Frankfurt am Main and the Ironman Triathalon

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I hit up Frankfurt am Main (Germany) the day before the European Ironman Championship, which was to be held on Sun. July 6th. I had an 11:30PM (23:30) bus to Prague. I set my phone to European time (24 hour clock), which made it a lot easier to schedule arrivals and departures, and to figure out bus schedules. I plan my travels between cities to arrive in the daytime so I’m not wandering around someplace new in the middle of the night–which is why I had a whole day in Frankfurt in the first place. It was a very easy bus and train trip from Wiesbaden to Frankfurt. I had quite a bit of time to wander around town, the train station had storage for my luggage, which was nice, plus it was right next to the bus station and conveniently located right in the middle of town. One really big advantage to traveling by train or bus in Europe is that the stations are right in the middle of town rather than located miles out of the way, unlike airports.

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The Old and The New

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Frankfurt am Main Skyline

Frankfurt was pretty severely bombed during WWII, and it has a skyline more typical of an American city, with skyscrapers reminding one of Manhattan. Most of the old part of the city was completely destroyed. After the war, Frankfurt became the financial center of Germany, since it’s main rival, Berlin, was divided up by the Berlin Wall. Frankfurt is located on the Main River, which is where I spent most of my time walking while I was there. Up and down the riverbank, and back and forth across different bridges. One side of the Main River was lined with booths set up for the Ironman, miles of tents selling high end sporting gear. 99% of the goods were way out of my league, not to mention my price range, but it was interesting to wander through and look at the equipment. There were also thousands of very fit athletic types all over town, not to mention tens of thousands of visitors there just for the event. It was a big deal, and had, I believe, 100 qualifying spots for the World Championship Ironman held in Hawai’i later this year.

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Nothing I can afford

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Entertainment Venue for the Ironman

Given more time to research out where to go, I’m sure that Frankfurt has it’s own attractions, the Opera House, a number of museums, but mostly I just wandered the streets, sampled food and beer and did a lot of people watching. After dark, I returned to the train/bus station, and spent a few hours at an outdoor sportsbar, watching Argentina beat the Netherlands in a World Cup soccer match. World Cup soccer was a big deal in Germany this year, as they were on a pretty good winning streak and Germans were celebrating pretty wildly. The bus station was a bit sketchy late at night, and it was a guessing game to figure out which stop was the correct one to catch the bus to Prague, but eventually I did find the right spot, and managed to get on the right bus and was on my way to the Czech Republic. One thing you can count on in Germany, the trains and buses will always run exactly on schedule.

German sausages

In Germany, you can always count on finding something good to eat.

Kutná Hora

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Kutna Hora railroad station, Czech Republic

Kutná Hora is a must see destination about an hour outside of Prague in the Czech Republic. The town is best known for the “bone chapel”, or ossuary, where the interior of a small chapel is decorated in human bones. Sounds macabre, but it is actually really interesting. Kutná Hora was historically known as the capital city of Bohemia due to the rich silver mines in the town, and the royal mint. It at one time produced about 1/3 of the silver in Europe. Other attractions include the old town, Cathedral Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist (yes, that is a mouthful), the St. Barbara Church, and the Cistercian Abbey.

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St. Barbara

The bone ossuary is actually located in Selduc, just outside of Kutná Hora. It is surprisingly small. The graveyard surrounding the chapel was important because one of the local abbots brought dirt back from the holy land in 1298, and sprinkled it on the ground, making it the oldest “Sacred Fields” in central Europe, and as thus a highly desirable burial place.  Having soil from the holy land makes the church yard consecrated ground, so you are assured a place in heaven if your body is buried there. When the small graveyard ran out of space, the older bones were taken up and stacked in crypts, making room for more burials. Estimates of 40,000-60,000 individuals are buried (or in many cases, unburied!) on the grounds. In the late 1800’s a monk began to use the bones to make decorations for the ossuary, and it became a family project. Chandeliers, candlesticks, a coat of arms, rows of skulls, words in bone, pyramids of skulls, lines of thighbones, the entire chapel was decorated in human bone. The chandelier has the distinction of containing every bone in the human body. Supposedly about 30,000 individuals are represented in bone within the chapel. It sounds really creepy, but it is not. I found it more awe inspiring. There is also a display of skulls with descriptions of how the individuals were killed based on the holes or damage to the skull that is quite interesting as well. The outside of the chapel and the graveyard are also beautiful, with most of the graves representing families rather than individuals–again, this was due to a premium on space in the graveyard and too many individuals wanting to be buried there.

