Step by Step – Cusco Peru Extreme

22687828_284811848694155_445272327911988148_n (2)One foot after the other – just keep walking – step by step – for 9 hours, up and down the mountains, through the eucalyptus trees, avoid the cactus, move over for those moving faster.  Would the hike ever end?

This day actually began several months ago when Rachel and I signed up with MMI (Medical Missions International, Canada) to go on a medical mission trip – Cusco EXTREME, where we would fly to Cusco, Peru and then go to a number of remote sites to give medical treatment.  We not only needed to raise support, we also each had to bring a suitcase filled with medicines.  It was so amazing to see God provide ALL that we needed!  I signed up as a “general helper”, not really knowing exactly what I would be doing.  Our team was comprised of a doctor (Mike), a dentist (Cal), 3 nurses (Rachel, Trudy and Corinna), me and a number of Peruvians to be translators, helpers and a cook.  Not only would we need English to Spanish translation, but also to Quechua, which is nothing like Spanish!

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Our team! American, Canadian, Peruvian!

Rachel and I left home on a sunny October Friday, flying first to Miami before getting a 2am flight to Lima, Peru.  From Lima we caught another flight to Cusco, which would our base for the mission.  The first person we met from the team was Vicente, our Peruvian leader who greeted us at the airport and took us to the hotel.  After an hour nap and a quick shower, we met the rest of the team – 3 Canadians, another American and us!  This, our first day in country would be a day to acclimate to the high altitude, see a little of the city of Cusco and get to know one another for on our second day, after church, we would drive several hours out into the countryside and begin.

Observations –

  • Watching Wonder Woman and reading the Spanish subtitles before arriving in a Spanish speaking country does help improve your Spanish.
  • Drink bottled water only – even for brushing your teeth!
  • No salads – cooked or peeled fruits and veggies only!
  • Toilet paper doesn’t get put in the toilet but in the trash bin.
  • There’s no heat or air conditioning in Cusco – all buildings are open air somewhere so they stay “refreshingly” cool.
  • Stop signs are a suggestion and any road can have more lanes then marked (and I never want to drive there!)
  • Diomox makes the fingers and toes tingle (it’s a medicine to prevent altitude sickness) – but take it anyway!

Day 2 -In Peru! Began with a typical breakfast – bread, cheese, olives, fruit juices, tea and coffee.  Following breakfast, we went to church – it was fun/amazing to sing songs I knew from home – but in Spanish!  20171015_110127 (2)However, in Peruvian style, the service officially started at 10 – which really meant at 10:40 or thereabouts!  At 12 we had to leave as we needed lunch and then to get on the road.  We drove for several hours with each town along the way having its own character. One was known for its earthen bricks, another for its breads and another raised guinea pigs, which is a delicacy here in Peru. At one point we got to the altitude of 14,200’.  At last the van stopped and we were told that the road was not passable because of the rain, so we would need to cart everything down into the canyon, cross the creek and then carry it back up again.  I was amazed at how breathless and huffy/puffy that little exertion made me, but we were at 12,000’ or so and not used to it at all!  After getting everything unloaded, we unpacked the medicines and sorted them into different duffels by type and explored our new home – the old 2 room school house – men in one room, the dental/optical/dining room, and women in the other room, the medical/pharmacy room.

Observations –

  • There were 3 types of toilets there – the squatty potty (no flush), a child sized toilet (with seat) or a regular size toilet (no seat). Regardless of which you picked, for all you need to bring a flashlight (no electricity or windows) and toilet paper.
  • Wood floors are hard and cold even with a sleeping pad. Dirty sheepskins provide extra padding and warmth, especially in a room that’s 54 degrees.
  • We are at Comunidad Quisinsaya – don’t try to GoogleMap it – it is too small to show up!

Day 3 – The dentist asked for a volunteer to help him and I accepted the challenge – or I drew the short straw!  After breakfast, Cal showed me the instruments and how to set up.  We got some tubs for sterilizing the instruments – soapy water, clear water, sterilizing solution, and clear water again.  And then the patients came!  Pull a tooth here, pull a tooth there, fill this tooth, and wonder at the deplorable conditions of their mouths!  20171016_135302Emotionally it was hard pulling the teeth from little ones – especially knowing that for some it was a permanent tooth and they would always have that gap.  At times I had to hold their heads still as tears poured from their eyes as Cal injected anesthetic into their gums.  Fortunately, I had brought a grocery bag of small stuffed animals and dolls that I gave to them to hold and then keep during their painful procedures.  And, although Cal could and did do fillings, few of the children had teeth that fillings would fix.   Patient after patient – pull teeth, clean the instruments, get ready for the next – they kept coming all day!  One patient had to have 3 molars removed (lots of blood and pus) and then have the hole sewn up – I helped hold the thread and later cut it – I’m glad that’s not my future occupation!  We had a few laughs – like when the lamb wandered in to watch Cal at work.  Or the when the kids came too close and Cal squirted them with water.  Our work day ended at dusk and then, after dinner, the town president addressed us and thanked us for coming to their almost forgotten community.  One of the teachers also thanked us and told us about their school system – how they teach the youngest children in the Quechua language and then they learn Spanish.  But the nearest high school is 3 hours away.

Observations –

  • Most women are wearing traditional skirts, sweaters and hats (the hats are different in each community).
  • When you are wearing 5 sweaters and 4 skirts, it really doesn’t make a difference if you take your sandals off before you step on the scale.
  • Don’t drink too much after 6pm if you don’t want to put your boots and coat on and take a walk to the toilet at 3 in the morning – but drink enough so you don’t get a headache or altitude sickness.
  • A room stays warmer at night if you cover the broken window pane with plastic & duct tape.

Day 4 – I began my day with a mountain fresh, Styrofoam cup, hair washing experience – cold but clean!  Then, with all our gear loaded into the two vans, we had a quick devotional time, sang a song in English and then Spanish and then most of the team set off hiking to our next location.  Since I had a hurt Achilles tendon, I rode in the van with some of the Peruvian helpers.  20171017_090747The roads were dirt roads, often with streams crossing them, but after a few hours we made it to our next location (the team would take many more hours to get there – 8 hours total) and began to get the rooms set up.  This community had us climb a ladder to our sleeping/cooking rooms with the dental and medical rooms below.  20171017_133112.jpgOur only toilets were 2 squatty potties and you needed to take a bucket of water from the outside tap in with you to flush them.  Eventually the rest of the team arrived – hot and tired.  Rachel had gotten so badly burned that she had blisters on her arm and ears – even though she had applied SPF 50 sunscreen several times.

