Star Wars, sister wars

Star Wars bathrobes tag a message

As a rule coming from journalistic background, I usually don’t write about my feelings, even though that’s what most blogs are about. But, this time I have to break that rule.

Two days ago I found a big box with Amazon fulfillment services sticker on it. I didn’t open it for a day. I do have Shop Emma’s Amazon on my blog in an effort to monetize the site along with Google translator and Adwords.

When I finally opened the big box, I found two Jedi inspired bathrobes brown, furry with white checkered sash made in China. The mysterious robes with a Star Wars tag and a big brown pocket on the right side continue to puzzle me. The box came without any invoice. Maybe it’s an early Christmas present or is there a message?

In the fast changing world of Internet where words and tags mean everything, it makes me wonder. I have  been dealing lately with a lot of conflict between sisters. And that is not only between natural birth sisters, but other people’s sisters. Now, I understand why the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote Three Sisters.

“You have to let it channel, otherwise it’s not going to be any good,” he gave advise on writing.

Star Wars
Star Wars Jedi inspired bathrobes

I don’t have a sister, and I am glad. I used to wish I had one, that maybe we could be friends. I have witnessed hatred between sisters that goes all the way to the grave, the crib or the altar.

I write about hatred between sisters in my memoir Greenwich Meridian where East meets West. One of the sisters is my Godmother and aunt. When I visited Czech Republic in 2006, I wasn’t allowed to say hi to her. She in turn didn’t pick up the phone.

A few minutes ago, I found out somebody else’s sister ordered the bathrobes as a birthday present.

That’s one heck of a birthday present.

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Emma’s blogs

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CJ Aunt Jarmilka’s desserts. Post Holiday sweet dreams.

I now design and write blogs and pages on WordPress for other people as well. Email me for a quote at emmapalova@yahoo.com. I offer unbound creativity, uniqueness, originality and SEO, SEM skills. Check out Aunt’s sweet site at http://jkarmaskova.wordpress.com

Geneva, Switzerland

European adventures

This is the ninth installment in my travel adventure series through European countries including France, Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland. I was gone for five weeks to a different world with different languages, and different traditions. So, now after coming back on Oct. 9th to Lowell,Michigan, it feels like I’ve been in a time capsule.

Geneva, Switzerland Oct. 2nd

We planned a day trip to Switzerland with my daughter Emma partially because of my Lowell area following of friends. A great portion of Lowell residents are of Swiss origin including my neighbors and one of my best friends.

Geneva, where Rhone meets Lake Geneva and the Alps.
Geneva, where Rhone meets Lake Geneva and the Alps.

I’ve never been to Switzerland, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve only heard stories how beautiful the country is, and I remembered my friend’s pictures of Swiss Alps in her office. Switzerland borders with France to the east and shares the language, but not the membership in the European Union. So, the country has its own currency, and that is the Swiss frank, which has a lower value than the Euro, but higher than US dollar.

Our intention was to go to Lausanne which is located on Lake Geneva just like the city of Geneva. We took the back roads to avoid the 40- frank sticker for using the freeway crossings between the two countries. Soon after we left the cheese city of Poligny, home to the famous Comte cheese, the narrow road started climbing. We were stuck behind a truck, that wouldn’t let us pass.

Geneva with backdrop of Alps.
Geneva with backdrop of Alps.

When we finally lost the truck, the signs to Lausanne also disappeared. Now, instead of Lausanne, all the signs pointed to Geneva. The two cities are not exactly close to each other. Each city is on a different side of Lake Geneva that stretches for more than 50 kilometers.

We stopped at a border town already high in the mountains, where you could hear bells ringing. I thought it was the train coming. Then I looked up, and the cows that were grazing on a steep hill, had bells tied around their necks. I knew we were in for a Swiss adventure, and not just chocolate and milk.

“This is a classical echec,” Emma said. “We’re on our way to Geneva. Those cows have the bells so they don’t get lost.”

“What is echec?” I asked about the strange French word that doesn’t have an exact translation but derives its origins from chess terminology. I was yet to find out what echec really is.

Old town Geneva.
Old town Geneva.

