Ok, they’re not really abandoned, but it sure seems that way at times. As I mentioned in my last blog, parents here in Czech Republic seem to have absolutely no problem leaving their babies unattended in public places. This would obviously never fly in the U.S. where A) you could be arrested, and B) you run the actual risk of someone snatching your kid.
And while you might think this would be a warm-weather-only phenomenon, it seems to happen all year ’round. Despite the general Czech attitude towards never cracking open a window for fear of catching a draft, even if the inside of a building reaches a sweltering temperature (yes, I’m talking to you Big One Fitness aerobics studio), parents seem to have no problem parking their child outside in sub-freezing temps to catch some air. But given the propensity here to swaddle, bundle, and bag these babies into a fleece-lined stupor, I guess there’s no harm in it in the end.
So without further ado, I present to you my first collection of Abandoned Babies of Brno. I’m sure there will be more to follow. (An lest you think these are just empty strollers parked outside for convenience, I assure you they are all 100% abandoned baby certified.)
Since moving to Brno, we’ve fallen into the habit of naming places by what they remind us of, because initially (and for me often still) we had a hard time pronouncing, much less remembering, their proper Czech names. Our local watering hole is ABC, short for Abandoned Baby Cafe. Allow me to explain: the first time we ever passed by and even noticed this place was because someone had left a pram with a baby in it outside, while enjoying coffee with their friends inside, naively un concerned about any child-snatching potential. (Not only would this obviously never fly in Philadelphia, but it seems to happen ALL THE TIME here and we have the photos to prove it, but that’s going to be the subject of a different blog.) Across the street is Parrot, so named because of the parrot birds painted on the outside and the live birds (not parrots) on the inside.
And then there’s Cleveland in the ’80s. I can’t say why exactly this name fits, only that the inside of this grungy, hipster bar smells like wet dogs but is still oddly charming and reminds me of all the similar dive bars I used to go to in college, in Cleveland, in the ’80s. There is no T.V. There is no Internet. There is no chrome or exposed brick or artfully whitewashed walls or espresso machine. (Although I should point out, there are plenty of places here that do have these things). There is only beer and white guys with ponytails and backpacks and bikes. Like Cleveland. In the ’80s.
While it could be argued that Brno—roughly the same population as Cleveland at @400,000—is on the verge of a renaissance (enter Starbucks, Nespresso, and Swarovski on the main square), it seems that many aspects of Brno are still stuck largely in 1985:
- There are bookstores. Not Barnes & Noble type stores, but actual bookstores that sell actual books, with actual cafes that are not Starbucks.
- There are old-school music shops (like, LOTS of them), with old-school audio equipment like the reel-to-reel equipment my college recitals were recorded with.
- The mall is still a “thing.” There’s one mall in the city and another in the burbs about 15 minutes away. Both of them have food courts where people go in the middle of a workday and sit down to eat lunch, before going off to buy underwear or jeans at the C&A, Brno’s answer to J.C. Penney.
- People get dressed up for concerts. Men of all ages wear suits or at least jackets, and women wear heels and dresses. And hose. Sometimes even flesh colored hose, like Cleveland, in the ’80s.
- People still go to concerts. Live music is still a thing. People show up.
So there you have it. Though all signs point to change, for this particular moment in time, Brno, in my opinion, is really just Cleveland, in the ’80s.
Another Bourgogne barge vacation in the bag! Instead of waiting for a wave of literary inspiration and flowery thoughts to wash over me about the trip, which is not likely to happen soon, I’m just gonna lay down a bare bones report for anyone who’s interested in hearing about our latest adventure. Proceed at your own risk.
First a bit about our trip name. For this our fourth trip, we were accompanied again, for one week, by our good friends Alison and Kyle who also joined us in 2013. The trip name was derived from our mutual fascination with this blog, which has nothing to do with Bourgogne, but we can’t stop laughing at it. Also the letters RB (Renaissance Baby) are the same as the letters for last year’s trip name Rowe Bateau (a.k.a. “row boat”). We had a logo and team hoodies made up for the occasion (right).