 

Observations –

  • Wear a hat and longs sleeves when hiking at high elevation.
  • We are at Comunidad Ausaray – again, won’t show up on GoogleMaps.

Day 5 – Once again, a clinic day – now I’m getting the hang of the instruments used, how to prepare a filling and even how to take a tooth out of the mouth using cotton pliers!  After spending the previous day with only Spanish speakers even my Spanish is improving!  But what a long day – we began at 8 and ended at 6:15pm.  At the end of the day, we get treated to a bonfire with the town president thanking us for coming and having people from his church sing for us.

Observations –

  • Small toilets are better than squatty potties – especially when your GI tract is feeling “off”.
  • Tuck your pant legs into your shoes or roll them up before going to a squatty potty or when you squat, they may go down to the floor and get wet, just saying.
  • If the shower doubles as the toilet, you have to be really stinky and sweaty to want to use it, especially as the temperature drops and you only have lukewarm or cold water.
  • If you chose to not use the toilet/shower, wet wipes work great for the creases and crevices!

Day 6 – No shower since Sunday morning but another mountain fresh cold-water Styrofoam cup hair washing!  Once again, we pack up to leave – this time as Rachel isn’t feeling well, she rides in the van with me as the others hike.  Along the way we stop in a town and Domi goes shopping for some meat for our lunch.  The shop owner shoves the dog out of the way, opens the cooler and pulls out half a lamb.  She and Domi discuss the price and decide on only half the piece.  So, she puts the meat on a log stump and whacks it in half with the knife.  That doesn’t quite work so she gets the hatchet off the floor and whacks it good.  She then throws the part we aren’t getting back into the cooler and puts our part in a plastic grocery bag with the bone sticking out.  Domi pays and we then go to the pharmacy to get some paper towels.  They’ve only got 1 roll – so we buy just it and then finish our journey.  (I have to confess – a few hours later when lunch is ready, I really don’t have an appetite for that piece of lamb, so I eat some of the vegetables cooked with it).20171019_095353

As soon as we arrive people start lining up to get their turn to be seen – even if it will be a few more hours before we start.  Rachel, our head pharmacist, still isn’t feeling well so she takes a nap.  I explore – we have just 1 squatty potty at this location and the floors in the rooms aren’t stable – you can go through the floor if you step wrong!  Later, we discover that the water gets turned off around noon and doesn’t come back on until the next morning – so we don’t have water to even pour down the toilet – NOT a good thing!

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After the team arrives, and we have lunch, we open the clinic and start seeing patients!  I take care of where I step and manage to not fall through the floor!  Rachel is now sunburned, blistered, feeling poorly and running a temperature.  After dinner, David, the missionary from Cusco, offers to drive her back to the city and his wife so she can spend the night and following day recovering.  She agrees and leaves, while the rest of us get a presentation from the community.20171019_194945.jpg

Observations –

  • Water is really important – for drinking (after it is purified) and to flush toilets – otherwise even squatty potties get full and VERY gross!!!
  • We are at Comunidad Umuto – yeah, not on the map either!

Day 7 – The plan is for clinic in the morning and then return to Cusco in the afternoon! The dentist and I finish early and, as we have a bunch of kids hanging around I suggest giving some toothbrushes to them. Cal decides to turn it into a toothbrushing lesson and has them all take out the brush we have just given them and then follow him as he brushes his teeth.  20171020_135816.jpgThey do it and then are delighted to also spit into a hole!

What a fun moment after soo many tears!  After packing up, we return to Cusco and rejoice to get hot showers at the hotel.  We then go out for dinner and get an interesting surprise – Cuy, or guinea pig!  I do take a bite (and pictures!!) and it tastes like chicken. Bed never felt so good that night!20171020_190907.jpg

Day 8 – Today we get to be tourists!  It’s the weekend and we are off duty and on our own dime!  We get picked up at our hotel at 8am and driven just over an hour to the Sacred Valley to the Via Ferrata.  The Via Ferrata is a path used to climb a mountain with a safety system permanently installed, in this case we had what looked like large steel staples sticking out of the mountain and steel cables next to it.  We first got fitted with safety harnesses, helmets and gloves – after a brief lesson on safety and how to use the carabiners we began.  Every few feet as we climbed we had to unhook one carabiner, put it on the next line and then repeat with the 2nd one.  It was hard, climbing up, up, up but so neat.

Then we crossed a cable bridge, which was definitely out of my comfort zone!

Fortunately, our guide took my phone from me and took pictures to prove our craziness!  20171021_115138When we had made it to the top of the mountain ((and after stopping for quick pictures at the “pod” hotel (see in the upper right background) – someday I want to come back and stay there!)) we then got to zip line down!

It was great!  One line was so long that we had to go tandem – and even then Rachel and I didn’t make it all the way to the end and had to be pulled in!

Upon our completion of the zipline we were driven to the train station at Ollantaytambo to catch the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo (1.5-hour ride).  There we found our hotel, got some dinner (I had alpaca steak!), bought our bus tickets and of course, did a little souvenir shopping before going to sleep – we planned on an early morning to get to Machu Picchu!

Observations – 20171021_183646

  • Make sure there is enough room next to the toilet for the door to shut when planning out a bathroom.
  • Get not only the name of the hotel, but also its address – makes finding it a little easier.

 

 

 

 

Day 9 – The tourists lining up for the buses to Machu Picchu woke us up around 5am (remember, all buildings are somewhat open air!) so we got up, had breakfast and went to stand in the line too!  By 6:45 we had arrived and walked briskly over to the entrance to Huayna (or Wayna) Picchu, as we had tickets for 7am entry.  We signed in, and then began the long, arduous climb up the mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu!  20171022_081726What a journey – it was step, rugged and by American standards, so dangerous that no one would be allowed to climb it!   But it was amazing to make it to the top, even if it was only 8,924’– and would have been even more amazing had the cloud cover lifted so we could actually see Machu Picchu from there!