We arrived into beautiful Geneva instead of Lausanne on a sunny afternoon. People on the streets were already wearing winter coats and jackets. We walked into the old town across a bridge, where the big river Rhone flows into Lake Geneva on the backdrop of snow-capped Alps with eternal ice. The water sparkled in the sun with a million rays. A landscape on the bank lined by beautiful buildings was in the shape of a clock.

“This is breathtaking,” I said.

Boats and yachts were cruising on the mysterious lake that does not give away its secrets.

“I got to get some monkey money,” Emma said referring to any currency that is not Euro.

Well, the monkey money, could not buy us a lunch that we could regularly afford in France or in Czech Republic, not to talk about Spain.

We ended up eating steamed food in a paper dish at probably the only health food restaurant in Geneva. Signs advertising menus on the sidewalks in front of restaurants did not go below 30 franks for a dish of tartiflette or potatoes with cheese. Even a burger in Geneva cost 15 franks.

We walked into a Geneva “patisserie” or coffee house and did not buy their cream filled squares covered with chocolate and a logo, because we were full of the steamed food.

“There will be other patisseries like this where we can have a dessert,” we thought.

Well, there were not. We did stop to buy some Swiss chocolate in the new town at La Chocolaterie de Geneve. The friendly owner lady offered us extra chocolates to taste.

Swiss clocks and watches even in landscapes.
Swiss clocks and watches even in landscapes.

But, still if I didn’t have Emma by my side with her knowledge of French, I would have trouble communicating in this heavily tourist European metropolis.

Also, while window shopping, most stores did not indicate prices of their goods and the famous Swiss watches. The Chanel store did not label prices either, but it was cool to check out their tweed-covered purses.

So, in the end we had Swiss franks left, and spent them at a tiny border town meaningless gas station on our way back to France for a beer and a coffee.

Lost in Brno- Czech Republic

Lowell, Michigan

I have safely returned home after travelling around several European countries including France, Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland.

This is the eighth installment in my adventure travel series when I decided to step back into the past to fuel my memoir “Greenwich Meridian, where East meets West.”

Lost in Brno- Czech Republic

I had one entire day on Sept. 25th  to relive it all in post-revolution Brno, while my friend Jane worked her post-revolution work for  an Austrian firm.

“Just follow the tram tracks into town,” she said.

Now, that was easier said than done. Brno was and is a pulsing metropolis that has cleaned itself up, so it is completely en par with Prague, Paris and Geneva. As I got into town, I found myself caught in an entire web of pedestrian zones surrounding a big park; they all seemed to lead onto Jost Boulevard.

I never heard of Jost Boulevard, and I didn’t recognize any of the huge buildings that graced it. When I  asked my friend Jane about the name of the boulevard, she said it used to be Boulevard of the Freedom Defenders. I still find that fascinating the resemblance of what Alexander Dumas once wrote in reference to the French Revolution.

“The difference between patriotism and treason is only in the dates.”

Important landmark in Brno Petrov.
Important landmark in Brno Petrov.

One of Brno’s famous fashionable promenade aka corzo is Czech Street where high-end stores are located as well a high-end restaurants. I stopped at Stopkova Pivnice for classical Czech fare, that is pork, sauerkraut and dumplings. The dish is still reasonably priced compared to the other European countries that I have visited.

Just to make sure that we could find each other, Jane and I had a rendezvous at  Mc Donald’s on Svoboda’s Square. Not only did the name of that square didn’t change, it still, after all these years, served as a podium for politicians.

Socialist successes- apartment mega complexes that surround Brno.
Socialist successes apartment mega complexes that surround Brno.

As I approached the square, there were police vehicles everywhere. I paused to look what was happening. Czech president Milos Zeman was giving a speech. I remember standing in similar places during the week that led up to Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Czech Republic now is part of the European Union. The country has chosen not to have the Euro currency, but accepts Euro money for historical and cultural preservation projects such as the one we visited in Brno, that is Castle Spilberg.

I marveled at the beautiful vistas from the castle. It was a perfect bird’s eye view on a beautiful sunny evening.

Jane and I looked at each other as we took in the “Great successes of socialism,” the  apartment mega complexes at a distance that give living space to 50,000 people each. Brno is surrounded by them. They stand as quiet sentinels to socialist policies under which all people were entitled to work and housing.

Retro pub "U Jenika" with old beer taps.
Retro pub “U Jenika” with old beer taps.

