Berlin Catch-up Pt. 1

October 10, 11 & 12 – Due to technical difficulties, I was unable to complete the travelogue of our awesome trip overseas. So I’ll take up where I left off with some belated updates.

There were a couple of additional pix and notes about our day trip to Erfurt that I wasn’t able to include in the last post, Erfurt 2: On the Trail of Sponge Bob. So I’ll include them here, because we met and spoke to a very interesting character, who is an artist that works in leather, primarily. But the most interesting thing was her involvement with a group called “Club zur Rettung der Handschrift” or The Organization to Save Handwriting. We all thought these two involvements were interesting and Page, especially, spent a long time in her crowded shop, chatting with her in German. This is his portrait of her, Gabriele Trillhaase.

Photo credit: Page Chichester







After our excursion to Erfurt the day before, we rested and recovered on Tuesday, the 10th. We read books and vegged until dinner time, when we went to a place in the neighborhood called La Piadina, which Ini recommended. Evidently the primary serving of the eponymous restaurant is an Italian speciality—a freshly baked flatbread folded in half and filled with delightful veggies, meats, cheeses, and sauces. They also serve delicious soups, according to Ini. We watched the fellow behind the counter grab a wad of dough, run it through a few rollers to flatten and round it, then he tossed each on a griddle. When done, the bread was passed to the next person and he or she “built” each piadina to order. Unless you ordered meat, which in some cases was warmed, the only thing heated was the bread, and the veggies and cheese wilted and melted delightfully.

Our walk home was as interesting as the food, but we headed to bed after a nightcap and got an early start on sleep. Some of the things seen in shop windows:


Wednesday, October 11 was a day we all got ready for some visitors whom Ini and Lee knew from their days in the US – Maya and Mark, plus their young daughter whose name I never quite glommed onto. Ini had been friends with Maya’s mom, while Maya and Lee were the same age, but had attended different elementary schools in Roanoke back in the mid-90s. During the time that Lee had been at Hollins for a year, she and Maya had linked back up briefly, but other than that, they had not seen one another since they were about 10 years old. Now they’re both in their early thirties—Maya and Mark live in Charlottesville, Virginia. So there was quite a lot of catching up to be done during the gathering.

While Ini was at work, Jack and I did some chores around the apartment (tidying and such) and the “word” was that they’d arrive from the US (literally off the plane) around 3PM, and come to dinner around 5.

It truly was a lovely evening and Maya and Mark were excellent guests and fun for Jack and me to meet for the first time. Mark was in the city for a conference of doctors – he’s a tech developer who creates apps and “games” so users can track their health, fitness, and “watch” issues (like diabetes), with the data being directly transferrable to their medical professionals. Mark said he was going to have to “yell” at the conference attendants about using any sort of a point system as incentives for users to actually use and send their data. Mild-mannered Mark was not looking forward to “yelling” at anyone, but he said doctors all wanted to have users accumulate points so they’d stay involved with the health apps. Mark’s goal was to show them that this did not work, but that competing with friends or family, or with strangers in a set group (or even with themselves) would offer much more in the way of incentive than accumulating points that in the end, mean nothing because they’re not able to be “cashed in” like air miles. Too bad preventative health insurance companies could not take the points and lower a person’s premiums or offer some other measurable/usable point system that would have real-life returns.

Anyway, we had a lovely evening and Ini fixed a beautiful dinner, including rice, that the baby was totally loving, but also threw on the floor and seats and table – as babies are wont to do.

Thursday, October 12 – We decided to get out of the apartment, but the weather was still overcast, and if it wasn’t actually raining, it threatened rain. Ini had to work the late shift at the antiques store, so Page, Jack and I headed off to a photography exhibit Page wanted to see, and to stretch our legs back out after walking around Erfurt. To me, the exhibit was nothing to howl about, and for Page, who had told us his expectations were rather low about its value, he said his expectations were met.

But the walk was good and we stopped by the “Monkey Bar” right outside the zoo, and made a couple of other stops, one of which was to have a quick beer.



We had walked past this crazy hotel a hundred times before, but I figured this would be the last time I’d walk by, so I’d best get a photo. I could study it for hours and always pick out something new. Note Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” at the lower right.


After Ini returned from work, we all decided to go out to the Berlin Illumination, which was a big deal (possibly associated with the reunification celebrations?) but I thought it would be merely some buildings with different colored lights shining on them, and I was sort of ho-hum about it. Indeed, there were a couple that were simple illuminations as I’d imagined, but the main event was way downtown, and mostly shining on the buildings used by Humboldt University. Wow. Most of the pix here are stills, of course—but many of the illuminations were short films and the buildings were the “screens” that played a part in the images. I was not able to capture adequately some of the films that actually (and drastically) altered the appearance and architecture of the buildings themselves! Windows would be changed to have arched tops; columns would be added where there were none; subtle brick would be changed to mortared stone; and actual roof lines were changed. It was truly awesome and lots and lots of peeps were down in Mitte to see it all.



Not lights exactly, but I liked the shadow and the clock documenting our time there.





Across the street from the large square formed by buildings in the first set of pix, were additional Humboldt University structures, which showed a series of children’s artwork on the facades. As we waited for our bus to go home, I tried to capture as many in the series as I could, and I show here the most colorful of them.










