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Monday, October 31, 2016

Czeching Out Old Town Prague



Yeah, I know...corny Czech puns. Sorry, can't help myself. Lucky for you, we're only here for a short time.

We have one full day in Prague so let's get to it.


Watch the Video!




It's a bit of a late start as we sleep in a bit. Easy to do in this very comfy Hilton hotel. We decide to skip the hotel cafe (good thing too...it's ridiculously expensive) and just head out. 

We'll grab a bite along the way.

A short block, downhill from the Hilton, takes us to the nearest subway station. Hidden behind an adjacent McDonald's is a lift down to the platform.



The station here is a bit dingier than we'd find in Germany but it's accessible and functional.
A few stops later we alight in Old Town. It's still quite a walk along bumpy cobblestoned sidewalks to the riverfront.

About a quarter mile of walking along the river gets us to a couple of riverfront cafes where we try to get a bite to eat.  Try is about all we can accomplish because the wait staff is determined to pretend we don't exist. We have to exit through a tight and crowded market at the foot of the Charles Bridge where we cross the street to go back to a couple of other cafes that looked a little more laid back.



An extremely narrow sidewalk, just about an inch wider than Tim's chair, takes us there.



Café la Crème offers up a sidewalk table we can sit at, and good food to eat. Service is friendly and we're soon sated. Back up the narrow sidewalk, we take on the Charles Bridge crossing.



Sitting across this strategic span of water for over 600 years, this bridge was a lynchpin for east-west trade over the centuries. It's massive bulwarks shake off ice in winter and slice through spring floods. It was the only river crossing in the area and carried a massive amount of traffic along the sixteen arches supporting its weight over the water before being restricted to pedestrian-only traffic in the last half of the 20th century.



With all the tourists crowding for a place to capture the perfect selfie, you'd think it was still the only river crossing in this fair city.

Tim's getting stressed with people haphazardly walking into the path of his chair without looking. I'm getting stressed trying to watch out for him. Letty's getting stressed that we're getting stressed.

It's not a good look for us.

We're trying to take in the scenery, majesty, and history of this beautiful bridge but it's more of a time of self-preservation as we try to work ourselves to the other side with our sanity in check.

Eventually, we do make it over to the other side where the crowd eases up just a hair. Once Letty catches up to us, we start to make our way upstream to the next bridge, pouring over our map to find the best, most-likely-to-be-accessible route there. Eventually, we end up in a quiet alley on another narrow sidewalk. A glance to the right reveals a little courtyard café...Café Soda...blissfully ignored by the traveling horde.



I need a beer and this is the place that's going to give me one.



Winding our way to the back table, we're cut off from the world outside. A very nice respite with a cold pilsner to help us recover from the chaotic streets outside. They also have nice, clean bathrooms here that are, unfortunately, not accessible.



Rejuvinated, we make our way across the next bridge upstream with no crowd at all and make our way over to Wenceslas Square to see the Astronomical Clock and to eat a trdelnik. This is a type of rolled pastry that is cooked over a wood fire. Some places put ice cream on it, others a sauce like Nutella.

We couldn't find a place that would do both so it was ice cream for us. Suffice it to say, we didn't think it lived up to it's status as a legendary Prague snack.



Again with the crowds in the square and we're feeling more run down than anything else and start to head into the direction of our hotel. 

The streets are teeming with people. I see a little break in the buildings on the edge of the square so we duck in to find a maze of alleys. It's seems us and maybe five other tourists are in this warren. It's wonderful.



Old, medieval buildings line crooked, cobblestone lanes with little shops, cafes and bars. We've finally found our sweet spot in Prague in this area that looks like it came from a Hollywood set or Disneyland, only it's real and devoid of the crowds we've been fighting for hours now.



Around one more corner and we come across Vycep Nastojaka, billing itself as "the smallest pub in the world." The name translates roughly into 'standing room only,' although there are about five barstools.



The bar itself is maybe four feet long. The shelves behind are well stocked, though, and there's even a flat-screen on the wall to watch your favorite sport, as long as it's soccer.
Inside, we have about as much room to move around as we do in our bathroom at home. Besides us, there is the bartender and the local barfly. Both are friendly and eager to strike up a conversation with these out-of-towners that landed in their bar.

When they find out we're from California, we're the recipients of a number of toasts to our state. Along with a shot of rum, the bartender gives us a taste of slivovitz, a plum brandy that is the national drink of the Czech Republic (according to him). It's very tasty.

