Sunday, April 29, 2012

What exactly do you do in library school?

Maybe someday I'll write a real answer to that question, but for now:

I made this video for a class. Since Tyler seems to find it hilarious I thought I'd share it here.

The adorable children are my friend Simone's, valiantly listening to and speaking English, though they are native German speakers. The little boy in front was super mad when we started. All through "If You're Happy and You Know It" he scowled the fiercest scowl I've ever seen. But as soon as we started Not a Box he cheered right up.

Sadly, my favorite moment of the day didn't get captured on tape. At the end of Paper Bag Princess the little girl, who is six and a big fan of princesses, said, "They didn't get married?" As if to say, "Come on, Sara! That's not how it's supposed to go!"

Tyler's favorite part is "HEY DRAGON!" Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Five Meters Under Sea Level

We wrapped up our whirlwind week of traveling with a trip with several of my colleagues to Lisse, a town in Holland right between The Hague and Amsterdam, to see Keukenhof, "The most beautiful spring garden in the world." It really is. We've seen lots of pretty gardens before, but the flowers here were just stunning. With so much water around (it's maybe 10 km from the North Sea and it's at around 5 m below sea level), they grow feverishly, as you can see.



I'm a big fan of these rows of droopy, two-toned daffodils.


It's difficult to express how colorful and beautiful this place is. Set on 80 acres and, according to the informational guide, packed with over seven MILLION flower bulbs, Keukenhof wins the award for the highest flower density for any garden we've seen, and we've seen some gardens. (I am a little suspicious of the informational guide: it claims that all of the bulbs are dug up every year, never to be reused, and new ones are planted by 30 volunteers in just two months. I've done the math: that's about one bulb every 20 seconds per person. Gardener friends, is that a reasonable pace that can be sustained for two months?)



Being a springtime garden, the focus at Keukenhof is primarily tulips, with daffodils and hyacinths providing a colorful backdrop. On Saturday, we left Aachen at 7:00 am for the two-and-a-half hour drive, which was mostly in the rain. Upon our arrival the showers turned into an absolute downpour. Fortunately, the downpour lasted only about 20 minutes and the rest of the day was gorgeous, if a little cold. Plus, the water drops on the flowers from the morning rain added an extra "springtime effect" to the day.



The spiky tulips above were really eye-catching, both for their shape and color. I didn't remember their name when writing this post, so I decided to take the advice a Dutch woman gave me when I was photographing the signs in front of the flowers: "You put it in the Google and search for the similar images. You will find the name!" Sorry Dutch lady, Google's "similar images" include lots of red tulips, but also a woman wearing a red sweater, a red leather jacket, and some red meat, but no name for these tulips. Thanks a lot, the Google.




The above green and white tulips are called "Exotic Emperor." We spent several minutes just looking at them.  We actually spent a long time looking at everything: at 2:00 pm, after being in the park for three hours, we met my labmates for a group photo. After the photo, they said that they had already seen everything and were going to go to the sea. When they asked if we wanted to join, we said that we hadn't quite seen everything and were going to stay in the park. We met up with them four hours later, still not having seen the entire park. I suppose we lack that high-level German efficiency.

Below is one of the many arrangements in blue and gold. I believe that these arrangements were put there to make us feel at home: Go Bears!




One building housed hundreds of varieties of tulips grown in prime conditions, including these tulips with ruffly edges. (Perhaps the rain outside damages them more than other, hardier varieties?) Normally I don't like frilly-edged flowers ones, but these, called "Louvre," seem perfect: a wispy ruffle that appears to be in a contrasting color (white) with a strong contrast (blue) in the center. I love these tulips. Plus the whole flower is quite tall, which I think makes it yet more striking.



I love these super bright orange ones. They open so wide that when many of them grow next to one another, they appear as a carpet of orange. They are possibly one of the varieties of "Parrot" tulips, but again, the exact name is lost to "the Google."



Above, one of my most artistic photos, a hanging grape hyacinth. One of the few truly blue flowers we saw.



There was one building dedicated to orchids. They were apparently being judged as they all had scores between 8.80 and 9.50. I'm not sure what scale they use, but it seems like a Miss America pageant for flowers: there's no real range in the possible scores, so all the scores end up similar and nobody goes home feeling bad. Sorry, people. The orchids don't have feelings!


A view of classic swaths of tulips in The Netherlands. The color really stretches as far as the eye can see. Unless you're atop a windmill and have a bird's-eye view and the front several swaths have already been harvested. Still, you get the idea.



I call this photograph "Daffodil in Sunlight." You can see the sunshine peeking through the petals and can even make out where the petals are in two layers. The sky was partially cloudy throughout the day, so the intermittent bursts of sunshine added contrast to both the flowers and our body temperatures.





Above, a winding row of daffodils lining the water. Not only were so many individual flowers stunning, but the park as a whole was gorgeous. The park owes some of its beauty to its history: it was a 15th century hunting ground and a source of herbs for Jacquelin, Countess of Hainaut (thanks, Wikipedia). The castle at Keukenhof (today an art gallery in the park which we didn't visit) was built in the mid 17th century. The grounds started being groomed in the 19th century, explaining the abundance of old, tall trees in among the annually-renewed flowers. Keukenhof as the world's largest spring garden has been an annual event for over sixty years.

Each year Keukenhof takes a European country as its theme. This year was Poland, sadly taglined "Surprising Poland!" Frankly, there wasn't anything terribly Polish about it, just a poster about Chopin and Copernicus. (There may have been a region of bulbs planted to grow in the shape of a famous Pole, but I couldn't make out if, let alone who it was intended to be.)