These short videos show the scope of the broad square, plus a couple of the “films” we saw.




It was truly an amazing night, and I’m so glad we made the effort to get down there to see Berlin’s Festival of Lights.

Cycling Tour Day Four

This was an intentionally short day, so that the hikers among us could stretch their legs and see scenery to leave the viewer breathless, after our arrival in Schmilka.

Schmilka has been a part of Bad Shandau since 1973, although it was first recorded as a community in 1582. The Ilmen Spring rises nearby and is the most powerful water source in Saxon Switzerland. The stream resulting from this spring drives the Schmilka Mill, built in 1665, and restored in 2007 as a functional mill with lodging (this is where Jack and I and a few others of our group stayed). At this mill, they make beer (good water), bread, and other delicacies that are all locally-sourced and organic. Schmilka offers very limited wifi service (only at the tourist information center) and even a hand-drawn map. The Mill where we stayed is the blue highlight to the middle-right of the drawing.

Along the river ride, the sides of the mountains rose up on both sides of us, high into the sky, leaving us dwarfed. It was truly spectacular, and our route took us out of the Czech Republic 3 times as we crossed its border with Germany (once was on a ferry ride in the middle of the river).

Our last stop for the tour on Czech soil was a very popular village called Hrensko, a border town situated at the heart of the “Czech-Saxon Switzerland,” also a National Park. We stopped along here to exchange some currency and Vlasta bought a couple of bottles of Czech beer, as the price skyrocketed once we had crossed into Germany.

Our little band of Yanks pedaling along the Elbe River.
Ferries like this one ply the waters back and forth across the Elbe, carrying hikers, bikers, and shoppers back and forth.
Hrensko. I’ve put a panorama shot from my iPhone on my FB page in the vicinity of this post notification. Check it out.

The group ate lunch at the mill, then settled into our rooms. Jack and I elected NOT to go on the organized hikes, though many of our group did so. I stayed in our room to edit photos (no wifi necessary) and Jack took a ride to get a few more miles in, up to Bad Schandau, around that spa town, and back. 

The view from our room.

Hot tubs available for after-hike relaxation.

Jack rides down the alley below our balcony to begin his ride to Bad Schandau.

Cycling Stats:

  • Ride time: 46 minutes
  • Stopped time: 2 hours
  • Distance 10.5 miles
  • Average speed: 13.5MPH
  • Fastest speed: 25MPH
  • Ascent: 106 ft.
  • Descent: 141 ft.

Cycling Tour Day Two

September 26 – 

We left Melnik and headed to Litomerice today. I’m sorry we did not have more time in Melnik—definitely a town to put on the “do-again-later” list. 

As a settlement above the confluence of the two rivers, Elbe (Labe in Czech) and the Vltava (Voltava or Vitava in English), Melnik has been a town for over 750 years. Tours of the castle are available, and beneath the grand structure are wine cellars where wine tastings can be enjoyed. The town square is pretty and surrounded by lovely buildings, many reflecting the gradual changes in taste through the centuries of architectural styles.

The tradition of wine-making in Melnik is long. Historians associate it with the birth of Christianity in Bohemia, when St. Ludmila had vineyards planted, which then supplied wine for church services. Her son, St. Wenceslaus (the patron saint of wine makers) is said to have trained here, and grape harvests were scheduled for his name day each year. Visitors from all over the Czech Republic come to Melnik each year for the new wine (called “burcak”) of the year.

Alas, we had to leave, so off we cycled.

Riding along the river, there are many markers of historic flood levels. We passed one along our way today, and waaaay up at the top is the indicator, almost invisible, of the flood of 2002. Huge.

As we move north along with the flow of the river, and away from the confluence of the two rivers (Labe & Vltava), the Elbe/Labe gets deeper and more significant to shipping traffic for all of Europe. The ride this day was quite level and easy (including our precipitous descent from the height of the Melnik castle) and we had better weather than the gray, drippy day of yesterday.

Early, we got to a town called Roudnice nad Labem and saw a pretty church and a castle, stopping for info from Milan.

Soon thereafter, we reached the massive Terezin Fortress, originally built at the turn of the 18th century. During WWII, it was turned into a “way station” for political prisoners and Jewish people before they were transferred to the “death camps” farther east. For the Nazis, Terezin was their “poster child” for how well they treated and housed the populations they were “dealing with” and they actually invited the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups to see the “happy Jews” in their care. They also made a very creepy film in which Jewish actors played the parts of the community members who regularly listened to beautiful concerts, grew their own food by working in their own gardens, enjoyed social time after the work day was over, etc. Two or Three months after the film was completed, 7/8 of those actors were dead—sent to Auschwitz or one of the more infamous death camps.

We saw some goats trimming up the grass on the heights of the ramparts when we rode past.

What the world was not allowed to see, however, were the terrible living conditions endured by the prisoners held at Terezin. Before the war, about 7,000 people lived in the town, including the members of the garrison/fortress. In September 1942, when the number of prisoners reached its peak, there were over 58,000 men, women and children crammed into the same space. The average lodging area for one prisoner had fallen to about 1.5 square meters (not quite 2 square yards).

