Tag Archives: travel

Praying My Way Through Prague

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. ~ King James Bible, Matthew 7:7

I looked at the calendar today and realized that I missed an anniversary. Not my wedding anniversary, but a rather delightful one nevertheless.

It was two years ago this month that Sausage was conceived.

I know, I know, TMI. Well, it’s my blog, and I’ll talk about whatever I want to. So there.

Anyway, two years ago, in mid-August, Loving Husband and I went on a trip. We were still living in Sicily at that point, and we were coming up on our return to the US, so we were trying to get as much travel in as we could while we were so advantageously situated.

We packed a bag and hopped on a plane to Prague. That’s in the Czech Republic, for those of you who don’t know (it’s okay, I too am a product of an American public school education, I understand).

I had been wanting to go to Prague for a long time. It’s a beautiful city — it managed to avoid heavy bombing during World War II, so much of its Art Nouveau and medieval architecture remains intact. I was excited to go to the Mucha Museum, and Loving Husband was delighted to go to a country with heavy, Eastern European food. Needless to say, we looked forward to consuming much in the way of art and goulash.

Wild boar goulash with ginger dumpling and cranberry sauce. GET. IN. MY. FACE.

But a little backstory is in order here, as well. See, at this point we had been trying to have a baby for a year. I had had two miscarriages and countless tests to determine why I couldn’t maintain a pregnancy. I had been in therapy for nearly a year, since just after the first miscarriage my doctor and I decided that, with my history of depression, I was at a high risk of relapse. So we arrived in Prague soul-aching and damaged, clinging to whatever we could find of hope and normalcy.

The Czech Republic proved to be a very welcome distraction from doctor visits, blood tests, and therapy sessions. We stayed in the Ambassador Zlatá Husa Hotel, right on Wenceslas Square, which is the commercial center of Prague. It was walking distance to everything, and there were street meat carts out on the square, which meant that Loving Husband was just about in heaven.

Wenceslas Square in the evening.

I won’t go into all the things that we saw and did. If you look at a guidebook for Prague, we hit all the major sights — the cathedral, the palace, the astronomical clock tower. We saw a Black Light Theater show, and bought an insanely overpriced calendar at the Mucha Museum. We took a day trip to Kutná Hora, where we saw the famous Sedlec Bone Church, the less-famous silver mine, and our first wild hedgehog. We drank Czech beer with every meal and sopped up our gravy with savory dumplings. We walked and walked and walked until I thought my feet would fall off, and then we walked some more. We talked trash about other tourists and how obnoxious they were.

Kozel Dunkel. Reason enough to head to the Czech Republic.

And I prayed.

Now, I’m not religious. Spiritual, yes, but not religious. I have problems with organized religion and, frequently, with its followers. But in the Czech Republic, I prayed.

There have been a lot of holy people who have made Prague their home over the years. People who founded churches, who did good deeds, and are still revered. I made a point of learning about them so that I could pray to them.

The first one we encountered was Saint John of Nepomuk. There is a large statue of him on the Charles Bridge, over the river Vltava — this commemorates his martyrdom, thrown from the bridge into the river on the order of the king. A few meters (yards plus a little, for you Americans again) away from the statue, though, is a small cross and (relatively) modest image of the saint, supposedly marking the actual spot from which he was thrown. Legend has it that if you touch that cross and the image of the saint, and you make a wish, it will come true within a year and a day. You can only do so once in your life, so you’d better make the wish a good one. I wished for a healthy baby.

Praying to John of Nepomuk.

The second holy man that we encountered was Rabbi Loew, a famous scholar, philosopher, and Jewish mystic in the 16th century. Legend has it that he built the Golem of Prague, which made my nerdy little D&D-playing heart happy. Rabbi Loew is buried in Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery — a site so fascinating that it could be a whole post all by itself — and people frequently leave prayers at his monument, written on slips of paper and weighted with pebbles. I left my prayer on a small ledge at the back of the monument, under a pink pebble. I prayed for a healthy baby.

