Saturday, April 19, 2014

Update: Still alive, very busy

So my schedule has gone something like this:

Monday-Friday - Balls to the walls work
Saturday-Sunday - Balls to the walls everything else (including sleeping in)

I might have stated before that I have become the go-to person for documentation and English writing.  Reviewing documents has become what I do when I'm sick of everything else.  Right now everything else has been preparing for a work trip to Seattle for user observations.  Of course when the trip was approved, I was also tasked with an additional usability study and focus group with pilots. Whatever, if it means I get to go somewhere, that's cool.  I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I plan on getting a haircut and buying clothes as soon as I arrive.  I'm already nervous about getting my haircut and the thought of trying to get one in a country where I don't speak the language feels impossible.  As far as the clothes are concerned, I would just rather buy them from a place I'm familiar with.  I guess I'm self conscious about my appearance.

Two weeks ago I was invited by my coworker, David, to come to Tisnov for lunch to meet his family.  His wife and children came down with an illness, but we still managed to have lunch and take a hike around the city.  Although Tisnov is not a tourist destination, it is a nice place situated between two bluffs and is a generally peaceful town.

This is one of the smallest streets in the Czech Republic.  Locals call it "Piss"

The second smallest.  Locals call it "shitty."  These names come from the
fact that it leads from a bar where locals get "pissed" and "shitty."

A nice hike up one of the bluffs

Looking down from the observation tower on top of the bluff.
The following weekend I decided to take a trip to the Moravian Karst- a geographic region just north of Brno which contains steep hills, natural underwater springs, and a labyrinth of caves.  In hindsight, there must have been an easier way than the way I took.  As it was a rather spontaneous trip, I didn't do a lot of research other than looking at train schedules and a brief ocular inspection using Google Earth.  I knew I had to go to the town of Blansko, just 20 minutes north of Brno by train.  I did not know exactly how to reach the caves or anything open to lookie-loo's other than it was all pretty much east of Blansko.  So I arrived and was promptly lost.  Luckily my survival instinct knew I needed water and lunch....and cookies.  A brief stop at Albert satisfied my need for foodstuffs.  They even had citrus wafers; something that sounded strangely good on a warm afternoon.  From Albert I decided that I should go south, as my memory told me all the photo icons on Google Earth were centered southeast of the town.  Soon enough I hit an east-west road and I headed down it (going east).  From there I used the terrain to navigate.  I followed  a stream and a rail line through the woods (there was also a road, another great navigational aid).  I felt like Bear Grylles.....except I didn't drink my own piss.  Along the way I saw what was apparently a manufacturing plant for water turbines and a recycling plant.  Both had the appearance of being crumbling relics of the old communist regime - old, rusty, and functionally oriented.  They clashed nicely with the lush greenery and crystal clear streams.

The walk to anything resembling an area to explore was about 5 miles or 8km.  There wasn't really accommodation for pedestrians alongside the road which was discouraging for someone who didn't really know where they were going, but the occasional bicycler kept my confidence up that I was indeed going somewhere (as opposed to nowhere, where I would likely die of bear attacks, hunger, or hillspeople).  The walk paid off.  I came across a bed and breakfast near a pond with a spectacular backdrop.  Going further into the hills I found the tourist stop where I purchased tickets to something....but that something was 2km further up the road.  I made the additional trek through even more pristine woods and hills and streams until I saw a group of Canadians huddled around a picnic table in front of a building.  I figured I had an hour before whatever event my tickets were valid for so I took a sky tram to the top of the hill.  It overlooked the Macocha Basin, the primary entrance to the cave system below the hills.  The story goes that a woman wanted to re-marry, but had a child (I forget if it was her child or her prospective husband's child).  So she tempted the child into the woods with the pretense of picking berries before she pushed the child off the cliff into the Macocha basin.  The child grabbed onto a brush and called for help.  Eventually some woodsmen came to the rescue and the child spilled the beans.  The townspeople sentenced the woman to throwing her into the basin.  Believe it or not.

Eventually I made the tour I had purchased, being on the tail end of the Canadian group.  At first I was disappointed, we walked through the caves and a recording played explaining the discovery and folklore associated with the stalactites.  I couldn't really hear anything and I had seen stalactites before, so I was bummed.....until we reached the basin.  It was eye opening for sure.  Coming from the confines of the cave tunnels to 200 meter shear cliffs was impressive.  After snapping as many photos as I could before the Czech tour group came through, we proceed back into the caves where we boarded a boat.  There was no natural lighting and flash photography was prohibited, so I lowered the shutter speed and saw what came out.  The resulting photos made it look like a carnival ride.  Very cool

After the caves I walked back to the tourist area and sat down.  Unfortunately where I sat down was a cafe and somehow I ordered instant  coffee.  No matter, it only cost me 10czk.  I ate my bread and cheese and citrus wafers for lunch then headed back to Blansko.  I had about 2 hours to burn when I arrived so I found a pub and had a couple beers.  This is where I learned that the people of Blansko were not the most accommodating or even happy.  I can't put my finger on it, but everyone I saw was more or less worse for wear and not as lively as the other places I have visited.

Recycling plant.

No idea what this is, but it looked mysterious.

4 miles in I get this view.  Rewarding

Macocha basin

Couldn't hear the commentary for this one, but that's a carrot the
bunny is holding.

I want to sleep here.  So cool and quiet.

Rather like this selfie.

Watch your head!

After receiving several texts this morning at 4am, I was convinced to skype with the Casa de Fehlinger party in Florida.  Like most parties at the Casa, it lead to drinking, and a slight hangover.  That killed any plans I had for Saturday and I stayed in and watched Archer.  Later I ordered a pizza for dinner and accidentally locked myself out of the dorm.  Oops.  Luckily a fellow tenant let me in.

That's all for now.  I kinda want to talk about how the public transportation system needs human factos work, but I think I'll leave that for later.  Leaving for Seattle on Tuesday, hope it'll provide more great photos.  I'm not sure what it'll be like to be back in the states but it will be interesting to see how much I've adapted to life in the Czech Republic in 3 months.  I hope to eat familiar foods and drive a car again (do I remember how?).


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