After resting and enjoying the experience, we safely descended and then explored Machu Picchu – ruins from the Incas which are believed to have been built in the 1500’s and only used for less than 100 years before being abandoned.  Little is actually known about them but there are lots of theories!  (That mountain in the back right is WaynaPicchu – we had climbed to the very top!)

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But we were tired and ready to leave so we caught the bus back to the Pueblo and then it was time to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo and prepare for the next week.

Day 10 – REALLY HARD DAY!!  After breakfast we loaded up into the vans for a very short ride.  We started our trek at 9:20, mostly following a road (why they couldn’t have driven us further down the road I REALLY don’t know).  We had a quick break at 11.  The altitude wasn’t bad – just 9600’.  We walked through a Eucalyptus forest and by some cacti – one person stumbled into a plant and had to get the thorns taken out of his leg.  Hand sanitizer doesn’t feel great on an open wound like that!  Our Peruvian leader makes arrangements for our cook to get a short motorbike ride to give her knees a rest – when he returns I get a ride too.  Unfortunately, that means when he lets me off, I have no one with me and really don’t know where I am going.  But the people tell me to go up the mountain.  I follow a horse pack and go up – then down – then up again.  I still haven’t caught up with Domi, our cook but I stop at the Inca ruins for a few minutes and see her down on the other side.  I shout down to her and she waits for me to catch up.  Now it’s two of us walking slowly, and not really knowing where we are going.

 

But we press on!  Inca trail porters pass us regularly, all carrying heavy packs for the tourists!  Eventually some of the fast ones from our group catch up with us – and then they pass us.  We are spread out on the Inca trail for probably more than a mile – I felt so alone as I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, or anyone behind me and I just hoped I was still on the right path.  For 8 hours I put one foot in front of the other, up and down the mountains.  It was physically challenging as my Achilles tendon screamed stop.  It was physically challenging as my feet felt like they were on fire (lots of large blisters).  It was physically challenging when my walking stick didn’t catch the ground but sank a foot because there was no ground next to me – just a steep drop-off to the river a couple hundred feet below.  And it was mentally challenging because I just didn’t want to go on – after hyperventilating a few minutes I managed to keep on going.  And finally, I arrived at some grass thatched roof yurts and the team is sitting on some rocks.  Another team member said it like this “I have run two marathons and those are the only times I have been out of energy more than at the present. It hurts just to sit. A lot of the team have blisters on their feet and joints are screaming at us. It’s the steep inclines with big steps over boulders which wear on you. This village is~10,500’.

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Our stuff was waiting for us – gear was hauled in by horses.  20171026_112355 (2)But the sun, and temperature, is dropping quickly so we changed into dry clothes.  It turns out the guys have to sleep in the huts and the gals get to sleep in what looks like a mud floored shed.  Gratefully, we go to sleep – and sleep well because during the weekend Vicente, our leader, managed to purchase some blankets for us so now I have one to put on the floor under me to help keep me warm as well as padded (the 20-degree sleeping bag with liner doesn’t keep the cold away enough!)!

Observations –

  • Check to make sure your walking sticks didn’t break in the suitcase.
  • You need more than a liter of water for a rough, 8-hour hike.
  • But, if you only have a liter, you won’t need to pee all day!!

 

Day 11 – Not only are the huts for sleeping – they are also for the clinic.  We set up in one and, after killing a large spider, soon have patients.  20171024_102734.jpgWe build a fire in the back of the hut to get rid of the bugs and mosquitos – but the smoke is hard on us.  Trying to keep the instruments clean is also hard as straw falls down on them.  One dog likes to keep us company in the hut and we stay busy all day, mostly removing teeth. Occasionally when the dentist didn’t need help, I would go over to the pharmacy and help count pills there!  Every prescription had the pills put first in small plastic baggies with direction labels, which were then put in a sewn cloth bag.  These bags were delivered to the pastors who gave them to the people.  But, before giving the bags, they did health education, preached the gospel and counseled! Around 4, as the sun and temperature went down, we closed shop.  After our early dinner, we had time for a bonfire and the marshmallows came out.  We had one wise guy who found some cow poop about the size of a marshmallow and was roasting it before being discovered.  But it was good to laugh!

Observations-

  • Cow poop, when roasted, stinks!
  • Beanie weenie on rice is not my favorite dish for lunch – or any meal
  • Neither is soupy oatmeal

Day 12 – We are not moving on – we couldn’t get the horses for the day to move our gear.  We have a lot of gear – medical/dental equipment, pharmacy pills etc., a scale, and then the personal gear.  So the decision was made to have us stay another day at this spot and have the villagers hike to us, and not have us hike 4 hours.  Unfortunately, the bugs are worse and the smoky fire in the back of the hut only smoked us out, so Cal decided to move operations to under a big shady eucalyptus tree – after he shoveled all the horse manure out of the way.  20171025_103113_001.jpgTwo weeks ago I never would have believed that I would be in an open field with dogs and lambs wandering around, surrounded by majestic mountains, helping a dentist extract teeth!  One three-year-old wailed for a long time after we pulled 2 of her little teeth yet a 20-year-old stoically laid there as we used the hammer and chisel to break up her molar to extract it.  This day a lot of our patients were the porters who carry the food and belongings for the tourists hiking the Inca trail.

20171025_104910.jpgDuring one of the lulls, Rachel and I with 2 others from the team went up to the Inca ruins right above our little site.  What a beautiful view from there – high, snowcapped mountains towering over us!  We finished our day by packing up all the equipment and getting ready for the hike out the following morning.  We went to bed early as a heavy rain storm swept into the area.  (Is it too early to go to bed if it is only 7pm?)20171025_185103 (2)