The barfly shakes our hands and bids farewell...he has to go back to work after his lunch break here...but stays a few minutes longer when the bartender hands him another pint of beer.



After a slow start, a frustrating few hours of summer crowds, and finally breaking away, we find a little bit of the heart of Prague in these two, sweet gentlemen at the 'world's smallest pub.' It's nice to be able to put a good ending on our day before heading back to the hotel.



And that's how we'll end our Czech adventure...crazy crowds but friendly, heartwarming locals.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 30, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: American Wheat Beer Taste Off


What do you do when life gives you lemons?  Make lemonade, of course.  Or put a wedge in your wheat beer.

We taped the video below as a normal taste off and found when we went to edit it that the battery had died in the microphone, leaving us with no sound at all.  So what to do?  Make and old fashioned silent movie!

Watch the Video!

Go ahead and watch.  We taste test Sam Adams Coastal Wheat beer, which already has a splash of lemon in it, against the Widmer Hefeweizen from Portland, Oregon.

Which one do we like best?  Watch the video to find out.  I will tell you that we tried both with and without the lemon and found that we liked it with the lemon best in each case.

Cheers!


Darryl

Friday, October 28, 2016

Czeching In...Arriving in Prague and a Taste of Old Town. A Big Taste!


After our detour through Poland, we flying along very well into the Czech Republic only to find the car's GPS doesn't know about the road being closed and a detour around it. It takes a little fussing with the maps and the signs in a language we don't know but we finally find our way around a stunningly beautiful but very traffic clogged drive around a very pretty lake and river back to the main highway.


Watch the Video!


It's late afternoon when we arrive at the Hilton Prague. I present my reservation at the desk and we're introduced to the on-duty manager, a lovely woman  who says we might not be happy with the bathroom in the room we reserved.  She'd be happy to take us upstairs to show us a couple of different rooms and let us pick which one would be best for us.

Letty goes up with her while Tim and I hang out in the massive atrium lobby. A few minutes later, they're back and we finish the check-in process.

See a Video Tour of our Room!



Our room, three stories up, is very nice. Large by European standards (but about average for American tastes) has two twin beds, a queen size sofabed, a nice desk with fold-out vanity and internet connections, flat screen TV with plenty of English channels, lighted armoire with ironing board and a safe, a minibar with an empty shelf for our use, coffee, and a large accessible bathroom with a tub.

A few minutes later, the manager is at our door with a choice of two bath chairs. We choose one that is like a tractor saddle, mounts on top of the tub, and swivels to the side for easy transferring.



While pondering the lovely view of the atrium, I'm thinking this is some of the best check-in service I've every had in my life. It's a lovely hotel and the service is outstanding.

It's only a couple of blocks to walk from the hotel over to the Old Town section of the city. It's still daylight, although sunset will be soon, so we have time. We're not too tired from the drive and don't want to settle in yet.



Old Communist era trams mix with more modern models on the streets, rumbling along and we also bounce along the cobblestone sidewalks. We soon find a groove to the smoothest part of the pavement and try to stick to that.



We don't really have a plan tonight, so we just wander around, plaza-to-plaza, using the large Powder Tower as a landmark so we don't get lost.

A few alleys wander off here and there. Cozy looking restaurants hide in their nooks and crannies.  We're getting hungry.



After inquiring at a few that look good, we settle on the first one that affirms that they'll take our credit card for payment.



Thinking back to that delicate, juicy and moist pig knuckle Letty had in Poland, I order one for dinner but instead of her boneless, softball sized entrée, I get a bone-in monster that seems the size of a basketball.

It's good (but not as good as the one yesterday) and I can only make a small dent in it before I have to throw in the towel.



We wander around a bit, having a beer here and there...enjoying the exquisite hold buildings, before heading back to our hotel to rest up.

Tomorrow, we're jumping in with both feet to experience what this city has to offer.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: The Handy Lap Tray


Over the years while I was growing up, my family and I have done everything possible to make it easier for me to things for myself because of my disability.  One of the prime examples of equipment that my Mom made years ago is a lap tray she got while shopping at Ikea.  When she originally bought the tray, that's all it was-just a tray.




Now you might imagine that for someone like me, it would be somewhat difficult to use a tray while worrying about whether or not it slip off my lap and fall to the floor, but my thanks to my Mom's good skills at adapting special equipment for me over the years, she thought of this beforehand while designing it for my use.  

