Juniorhotel Krakonos, Marianske Lazne

In 1997, after 2 years of living in The Netherlands, my parents came for a summer trip to Europe. We met up in Vienna and spent two weeks driving through the Czech Republic and Hungary. Although the Berlin Wall had fallen 8 years earlier, the remnants of Communism were still rampant and it wasn’t a particularly easy vacation.

After seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel last night, I started thinking of some of the formerly grand hotels we had seen while on our trip. One in particular, the Juniorhotel Krakonoš in Mariánské Láznê, stuck in my mind. It was at one time quite a spectacle, with grand staircases, immense chandeliers and wood panelling, but by the time we got there, it had fallen on very sad times. It was run-down, dark and extremely depressing; now more of a youth hostel than a hotel, it had tried to pep up its appeal by adding a minigolf course to the front terrace, an act that accomplished the exact opposite effect. Sad, sad.

I started googling this morning to see what’s happened to the old pile. I found reviews and booking options for Hotel Krakonoš (no ‘Junior’), but all the photos were of a glassy modern pyramid. One aerial photo showed the former grand hotel forlorn and forgotten next to its replacement. I found some photos on Flickr from 2007 (Thank you, dmytrok!) that showed it completely bordered up and abandoned. I wonder if anything else will happen with it? Will it just collapse on itself in the next 30 years? Or will someone take on a labor of love and try to restore it for some useful end?

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The Big Freeze, 2012

If you live anywhere in Europe, or you’ve ever heard of Europe, you probably know that the last month was our worst spate of winter weather in years and years. The entire continent got snowed under, literally. And not just snow, but much colder temps than we’re used to, prompting whining like you’ve never heard before and public transport disruptions that make you wonder if they think we live at the equator.

But here in The Netherlands, once it’s under freezing for over a week, people’s minds turn lightly towards one thing only:

The Elfstedentocht. This skating race is so fundamental to Dutch nationalism that insurance companies sell a special insurance so that if you’re away on vacation when the race occurs, you can cancel and come home at no extra cost. The requirements are minimal, but stringent! The ice has to be at least 15cm thick along the whole 200-km course, as it will have to hold up to 16,000 skaters. It’s only taken place once in my Dutch experience, in January 1997 when I happened to be visiting a friend in Sweden (which was also way cold, by the way) so I missed it, drat it.

Sadly, despite race fever, the race was not scheduled this year and we had to make do with frosty delights closer to home. The first few photos in this gallery are taken either from our front window or out on the canal in front of the house. Not bad, eh? We, along with the rest of the city, took to our skates on the canals in the center. I hobbled along and the The Redhead glided, but it was a party all the way. True to their entrepreneurial nature, many people had set up little tables and stands ON the canals to sell gluhwein and hot chocolate. Fabulous; I hope it happens again in 2012.

Holidaze

I really do love the holidays and sometimes expect too much joy and merriment. This year I was a bit worried that we weren’t going to either set of family, anxious that our own version wouldn’t live up to expectations. But we had a lovely Christmas here at home on our own.

We were invited to a cenone, a big Italian Christmas Eve feast, but it somehow fell through. We were left hanging at 6PM on Christmas Eve but decided to make our own cenino with the traditional cotechino and lenticchie and a lovely bottle of red wine. We watched Love, Actually; very kitsch but fun.

On Christmas Day, we had a slow morning of dragonfruit and presents, feeling extremely blessed by our generous families. In the evening, we went to our very dear friends in Utrecht, where they had made an extravagant feast. After seven hours of drinking, eating and blabbing, we stumbled back home. It was so nice this year to be quiet and at home, creating our own traditions. But next year I’ll be very happy to go back to family!

NaBloPoMo, I knew thee well

I did it again!

It’s a shame I neglect my blog all year but it certainly makes me proud to have blogged every day for the entire month of November. When I get into it, I wonder why I don’t actually make more time for it. While writing the entries for this month, I often went back to look at old entries and it made me so happy that I had archived so many thoughts, emotions, photos and experiences to look at 5 years later.

Let’s see if I manage to ignore it for another 11 months. I hope not. If you miss me, just drop a line, it might get me cracking.

Shim Sham

For the last few years, I’ve been looking for a dance form that suits me. I went to several different kinds of classes at a dance center near me a few years ago, searching for the right fit. I tried ballet (too dull), Jazz dance (fun but complex) and swing (great but need a partner). Many years ago I did the required attempt at salsa; I enjoyed it and liked the music and dance, but not the whole pick-up scene.

This summer I tried a Lindy hop/Charleston class and really enjoyed it but didn’t like how far away from my house it was and that you needed a partner. The class moved super slow, mostly for the men who seemed universally challenged. After much googling, I finally landed on the idea of tapdance. I found a studio nearby and went to the trial class and lo and behold, I was hooked. It conflicts with Stitch and Bitch, but sometimes I’ll drop in after class for the last half hour or so and it seems to me to be worth the compromise.

It’s great fun and I love the rhythmic approach that our teacher takes. It’s been very interesting learning; she’s very methodical and starts us off with the basics. I understand all the rhythmic patterns and memorize them usually very quickly, but my balance — hoo boy. I know what I’m supposed to do, but I’m always falling to one side or the other. It’s a real disconnect between my body and my mind.

Right now we’re doing this dance:

But someday I would like to be able to do this one: