Archive for the ‘On the Road’ Category

5:17 am

Triduum Retreat in Wales

Last year, I mentioned my dissatisfaction with the way in which the Triduum liturgy was handled at sv. Tomaš and speculated that I might opt for a retreat in an English-speaking country this year instead. Well, that’s exactly what I did: I went to St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit retreat house (excuse me, "Spirituality Centre") on the coast in Wales.

St. Beuno’s was originally built as a Jesuit college, and its main claim to fame is that it was home to Gerard Manley Hopkins at the time he resumed writing poetry.

The retreat started on Wednesday and ended Monday morning. The retreat itself was silent, though not individually directed. There was also an eight-day individually directed retreat (IDR) running almost concurrently that started on Thursday. Our group met every morning with the retreat directors (Angela O’Donoghue and Damian Jackson SJ), who gave us material and ideas for prayer for the day. There were about 20 of us in the Triduum retreat and similarly about 20 in the IDR.

The liturgies were really lovely. Quite simple, but very rich, and the materials that Angela and Fr. Damian gave us were well-chosen. The only downside was that, since there’s no parish community attached (although the liturgies were attended by a number of locals who apparently prefer St. Beuno’s to their own parishes), there was no one being received for Baptism or full communion. I did miss that. Indeed, it’s the main reason I’ve never done a Triduum retreat before.

The main entrance:

The rose garden must be lovely later in the year, but it’s rather bleak this time of year. My room was the fourth pair of windows from the left on the third floor.

Looking down from the garden:

The grounds are really lovely, too. The daffodils were in bloom for Easter.

There’s a Lourdes shrine in the garden:

They’ve started installing a labyrinth. It still needs work, but it is functional.

It’s not readily apparent from this picture, but there’s a chapel atop the little tree covered hill in the background:

Getting there requires crossing a sheep pasture. The sheep do not like being disturbed, though you’d think they’d be used to it.

The chapel:

And the interior:

The surrounding countryside is mostly given over to farms and pastureland.

The ocean is barely visible:

I may well go back next Easter (although perhaps for the individually directed retreat instead).

1:55 pm

Visiting the States

I visited the States for the first time since leaving more than two years ago. It was Little Brother’s birthday, which seemed like a reasonable excuse.


Since my putative excuse for the trip was LB’s birthday, I started my visit on the Oregon coast, near Lincoln City. I made LB a seafood lasagne and blueberry cheesecake (his favorites!) for his birthday, and we just hung out. We did make one little excursion to the Rogue Brewery in Newport, where I discovered their Hazelnut Brown Nectar. That is one seriously excellent ale.


The second part of my trip took me the Bay Area, to catch up with friends and the rest of my family. There were excursions to Marin County and Sacramento for family, dinners, lunches, glasses of wine with old friends, and a few days just wandering around revisiting old haunts. I was not, alas, able to visit my favorite bookstore, Staceys, as it closed its doors for the last time before I arrived:

The California Academy of Sciences

I took one day to play tourist in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I was thinking about paying a visit to the new DeYoung Museum:

First, though, I made my way across the Music Concourse:

My destination was the new California Academy of Sciences, where I ended up spending the day.

The new Academy is significantly more expensive than the old one: $24.95 for the day’s admission. Although, since I was able to show a bus transfer as evidence that I had dutifully taken public transit to get there, I did receive a $3.00 discount. Unlike the old Academy, however, the admission price included free admission to the planetarium show. This was something of a mixed blessing. While I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to pay yet again to see the planetarium show, the fact that it was already included meant that everyone seemingly attends a show. It is necessary to have a pass, but at 10 AM, passes were available only for the last show at 4 PM.

Even though it was a weekday, this new Academy was also much more crowded than I ever remember the old one being. And it didn’t appear to be due to school field trips either: it looked as though it was mostly families.

My favorite part was the new Rain forest exhibit: four stories of flora and fauna:

Some of the birds dining on a bit of melon:

The route through the exhibit goes in an upward spiral. Looking down from the midpoint:

They very carefully control access to the exhibit to make sure that no butterflies or birds slip out when people enter and leave. On leaving, there’s an attendant at the elevator to help you check:

Another feature that I liked was the living roof: 2.5 acres planted with close to 2 million native plants.

I also attended the 4 PM Planetarium show. The old projector is gone, and with it, the silhouette of the San Francisco skyline. Instead, there is amphitheater style seating and the effect is more akin to an IMAX theater. Indeed, as with IMAX, the effect can be a little dizzying at first. I enjoyed the show.