That night, as we met up with our foreign student friend, Ismael, we raised the half-liter mugs of excellent Czech beer, that hasn’t changed its quality. We were in a retro pub “U Jenika” with old taps for beer, that was fully packed to the rafters with a band. We ordered some strong cheese called “tvaruzky” on bread with butter.

“To all the socialist successes, and we’re part of them,” we laughed.

Yes, we have lived the socialist dream that never quite fully materialized.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Czech Rep. Brno-where it all started

Dijon, FR- Oct. 5

This is the seventh installment in my travel adventures series from France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. I started my trip out of Lansing, MI on Sept. 3rd to explore new cultures, and to venture into the past to Czech Republic.

My memoir “Greenwich Meridian” tracks our family immigration saga that now spans three generations.

Czech Republic, Brno, where it all started Sept. 24, 25, 26

On a chilly September night I got off the yellow StudentAgency bus in front of the Grand Hotel in Brno. I had my graduation party here in 1986 after completing my studies at the Technical University.

I realized that this was my first visit in almost three decades to the intellectual capital of Moravia.

Our immigration saga started right here in this University City. My dad professor Vaclav Konecny after graduating from Masaryk University with a degree in physics taught at the university and at the Technical Institute. My parents lived in an old apartment near the children’s hospital. Dad had to haul coal upstairs to heat the apartment.

“Your brother cried and cried, so we got yelled at by the landlord,” said mom.

At the same time, Africa gained independence from the British government, and was ready to start a path of its own.

Masaryk's University in Brno.
Masaryk’s University in Brno.

Dad was recruited by African university officials to teach math at the University of Khartoum, better known as Harvard of Africa in 1964. He spoke fluent English, and had the desire to move ahead with his career, as well as to make decent money for a new apartment.

“I was ready for this,” he said.

Dad most certainly did move ahead when he decided not to return back to Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of tanks known as Prague Spring in 1968.

“We had a consensus with colleagues that we’re not going back,” he said.

This all went through my head, as I stood in front of the Masaryk’s University that regained its name back following the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

I spent stormy four years in Brno as a student mother, a wife and a daughter of expatriated parents.

I met my best lifelong friend Eva from Kromeriz here on a train to the mandatory hops brigade. I made tons of new friends, like the one I was just going to meet after all these years, Jane. At the school, we were a strange mix of slick Brno residents, and us the so-called outsiders. As outsiders, we commuted every week to Brno, and lived at the dorms. We got along well, and complimented each other in many aspects.

Bird's eye view of Brno from Spilberg Castle.
Bird’s eye view of Brno from Spilberg Castle.

Even though the Brno city slicker students knew everything, and knew where everything was, we had our so-called country wisdom. That country wisdom and broader knowledge from the secondary gymnasium guided us through many disasters. We even had a foreign student from Afghanistan, Ismael, who could hardly speak Czech, but made it through the four-year university drill.

The drill consisted of calculus, concrete and steel constructions, architectural drafting. For me, a spirited literary soul, the technical stuff was overwhelming. But, the technical studies were the only way for me to attain a university degree, after our faux pas of returning home for the presidential amnesty in 1973. The communist government punished us by not to letting my dad teach again, and I couldn’t study any humanities. Ironically, the technical studies became my vehicle out.

To be continued……Lost in Brno 

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Abound in Czech Republic II

Dijon, FR. Oct. 3

 This is the sixth installment in my adventure travel series from France, Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland. I started my trip on Sept. 3 out of Lansing, Michigan to explore new and old cultures in support of writing and publication of my memoir “Greenwich Meridian.”

I ventured into the past into Czech homeland to recapture the events that have had impact on our family immigration saga now spanning three generations.

Vizovice, Czech Republic, Sept. 22

When I found myself in front of gated entrance no. 111 Krnovska in Vizovice on a chilly Tuesday morning, my heart skipped a beat. I could hardly recognize the white washed elegant country house on top of a hill with beautiful gabled roof, new windows and flower boxes.

The only remnants of the dilapidated summer dwelling that belonged to my grandparents Anna and Joseph Drabek was the rusty well pump at the bottom of the hill. I could still identify where grandpa put the illegal drainage under the plum trees. The plum trees were long gone but I could still hear him swearing at the sewing machines that he couldn’t repair, and in a distance I heard the lonely tunes of a coronet trumpet.

