Friday, February 10, 2006

Velké Bílovice

Hello! This last week I was staying in a town called Velké Bílovice, a little village 40km from the Slovak border in the Czech Republic. This was my first time back to the Czech Republic, not counting the Prague airport (great creampuffs), since I visited in 2000. It is still cold, but fun, and I took a bunch of pictures.

First, a little info about the Czech Republic. It has about twice the population of Slovakia, a much stronger economy, and is know for being more socially progressive. It is also the home of Prague, which everyone thinks is just great.

I went to Velké Bílovice to attend a conference for my program, in which the participants from Slovakia and the Czech Republic meet up and discuss their experiences. We stayed at a nice little place called the Hotel Akademie.

Here's some random pics of the town:

When we first arrived, we were paired up two to a room. I got put with my friend Michael, who is a teacher in Banska Bystricia in Slovakia. He probably wouldn't want everyone to know this, but he has a retainer and reads books about dragons. Here is proof:

At first the Slovak and Czech groups stayed separate, due to the fact that no matter how many years ago you graduated from high school the default human instinct is to make cliques. At least that is my amateur sociological perspective, and I did take a sociology course in high school where we watched "Clockwork Orange". Soon however we started to mingle:

Each of us had to give a 15 minute presentation on what we've been doing in our host countries. Before these began our coordinator Nora gave a talk. Nora is the most helpful person in the world, and I would give her my kidneys. Nora has our back, and if you hurt one of our feelings, she will come to your home and cut you. We love Nora:

First up for the presentations was Mikey D, who is a chemistry professor in a small town in Slovakia. He gave his presentation on an overhead, which gave me flashbacks to Mr. Coulter's trig class:

I personally enjoyed his talk, but it was a bit over my head. Perhaps it is more up your alley:

Next was Richard M, an engineering professor from Chicago who teaches a half-hour south of me in Kosice. He is very nice, and runs something like three marathons a year. We couldn't find him at lunch because he was out running fifteen miles in a blizzard. Here is the man/legend himself:

From the Czech side came Kylowna, a high school teacher from L.A. who now teaches at a little school in Northern Czech Republic. Her presentation was about her incredibly original idea of documenting her experiences by making a blog with Blogger and sharing tons of pictures with her friends back home. Her site is really well done, with great photos, and you should definitely check it out here. Later in the week, she whipped me in a game of darts. This is Kylowna during her talk:

Perhaps the low point of the conference was when this guy gave his talk. He rambled on about a Supreme Court case dealing with flag burning, kept putting his hands in his pockets, and wrote illegibly on the board behind him. He was later complimented on his speaking skills by a woman who said "you should be on those commercials for used car lots!" Thankfully his talk was only ten minutes long:

But it was not all work and no play. We were served some pretty good lunches at the hotel, such as this meat (pork?) with potatoes and Czech salsa, I think:

The hotel also offered recreational activities for all ages and levels of hyperactivity:

Maybe the coolest part of our trip was our visit to a town called Cejkovice, where there is a wine cellar created by the Knights Templar in the 13th Century. They were supposedly the precursors to today's Masons, and some believe that they still exist, running the world through their secret shadowy underground lair. You can learn more about them from many sources such as the Da Vinci Code, Foucault's Pendulum and your local mental health institution.

The wine cellar was great, here are some photos:

The ceiling of the cellar is covered with mold, and the smell is a bit overwhelming at first. There is a tradition of sticking a coin into the ceiling and making a wish. I wished that it didn't smell so bad:

After a short tour the owners gave us a wine tasting. This went on for quite a while, and by the time we got back on the bus many people were in bad shape:

The next morning a few conference attendees were unable to make it to the presentations, such as this person. They missed a great talk on early 20th century Czech animation:

All in all it was a nice trip, and I got to meet a bunch of great people from the other side of old Czechslovakia. I hope to visit a bunch of them in Prague when the weather improves.

Speaking of bad weather, tonight I am taking the overnight train across the mountains to Krakow, Poland, where it is currently very, very cold. I'll get a bunch of pictures, and I'll put them here ASAP. Hope all is well, I will leave you with this:

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