Day 13 – Early start this day – up and packed up before breakfast at 6, ready to go by 7 – except the horses don’t arrive so we wait.  While moving the bags we discovered a baby scorpion sitting on the bags but fortunately no one got stung, although we are all covered in bites on the arms!  But, even though we have a hike before us we are looking forward to the hot showers, real toilets and beds!  Finally, we start walking – and walking!  At the Inca ruins we stop and wait for everyone to catch up, take a team picture, and continue hiking.  20171026_083339.jpgWe encountered lots of tourist groups hiking, as well as the porters carrying their stuff.  Just as we are saying “Buenas dias” to another set of porters, one tripped on a rock and face planted himself on the Inca trail.  Immediately blood gushed everywhere but the doctor and nurses were on it – applying pressure, getting gauze, putting on steri strips and stopping the bleeding by putting a tampon up his nose! 20171026_110358 He had broken his nose and cut open his nose and forehead.  He was in no condition to continue.  His fellow porters took the team gear he had and repacked it into their already full bags before we loaded him up on a horse to have it carry him off the trail.  An hour or so later we crossed a most rickety bridge and were off the trail,20171026_121728.jpg ready to load the stuff into the waiting van and truck.  Driving to the nearest medical clinic, we sought some local help for him – but they had nothing for him!  Yes, Peruvian medicine at its finest!  They did not think it was an emergency.  We couldn’t just leave him so some of the team went to the pharmacy, bought supplies needed to sew him up, and did so.  Meanwhile, a race around the nearby square was happening which caused more injuries.  Soon, in the triage room of the clinic, they had tourist with a broken nose and cut arm and a racer with a broken leg with the bone sticking through the skin.  Obviously, it was time to leave and get our Quechua porter to a hospital.  However, at the hospital in the bigger town they were having a party so they couldn’t see him either.  One of the pastors lived not far from there so we went to his house and in the back yard the doctor was finally able to staunch the bleeding using silver nitrate in the poor man’s nose (back yard to keep the blood from getting on the floor and to keep the man from getting the virus (or maybe typhoid) from the sick child!)  20171026_171000.jpgWith the bleeding stopped, we got back in the van and returned to Cusco, dropping our poor man off with his hiring agency – and we returned to the hotel, exhausted but glad we had been at the right place at the right time!

Observation –

  • Don’t fall on the Inca trail.
  • Be thankful for American medicine!!

 

 

Day 14 – We get a tour of the Presbyterian Clinic in Cusco before having a closing lunch with the team –  everyone will be leaving either this evening or in the morning.  Afterwards though we have time to go to the animal sanctuary for native animals – we see speckled bears, pumas, llamas and alpacas,

condors, a hairless Peruvian (ugly) dog, parrots and guinea pigs.

We stop at the White Jesus who overlooks Cusco and then have time to shop at an artesian market before packing up for our return home. 20171027_164303

Day 15 & 16– We have a little bit of time to buy some tea and to explore the Plaza del Armas in Cusco again before we going to the airport – so we make the most of our time.  We make it to Lima and then, since we have a 22-hour layover we stay at a hotel in the Miraflores section, and sign up for a city fountain tour with a dinner/dancing show afterwards.  The fountains are amazing and fun to see20171028_190850 – the dinner good and the show long for us tired travelers!  Our final morning in Peru we take a quick walk along the Pacific Ocean and watch the surfers before returning to the airport and flying home. 20171029_083614

 

Observation –

  • Lima is a HUGE city with richer and poorer areas – but all of it seems to be richer than Cusco.
  • Even after going through security, before boarding the plane you may have to have your bags searched again and dump out the water you just bought.

What a long, adventurous, rewarding, amazing, challenging trip!  Not next week, but I can’t wait to do it again!

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Towers and Bridges and Steps- It’s Prague

20170912_220324Towers and Bridges and steps, we’re off again!  Honestly, I’m starting to not get nervous before going through security – although did you know that they don’t know what a loaf of homemade pumpkin bread looks like on their screens and they’ll have to search your bag to figure out what that lump is?  This adventure we decided would be a little longer – 8 days from start to finish beginning on a Tuesday night in September.  We met up at Washington Dulles, and, even though we were flying standby, instead of wondering if we would make the flight, got assigned seats before we even arrived at the gate, a whole row for the 2 of us – not that it meant I got a moment more of sleep than usual but I didn’t have to worry my head would flop on the man next to me.

In the previous blogs I gave a description of our days but since this was a longer trip I’m going to change the format and give the good, the bad and then funny!

Arriving in Frankfurt on Wednesday morning, a-whole-lot of sleep deprived, we picked up our itty, bitty, teeny, tiny rental car.  It was no joke that it was a 1 suitcase trunk because that’s all that fit there!  With little delay, we got on the autobahn to drive 3 hours.  Kate is an excellent navigator – with the help of google maps.  But – when we got 10 minutes from our destination – the home of Kate’s friend Kay – it completely and totally failed us as there was a closed road!  Remember, it’s 10am our time, we haven’t slept in over 24 hours and we have no “real” map!  Fortunately, Kate could call her friend and she pieced together where we were, drove to us and had us follow her to her house!  We made it to our first destination!

That evening we had dinner in a nearby city at Brawirt, located in a 600-year-old building.  (I’ve discovered I love being in a really old building – as long as the bathroom isn’t just as old!)  There we had some amazing food – Schwabian pork and cheese spaetzle (and yes, since I’ve gotten home I’ve found some recipes on Pinterest that look pretty good so I want to try them soon!)

On Thursday, we headed for Prague.  It’s amazing what some years with capitalism can do for a country.  Instead of driving twisty, tiny, country roads, we had a smooth trip on highway – all the way to the city limits.  Fortunately, Kay had told us that we needed a vignette – a sticker to show that we had paid to drive on the highways.  It was about $15, good for 10 days, and we purchased it at a rest stop as soon as we crossed the border – cash only!

Our AirBnB in Prague was great!  Our host opened the double wood doors and we drove through a narrow passageway (good thing it was a tiny car!) into a courtyard, 20170917_150800where we could park and leave the car for our stay (we used the small pedestrian door each time we came and went and opened the wider doors when we drove the car in and out).  We then climbed 75 stairs in a very old building, walked though our host’s apartment and into our own.

The view from there was great, the bed comfortable, and the bathroom “difficult” as the shower was really a tub under the very sloped roof!  (it was 1” from the ceiling at one end and made for some creative “showering”.)

Food in Prague was fun!  We purchased cheese, bread and pastries in the supermarkets each evening for breakfast and lunch the next day (Yup, bread and cheese sandwiches every day!).  We ate our dinners in different restaurants – one in the cellar of a very old building, one outside on a river patio with a water wheel turning near us, and then our favorite, one on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Old Town Square!  What a treat and so worth it!22343686_10155936709263291_289048764_o

During our stay, we managed to eat great Italian pizza, Czech goulash with dumplings, both pumpkin and mushroom risottos, ice cream, delicious pastries, lemon crepes, golem cookies, and trdelnik (a piece of dough wrapped around a wooden roller, baked as it spins over coals, sprinkled with sugar on the outside, and then coated with chocolate on the inside).