I sold the house to a local resident with a good reputation, which always counted back in the homeland. I had to sell all my belongings so I could leave former Czechoslovakia forever in1989 to join my husband and parents in USA.

I spent a big part of my life in this house that my grandpa nicknamed  as “ranch,” a name that stuck forever. Every weekend, we arrived on a bus with our infant daughter Emma in a carry-on bag to get a reprieve from the captive living in the apartment mega complex Southern Slopes.

Krnovska, Vizovice where the street was the playground.
Krnovska, Vizovice where the street was the playground.

It was a true ranch, where work and pleasure played equal role. I remember washing cloth diapers outside in the courtyard, a fancy name for a concrete slab with a drain, overgrown by grass.

This is also where I had my very first garden tucked in between the neighbor’s crumbling wall, the plum trees and the grassy two-track driveway.

“Emma, our cabbage looks like it’s been through war,” my grandpa yelled as he examined the perforated purple and yellow heads. “We’ll make sauerkraut and chalamada anyways.”

It was here at the ranch, that I learned how to cook thanks to grandma Anna. Ailing grandma was in charge of all the meal preparations as she directed the show from her Lazarus’ bed, which was the wooden bench on the porch.

A trip to town only a few minutes away was part of the daily routine. Actually, it was more like several trips to pick up different things that arrived at different times of the day, or at different days of the week.

When I think about it today, I would have probably designed an application to make this paramount vital task easier. You had to go early in the morning to buy fresh bakery products like “rohliky” or Czech croissants, but not bread. Fresh bread was only ready after 2 p.m. at the local grocery. Meat and produce where only available on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 2 p.m. Lager beer from Prerov came in on Wednesdays.

Main Square Vizovice with Marian Column.
Main Square Vizovice with Marian Column.

In Vizovice, I learned how and when to buy the right meat, which still remains a true art in Czech homeland.  Literally, you never knew what you were going to get. Rule no. one was to come early and stand patiently in the line. That too later paid off in my journalistic career.

“Did you know that Mary has been cheating on him?” whispered one broad to another standing in the line in front of me. Both had standard apron dresses on, that are still sold at the textile shops.

“No,” the other broad, wearing a dark blue apron dress, pretended she knew nothing. That way she could find out more.

If you were up front in the line, you could get a good cut. Once I proudly brought in a big piece of meat.

“That pig gave you some carcass instead of chuck,” grandma turned her head upset at the butcher.

As I stood humbled on the Main Square in Vizovice by the Marian column, I could no longer find the old buffet shop that sold the best desserts in town, the coveted Prerov Lager, sweet and sour herrings and Walachian salad.

Creme breeze roll with cappuccino at Tony's. Some things just stay sweet forever.
Creme breeze roll with cappuccino at Tony’s. Some things just stay sweet forever.

The People’s House pub and lodge has been converted into the Vizovice City Hall. It still bears the inscription “ Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood.” All the little specialty shops including dairy with great ice cream Eskimo, bakery and the dreaded meat market have been integrated into a super grocery. The funeral parlor, where I had to check for grandma on most recent deaths, was gone too.

But several venues from the past did stay intact; some repaired, some left in their desolate state. I walked into the old gift shop, “U Kaluzu” where I used to buy gifts for my mother’s birthday. It still smelled of nostalgia. It now sells stationery, and the gifts it sold, were on display in the window as antiques.

“Prejete si prosim?” the woman behind the counter asked me, “How can I help you?”

But, there were also great new finds for me in town like “Tony’s” or U Tonka patisserie and Inn right on Main Square.

I stopped there to have a cappuccino and a true Czech dessert, a great cake roll, now called “Crème breeze.” It all cost 54 Czech crowns, since the Czechs still have not converted to Euro currency. In the eyes of a resident of the European Union, it would have been a cheap buy.

I paused in front of the old elementary school where I started first grade before leaving with my parents for Africa. It is now  an arts school.

Chateau Vizovice.
Chateau Vizovice.

The town is well known for its Chateau (Zamek) Vizovice that hosts concert series, and serves as a venue for weddings.  The chateau is surrounded by a beautiful park and fables about fraudulent owners like the fake Count Casperi.