I was particularly disappointed that the fish roundabout is gone. And, generally, I was unimpressed by the new Aquarium, though some of that undoubtedly had to do with the crowding.

They devoted a lot of exhibit space to self-congratulations on how green and sustainable the new building is. I appreciate their virtue, but I could have done without the self-righteousness!


The new cathedral, Christ the Light, which was still under construction when I had left, was recently dedicated. And so I stopped by. I have to say that I was less impressed than I expected to be. I found it rather stark and not particularly welcoming. On the other hand, my first impression of Our Lady of Lourdes, my old home parish, had been similar. It was only when I went to Mass there that I warmed to it, so I’ll reserve judgment on the cathedral until I can attend a service there.

A friend had expressed disappointment with the central image of Christ Pantokrator above the altar, saying she thought it too stern. Since that space is usually occupied by a crucifix, though, which doesn’t exactly portray a cheery Christ, that didn’t bother me.

As luck would have it though, my visit to the cathedral coincided with the tail end of the press conference in which the newly appointed bishop, Salvatore Cordileone, was introduced. And so it was that I got to see the new bishop in the flesh before most of his new flock even knew about the appointment.

Back to Prague

By the end of my two weeks in the States, though, I was starting to get homesick. While it was lovely to see family and friends and to be in familiar surroundings, it’s just not home anymore. At least not for now, it isn’t.

3:25 am

Adobe MAX Europe in Milan

I took a three-day holiday from teaching to go to Milan for Adobe MAX Europe: I was feeling the need to reconnect with my techie roots.

I had an early morning flight on Sunday, and I was amazed at how deserted the airport was:

There were also scads of posters announcing the upcoming Czech presidency of the European Union:

I knew that the sugar cube is a Czech invention (what, you didn’t know that?), but I was a little baffled that this apparently represents the Czech view of their greatest contribution to European civilization. Turns out that this sugary ad campaign has stirred a little controversy, mainly because of its slogan. "To vám osladím" translates literally as "I’ll make things sweeter for you", but is more often used in a negative sense to mean "I’ll make your life hell".

The models in these two posters are chemist Antonín Holý and architect Eva Jiřičná. There’s also a amusing TV commercial featuring Mr. Holý, Ms. Jiřičná, and the other "Faces of the Presidency".

Playing Tourist in Milan

Because it had been such an early flight, I was checked in to my hotel by 10 AM, so I had time to play tourist. I headed first for the Piazza Duomo. The Duomo (Cathedral) itself is the most striking structure on the square:

Because it is so wide relative to its height, from a distance it looked smaller than it is, but close up it is indeed huge.
One of the doors:

I arrived at the Duomo in time for 11 AM Mass, which was celebrated according to the Ambrosian rite. This change in rite was disorienting, since it was in Italian (of course), and so I couldn’t follow all of what was going on. According to the cathedral’s website, the Church in Milan defines as one of its essential tasks the preserving and defending the Ambrosian ritual. I had to turn to Wikipedia to find this description of the differences between the Ambrosian and Roman rites.

Besides the Duomo, the Piazza also features a statue of Vittorio Emmanuel (first king of the unified Italy):

The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel adjoins the Piazza Duomo. Since I’m not a recreational shopper, I wasn’t all that interested in the shops, but I did admire the looks of it:

And what must surely be one of the classiest homes for a McDonalds:

I don’t remember which church this was: I just happened across it while wandering through the streets and liked it.

The afternoon I spent at the Castello Sforzesco. It hadn’t sounded all that interesting, so I didn’t set aside a lot of time for visiting it, which was a mistake. It is home to about a dozen separate museums and exhibitions, and in the four hours I had before it closed, I was able to visit only 6. I particularly liked Musuem of Ancient Art, although the Pinacoteca is probably the most famous.

The Castello from the street:

And an approach to the courtyard:

To the right as I came in:

To the left:

And looking back the way I came in:

There’s even a statue of St. John of Nepomuk in the courtyard, which made me feel quite at home:

The Conference Itself

Sunday afternoon, I dutifully presented myself at Registration to pick up my badge and other materials, and snooped around the convention center a little. They were still getting set up:

The conference, which began on Monday, didn’t really lend itself to pictures. It was very Flash/Flex-heavy, which was fine, because that was what I was most interested in. I picked up a lot of useful hints and came away with some new ideas: now I just need to find time to implement them! I also collected a bunch of business cards, just in case I decide to go back to web development in earnest. (Yes, teaching is getting a little old by now.)