A tombstone from Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery. Yes, I did the flare on purpose. Because I’m ARTSY, that’s why.

The third pilgrimage I made was a rather odd one. Actually, I found it to be downright weird and uncanny, but there you go. In the Church of Our Lady Victorious, an important artifact is housed — it’s called the Infant of Prague, a small statue of the child Jesus that supposedly once belonged to Saint Teresa of Avila. I pretty much just saw a really creepy doll with a whole lot of expensive changes of clothes, but there you go — I’m not Catholic, I don’t get it. Nevertheless, the church was flooded with devotees, lighting candles and chanting the novena prayer which was printed in every language imaginable. I lit my candle, I said the words. I ask that my prayer be granted … I urgently ask that my prayer be granted … I know that my prayer will be granted. I prayed for a healthy baby.

Now, lest you fear that I had become a little bit crazy, praying to every statue and poppet that promised me a wish come true, you can be certain that Loving Husband and I did, in fact, remember to do all those other things that are required when you want a baby. Repeatedly.

It was fun.

Sausage’s future Mama and Daddy.

And two weeks later, we had a positive pregnancy test.

Sausage was born the following May. A healthy, beautiful, wonderful baby.

But we decided against naming him Infant Nepomuk Loew. We’re grateful and all, but seriously. Poor kid’s going to have enough issues when he finds out that I call him Sausage on my blog.


I Saw A Real Live Cowboy, Too

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m back!

The last two weeks have been physically grueling and emotionally intense. First, I drove with my Loving Husband and with Sausage up to western New York state for my grandmother’s memorial service and to help my father deal with her possessions, which felt like a strangely mournful looting. Then, less than 48 hours after our return home to Maryland, we were driving again — this time to New Jersey, where Sausage would be staying with my mother-in-law while we flew to Oklahoma for a friend’s wedding.

Oklahoma, OK?

It sounds trite to say that in all this I learned a lot, but it’s true. I don’t think I’m ready to talk about the things I learned with regard to my grandmother’s death — that’s all too raw. But I will happily talk about the things I learned in Oklahoma City, where I attended the beautiful wedding of a dear friend and attended the damn good party that she and her new husband threw afterward.

Lesson The First: Oklahoma City Is … Special

Things that are great about OKC: the Bricktown Brewery‘s wheat beer is pretty damn good. The people were invariably nice and polite, and did their best to be helpful. The streets are clean. The botanical gardens are beautiful.

Things that are not so great: we could not find a salon that could accommodate four mani-pedis on a Friday afternoon. There are no proper drugstores in downtown Oklahoma City (so don’t bother looking); but we did find a convenience store that sold Band-Aids for my blistered feet, at 25¢ a pop. And, after some searching, we found a place that was open at 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon and would sell us drinks, which saved us from a very long day with nothing to do.

If you go to Oklahoma City, you’d better rent a car because it’s the least walkable city ever; don’t forget to pack sunscreen, because there are very few places to buy it downtown; and in general, don’t schedule too much time out of your Oklahoma vacation to spend in OKC. Go see the buffalo or something instead.

I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him.

Lesson The Second: I’m Not 22 Anymore

I forgot, for a little while this weekend, just how ancient I am. I danced, I drank (oh, man, did I ever drink), I shouted to be heard over loud music. I slept two hours before catching an early flight home, stumbling onto the plane still a little drunk from the night before.

And then I suffered. I suffered the pain of physically realizing how far I’ve come from my 22-year-old self. For example, some things that I learned the hard way:

  • My feet can’t handle all that carousing anymore. Blisters and bunions and badness, oh my!
  • I can’t jump up and down on the dance floor anymore. At least, not unless I have a REALLY empty bladder.
  • I start to get sleepy at around three in the afternoon, so events that start at 8:30 in the evening will largely find me tucked in a dark corner, nursing a beer and my bunion, struggling to stay awake.
  • My appearance has changed enough that people who knew me in my late teens and early twenties don’t recognize me.

There I am. Partying like it’s 1999.