We chartered a self-hire boat again the first two weeks of September, and it was our second time on the Annelies with Saone Bateau, a fabulous, small self-hire company out of Gigny-sur-Saône (just south of Chalon-sur-Saône). We highly recommend you check them out if you’re looking for a self-hire charter in this location.
After heading up the Saone and spending a night in Verdun-sur-le-doubs, we decided to head into the Canal du Rhone au Rhin to the city of Dole in the heart of the Franche-Comté region. We continued on from Dole to the larger city of Besançon where Alison and Kyle sadly departed after the first week. We made our way back down the canal to Saint-Jean-de-Losne, and from there we headed back down the Saone to the Canal du Centre, which fortunately was open. (It’s sometimes closed this time of year due to lack of water.) We traveled up the Canal du Centre as far as Saint-Léger, stopping in Franges and Santenay, before making our way back out of the canal and back to Gigny-sur-Saône. For anyone interested in the timing of our stops, here’s the exact itinerary we took:
- Day 1 (Sat.) on the boat in Gigny-sur-Saône
- Day 2 (Sun.) Gigny-sur-Saône to Verdun-sur-le-doubs
- Day 3 (Mon.) Verdun-sur-le-doubs to Canal du Rhone au Rhin (tied up just after 3rd lock)
- Day 4 (Tues.) Dole
- Day 5 (Wed) Dole to just before Orchamps (tied up @pk31)
- Day 6 (Thurs) Orchamps to just after pk59 (tied up just after the lock and before the tunnel)
- Day 7 (Fri) Besançon
- Day 8 (Sat) Besançon to Ranchot
- Day 9 (Sun) Ranchot to Saint-Jean-de-Losne
- Day 10 (Mon) Saint-Jean-de-Losne to Fragnes
- Day 11 (Tues) Fragnes to Saint-Léger
- Day 12 (Wed) Saint-Léger to Santenay
- Day 13 (Thurs) Santenay to Fragnes
- Day 14 (Fri) Fragnes to Gigny-sur-Saône via Chalon-sur-Saône
In case you’re wondering about how long it took to get from one place to another, an average day took about four hours of motoring. Some days were a lot more (Day 9, about 8 hours) and some a lot less (Day 12, about 2 hours). If it sounds boring, consider that you’re never going very fast, and you can basically just sit on deck drinking wine while looking at the French countryside go by. Also, on the canals, we were pretty much always occupied by going through locks.
On this trip we spent about half of our nights at actual marinas or tie-ups with water and electric, and the other half just staked up to random spots along the canal. This is the part where I knock on wood and say that we’ve never had a problem finding a spot, even at some of the more popular marinas, although on more than one occasion we’ve been the last boat in. I can imagine that during the busier season it would be more of a problem. One benefit to staying in the canals is that you can tie up anywhere; on the Saone you are restricted to the marinas. This year’s only close call came in Saint-Jean-de-Losne at the usually-crowded tie up on the dock in front of the city. We had been planning to continue to Seurre, but after seeing storm clouds and lightening flashing in the distance it seemed like a good move to call it a day. We took a chance tying up in a spot reserved for a larger hotel barge. After asking around, we were told by a reliable source they had just departed and wouldn’t be returning that night, so we really lucked out.
As the team’s official meteorologist, I began obsessing out the weather weeks in advance. Our previous trips have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous in the weather department, with Alison and Kyle experiencing the ridiculous in bad weather on their last trip with us. We all had fingers crossed for good weather and our first week came through with beautiful sunny days and cool nights. Pretty much perfect. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse the second week, beginning with the nasty thunderstorm in Saint-Jean-de-Losne. Two days later another storm came through and all boats were advised to stay off the Saonne, a warning we had never heard of before. Fortunately we were safely tied up along the Canal du Centre in Santenay so we got nothing but lots of rain.
This is the part where I wish I had taken pics of all the fabulous meals we had on this trip, but not wanting to be “that person” at the table, I am left with only a list of some amazing places where we ate along the way:
La Halte Nautique (Gigny-sur-Saône): This amazing restaurant in the middle of nowhere is right at the Saonne Bateau base (also in the middle of nowhere), so we ate here both our first and last nights, as well as last year. Menu highlights include frogs legs, Bourgogne escargot, river fish “fritures,” and great local wine. A find.