The dormitories, apartment buildings/houses, newly-built barracks, and many “emergency” spaces (unfurnished attics, for example) were used to place the number of people who were imprisoned there. By 1942, 6,000+ people lived in attics.

Reconstruction of a women’s living area in an attic

Of course, this close accommodation resulted in disease, hygiene problems, and epidemics. The cramped circumstances in the “dormitories,” the total absence of privacy, and the unending struggle with parasites were a never-ending part of daily routine in the Terezin Ghetto.

Among the displays we visited to remind us of the Nazi horrors, was an art gallery. While the Nazis allowed Terezin creativity that carried their official “stamp of approval” there was also a sub-culture of art produced (including writings, theatre, music, and other “underground” depictions) to show the real life of the camp. Because of the threat of imminent deportation and certain death if caught, not to mention the scarcity of materials, most of the written forms were short — poetry, diary/epistolary works, skits, etc. We saw drawings of endless queues for food, the overcrowded living areas, suffering and death of prisoners, and masses of coffins piling up daily in the morgue. 

The underground artists tried to smuggle some of their works out of the camp when the “sanctioned” Red Cross visits happened, hoping to draw international attention to the reality of the Nazi genocide. On July 17, 1944, Bedrich Fritta, Otto Ungar, Leo Haas, Ferdinand Bloch, architect Norbert Troller, and collector Leo Strass of Nachod, all arrested for spreading the “propaganda of horror,” were deported with their families to a Gestapo prison in the Small Fortress. Most did not survive the suffering that followed. The works they had managed to hide in various places in the Ghetto was found only after Liberation.

After Terezin, we headed along the river ride and saw many lovely sights along the way, but it was a fast day and the photos are rather sparse along the way. There was one notable rest stop thanks to Hansa.

Carrying on from there, it was not long before we got to our destination, Litomerice, a lovely town first documented in 993. The famous Czech poet, Macha lived here. Most of us stayed at the compact but nice Hotel Apollon, with a lovely courtyard in which we could have sat outside if it had been warmer.

For dinner, we hit a Czech brewery whose name I cannot actually figure out. I think it’s Biskupsky Pivovar u sv. Stepana. Anyway, we had a nice tour of the brewing process at this very new production facility (only about a year old) and also a lovely meal.

Cycling Stats:

  • Ride time: 3 hours
  • Stopped time: 4:30 hours
  • Distance 36 mi.
  • Average speed: 12MPH
  • Fastest speed: 50MPH
  • Ascent: 225
  • Descent: 354

Prague Part Three

Sunday, September 24 – 

Today was the beginning of our cycling tour, in that we got fitted for our bikes and took a very short “shake down” ride along the river near the company’s (AVE) headquarters. Before that happened, however, we had our morning/early afternoon to ourselves.

But before we all headed off to our self-determined mornings, we met at The Green Wall to talk about options for getting ourselves over to the place and the company that would rent us our bikes and lead the cycling aspect of the tour.

Having someone else be responsible for all aspects of the beginning parts of our cycling adventure was a good idea, because Allen came down hard with the yuks (along with a growing number of our group). We’d already lost one among our number, not because of illness, but rather because her goal was to join us for the Cesky Krumlov and Prague parts and not do any cycling at all. So Kathy jumped a taxi while we were all still sleeping and headed to the airport to start grinding her long, long way over to California.

And then we were 20.

Jack and I headed off with two of our group to hit the Jewish Quarter early. En route, we ran into a riverside park with a memorial to the death of Jan Palach, a Czech student of history at the Charles University, who self-immolated in protest against the end of the Prague Spring — ended due to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact armies. The sculptures and poem were quite moving there, on a gray day beside the Voltava, to remember how difficult it had been for the citizens of this country to rid themselves of tyranny. Palach’s wasn’t the most recent instance of protest-immolation: in the spring of 2003 a total of 6 Czech students burned themselves to death, noting their inspiration for their own act by Palach’s example.

There was a poem inscribed on granite near the sculptures.

The Funeral of Jan Palach (by Basen-David Shapiro, 1969—translated by Preklad-Thomas Mika, 2003):

When I entered the first meditation/I escaped the gravity of the object./I experienced the emptiness/And I have been dead a long time.

When I had a voice you could call a voice/My mother wept to me:/My son, my beloved son/I never thought this possible.

I’ll follow you on foot/Halfway in mud and slush the microphones picked up./It was raining on the houses/It was snowing on the police cars.

The astronauts were weeping/Going neither up nor out./And my own mother was brave enough she looked/And it was all right I was dead.

We began at the cemetery, and once we figured out the ticketing system, went into that area, the memorial within, and afterwards, a couple of synagogues. Craig and Rosemary accompanied us into the cemetery and memorial, but peeled off for other adventures when we went to the Spanish synagogue.

It’s difficult to express in words the utter sadness and deep sorrow in seeing walls and walls and walls of names of the deceased Jewish populations from so many purges and erasures. And the persecution endured by less-horrific but nevertheless devastating acts such as prohibiting Jews from hiring Christians for tasks such as mending, cooking, or anything else. This area was seen in the 1700s as quite “tolerant” but such prohibitions resulted in those of the Jewish faith having to cluster together to hire one another; and to move away from the Christian areas because they would not be able to access basic services.

