Paula Swenson

Travel Writing

Autumn: Sunshine/Mist/Rain/Sunshine . . .


About 3 weeks ago autumn arrived in our corner of the Czech Republic overnight.  The weather had been mild and mostly sunny, with the occasional thunderstorm, and then one morning we awoke to cold, sharp wind and a slate-blue cloud cover that promised chilly rain.  We went from shirtsleeve weather to sweaters and jackets in about 12 hours.  The upside: it’s beautiful!

First, we noticed that the greens had muted and were providing a soft backdrop to show off the bright autumn fruits – the brilliant orange-reds of the mountain ash berries, ruby-red rose hips and blushing apples ranging from soft rose through deep garnet. 

Next, the color drained from the majestic chestnut trees, whose leaves dry to a rusty brown punctuated by the bright spiky green of the husks protecting the nuts.  A gust of wind changes the tree to Mother Nature’s own crazed piñata, hurling the spiky pods to the ground where they split open freeing the mahogany-hued nuts inside. Toddlers, school kids, old folks, everyone rushes to gather the shiny nuts as they spill across the pavement, the grass, the riverbank . . .

In the countryside of east Bohemia, stands of trees resemble clusters of green candles the tips alight with yellow orange flames . . . and occasionally a whole tree has caught “fire” blazing bright against the fading green of its fellows.  As the nighttime temps sink closer to the freezing mark, the hardy maples start to flicker tips of orange and the hard freeze predicted for this week should set them ablaze.

The days alternate — first a few superbly sunny ones filled with golden light and that winy autumn air redolent of ripening apples, falling leaves and a touch of wood smoke; then a few rainy ones, autumn drizzle and that curious mixture of dark skies and golden leaves that seem to glow from within.

We are enjoying this autumn extravaganza, after so many years in places without dramatic fall weather.  We are also falling even more in love with our little town of Litomyšl.  Any town can be lovely in summer, with outdoor concerts, flowerboxes, beer gardens and sidewalk cafes, what’s not to like?  But as the days grow shorter and the nights turn quite cool is it still a charming place to be?  In short, yes.  Of course the lovely fall foliage helps, and the trees heavy with apples and pears, the gardens with dahlias the size of dinner plates, all these things are pleasing to the eye. 

Still, it’s dark now when the alarm goes off most mornings, and we head off to teach in the grey drizzle or ride a train through foggy morning fields to teach in another town.  Nevertheless we feel quite cheerful, perhaps because with the darkness closing in, our town feels quite cozy.  People are still friendly, the cafes and pubs are crowded in pleasant way, a bakery door opens and a rush of tempting aromas lures you inside. Chalkboards outside the numerous flower shops say “Boris” “Stanislava” “Michal” each day to remind passers-by of who is celebrating their name-day today. Children collect brightly colored leaves by the riverbank, and race their bikes across the wet cobblestones to grandma’s house for fresh-bakes cookies after school.

I suppose it is a bit like returning to the world of our childhood, without having to surrender our high-speed Internet, laptop and iPods.  Sure, it isn’t perfect, but then, what is?   When the wait between train and bus seems too long, at the end of my one long teaching day, I buy myself a pastry and a hot chocolate and think about all the hours I’ve squandered in traffic jams on I-5, then I look out the window at the falling leaves and the lovely old buildings and I wait patiently, knowing that, really, I am in no hurry, there is plenty of time, and every moment counts. 

~ © Paula Swenson — this piece was written in October 2008 for a travel e-newsletter, for more examples of travel writing, see the Archives under Travel.

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  1. Hello! I’ll be travelling throught europe this summer alone. And im a bit apprehensive. Ive been through so many sites and pored over so many travel books, but im still a bit worried about wheather i will be able to manage by myself. Ive never travelled alone actually. I was thinking of going through, Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic, Greece, Spain and Portugal…I know they are all spread out and theres a lot of travel involved in between them, but I’d like to see if I can make this plan work. Please let me know If you have any suggestions for me as you seem experienced at travel. Thank you!

  2. Hi Rohita, Sounds like you have a great trip in mind! If you have the time to do it, it will be a wonderful experience. I’ll be happy to send you some suggestions via email.

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