I left the town with a warm feeling in my heart that everything continues to flow and change for the better, while the past has been preserved.

 

To be continued……University city Brno,Czech Republic where it all started

Emma Palova © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

 

Abound in Czech Republic

Dijon, FR- Sept. 29

 This is the fifth installment in my travel adventure series that covers three European countries including France, Spain and Czech Republic. I  followed  the footsteps of my past into Czech homeland as I visited places, friends and relatives that have had impact on our family immigration. I am currently working on my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” about the three-generation saga.

 

Zlin, Moravia- Sept.16th through Sept.24th

 The names of many places, buildings and universities have changed since the fall of communism in 1989. So, as a rule, we had to meet with old friends and relatives best at train stations, because tracks haven’t moved or at bus stations.

In some cases, we even had to set up clues, marks and signs to recognize each other. Some of us had dyed, cut our hair or just plain have grown old and gray.

I easily recognized my friend Liba Hlavenka from Canada whom I haven’t seen in more than two decades in spite of the fact that we live in two neighboring countries.

“You live next to each other,” relatives asked, “That’s crazy you’re going to meet her here.”

Emma Palova with longtime friend Liba Hlavenka in front of train station Zlin.
Emma Palova with longtime friend Liba Hlavenka in front of train station Zlin.

Well, the distance between Montreal, where Liba lives, and Grand Rapids, where I live, is around 1,000 miles. It was a pure coincidence that we both happened to be in Zlin, Czech Republic, at the same time and in the same year. I wasn’t that lucky with my other classmates who too have immigrated; one also to Canada, the other to Sweden.

The other factor that plays a big role in brief rendezvous in the old country is that we all usually come back only for social occasions. That is most often for funerals, graduations, and rarely for weddings or school reunions. There just never seems to be enough time, money or energy.

I missed all the reunions from the elementary school in Stipa, from the secondary school in Zlin, and finally from the university in Brno. It wasn’t by my own choice. Thanks to modern technology, we could use Skype to communicate during our last elementary school reunion in 2011. However, it is not quite the same thing, as seeing your classmates in their true flesh and blood.

I always say that’s the price we pay for leaving the country where we were born, raised and went to school. We have left behind our living and dead relatives, a different culture and a way of life. Our family ancestors are buried at the local cemeteries, and usually we only get to see the inscription on their headstones.

I tried to recapture all that I have missed over the decades in a flurry of six days visiting the communities of my past: Zlin, Stipa, Vizovice, Kromeriz and Brno.

Kromeriz, UNESCO World Heritage Center.
Kromeriz, UNESCO World Heritage Center.

I met up with my longtime university friend Eva Petrikova-Laurencikova in the beautiful city of Kromeriz on a rainy Saturday. All of my friendships have survived the revolution, the European Union, changes both in politics and economics, changes in careers and partners, as well as the distance across the Atlantic Ocean.

“Do you remember how we used to eat beer cheese in a cup with onions?” Eva asked.

I could not remember the beer cheese, but I did remember the smoked pork knee we used to order in cheap student joints that smelled of beer in Brno.

Here we were, 27 years after graduation; Eva with her two grown children, Emma and John, and me feasting on a smoked pork knee at Velky Orel (Big Eagle) restaurant located on the main Big Square in Kromeriz. Each friend that I managed to see again, wanted to showcase something from the towns where we used to hang out.

“They brew their own beer here,” Eva said.

A lot of the pubs in Czech Republic have jumped on the bandwagon of the microbrewery trend crafting their own spectrum of beers.

Inside Big Eagle restaurant, microbrewery.
Inside Big Eagle restaurant, microbrewery.

We walked the cobblestone streets and squares in Kromeriz that has been designated as the UNESCO World Heritage Center protected for its historical value. Eva showed me the catholic school, where she teaches math. Interestingly enough, each one of us ended up doing something totally different than what we studied, that is construction engineering.

“Since I’ve overseen the construction of our summer house in Velke Losiny, I might go back into engineering,” Eva laughed. “You have to come and write from there. Losiny is a beautiful town with thermal springs close by.”

Flower Garden, part of the Archbishp's Palace complex in Kromeriz.
Flower Garden, part of the Archbishop’s Palace complex in Kromeriz.