But, what sights did we see?  Lots and lots and lots!!!  I had gotten off the internet a list of the 25 best things to do in Prague – some were great and some we wondered why they were on the list!!!  Here are our top 10, in no particular order!

#1 – Museum of Historic Chamber Pots and Toilets – As we wandered down some quaint streets in the old town, we came across this unusual museum.  As the name and topic intrigued us, we entered.  What a fun and unusual museum!  They had so many chamber pots and unusual toilets, all with little placards to tell a little about each.  One that caught our eye was a chamber pot with a frog in it (to indicate the sounds that might come in the pot) as well as the rhyme, “Keep me clean and use me well and what I see I will not tell.”

Another one was French – given to newlyweds to end the “night of love” and filled with Nutella, bananas, chocolates and other foods which are then eaten by all present (umm, really???).  There were portable toilets, elaborately painted ones and then those disguised as normal looking chairs.  We also used their real toilets (a plus since it was free and everywhere else – even McDonald’s – we had to pay 50 cents to make our wee deposits) and the walls were covered with interesting bathroom art.

#2 – The towers of Charles Bridge, best climbed just before sunset – There are 2, one at each end of the bridge.  We climbed one at night and the other we climbed just before sunset so we got both daylight and nighttime for that one.  The town looks magical from these old (think 1300’s) towers.  It’s 138 steps to the top and it was just neat to emerge from the interior and lean back against the roof of the top of the tower and view the town on one side and the bridge and castle on the other.

#3 – Charles Bridge – or Karluv most –  Morning, noon, and night is a great time for this bridge!  Pedestrians only, it has lots of entertainment to enjoy while crossing – puppet shows and artists and statues to see (and touch).  Begun in 1357 and finished in 1402, it is Prague and it is free!20170915_141006

#4 – Old Town Square – A bustling area with lots of merchants, entertainers and tourists here as well as a beloved statue to Jan Huss, a church reformer, 100 years before Martin Luther.

There are lots of open air restaurants here but I recommend the roof top terrace restaurant U Prince – located across from the Old Clock Tower.  Here’s the view from the restaurant looking at the clock tower on the right and the square is just behind it.20170915_174635.jpg

#5 – Astronomical Clock – Located at the Old Town Square, this clock has been operating since about 1490.  But it is really neat when it strikes the hour and the Apostles pass by the open windows and bow.20170915_165957

#6 – Old Jewish Ghetto – the section of the town known also as Josefov.  Here you need a ticket to get into any part and the expensive ticket does get you into everything – the old cemetery and the 5 synagogues – so we visited it all.  It seems there was always a love/hate relationship with the Jewish population of Prague – at times they were depended on and at other times they were either expelled from the city or forced into a very small area.  In the 1600’s Prague had the largest Jewish community in the Diaspora.  But at turn of the 19th century, Prague was “revitalized”, to become more like Paris and the Jewish area was “sanitized”, turning the “malodorous” backstreets into blocks of luxurious five-story Art Nouveau mansions.  When the Nazi’s invaded there were about 55,000 Jews in Prague, but less than 1000 remained in 1989.  As our guidebook said, “In any other European city occupied by the Nazis in WWII, what little that was left of the old ghetto would have been demolished.  But, although thousands of Jews were transported to the new ghetto in Terezin and eventually to Auschwitz, the Prague ghetto was preserved under the Nazis in order to provide a record of the communities they had destroyed.  20170915_154855By this grotesque twist of fate, Jewish artifacts from Czechoslovakia and beyond were gathered here, and now make up one of the richest collections of Judaica in Europe.”          The cemetery struck us as crowded and old – just like the ghetto would have been.

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The Pinkasova synagogue filled our hearts with sadness as we saw written on the walls the names of the 77,297 Czech Jews killed during the holocaust.  Every wall in the entire building has just names and dates on them (the name followed by the date of birth and the date of death or transportation to the death camps).

 

 

#7 – Prague Castle – One of the most popular sites in Prague as it is the largest castle complex in the world!  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been there since the 9th century (it’s old!!) although it has changed a lot over the years.  Since it houses the president of the Czech Republic, you do have to go through security to get in.  And lots of brides get their pictures taken here!

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In the middle of the complex is the Cathedral of St. Vitus, which, although it was begun in 1344, did not get finished until 1929.  Inside it there is the Tomb of Saint Jan of Nepomuk, which is sculpted in solid silver – it is huge!  Then there is the Chapel of St. Vaclav (or Wenceslas in English), the walls of which are inlaid with 1372 semiprecious stones!  It is stunning!  We also visited the Golden Lane, which has above the shops a museum of sorts of knight armor.

There is also a crossbow shooting lane and we both got to fire a crossbow!

#8 – Infant Jesus of Prague located in the church of Panna Maria Vitezna – Infant Jesus or Prazske Jezulatko is a 45cm tall wax sculpture of a 3-year-old Jesus.  He has over 100 items of clothing in his wardrobe and is changed 10 times a year by the nuns.

Make sure you visit the museum where some of his clothing is displayed (It’s a little awkward getting to the museum because it’s at the front of the church on the right side – we had to walk through a service to get to it!)  We found this more interesting after visiting Brussels and seeing all the clothing for the mannequin pis (the peeing boy).

#9 – Petrin Hill Observation tower – or Prague’s little Eiffel tower (it’s 1/5 the size of the Paris one).  Just 299 steps to the top, you get a great view of the city!  The tower was built in 1891 for the Prague Exhibition.

#10 The hanging Sigmund Freud –

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this isn’t really that great but so unusual that I have to mention it!  It was interesting to look up in the old town and see high above the streets a 7’ tall statue of Freud hanging by a hand and “pondering whether to hold on or let go.”  It is in the old town at the intersection of Husova and Betlemske.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two places outside of Prague and worth going to are Karlstejn and Terezin.  We did them as ½ day trips.  Karlstejn was the summer castle of Charles IV and it served as a getaway place for him as well as a place to store his crown jewels and relics.  To see the magnificent chapel, you have to book a tour in advance – we did so the day before going and were able to get an English tour, which you will want and we did!  You are not allowed to take pictures inside the castle which is why we don’t have very many here!

