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The mascot of IX IVV Olympiad
by Bernice Bowra
On Friday July 22, ten “Bad Pennies” met at Dulles Airport. Under the leadership of Matt Pernick they started on a journey to the Czech Republic to attend the 9th IVV Olympiad in Prague and Pilsen.
Our group did three walks before the Olympiad events began. The first walk was in Karlovy Vary where for years the mineral spa has attracted the rich and famous such as Chopin and Peter the Great.
The second pre-Olympiad walk was in the woods of the beautiful Sumava Mountains, very near the German - Czech border. The third walk was in the resort town of Marianske Lazne which, like Karlovy Vary, is known for its healing mineral water.
The Olympiad events began on July 28 in the town square of Pilsen. We did a 12km walk in the morning before the opening ceremony that afternoon. The opening ceremony was an impressive sight as 4,000 walkers came into the square behind the large flag of each of the 30 countries represented.
There were well marked paths to follow each day for walks of different distances. As the weather became hotter each day, the kilometers seemed to get longer.
There are several interesting things of which to see and do in Pilsen, one of which is to just sit and look at the beautiful buildings while enjoying a glass of Pilsner Urquell, the beer that made the city famous.
by Marie Moses
I find it difficult to meaningfully recount the adventures I experienced in the Czech Republic while on the IVV Olympiad trip with the Bad Pennies. For the most part, my (usually) unexpected and (always) exciting escapades came about because I felt independent enough to let the other nine members of our group take off early in the morning, without me. I never doubted that I would be perfectly able to catch up, after an extra hour-and-a-half of sleep, and a more leisurely cup of coffee in our temporary home at Pension Valcha, located about 8-9 miles from Pilsen. Many of the walks and Olympic events were taking place in Pilsen, but the train station was directly across from the pension, and a 10-minute ride would put me in that city at my “own pace.”
Train time schedules in this region of CK seem to fall into the category of closely guarded information. No such thing as a flyer with a listing of trains, arrivals, days and hours, like you find in DC’s Metro. As luck (good/bad?) had it, on the day I intended to hop on the train to Pilsen in time for the most important Volksmarching events, I was informed by the station master, “No train to Pilsen today.” This was communicated with great stress, in a heavily-accented and struggling form of English. It was suggested by the station master that I might enjoy a ride in the opposite direction, as he gestured away from Pilsen, and cheerfully identified to me the strange-sounding names of several cities lying south of my desired destination. His suggestion amounted to, “If you can’t go in the direction you want, take advantage of a train ride in the other direction: to wherever.” Under ordinary circumstances, this might have seemed an absurd proposal; but that day, as this shy young man, trying so hard to be helpful, described an ancient castle in a not-too-far-away town called Svihov, the idea was somehow appealing to me.
I was issued a hand-written ticket, after a dialogue in mimes (consisting of circular motions, and tapping of my wristwatch), during which I tried my best to make sure I could secure a train ride back to Valcha before nightfall. As the train drew into the station, my helpful director popped a red cap on his head and stepped out between the tracks that paralleled those of the approaching train, and waved a stick with signals on it, giving the engineer what I suppose were directions for pulling into the station and stopping. I climbed up the steel steps to the door of the nearest car, and pulled myself aboard as gracefully as I could manage. The train was fairly crowded with families taking children to various destinations on this late-summer morning. Most of the windows were opened (from the top), and youngsters hung their heads and hands out, as the train left the station. I can remember some trips on a D.C. Metro train, and how annoyed I become at not being able to clearly hear the stations announced. But in DC, I can always check my location by gazing up at the walls and information pillars at the Metro stops. On the train from Valcha to Svihov , I nervously struggled to determine the name of each station on the way. Painted printing on the side of old stucco stationhouses provided this information, but most of the time, I had to look back, out the window, to spot the faded lettering, and match it with the list of stops I had copied from the sign on the Valcha station waiting room.
I disembarked in Svihov, and followed the map that the Valcha station master had drawn to direct me from the station in Svihov up the hill to the Svihov State Castle, or Wasser Castle. This wonderfully preserved late Gothic “island” castle is one of the very few structures remaining today in almost unchanged historical form (as opposed to restored). The preservation of this castle (hrad, in Czech) was due primarily to the unique fortification system, based on the structure built as an artificial island, surrounded by water on all sides. The so-called Wasser Castle had a water ditch protected by a powerful outer wall; another ran outside the wall and the outer bastions. It was even possible to flood the inner castle court. It seems probable that one of the designers was the same architect, Benedict Rejt, who designed the fortification and Vladislav Hall at Prague Castle. I took two tours of the castle, delivered in Czech: A tour of the entrance area, court, and upper chambers; and a fascinating tour of the kitchen, food storage areas, and cooking facilities. The first tour included a display of armor and historical weapons, as well as wrestling, and ax and sword-fighting demonstrations. The friendly docents provided me with English text of the tours, and took the time to provide me with a few words in hesitantly delivered English, pointing out some significant highlights.
After the second tour, exhausted and hungry, I searched for an open restaurant in Svihov. I located a small bistro serving pizza. After ordering a frosty coca-cola – surmounting the difficulty of getting ice with that – and a pizza (only one size–large–available), I realized I didn’t have sufficient Kr to pay for my order. The proprietor firmly told me “no dollars,” but when I had no choice but to cancel my order, he relented and presented me a bill for $5.
The evening was cool as I waited for the train that would carry me back to Valcha. About 8:30, I arrived at the Pension, and assured a rather anxious Matt I would be ready in the morning to join my fellow Volksmarchers.