We also toured the main grounds of the Archbishop Palace where some scenes from the film “Amadeus” and “Immortal Beloved” were shot. The Archbishop’s Palace boasts a unique arts collection including the prized painting by Venetian master Tiziano Vecelli. I remember when we wanted to go and audition for extras in the movie with my grandpa Joseph for 100 Czech crowns a day. Today, I wish we had. As always, I only regret the things I haven’t done.

As a special treat, we walked on top of the Flower Garden colonnade taking in the perfect symmetry of the gardens and the labyrinths below us.

It is said that if a person speaks at one end of the colonnade, the words echo clearly through to the other side.

I picked up a few long coveted deli items at the local Carrefour before we said goodbye, strangely enough at the parking lot by the cemetery since there is no parking along Lesenska Road in Stipa.

We sent butterfly kisses to each other; hardened by our past, discontent in the present, oblivious to the future.

For more information on Kromeriz go to www.mesto-kromeriz.cz. The info center is located at 50/45 Big Square in town. For more information on Czech Republic go to www. czechtourism.com

To be continued…….Abound in Czech Republic II

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Into Czech homeland

 Stipa, Brno, Czech Republic, Sept. 24-25

 This is the fourth installment in my travel series from France, Spain and Czech Republic. My trip started on Sept. 3rd  in Lansing, USA. I set out to explore and absorb other new cultures, as well as to follow in the footsteps of my past in my homeland Czech Republic. I decided to venture into the past to support the writing and publication of my memoir “Greenwich Meridian where East meets West.”

In the footsteps of the past

 I am writing this fourth installment from the attic room of my cousin Brona’s house located across the cemetery in Stipa. It is a gloomy cold day out there, more like November. I can see the street now called Lesenska which leads to the popular zoo Lesna.

         As stated in the memoir, we lived in this house when we returned on presidential amnesty back into former Czechoslovakia in 1973. The house belonged to my late grandparents Anezka and Antonin Konecny, both prominent teachers in the community. I come from a big educators’ family. My dad Vaclav Konecny is a retired university professor, and my aunt Martha is a retired math and arts teacher.

         Living in Stipa played a pivotal role in my life. I went to grade school here, I met my husband Ludek here, and I got married at the pilgrimage church of Saint Mary.

         It was in Moravia that I built everlasting relationships starting in kindergarten Vizovice through university in Brno.

         To capture the flavor of all this I wanted to come back. I arrived on a CSD train line called “Velehrad” from Prague on Sept. 19th in the evening at the station in Otrokovice.

Train station  on route Prague Otrokovice
Train station on route Prague Otrokovice

         I had the entire four-hour train ride to think and map out the events of the past, present and the future. Many people in both countries USA and Czech Republic often ask me what hasn’t changed since the communist regime in Czechoslovakia toppled after Velvet Revolution in 1989.

         “You gotta buy a new  ticket,” a stout officer woman hollered at me in the seating section of the train known in Czech as kupe as I frantically searched my purse. “I don’t have time to wait until Otrokovice.”

         We were about three minutes from my final destination in the Moravian town of Otrokovice. I finally found the ticket after shoving it in my purse because a different train officer already had punched the ticket. The woman angrily turned away upset that I found the ticket, and that she couldn’t charge me again.

         Therein lies my answer; people and the entire state train system have not changed. The system is very efficient and on time, but the train cars, the stations and the train people are often not flattering  and chaotic. Nothing like the fast trains TGV in France, although a lot cheaper at 275 Czech crowns for a ticket from Prague to Otrokovice.

Emma 2013 915
Main Square in hometown Zlin.

         Hometown Zlin, formerly Gottwaldov, with population of 80,000 is an industrial and a commercial center. I went to secondary school Gymnasium Zlin here, and later I worked here at a local construction firm.

         The statues of old communist leaders were torn down after the revolution, and new ones replaced them along with architectural gems such as the glass dome Congress Center.

         However, I did recognize old mainstays such as the Big Cinema that was just showing film “Colette,” shopping center Prior and the sports hall. These facilities were all built during communism.

         New for me were cheap shops operated by Vietnamese people conveniently located by the bus stations.

Emma 2013 712
McDonalds European style, a good place to meet

         Since, the names of most places have changed, the only sure way to meet with people who I haven’t seen in decades was ironically at the train and bus stations.

