The Tunisia Study Abroad video was created as a promotional tool for the Oregon University System Study Abroad Program.
Between Tábor, Lipno, and Český Krumlov, our first weekend in the Czech Republic was busy and fun. We began by heading to the nearby city of Tábor on Friday night where Nic and Mike have a flat (Nic teaches English there). After taking showers at the flat (much needed, since the pipes at the house are frozen!) we went to a restaurant called Two Cats for a proper Czech meal. Traditional garlic soup with smoked meat and cheese, Camembert spread with cherries, meat and dumplings, all washed down with good beer. Dylan thinks he’s found his soul food.
Saturday started all too early with a wake-up call from Keith, a Canadian friend of Mike and Nic. The five of us (plus Bun Bun, of course) traveled to Lipno nad Vltavou, a small town in the Šumava Range bordering Austria and the Czech Republic, for some skiing, skating, and snow play. Dylan chose downhill skiing with Keith and Mike while Jenna and Nic tried out the cross country trails. In case you are wondering, red seems to be the 2010 ‘in’ color for snowboard attire, you can get away with matching pants and jacket, and if you have a panda hat as well as the courage to sport it…you will be the talk of the mountain. After a full day on the mountain, we drove to the charming village of Český Krumlov and checked into the equally charming Hostel 99. Sunday involved exploring this UNESCO site, which looks a lot like a movie set and reminds Jenna of the winter jigsaw puzzles she did as a kid. The whole village is set around the winding river Vltava with cobblestone streets leading to tiny shops and cafes. We walked around the Český Krumlov Castle (the only thing open in the off-season) and got lost in the old-town vibe.
Three more weekends in the Czech Republic…where should we go next?
A week already in the Czech Republic. Hard to believe. Here’s what we have been up to:
We met Nic and Mike and Bunbury (their Rodesian Ridgeback puppy) when they picked us up from the station where our bus broke down. Luckily, the second Czech we asked allowed us to borrow their cell phone. Upon arriving at the house, we were informed that it was a holiday, Shrove Tuesday, and as per the English tradition we would be having pancakes with lemon and sugar for dinner. A delicious new idea.
Mike and Nic have taken on quite a project here in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. They have adopted an old country home and are slowly but surely restoring it with sustainability in mind. (Pictured are the barns next to the house. You can go to the Flickr page for more photos of the house and the area.) This place is gorgeous in the winter and we can only imagine how great it looks in the spring. Our cold weather projects have included chopping and stacking wood, attempted snow removal from the roof, furniture restoration, and general upkeep of a large house, large property, and medium-sized dog. Dylan and I have also taken to preparing Czechfast (as we like to call it) in the AM.
Our radar for current events is easily turned off in the peacefulness of the countryside, however we have heard of this event (called the Olympics, or something) that’s taking place in Canada right now. You may have heard of it. There’s this one sport, ice hockey, that’s fairly popular in these parts. At 6am last Thursday, the Czechs were playing their bitter rivals, none other than the Slovaks. So, in good Czech spirit, the four of us traveled to nearby Cernovice to a 24-hour pub to watch the game. Luckily, the Czechs took the win, justifying our early wake up call and beer-drinking occasion.
Only a few short days remain for our Tunisia visit (actually, as far as I tell, the length of these days will be the same as any other). We’ve been communicating with the couple we will stay with near the town of Černovice in the Czech Republic. Our home for the next month will be at the New Mill, or Nový Mlýn, a sustainability project in South Bohemia. It sounds like the winter has been incredibly hard for them and circumstances may be a bit different than we were expecting. Nonetheless, we are excited and looking forward to the next leg of our journey.
Our last day trip took us to the northern coast town of Bizerte and nearby Ichkeul National Park. We brought a friend along (or did she bring us along?) named Nihel. Her family lives in Bizerte so she was an appropriate tour guide. Upon arriving by trusty louage, we took a taxi to the park. Ichkeul is a bit of a special park: several species of plant and animal were threatened due to the creation of dams years ago. The park is a crucial habitat for several migratory bird species and has been restored over the decade. It has also been important to ensure the salt level remains in balance with nearby Lake Bizerte thereby sustaining a dynamic mix of life. When the government took over the land some years ago, they invited the current inhabitants to continue living there providing they cared for the land in a particular way as taught to them by specialists. During our visit, the park was empty (can’t imagine why considering it was a balmy 40°F and raining). We wasted a few minutes visiting a showcase of taxidermy from the 80’s that was masquerading as an “ecomuseum” and spent the rest of the late morning walking around the salty lake practicing amateur bird watching. Sulfurous hot springs bubbled up feeding decrepit hammams (Turkish baths) and wild fennel and olive trees were growing abundantly. We got up close and personal with herds of sheep and listened to squawking chickens and whining goats.
We traveled to Bizerte and visited the home of Nihel’s family. There we met her mother and younger sister and ate leblebi sandwiches and tajine (quiche, more or less). Nihel’s sister was preparing to head back to school (she is in her last year of high school and was home for lunch) but with some convincing, she was granted permission to skip her final class (ironically enough: US Geography). Soon, two other giggling seniors arrived and it seemed that the native English speakers drew a crowd (foreigners don’t often visit Bizerte). We set off on our walking tour with arm-linked girls in tow. At the beach, the waves were big and the marina was quiet. Feeling somewhat guilty for pulling the girls out of school, I assigned them some homework and wrote Hillsboro and Brookings on a scrap of paper and told them that locating these places in Oregon was their assignment, due next time we see each other. As we left Bizerte, Nihel’s mother gave us a very special gift: a homemade Tunisian spice mix called tabil. It smells delicious.
Carthage is a town near La Marsa and, like Dougga, has been made famous by its ruins (in this case a mix of Carthaginian and Roman). It’s truly a beautiful setting, right on the Mediterranean, but unfortunately the location isn’t as well-preserved as Dougga. We spent a half day there, seeing the usual sights and arrived by our favored transportation method: TGM train. First stop was the Carthage Musuem atop Byrsa Hill.
The ruins at the Carthage Museum aren’t overly impressive (although you would think they would be for the 10 dinar entrance fee). Once we got inside, we realized 9 of those dinars pay for the view alone. Stunning. As we are fairly easily amused, the highlight of the museum was the scale models of ancient sites furthering the long-held aspiration to become an assistant to an architect (and forever construct miniature buildings…so fun).
We walked down the hill right to the edge of the Mediterranean to visit other ruins. This included the Baths of Antoninus Pius and a (smaller than Dougga) theater. Along the way, we stopped to visit an art gallery displaying the work of a Scottish friend we’d met at one of the libraries in Tunis. (This friend actually drew/painted a piece just for us and we are shipping it home! It’s incredibly beautiful and maybe the coolest thing in the world.) After chatting up the gallery owner and enjoying the art on display, we continued our walk through Carthage. The 4.5 acres occupied by the Baths were like a mini nature park and a nice relief from familiar concrete Tunis life. Despite the signs pleading with children to not climb on the ruins, they couldn’t help but do so and document it all on their cell phone cameras.
To close out the evening, we hopped back on the train and met our friend Mohammed in the tourist-clad town of Sidi Bou-Said. We sampled bambaloni (a fried doughnut akin to an ‘elephant ear’). At a café overlooking the marina, we watched the sunset and shared conversation and chicha.