To make thing easier for me she did two things.  First, she put a pillowcase cover on it so that whatever we would put on it, I would be able to move it around easier with my hands since the surface of the tray was originally much more grippier that before the pillowcase was added. Secondly, she added a pair of hook straps to the tray so that it could be tied around the armrests on my wheelchair.  



The train sits on my lap and I loop the straps around the supports for my wheelchair's armrest.



Then, I hook the straps together to keep the tray from sliding off.

As for how the tray itself comes in handy for me, its main purpose is for the TV and sound remote controls while watching television.  I also use the tray to put my snack plate on during the day when I'm feeling hungry for a snack as well as my cell phone when my Mom goes for her morning run. Without it my hands and arms would definitely get stiff and tired from holding these various objects myself.  



The Handy Lap Tray has definitely proven its worth and value to me ever since I started using it many years ago.  I would say my favorite thing about it is that I don't have to roll up to the TV and change the channel like people had to in the old days.  So if you are in a family of someone who is disabled, a lap tray like mine could be useful in allowing those members of the disabled community some freedom and independence while either watching the local news or a Sunday football game in peace.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Pottery and Pig's Knuckles...Repositioning from Berlin to Prague


The Ford Mondeo wagon is a nice car. It's got sat/nav, air conditioning (a rare treat in this country), a nice stereo with iPod dock, and cruise control. This will be a nice break in public transit for a couple of days as we journey eastward for a detour to the Czech Republic for a few days.

I just wish I'd checked with the Hertz agent at the counter on how to put it into reverse...

Watch the Video!


I'm in a narrow lane, with a tight turn, trying to exit the garage in a station wagon that's just a tad too long to make it in one pass. The manual shifter says reverse is way to the left and up. Every time I try that, I end up in first gear and edge a bit closer to the wall.

Pretty soon, there will be no more room to edge.

I figure there must be a button or something to press but I can't find it. I can't find a manual, either, in this dark car in a darker garage. Finally, I see a small ring at the bottom of the shifter...lift that...and I'm in reverse.

Whew! that was a close one.  Now, I just have to do this for five more floors in this cramped, little parking garage until I have to make a blind exit onto a busy, Berlin street.

I manage somehow and find my way back to Lindemann's Hotel on Postdamerstrasse...our home in Berlin...where the manager kindly let me park out back to pack our bags, wheelchair, and Tim into the car.


Before we leave, we notice that it would only be about fifty miles out of our way and only add about 45 minutes to our drive to take a detour through a corner of Poland. We hadn't planned on going there but we can add a checkmark to our list (we add a new place to our list if we do something significant there such as eating a meal...changing planes at an airport doesn't count).




Once out of Berlin, I see my favorite German road sign...a circle with five diagonal lines through it...that says there is no longer any speed limit. Yes, we're on one of the country's famous autobahns with little traffic.


The cruise control is set to 160kph (100mph) and, in no time, we've crossed the Polish border on a very smooth, well paved, high speed highway (Note: be sure to watch the video, above, to experience this).



Then we crossed the Polish border...

Suddenly, the smooth pavement turned into a cracked and potholed disaster. Speed limit was dropped to the equivalent of 45mph, and even that may have been too high. It felt like the tires on our car suddenly became square.

After about 40 miles of this stuff, my wife found a side road that would lead south about 20 miles to the highway we'd need to take back towards Dresden, where we'd turn off towards Prague.


This road's much nicer. Just a two-lane country road, it winds through some very nice scenery.  My wife tells me the map shows a village up ahead.  The village turns out to be Dabrowa Boleslawiecka.

The village has an interesting history. Before World War II, it was part of Germany. After the war, it became part of Poland and the German population was expelled so that Poles could move in. Despite the ugliness of the war, it's a picture perfect European village in the rolling, green, tree covered hills.


It's time for lunch. There's a restaurant in the center of town but parking there looks iffy as does the wheelchair access. We saw a little 24 hour, truck stop diner at the edge of town so we turn back to go have a quick bite there. There's plenty of parking and wheelchair access at the Zajasd Lesny.

We quickly realize we're not on the tourist trail anymore when the server does not speak more than two words of English and we speak even less Polish. Somehow, we manage to get our point across and, luckily, the restaurant has had the foresight to print one menu in English. Pointing will help at this point.

