Weekend with a Czech Family

Published: July 14th 2009
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The chateau
We had our homestays this weekend. Heather and I stayed with Vaclav. We were originally supposed to stay with one of the girls (I honestly could not figure out who she was though), but she got sick. So we could have gone with either Vaclav or Martin, and Nick would have gone with the other. We flipped a coin and ended up with Vaclav. It was interesting to go with him because we ended up going to two (three if you count the train station) different villages because his parents are divorced and live in different places. I think I learned more about the Czech Republic and Czech life on this trip than I have in the classes we have.
We left campus at 8:30 in the morning to catch our train to Nymburk, which is about 25 kilometers from Mlada Boleslav, where we went to the Skoda plant. The train was pretty uneventful. I saw some interesting things on the way, like a very large onion field. I’d never seen a field of onions before that. Small gardens, yes; fields? Not so much. I also told Vaclav that I’d only seen two deer the whole time we’ve been here
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Nilgai at Chleby Zoo
(thinking that was a small number) and he said I was lucky! So apparently there really aren’t all that many animals around here. Although as a side note about the wildlife, I have seen some of the absolute biggest rabbits of my life here! We got to Nymburk in about an hour and a half, so the trip wasn’t too bad. Vaclav took us to his house, which is connected to his father’s, to drop off our stuff and then his sister came to pick us up. I’m pretty sure my timeline is going to be off somewhere along the line because I can’t remember the exact order we did things. Bear with me.
We visited a chateau that was owned by the Thurn-Taxis family, who apparently set up the most efficient postal system in Europe. The guide on our tour didn’t speak English, so Heather and I had to use nifty little hand-held devices that narrated everything in English. I think the handhelds gave us more information than the guide did, and I’m kind of glad for that. One of the really neat things was a very delicate oriental fan in a box on one of the walls.
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Fallow deer
The guide didn’t say anything about it, but as the group was leaving the room the handheld told us that it was actually made of carved ivory, not the typical fabric and paper. I thought that was very interesting, and I wouldn’t have learned about it otherwise! Another interesting thing from the chateau was that we had to put on slippers over our shoes when we went in, I would assume to keep from scuffing the floors or tracking dirt in.
The grounds of the chateau had some mazes and labyrinths scattered around. We went through a few of the smaller ones and walked around a bit. There was also a fairly large hedge maze that we came upon just as it started to rain. And by rain I mean torrential downpour. As seems to be a common occurrence. It did stop raining after a good while, so we went through the maze. It was a lot more fun than I anticipated, and just a little frustrating. After the chateau we went to a medieval-style restaurant for dinner. Heather and I split one meal and still had to work at it to finish it all. They gave us ridiculous
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Old city walls of Nymburk, the location of the train station
amounts of food. To comment on food again: I’ve had too much of it. Vaclav’s mother fed us a lot, and it was all very good, so I ate entirely too much this weekend. But we did manage to get a few recipes from her (nothing written down, but it shouldn’t be too hard to remember), so it’s all good.
Sunday was one of the only days we’ve been here during which it didn’t rain! We went to a village preserved from the middle ages. It was interesting to see, but nothing was in English, so some things were a bit difficult to understand. While we were there I stepped on a few snails which was rather unfortunate because I didn’t see them and they’re huge. So I had snail slime on my shoes. Heather and I were somewhat fascinated by the snails, and I spent a few minutes examining one. Vaclav and his sister thought I was crazy until I explained that we don’t really have snails around us and the ones we do have are tiny. I think there were a few moments this weekend during which I seemed like an excitable child…but I suppose that’s nothing new, is it? There was also a museum that we went through with various displays. One of them had a few Czech nativity scenes, which were interesting to see because they weren’t really the traditional nativity with the kings and camels and little stable in Bethlehem. They were set more in the Czech Republic, I guess. I thought it was fun to compare them to what I’m more used to.
After the village/museum we went to a little privately owned zoo. I’m typically against these types of places and I was thoroughly expecting to be partially horrified going into it. But it was remarkably not-rage-inducing compared to many places of its type. The enclosures for the animals (mostly birds) were fairly large. The birds all had room to fly, trees, perches, nesting boxes, and a few different shelters at various heights. There were also gibbons (whose indoor exhibit really impressed me, even though I found the outdoor slightly less than ideal), nilgai (which I don’t think I’ve seen before. Their exhibit could have been a little nicer, but it wasn’t anything I was concerned about), an ocelot, llamas, alpacas, goats, and a fjord mare and foal. I was pretty excited about the fjord because I think they’re adorable and they’re probably my favorite pony breed.
We spent Sunday afternoon walking around the forest with Vaclav and his mom and her dog. I really enjoyed that. Vaclav’s mom told us all kinds of things about what we were seeing, explaining things like it not being legal to put up a fence around the forest (privately owned forests are required to be public access, which I really don’t understand…what’s the point of them being privately owned?). Maybe I should say Vaclav told us these things, because his mom doesn’t speak English. It was amazing to see just how much she knows about the environment around there, though. She showed us some mistletoe, and I shared the Norse myth about mistletoe killing one of the gods (I think it was one of Odin’s sons, but I really can’t remember…my mythology is getting rusty). I found a lizard in one of the fields we were walking through, so we cornered it and I grabbed it. The shaped of its head made me think it was a skink of some type, but I really don’t know. Vaclav’s mother told us that the green ones are male and the brown ones are female (this one was green). I really regretted not being able to speak Czech, because I really wanted to be able to talk to her about all kinds of things along the trail.
I think my favorite part of the homestay was on Monday. We got up at about 5:30 to go to a nature preserve and watch the gamekeeper feed their herd of fallow deer. Getting up that early wasn’t exactly fun, but it was most definitely worth it. We met the man feeding the deer at one of the gates into the preserve and followed him to the first feeding shed (which was like a little barn). We went up into the loft and watched out of a peephole. The deer didn’t come for a while because we had the car by the shed, so that had to be moved and we waited maybe 15 minutes for the deer. It was actually a lot quicker than I anticipated. It was interesting to see the herd come up. I’d say there were 35-40 deer, all males. The gamekeeper later told us that the females are all spread throughout the preserve because they just had fawns. I thought it was pretty cool and slightly strange to see such a large group of males in one place, though. There were something like five feeding stations, and as we went on the deer were less and less shy. Heather and I even got to feed some of them (well, we poured buckets of oats into troughs…). It was really nice. The gamekeeper showed us a spot in the preserve where five roads all converged in a roundabout and explained that that had been where the nobility would sit when hunting, and their servants would chase the animals toward them so they could shoot quite a few at one time. Helps explain why Franz Ferdinand had 275,000 trophies.
After the fallow deer we went back to Vaclav’s mother’s house and showed her our hometowns and OSU on GoogleEarth. It was pretty cool. We talked for a while, and she showed us some of her photography which was very nice. We went back to Vaclav’s for lunch with his father before we left. It was a little different from being around his mom and sister. Apparently his father was a little nervous about meeting foreigners, so it took a little while for him to really talk with us. He talked to Heather a good bit about agriculture and farming. We talked a bit about hockey (of course), and Jagr and Koci. Again, I wished I spoke Czech because he (obviously) experienced the communist reign, and even spent two years as a border guard. I wanted to ask all kinds of questions.


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