 

Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German, is the town the Nazi’s turned into a Jewish Ghetto by displacing the 3,500 Czech residents and forcing 60,000 Jews to live there before transporting them to Auschwitz.  The Nazis used Terezin also as propaganda, showing how nice it was to live there, with cultural events, playgrounds and more – this 12-minute film can still be seen there. There is a museum, a memorial and several other buildings as well as the fortress here.  One building has recreated the woman’s dormitory.

Another building (hard to find, by the way) has a recently discovered tiny hidden synagogue in it.  The fortress on the outside of town, built in the 1780’s, (it’s most famous inmate was the young man who assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914) was also a SS prison that mostly housed inmates who had been active in the resistance.  Although the town now has residents, it also seems very ghost like.

And what things should you avoid while in Prague?  I can’t speak for them all but I would stay away from the KGB museum!  Trip Advisor made this out to be one of the must sees – what a dud!  The owner/guide was probably a former KGB agent who waxed on about the glories of the KGB and how they killed – with highly theatrical sound effects!  Boris was entertaining but not for the amount he charged to get into the museum!  And you had to listen to him because there was no information about the artifacts in the room, except what he told or made up?

Trip Advisor also said that the Lennon wall (think Beatles) was a place to go – as Kate said it was just a wall covered in graffiti and not worth the time it took to find!

 

We also visited Wenceslas Square but since the museum was closed and we weren’t interested in big shopping stores, all we did was take a picture and eat some (wonderful) pizza there!  And, for the record, shopping in Prague was wonderful!  They had all sorts of fun things – crystal (both Swarovski jewelry and dinnerware), Russian matryoshka dolls, chocolate, as well as normal souvenir t-shirts and bags, etc.  You could also in every store find cannabis – lollipops and chips, teas and muffins, chocolates and cookies.

With our 4 days in Prague over, we reluctantly pointed our teeny, tiny car towards Poland (we really were ready to come home at this point but still had places to go, things to buy and people to see!).  So, we bid Prague adieu – what a fun city!20170918_063325

Irish Castles – Part 2 (Finally!)

20170515_111403This is the second part of our 4 day trip to Ireland in May 2017.  The first 2 days we stayed in Dublin exploring it and on our 3rd day we got a bus tour for Northern Ireland as I did not want to drive in Ireland.

An early wake-up and rain greeted us the next morning as we walked to the meeting point for our bus tour.  We were off to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway.  What a great decision to go on the tour!  Our bus driver told us interesting facts as we left the city and drove north, first about Dublin and then about Belfast.  Although Belfast is not the same hotbed it was 30 years ago (when the only hotel in the city was bombed or attacked almost daily), it still has an uneasy air to it.  Catholics still cannot go into a Protestant’s house or might find themselves injured the next day.  A wall exists between the 2 sides and the gate gets closed each evening.  It seemed a little unreal to me!

Here we are at the Wall of Peace

 

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On our arrival in Belfast we stopped at the dock where the Titanic was designed, built and launched – and the original H&W cranes are still there.  We were directed toward a Black Cab and got in it and spent the next 90 minutes driving around Belfast on a “Political Tour”, stopping at all the significant places from the “troubles”, seeing all the wall murals, and eventually ending up at the Wall of Peace.  Our cabbie told us many stories from the time of the “troubles”  – about the IRA and Bobby Sands (a 27-year-old member of the Irish Republican Army (catholic) who was voted a Member of Parliament while in jail.  In 1981, he staged a hunger strike and starved himself to death 66 days later.)  And, by the way, calling it the time of “troubles” seems a little understated!

After signing our names on the Peace wall, we returned to the docks, got back on the bus and headed for the Giants Causeway.  But before we got there we stopped to see the ruins of Cair Paravel – otherwise known as Dunluce Castle (#4) – spectacular beauty on the shore of Northern Ireland!  20170515_125930(2)

Giants Causeway, located on the very northern part of Ireland is a world Heritage site and a fascinating natural wonder.  It looks like lots of stepping stones placed on the shore, some rising high and others more like pavers – most of them are six-sided basalt columns of different heights.20170515_133042 (2)

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Legend has it that it is the remains of the causeway built by the Irish giant Fionn.  A Scottish giant Benandonner was threatening Ireland.  Furious about this threat, Fionn throws chunks of the coast into the sea which forms a path for him to go over to Scotland to oust his enemy Benandonner.  But when he saw Benandonner from a distance he realized his enemy was bigger than he had thought so he quickly retreated home.  Unfortunately, Benandonner saw the causeway and came after him.  But Fionn’s wife, thinking quickly, told him to strip and put on a nappy (diaper), making him appear to be a huge baby.  When Benandonner arrived she told him she didn’t know where Fionn was but to be quiet because the baby had just fallen asleep.  Benandonner took one look at the large baby and decided that if the baby was that big, the daddy must be huge so he returned to Scotland.  Fionn then dismantled the causeway, just leaving a few stones on the shore.  Another possibility for the stones is volcanic activity and lava a long time ago and when the lava cooled it formed these stones.  I don’t know – which one do you think sounds better???

What a picturesque place!  We loved climbing on the stones and walking the area – it really was fascinating!  But wait … there’s more!   We then went on to Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, a small rope bridge going across a 66-foot-wide chasm, 98 feet above the rocks and sea, originally built for the salmon fishermen.  (And I just found out that just a week after we visited it the bridge was vandalized and closed for a period of time until it could be repaired!)

Having safely crossed both ways on the bridge, we returned to the bus and in due time to Dublin.  There we ate dinner at a lovely Greek restaurant before crashing at our little apartment!

Up early the next morning, we once again got on a bus – this time heading for Cork and the Blarney Castle!  Our guide wasn’t as talkative as the one the day before which was a bummer –  and ironic because of our destination –  but the stops were fabulous!  Stopping first at Cashel, sometimes known as the Rock of Cashel or even as St. Patrick’s Rock, we were able to see the site where supposedly Aenghus, the King of Munster converted because of St. Patrick in the 5th century AD.

