Prague - Czech it Out!
Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
31Trip End Ongoing
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Speaking of dogs, I was sitting next to a dog named Jack on my flight from JFK (New York) to Zürich, Switzerland
When I left New York it was 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 C), sunny and humid; when we landed in Zürich it was 53 degrees Fahrenheit (12 C), cloudy and humid (aka – raining)
Basel Zoo published the first edition of the pygmy hippo Studbook in 1975 (the year I was born!), and have kept impeccable records ever since (would you expect anything less? These are the Swiss we are talking about)
The Basel Zoo is quite a nice place, tucked away right in the heart of the city. Despite being significantly smaller than the Bronx Zoo, their animal collection was definitely “better” – they not only have pygmy hippos but also common (large) hippos as well as cheetahs and African wild dogs, two of my other favorite animals. And yes, Tracy, they had snow leopards, too! I stayed in the zoo Gasthaus, from which I could hear the lions roaring at night as if we were somewhere in the wilds of Africa. There were two young college students staying in the Gasthaus as well and they were quite frightened by the lions roaring. I assured them that if the wild lions in Botswana had walked right by my tent without ripping it open and eating me, these zoo lions were very unlikely to escape their enclosure, break into our building, and eat us for dinner.
I only had a very small amount of time to actually see the zoo, as I had to read over 200 necropsy reports and make a spreadsheet to organize all the data (in two days)
After a short but productive visit to Basel my friend Peter picked me up and we drove to Zug, where I was staying for a few days with some old family friends, Hans and Dagmar, who have known my parents since before I was even born. Peter is from Prague but lives with his wife and their three angelic children in Zürich. I say angelic because I don’t think I have ever seen kids with blonder hair in my life, it’s like they have glowing whitish gold halos on their heads
After being dropped off in Zug I was treated to a lovely traditional Swiss meal by Hans and Dagmar. We had meat fondue, where you cook your pieces of beef or lamb in boiling hot oil on the end of a skewer and you eat it with all kinds of amazing dipping sauces and salads. It was super-yummy, and we sat outside on their balcony overlooking the mountains (which we couldn’t see the tops of due to continuously cloudy weather) and enjoying a nice glass of red wine. The next day was Sunday and we took a trip around the Zugersee (Zug Lake) to admire the beautiful Swiss countryside and idyllic villages with half-timbered houses lining the waterfront. We were quite lucky with the weather, it was even sunny for a few hours, and we sat by the water drinking Aperol (a type of champagne cocktail) and enjoying the gorgeous views. That evening Dagmar prepared Spätzle, another traditional southern German and Swiss food item, and it was delicious!
It was so nice to be back in Europe after such a long absence (my last trip to Germany was in 2006), and to enjoy all the little things that make this part of the world my home
On Monday Sept 16th I flew from Zürich to Prague to attend the World Veterinary Congress (WVC). Our Swiss Airlines aircraft looked a lot like it was left over from the Second World War, which isn’t actually possible since the Swiss didn’t participate in WWII. I sat next to an American woman (she fortunately did not have a dog with her) who was on a business trip. She was coming from San Francisco (where it was apparently much warmer than in Switzerland) and was wearing a very short, sleeveless sundress and flip-flops. When the flight attendants brought us our refreshments (on our short 45-minute flight we only received water and/or juice), she immediately spilled her juice all over her dress. After getting over the initial shock that it wasn’t me who spilled something and furthermore that this spillage was in no way my fault, I quickly started to help her clean up the sticky juice
Two years ago I was at the WVC in Cape Town, and I won a drawing for free registration at this conference, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up (registration fees are around US $1000 for the week-long event). Even more fortuitous is that I have a good friend in Prague, Tomas, so I didn’t even have to worry about a hotel. Hotel Pecha (that’s Tom’s last name) was really five-star quality, with a full breakfast service every morning and Becherovka (a traditional Czech liqueur) aperitif in the evenings. The first day of the conference I attended the Opening Ceremony where they gave us sparkling wine at 10:00am and we listed to a series of interesting presentation and watched some films about the veterinary profession in the Czech Republic. There was even a real dog in the ceremony; when he walked across the stage almost every single person took out their smart phone and started taking pictures of him
I would not be surprised if there was someone from every country on earth in attendance at this conference. There were at least a few thousand people there, and everyone’s country of origin was printed on their name badge so it was fascinating to see people from literally everywhere; Algeria to Iceland, Angola to India, Argentina to Indonesia; Libya to Lebanon; Bolivia to Bulgaria. I think you get the point. Although such conferences generally do a good job of making me feel lost in a sea of people who are smarter, more accomplished, and more experienced than I am, seeing all the amazing things veterinarians do to help animals all over the planet also makes me very proud of my profession. The Conference Center in Prague is also in a great location overlooking the beautiful red roofs of the old city and Prague Castle in the distance. The only bad thing was that it rained pretty much every day and was ridiculously cold for September, but luckily the conference was held indoors.
In the evenings Tom and I would head into downtown and find various entertaining things to do. One night we ate dinner at a place with a “caveman” theme; there were saber-tooth tiger skins on the walls, and there was even wooly mammoth on the menu (cryopreserved for millions of years and then reheated over the open fire with a touch of garlic). A different night at a traditional Czech restaurant I was served a mountain of salad and a giant portion of risotto, enough to feed a wooly mammoth
One evening we went to an exhibition called the “Invisible Man,” where one learns a bit about what it’s like to be blind. I am sure there is a politically correct term I should be using here, like “sight-challenged” or something, but I think blind means being able to see absolutely nothing, and that’s what we experienced. There is a display area where you get to see all the different accouterments available to make the lives of blind people easier, and then you go on a tour with a blind guide
On Friday afternoon I went to the Prague Zoo, which is located just outside the city in a beautiful park. It rained almost every day I was in the Czech Republic, and Friday was no exception, but at least it was sunny part of the time. The zoo is huge, and you can walk for kilometers with stunning views out over the river and the city in the distance. In 2002 there was major flooding on the Vlatava River (and all over Europe) and it damaged a large part of the zoo; unfortunately several animals even drowned and they had to euthanize many more. In May of this year there was less severe flooding, but it did affect the zoo again (no animal losses this time) and now they are relocating the lower-lying parts of the zoo to other areas
Friday evening we took the tram back downtown and enjoyed a moonlit walk over the famous Charles Bridge (which crosses the Vlatava River). It was one of the few non-rainy evenings during my week in the Czech Republic, and it happened to be full moon, so it was quite beautiful. Along the way we found a bakery that specialized in gingerbread and marzipan creations, and they even had a little marzipan hippopotamus! Of course I purchased it and am now tasked with transporting it back to Australia without squishing it. I am considering Czech-ing myself into a rehab center when I get back to Perth; my hippopotamus problem (obsession, some might say?) might be getting a bit out of control.