Le Gustalin (Dole): We almost struck out at this place, our second choice because the first place we tried was already full, but after being turned away the chef had a change of heart and agreed to accommodate us on the patio. Another amazing meal, the highlight of which was Alison’s desert soufflé. I have honestly never seen a soufflé as tall, puffy, and light as this one. The rest of us pretty much dove in and devoured in front of her it without even asking.
Le Poker d’As: Trip Advisor led us to the Le Poker d’As in Besançon, and it did not disappoint. Again, we were almost turned away by a somewhat surly waiter, only to have the hostess come running out to say “no, no, of course we can seat you.” We were on the fence to begin with, since this was the kind of old school place where we knew we were in for multi-course, potentially four-hour meal, but after being turned away and then begged back, we pretty much had to commit and we were pretty happy we did. The decor and food are classic French country, with a more upscale atmosphere. Although it doesn’t sound very French, I had a chicken curry that was phenomenal.
Le Galobin: In Ranchot we ate at the very casual Le Galobin, pretty much the only place in town and adjacent to the tie up. This was the most casual and rustic place we ate on our trip, but still great food and wine. Lots of locals.
Au P’tit Kir: This restaurant has been on our list for the past four years—due to its great write up in Food Wine Burgundy—but this is the first year we were actually able to get all the way up to Saint-Léger to check it out. Amazing. Another great find.
Le Terroir: In the wine village of Santenay, we ate at the main restaurant in town, Le Terroir. The center of town is about a 10-15 minute walk from the boat tie up, which we managed to do while dodging downpours. This is another in a long line of casually elegant French country restaurants with great wine. Naturally we choose Santenay.
So that’s pretty much it! Lots of food, wine, and great scenery. Looking forward to next year—we have already reserved Saone Bateau’s newest addition to their fleet, “Fanny.”
Eight weeks, three states (not counting the travel in between), one transatlantic crossing—and this has potentially been the longest summer of my life, and it’s still only the first week of August. This year I had the great fortune to be involved in three summer festivals (National Music Festival, Young Artist’s Harp Seminar, and the Young Artist Summer Program at Curtis Summerfest), so this seems like a good time for a top ten list of favorite moments:
#10 (NMF) Free lunch at Emmanuel Church!
#9 (YAHS) Tubing/picnicking in Bryson City, N.C., in the Smokey Mountain National Park.
#8 (Summerfest) Coaching Serenade No. 10, by Vincent Persichetti, who I was coached by himself when I first played the piece in 1982 as a Freshman at the New School of Music.
#7 (NMF) Playing with four harps in orchestra (Mahler 3), under the direction of Richard Rosenburg who loves harps! (Not all conductors do.)
#6 (YAHS) Smokey mountain mornings in Rabun Gap, when you wake up and it’s cold enough for a sweatshirt, but you know that by 11:00 a.m. it’s going to be 90 degrees.
#5 (NMF) Playing “Raga” on two chamber music concerts with my student Allison Janney.
#4 (YAHS) Late nights on the porch of Jane Dormitory with my faculty and staff colleagues.
#3 (Summerfest) Playing in Field Hall at the Curtis Institute of Music. So much history in this building! (Update: Check out our review!)
#2 (YAHS) That moment when we get all the harps on the stage at Rearden Theater. So magical!
#1 (All) Working with amazingly talented students, faculty (especially my colleague Susan Bennett Brady!), and staff at each festival who love what they do. I couldn’t ask for more.