 To be continued…….Abound in Czech Republic

 Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

On the road-Morzine, FR

Toulon sur Arroux, deep in French countryside, Sept. 18

A few days in the life of a French doctor extraordinaire

 I am writing this from an apartment above medical office Maison Medicale in Toulon sur Arroux deep in French countryside. It’s nasty, cold and raining, but a good time for writing.

My daughter Emma substitutes at this two-doctor general practice on regular basis. She also works as an emergency doctor on race tracks.

That’s how we found ourselves in Morzine at the elevation of 7,200 feet in French Alps on my third day in France.

 Morzine, Sept.6th&7th

 French Alps are approximately a three-hour drive from base camp Dijon. Cluses is a gateway town to the Alps where the 10 kilometer long climb on narrow roads starts. From here the roads fork out into different resorts hugging the majestic Mount Blanc draped year-round with snow, and as the French say eternal ice.

Mount Blanc Morzine rally 2013
Mount Blanc Morzine rally 2013

The road carved its way around cliffs with bubbling streams below, as the tree line eventually disappeared below us. We finally reached Alpine Morzine, a skiing resort that boasts activities all year including the 65th annual Mont Blanc Morzine race. The mountain road rally featured cars from Porsches, Czech Skoda’s, and French Peugeots to supped-up Renault Clio.

The major street in downtown Morzine was blocked off for the race cars and for the start ramp. Emma picked up her race gear at the Skoda sports center and hooked up with the support medical crew including longtime racetrack doctor Daniell. We lodged at the Petite Cheval Blanc (Little White Horse) hotel pitched high in the hills.

I noticed at the reception a sign stating that the resort staff speaks English and Italian. The off-season rate for a night including breakfast was 59 Euros.

Born to win in Morzine mountain rally.
Born to win in Morzine mountain rally.

As I tried to communicate with the Savoyard owners, I realized the sign greatly exaggerated the language capabilities.

We had the rest of the afternoon for us to explore this splendid resort with some mountain chalets covered in clouds. We walked alongside a crystal-clear stream that feeds the water bottles of Evian, a nearby resort.

The typical Alpine resort square was home to the town hall aka mairie and a church with its steeple blending into the mountains.

An adjacent street lined with boutiques, gift shops, restaurants and bars led into uptown Morzine by the ski lifts. A night at the four-star hotel by the ski lifts averages 1,000 Euros per suite. We marveled at the view below from a terrace café. The French are fond of their coffee at any given time of the day or night. The price can range from basic 1.50 euro to a fancy 4.50 euro depending where you get it.

We spent the evening dining with the race support crew at the Skoda sports center. Daniell happily showed us to the table. As in any race event, the support crew was more jovial than the race crew that did not dine with us to our disappointment.

Descending 10 kilometres down serpentines from Morzine.
Descending 10 kilometres down serpentines from Morzine.

On our way to Morzine, not knowing what to expect, we were making fun of the racetrack meal.

“We’re going to have pizza and drink lots of coke,” I said. “We’re going to eat inside a gym.”

“Not just a regular pizza, but a real European pizza with tuna and hard-boiled eggs,” laughed my daughter.

Well, I’ve learnt not to underestimate the French in regards to food. Even though the dinner was in a large sports hall, the meal was like in a first class restaurant. The full course included pate and Mediterranean salad, beef, congliatti pasta and vegetables, tons of French hard cheese and carafes of red and rose wine.

After dinner, we walked past the car tents, in the evening mountain mist. The next day Emma worked the rally with jaws-of-life paramedics without any incident.

“It was kind of boring, just standing there,” she said.

Morzine lives life to the full.
Morzine lives life to the full.

But, she got the first seat view of the racers and their cars. She wanted me to look for French version of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that is the handsome and rugged Sebastian Loeb, champion of Rallies of France. However, he was not in Morzine this time. So, I went to further explore the town around the lifts and the finish line watching the Clios inch in as the last.

I forgot about the French rule of the thumb: all stores close between noon and 2 p.m. Lunch is only served between noon and 2 p.m. unless you’re in a major tourist destination, and if you’re looking for a chain restaurant.

I decided to wait for the stores to re-open in the local press/tabac/café shop. When the waitress showed me two sizes of coffee cups, I picked the larger. Well, I ended up with the same amount of coffee only in a bigger cup.

