In 2011, I spent two weeks in the Czech Republic. It was the first time I traveled outside the United States and my time in Czech was incredible! It is a beautiful country of forests, mountains and many small towns surrounding central squares that include ornate fountains and statues. Every other town seems to boast a spa (we did visit a beer spa, which sounds weird but ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip!) and I swear that every few miles on the road are signs for castles like Kost Castle, built in the late 13th century and beautifully preserved (if stark), or estates like Hluboká ,originally built in the 13th century and looking more like a classic English-style castle and grounds than Czech-style after two extensive remodels.
Many tourists visit only Prague and its surrounding region, not surprising considering that you could spend a couple of weeks in Prague alone and still not have enough time to see all that the city has to offer. As a history lover, Prague fascinated me. It was very easy to stand in the heart of the old town and feel the ghostly brush of centuries swirling around us. We spent less than two days there and I wished there had been more time to absorb it all!
Thanks to vivid memories of that visit, I now notice how much literature takes place in, mentions or is by someone from Prague or the Czech Republic. Reading through scenes set in Prague takes me back to those cobblestone streets and I get swept up in the story being told. “Armchair travel” is a wonderful way to visit (or revisit) places in the world that time or fortune or dangerous conditions prevent you from seeing. If you would like to “see” Prague or the Czech Republic this way, use the list below to begin your own journey or click here for a longer list of titles that relate to the people and places of the Czech Republic.
1: Learn a little of the language.
It was wonderful to be able to say “prosím” and “dekuji” (please and thank you), “ano” and “ne” (yes and no) and exchange the common greeting “Dobrý den” (good day) in Czech. In fact, it was enough for some shopkeepers and Czech natives to think that I had a much better command of the language than is really the case! A mistake they quickly realized when my eyes would widen at their stream of Czech until they paused long enough for me to say “Nemluvím cesky” (I don’t speak Czech). You can learn key phrases from Mango Languages or Czech out (get it?) language learning audiobooks from your local branch.
2: Hear the language and glimpse the dark Czech sense of humor in movies.
The Good Soldier Schweikis a Czech classic about a reluctant buffoon of a soldier in the army during World War I. (Think Gomer Pyle and you get the general idea.) In Kolya, whichwon an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, a down-on-his-luck but happy bachelor unexpectedly becomes guardian of a five year old boy who speaks only Russian and no Czech. Both films are in Czech with English subtitles. Follow this link to other Czech films in the MCPL collection.
3: Make (or dream of) travel plans.
Guidebooks are obviously great for planning, but you can also learn about a country just reading through them. Plus they are full of pictures! My mom was looking at one of our Czech travel guides and discovered a statue in Prague by provocative and famous Czech artist David Cerný that we sought out but never would have visited if not for the mention in the guidebook.
4: Read the history.
Prague in Black and Gold by Peter Demetz details the history of Prague from the myths of its founding through the twilight of World War II. Follow that with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s Prague Winter, her memoir of childhood years in Nazi occupied Prague, the aftermath World War II and the Communist ruled time span leading into the Cold War. Then let A Velvet Revolution: Vaclav Havel and the Fall of Communism by John Duberstein bring you through more recent Czech history and introduce you to the literary first President of the Czech Republic after Communism and the split from Slovakia. Which leads us to…
My recent Czech obsession is directly a result of reading Robin Wasserman’s young adult novel The Book of Blood and Shadow. It is a Da Vinci Code style mystery featuring a group of friends who are trying to solve a centuries old mystery involving the interpretation of letters written from a young woman to her brother in Renaissance Prague. The friends travel to Prague, where much of the book’s action takes place, and I could picture many of the locations in my mind as I read. Complication by Isaac Adamson sounds eerie but interesting. The description from our catalog: combining a serial killer with a penchant for severed hands, a watch that runs backward and forward at the same time, an Eastern European gangster known only as Rumpelstiltskin and 16th century black magic, Complication follows young American Lee Holloway throughout Prague as he investigates the death of his brother. Click here for a more thorough listing of fiction set in Prague or the CzechRepublic.
