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

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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

On the road-Dijon, FR

Base camp Dijon, FR Sept.14

We’re back in Dijon, a city renowned for its mustard and the former seat of the dukes of Burgundy. But, mainly it is in the heart of the Burgundy wine region that produces the best wines in this world. My daughter Emma lives here with her husband Adrien and Ella.

We both are avid travelers and we took this unique opportunity to explore and broaden our horizons, and to share this with all our friends.

Dijon, Burgundy
Dijon, Burgundy

We started out in Paris on Sept.4th  after my arrival from the United States. (See my previous post “On the road”) from Sept. 7.

Paris Sept. 4th Pere Lachaise Cemetery

After seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral in 2009, like many tourists we’ve always wanted to visit the gravesite of singer, song writer, author and poet Jim Morrison, founder of the group The Doors, at the famed Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Morrison’s grave is the fourth most visited site after the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Pompideau Center, states a Paris guide.

It’s quite a ways out from the standard Paris tourist path located in the 20th Paris arrondissement near metro station Philippe Auguste.

It is the world’s greatest collection of dead human talent, according to listverse.com “Top ten fascinating graves.”

Jim Morrison's grave at Pere Lachaise in Paris.
Jim Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

Walking through the cemetery’s narrow cobblestone streets lined by sepulchers and mini chapels, I realized that this is a true “City of the dead” still operating on 110 acres with more than one million dead bodies. It is more a museum than a cemetery.

It even has a square Samuel de Champlain with benches, where people read novels or make notes. Morrison himself visited the cemetery one week before his death on July 2, 1971, and expressed a desire to be buried there.

Morrison’s humble grave is constantly surrounded by tourists and flashing cameras, probably bringing in more admirers then when he was alive. However, his bust was vandalized with graffiti and removed. The grave is regularly guarded and watched by two hidden cameras. It has the following inscription in Greek, “He caused his own demons.”

For more info on Jim Morrison’s frequented sites in Paris check out “The complete Paris guide for Jim Morrison fans” at http://pioum.chez.com/morrison/

Another famous grave is that of English author Oscar Wilde who escaped England to France to avoid the shame of his conviction for “gross indecency.”

Engraved on his grave is a verse from the “Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Wilde:

 And alien tears will fill for him,

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

Other graves of the famous include: singer Edith Piaf, playwright Moliere, Honore de Balzac and Frederic Chopin.

…to be continued with Versailles, Palace of the King of the Sun

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

On the road in France

Morzine, Savoy Alps, FR.- Sept. 7, 2013

         “It is said, that at Morzine, we live life to the full.”

I am writing this from our hotel Little White Horse in the Alpine village of Morzine nestled in the mountains at the altitude of 3,486 feet.

This is the fourth day of my fabulous trip to Europe that will take me from the chic streets of Paris to the rugged Savoy Alps, to Andalusia in Spain, to Prague in Czech Republic, to  Moravia and to the wine chateaus in Burgundy.

In the background I can hear the roaring of the motors of the 65th Mount Blanc Morzine rally. My daughter Emma Palova-Chavent is working on the track as a medecin or emergency doctor.

The sun has just broken through the clouds that you can literally reach from the windows. When I walk around the balcony of the chalet, I can see the peak of Mont Blanc floating in the clouds. And I finally have a few moments to jot all this down before it becomes one big blur.

Morzine in Savoy Alps, FR.
Morzine in Savoy Alps, FR.

The sun reflecting from the shingles of the mountain chalets is blinding and it’s heating up the wet streets after last night’s storm. We enjoyed a typical French breakfast of croissants, fruits and café.

As it drizzled yesterday, we walked the narrow streets of Morzine lined with fashionable boutiques and restaurants. It is of course off season in this French skiing paradise, so other than the race cars, it’s quiet and peaceful.

I arrived in Paris on Sept. 4. Paris was hot, hot, hot. It sizzled at 31 degrees. We took the local train to the heart of old Paris in St. Germaine quarter. We both love this part of Paris for its cafes, shops and relaxing Luxembourg Gardens. From our window of Hotel Globe, I could see part of the Eiffel Tower reaching above the roof tops.

We stopped at our favorite café Les Editeurs near metro station St. Michel/Odeon to get some energy before our trek to the famous cemetery Pere Lachaise.