Tim orders a plate of cheese and potato pirogies, I get a plate of the meat variety. The plan is for each of us to eat half of the other's meal so we can have both. Letty goes with the pig knuckle and some red beet tea.

The guys get their pirogies and they're heavenly. Steamy little puffs of dough with such tasty fillings.


The star of the show, though, is Letty's pig knuckle.  It's a softball sized mound of pork that is tender enough to slice with a fork.


Happily, she agrees to share some with us. The savory broth that covers this dish up adds to the joy our stomachs are feeling after this meal. This will turn out to be one of the most memorable meals from this trip...here, at a little roadside 24 hour diner, far off the main highway in a corner of Poland.


Before we venture back into Deutschland, Letty wants to visit one more town appearing on the Polish map, this time Boleslawiec.  Expecting just another pretty Polish village, this is clearly a bigger town with old Communist factories and smokestacks dotting the landscape.

Some of those factories specialize in ceramics, a tradition in this town going back several hundred years, making this a hotbed for the product. My wife immediately wants out.

Tim and I pass the time in the parking lot while she shops for some plates to take home, picking up a nice little haul for only around twenty bucks.

Done with our side trip, we get back on a much smoother highway for the trip back across the border and on to tonight's destination, Prague in the Czech Republic.

Stay tuned for that adventure.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved


Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 21, 2016

Jesse Owens and the Fuhrer: Olympic Stadion, Berlin



Catch up on this trip...
Part One 
Part Two 
Part Three
Part Four

Part Five

Part Six


Our last, full day in Berlin. We've pretty much seen everything on our list. Now, it's a free day and we're looking for a way to pass the time.

"I see an Olympic stadium here on the map," my wife says while perusing another amazing Turkish breakfast.

Watch the Video!


The Olympic stadium!  I'd forgot...it's another big moment of Berlin history and I almost let it slip through my fingers.

It's a bit of a ride on the U-Bahn to the Olympicstadt station. From there, it's another long walk under a tunnel, up a little hill, through the woods, until you finally emerge at the stadium's parking lot.

An admission is paid at the visitor's center and then we're on our own (tours are available but we'd rather just explore at our leisure).



We find a ramp and a tunnel into the stadium. It's huge and imposing. It's also made out of marble, the height of Nazi chic at the time.



While the walls and façade are original, everything inside has been modernized. There's a well-maintained blue rubber track (that's being scrubbed by a beast that looks like the lovechild of a street sweeper and a Zamboni) and a flawlessly green soccer football pitch.



The Fuhrer's box has been replaced by some VIP seats and suites but it's not hard to imagine Adolph fuming from up above as a black man put lie to his 'master race' shenanigans.

The seats are serviceable metal folding chairs, bolted to the concrete. No armrests or cupholders.

The ever-present beer bar is open so we quaff one as we admire the view.



To the side, we find the old swimming and diving stadium, now being used by local kids to cool off in the crystal blue waters on this hot August day.



Eventually, we make our way to the other end of the stadium where we pose at the Olympic torch.

On the other side, we spot a bell from the old bell tower (it was destroyed in World War II and the current one is a rebuilt tower).



Although the swastika is illegal in Germany today, you can still see something suspicious on this old bell that the welders couldn't quite hide completely.



Closer to the stadium than the U-Bahn station is an S-Bahn station. From here, we catch a train back to central Berlin where we can walk through the Tiergarten.



We've been toying around the edges of this giant park for days but on this last day, we decide to walk through until we find a little lake with...of course...a biergarten at it's edge. It's here we'll have one more before signing off from Berlin.

Tomorrow, we'll go to the Hertz office and pick up a car to continue on.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved


Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: Adventures Of A New Power Traveling Wheelchair


Our most recent European traveling adventure to Germany and the Czech Republic was special enough that it is worthy of not just one, but two...YES TWO...Cerebral Palsy Stories.  The first Cerebral Palsy Story from our time in Europe was about the basic fundamentals of using an aisle chair while boarding and getting off an airplane.

The second Cerebral Palsy Story from our time in Europe comes courtesy of a new traveling power wheelchair we bought from a company called GEO Cruiser up north in San Jose, California.  When we were looking at the different models they offered, we opted to go with the elite model in the Geo Cruiser line of power wheelchairs for a cost of about $2,500.  Considering that there are only two models of the wheelchair offered, the choice of models wasn't very hard for us in terms of the number of models offered.  We just had to make what we felt was the best decision for us in terms of which model of the chair we thought would give us the best bang for our buck.