The above photograph of daffodils over the water didn't stand out as terribly striking until we put it on the computer. The reflection of the flowers in the still water seems to be the focal point and came out so clearly. Plus, you can see the tall trees in the water, while they're not visible in the photograph. (And frankly, we didn't really notice them as we were so focused on the flowers.)




There was a lot of water in the park, and all of it was quite tasteful. This fountain ran in front of one of the entrances and was beautifully lined with mixed tulips and hyacinth. The smell of hyacinth was so strong everywhere in the park that I can still smell it just looking at the pictures.

Below is a photo of the funkiest tulips I've ever seen, "Fritillaria Imperialis." They have a tall central stalk from which several tulip heads hang upside-down in several colors (we saw oranges and yellows). The top of the central stalk looks, as Sara said, like me when I wake up with bed-head.



You may have guessed by now that we took a ton of photographs in Keukenhof. (Someone told me that it's the most photographed place in the world. I'd believe it, based on the number of cameras I saw.) We tried to pick just the best of the best for the blog, but we culled it to these 32 only after two rounds of selection. If you want to see more, the rest of our (413 Keukenhof) photos are on our Flickr site.

A related aside: we told several people today in church about our trip to Keukenhof. After we told them, at least two men asked quizzically, "and you liked the tulips? Tulips are so... boring." Doubting German men, I say nay. Tulips are beautiful. You just have to know where to go to see them.

The leg bone's connected to the ... never mind.

We didn't spend quite every waking minute we were in the Czech Republic walking around Prague. On Sunday we took a break from that to walk around Kutna Horá instead. Kutna Horá is a little town about an hour outside of Prague by train that for hundreds of years was a financial capital due to its silver mines and mint. We did a day tour with Sandeman's New Europe (I link them because they did a nice job) that took us to Kutna Horá's two biggest attractions: the Sedlec Ossuary (hereafter Bone Church) and St. Barbara's Church.

Kutna Horá was also a center of death in the 14th, 15th, and 18th centuries due to the Black Death and Hussite Wars. The Bone Church, built around 1400, is on the site of an even older graveyard belonging to a nearby monastery. The story goes that one of the monks went on  a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and brought back a jar full of earth from Golgotha. By sprinkling it around the cemetery he turned this tiny corner of the world into one of the most popular burial sites in Europe. When plague and then war broke out, the church was built to store the bones of the cemetery's earlier occupants and make room for more.

The bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people still rest inside the church. They were organized at two points in its history in two very different styles. The first time, in the 16th century, a half-blind monk piled bones into huge pyramids, one in each of the four corners of the sanctuary.  


In 1870 a wealthy family commissioned a local artist to organize the bones in a more ... interesting ... way.


The chandelier above contains at least one of every bone in the human body. Where are the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, we ask?

This is the crest of the patron family. Nothing says power and influence like a family crest made from the bones of a couple hundred people, I suppose.


Detail: The bird is pecking out the eye of a conquered Turkish heathen.



Arr, matey. I think the weirdest thing about this place is that the "artistic" arrangements were made so recently. It feels so utterly contrary to modern sensibilities. It's not a scary place, but it's definitely unsettling.

On to a much more cheerful church, beautiful St. Barbara's.


Begun in 1388, St. Barbara's was conceived primarily as a display of the wealth of Kutna Horá. But since the town's fortunes fluctuated sharply over the years, it wasn't finished until 1905. Happily, one of the final elements to be completed was the stained glass windows--happily, because they were done in the Art Nouveau style popular at the turn of the century. It's awfully hard to take a good picture of a stained glass window, but I think Ty did a nice job with this one. I especially like the morning glories in the upper panes.


Two different architects directed the construction of the church's ceiling, as you can clearly see by the two styles of ribbing in the picture below.



Above, a view of Kutna Horá from just outside St. Barbara's. The long white building is (or rather was) a Jesuit college.

Here's a better view of the statues that line the walk. Remind you of anything?  


If you answered "the Charles Bridge," you're right! The Jesuits who built this street were homesick for Prague, apparently. If this blog were monetized you might win a prize, but as we're ad-free you'll have to make due with our congratulations on your cleverness.

Below, a plag (rhymes with flag) column in the center of town. Oh, you've never heard of plag columns? We hadn't either, but that's how our tour guide pronounced plague column.



The mines are gone now, but luckily the town they built remains. It is well worth visiting, even in the rain. So there are things to see in the Czech Republic besides Prague. Who knew?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Czech out those buildings

I mentioned earlier that the thing we did in Prague was walk. Everywhere we turned there was yet another gorgeous building to look at. So, we decided to take you, faithful readers, on a virtual walking tour of Prague with us, focusing just on the best buildings. No nonsense, no fuss, just unadulterated visual immersion into the wonder that is Prague.

One artistic note: many buildings (including the first one below) appear to be painted on the outside in a black-and-white motif. That is actually sgraffito, a technique that involves applying colored mortar to a wall or surface, then scratching it off to leave the impression of a drawing or a texture on the building. It's everywhere. And it's gorgeous. (There are also a few Art Nouveau facades in this collection for the Francophiles in the audience.)






















There you go, a scrolling tour of Prague. For the adventurous (whose fingers aren't tired from all that, um, scrolling), here are more pictures like these on our Flickr site. (And please don't tell Sara that I used the Czech/check pun again.)