Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Everyone!
The first trimester ended December 25 at the school. There was a dinner for all faculty and staff with a cake for a gift from the principal. We had until January 9th off.
The great Christmas adventure began immediately on the 23rd.
I went to Madrid to meet Freddy, my sister Annie’s son, who came to spend the holidays with me and to see some of Europe. We spent the night in Madrid so that he could see the sights there and the Christmas lights. They go all out with Christmas decorations throughout the city. There are special bus tours to see all the beautiful lights. We visited the Christmas market at the Plaza Mayor and had a typical dinner. The next day, 24th, we went to Torrejon. We had a buffet dinner and then went to the town square to see the light show and the other Christmas decorations.
On the 25th we went to the airport in Madrid to go to Prague. We got there in plenty of time but in getting our boarding passes the printer used by the woman attending us broke down. Rather than have someone else print our tickets she called for someone to repair the printer. We were trapped. We could not move forward or go to another attendant because “she had already inputted our information.” We could see the clock ticking down. We barely made it to the plane. And, since we had planned on just one carry on backpack, packed to the gills, we could not find overhead space. We had to turn over the bags to be placed in the cargo area, which we had wanted to avoid in terms of picking up luggage after landing. But we were off.
Libor, the young man whose apartment we rented was at the airport to pick us up. BUT, we were late and he could not park outside the baggage area. Our bags took forever to arrive. When they finally did we went to the area where Libor was to meet us. Of course, he was not there. So how to get in touch with him? It turns out that a SIM is a text. When we found out I could SIM with my phone we contacted him and he arrived a few minutes later. His apartment was a good half hour from the airport. He spoke English and began to give us the rundown on how to get about the city and what we ought to see. The apartment turned out to be a beautiful two bedroom place with kitchen and bath. We decided to get some rest.
The next day we went to catch the tram, just minutes from the apartment. When we got to the tram stop, the 21 tram, our tram, was there waiting for its start time. The ticket machine was broken. We found someone who could understand us and he said go to the next stop. We asked the woman driver if we could get a ticket from her. She communicated that No we could not, and not in a very friendly way. We walked to the next station. There was no ticket machine there. At that time the original tram with the woman driver came to that stop. She could see we were at a loss as to what to do. She motioned for us to get on. We signed that we still had no ticket. Get on, get on she waved. The ride to the city center was about 25 minutes, it would have been a long way to walk. When we got off we waved at the driver and threw her a kiss with a Thank You. She smiled and waved good by. Our first angel!
The weather was cold but dry. We had prepared for the cold and had heeded Kristin’s admonition that we dress in layers. We also wore panty hose which Annie had sent. Thank goodness. They kept our legs warm.
The central plaza had its Christmas Market with all kinds of food and entertainment. There was a Dixieland group that got the people dancing. We bought tickets for a Christmas choral concert at one of the churches for 7pm. In the afternoon we went home to eat and rest and then return for the concert.
We knew where and how long the tram took to get to the church but we still left early. We waited for our #21 tram. No one told us there were two #21 trams! Took the wrong one and wound up in a part of town we had not seen before. We found our way back to the tram stop where we took the tram and waited for another #21. By the time we got on we knew we were going to be late for the concert. Sure enough, when we got to the church the doors were closed. A young woman asked what we were doing and we said we had come for the concert. She gave us that look, “You know you are late, don’t you?” She motioned for us to follow her and she took us to a back door where she unlocked it and showed us how to get to the main chapel. Our second angel.
The concert was beautiful! They sang both sacred and secular music. The acoustics, the incense and the church itself enriched the experience. They got to a sing along and it happened to be carols in English. We sang heartily and people turned and clapped for us. I think it was because we knew the words rather than our singing.
The square was filled with people, lights and music. All kinds of food. Of course we had to have sausages.
We bought some groceries and went home. The place was cozy and warm.
Like most cities Prague is an old city with many buildings dating back 600 years. Many of the new apartments have the original four foot thick walls. The streets are laid out, if you can call it that, in what appears to be a random fashion. Many are no more than 8 foot wide alleys. Every turn you make provides another exciting discovery.
The next day it was raining but I had brought along an umbrella and a poncho. The weather actually contributed to the aesthetic experience of walking through the city.
We left for Vienna by train. We had wanted to experience all modes of transportation. The systems here are great! We managed to find our apartment but the guy who let us in did not explain anything. Luckily we tested the outside gate before we left to explore and found out we could not open the gate. We called Nena and she sent the guy again who then told us there was another keyhole we need to use to get in. OK, but where is it? There was a grocery store nearby so we bought groceries and I began to cook dinner and to wash clothes. The lights went out! From my previous experience in my apartment in Torrejon, I began to look for a fuse box. Found it but it is so old fashioned that I could not figure out what to do. Keeping my fingers crossed, I punched some buttons and the lights came on. When I tried to cook the lights went off again. We turned off the washing machine and most of the lights and were then able to cook dinner. The electric stove appears to cause the fuses to break, we learned during our stay. Other than this the apartment was great and very near the underground that got you everywhere.
Of course we had to experience the music. We attended a concert in a venue that was used for the same purpose hundreds of years ago. The musicians wore period customers and played period instruments. Opera singers sang well known arias and they were so close to us we could see the perspiration on their foreheads. Live music is powerfully beautiful!
We also saw a short program of ballet.
New Year’s Eve we went to the city center where a big celebration takes place. There was every kind of music you can imagine, a full orchestra playing classical music to contemporary rock bands.
Jan 2 was very cold so we decided to take a hop on-hop off bus tour. We went to where the bus is supposed to start. Waited and waited. A young woman came and told us we had to go to another bus stop so off we go. We wait again. Now we are told to go back to the first stop. We troop off with a whole group of other tourists. By this time we had waited an hour and a half. We were freezing and the responses to our questions to one of the bus reps was always, “Just ten more minutes.” Two hours later the bus showed up. One of the stops on the tour was at an amusement park that Kristin, Christina and I visited when we were there. It was cold!
We took a bus to Budapest, about 3 hours. Even though we had been given directions to the apartment we rented. We think Tebor the owner used a google translator because it was not very accurate. We walked and walked and it was freezing cold. We met our third angel. We had asked several people for help but our language difference made it impossible to communicate. We stopped a woman and SHE SPOKE ENGLISH !!!! We were way off course but she got us there. It turned out the apartment was only 10 minutes from the underground metro. Our reaction to Budapest, “we are back in 1940!” The building are old, the colors are drab and the metro has what are surely cars from WWII. And the colors in the subway are drab, drab, darb! A highlight of our time there was a dinner boat cruise on the Danube. Great pumpkin soup! The music and dancing were very ethnic. The view of the Parliament buildings all lite up was spectacular. There was a very moving shrine to victims of the holocaust in one of the plazas. It was not an official shrine but one created by people who had relatives to remember. I had a roasted pigs knee for dinner. It was crispy and very flavorful. It was also a lot of meat. We ate leftovers from it for two more meals.
We flew back to Madrid and went to Torrejon to sleep and change clothes then off to Seville. The highlite, Freddy was coerced into getting his fortune told by a gypsy. She then demanded ten euros. He asked me for the ten euros because he did not have change. Forget it, I said. Let’s go. So we took off. The gypsy could have beaten either one of us up with one hand tied behind her back.
Back to Madrid and the 9th of January Freddy took off for home.