The day two keynote was fun, although the "Men in Black" theme was a little forced at times. But I’m easily amused.

Unfortunately, I forgot the charger for my cell phone. However, the folks at the Nokia booth were very kind about recharging it for me. I think all tech conferences should have a collection of cell phone rechargers hanging around. And spare USB cables, too.

I liked the Adobe bus:

8:15 am

Trip to Vienna and comparative Advent markets

I’ve heard a lot about Austrian Advent markets, and I was curious to make the comparison with the Prague markets. One of my students told me that she thinks that the Salzburg markets are much better than the ones in Vienna, so I was thinking about going there. However, it’s 5 hours by train to Salzburg, and there’s only one direct train per day from Prague, and it arrives in Salzburg after midnight. So I went to Vienna instead. Since my camera is on the blink, I bought a disposable camera, but I haven’t yet had it developed (or even used it all up), so pictures will have to wait.

Vienna itself is a pretty city, although I found it somewhat shabbier in feel than Prague. A lot of it could use, at the very least, a fresh coat of paint!

On Saturday, I visited the main market, in front of the City Hall. Like the markets in Prague, the most heavily trafficked stalls were those selling food and drink. In Prague markets, though, the non-food stalls mainly sell the usual touristy junk that you find in the souvenir shops around, for example, Old Town Square. The Viennese market, on the other hand, actually had stalls where you might reasonably buy genuine (non-souvenir) gifts.

One of the things that the Viennese markets do that I really like is when you buy a drink (coffee or hot wine or hot punch), instead of giving it to you in a paper cup, they give it to you in a mug, for which you pay a 2€ deposit. When you return the mug, you get your deposit back. Alternately, you can choose to keep your 2€ souvenir mug. However, the information booths also sell (clean) souvenir mugs for the same 2€ fee, so why put the dirty mug in your purse or bag? It put me in mind of Grandma’s adage, "Never steal a dirty ashtray".

"Never steal a dirty ashtray"

The story that Mom always told in illustration of Grandma’s adage goes like this: once she and Auntie Jo were out having lunch somewhere with Grandma, and Grandma took a liking to the ashtray. However, since all three were smokers, by the end of their meal, the ashtray was thoroughly dirty. So, when it came time to pay the bill and leave, Grandma handed the ashtray to the nice young waiter, explaining that she didn’t care to put the dirty ashtray in her purse and asking him to please bring her a clean one. The nice young waiter dutifully went away and returned shortly with a properly cleaned ashtray, which Grandma promptly stowed in her purse. Mom never said, but I do hope that they gave that waiter a healthy tip!

Since I was downtown for the market, I took advantage of the proximity to visit the Hofburg Palace as well and saw the Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum (the museum dedicated to Empress Elizabeth) and Imperial Silver Collection. I also wandered in the gardens while it snowed picturesquely on me. I think it would be lovely to visit in the Spring.

Sunday, I went to visit the Schloss Schönbrunn, which I liked even better than the Hofburg. The grounds are more expansive than the Hofburg’s, and again, would be well worth a Spring visit. When I bought my ticket to tour the palace, I hadn’t realized that there would be about a two-hour delay between the purchase and the time I would actually be allowed to enter (the tickets are stamped with the admission time). Fortunately, there was a little Advent market in front, so it wasn’t too painful to while away the time.

BTW, this posting (from another, food-specific, blog) describes the food at Prague advent markets very well. Plus, there are pictures of the market at Old Town Square.

1:34 pm

Day Trip to Dresden

In September, it had been three months since I arrived in Prague, so I needed to leave the country to "reboot" my tourist visa, and I took a little day trip to Dresden.

This is a sufficiently common trip that there are five trains a day between Prague and Dresden. After the Czech Republic joins the Schengen agreement at the end of December, I expect the popularity of trips to Dresden will fall off, since a trip to Germany will no longer suffice for non-EU citizens to restart the clock on their visas.

I found it interesting that, on the Czech side of the border, all announcements on the train were made in Czech, German and English, while on the German side of the border, announcements were made only in German and English!

Dresden is a very pretty city, although I think I’ve been jaded by Prague! Nothing really struck me as all that noteworthy. I did visit the (Lutheran) Frauenkirche:

There was a mime out front entertaining tourists waiting to enter the church:

There’s also a statue of Martin Luther in the square:

The Opera House is striking:

I also liked the Zwinger: unfortunately, since it was just a day trip, I didn’t have time to actually go inside and look at the collections:

Mostly, though, I just wandered around kind of aimlessly, taking in the sights:

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