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I did not take a tour of the silver mines, but heard that it is quite the experience and would probably be worth while if you have the time. They suit you up like a miner and you descend into the earth, where you can experience what it is like underground, along with a taste of perfect darkness…I imagine it would give you a better appreciation of the miners museum.

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Images of silver miners from the church and the town.

The churches are a mixture of Gothic an baroque architectural styles, with some rococo decorations thrown in on the interiors. Part of this is due to the length of time it took to build the churches, reflecting what was popular at the time, and partly due to damage and subsequent repairs, since the Czech Republic has a long history of conflict and was conquered at various times throughout the centuries.  The walk between the St. Barbara church and the abbey takes you across a walkway decorated with statues that is reminiscent of the St. Charles Bridge in Prague, but with a view across the vineyards and town, rather than the river.

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The walkway

The walkway

 

The old part of the town of Kutná Hora is small, and built on a rather steep slope, so the streets wend downward from the churches with the cobblestone streets and buildings too close together for vehicle traffic.  Some of the buildings are decorated quite spectacularly.  Typical of Czech towns, you can find beautiful handcrafted items as you wander through the cobblestone streets.

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Brno, Czech Republic (Moravia)–an unexpected stop along the road

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Split the difference between cities.

 

Český Krumlov was a bit out-of-the-way on my trip through Eastern Europe, my next planned destination was Krakow, Poland, but it was a bit too far for a one day trip and I don’t like to arrive in new cities in the middle of the night. Looking at map, and checking bus schedules, I decided to take a one day stop in Brno, which is the 2nd largest city in the Czech Republic, after Prague. The city lies at the confluence of the Svitava and Svratka rivers, and is a big college town with 13 institutes of higher learning and around 90,000 students–it is the summer season and the universities are not in regular session, so the town was pretty quiet and relatively empty..it loses about 30% of the population when students leave for the summer.

 

 

 

 

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Rather odd billboard. Looks like something from the Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’ movie. Brno

 

 

Brno lost most of its large Jewish population in WWII, when over 10,000 Jews were transported to Terezin Concentration camp. While it was not an extermination camp, only about 1000 Jewish people returned to Brno after the war. All of the colleges in Brno were closed during the Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945. The Law University in Brno was used as headquarters for the Gestapo and the university dorms were turned into a prison camp where about 35,000 Czechs and a few American and British POWs were imprisoned and tortured. Public executions could be viewed for a fee, and over 800 Czech citizens were executed. The Law University is back in business and the dorms are currently housing students again. Unlike Prague, Brno was heavily bombed by the Allies during the war, as it was an industrial center. All the Germans were forcibly expelled by the Red Army in 1945 and about 27,000 German residents were marched to the Austrian border.

 

 

 

 

 

town square, Brno

One of many public gathering places in Brno

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Mary and the Christ Child, on the square

 

 

Brno had a rather industrial look to it. The hostel I stayed in was not quite up to what I hoped for, it was out of the city center (not that far though, and an easy trip on the tram), and located above a bar that rocked loudly until about 5am. They didn’t provide earplugs (unlike the hostel in Prague), and the beds were terribly uncomfortable. I met a young man from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)at the hostel, and we decided to go out and explore the city together. He was improbably named “Clifford.” Not sure if that was what his name really was, or if it was his English translation of his Malaysian name. There are a few interesting things to see in Brno, and the historic district is right by the train/bus station, it was only about a kilometer from the hostel. We only made it about 5 blocks down the street and were wandering through a large park when the skies opened up and it started to pour. Thunder and lightning, massive amounts of rain, big hailstones! Within a few minutes, the streets were full of water and we were completely soaked. It wasn’t cold though, just rather wet. We quickly retreated back to the hostel to wait out the worst of the storm, and to change into dry clothes.