And to view the “old” Jewish cemetery with its helter-skelter gravestones and tombs, with loved ones piled on top of the previous generation, and none of them appropriately designated, is just another type of centuries worth of persecution, when the community was not allowed to bury their families beyond a certain area. 

Visitors added small notes and messages in this wall.

We noticed that small rocks were placed on several markers near the walkways, in the Jewish tradition of Yahrtzeit (literally “time of [one] year”), which refers to the anniversary of the day of death of a relative. Yahrzeit is usually a day-long remembrance of the day of death of a loved one, and the custom of placing a stone on the grave using the left hand is also old. First, it shows tha someone visited the gravesite and in a small way participated in the mitzvah of burial. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice, and the stones left are also a way to “tend to” a grave. In Biblical times, gravesites were marked only with mounds of stones (a cairn), so when visitors place or replace the stones, it helps perpetuate the existence of the gravesite. It is a common practice when visiting Jewish graves, even of those we do not know, to place a small stone on the marker.

An extra remembrance was placed on the top of this headstone.
We left the cemetery, hearts filled with sadness.

While the Spanish synagogue was seriously pretty, it was quite odd to see an organ and a choir loft – but the excellent (and unfortunately, printed very small) light boxes with documents and explanations pointed out that the government would tolerate synagogues, but only if they behaved like Christian churches by having organ music and angelic singing for their services. Quite strange.

We left the Jewish Quarter and walked back along the river toward Bishop’s House, stopping for a nice picnic at a park along the way. It had rained the night before, so the seats and little table we found were wet, and Jack had to pay the price of a pair of beers for two bottles of “Italian” water – but it was a nice interlude beside a pretty river in the heart of Prague. Not too shabby.

Some “seens” from our walk.

I have not the first clue what this could possibly mean. Nor what the illustration might relate to. Ideas?

For all my artist friends and family.

Arriving back in the Bishop’s House neighborhood with a little more time before we gathered for our boat ride and dinner along the river, we quickly headed over to the small island beneath Charles Bridge, where some of our group had discovered a display of photos about that infamous flood of 2002, called “After the flood: 15 years later.” They are large photos framed in a series for a “walking gallery” along the river. We checked that out and found a few extra things to take photos of, just for the record.

No wonder the underground wasn’t working back in 2003 when we were in Prague last.

Then we joined the group to bus over to Ave (on the outskirts of Prague) for our bike fitting, met our new mechanical best friends for the next week, adjusted seats and such, and took a quickie ride to assure everything fit and shifted and worked right. We had our first “casualty” during the shake-down ride, when Laura turned too near a parked car and lost her balance, taking a header between the parked cars. She hit her upper lip and chin, and needed a couple of band-aides, but otherwise was okay.

Finally, we embarked on our private dinner cruise along the river. The food was quite good, and the best beer we could get came out of a can. But that was fine, because after the meal on the main deck, we took our drinks up to the top deck and many photos were taken as the light faded to black on our stay in Prague. (Apologies for the grainy pix. My camera’s not great in low light, but you can get the general feel for Prague at night.)

Two boats at a time go into the canal locks to navigate the different levels of the river. We hit this lock twice: outgoing to rise to the next level; and incoming, to lower back down.

You might recognize this building from an earlier, daylight photo. Never did find anyone who could tell me what it was.

Charles Bridge from below.

Cesky Krumlov

After check-in at the Hotel Peregrin (about 5 or 6 of our group are staying at pensions nearby) we were all set free for an orienting wander around town to kick off our stay at Cesky Krumlov. 

Jack and I found a hotel restaurant (the Hotel Dvořák) that served Pilsner Urquell and we joined a couple of tour friends for a beer and a snack before heading back to the hotels to prep for our guided tour.

A crazy person in shorts was offering raft tours of the river surrounding Cesky Krumlov, the Vltava River a.k.a. Moldau.
A bridge busker near as we supped our beer was playing a Steel Drum designed to be in his lap. The bridge is called the Barber’s Bridge because the barber who not only cut hair but also used leeches to bleed the sick, pliers to remove teeth, and other healthful assists, had his shop near this bridge for hundreds of years.

We re-assembled near 5PM for a guided tour led by Sharka, a local CK person who gave a great lesson about the history, economy, and geography of the area. We were with her for about 2 hours and learned many tidbits, many of which I probably won’t remember. But you can reference the post I made on Sept. 2, 2017 about the city, based on research I’d done prior to our departure:

Some of the highlights were that in CK, there are probably only about 14,000 residents, but only about 500 of those live in the tourist section. There is some dispute regarding whether CK’s palace castle is larger than Prague’s, but the statistic remains that CK has the second largest in the Czech Republic. It is owned now by the state government and is being meticulously restored, with great effort and care being made to get it back to its original condition, based on when the actual structure was built. This is true of private investment in the town structures also, the entire Old Town and castle/palace area being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sharka has lived her whole life here, including when the soviets had control of it, when she called it “A Locked City.” When she was young, she lived with her grandparents, and had no idea that her grandfather could speak German and that she had German relatives, since revealing those secrets when she was a child was taboo. She remembers the Velvet Revolution (a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia, occurring from November 17 to December 29, 1989) and for the first time in her young life, Czechs were allowed to travel, get more than the two state-sanctioned TV stations, and more than the state-controlled radio broadcasts. Recently, she has traveled to the United States and other places around Europe like any other person in her 30s living in Europe. She has two children, both of which are in the totally free public school system, and both of which particpate in an after-school program at the restored/renovated Music School in the Old Town area, where Sharka pays only 150US$ a year for them to have 2 hours of daily after school instruction in the musical instrument (including voice) of their choice. Her son is the 5th best pianist in his age group in the country.

