Thursday, November 26, 2009

Litovel

There are lots of really good beers in this country. And I'm sure that it will take me forever to try all of them.

The brewery in Litovel, located near Olomouc, has been making beer in Moravia since 1893. But the city's beer making tradition dates back to 1291.

Litovel has a sweet smell with soft aromatic bitterness and a medium fullness. I'm not saying that it's the best beer in the Czech Republic...but I have enjoyed it on draft here a couple of times.

Here's one of the beer's commercials. Again, this way my family back home can hear what spoken Czech sounds like.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

IKEA

So continuing with my Swedish theme...we have IKEA here in Brno. For those of you that don't know, IKEA is the Swedish furniture & accessories store. You'll find lots of modern stuff and everything is do-it-yourself. It's fun to go there but it is always crowded and I normally spend way too much money there.

It is located just outside of Brno at the Avion Shopping Park. There are free shuttle busses that run from Úzká, in front of Galerie Vaňkovka, to Avion every day and the shuttle bus only takes about 10 - 15 minutes to get there. They are convenient...but not when you want to buy large items.

One of the best things about IKEA is that it is the only place in Brno where you can get, what I consider to be, a normal hot dog.

Czech hot dogs, párek v rohliku, are just different. In Czech Republic (and Slovakia) they basically steam open a roll, squirt ketchup or mustard down inside of the roll and stick the hot dog down inside.

Claudia & I went to IKEA on Sunday to pick up a few more things for Thanksgiving. And I had no problem at all going in to the store with a bottle of pickle relish, that Mom had sent me, in my backpack. I know that some of the people there must have thought we were crazy. But who cares? Because we sure had the best hot dogs for 10 Kč (~60¢) each.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vasa Museum

Located on the island of Djurgården, Vasamuseet (The Vasa Museum) is the most visited museum in Scandinavia.








Opened in 1990, the museum houses the warship Vasa - the world's only remaining, intact 17th century ship.

Vasa was salvaged in 1961 and is the largest wooden ship ever raised. It is 95% original.








Vasa was to be the world's mightiest warship, armed with 64 guns on two gundecks. Unfortunately, on August 10, 1628, she had a bad maiden voyage. The ship set sail, fired a salute, and after a few minutes she began to heel over. Vasa only sailed 1,500 meters (+4,900 feet) before she sunk to the bottom of Stockholm Harbour. Vasa remained underwater for 333 years.

Inquiries concluded that the ship had been well built - although, badly proportioned.

The museum was very interesting and the ship is huge. It's amazing that Vasa has over 100 incredibly intricate carvings. Click on these pictures to see them better. More pictures are already posted on Flickr.

Absolut Icebar

One of the things we really wanted to do in Stockholm was to go see the Absolut Icebar. Yes, I know, it is a very touristy thing to do. But now I can say I've done it.

Twice a year, the bar's interior is replaced with fresh ice and is given a new concept. We went just two weeks after the "factory" theme was unveiled complete with cogwheel chairs, ice pipes, and industrial house music.

There was even a conveyer belt for the vodka and you drink out of ice glasses.

The interior is kept at -5ºC (23ºF) and you are given a parka and gloves to wear when you go in.

The entrance fee is 145 SEK (~$23) but that does include one beverage. Once you're in you can stay as long as you want but the cold does wear on you after a while. It felt really good once we left and got a drink to help warm us up.

More pictues are already posted on Flickr.

Stockholm, Sweden

Last weekend was the much anticipated trip to Sweden. I went with Janelle, Marcus and like 30 other IBMers from Bratislava. This was also my first time with Ryanair but that's a later post.

We flew out of Bratislava and landed in Skavsta which is about 1.5 hours away from Stockholm. By the time we got to the hotel it was around 9 pm, so we just went to Old Town for dinner and to walk around. This was not a late night because we only had about 2.5 days to see as much as possible. By 3:30 pm it started getting dark and by 5 pm it felt more like 11 pm. I need to go back in the summertime when the city gets around 18 hours of daylight.

