Slepacia, Slivovecia and wood-fired pork knee! Oh my!


We arrive at Alena's house just before noon and lunch smells fantastic!


Meals are long and boozy when we are hosted by our Slovakian relatives. Every course begins with a shot of local liqueur called Slivovica, served in a fancy cut glass. Whoa! Mom & I play along- knocking back our shots and shouting, “Nastrovia!!!” Dad has learned that he can opt out of most celebratory drinking with a single word, “Chauffeur”, since the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.0%. Slovakians take drunk driving very seriously… probably because they take their drinking very seriously!


*Upon closer review of this photo- this is breakfast. Omelets and shots = Yowza!

The first course is always Slepacia. Homemade, delicious chicken soup with delicate handmade noodle (if you're lucky). Alena had ordered focaccia with bacon from the bakery and I had to pace myself- everything was so delicious but there was more to follow.

Then, the pork knee arrived at the table, wood fired and full of flavor. (Did we have veggies?) There is a little plate of cut veggies & pickles- just like at G'mas house.


We sat for a while after dinner- Michael in the center of multiple conversations- and then dessert arrives on the table. Kolache! Dad's favorite kind of Slovak cake is a roll with walnut paste inside. There is also a poppy seed version that is very popular. G'ma Sip used to make both varieties. Two & 1/2 hours after lunch began & its time for a walk… Or a nap. We opt for the guided tour of Klato.

In such a small village, the principal attracts attention wherever she goes. We stop to talk to kids & parents as we head up the hill to the cemetery.Alena and her students

One of the older women we pass offers us handfuls of walnuts that she has collected.Walnuts

In the cemetery, we visit Alena's mother's grave, Stephania who passed away 3 months ago and clear the leaves off her grave and light a candle for her. In Slovakia, everyone takes care of their own family's grave – one family was there doing some landscaping with white quartz rocks.


The town of Klato is so small that they do not have a church- the chapel in the cemetery holds services on Saturdays, when the priest from the next-town-over is available.

Klato chapel

We stopped in side to ogle the paintings on the ceiling and making sure our number wasn't up…

Now serving

Jesus is now serving number 888.

After leaving the cemetery, we make the logical next stop… the VINOTEKA!!!

On Tap

Slovakians grows lots of grapes and many of them make their own wine. This guy built a bar in his basement and it's awesome! He is also a metalsmith and really went all-out decorating the bar in a manly fashion.


The owner really wanted to put up this sweet chandelier and then his wife pointed out that tipsy patrons may try to swing on it. So, he re-installed it to support up to 250 lbs. In the photo, Veronica + Michael are giving it 'the ultimate test'. It seems to be holding up!


Did you notice the pitcher of cloudy 'wine' in the photo of all the taps on the wall? No? Well, it may have been your introduction to BURCIAK- its midway between grape juice and wine. A lot of the sugar hasn't fermented into alcohol yet, so it's sweet yet gives you a buzz. And since we had WALKED there, Dad's usual excuse did not apply. This photo cracks me up!

The tour of Klato wasn't over, next we head over to Alena's school to check out the Agricultural Fair! We'll save that excitement for next time!


Prague/Praha/Praag: It all depends on how you see it.

Saturday, September 14th

Elly & I had a relaxing morning; I packed and then we walked to the park to recap our adventures and drink a Club Mate'. They sell it at every refreshment stand in Berlin. Elly was sure that this was some kind of local beer, but then saw a librarian drinking it at work! Turns out, it's locally made, carbonated tea with a syrupy sugar flavor. It's what you would call an 'acquired taste'.

All this talk of Clib Mate' reminded me of this: fun with Googlie eyes!

1- A trash can (thanking you for the hotdogs.)

2- A cherub (You can tell that the tall cherub is totally spreading rumors.)

3- Club Mate' is more appealing with eyes.

After our shenanigans, we hugged goodbye and I caught the U-Bahn at the station near Elly's (SchlesischesTor) and made my way towards Hauptbahnhof (a big train station & 4 floors of shops).

I had just enough time to buy Natasja some Duncan Donuts and find my reserved seat on the train. I had attempted to buy my tickets on-line, but they wanted to charge me 18€ to mail me my 75€ tickets. While in Berlin, I went to the train station and bought the same ticket 'on special' for 44€! Score!

The ride was 4.5 hours long, the first hour was just industrial wasteland as we exited Berlin. After we passed Dresden we were following the Elde river and it was picturesque! Often, the far bank had a paved trail and we saw many people biking, hiking and even camping along the river.

