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VBT guides Salzed & Vesely offer cultural insight on two wheels

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Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:10 am

Biking more than 50 miles in 24 hours may seem extreme, but for Zuzana Salzed and Jan Vesely, this athletic challenge is just another day at work.


As tour guides for the Vermont Biking Tour trip in the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria, Salzed and Vesely led our group of bikers through three countries in six days.


But after more than 100 miles and 144 hours, the guides have done more than repair flat tires and lead the way. The Czech Republic natives have guided a group of American tourists through a first-hand cultural and educational experience.


Doane Line reporters Amanda Bouc and Lyndsey Hrabik caught up with Salzed and Vesely for a perspective beyond two wheels.

Zuzana Salzed

At the age of three, Zuzana Salzed's life changed.

To escape communism in the Czech Republic, her family fled the European country for Canada.

More than 20 years later, Salzed returned to the Czech Republic for what was supposed to be a three-month visit, and has yet to return to the country of her childhood.

Instead, Salzed has spent the last five years living in her birth nation and working as a biking guide for the Vermont Biking Tours company.

It was this double-country citizenship that made Salzed bilingual, in both English and Czech.

"English is actually my second language but because I grew up there (in Canada) for 20 years, that is my stronger language," Salzed said.

In Canada, students are required to learn French, and because English was the predominantly used language in the area, it also became a necessity to understand. The Czech language, she explained, was learned in the household.

"I have two languages that were kind of given to me for free," Salzed said.

In Europe, she explained that there was an emphasis on learning multiple languages, mostly for geographical purposes. As a result, Salzed is expanding her vocabulary even further and is learning German and Spanish.

"Because our borders are neighboring like five other countries you learn other languages in school, but in Canada and the United States, they don't promote it because you don't need it. Everything is in English," she said.

It was this difference in language and education that Salzed said she believed to be the biggest difference between European countries and the United States.

"In Europe they used to have a higher standard of education where kids were learning a lot of different subjects at a higher level, in comparison to Canada and the United States," she said.

Contributing to the difference was the way the education system flowed, she said. Salzed explained that in Europe, most school is free, including higher education at the public universities. Because of the financial assistance, she said most Europeans stayed in the education system until about the age of 26.

Though she is yet to be fluent in four languages, the two she can speak come with ease, allowing Salzed to switch languages from sentence to sentence.

"It's automatic," she said. "I can do it now without thinking."

Beyond teaching the Doane VBT group a few Czech phrases, Salzed provided insight into the European way of life. The beautiful and scenic countryside, she said, were something she had become so familiar with that the scenic view lost a bit of its luster.

"That's what happens with time," she said. "When you see it (the landscape) for the first time you are going to be blown away, but after the 200th time, you still enjoy it, but it doesn't shock me anymore."

Jan Vesely

Five years ago, Jan Vesely was a student in Prague.



That meant that he knew not only the Czech language, but also English and German.


Now, Vesely uses his English to lead biking tours for the Vermont Biking Tour (VBT) company in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic for mostly Americans.


Vesely was born and raised in Prague. He said that in the Czech Republic, students started learning either German or English in sixth grade.


"You can choose from either German or English, and then you can add the second language a little later in high school," Vesely said.


He said that English would be more useful than the German, so he learned that first.


"It's a little more useful than German because it's really like a world language," Vesely said.


He said that working with VBT improved his English.


Vesely said he knew Americans before working with VBT. He said he had not necessarily stereotyped Americans. He spent time in Alaska and said that they were friendly and hospitable people.


He has worked with many American groups over the course of five years. The biking tours run from April to October, and Vesely is coming close to running the route 50 times. Guides normally work two weeks in a row and have one week off.


Vesely said that even in his time off he liked to bike. Otherwise, he said he enjoyed other activities like wind surfing and skiing.


For now, Vesely said he would continue to work on biking tours at VBT. He said he plans to go back to school to study chemical engineering.

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