 

 

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Brno hosts a series of music festivals.  This one was a hard rock band.

The rain quit after about an hour and we went off again. This time we made it to the old part of town and got to see some lovely old buildings and churches. There was an enormous outdoor grandstand in front of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul where they were setting up for an outdoor concert. Unfortunately, it was sold out for both that day and the next, so it was a miss. Or maybe we were lucky, because the rain kept up off an on all night…it would clear up (sort of) for about an hour, then the skies would open up and it would POUR down rain mixed with hail for 30 minutes or so, then clear up again. We ducked into a recommended Czech restaurant for dinner and dined on traditional cuisine. Clifford asked for no pork products and didn’t drink, so he must have been Muslim. We had an interesting conversation about American politics as well, and he wanted to know if Obama was really going to turn America into a Muslim country. (!!!) We parted ways after dinner, and I wended my way back to the hostel between the rain showers to try to sleep (not very successfully, the bass from the bar went on all night!) since I had an early bus to catch in the morning.

Corner building, Brno

I have a weakness for architecture. Gotta love the corner lots!

Český Krumlov–Heart of Bohemia in the Czech Republic

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Český Krumlov is a small midieval town about 3 hours by bus south of Prague. The town is built along a series of bends in the Vltava River, which was an important trade route for old Bohemia. Český Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Český means “Bohemian” in Czech, it is in the heart of Bohemia. The town is overlooked by a very large castle complex, which is built into the cliffs overlooking the river.

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From the ramparts of the castle (the 2nd largest castle complex in the Czech Republic), the town is spread out below, tucked into wide sweeps of the Vltava, which is usually dotted with rafts, canoes, and small boats taking a water tour along the shoreline.

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Each entrance to the town is gated, usually with a bridge and an arch, and the castle has a moat with live bears to discourage trespassers.

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Český Krumlov is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. Although it fell into disrepair during the communist era, the old part of town has been largely restored and is a popular tourist destination. Krumlov is not as crazy busy as Prague, life flows along a little bit slower here. There is an arts revival, and the castle boasts a large court theater built in 1680 as well as a unique revolving outdoor auditorium within the castle park complex where local events are held. The seating revolves and the stage has 360 degrees of space for staging events. I missed seeing a play in the revolving theatre by just a few days.

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The youth hostel I stayed at (Hostel 99)is a carefully restored 16th century building and has retained much of its historic flavor. It is right inside the Budějovická gate, one of the entrances to the city, and is built into the cliff above the river as a sort of fortified wall. The building is long and rambling with unexpected turns, and steep staircases. Dorm rooms lead into one another, including attic spaces above the main rooms. It was clean and comfortable, and is attached to both a good restaurant and a bakery/café.PIC_0225

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hostel also runs a river tour, including a bar crawl via boat, which seems to be a standard entertainment for students visiting the Czech Republic (the pub crawl tradition). The group staying at the hostel reported the expedition as “epic,” but I opted to just walk the town and sample the wares on my own. I did join an eclectic assortment of people in an underground bar to watch the semi finals of the World Cup, Argentina vrs. Netherlands. The students were from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Canada, with me from Alaska pretty much spanning the English-speaking world, and one lone student, Pablo, from Argentina. The game went into double overtime with a 0/0 score and was finally decided by a shoot out. Pablo was a nervous wreck the entire game, it was serious, serious business for him. He did get almost the entire bar crowd to sing along with him when he would spontaneously burst into song (in Spanish), banging the table with beer steins. It was pretty epic and went from 10PM to almost 1AM before the game was over. I don’t think he really enjoyed the game, it was way to nerve wracking. He is hoping to find some Argentina fans in Budapest, where he will be for the final game of the World Cup. I somehow think that he will be in good company, since the other team will be Germany, and I’m sure there are still some hard feelings in Eastern Europe about the Germans.IMG_20140709_151217