Stockholm is an amazingly beautiful city with lots of parks and green spaces. It is built on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, and home to around 2 million people. Getting around is very easy on the metro and buses. An unlimited 72-hour transit pass was just 200 SEK. The only drawback is that everything is tragically expensive. €1 = 10 Swedish Crowns (~$1.50). A cocktail was anywhere from €10 - 15 - YIKES! But that's also because the government taxes alcohol heavily. It's a good thing we bought vodka at the duty free store in the airport.
On Sunday morning a group of us went to the Vasa Museum which was very cool. Later on, Janelle, Marcus and I jumped on a ferry across one of the waterways and went off to explore the city. That night we went to check out the Absolut Icebar. It was very touristy but one of those things that you just have to do once.

Monday was another day of pictures and enjoying the city. While on vacation, I'm all about trying different food. Some folks were happy to grab McDonald's but not the three of us because you can get that anywhere. We had some good Mexican and Thai food which you can't get here everyday. And we found a Boston-Irish themed pub that had hot wings with blue cheese dressing. Beer & Wings = SCORE!! We really wanted some sushi and Marcus wanted to try elk, but neither of those happened.

However, one of the best things was that they have 7-11 in Sweden. Who the hell would think that I could get so excited about going to 7-11? But they have real hot dogs there. I still haven't written yet about hot dogs in Czech Republic but let's just say that we tore up some hot dogs in Sweden.

Again, Stockholm was absolutely beautiful and very clean for a capital city. The people were all nice and everyone spoke English. This is definitely a city that I could see myself living in one day. Lots more pictures are already up on Flickr.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day

Today is November 17th and it is a state holiday for the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day (Den boje studentů za svobodu a demokracii).

Today commemorates the 20th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 which marked the beginning of the end for Czechoslovakia's communist regime.

But I found out that there's more to it. On October 28, 1939, there were anti-Nazi demonstrations and riots in Prague to protest the occupation of Czechsolovakia. One of the student protesters, Jan Opletal, was shot and later died. His funeral on November 15, turned into another anti-Nazi demonstration. As punishment, the Nazis closed all Czech universities and colleges, sent 1,200 students to concentration camps and had 9 students executed on November 17th.

Fifty years later, in 1989, there was a legal rally to commemorate Jan Opletal's death. However, it quickly turned into a demonstration demanding the resignation of the communist regime. Riot police were sent in and brutally beat the students. The public was so outraged that they went on strike. With more and more people attending the demonstrations and with governments falling in Russia, Poland, Hungary and East Germany, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced it would step down on November 28th.

As a result, in June 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946 and had its first non-communist government in over 40 years.

video
I found this video montage of some of the riots out on YouTube. Very powerful stuff!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

St. Martin’s Day

Yesterday, November 11th, was St. Martin's Day. It's not a holiday but people look forward to it, all across the country, because it means that the young wine from South Moravia is now available. Remember that Brno is the capital of Moravia.
Only the best wines can receive the distinction of "Svatomartinské víno" - St. Martin's wine.

The young wine has a short aging time so it has a light, and slightly acidic taste. But it's easy to drink. However, it does not age well. Hmmm...maybe we should pick some up for Thanksgiving???

Monday, November 9, 2009

20th Anniversary - The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Today is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall. On November 9, 1989, the most potent symbol of the Cold War came down.

1989 was a year of change in Eastern Europe. The first free labor union was founded in Poland...Hungary opened its border with Austria...East Germany finally unraveled.

Then after the wall came down, Czechs and Slovaks took to the streets to demand reforms in Czechoslovakia in what became known as the Velvet Revolution.

By December 1989, the government was overthrown in Romania. Eventually, the communist parties in Bulgaria and Albania also ceded power.

I grew up in the USA during the Cold War. Who would have thought that I would one day live in Eastern Europe? It's amazing to think of how much the world has changed in the last 20 years.

My friend Claudia grew up in East Berlin. If the Berlin Wall had not come down then she probably would have never learned English, nor been an exchange student in Atlanta; much less work for IBM in the Czech Republic.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Portsmouth, Bonfires and Remembrance Day

On Monday I went on a business trip to Portsmouth, UK. The city is on the south coast of England about 1.5 hours from London. Portsmouth is the 11th largest urban area in England and home to the world's oldest dry dock still in use. I didn't get to see much of the city because I was in meetings all week but it did seem like a pretty nice area. I'm going back in February so hopefully I'll get a chance to see more then.