One of the joys of reading a book is to be able to travel anywhere in time and space inside of your mind. By extension, the library is the best TARDIS ever--full of books and electronic resources with facts about history geography and space, as well as stories that can take you back in time and beyond this universe.
Want a map of a historical time period? Visit the “historical” tab of our Maps LibGuide. You can find roadmaps on that same LibGuide, or information on how you can make your own maps. From our links to the Gale Virtual Reference Library, you can go to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture or the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World or books about travel in other countries, and much more.
There are many travel books in our libraries but, because of my penchant for the strange, one of my favorites is Weird Maryland: Your Travel Guide to Maryland’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. If you don’t know about the Goat Man, you will after you read that book. If the book is checked out, however, after you’ve put your hold on it, go look at a fun website, Roadside America. There you’ll find links to the weirdest tourist attractions across the United States, from the World’s Largest Office Chair to the Miracle Horny Toad of Eastland Texas. If you want to find giant lumberjacks and Dinosaurs, this is the place for you. You can search by state, or by themes such as "Pet Cemetery" or "Big Fruit". They will even point you to hotels near these marvelous sites.
You may enjoy perusing the copies of National Geoographic in your local library, but pull a seat up to one of our public access computers and look at their website. There you can not only find the beautiful photos you have come to expect, but also stunning videos of places and people around the world. Check out the daily news features, too. Of course. If you want something a little more obtuse, navigate to Atlas Obscura. On that site you can read articles on such things as figurative coffins in Ghana, explore an attractive index of unusual places, or click for a random selection and find yourself in The Boiling Lake or The Heidelberg Thingstatte, a Nazi edifice built on a sacred mountain site used by various German cults. This website sponsors local events if you want to join up with other fans in real time and space.
We’re now just days away from yet another new year (and the last one according to the Aztec calendar). If 2012 really is the be all and end all, why not let your local MCPL branch help you make the most of it? Here are some surefire ways to get the most out of the new year.
1.¡Aprende un nuevo idioma! (Learn a new language!)
Mango Languages offers online courses in over 44 languages (plus English learning courses for speakers of over 13 different languages). Believe it or not, they can even teach you how to speak like a pirate. Ahrrr, matey!
iPad and iPhone users – there’s an app for that too, just visit the website and set up your account before going to the App Store and downloading the app. (Android users, a Mango app for your device is currently under development.)
Both of our eLibrary resources also offer downloadables fopr language learning. EBSCOHost Audiobooks has downloadble versions of the popular Pimsleur Language Learning series. However, you must have a PC with Windows Media Player to listen to them. The Maryland Digital eLibrary Consortium has several language learning e-books and eaudiobooks which are compatible with several portable or smart devices.
And of course, you might find the language learning textbook or CD Book that you’ve been looking for on the shelves at your local branch.
2.Visit an uncharted territory!
Make use of that new language you just learned by planning a trip to somewhere new. The 914s-919s offer an array of guidebooks to help you on your way. Some of the more popular guides even have online equivalents (these include http://www.fodors.com and http://www.lonelyplanet.com). Check out http://www.tripadvisor.com to get the lowdown on places from your fellow travelers.
3.Discover a new you!
Did you eat too much of the local cuisine on your travels? Did that hike in the mountains show you just how out of shape you really are? Visit the 613.71s for fitness ideas and 641.563 for healthy cooking tips. Be sure to check out Montgomery County’s RecWeb (http://www.recweb.montgomerycountymd.gov) to sign up for a heart-pumping aerobics class or to make a splash in your local pool. For technophobes, limited copies of the Department of Recreation’s print course guide are available at most library branches, community recreation centers, and county aquatic centers. If you’re free on a weekday afternoon, why not take in a session of Bone Builders at Potomac Library. (If exercise isn't your thing, you can also learn a new skill or augment an old one. The Rec Department offers arts & crafts and cooking classes, among many others. )
May is jam-packed with festivals and outdoor events for the whole family. The first full weekend in May is the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival in nearby Howard County. www.sheepandwool.org.