It’s been a week since our final concert at the National Music Festival, in Chestertown, Md., and that’s about how long it’s taken for the catchy strains of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony (performed with four harps, thank you very much!) to exit my head. It’s really no surprise, given how blatantly Mahler ripped off catchy tunes like “Be Our Guest” and “I’ll be Seeing You.” The massive 90-minute symphony was a fitting end to two weeks full of great repertoire and opportunities for myself and my “apprentices,” who this year included Peggy Houng, Rebekah Efthimiou, and Allison Janney. Here’s what we got to play:
Harp Studio Concert, June 7, 2015
- “Allegro” from Brandenburg Concerto, by Bach/arrange for four harps by M.L. Williams (harp quartet)
- Wedding Day from Troldhaugen, by Grieg/arranged for four harps M.L. Williams (harp quartet)
- “Moonlight in a Pool,” and “Lolita the Dancer” from Images, Suite no. 1, by Tournier (Kimberly Rowe)
- Sonate for Harp, by Hindemith (Rebekah Efthimiou)
- Etude de Concert, by Godefroid (Allison Janney)
- Variations on a Theme by Paganini, by Mchedelov (Peggy Houng)
- “Cumbria,” “Llano,” and “Danza de Luma,” by Ortiz (harp quartet)
Chamber Music Concerts, June 9 and 10, 2015
- Raga by Caroline Lizotte (Kimberly Rowe and Allison Janney)
- Sonatine, by Ravel, arranged for harp, flute, and viola by Skaila Kanga (Peggy Houng)
- Requiem, by Brahms (Peggy Houng, Allison Janney, Rebekah Efthimiou, Kimberly Rowe)
- Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, by Ravel (Allison Janney, Peggy Houng)
- Shades—And, by Korkmaz (Rebekah Efthimiou)
- 3rd Symphony, Mahler (Rebekah Efthimiou,Peggy Houng, Allison Janney, Kimberly Rowe)
Many thanks to my fabulous apprentices, Artistic Director Richard Rosenburg, Executive Director Caitlin Patton, hosts Joan and Dorsey, and the rest of the musicians and crew for a fabulous two weeks in Chestertown, MD. Go to http://nationalmusic.us for information about how to join the fun next year.
Back in the U.S. for a short visit, one of the first questions I’m inevitably asked is, “So, how is Prague?” Despite having told people again and again that we live in Brno, which isn’t anywhere near Prague, and is in fact closer to Vienna, friends still can’t quite wrap their heads around the misconception that we aren’t living in the Capitol city. Plus, the consonants strung together and the fact that no-one can quite pronounce “Brno” doesn’t help.
The other day, an acquaintance messaged to say she’d be in Prague in a few weeks and “maybe I’ll see you?” Then relatives passing through on a river cruise invited my husband and I to dinner—in Prague. To put it in perspective, the distance by car from Brno to Prague is about 127 miles, which is roughly the same distance from Philadelphia to Washington DC. So while we could theoretically hop over for a short visit if we were so inclined, it would take a bit of planning and maybe even a hotel stay.
Apparently my friends and acquaintances are not the only ones to think that the only city in Czech Republic is Prague, as the map above demonstrates. To help you out, Piklz has inserted Brno where it belongs.
Other interesting tidbits about Brno:
- It’s the capitol of the Moravian region, known for its wine.
- It has a castle.
- It has several universities and lots of tech industry, thereby making it, for better or worse, extremely hipster.
- The composer Leoš Janáček lived in Brno where he founded the Brno Conservatory.
- It is home to the Ignis Brunensis fireworks competition.
- It has an orchestra, opera, ballet, and museums.
- Lots of cheap beer.
Hopefully this has helped clear up any misunderstanding about where in the world Brno is.
Our apartment in the city center can be quite noisy at times. But sometimes the noise brings an unexpected surprise. Last Sunday we were lured out of our morning routine by the sound of this brass quintet. At first I thought it was coming down the street from Namesti Svobody, where all the larger events tend to set up, but after going around the corner we discovered they playing from the top of the old city hall. We caught them just in time for their last piece.
This is the blog where I describe the ridiculousness of taking your pet to a foreign country. (In this case, our cat Piklz and our move from Philadelphia to Brno, Czech Republic.)
First, there are countless things to be researched (what are the country requirements, what are the airline requirements, how does the pet get back in to the U.S., etc.) and vet appointments to be made. Although we began the process several months in advance, naturally the ordeal was drawn out up until the very week of our departure, culminating in Hugh (my husband) having to drive to Harrisburg and back on the day of our going away party to obtain Piklz’ travel certificate. [Sidenote: despite a small dispute about the spelling of Pickles’ name; I will refer to her as Piklz from here on out because that is how it is now spelled on her government-issued travel certificate, along with her Xanax prescription.]