We walked through the streets of the Old Town with Sharka pointing out many items and views and buildings and history of interest to us. We ended at the Castle as the crowd numbers and light were going down, and saw the bear in the castle’s “moat.” Roughly, the history of the bear is that one of the royal owners of the town/castle (Schwartzenbergs I think) who received possession of Cesky Krumlov and the Palace/Castle through a connection cemented by marriage in 1661 to the Eggenberg (the family to carry on the surviving local brewery, still serving delicious beer today). But the Schwartzenbergs didn’t take possession of the duchy and castle until the male Eggenberg line died out, in 1717.

So back to the bear: The Schwartzenbergs believed themselves to be related to the Orsini (?) family of Italy (but this has been found to be untrue) so they allied themselves with that family by including a bear in their Germanic coat of arms, and in response the Orsini family sent them live bears through the years. The male of the last pair living died last year, leaving the female, who looks lonely and who is quite elderly, in her habitat near the castle. Her name is Maria Theresa, and she (along with many individuals of her clan) have lived long, pampered lives in their Czech Republic home. Sharka said that she is and shall be the last of her line.

Speaking of the Schwartzenbergs, they have a rather interesting coat of arms, which includes an acknowledgement of their involvements with the wars against the Ottoman Empire with the ravens pecking the eyes of a severed Turkish head. They held Cesky Krumlov and the castle until 1918, when two World Wars interfered with “ownership” and “stewardship” of the area, culminating in the Schwartzenbergs ceding the holdings to the state in 1947 (which, after WWII was soviet Russia). In 1989, along with the falling of the Berlin Wall and the break of up of the Soviet Union, the Czech people regained control of their lands and properties and have been working to build a tourism industry ever since. 

The slow process of restoration for preservation has entirely been undertaken during the last 28-ish years. It is truly amazing what they have accomplished in that span. It was quite lucky, however, that during the wars, CK was not considered much of a target — while the Nazis occupied CK, it was not bombed and no war installations were placed there, so the damage from the wars was more that of neglect rather than destruction. The neglect continued, of course, through the Soviet period, so the undertaking has been nevertheless daunting.

Sharka told us that back in the 1990s you could buy a house in CK for about $1000 American, and the costs of renovation were nominal. Now they’re going for millions.

Layers of top-plaster and other materials covered original frescoes and sgraffito ornamentation on the insides and outsides of the buildings, and historians are tenaciously bringing those back to their original wherever possible. 

At the castle is the sole remaining Baroque theater in the world, and it survives (where many others were burned due to candle lighting and effects including fireworks) nearly intact: they are researching and restoring 700 pieces of costuming, many original musical scores,  and hundreds of set panels, not to mention the theater itself, including the stage, orchestra, and noble seating areas. The original drape/curtain sequestering the royalty from the commoners is still extant. 
Most remarkable, however, is that the machine works for moving the set pieces in and out, up and down (even through the floor) survive — some of the pieces and gears and rollers, historians are still unsure of their uses or purpose. We had an amazing tour of the theater, but were enjoined from taking any photos, so I cannot show you the amazing things we saw there.  

The theater is used a few times annually only, and most significantly at a conference of restorers and historians who gather to actually see a production completely done in the Baroque style  followed by feasts and masquerades, etc., and when the production is complete, they can ask questions and suppose solutions and study the materials unique in the world and continue to try to figure out how they work and what is required to restore them to their proper service.

This is truly a unique place deserving of the World Heritage designation. The downside being that it is also truly overrun with visitors to the extent that it is difficult to get by all the selfie sticks and crowds of photo-takers mobbing the viewsheds, narrow alleyways, and shops/cafe/restaurants. While I must admit I’m thrilled to be here, I’m awful glad I’m not staying even one day longer. I hope for Sharka’s children’s sakes the complete embrace of tourism to the apparent exclusion of everything else, is worth it down the line.

Sharka escorted us to our dinner location, an authentic Bavarian restaurant where we basically had the place to ourselves. Excellent food, and we tried the Eggenberg beer, although they were out of the dark lager version. 

I had roast duck on sauerkraut, with regular and potato dumplings and a salad.

After the theater tour, we walked up to the Baroque gardens, still in bloom. Lovely, quiet spot because few of the mobs of tourists want to make the effort to walk uphill as far as necessary to get there.

The fountain in the main square, lit at night as we walked home from dinner.

The “coat of arms” of Cesky Krumlov.

NABA Convention, Kazoo

July 25 & 26, 2017

Not much to report about our travel day to Ft. Custer State Recreation Area in Michigan. Happily, it was an uneventful drive, we set up camp in a decent spot (site #16) with lots of shade, and settled in a bit before we went to the National Association Breweriana Advertising (NABA) Convention hotel, the downtown Radisson Kalamazoo, so we could register and let folks know we had arrived.