Really, I should have known better than to try to party like I did back in college, but after more than a year as a stay-at-home-mom, finding myself sans child and surrounded by adults and freely flowing booze, I felt like I had escaped from some sort of cheerio-scented, diaper-filled prison. And as for not being recognized, well. It had been fifteen years in some cases. Who doesn’t change in fifteen years? I will choose to think of it as being caused by my more-flattering haircut and hard-earned confidence, and less as a result of crow’s feet and lost youth.

Lesson The Third: I Have Some Wonderful Friends

I was lucky this weekend in that an old friend, one whom I hadn’t seen in eleven years, was also able to come to the wedding. We stayed in the same hotel and spent a lot of time together, catching up. We had been very close way back when, and somehow that closeness and trust had survived the years. This got me to thinking about just how lucky I’ve been in my life to have so many friends like that — people that I’m friends with no matter how much time and distance there is between us. This weekend’s lovely bride is one, my eleven-years-gone friend is another, and I can think of several more women who I know I could call on any time, even though we haven’t been in close touch for years. Women with whom I’ve had such a great connection that we’ll always be friends, no matter what. For someone who has trouble making friends and who finds social situations to be anxiety-inducing, this seems pretty remarkable. I’m so, so lucky to have this kind of friendship in my life.

We always said we’d be friends forever. It’s starting to look like we really meant it.

So now I’m returning to normal life — blog, baby, theatre, and all the accompanying craziness. But I feel better having cut loose a little, having reconnected with some of the people I love the most, and heck, having been to Oklahoma. Who would have thought?

Queasing My Way Through Egypt

I don`t need a baby growing inside me for nine months. For one thing, there`s morning sickness. If I`m going to feel nauseous and achy when I wake up, I want to achieve that state the old fashioned way: getting good and drunk the night before. ~ Ellen DeGeneres

This blog has been, up to this point, pretty much a parenting blog — I’ve talked about feeding my kiddo, and about the various issues that my little family has been dealing with (like this and this) since said kiddo came along. But I existed before he did, as hard as that sometimes may be to believe, and I had adventures and thoughts and stuff back then, too. So I thought I’d share a little bit about an adventure I had while I was pregnant — a trip that acts as a bit of a segue in my mind between the me of before Baby and the me of after.

I said segue, not Segway. Yay, fun with homophones! (Courtesy of Spinnick597 at en.wikipedia)

Back in the summer of 2010, Loving Husband and I were living in Sicily. We had been living there since 2007, and we’d used that proximity to loads and loads of foreign awesomeness to full advantage, traveling all around Europe (though there is a lot that we missed. Guess we’ll just have to move back.) We had always said that since we were so close to north Africa we would go to Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. Sadly, at this point, we were running out of time, so we booked a Nile cruise and put Tunisia and Morocco on our bucket lists.

On September 1st, I found out that I was pregnant. “No problem,” I rather naively thought. “I’ll be fine. Besides, the trip’s already been paid for!” And I continued blithely on my way. Tra la!

The trip came at the beginning of my seventh week of pregnancy. (If you’ve had babies, you probably already see where this is going.)

Such a tiny thing, and it can create SUCH BIG problems.

You know what’s really funny about morning sickness? The name. It was really more like, “All day long, especially when you can smell things” sickness.

Oh, the nausea. Holy fucking shit, the NAUSEA. I was living on limeade and ginger snaps, and still thought it would be a really good idea to travel by aeroplane to an incredibly hot country and spend four days on a boat.

We packed the usual items — clothes, toiletries, sunscreen, laptop — and a few unusual things, like large freezer bags full of ginger snaps and pretzels, and my Travel Nausea Kit (patent pending): toilet paper, ziploc bags, those elastic bands that press the anti-nausea pressure points on your wrists, Dramamine (which the doctor assured me was ‘safe enough’), wet wipes, and mouthwash.

You GUYS! I took this picture! No stealsies, 'kay?