Planning the Route
Getting to Brno is slightly difficult to begin with. The closest major airport is Vienna (90 miles away), and there are no direct flights from Philly. We immediately ruled out our usual route on US Airways through Heathrow because the UK restrictions on pets is much more strict than the rest of the EU. (In my mind I could picture us sleeping on the cold hard floor of a quarantine room in the event our flight was canceled.). Further complicating the situation, we learned that US Airways (miles; status; upgrades!) doesn’t allow pets in the cabin on international flights, which turned out to be true for most U.S. airlines. We never considered the idea of putting Piklz in the hold, so the decision was pretty much made for us to book a flight on Austrian Airlines, which does allow cabin pets. Fortunately, Austrian has a direct flight from Newark (90 miles from Philly) to Vienna, where we then rented a car to drive the rest of the way to Brno.
Preparing the Cat
In December, we confirmed with our vet that Piklz was microchipped and ready to go. We were given instructions to come back a few weeks before the trip for a final checkup. Unfortunately, on her followup visit we discovered that her microchip was not compatible with European standards, resulting in a second microchip. We also discovered that she had severe dental decay resulting in the extraction of nine teeth. (Why these things weren’t discovered in December is still a mystery. You can also now begin to calculate just how much this little adventure is costing Piklz, but I digress.) So the poor cat had to spend two weeks getting over her tooth trauma just before being hauled off on her international odyssey. On this visit we also discovered that there would be yet another visit. Leading us to…
Come on, you knew there’d be a few or I wouldn’t be writing this. First, due to new EU regulations on traveling with a pet (that somehow also weren’t available in December), the animal must be examined and certified within 10 days of arriving. Fair enough. But in this day of digital data encryption, instant scanning, microchipping, and paw-printing (not really), it turns out that the only person who can issue said certification is the official state appointed veterinarian, located in the state capital of Harrisburg. Did the cat have to travel to Harrisburg? No, just Hugh, with the papers issued from our local vet (after examining Piklz yet again) which then had to be signed, sealed, stamped, and blessed by the official state vet. Yes, we could have just used Fedex, but with only a 10 day window and no chance for a do-over, we weren’t taking any chances.
The second minor hurdle came in the form of an email from Austrian Airways. Because we were traveling with the cat, and because we knew we’d be stressed out, and because no-one really wants to go to Central Europe in March and the flights were cheap, we decided to spring for business class, figuring it would just make things easier. (You can probably see where this is going.) We talked to someone official, made Piklz’ official pet reservation, and were assured pets could go in business class, but that was not to be the case, according to the woman we called and talked to who then passed us on to a supervisor with a Heidi Klum accent. After much back and forth it was determined that we simply hadn’t signed “the form,” acknowledging that there wasn’t enough room under the seat in front of us and therefore Piklz would have to go in “the wardrobe” during takeoff and landing. Crisis averted.
The Trial Run
After much searching and measuring, we settled on a medium sized SturdiBag for Piklz’ adventure. We looked at wheeled carriers, which would have made navigating the airport easier, but we were afraid it would tip Piklz over the 8 kg weight limit.The doctor recommended Xanax (the same as for people) as an anti anxiety remedy during travel, and we wanted to test it in advance to make sure we could give it to her and that it had the desired effect. We also stocked up on Greenie’s pill pockets, which worked like a charm. About a week in advance we slipped her a pill with her breakfast, and I was easily able to lure her into her carrier with another treat and zip her shut. Mission accomplished.
Last Minute Details
The moment had arrived. We gave Piklz a dose of Xanax the night before our departure, and then another one about 12 hrs. later, about 30 minutes before we left. We determined she would be confined to her carrier for about 16 hours, and naturally we were really concerned what would happen if she had to pee or poop. We had been told that cats pretty much just shut down and that wouldn’t be an issue, but we packed pet pads along with a ziplock bag of litter and the top of a cardboard box (thanks for the tip, Marta) to use as a makeshift litter box just in case. (Spoiler: fortunately we never had to use either, although the litter caused a bit of a stir going through security.)
Speaking of which, another big thing we were worried about was going through security. We knew we’d have to take Piklz out of her carrier, and I had nightmares of her bolting out of our arms and running around uncontained throughout the airport. For weeks we tried out various harness and leash scenarios to use during travel, but Piklz wasn’t having any of it, and at one point even almost choked herself trying to get out of a collar. After one last unsuccessful attempt the morning of departure, we decided to just bag the whole idea and take our chances.
