Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A new chapter

Caroline and I are reading her first chapter book - Charlotte’s Web, a present from my brother. She wonders where the pictures are, but every night asks for more. We begin by skimming through what we've already read, looking at pictures and talking about what happened yesterday, the day before. Then we start reading the next chapter. Sometimes, while I’m reading, she’ll sit down beside her children in their bed on the floor and pat them, making sure they are happy and falling asleep. (The children are small stuffed animals, the bed a shoe box. They are wrapped in a cloth diaper.) Usually by the end of the first chapter she is ready to jump on the bed and on me to bounce out her energy. After a few jumps I grab her and we start reading again.

I’ve worked on the voices and she listens carefully when I get to Wilbur or Charlotte. I don’t have a good Templeton voice - Paul Lynde’s voice echoes but I can’t get its whiney tones right. Uncle Homer's voice is my favorite and I dig out all the gravel I can when I read his lines. E.B. White is a writer who knew how to edit. Every word is placed right and I read them all. It is a pleasure to do so.

Tonight when we finish our two chapters she roots through her bookcase for two more books - picture books from when she was a baby, Pat the Bunny and Just a Snowy Day. She reads them to me, and shows me each picture. She asks for five more minutes to read, so we kiss and I pull up her covers and say goodnight.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Biking in Southern Bohemia

Heaven yesterday was a bike trip near Třebon. The day was perfect for a ride - chilly in the morning, warming up as we peddled along roads dappled by sun and patched pavement. Our rental bikes clanked and our map’s too many details confused us, but once we were oriented (to our bikes, our location amongst paths and ponds) we rode happily all morning, arriving back in Třebon for a late lunch before heading home to Prague.

I liked being on the road, on a bike. The world was close again. I brushed against goldenrod, purple asters, avoided stinging nettle, reached for apples hanging low from trees. With one step I could be off the saddle and taking a picture. I took a lot of pictures.

Time compresses on a bike and spaces expand. We saw more on wheels than we ever could hiking: steeplechase horses in paddocks with fences taller than they; hay bricked into high bales drying in the sun; small villages, smaller farms, ponds stretching to the horizon. I rode hands free down a road from South Carolina - the scent of pine needles and marsh made me homesick, the cool weather and lack of mosquitos brought me back, happy, to the Czech Republic.

I liked the challenge of figuring out the way, of picking the paths most under trees, least along busy roads. The map gave me patience when we climbed hills, knowing how much longer I’d have to ride (or push) until I could coast. It made me brave too. I would like to go back and bike without plotting ahead - bringing out the map only when I need to. I’d like to expore all the paths we passed. We rode mostly on roads and paved cart tracks, but our last six kilometers took us along a rocky path where I learned how to break on downhills without fishtailing.

We rented our bikes from Hotel Zlatá Hvězda, on the main square in Třebon. It's an official Cyclist Welcome hotel in the Czech Republic, for good reason. They lent us a lock, a child seat and helmet for Caroline, no extra charge. When we took our bikes back at lunch, their cellarful of bikes was empty, so I was glad we rented early. I bought along my VKU tourist map of the area (1:50 000) and most of the time it told us where we were. The maps posted on kiosks along the bike paths helped even more.

We rode from Třebon along the Svět and Opatovicky rybníky (ponds). We rode 154 to Branna, then took a cart path to Domanín, and another road to Spolí. From Spolí we took the red trail off road and up again to Svět rybník, before cutting over to 155 for a smooth ride back to Třebon. That’s the official version. We probably rode another 5 kilometers of test roads before we figured out our way. Caroline was patient with us the entire morning, and we fed her cookies and leaves at regular intervals (the cookies to eat, the leaves to study - she likes leaves).

This was my first bike ride in the Czech Republic. I prepped for it by rereading my favorite biker blog Grant's Prague bike blog and googling “bike rental Czech Republic.” When English keywords turned up only defunct or Prague-based bike rental firms, I switched to Czech. “Kol pujcovna” got me a lot further. I found out that you can rent bikes from České dráhy (Czech Railway), and that many towns in southern Bohemia have at least a few bike rental companies. I called Třebon’s sports and cultural department and wrote down phone numbers for four. Eventually, our hotel rented us our bikes. It was easy. I want to go back next weekend.
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Oh, and try the carp if you get to Třebon. It's a lot better than it sounds if you read Rick Steve's post on his trip through town last week ;-). Thanks for pointing out that post Dad!