 

Český Krumlov, like Prague, is easy to get turned around in, as it has the same randomly twisty cobblestone streets. However, it is a very scaled down version, with the town divided into three sections nestled into loops of the Vltava River, one loop contains the castle, the next two loops divide up the old town. You can actually walk through the entire town in about 30 minutes, but should take more time to enjoy the spectacular views and the flavor of the town (not to mention sampling your way through the food and beverages!) Traveling from Prague to Austria takes you right through Český Krumlov, it was a bit out of the way for the direction I was traveling, but well worth the side trip. I would highly recommend you take a few days to enjoy this beautiful city.

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Castle Tour on the Rhine

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Rolling on a River

The Rhine Valley is storybook Germany, a fairy-tale world of legends and medieval castles. A riverboat trip along the Rhine from Rudesheim am Rhein to St. Goar-Oberwesel takes you on a leisurely trip through the heart of old Germany, with panoramic views of historic castles around every bend. The Rhine was the line the Romans held to keep back the Germanic barbarians, and later, a patchwork of petty princes and robber barons built their fortresses along the river to extract tolls.  Pfalzgrafenstein Castle is particularly interesting, a stone fortress standing guard on an island, looking much like a pirate ship with the prow pointing upstream to break floodwaters and winter ice. A chain was pulled across the river to stop boat traffic, and those not willing to pay a toll were imprisoned in the dungeon until a ransom was paid. The castle was originally built in 1326 and is currently a museum.

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Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

 

 

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Patchworks of vineyards criss-cross the landscape, climbing terraces up the steep slopes, with almost every town having their own wine label. Sitting on the deck of a riverboat sipping white wine on a sunny day makes for a very pleasant day excursion. I took the train from Wiesbaden to Rudesheim and picked up a round trip KD excursion from there. If you watch the schedules, you can hop on and off the boat all day to explore the stops along the river, picking up the next boat that comes along. I ended my journey in St. Goar-Oberwesel, with an hour or so of exploring the town, and lunch at a riverside cafe. The boat broadcasts historical information about the various sights along the way, in both English and German. Strict building codes for areas along the scenic riverside keep the flavor of old Germany, the Rhine Gorge is a World Heritage Site.

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On the return journey, I shared a carafe of white wine with a group of German gentlemen, who were rather inebriated, and singing in 4 part harmony (quite well too!) as they toasted every announcement and bend of the river. We spent an enjoyable hour conversing in mixed German and English, several of them earnestly telling me about their trip to Canada. Eventually, one of them disabused his friends of the notion that Alaska was a part of Canada, and everyone had a good laugh about a little geographic confusion.

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My group of singing German friends.

The Rhine floods quite frequently, many riverfront buildings have lines posted as to how high the water got on a given flood year. Evidently, the stone buildings handle the flooding fairly well, everything is moved up a floor or two until the water goes down, then clean up and move back in. There have been several “100 year” floods in recent times, but the damage seems to be rather negligible.

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Serial Killer: Stroke (part 1)

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“A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. When a stroke occurs, brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function.” (NIH.org Website) Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the US.

In retrospect, it all seems so obvious. High blood pressure, check.  Pre-diabetic, check. High cholesterol, check. Type A personality, check. Often, we see only what we want to see.  Life can be coincidental, while I was sitting in the hospital, in complete shock with no idea of how to proceed, the neurosurgeon recommended a book he thought I should read. He thought it would give me some hope of recovery.  A few hours later,  a friend had dropped it by for me to read.  The book was written by a brain surgeon, and was the story of her stroke and recovery from it.

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My biggest take away from the book, was the fascinating change of perspective the doctor had after experiencing the stroke.  It completely changed her thought processes and how she viewed the world, a change from an analytical-logical perspective to more of a mythical in the moment perspective.  She was able to pull herself out of it and get help, but the difference in perspective after a massive left brain stroke was staggering.