Go figure French ingenuity.

To be continued with…..Into Spain, from sunrise to sunset

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Versailles Palace, France

Base camp Dijon, Sept. 16

 Paris, Versailles Palace Sept. 5th

 A 40-minute ride from Paris on local train RER C along the river Seine, where I spotted a much smaller version of the Statue of Liberty, took us to the charming town of Versailles.

The Versailles Palace is located only a short walk from the metro station Rive Gauche.

At first sight from a distance it strikes with its massiveness, huge cobblestone entrance with a gilded gate.

It is the biggest palace in the world, and the palace is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It was built to its full glory by King Louis XIV known as the King of the Sun, who transferred government from Paris to Versailles. It remained the seat of power until French Revolution in 1789, and it was turned into a museum by Louis-Philippe in 1830.

Waiting to get in-Versailles Palace
Waiting to get in-Versailles Palace

To attest to that the right wing bears the inscription, “All the glories of France.”

Even with purchased tickets ahead of time, standing in a line to get into the palace is inevitable. For the lover of art, history and literature in me, the tour was a dream come true.

Up until the moment I’ve actually wandered through the lavish Grand Apartments of the King and Queen and under the crystal chandeliers, I could only imagine what they looked like.

Early on, I’ve read most of the novels by Alexander Dumas about the royals and their intricacies and vices along with the clergy. I loved his novels  “Queen’s Necklace” and Madame Dubarry, the Black Tulip, the Man in the Iron Mask and the Three Musketeers.

Well, here it was all at my fingertips. My imagination did not lie and I give all the credit to Mr. Dumas’ descriptive and devilish talent.

The artwork on the walls and ceilings gives the palace chambers a certain characterization, a definite idea of what King Louis XIV was like; an avid lover of beauty, a passionate hunter and an equestrian, a skilled politician.

The Hall of Mirrors inside Versailles.
The Hall of Mirrors inside Versailles.

“He put France into deficit, I remember that from history class,” my daughter Emma whispered into my ear.

“Yeah, but look how much money the visitors bring in to France now to see King Louis’ palace,” I said laughing.

Every day except for Monday, when the palace is closed, there is a steady stream of visitors and an entire flotilla of tour buses. The palace is still used by the French government to welcome official guests. Many rooms are available to rent for different occasions.

The Hall of Mirrors with crystal chandeliers is the central gallery of the Versailles Palace, and it served much like it does today, as a passageway to other rooms. It is 219 feet long, and a great spot for pictures to savor forever. The tourist guides call it one of the most famous rooms in the world.

I also enjoyed King Louis’ meeting room with a very long desk, just like today’s meeting rooms. Crowds lingered behind the railings of the magnificent King and Queen’s bedrooms decked in gilded crimson brocade.

So, of course my daughter and I got separated and lost amid all the commotion.

“Meet me at the Angelina Tea Room,” I texted my daughter thinking to myself, “what a place to meet.”

It’s famous for Parisian pastries and chocolate, but we didn’t get in because there was a line, and we couldn’t wait. The Versailles grounds, including the Grand Trianon , Maria Antoinette estate, the gardens and parks, stretch 3.5 kilometers from the palace to the west end of the Grand Canal. To fully explore the estate it takes two full days.

blog Sept.12 Torrux Android 133
Versailles gardens stretch 3.5 kilometers to the end of the Grand Canal.

We chose to walk to the east end of the Grand Canal past the beautiful gardens adorned by statues from Greek mythology. The walkway ends by the Sun God’s Apollo fountain. The grounds can be toured by a mini-train, rented bicycles or golf carts; also available are boat and pony rides.

We quenched our thirst at the LaFlotille garden restaurant near Marie Antoinette’s estate. The dessert menu reflected the tastes of the royals and Napoleon Bonaparte after them.

So, I ordered elaborate dessert  “pear beautiful Helena” in a tall glass with chocolate, ice cream and whipped cream. Drinking water again was an issue, and we had to ask for it twice.

As I turned around at the Latona Fountain and water parterre to take the splendor and the magnificence of the gardens in one last time, I made up my mind to come back here.

For more information on Versailles go to: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/the-palace/

To be continued with Alpine resort Morzine, FR

Copyright © story and photos by Emma Palova

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