many buildings, towers, and street corners, they represent different periods in history. Some, such as the one advertising Mercedes Benz, is modern while
Clocks in Stuttgart, Strasbourg, and Prague
the sundial on the side of the church and the two astrological clocks are substantially older. The Strasbourg astronomical clock, in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg, Alsace, France is the third clock located here, dating from 1843. The first clock was built in the 14th century and the second in the 16th century. The clock has a computus (perpetual calendar), an orrery (planetary dial), the current position of the sun and moon, including solar and lunar eclipses, and a rooster that crows three times at noon. At 12:30PM Christ and the Apostles march out of one door and into the other at the top of the clock. In Prague, the Orloj, installed in 1410, is the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. This is particularly impressive since it is on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. Again, there is a computes, an orrery, and the current position of the sun and moon. Each hour the figure of Death, a skeleton, strikes the time the Apostles parade past two open doors, but don’t venture outside.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Food, Glorious Food!

Ritter Sport Candy Sculpture
Sculpture in a train station isn’t particularly surprising, but a sculpture to chocolate? Oh my, yes. And the actual chocolate was inexpensive, mouth-watering and plentiful. Not only did this sculpture provide a great meeting place, but it set the stage for the sub-text of this trip ~ food!

Coffee and tea are available everywhere, as was the ubiquitous Starbucks; the locals drink bottled water, although the water from the tap is quite good. But Bohemia is famous for its beers and wines. Evidently (I know next to nothing about beer) there are two kinds of beer: Ales and Lagers. The difference is where the fermentation takes place; ales are made from top fermentation yeasts, while lagers are from bottom fermentation yeasts. In either case, the beer was unlike what I’ve tasted previously. The best pale beer I sampled was mild, bubbly and tart without being bitter; the best dark beer reminded me of a cola beverage. Both were yummy with the foods we were sampling. The wines were a bit of a surprise. I prefer sweet to moderately sweet white wines and had expected to be in Riesling heaven with a bit of Gewürztraminer, Spätlese, Auslese and, if I were very lucky, Eiswein available. At the first
Beer, wine & hot chocolate
restaurant we visited the waiter told me that he did have a nice fruity red I might like, but ‘real Germans’ don’t drink sweet wines, particularly in the Stuttgart region. Well fine. So throughout the trip I tried to prove him wrong, and failed. The Rieslings, while a bit better than OK didn’t have the floral nose, fruity flavor, crisp finish nor pizzazz that I had expected based on the German imports I’d tasted. Remarkably, not a single bottle provided in any restaurant was marked ‘Qualitätswein mit Prädikat’ (quality wine with specific attributes), nor could I find any in the grocery stores or wine shops. I also never saw on a menu or in a shop a Spätlese, Auslese or Eiswein; one of our group did get a Gewürztraminer and pronounced it unremarkable. The best find was at the Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary (Casino Royale was filmed there). They served cups of hot chocolate; but not just chocolate. You could get milk or dark chocolate, chocolate with caramel, white chocolate, and a number of other combinations (I stopped reading at ‘dark chocolate’). The waiter brought a large cup of steaming hot milk, and a huge chunk of chocolate on a stick. You dunk the chocolate in the milk and swirl it around until it is completely melted. Amazingly good. It wasn’t uncommon to find several of our group relaxing with this concoction and a piece of cake at the end of the day.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Bookin' it to Germany

When I think of Germany, I usually associate it with beer, sausages, schnitzel, luxury cars and lots of rules. But this is also the land of the Grimm brothers, lush forests, vibrant flowers and chocolate. The NearNormal Travelers on this trip were a bunch of librarians charged with helping to update a library in an international school in Germany and install a library in the same sort of school in the Czech Republic. Now if you’re thinking that a duller group could not be found and if you’re picturing little old ladies with grey hair tucked neatly into buns, you’re completely wrong.

Leaving the DFW airport at about 6:30PM, we arrived in Stuttgart some 12 hours later having
Central Train Station, Stuttgart
experienced some really long security lines in Heathrow, several mediocre airline meals, and a few first-run movies. Most Americans are not used to the public transportation that is de rigueur in Europe and since we were here to work rather than on holiday, we got our first taste of the train system. Suitcases, bags, backpacks and all our wild and wooly crew hopped aboard our transport, startling many commuters with our rather boisterous ways. We arrived in fine form at our hotel and were delighted to find that there was a bistro /bar attached. What we didn’t know was this was just our first adventure with the train system in Europe.

Process of Processing
The next two weeks found us hard at work in the school library. So what do 22 people do in a library? We assess collections, organize and categorize books by their subjects, write reports on which librarians and administrators can make fiscal decisions, and do what looks a great deal like arts and crafts. Did you ever wonder who puts those covers on library books or who puts on the bar codes and spine labels? Many times it’s the librarian who does this in addition to all of the other things she/he is supposed to be doing, such as helping students with research, finding information for teachers, developing web pages, writing blogs, assisting with lesson planning, keeping the library running smoothly and, probably most importantly, conducting lessons that encourage kids to read things just for fun.

So what did we do when we weren’t working? Of course we visited museums, castles, nearby cities and a beer garden. The Schwabengarten has been around since 1896 and has good food along with good beer and wine. It’s a bit outside of the city, so we jumped on the train for a trip through the countryside. I had expected a few picnic tables, some sausages either boiled or roasted, and a few kegs of beer. This garden was a whole lot nicer than I expected. You could get sausages, but you could also have roasted pork, beef, schnitzel and something akin to pizza. The beer ranged from dark to pale, heavy to light, and evidently all of it served in liter mugs. There were also generous containers of rather good white and red wines, juices, water (still or fizzy), and name brand soft drinks. Probably the most surprising was the children’s
Mustache Competitors
playground complete with swing sets and slides, and the number of folks who brought their dogs. Dogs and kids were well behaved and got along with each other as well as the adults. Other than the fun we had with experiencing outdoor dining, most entertaining were two guys who participate in beard and mustache competitions. They quite enjoyed our group and were delighted to let us know that they will be in Austin, Texas for their 2015 Beard and Mustache competition.

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