On December 2nd, 2013, my husband of 30 years experienced a massive left brain stroke. He was unable to speak, write, or get himself up.  He would try to communicate, but was easily frustrated because he couldn’t make the words come out.  Even something as simple as a yes/no question would get miscommunicated because he couldn’t bring out the information to enable him to either nod or shake his head as a response.  He could understand the question, but couldn’t formulate a comprehensible response.  This was a man who was fiercely independent his entire life. What a terrible and frustrating thing to experience.

I was looking at a very limited amount of possible interventions, and the prognosis of a full recovery was not very high, and would  involve a very long term disability and rehabilitation which would involve moving to a rehab center for full time mental and physical therapy, starting with learning how to walk and talk again, without a very good chance of a full recovery.  Not something that this man would have been willing to live with, unless his brain perspective had changed to more right brain dominant, which could be  to live in the moment. This idea was a very difficult leap for ME to make, and perhaps I was grasping at straws, because at some level I was actually convinced that the idea made a certain amount of sense.

After the fact, when I had all the pieces, I just don’t know.  After the fact, if the first doctor we had gone to the week before the stroke had recognized the symptoms and treated for stroke, maybe.  If the MRI we had done 3 days earlier had been looking for the right things, maybe.  If I had known more about what to look for.  If, if , if.  After the fact a lot of things are a lot clearer, but then, isn’t that the way it always is?

Even today I vacillate between being angry and sad, between hopeless and ready to move on, between mental paralysis and hyperactivity. At one time moving on with my life seemed inconceivable. Dealing with life without my partner, seemed impossible. But time marches on. First minute by minute, then hour by hour, then day by day. Before I know it, 6 months has gone by. Life, indeed, does go on, and so have I.
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Lessons I have learned:

  • Write a will
  • Have life insurance
  • Keep your financial papers in order
  • Have joint accounts
  • Sign an advanced health care directive
  • Remember to say “I love you” every day

Much of this sounds really unimportant in the great scheme of having someone you love die, but trust me, my life would have been so much less complicated and less difficult if we had taken care of all the above before the unthinkable happened.

 

So You Think You’re a Cowboy

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Jesse, James, Tammy, Mike, Stephanie

Some things just break your heart.  Yesterday afternoon  a friend of mine called to ask me to take care of her farm animals, her 19 year old son and her daughter’s 21 year old boyfriend had been in a rollover accident on a remote stretch of highway and were both being medevac’d via helicopter to Providence Hospital. She didn’t even know if her son would make it.  Today, that is all I can think about, a  young man fighting for his life when he should be taking his horse to the next rodeo.  The whole community is in shock.  The hospital had to refuse admittance because too many people cared.  They had to say ‘no phone calls,’ because too many people cared. It warms my heart to see the outpouring of love and prayers from so many people. I organized a quick ‘Facebook’ call to bring hay to their little farm to help feed the animals while the family waits at his bedside.  One young man is in serious but stable condition.  One is critical, multiple injuries, including head injuries with no certain outcome.

I remember only too well sitting in the hospital and hoping for the best outcome and not knowing what would happen from day to day, or even minute to minute.  I feel for my friend, and for her family.  It hurts.  He is too young.  Like all young men, they thought they were invincible.  Driving too fast, having too much fun.  No one knows for sure exactly what happened, it was a one-car accident that went off the road,  down a 50 foot embankment, rolled a few times, ejected both boys, hit a tree and caught on fire. They were lucky that a hot shot fire suppression team, and an army doctor happened by shortly after, it took over an hour for emergency responders to get there.  I am amazed they made it at all.  Please, slow down. Please wear your seat belt. Please drive carefully. Please pause and say a prayer for this young man and his family.

My song that I keep thinking about is for you Mikey:

So You Think You’re a Cowboy

So you think you’re a cowboy but you’re only a kid
With a mind to do everything wrong
And it starts to get smoother when the circle begins
But by the time that you get there it’s gone…….

Willie Nelson/Emmylou Harris

Songwriters
TAYLOR, ANDY / JONES, STEVE

Published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing

Yes, there are cowboys in Alaska! 907 Bull Riders