Sunday, November 29, 2015

7th Annual Czechsgiving

Yesterday was our 7th annual Thanksgiving celebration.  After all these years it's about time to just call it Czechsgiving.  Hard to believe that it's been seven years since our first Thanksgiving here in Brno.

Tünde helping make devil's eggs 

I surprised everyone when I announced that this would be my last Thanksgiving here.  Actually most were shocked but then relieved when they found out that it is just the last one here in my flat.

It was a great time getting to enjoy the day with everyone.  The guest list seems to increase each year as we have more and more kids joining us.

Here's a short video that Vilém made.

Friday, November 27, 2015

My 1st Czech Black Friday

Today was another first.  After six years here I didn't think I would still be having "firsts" but here we are.  I experienced my first Czech "Black Friday".

In the USA, Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November.  The day after is called Black Friday. It's not a real holiday.  It is considered the start of the Christmas shopping season.  Most of the major retailers open very early and offer crazy promotional sales.  It's not unheard of for people to get in line in front of the store the night before so as to get in the store first.  Personally, I'm not a fan and have never gone Black Friday shopping.

Well today was my first but to be honest it wasn't intentional.  Tomorrow is "Czechsgiving" so Claudia and I went to Tesco at Královo Pole for groceries.  I also wanted to pick up Tünde's Christmas present.  It looks like Santa is going to bring her a keyboard and microphone this year.  It makes noise so I'm sure she'll love it.

I could not believe the line of people inside the store to buy electronics.  It was insane.  This Black Friday nonsense is definitely something that I hope doesn't really catch on over here. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

First Brno Snow 2015

This morning I woke up to the first Brno snow of 2015.

Looks like it will be a white Thanksgiving this year.

I am going to miss this view when I move.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Time to Move On

Looks like I will be moving.  My landlords asked for a meeting so they come over this evening and dropped a bomb on me.  They let me know that although I have been a great tenant for the past six years, they were sorry to inform me that they would not be able to renew my lease next year.

This flat is the only place I've had in Brno.  I've been here for the last six years.  When I moved in, back in 2009, their oldest son was in high school.  Well now he has finished university and needs a place to live.

My landlords have been great.  I've never had any difficulty with them.  They've never even raised the rent.  They were quite apologetic and I believe that they've appreciated having me as a tenant.  Under Czech law, unless mutually agreed to by both the landlord and tenant, a three month notice is required.  My current lease expires at the end of March so I now have four months to move.

Truth be told, I kind of had a gut feeling that this would be coming sometime soon.  The downside is that I've been spoiled and now need to try to find a new flat.  I doubt that I'll find a place with the same view.  So it looks like this Saturday will be the last Czechsgiving at Sokolská. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Madrid, Spain

Madrid is the capital of Spain.  With 3,2 million residents it is the third-largest city in the EU after London and Berlin.  However the greater metro area is home to about 6,5 million people.

Madrid was founded in the 9th century.  The Spanish Constitution in 1931 established the city as the state capital.  The city was confirmed as the national capital in the 1978 constitution.

The Puerta del Sol was one of the city wall gates that surrounded the city in the 15th century.  Today it is one of the busiest public squares.

In the square is the centre of Spain.  The kilometre cero is baseline for distance in the country.

The Palacio de Cibeles opened in 1919 as the home of the Spanish postal and telecommunications service.  Since 2007 it the seat of the Madrid City Council.

The Puerta de Alcalá was inaugurated in 1778.  As the the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch built in Europe it is older than Paris' Arc de Triomphe or Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

The Templo de Debod is an Egyptian temple dating back 2200 years ago.  It was devoted to the cults who worshipped the Egyptian gods Amun and Isis.  Egypt donated the temple to Spain in 1968 in gratitude for help with rescuing another temple.

The Plaza de Villa is the oldest plaza in Madrid and is in the heart of the 16th century district.  The Casa del la Villa is the old town hall.

At the Plaza de España is the monument to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.  Most of the monument was built from 1925-1930 but it wasn't completed until 1957.

El Retiro is one of the Madrid's largest parks.  It belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century when it became a public park.  It is home to the Alfonso XII monument.

Plaza Mayor is another of the city's central squares.  The statue of Philip III dates back to 1616 and was moved here in 1848.  The square has been used for everything from markets to bullfights.  During the Spanish Inquisition many supposed heretics were executed here.

The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family but they don't actually live here.  It is only used for state ceremonies.  The palace was first occupied in 1764.  The palace is huge and has 3,418 rooms.  By floor area it is the largest royal palace in Europe.

Santa María la Real de La Almudena is Madrid's Catholic cathedral and sits opposite the Royal Palace.  Pope John Paul II consecrated it in 1993.

Restaurante Botín is the oldest restaurant in the world.  It opened in 1725 and has been operating ever since.  The original 18th century firewood oven is still used.

The thing to remember about restaurants in Madrid is that people eat late.  Going out for dinner at 10 or 11 pm is pretty normal.