That evening when I arrived at Prague's main train station (Hlavni nasrazi) things got a bit tricky. I felt like I was on The Amazing Race! I had to get Czech Krona in order to buy a ticket into town, but no one spoke English. I eventually found a 'Bankomat' (no wonder saying 'ATM' didn't help me) and got $1400Kr. But the ticket machine only took coins! (Later, I figured out there is an attendant at a ticket window.) Next, I bought a yogurt, so I had change for the machine and with the help of my guidebook, managed to purchase a ticket (12Kr)! It was only 2 stops on the Metro, then I was wandering the dark street, looking for my hostel, Miss Sophie's.

After a 20 minute confusion with our bed assignments, I stashed my bags in the under-bed-rolling-locker (great idea!) and walked toward Wenseslas Square.

I found my way down to the National Museum (Narodini Muzeum) – (the awesome desk staff informed me that from 8pm- 1am was Free Museum Night (Prazska Muzejni Noc)!) but the line was long so I headed back to Miss Sophie's to see if Natasja's plane had arrived.

And she was!!! YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY!YAY!YAY!YAY!YAAAAY!!!!

We headed back out to the museum where we admired 3 huge portraits of Franz Jozeph, used a 150 year old printing press and tried on a fancy gentleman's hat.

(Do you think he noticed I was wearing his hat?) We stayed at the museum until 1am, then caught the 'futuristic' Soviet metro back to our hostel.


Sunday, September 14

The next morning, near a traffic circle with a fanciful fountain, we found the restaurant Zanzibar. They served fresh ginger tea and had great eggs/omelets! Then, off we went, down 'Ameriky Street' to wander around Old Town.


We saw the Charles bridge.

Natasja took this awesome pic of Wenseslas Square (which is more of a boulevard than a square…) The National Museum is at the top of the hill.

There were some pianos strewn about town, for people to play. And we found Wenseslas riding an upside down horse in the Lucerne building. (Also, lattes!)

Then we headed down to explore the Old Town square, where all the tourists converge.

The square (namesti) is huge, surrounded on all sides by gorgeous buildings and old churches. The astronomical clock is here as well- it was built in 1410 as a tourist attraction and people are still gathering to watch it every hour. It is beautiful but keep your expectations low, it's hourly 'performance' consists of two little doors that open to reveal…the 12 apostles!!! Yahoo!

We wandered the market, had tea and at 2pm headed back to that blasted clock to meet up with our Royal Free Walking Tours guide. She was awesome & had many sad stories to tell us about the history of Prague. For example, the man who built the clock in 1410 was Master Hanoush and Prague was so worried that he would make another clock for a different town that they poked out his eyes! He ended up throwing himself into the clock gears & the clock didn't work for the next 100 years because no one was smart enough to fix it. Ha!

Enough heavy stuff, just look at these cute pix of Natasja to help you feel better.

The walking tour was 2.5 hours of interesting history with Bianca- we learned about Charles the 4th, who built the bridge & university that, 600 years later, still bear his name. That's him, in the left panel of the photo below.

Prague was also home to Franz Kaftka, the photo on the right is from one of his stories about a man who finds an empty suit walking by his window and rides it through town. Thanks to Alfonse Mucha, the building is the most interesting Art Deco design in Prague- the Municipal House. In a city so full of Art Deco design, this was my favorite, there will be more photos later. Promise.

Bianca told us that Mozart loved Prague too. He wrote the opera, Don Giovanni, for the Czech people. Alfonso Mucha was a big Czech patriot as well, and at the end of WWI, when Czechloslovakia became a country (1918) , he lent his artistic talents to the new government. Mucha designed their printed money, postage stamps and other materials. I bet they were pretty, just like the lady in the photo below. Mucha rocks.

Bianca also clued us in to Prague's tumultuous last century. It started in the 1930's with the Nazi, then the Communists ruined Czechloslovakia. Resistance grew during the Prague Spring in 1968. The next year, Jan Palek, set himself on fire in front of the National Museum. 180,000 demonstrators arrived at Palek's funeral, but the Communists weren't forced out until the 'Velvet Revolution', two decades later.

The weather had been fairly rainy and when we went to explore the Prague Patagonia store, Natasja ended up buying a sweet jacket! The staff were great & even pulled up the Facebook page of the Portland Patagonia store so I could show them my friend, Matt!

