Written by John Watters
Thursday we had a free morning and an afternoon bus ride to Prague. With no other “official” tour business to report, I thought I would pass along a few random notes from the first week of the trip.
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Two sounds awakened us on our first Sunday morning, in Roggenburg. First were church bells. Bells ring once to note the quarter hour, twice at half past, three times to note the 45-minute mark, and four times on the hour – followed, in the latter case, by rings corresponding to the hour. So at 6:00, we got four bells, then six bells, then silence. At 6:45, we got three bells, then silence. At 7 a.m., we got four bells, then seven … then a tremendous cacophony that lasted a good five minutes, like the conclusion of a fireworks display. I never got a direct answer to the question of whether they rang to honor Pentacost, or Sunday, or simply that particular hour. But suffice it to say that if you’re in Roggenburg on Pentacost … you’re getting up at seven.
The other sound – much less assertive but equally memorable – came from cuculus canorus. That’s not a Norbertine saint, it’s the common European cuckoo. In retrospect it seems obvious that a cuckoo clock would recreate the sound of an actual bird, but it hadn’t occurred to me until I heard one gently performing his act outside our bedroom window.
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Fr. Andrew talked briefly about coats of arms during the Cornerstone seminar, and I dutifully asked priests and abbots about the ones I encountered in the abbeys, but in my notes, I quickly lost track of the players – some parts of the coats of arms can represent royal families, others local bishops, still others dukes, others patrons. The one at Roggenburg included a beaver, and for the life of me I can’t remember why. Some remedial instruction from Fr. Andrew is probably in order.
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We’re fortunate to be staying in some very nice hotels (and abbey lodgings) during the trip. In this design-happy part of Europe, though, each one seems to have its own signature shower and bath system. Their designers will tell you these fixtures are elegant in their simplicity and completely intuitive to use. But of course they’re not: You end up having water come at you from unexpected directions, first freezing , then scalding. It comes on when you want to turn it off, and shuts off when you want it on. More ends up on the floor than on you. You use all your big towels to mop up, and dry off after your shower with a wash cloth. So, note to designers: Try faucets! Just two … one hot, one cold. No need to reinvent the wheel.
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Breakfast buffets in Bavaria were hearty, to put it mildly. We were offered yogurt, granola, hard-cooked eggs, scrambled eggs, rye and other breads, rolls, mountains of pastries, large trays of ham, salami and mortadella, delicious cheeses of all kinds, fresh fruit, tiny tubes of liver sausage, smoked salmon, croissants, juices, coffee, jams and jellies, tomatoes, beans … really, it’s been endless.
Once we reached Vienna, they upped the ante even further, throwing petits fours, tortes and similar items into the mix. (“Cake: It’s what’s for breakfast.”)
And we soon learned breakfast is the “light” meal of the day. It’s not on the official packing list for the tour, but if you go, put “a bigger belt” on yours.
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Tom and Deb Kunkel are on the tour with us, but had to excuse themselves from our day at Geras, because Tom, our president-cum-author, was asked to do two interviews with the BBC that day on his acclaimed (most recently by the New York Times) new book, “Man in Profile.”
The rest of us are becoming a bit anxious about his growing celebrity. One day, it’s interviews with the BBC; will the next bring throngs of screaming teenage book reviewers chasing our tour bus through the streets of Prague? We’re keeping our fingers crossed.
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Inevitably, in Europe, channel surfing brings you to some American television shows, and it’s entertaining to pass the wee hours listening to the overdubbed voices. This week, it was Bonanza, Star Trek and The Simpsons: It’s a bit surreal to hear Little Joe urging his brother, “bekommen die Ferde, Hoss,” for a ride into town, Captain Kirk going “wo nie ein mench zuvor gewessen ist,” and Bart admonishing his father to “nicht uber eine Kuh, Mann.”
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Speaking of language: The cities we have been visiting have been real melting pots of tourists and immigrants. It has been impressive to discover how adept many of the service people are at communicating with all of us.
Many of the waiters, desk receptionists and others speak English, often very well. But sometimes it is with such a heavy accent, the communication value is negligible. In one restaurant, a member of our party (who shall remain nameless) listened to a waiter’s rapid-fire explanation of the menu, then politely said, “In English, please” – to which he responded, “That was English, madam.”