The Prado Museum
Madrid has some great museums.  I've always wanted to visit the Prado Museum so I got to tick another item off of my bucket list.  It is the national museum featuring pre-20th century art with works dating from the 12th century.

The Reina Sofia Museum
The Reina Sofia Museum is Spain's national museum of 20th century art.  It was inaugurated in 1992 and is mainly dedicated to Spanish art with plenty of works by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

During the Spanish Civil War, from 1936-1939, Madrid became the first European city to be bombed by airplanes.

At Reina Sofia is Guernica by Pablo Picasso who in 1937 painted what is considered by many people to be one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history.  The mural was in response to the bombing of Guernica in northern Spain.  Spanish Nationalists under General Francisco Franco requested Nazi German and Fascist Italian warplanes to bomb the Basque village.  The experience allowed the Nazi Luftwaffe to perfect its Blitzkrieg strategy during WWII.

I knew that I would enjoy a long weekend in Madrid but I had no idea of just how much.  In four days I was barely able to scratch the surface.  A return visit is definitely needed.  Here's a Rick Steves video I found out on YouTube that gives way more highlights.

©Rick Steves

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

17 November

Today is a public holiday in Czechland.  November 17 is Den boje za svobodu a demokracii - Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.  Today commemorates the student demonstration against Nazi occupation in 1939, and the demonstration in 1989 that started the Velvet Revolution which brought an end to 40 years of communism in Czechoslovakia.

To celebrate today, I got to spend some godfather time with Tünde and we went to the movies with Claudia.  We saw Snoopy and Charlie Brown:  A Peanuts Movie.  Well actually we saw Snoopy a Charlie Brown.  Peanuts ve filmu because we saw the Czech version.

I found the Czech language movie trailer on YouTube so everyone can have a taste of what I got to sit through.  At least Tünde loved it which is all that matters.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Possible Carpal Tunnel

So back in September I sprained my wrist a bit in a tragic drunk potato sack race.  I figured a bit of ice and some rest and everything would be fine.  Well it hasn't really gotten any better.  In fact, depending on what I'm doing it freakin' hurts like hell.  Still.

Well I figured enough time has gone by that it's time to go see the doctor.  I called on Monday and got an appointment with my GP for first thing this morning.  I saw the doctor and she referred me to the local emergency room for some x-rays.  The good news is that I didn't break anything.  The ER doctor wrapped up my hand and said that it's most likely Carpal Tunnel.

The last time I really dealt with the doctor there was this 30 Kč ($1.25) deductible and I needed to buy a ticket.  I looked for the machine but couldn't find it.  Apparently the government did away with that a couple of years ago.  Cool.

I was given a choice.  I could go deal with a Czech speaking neurologist to get tested for Carpal Tunnel.  Or there is an English speaking neurologist who visits my GP's office once every two weeks.  I've opted to hold out two weeks to meet with the English speaking doctor.

So bottom line is that today I saw my primary care physician, went to the emergency room, had x-rays, and got wrapped up by the ER doctor.  I also have an appointment with an English speaking neurologist in a couple of weeks.  And it did not cost me a single penny.  You've got to love socialised health care!!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Care Package Time

It's always a great day when you get care packages from home.  Thanks Mom!!!

A box full of goodies, mostly for my upcoming Czechsgiving dinner.

But care packages do go the other way too.  I've boxed up some Czech treats, plus gifts from my travels this year, for my niece and nephew.  Now that it is all boxed up I just need to take it to the post office this week.

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Interns

Three chaps in my project office are Jakub, Ján, and Ladislav.  They have each been assigned a new student intern.  The interns' names are also Jakub, Ján, and Ladislav.  OK, what a coincidence.

But the boys aren't going to make it easy for me this semester.  Rather than mix people up, Jakub is with Jakub, Ján has Ján, and Laďa is with Laďa.  I swear that I can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Crete and Cyprus Holiday

The last two weeks in Crete and Cyprus were great.  The first stop was Heraklion, Crete.

What's left of the operations station

The last time I was in Crete was during my last assignment in the U.S. Air Force back in 1993.  Iraklion Air Station closed closed in 1994 so it was surreal seeing the remains.  Walking around what was left of the base felt like a scene from home zombie apocalypse movie.

This was the very end of the tourist season so it wasn't too crowded and it felt like we had the island to ourselves.  The weather was still nice which made for some well needed beach time.

When I lived in Greece before I was able to get by with basic survival Greek.  A couple of times my Czech messed with me here.  In Czech, ne means "no" but in Greek nαί means "yes".  So a few times I told a local "yes" when I wanted to say "no".  

After a relaxing time in Crete it was off to Cyprus.  My 55th country in just over 6 years.  Again, a nice relaxing time.  The biggest challenge was striking a balance between sightseeing and just laying out at the beach.  First world problems.