A bit about the camping: deep, thick undergrowth all around well-forested spaces arranged in the shape of a “pair of kidneys.” Lots of poison ivy and oak everywhere (no hammock-hanging here, I can tell you!). There is no water at the sites, but potable water at the dump station, so we pulled in there at the get-go to fill our fresh water tank, as usual, using our own filter to do so.


The bath house is very near our site, and it is elderly and frankly, not all that tidy. There’s a playground behind it, and sometimes the kids use the facilities as an aspect of their hide-and-seek games. But the good news is that the showers are individual, across the hall from the restroom facilities, and there is a family restroom/shower for parents with young kids to use.

Another strange downside is that one must buy a $35 non-resident recreational pass just to get in and out of Michigan’s RAs. It is good for a year, but I think there will be few MI recreational areas we’re going to visit over the next 12 months. But just so one’s aware of the need, it won’t be such a surprise.

Back at the NABA Convention (the Radisson is about a half-hour drive from Ft. Custer SRA, although it’s only about 15 miles — one must leave “our” town of Augusta and thread through Galesburg and Comstock before winding one’s way into the downtown area, with significant construction and lots of traffic lights). We found our way to the registration/hospitality room on the 9th floor — again, rather strange because one needs to have a card-key to get to the 9th floor. Those of us registered but not staying at the hotel have to get a special pass from the front desk just so the elevator will go up there. Once we got there, however, the Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale was on tap and the folks were friendly and it was good to see a few peeps and catch up a bit.

Shortly thereafter, Jack and I went to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in downtown for dinner and had good sandwiches and excellent onion rings. A half-hour later, we were back at Roomba and without much ado headed to bed.

This is where the Bell’s Brewing legend began, now their signature downtown eatery.


The first “real” day of Convention activities is often a long one for me. Jack stayed at camp while I drive in to catch the bus for the day’s tour, starting at 9 and finishing (with luck) at 4:30. Our first stop was the Bell’s production brewery out in the Comstock Commercial Park (back toward camp!). Our group of about 45 broke into 3 sub-groups and each sub-group had a guide. It was an excellent tour and the facility was so much more than just an industrial-style factory buiding (as so many breweries tend to be). I won’t go into too many details but Larry Bell started brewing beer and educating his public about “real” beer flavor and nuance back in 1985. By 1989, he was kicking the market in the Kalamazoo area, and some folks credit him and his mainly British-style ales etc. with having a major influence on the start-up of what we now know as the craft beer industry. Our guide told us that by 1989 there were a total of 280-some breweries in the US, including the multi-nationals. Today there are something like 5500 breweries in the US, so Larry Bell was brewing excellent beer and making a business of it decades before 5,220-ish breweries even got into business. And he was teaching a whole lot of folks that beer could be better than what Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and Pabst were offering.

Anyway — from there we went to lunch early at the Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, where we had our own room, food, servers, and our bus ticket bought us each one beer from the taps.

From there, we went to the Gilmore Car Museum, about 15 miles out of town. Certainly, antique cars are not my big thing, but the 90-acre campus full of barns full of vehicles and their history is quite amazing. Attached to but not directly associated with the car museum is the Michigan Miniatures Museum, where I saw many teensy-weensy rooms, houses, stores, crofts, etc etc etc. It was an amazing glimpse into the artistry and perfection of craftspeople who reproduce (or invent) scale replicas of things, people, and spaces (there even was a Waterford crystal setting — either a “home” or a “museum”). It’s difficult to tell from some of these photos, but the scales ranged from one inch = one foot to one-quarter inch = one foot. With everything to scale.

There was one fun bit at the car museum, that included a 1939 Packard coupe hitched to (and supposedly towing) a 1937-39 Conestoga Covered Wagon camping trailer. Pretty cool stuff.

Kalamazoo was also home to the Checker car and car parts company. That is in the past tense because it was only during the most recent Recession (2008-ish) when the company went out of business, even though it’s been ages and ages since it made its famous Checker Cabs. The 1923 company survived post-WWI recession, the Great Depression, the failure of its partner business (E.L. Cord conglomerate) in 1937, the WWII economy and post-WWII. But the thing that destroyed the car-manufacturing part of the business was crash testing mandated by the federal government in the 1970s. After 59 years, the last Checker rolled off the line in 1982. The company continued until 2008-ish by selling car parts.


As for the Gilmore Car Museum, it was started in the 1960s when Donald S. Gilmore began collecting vintage cars, including a 1927 Ford Model T, and 1913 Rolls-Royce, and a 1920 Pierce-Arrow, all of which he restored himself. He then acquired 90 acres in SW MI in the small town of Hickory Corners. His wife encouraged him to showcase his collection, so they created a nonprofit foundation and opened the museum to the public on Sunday July 31, 1966. Today, it’s the largest auto museum in North America, with 6 onsite partner museums (like the miniatures place I visited) and the auto collection features 400 vehicles.

Next our bus tour went to a member’s home to see his collection of breweriana, and our host and hostess were gracious and generous. More beer and nibbles were enjoyed by all before we headed back to the Radisson.