My husband calls this “The best free show in the state of Maryland”, and he doesn’t even particularly like sheep! Their web page gives you an idea of what's going on, but you may want to read Wool by Annabelle Dixon to the children before setting out. Or Judith MacKenzie's Intentional Spinner for an adult's eye view of the process.
Why don't you check out the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival on the following weekend? All kinds of art and fine crafts will be on display and for sale, as well as free entertainment. Does it make you want to try your hand at making art? Read David Sammiguel's Complete Guide...or try ArtStarts with your children.
For the third weekend, you don't need to go far. Gaithersburg is hosting its second annual Book Festival http://www.gaithersburgbookfestival.org/ with authors and activities for all. How about making a book of your own?
If you are an author in search of a publisher, the 808 location in our reference collections hold lots of ‘Writer’s Market’ –type guides. They will tell you how and where to find a publisher, editor or agent. But what about actually making your own book? Shades of Inkheart! Try McCarthy's Making Books by Hand .
Or, for a look into the actual mind (or brain) of a writer, examine Alice Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease for a look at the process of writing (or not) as viewed by a neurologist.
The last weekend in May is Memorial Day, of course. Since we have three days, why not go a bit farther afield? Chestertown, just across the Bay, commemorates and re-enacts a great moment in Maryland’s Colonial era – The Chester Town Tea Party. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chestertown_Tea_Party
Every year on this weekend Chestertown hosts thousands of visitors to stroll, eat, drink and cheer. There are races to view or enter (including a raft race!) crafts to buy and a re-enactment of a famous ‘tea party’ that may or may not have happened in 1774.
I can’t stand cold weather. I don’t know about you, but Winter is a tough time; being a native Washingtonian doesn’t make it any easier. I’m counting the days until June, until we get 90 degree heat and a minimum of 110% humidity. Or at least, this Friday’s anticipated balmy 70 degrees will be a welcomed change. What’s a person to do during those awesome hot days of Summer? When was the last time you explored some of Maryland’s wonders?
Sharpsburg: Antietam National Battlefield, site of one of the most pivotal and devastating battles in the Civil War, is in Sharpsburg. After 12 hours of savage fighting on September 17, 1862, 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or left missing -- it was the bloodiest day of the war. About 87,000 Union troops commanded by Gen. George B. McClellan had intercepted 40,000 of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate troops. The Union victory led to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Three national parks and two state parks are within a dozen miles of Sharpsburg. The 184-mile long C&O Canal towpath passes near the town.
Cumberland: Located in a river valley in “Mountain Maryland” – the Appalachians in Allegany County – Cumberland is an historic town (27 listings in the National Register of Historic Places) that has evolved into a vibrant arts community. A new Arts and Entertainment District is the cornerstone of a revived downtown section.
National Harbor: Located on the banks of the Potomac River, the Harbor has an assortment of entertainment venues and panoramic views of the Washington, D.C. monuments. And if you’re looking for outdoor fun, the Capital Region has ample opportunities for hiking, biking, boating and golf.
Benedict: A chief port on the Patuxent River, Benedict was one of the first designated ports established by the 1683 Act for Advancement of Trade. Storehouses flourished near the wharves and ship building began earnestly in the late 1600s. Between 1817 and 1937, steamboats carrying freight and passengers stopped at Benedict en route to Baltimore and ports on the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers. Benedict was the landing site in August 1814, for 4,500 British troops who marched to the nation's capital. After capturing and burning the city, the troops returned to Benedict carrying their wounded and supplies. Two of the British soldiers who died were buried at Old Fields Chapel cemetery in Hughesville. During the Civil War, Camp Stanton was established in Benedict for recruiting and training a black infantry to serve in the Union Army.
Cedar Island Wildlife Management Area, Somerset: Because of its nearly 3,000 acres of tidal marsh, ponds and creeks, black ducks flock to the island located in Tangier Sound near the town of Crisfield. Other tidal wetland wildlife species are also attracted to the area, but its attraction for black ducks is legendary. In the 1960s, wildlife biologists became concerned about the black duck, which seemed to be declining in numbers. Loss of habitat was thought to be the primary cause. Today, black duck populations are on the mend and Cedar Island WMA is one of Maryland's best winter habitats for these beautiful birds.