The only bummer was the all day travel...a ČSA flight from Brno to Prague, another flight from Prague to London, and then a couple of hours in a car to Portsmouth. I spent more time hanging out in airports then I actually did flying.
November 5th was Guy Fawkes Day, also known as Bonfire Night, and it commemorates the unsuccessful plot to blow up Parliament in 1605. It's kind of funny to me that they celebrate a guy who failed at something. But I did get to see some of the fireworks from my hotel room.

"Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."

Almost everyone in the UK wore a poppy pin on their lapels. The Royal British Legion provides the pins, for donations, in memory of the country's fallen service men and women from the two world wars. Remembrance Day is officially on 11 November at 11 AM but the main observance is a two-minute silence observed on the second Sunday in November.

Halloween 2009

Let me tell you how tough it is to find a Halloween costume in a country where they don't celebrate Halloween. Fortunately, one of my Czech colleagues helped me find a costume store in Brno where I was able to rent a costume.

The shop owner didn't speak English but luckily for me she spoke enough German that we could understand each other. I didn't have a lot of options to choose from but my convict costume only cost me 150 Kč (~ $8.60) for a week's rental.

The U.S. Marines in Bratislava threw a Halloween party last weekend. Their house is up on the hill in Koliba which is the posh part of town. We knew that the party would be fun but the thing we were all really looking forward to was having to get across town in costumes, with everyone looking as us like we're crazy. Of course, they tend to look at us like that anyway.

Naturally the party was fun and after we headed towards the Presidentka pub which has kind of turned in to one of our haunts. Click on any of these pics to better see them and there are lots more already posted on Flickr.

Hrad Devin & Old Town Bratislava

Halloween weekend was my fourth trip to Bratislava but the first time I've actually had the chance to see anything. Marcus & Janelle took me to see Devin Castle which is about a 20 minute bus ride from the city.

Hrad Devin is one of the three oldest castles in Slovakia. The castle is a ruin, destroyed by Napolean in 1809, so you can't actually go inside. The ruins overlook where the Danube and Morava rivers meet and you can see Austria across the water.

During the Cold War, this was one of the closest points to the west where many people tried to escape. Before you enter the castle grounds you come to monument remembering those who died trying to make it across.

After Devin, we walked through Old Town to take pictures. There is some very pretty architecture in the city center. Bratislava also has several quirky statues around town. Here are a couple of them...



Schoener Naci (Beautiful Ignaz) greets people walking down Rybarska brana street. The legend says he had lost his mind because of an unrequited love. Although he was very poor, he was walking the streets in Bratislava always well dressed for almost 40 years. The townies used to give him some food and he was, in return, giving flowers to the ladies passing by.
At the corner of Panska and Rybarska brana streets you find Cumil (The Watcher). It's up for debate if Cumil has just cleaned the sewer, is simply resting, or is looking up women's skirts. However, you're supposed to touch him for good luck.

It was a very cold day but we had so much fun and took lots of pictures. I still didn't make it to see the "Blue Church" so that will have to wait, until my next visit, some time after New Year's. There are a couple of hundered pictures out on Flickr of our trip to Devin and sightseeing in Bratislava.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Japanese Food in Bratislava

Two weeks ago, Marcus moved out of his old flat in Račianske Mýto. He was living in a panelák, a pre-fab concrete building that was popular with the communists, but more on paneláky in another post.

His new place is right in the center of Old Town. MTV could be here filming The Real World Bratislava or something because his place has one big, diverse mix of people. Marcus is from Atlanta, Eiko is Japanese and also works at IBM, Alessio is an Italian student, MJ is Korean and and is interning with the United Nations, and Dan is a Danish airline pilot.

Eiko has met some other people from Japan in Bratislava and had an Asian dinner party the night before Halloween. So Janelle and I had to make sure we scored invites. The food was awesome!!!! A few more pictures are out on Flickr.