We were about 15 minutes behind our hoped-for time, so I had too little time to get back to camp for a shower. So I got back to camp to pick up Jack and we about-faced to get to the “big event” of the Convention, from my perspective anyway, which is the famous Brewmaster’s Dinner. At this event, different styles of beer are paired with different courses of the meal, and sometimes the recipes for the meal are augmented with beer. It is always a very relaxed and fun event, and this one was no exception, even featuring a starter course of cheeses and roasted vegetables that came before the salad. Even though we got there late and had to catch up on the starter course, we sat with some great fellow members and had a wonderful time. Saw additional friends from past Conventions there, and stayed long past when the bus crew was breaking down the tables.

We’re finally getting the hang of getting in and out of Kazoo, and back to our abode without the map software in the car.

By the way, while I was bus touring, Jack hopped on his bike and explored the camp/recreation area. He found few multi-use or bike trails in the RA, but tootled around the paved roads and some of the almost-good-for-bikes (that weren’t mountain bikes) trails, and got 15 miles on the odometer. He reported seeing a large raptor of some sort, either an immature bald eagle or an osprey.

Bald Eagle State Park, PA

Bald Eagle State Park is an enormous area, with plenty to do and plenty to see.

We debated whether to take our bikes up to the Pine Creek Trail on this gorgeous day (Monday, October 3). In the end, we elected to do our Bike/Site Tour Boogie, riding the Park, while Ken and Diane headed to the Pine Creek Trail.

Armed with a pretty good map and a desire to eventually end up across the lake, where the primitive camping area was, in addition to a little town called Howard and a lakeside hiking trail (that we hoped might accommodate cycles) we set off using the “every right turn” directional program.

There are at least 10 miles of hiking trails in the immediate area, and several marks on the map for cross-country skiing trails, and hunter’s trails outside of the campground (but still in the Park). 

Our first right was a “connector” trail called the Shrike Tr., that was just grassy and obviously not for bikes, but we rode through (it was only about 25 yards). The next right turn carried us to a boat launch area where we got right up to, not the lake proper, but Hunter Run Cove. 

On the map it looks more shallow than the main lake, which is called Foster Joseph Sayers Lake, or Sayers Lake for short, which is actually a reservoir. Here’s a bit of the history:

Leased from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the 5900 acre state park was opened to the public July 4, 1971. Completed by the Corps in 1969, the 100 ft high and 1.3 mile long dam forms the Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir. Created to reduce flood damage and provide water-based recreation, the reservoir/lake is1,730 acres where visitors can recreate year-round. The reservoir honors Foster Joseph Sayers, Private 1st Class. A native of Center County, 19-year-old Sayers was killed during a valiant assault on enemy forces during WWII. For his heroism, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

At Bald Eagle State Park the Allegheny Plateau’s rolling highlands meet the steep slopes of Bald Eagle Ridge, creating not only spectacular scenery, but also prime wildlife habitat. Migrating hawks ride ridgeline thermals, black bear, bobcat, porcupine, and turkey inhabit mature forests of oak and hickory. Great blue herons wade in Bald Eagle Creek while osprey pluck yellow perch from Sayers Lake. 

The park is the site of one of the most intensive woodcock, songbird, and native habitat restoration projects in Pennsylvania. In addition to the American woodcock, many rare and declining songbirds, like the golden-winged warbler, nest at the park. Partners across the state have been working together to improve and maintain the shrubland habitat for woodcock and other declining scrubland-loving species. 

Our next stop along the Site Tour Boogie (the next right would have taken us to the Office and Rt. 150, so we saved that until we had to get onto the highway to get to the other side of the lake, and we went straight through a 4-way intersection instead of turning right) was the Marina. We thought to go up to the Ecological Learning Center, but workers were re-roofing it, so we skipped it. Next time.

The Marina offers summer and winter dry storage for boats, and a variety of boats that are for rent during the high season (closed at this time, however). I heard through the grapevine that there are 200 slips for private use here, and across from the inlet defining the Marina was a lovely picnic and fishing area (there were tons and tons of walk-in fishing sites/trails designated all around the shoreline we visited).

To get over the water to that picnic ground (and more) we rode back up to the four-way intersection and took the next right, which carried more deeply into the park. We crossed a small dam/bridge dividing the “entry area” from the larger park area, and visited an enormous day-use area that includes the picnic site we could see from the Marina. At this point, we got to the northwest shore of the Lake proper.

After biking all those loops (there was a beach area, several pavilions, fishing areas, public rest rooms, etc.) we took our next right and headed toward the Nature Inn, a significant lodge, where we were told many, many Penn State fans come to stay for home games – last weekend, we heard, the entire camping and lodge areas were packed due to a Penn State football game.

We tootled along two more right turns to boat launch places, at one of which we saw a blue heron and a praying mantis. 

Then, instead of heading more-or-less straight up the hill to the Lodge, we took an apparently little-used road down to the inlet between Hunter Run Cove and Sayers Lake. There we saw what was once old Rt. 220(?) disappearing below the water and re-appearing on the other side of the narrow throat connecting Cove with Lake. 

We also were accosted by Sadie, an Alsatian mix on a lead with her humans (whose names I forget) who engaged us in a monologue for quite a bit longer than we’d expected to be viewing the watery end of this road.