The Journey Begins
Our airport transport arrived and we piled everything in, us and Piklz in the back seat. Our driver would not win any awards in the smooth driving category, and Piklz was not decidedly not a fan of the New Jersey turnpike. But we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and proceeded to check-in. They weighed Piklz and then asked for the papers we got in Harrisburg. The woman behind the counter disappeared long enough to make us nervous, but it turned out she was new, and had probably never checked in an animal before. The papers were thankfully in order, and after paying the animal fee (ca-ching!), we got our boarding passes and proceeded to security.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably now hoping for some drama, but fortunately for us you’re not going to get any. Piklz waltzed through security with no problems, and as mentioned, the only issue was the cat litter, which had to be inspected and swabbed. Despite the bad rap the TSA gets, our agents couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating. Everyone commented on how cute Piklz was and did everything to help us through quickly and without any problems.
On the Plane
After sitting around and waiting two hours (we left ridiculously early) it was finally time to board. We settled into our seats, and the flight attendants fawned over Piklz. They asked if anyone around us was allergic—which fortunately no-one was—and explained, yet again, that she would have to go “in the wardrobe” for take-off and landing. They waited until the very last minute, then a flight attendant came and whisked her away. I was petrified that she would be petrified during take-off, alone in a dark closet, and at this point I was regretting the decision to get a soft bag rather than a hard-sided carrier. I was worried that another flight attendant might not know she was in the wardrobe and throw something else in on top of her.
We took off, and as soon as the 10,000-feet signal went off, the flight attendant got her out of the closet and brought her back to us. The Xanax seemed to be working its magic, because Piklz was calm and mostly unphased by the whole adventure. There was an empty seat next to me, so we set her on the floor where she settled in. After a while we gave her some food, which she gobbled down, and set out a dish of water, which she wasn’t interested in. I didn’t want to give her too much, because I was still worried what would happen if she had to “go.” Bringing me to…
Half-way through the flight both Hugh and I smelled a noxious odor. We both immediately suspected the cat had lost control and I had no idea how I was going to deal with it without make an even bigger mess. But when we examined her carrier, all was fine. The odor came and went, pretty much throughout the rest of the flight, ruining any chance of sleep I might otherwise have gotten, both because it was vile and because every time it happened I kept thinking it was the cat. Turns out it wasn’t poor Piklz at all, but likely a—to put it delicately—overly gaseous nearby passenger. I am still irate on Piklz’ behalf.
At one point Piklz got a little restless so I set her on the empty seat next to me where she could see what was going on. About an hour before landing we gave her more food and another Xanax, courtesy of the amazing pill pockets.
Brno Here We Come
We landed in Vienna, ready to face the challenge of getting Piklz into the EU. Would they stop and question us? Did we need to “declare” her? What would happen if they didn’t like the paperwork and we had to turn right around and go home? Here’s another disappointment for anyone expecting drama: there wasn’t any. We walked right through customs and immigration without so much as a glance from anyone in Piklz’ direction. No one asked to see papers, no one asked to examine the cat, no one seamed to care at all. Piklz was now officially a European kitty.
We got our rental car and drove the rest of the way to Brno where we met our landlord who let us into the apartment we had found six weeks earlier. We had already purchased a litter box and litter, so we confined Piklz to a bedroom for a while we took care of paperwork with the landlord. After a few hours we let her out to discover her new home. She is a big fan of the marble window ledges that surround our apartment, and she loves to watch the pigeons fly by. I’m happy to report, she seems to love it here as much as we do.
Recently returned from a snowy trip to Brno, Czech Republic, where we settled on a lovely 5th-floor apartment right in the center of town. Move-in date is April 1! While there we visited the historic town of Olomouc (which Czech town isn’t historic?), and I took a side trip to Vienna to interview Anneleen Lenaerts who gave me a back-stage tour of the Vienna Opera House. Nearly got stranded in a Vienna blizzard when my train was canceled, but fortunately the next train left mostly on schedule. Here’s hoping for a warmer visit next time…