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It was the seat for the Kings of Munster for years but then was given to the church.  So it is both a castle (#5) and a church but unfortunately the whole thing is in ruins but still amazing to look at and wander around.  The sheep like grazing there too!

Next stop was a couple of hours in the city of Cork.  There we wandered the main street, walked through the English Market, shopped, saw some churches, and eagerly anticipated our next stop – The Blarney Castle (#6).  From The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,

“The blarney stone is a triangular stone on the very top of an ancient castle of that name in the county of Cork in Ireland, extremely difficult to access; so that to have ascended to it, was considered as a proof of perseverance, courage, and agility, whereof many are supposed to claim the honour, who never achieved the adventure: and to tip the blarney, is figuratively used telling a marvelous story, or falsity’ and also sometimes to express flattery.”  And, from Monsignor Fulton Sheen, “There is a world of difference between ‘Blarney’ and ‘baloney’.  Baloney is flattery laid on with a trowel.  Blarney is flattery laid on with the lips; that is why you have to kiss a stone to get it.”

Actually, the castle and its grounds are beautiful!  And they have the most interesting garden – a poison garden containing all sorts of poisonous plants – Wolfsbane, Mandrake, Ricin, Opium and Cannabis to name just a few.  But, the reason for stopping at this particular castle is yes – to kiss the Blarney stone.

And, it is quite the climb up narrow, steep steps to the top where you wait in a line before lying down on your back over an opening in the wall, then lean back, way back, and kiss the stone.  It is quite the production for the men on the wall as they tell you to “lie down, grab the rails, lean back, lean back, kiss, kiss, kiss, come on up now, love.”

Some people expressed fear and weren’t sure they would be able to do it but once you start the process you don’t think much about it because your orders were just barked out to you and the whole process took maybe 10 seconds!  So Kate and I both kissed the Stone of Eloquence – and bought the pictures to prove it!!!!  With a little bit of time left before we needed to be back on the bus we did some souvenir shopping at the conveniently located shops by the castle, boarded the bus and returned to Dublin.  We still had a little time to wander the city, revisiting Trinity College and seeing St. Patrick’s Cathedral before grabbing some dinner at a fish and chips shop right next to our apartment.

Once again, early in the morning we left the apartment and caught a public transportation bus to the airport.  Our guide two days earlier had told us we needed to be at the airport 3 hours early – he didn’t say why but fortunately we listened!  Dublin has you go through American customs and immigration there – which takes extra time!  Once through that line we relaxed at our gate and then were thrilled to get to ride back to Virginia in First Class!  20170517_114451

What a fabulous trip!  Castles and tea, Battenberg cakes and wool hats!  And lots and lots of walking – about 90,000 steps in 4 days!  No, we didn’t get to the Cliffs of Moher – we went north and south and east but not west –  maybe another time?!?!     So, what’s on your bucket list – where would you want to go if time and money weren’t an issue???  I’d love to know – just leave a comment below!

 

EXCITING NEWS!!

I’m sure you are all waiting for days 3 and 4 of my Irish Adventure but you are going to have to wait a little longer because first I have some exciting news!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m going on a mission trip!!!!!!!!!

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Couldn’t wait any longer to say that!  Now to give you some background!  A few years ago, my daughter Rachel went to Peru on a medical missions trip.

Medical Ministry International Canada has expressed the good news of the gospel for over 40 years by caring for those who have little or no access to medical care. Medicine is ministry!

She was only a nursing student but she really enjoyed working with the people.  Now she is a nurse and wants to go back to use some of her training to help the people.  So, she got approval from her job exactly 1 week ago today to take 2 weeks of unpaid leave to go.

Since they not only need medical personnel, they also need a person to help with general stuff –  “General Helpers are crucial to the success of the project team, and the variety of needs that will arise may be many. Some examples of General Helpers’ tasks: registration, crowd control, assist in the pharmacy, serve in visual acuity, or pray with patients and show God’s love to those we serve.”   I’ll be that person!  Although I have sent my kids on numerous missions over the years, I have not personally been on one since I was in college so I am just so excited!

And nervous!  Did I mention that this trip is to Cusco, Peru – where the altitude is 11,000 feet and people frequently get altitude sickness there?  Or that it is an extreme trip – which means we will be hiking from village to village (did you see those mountains in the picture???).  Or that we are going in October – the rainy season!  I’m also excited because Cusco is also the city you have to travel through to get to Machu Picchu so we’ll get the chance to visit it too!

Both Rachel and John have said that I am not prepared for this trip – so I’m going to need to do some serious hiking between now and then.  I need hiking sticks and hiking boots and sock liners and … says my husband who has hiked in New Mexico.  I also need some shots!   I think I need a lot of prayer!!!!  And some hiking buddies!

So – if you want to hike with me – let me know!  If you want to pray for me and Rachel – let me know!  Want to give us some medicines (we have a list) or some gifts for the patients – let us know!  And lastly, if you’d like to partner with us in raising the revenues to go on this trip – let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the info if you want to donate and we are very appreciative of any amount!:

If you desire a tax receipt, you must send your donation to our American partner “I Care San Antonio” (ICSA)
➢ Mail with check: 1 Haven for Hope Way, Suite 200 San Antonio, TX, 78207 [501(c)3 non-profit tax ID: 74-2690192] Please make a detailed note (Example: MMI Peru Cusco Extreme October 2017 project – Kris or Rachel Markovich) designating the funds for MMI Canada project participation donation.
➢ Online with Credit card: http://www.icare-sa.org/global/ Select “Donate” button part way down the page on the left. Please fill in the “Purpose” (at the top in the blue box) Example: MMI Peru Cusco Extreme October 2017 project – Kris or Rachel Markovich. Enter your Name, credit card information, address, phone and email address.

More Travel Adventures – Irish Castles!

Goodness, it’s been a month since our last adventure and Kate and I are just itching to go on another one but I realized this morning I never posted about last month’s quick trip to see Irish Castles!

First – I must thank my daughter Kate.  As you know, she is a flight attendant.  Well, the flight we wanted to get on was almost completely full with just one seat left.  So, she sat on a jump seat all the way to Ireland so I could get on that plane!  What a wonderful daughter!