Later, Natasja & I found a spectacular little Italian restaurant to escape the rain and I had the best mushroom risotto ever! It was mushroom season, so all the mushrooms were fresh & wild-picked! Yum!

Tomorrow we see the Mucha museum & drink Absinthe at the Hemmingway bar! Stay tuned!


Berlin: A bear pit, St. Peter’s Basilica & Parliament Dome.

Friday, September 13th

While we were planning our final day in Berlin, I ran across a list called, “10 quirky things to see in Berlin”! Perfect! It said that bears have been considered the ‘mascot’ of Berlin since its founding and in 1939 the city built a bear pit to house the 2 bears they got as a gift from the city of Bern. (They had a bear mascot too.) After the bear pit got bombed in WWII, Bern gave them 2 new bears- they had 33 cubs together! Currently, two brown bears live in a little park behind the Märkisches museum in Elly’s neighborhood! Off we go!

This is Maxi, she was born Jan. 14, 1986 (or this is Schnute, Maxi’s mom, born Jan. 18, 1981). They live in this small habitat, called, ‘Bärenzwinger’ or ‘Bear Pit’. The pit is in the middle of a Köllnischen Park, directly across from a play structure! (öllnischer_Park)


Next, we headed towards the Turkish market. Along the way, we passed this lovely fountain. The church in the background is St. Michael’s, the dome & statue of the Archangel survived the war, but the church is missing its roof! Look closely, there is a round hole in the front of the building where a large stained glass window should sit.



Onwards- to the Turkish… Oh wait! Bike school! Kids in Berlin have to get a license to ride a bike on their own. We passed a cute pretend street where the police were instructing the kids on bike safety.

Finally, we made it to the market! I had never had a fresh fig before, so we bought a few. They were soft & sweet , with a little hint of celery flavor. We tried some nut/fruit bars, smelled some mint & passed by the Honigkranz. We listened to a busker playing ‘Paint it Black’ by the Rolling Stones on a twangy, Turkish crank guitar. It was a lively atmosphere, packed with people on a Friday morning.

Whew! Big morning! We headed back to Elly’s to check email and take a break. Berlin doesn’t have widespread Wi-Fi like Amsterdam. That morning, we had requested a visit to the glass dome on top of the parliament building & we were awaiting our official invitation to tour the dome in the evening. It arrived! Thanks Ihr Besucherdienst!

Now that we had secured a 7:30pm appointment at the Reichstag Building, we made our way towards Museum Island to check out St. Peter’s Basilica. On the way, we took a detour to see a cute park that Elly remembered from childhood visits to Berlin with her parents.



And there was this concrete amphitheater, covered with graffiti, that Elly declared was, “Very Berlin!”



We hopped the S-Bahn and ta-da! There it was, the Basilica! Check out those gorgeous domes!

We admired the sanctuary, then climbed up to the central dome and circled our way up to the walkway, high above Berlin.
Cartooned photos from the top of the dome.

The grassy sections used to be the promenade and gardens of the royalty. The circle on the left is a fountain, the circle on the right is a giant stone bowl that was intended to go into the building on its right…but it was too big! That building is the Pergamon Museum and in the 1940’s, the square would fill with people coming to hear Hitler speak from its front steps.

It was almost time for our official appointment at the parliament dome! On our walk there, we passed the Brandenburg gate at sunset!



We arrived 15 min. before the appointed time to go through security. They checked our invitation twice and matched our passports to the names on their list. After our bags were x-rayed and we got patted down, we were led in a group to the parliament doors by a guide.



As we waited to get through the air-lock, we could see into the immense, circular room where the parliament meets, under the dome. It was impressive and I could imagine a futuristic, intergalactic council meeting happening there. Then, we were cleared to enter the elevator and exited on the roof of the German Parliament, in front of the dome.

The dome was pretty amazing. The views were great, it was .00€ (aka. Free!) and the design was interesting and environmentally friendly! The funnel-shape in the center of the dome is covered with mirrors to direct sunlight into the circular meeting room, below (saving electricity!). The oval piece in between the mirrored cone & the spiral walkway is a shade and it rotates to diffuse the sunlight. Pretty neat!

The top of the dome is opened to the sky!

We left the dome and headed to an Ex-pat dinner held at the bookstore, ‘Another Country’. A yummy feast of Mexican food with some new friends and then we took our tired selves home. Tomorrow I take the train to Prague to meet up with Natasja! Hieperdepiep! Hoorah!