We at last extricated ourselves and headed back uphill, and the next right turn was uphill some more, all the way to the top of the ridge we can see from our campsite, where the Nature Inn stands. A lovely place inside and out and the views for the guests are truly lovely.

Upon passing several of what looked like interesting trail heads, we briefly contemplated doing some “cross training” (walking as well as riding our bikes) to see where the trails went, especially one marked Skyline Trail with another sign that pointed us to our camping spot (which, incidentally, is called “Modern Campground,” I suppose as opposed to the “Primitive Campground” on the opposite side of the lake).

But we refrained and took another paved road (which was a left hand turn, by the way) that took us off the ridge and down to another boat launch area from which we were unable to escape, except by reversing our path back up toward the Inn, skipping that right-hand turn back up the Inn’s driveway, and again retracing our earlier steps back to the picnic and day-use area opposite the Marina.

Before we headed out of this part of the park, we took one more uphill, due to the fact that a sign labeled “Overlook Sledding Area” piqued our interest. There we found a FedEx guy parked for his lunch in a shady area next to one of the public restrooms, and through the weeds and along a “no vehicles allowed” walking path, saw the Inn from the opposite direction, straight along the top of the ridge. The views were nice from this high spot as well.

Taking a rest stop ourselves, we left the sledding area (might look more promising covered in snow, but who can say?) carried on to Rt. 150, and the narrow road blessedly had a decent shoulder relatively clean of debris, keeping us away from the traffic (a little bit, anyway). We turned left again onto Rt. 26 headed toward another bridge with a view back to the Marina (pic below) and rode on toward the teensy burgh of Howard.

Too bad about the power line, but in the distance, one can see the boats of the Marina.

Had to endure no shoulder along some of 26 to get to the road to the primitive campground, and found an unkempt road full of patches and pots and gravel and humps; and found the majority of the primitive sites to be totally unsuitable for anything except tents (although the walk-in tent sites were quite lovely), despite the area being billed for both tents and RVs. There was, in fact, one RV there, but it looked quite lop-sided and uneven in its site.

The best primitive sites were along the rail road; while we were there, no trains passed, but it was obviously a working RR, and I’d hate to camp there and be awakened in the small hours by a huffing train passing by. 

Back along Rt. 150 was a scenic pull-out, which we took and caught a decent photo.

To the middle/right of the pic is the bridge where I stood to take the previous pic.

And we saw an osprey perched in a snag near the road over a swampy/shallow water area. It didn’t like our presence so near, and flew away before I could get a photo. Other wildlife and critters we saw (in addition to the bald eagle we saw on the first day) were many, many Monarch butterflies, two red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, several great blue herons besides the one I was (marginally) able to photograph, and many songbirds. Not any pesky insects, however, another plus for “shoulder season” camping. 

By the time we made it back, it was 3:00 and our cyclometers indicated we had 28 miles under our belts. We had not taken anything along except water, and we had a date with the extended Russell family to meet up in Mill Branch, PA, at the Clinton Country Club, to have dinner together at Haywood’s On the Green bar and grill. I gotta say, I was quite ready for a meal, since we skipped lunch in favor of our long ride.

Along with walking the lakeside trail on the southeast side of the Lake on the list for Next Time we visit, is to go farther along Rt. 150, either by car or bike, and visit the Schenck and Sandhill cemeteries, farther to the east of the Rt. 26 bridge. Also, to see if it’s possible to bicycle along the dam road; and to hike just a few of the miles of trails within the park.

We made it back before the rain (which came down for a while as we were trying to do a little pack-and-stow, and also to shower) and well before our collective departure for dinner at about 5P. Through texts, we discovered that the fix of JB & Martha’s RV took longer than expected, and they would miss the dinner. But all of the remaining group of us, plus three of Jack’s cousins and their spouses gathered to enjoy some beverages and a meal together. It was quite a fun evening. One or two stories of the young cousins misbehaving at the homes of the generation now gone were told with laughs and fondness.

The following day was our departure to Douthat State Park in VA, and so we hit the hay and arose early to get a jump on a very long day’s drive. Happily, the drive was uneventful, except for several stops for construction projects throughout MD, WV, and VA – at one of which, Jack saw a bear cross the road in his rearview, but I missed it, it went by so fast. The only items of note from the windshield viewfinder were the Seneca Cliffs in West Virginia.

Had a late set-up in site #14 in the Whispering Pines section of the Douthat State Park, and enjoyed a short confab with Kerry, Gloria, Diane, Ken and Barley Boy (JB and Martha finally finished up the RV repairs and were spending the night in Winchester, VA, having another sublime experience camping in a second WalMart parking lot as they sorted the dashboard warning light issue – we discovered marginal cell service at Douthat, allowing texts about RV repair updates, and [obviously] an upload of this post, albeit a very slow upload, indeed). Our “quick” dinner was mostly leftovers, but included fresh-baked rolls (risen during the drive) with our pasta and dinner remains from Haywood’s On the Green. 

Hungry as I was, who could eat all that? It’s Haywood’s meatloaf special: a buttered piece of toast in rich brown gravy, topped with 2 2-inch slabs of delicious meatloaf, topped with a generous scoop of mashed potatoes topped with more gravy; corn, and a side of grilled mushrooms and onions. No wonder there were significant leftovers, right?