Les Editeurs had just the right thing for us, that is Gourmand Café. During my travels all over the world, I’ve encountered a lot of curiosities, just plain bizarre things. But, I marveled at this chef’s masterpiece of tiny probably one tenth of a cup of café, Italian panacotti, macaroon, chocolate cake and ice cream.

Water is a tough commodity to get around Paris. Although it should be served automatically with café, it is not. You can ask for it, beg for it, but you might not get it.

“I’ll give it to you, just because I am a nice guy,” said one waiter later in Versailles.

View from hotel de Globe in Paris.
View from hotel de Globe in Paris.

The first day we walked up the hill in Pere Lachaise, I was captivated by the ornate sepulchres of the cemetery. Our goal was to find Jim Morrison’s famed grave site. Walking the cobblestone streets with names between the sepulchres was like walking in the city of the dead.

Copyright ©2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

……..to be continued with Pere Lachaise and Versailles Palace

Fall in love with Lowell

Lowell area offers abundance & variety

One entire chapter in my memoir “Greenwich Meridian” is dedicated to me living and working in Lowell. It is called Emma Palova, the journalist, because my daughter is also Emma Palova.

My husband Ludek Pala and I moved to Lowell in August 1995 after living in Kentwood suburb for two years. Today many people still ask me, “How did you end up in Lowell?”

“It’s a long story,” I answer as we sit down and talk.

That afternoon, long time ago,  we drove down Main Street. I immediately fell in love with the charming town. There was no Riverwalk yet, and the Lowell chamber office was located in the tiny white building on the east end of town. I remember talking to director Liz about basic information on the town.

A colorful block on Main Street Lowell.
A colorful block on Main Street Lowell.

We walked into Reedy Realty looking for land or a house. The Flat River Antique Mall still existed with its soda fountain, and instead of Flat River Grill there was the Swan Café. I think Flat River Cottage was located inside what is today Main Street Inn.

I liked everything about the town including Springrove Variety and Larkin’s had their saloon door, way before the modern street façade. There was a Spartan grocery store Family Fare just big enough not to get lost in it.

We found land in Vergennes Township and built a house not far from the Franciscan Sisters. I think at the time the railroad track was to a certain point functional.

My son Jakub Pala went through the Lowell Area Schools system from Cherry Creek Elementary third grade to Lowell High School. He played soccer under coach Pala.

Lowell is home to a strong arts organization Lowell Arts! Artsy knits wrap around trees.
Lowell is home to a strong arts organization Lowell Arts! Artsy knits wrap around trees.

When my mother Ella first visited with us, she said Lowell looked like a “cowboy village” recalling her first years in the country in Hawkins, Texas in the seventies.

“This looks like Hawkins,” she said.

I liked the quaint atmosphere of the Lowell area mainly the Fallasburg Park with the Covered Bridge and the historic pioneer village. I visited the one-room school-house many times, most recently right before my trip to Europe.

My love for history led me to explore many area historical sites and museums. Compared to Europe, the museums and history here in North America are young. One of the oldest bridges in Prague made of stone, the Judita bridge, dates back to the sixth century.

I’ve seen and written about all the special exhibits at the Lowell Area Historical Museum including the most recent and my favorite one, “Real to Reel.” The town has a strong Lowell Arts! Organization that puts on many exhibits, concerts, and theatre plays by Thebes Players.

Riverwalk with Showboat with pedestrian area on the banks of the Flat River. Summer concerts are held here.
Riverwalk with Showboat with pedestrian area on the banks of the Flat River. Summer concerts are held here.

The Englehardt Library was constructed with monies from the Englehardt Foundation. Overall Lowell has been fortunate to have many philanthropists and community foundations that enable community projects such as farmland preservation.

I love the architecture of Main Street, its buildings with front and back door entrances. That differs a lot from European towns and villages. Most European towns and cities have squares with fountains or monuments in the middle. The buildings usually have one front entrance only.

However, there are some similarities such as many towns and cities in Czech Republic also sit on the banks of rivers. They do have promenades like Lowell has the Riverwalk. Prague even has several botels on the Moldau River, which are floating hotels on boats, but they don’t have a Showboat.