We also wanted to get me a new power wheelchair for traveling purposes so that I could have some independence while seeing the sights in Europe by driving myself around and not having to rely on my parents to push me around all the time to wherever we went.


There are a couple of different electric chairs to choose from. To their credit, when we called Geo Cruiser, they suggested we also look at their competitor's chair before buying. This was the EZ Cruiser wheelchair.


EZ Cruiser's warehouse is located in Van Nuys, California and Geo Cruiser is in San Jose. We were heading up to Northern California so we decided to visit both locations in person to test drive the chairs.


EZ Cruiser seems like a well-built chair and has a nice turning radius and a good warranty.
The problem with it is that the back is at a too-severe angle and it feels like I'm reclining.

Geo Cruiser is more comfortable to sit in but takes a little getting used to with it's wider turning radius and slower speed. The warranty is good but not as good as EZ Cruiser's.


The price for both chairs is almost the same and both weigh around 60 pounds, including lithium batteries. They both fold up to easily fit in a regular sized car trunk, although the Geo Cruiser folds up just a little smaller than the EZ Cruiser.

As I mentioned above, we chose to go with the elite model of the Geo Cruiser when purchasing a new traveling power wheelchair a few months before we left for Germany mainly because it's a more comfortable chair to sit in.  As with most of our other purchases, we had the wheelchair delivered to our house similar what one would have delivered to them from an Amazon.com purchase.


During the time after the new chair was delivered, my family and I took full advantage of the time we had left before our trip so that I could practice driving it around and get more comfortable with it.

Those weekly driving tests consisted of driving it to and from our backyard and back inside the house.  From what I can remember, the only negatives we discovered from these pre-traveling weekly driving tests was that the new chair didn't have quite as nice of turning radius for tight and sharp corners compared to my regular power wheelchair and that it wasn't as fast.  We even got in touch with the company again before we left to ask how we could adjust the speed and they walked us through the steps on how to make it go faster.

Fast forwarding to the week when we leave for our trip, I can already feel a difference while driving it around the airport before our first flight leaves in terms of feeling better about how to use it when navigating it around tricky turns and sharp corners, so I can't say that the weekly driving tests I did before we left didn't help because they did in terms of making me feel more confident and comfortable about my skill level when driving it.

What my family and I didn't find out until the trip was in full swing were are the cons of the wheelchair that weren't present before we left.  For instance, when I had my chair at its top speed at times, it would suddenly decide to start slowing down for whatever reason even though I hadn't turned it down to a slower speed in the first place.  When this happened, I kept having to remind my parents to slow down their walking pace just so I could keep up with them.  When that didn't work, I had to have my dad put the chair in manual mode and push it so we could get to where we were going faster.


Then there were times when some of the screws and bolts on the chair would come loose from going over the lovely cobblestone sidewalks and streets that Europe is famous for.  To manage this obstacle we ended having to go to a hardware store near our hotel as well as borrowing a wrench from the helpful staff at the hotel's front desk to tighten the loose screws and bolts.  This became a nightly ritual during our time there.  So much so that one night, the lady at the hotel's front desk already had the wrench in her hand when we returned from our sight seeing one night and said that we could give it back before we had to leave.  The good thing about that is we didn't have to hold on to it and give it back since we went to a nearby hardware store and got the necessary repair supplies.

One final downside that the chair presented during our trip was a problem with one of the chair's motors that was making it even more difficult to use because it went even slower during these times and it was also making an unpleasant grinding noise in the motor while driving it.  At this point, I was already having enough of a hard time trying to keep the chair on the right side of the sidewalk to avoid any oncoming pedestrians and bicycles that it was getting really frustrating for both my parents and myself that more often than not, we had to put the chair in manual to save us from even more headaches.

About the only silver lining we found for easier navigation of the chair for future trips came at the end when we discovered by accident a little trick where we would put the right motor on manual while driving the chair and somehow this seemed to improve the overall performance of the chair and it also seemed to go a little bit faster once we discovered this trick.  It's too bad that it took us until the trip was over to find this out for ourselves since it would have made things a lot easier for all of us in the beginning.

Since the chair is under warranty, we shipped it back to Geo Cruiser to repair the problems that we had with it. The company took about a week to make repairs and ship it back to us. We will see if the problems we encountered are fixed.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.