Yes, we barely made it on the plane but we did, arriving in Dublin early on a Saturday morning.  Visitors Information at the airport was AMAZING!  We got our bus passes and then our agent called our castle (Clontarf Castle) and found out that we could check in early as our room was ready.  Hot showers are wonderfully reviving so in short order we were ready to tackle Dublin.

Using our bus passes we made our way into the heart of the city and to Trinity College.  Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth, it is in the heart of the city, is still a functioning school and has the famous Book of Kells, a 9th century illuminated manuscript of the 4 Gospels, there.  We saw the Book and the incredible, beautiful “Long Room” which holds over 200,000 old books.

After a quick caffeine break we continued walking, first to Grafton Street and a statue to Molly Malone (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9Deeh9n-VI), the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History) which is best described as a zoo of dead animals and the National Museum of Ireland (Archelogy).  That final museum was just incredible – the building itself was built in 1890 and had beautiful mosaic floors and tiled doorways.

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We got to see the “bog” people – the extremely well preserved bodies found in the peat bogs of Ireland, some as old as from 2000BC.  (We discovered there that one of the bodies had his hair in the man bun style of today – so it’s not a new style really!). They also had free do-your-own brass rubbings.

By this time in the day though we were getting pretty tired so we bought some groceries for the next day and a huge chicken and cheese crepe to eat for dinner and we returned to Clontarf Castle (castle #1) to sleep!

The next morning, we left our castle and went to our humbler home-away-from-home, an AirBnB, stored our bags and then hopped on a train to Dalkey.  Dalkey Castle (castle #2) is in a lovely seaside town and we got a tour from costumed guides – you should have seen Kate’s face when our host swished a bit of “you rine” in his mouth to determine the humors of the blacksmith and to see if he was sick.

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Returning to Dublin, we found Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh calling us to see their art work in the National Gallery of Art!

 

 

 

 

 

But castles we came to see so next was Dublin Castle (castle #3) – where we could see the original fortifications which are now underground as well as the beautiful chapel and ornate state apartments.

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With a little more time left in the viewing day, we made our way to Christ Church Cathedral which is a massive Gothic church.

For dinner that night we had decided to splurge and go to Celtic Nights – an Irish dancing show with dinner and music.  Our dinner was fabulous and the show wonderful!  It was quite the late night for us though – the show ended at 10:30 and then we still had to walk home.  Yes, we certainly were getting our steps in on this trip!  (I averaged almost 22,000 per day!).

We still had 2 more days left in Ireland – but that will be a post for another day!

Was it a dream?

Was it all a dream?? Last week my daughter Kate and I flew from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt, Germany. She is a flight attendant so our flights don’t cost much and we were ready for an ADVENTURE! And adventure we had – albeit a whirlwind one which is why now I wonder if it was just a dream!

Since we fly standby and an earlier flight to Frankfurt had been cancelled that day, we wondered if we would even make it on the flight – but we did and we even got to sit next to each other which was nice as we tried to make ourselves comfortable enough on a long trip overnight. Landing in Germany around noon, our first stop (besides the WC – otherwise known as the ladies’ room) was Hertz – time to get a rental car. I had requested the cheapest available car – but alas, they didn’t have a standard shift and gave us an automatic after we waited ½ hour. So soon we were on our way to Stuttgart – just a 3-hour drive with lots of traffic on a rainy day in a foreign country with little sleep the night before (can you see how fast I’m driving?)! But with Kate navigating and me driving we made it without problems.

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Dinner was waiting for us when we arrived at my friend Ali’s house so we were able to eat, go for a walk and finally go to sleep in a nice comfy bed! The next morning, we arose bright and early and set off for our adventure – going to POLAND! It was a long drive (in the rain – again) but fun because we chatted and chatted for hours about everything (and Ali’s daughter was happy because Kate’s IPad delivered show after show of Flea Market Flipit). IMG_5759

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At long last we arrived in Boleslawiec, Poland and the Polish Pottery shops. There was so much to see – and buy! Shop after shop! Pattern after Pattern! What did I need  – or more accurately – want! With the tiny car filling out, our bellies saying they were hungry and the stores closing, it was time to get some dinner.

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Yes, Italian food was our choice in Poland! Restauracja Giovanna 20170428_190401.jpgserved great pizza, pasta, salad and dessert! We had all of that, and fries, for just $18 for the two of us! And it was a beautiful restaurant – although the service was a little (a lot) slow!!

 

But then. We went to our home away from home – our Polish Palace. Elim Christian Center ( http://elimcenter.pl/) was established in 1992 in Lwowek Slaski, Poland. There an Australian couple bought a ruined, 450-year-old palace (it was built in 1550 by the Von Talkennberg’s) to provide a base for their ministry to the needy, the poor and the handicapped in that region of Poland. One of the women, Judy, who serves there used to be in the US Army before she (long story) eventually married a Polish man and now they and a few others run the mission and live in the palace. Anyway, we were so blessed to be able to stay there in a beautiful room with the most comfortable beds!

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20170429_081640(That’s Kate in front of our little Citroen).

The next morning I had some tea in our little breakfast nook before the others joined me for a yummy cold pizza breakfast. We then had the pleasure of getting a quick tour around the mission – seeing the dining room, the clothing room and the nativity room (they have Polish women sew 6” nativity figures with each lady sewing only the one character and then they put them all together and sell them, bringing an income to the ladies. We were able to get 2 boxes/sets of them in the car to take back to be sold at the base in Germany).20170429_081002

And then we sadly departed from our Polish Palace, returning to the pottery shops for “just one more thing!” which, without saying, turned into several quickly purchased items before we were on our merry (long) way back to Germany. 20170429_090805There we spent the night, repacked our suitcases with all our Polish pottery, made the return trip back to Frankfurt and then flew home! Okay, we had our worst moments trying to find a gas station to fill the car up once we got back to the airport and then we discovered an earlier flight had been cancelled so now our flight was totally full and we just barely made it on the plane – did I mention that we fly standby so we never really know if we’ll make it on the plane?  But we made it on the plane and every single piece of the pottery made it home safely as well!

We had such a wonderful adventure – we left on Wednesday night and were back in our own beds Sunday night. We bought pottery, spent the night in a palace, drove the autobahn and just enjoyed the adventure! Can’t wait to travel again! But such a fast adventure leaves me wondering if it really was a dream!  Except the pottery sitting on my kitchen table reminds me that it happened!

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