Old Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce office on the east end of town.
Old Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce office on the east end of town.

Today, as I took photos for my EW Emma’s Writings online journal blog to show my friends in Czech Republic how we live, I realized how fortunate we are.

From the artsy knit work on the trees in downtown to the Pink Arrow Pride t-shirts, the town has a lot to offer. We patronize all the businesses in Lowell. My future daughter-in-law Maranda will have a baby shower at the beautifully renovated Main Street Inn.

I love the Summer Sizzlin’ concerts, just as much as I love the Fallasburg Fall Festival, (FFF) for the Arts, FallFest Bluegrass, Harvest Celebration along with the chili cook-off. The annual chili-cook off held in mid October is sponsored by Larkin’s Pub, and it is held on Broadway Street in downtown Lowell. Larkin’s Other Place serves as a venue for plays by Thebes Players complete with a dinner theatre. For this year’s repertoire and schedule for FFF check out the Lowell Arts! website at http://www.lowellartsmi.org

Larkin's pub on Main Street in Lowell. Larkin's Other Place next door hosts plays by Thebes Players.
Larkin’s pub on Main Street in Lowell.

Each year in September, the town decks its lampposts with posters and pink shirts commemorating cancer victims. The Pink Arrow Pride project in its sixth year raises money and forces against cancer. For the annual football game that takes place at the Red Arrow Stadium both the players and spectators dress in pink. This year the game will be held on Sept. 6.

It is the hottest game of the season.

Lowell is surrounded by two townships, Lowell Township and Vergennes Township. The high school along with the stadium is located in Vergennes Township.

Other area attractions include a charming bed & breakfast Witt’s Inn in Vergennes Township completely remodeled with a wedding barn. It is nestled among apple orchards.

Red Arrow Stadium at the Lowell High School annually hosts the Pink Arrow Pride.
Red Arrow Stadium at the Lowell High School annually hosts the Pink Arrow Pride.

Among the many interesting churches in the area is the Vergennes United Methodist Church constructed in 1864. It is a simple clapboard structure reminiscent of buildings on the East Coast.

The Franciscan Life Process Center holds their annual Harpfest in mid August. The center has many arts and music programs.

And then of course, there are the trail systems and Lowell is at their crossroads. I can’t wait to hit the Frederick Meijer Flat River Trail from our place to town or to Belding.

The trails have been in the making for the last six to 10 years due to hard work of many involved volunteers.

So, as the years roll by, I learn to appreciate more and more the rural area we live in with all that it has to offer.

American Midwest has its own magic with the changing seasons, and the changing colors. When I first found out that people do color tours here, I could not believe it. Now, I understand the beauty of  the American fall.

Vergennes United Methodist Church and Vergennes Township hall. Vergennes & Lowell townships surround the city of Lowell.
Vergennes United Methodist Church and Vergennes Township hall. Vergennes & Lowell townships surround the city of Lowell.

Precincts 1&2 vote at the township hall and at the Methodist Church.

The Main Street Inn is the only hotel in Lowell with seven rooms and large meeting spaces. It has been totally remodeled in the space where a hotel used to stand.

Main Street Inn in downtown Lowell overlooking the Flat River.
Main Street Inn in downtown Lowell overlooking the Flat River.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

Mom’s birthday

Mom’s birthday marks end of summer

My memoir “Greenwich Meridian” is dedicated to my mother Ella Konecny of Big Rapids, Michigan. Out of the entire immigration saga now spanning three generations, she was the one who suffered the most.

“Immigration is a lot of give and take,” she said in an interview in Venice, Florida in March.

Today as she celebrates her birthday, I recall the summer birthdays of the past in former Czechoslovakia.

Mom Ella Konecny, the pharmacist
Mom Ella Konecny, the pharmacist

After returning from Texas on presidential amnesty in 1973, we spent most of our summers at grandparents’ old house in Vizovice, region of Moravia in former Czechoslovakia. The old dwelling was called a “chalupa,” which has nothing to do with the Mexican food.

“I wanted to go home to help my parents,” mom said in a recent interview in Venice, Florida.

Mom was working at the pharmacy in then regional capital Gottwaldov, while we were living the country life on the streets of Vizovice. At first I wasn’t too happy about leaving behind the American lifestyle.