We enjoyed our time in Larnaca and visiting Nicosia, Pafos, Famagusta and the Kykkos Monastery.
The last divided capital in Europe

It was quite interesting visiting Northern Cyprus as well.  It seemed odd crossing between Turkish North Nicosia and the Greek southern side.

Things are so divided by ethnic lines but it seems to me that Greece and Turkey just keep fanning the flames.

At a North Cyprus police station
One thing that bothered me was the display of flags.  I mean it makes perfect sense in Cyprus, in the south, to fly the Cypriot flag.  And it makes sense in the north to fly the northern flag.  But no where on the island did I ever see a flag flown on its own.  In the south, the Cypriot flag is always flown next to a Greek flag.  And in the north, the flag is always flown next to a Turkish flag.

Larnaca Town Hall
For example, the Larnaca town hall displayed the Cypriot and EU flags but also the Greek flag.  What sense does it make for a town hall in one country to fly the flag of another country?  Continual divide along ethnic lines isn't going to bring about a united Cyprus any time soon.

Overall a great two-week holiday.  I wasn't ready to leave the sun and beach but it was time to get back to Czechland.  After visiting Cyprus I've now been to every country in Europe except for Belarus.  Hmmm...perhaps next year.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kykkos and Kakopetria Tour, Cyprus

©Lonely Planet
On Thursday we had an 8,5 hour bus tour to visit Kykkos and Kakopetria.  We rode through the Troodos Mountains which is the longest mountain range in Cyprus.

At Throni Hill is the tomb of Archbishop Makarios III who was the first president of Cyprus.  At the entrance there's a massive statue of him.  Apparently it used to be at the Archbishop's Palace in Nicosia but some felt it was too large for there so it was moved here in 2008.

The actual tomb is in a guarded cave at the top of the hill.

There are nice views of the mountains and pine forest.  

The Holy Monastery of the Virgin of Kykkos is 3 km (about 2 miles) east of the tomb.  The monastery was founded in 1092 by the Byzantines.  This is where Archbishop Makarios III began his ecclesiastical career as a monk in 1926.

The monastery is the richest on the island and possesses one of the three surviving icons from Saint Luke.

The orthodox church is very ornate and well worth a visit to see all of the icons.  The icon of the Virgin Mary is the main attraction.  There's no photography allowed inside but I managed to sneak a quick pic.

Our next visit was to the small town of Kakopetria which is about 55 km (34 miles) from Nicosia.  It is home to about 1200 people.

The Stone of the Couple is kind of an odd landmark.  According to local legend, newlyweds are supposed to walk around and then sit on the rock.  This is supposed to bring a happy marriage.  However, the stone actually crushed a couple who were performing the traditional ritual. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Famagusta & Salamis Tour, Northern Cyprus

On Wednesday we had a bus tour to visit Salamis and Famagusta in Northern Cyprus.

Salamis is an ancient city that was founded after the Trojan War.  This was the first stop that St. Paul made on his first missionary journey.

It had been the capital of Cyprus back around 1100 BC.  Over time it had been ruled by the Persians, Egyptians, Assyrians and Romans.  It was partially destroyed by earthquakes and tidal waves.

It was completely lost during an Arab invasion in around 674 AD.  Salamis was looted over the next 600 years as basically a quarry.  Looting pretty much continued until 1952 when it became a proper archeological site.

Many of the pagan and Roman statues were defaced in 400 AD during the Christian period.

The ancient theatre has a seating capacity of 15,000.

Church of St. Barnabas
When Salamis was lost most of the residents moved 9 km (~5 miles) south to Famagusta.

On the way to Famagusta is the Church of Saint Barnabas which until 1976 was a working monastery.

The church is now an icon museum and there is also a small archaeological museum.

Saint Barnabas founded the Cypriot Orthodox Church and the country's patron saint.  He was martyred in 52 AD.  There is a small mausoleum built on the site where his remains were discovered. The tomb was renovated in 1953.

Famagusta was founded in 274 BC and has a population of about 41,000.  It was founded around 274 BC and I think it's the 4th largest city on Cyprus.  In Turkish it is called Gazimaǧusa and in Greek it is Αμμόχωστος (pronounced Ammochostos).
St. Francis Church

Legend has it that the city used to have one church for every day of the year which is why the old town is nicknamed "the city of 365 churches."
St. George's Church

However today most of them have fallen in to disrepair.

Sinan Pasha Mosque

The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul dates back to 1359.  In 1571 it was converted to the Sinan Pasha Mosque.

After Cyprus gained independence the Famagusta's Varosha suburb became one of the best known jet set vacation destinations.   

Varosha, (Βαρώσια in Greek and Maraş in Turkish), was an economic center and had more than 50% of the island's hotels until the 1974 Turkish invasion.

During the invasion Greek Cypriots evacuated.  Most probably believed that they would be able to return in a few days.

The Turks fenced off the quarter and entry is still forbidden to the public.  It's basically a ghost town now.  Photography is prohibited which is odd considering it sits on a beautiful beach.