The first part of our trip was the boat part. Because we had booked the trip through an Italian travel agent, it was an Italian tour full of Italians. We don’t speak Italian, so they booked us our own private tour guide for Upper Egypt (score!) His name was Ashraf, and he was fantabulous. He got us a room upgrade on our river cruise ship, which gave me lots of extra room in which to feel ill (which was nice — add claustrophobia on top of everything else and things would have been much worse.) Once we spilled the “I’m so sick because I’m preggers” beans, he was really good about making sure that we were going at a pace that was good for me, taking lots of breaks for pretzels and ginger snaps. He introduced me to karkadé, drunk cold and only a little sweet, which turned out to be really good for my poor, tortured tummy. He showed me all the places in the temples which specifically related to mothers and pregnancy, including images of Taweret (who became the patron goddess of my pregnancy), of Isis giving birth to Horus, and of Bes, the weird little dwarf god of mothers and children. Ashraf had a family at home, and you could tell. He was with us for the entire time we were cruising the Nile, from Luxor to Aswan. Yeah, I was nauseated, but it was still a blast and a half.

All hail Taweret, who totally doesn't make me nauseous, and who always reminds me that my breasts could be a whole lot saggier. (Drawing by Jeff Dahl)

The second part of the trip was a couple of days in Cairo. For this part, we were with another American couple and a new guide. The Americans were newlywed, in their early 20’s, and seemed quite nice. The guide, named Amr, was also in his 20’s, having just finished guide school (or whatever it’s called that guides have to go through in Egypt in order to be licensed). This was all fine, except that … well, none of them had kids or had ever been pregnant. And they were all young enough to be pretty bad at hiding irritation and impatience.

It didn’t help that the day I was the most nauseous in the course of the ENTIRE pregnancy happened to be the day that we went to the Valley of the Kings. (I know, cool, right? We went to the Valley of the Kings!) Unfortunately, most of what I remember is that going down into the tombs was like diving into pools of liquid nausea. They’re hot, they’re stuffy, they’re full of smelly people, and you have to walk through in a slow-moving line (which means that you can’t make a run for the exit.)

Our companions and our guide were not happy with us. I was such a Debby Downer, always banging on about, “Wait, I need to take some Dramamine” and “Oh my god, this car is so stuffy, could we please open a window?!” and “Does this fancy buffet have any plain cucumbers? I think I might be able to keep down some cucumbers.” And me being me, I was beating myself up for ruining their good time.

Still, in spite of everything, the highlight of the whole trip was with Amr and our American traveling companions. That’s right — when we went to see the Pyramids, we went on a camel ride.

Should have been a disaster, right? I considered refusing to go on that camel, since I figured that I would almost definitely blow chunks all over its head. But I’ve always wanted to ride a camel. So I went.

My camel’s name was Mickey Mouse because he was the smallest and the gentlest one (really, that was his name. Loving Husband’s camel was called Michael Jackson. I COULD NOT MAKE THIS UP.) I, being totally unprepared for camel riding, threw cultural sensitivity to the winds and hiked my skirt up to my hips so that I could straddle that tiny camel. When Mickey Mouse stood up, a miracle occurred.

That's my shadow, Mickey Mouse's shadow, and my pasty white leg. Sexxxxxxxxxxxy.

My nausea disappeared.

For the first time all week, I felt no twinges of morning sickness. And this is entirely because, even if your guides tell you that your camel is tiny, when a camel stands up with you on its back, you think you’re going to be thrown off and die, all of which causes a big old rush of adrenaline.

Tiny camel my sweet ass. It sure felt huge to me.

Yeah, the morning sickness returned once I had descended from Mickey Mouse’s hump (now there’s a sentence I bet you never thought you’d read). And our traveling companions were glad to see the last of us when our three days in Cairo were over, but still. It was a pretty great trip. And you know what? I RODE A CAMEL!

Updated: I feel like I should note something. Loving Husband pointed out that the Valley of the Kings is in Upper Egypt, that we were still with Ashraf for that, and that I have little or no sense of Egyptian geography. All of which, I am ashamed to admit, are true. Whatever, I was still HORRIFICALLY ill that day.