Back in Hawkins, we had a car, dad’s university apartment, and a coke machine at the Junior High School. I was not only on the honor roll, but also on the basketball and softball teams. I played the flute at the time, later the clarinet. I had dreams bigger than this world.

Coming home to Czechoslovakia was a shock. I couldn’t name the months of the year in Czech, I didn’t know Russian or geometry. So, mom entered me in seventh grade instead of eighth at the local 1st through 9th grade school in Stipa.

The school in comparison to USA was very strict and a lot more difficult. I thought the teachers were mean. My aunt and classroom teacher Martha had to tutor me.

But, I loved the summer breaks at the “chalupa” in Vizovice. By the time August rolled around, I was tanned and hardened by the streets. We spent all our time on street Krnovska in Vizovice playing whatever and with who ever was available.

Moravian dwelling called "chalupa."
Moravian dwelling called “chalupa.”

I started a street club with friend Zdena who was the treasurer. I remember exploring along the banks of the river Lutoninka. The river had a weir, and for many years we swam in its cold waters. My grandpa Joseph poached on the river catching fish with his bare hands.

Every year when August 23rd approached, grandma Anna gave me a 20-crown bill, usually late in the afternoon.

“Go and buy a gift for your mother,” she said. “It’s her birthday.”

I grabbed the money and proudly marched into town passed the tobacco/jewelry shop close to the grade school. I’ve always loved window shopping. In awe, I admired the crystal glasses and other famous Czech crystal and garnets.

Sometimes, I would just walk into the shop and buy a newspaper and linger around so I could smell the tobacco. Therein are the origins of my love for newspapers.

When I finally made it across the bridge to the general store called “U Kaluzu” ( “By the puddle,” ) I was fascinated by all the merchandise.

The store pitched atop the river bank had everything.

Many decades later, I was surprised to find a small organizer sewing basket at my parents’ condo in Venice.

“Mom you still have this?” I asked. “I got this for you ages ago in Vizovice.”

“I know,” she said. “And I kept it.”

Happy birthday, mom.

Copyright © 2013 story and photos by Emma Palova

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Prague Spring ’68 spurred immigration

Thousands left former Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of Soviet invasion

As Czech and Slovak republics approach the 45th anniversary of the Prague Spring invasion of Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops on Aug. 21, I continue to work on my memoir “Greenwich Meridian.”

The memoir tracks the history and present of our family immigration saga which now spans three generations. It was directly spurred by the Soviet invasion in 1968 also known as Prague Spring.

Like many other Czech expatriates living around the world, our family left the country as a result of the Soviet occupation of former Czechoslovakia.

Soviet tanks invaded the streets of major cities in former Czechoslovakia.
Soviet tanks invaded the streets of major cities in former Czechoslovakia.

Here is an excerpt from the second chapter of the memoir titled:

On the run

The 1968 Prague Spring was looming over Czechoslovakia. On August 21st, the country was invaded by Soviet tanks from the East and the armies of the Warsaw Pact. Hundreds of tanks roared all over the country in the full- blown invasion that impacted an entire generation of immigrants to the US, Germany, Canada and Australia. The country was occupied, and the Russians set up bases both in Slovakia and in the Czech part. The Russians were out to punish the Czechoslovak liberal government for creating “socialism with human face.” The movement was led by Alexander Dubcek, and late president Vaclav Havel was part of a signatory group called Charta 1968. A series of reforms were meant to ease restrictions on media, free speech and travel.

          At the time of the occupation, my mother was on a spa stay in Carlsbad in Western Bohemia, a famed town known for its 12 healing springs.

          “I went to the colonnade in the morning,” mom said. “People were crying, listening to the radio. There were huge demonstrations, as people knocked down statues of the communist leaders.”

          Mom had to stay three more days, because the roads were closed due to tanks. Then she took a detour bus through Sumava to Brno.

          “We had a new apartment in Brno, but I left for Vizovice to be with my parents,” she said.

          There was no telephone connection, according to mom. But, the borders were open for anyone to leave freely.

          “ My friends were leaving the country, crossing the border on foot with just a suitcase in their hands,” she said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere.”

 

Copyright © 2013 story by Emma Palova

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