Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bye Bye 50

Today is the last day that the 50 Kč banknote can be used to pay for goods and services. As of April 1st, only the 50 Kč coin can be used. Fifty Czech Crowns = $2.88.

The banknote is being removed from circulation due to costs. A banknote has to be replaced every few years but a coin lasts much longer.

Consumers can trade in their 50 Kč banknotes at banks until March 31, 2012. Luckily, I kept a banknote as a souvenir. I've preferred the banknote to the coin. I always felt like I had more money when I had the banknotes in my wallet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Confederate Czech Hot Dogs

I've mentioned before that hot dogs over here are different. Well now there is a new hot dog vendor in Brno. Actually it's a hot dog truck that's parked by the overpass that leads to IBM and the technical university.

The funny thing is that the guy has a Confederate flag. Someone told me that he had seen a Confederate flag outside of a club in Munich, Germany. When he asked about the flag he was told that was the flag for rhythm and blues music. Ummm...I lived in Atlanta for 13 years. The flag has nothing to do with rhythm and blues music.

One of my colleagues asked the hot dog vendor and he said that he uses the flag because hot dogs are American. But he doesn't want to fly an American flag because he doesn't like the U.S. government. But he was quick to point out that he's not a racist. Just weird.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Győr Thermal Bath

Rába Quelle is the indoor waterpark and thermal baths in Győr. It has five different pools with spa jets, water features, some slides and even a swim up bar. And a separate section of children. Lots of fun!!
The healing effect of Győr’s waters was mentioned in medieval chronicles. The water comes from three thermal wells 2,000 m (+6,550 ft) at a temperature of 67 °C (~153 °F). The water is chlorine free and was certified as medicinal water in 1978. There are also saunas, steam rooms and a jacuzzi. Massages and physiotherapy services are also available.
During the day you can see lots of tour buses, from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria, full of people coming to enjoy the thermal spa. The best time to go is at 6 PM when it is mostly just locals and there is a discount. Normally a three hour pass and the sauna package is 3.800 Ft (~$20) but from 6 to 9 PM it is only 2.800 Ft (~$15).
When you go in you are given a colored wrist band that indicates if you have selected one of the sauna options. You are also given a black wrist band with a chip in it. With the black wrist band you can open and close your assigned locker. It can also be used to track any purchases at the swim up bar.
After a long day of walking around town a visit to the thermal baths is definitely a wonderful treat. After three hours in the pools, saunas and hot tub I slept like a baby. Next time I will be sure to add on a massage too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Győr, Hungary

Claudia and I were were supposed to go to Győr this weekend but she got the flu and was unable to go. It was too late to cancel the bus ticket and the hotel was already paid for so I called Pavel to see if he was up for a free, last-minute trip to Hungary. Luckily he was and we were off. It's almost four hours by Student Agency bus from Brno to Győr (pronounced jyeur).

Győr is Hungary's 6th largest city and is half way between Vienna and Budapest. The town sits where the Mosoni-Danube, Rába and Rábca rivers meet up. Győr is small enough that you can walk the entire city in a day but not feel too worn out afterwards. There are lots of historic buildings and a wonderful thermal spa that is a must do.


The city hall is easily the town's most recognizable building. It looks like a palace or something. The building has been used as the town hall since the 16th century.


Bésci Kapu Tér is one of the town's main historical squares. The primary attraction here is the 18th century Carmelite church, built between 1713 and 1725. It was modeled after the Carmelite church in Rome making it one of the few Italian Baroque examples found in Hungary.

Széchenyi Square is the old town square and the only intact Baroque one in Eastern Europe. It's been home to the Saint Ignatius of Loyola Benedictine Church since the 1640's. The Bishop of Győr unveiled the Mary Column in 1686 to commemorate recapturing Buda (½ of Budapest) from the Turks.

The minor basilica is at Káptalan Domb (Chapter Hill) and is a mix of Gothic, Neo-classical and Romanesque elements. It was restored between 1968 and 1972.






The neo-Romanesque synagogue was built between 1868 and 1870. It is no longer a functioning synagogue. Today it is used as a municipal gallery.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Claudia's 31st B-Day

Last Friday night was Rose's going away party in Bratislava. So I spent the night in Bratsville but took the first train home Saturday morning because I had to get in a nap before Claudia's birthday party that night. It's hard to believe that it has already been a year since her last birthday. I swear that as I get older time goes by faster and faster.

This year it was at the Indian and Arabian restaurant that she loves so much. It was a very nice evening. The last few weeks had been very stressful with my grandmother's passing. So it was nice to get out of my head for a couple of nights and see some friendly faces.

To further celebrate Claudi's birthday and her new position at work, we're taking a short trip this weekend to Győr, Hungary. It's a small little town about 3.5 hours away by bus; half way between Vienna and Budapest. It will be nice just to get away for a couple of days.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rose's Going Away Party

Last Friday I headed to Bratislava for Rose's going away party. Her two year assignment is over and IBM is sending her back to the USA. Rose is the last of my American friends in Slovakia. Over the last year all of my fellow Americans in Slovakia have gone back to the USA. Marcus is back in Atlanta, Janelle is in New York, and the marines have been reassigned. Who knows? Maybe it has something to do with Bratsville?

There was no way I could miss the "dovidenia fiesta" so I took the train after work and met up with everyone at Primi in Old Town. In typical Texas Mexican-American style no party is complete without tequila. I don't know how she found it, but she got the restaurant to order three bottles of Patron tequila. I haven't seen Patron tequila over here at all.

Tequila isn't as popular here as it is in the USA. Beer and wine are so much more cheaper than spirits. In the USA, people drink tequila with salt and lime. Or if it is really good tequila, like Patron, then you just drink it straight. Here, people drink silver tequila with salt and lemon (sometimes with lime). But if it's gold tequila then people here drink it with orange and cinnamon.

Rose and I had to show everyone how to drink it straight. Five bottles for ~40 people isn't too bad. Yeah five bottles, because she had two extra bottles stashed in her purse. The party was fun and I could tell that her co-workers were all going to miss her. Her team gave her a Slovak hockey jersey with her name on it which I thought was a very cool gift.

Now she's headed back to Texas for a few weeks and then on to her next assignment in New York. I decided to visit Atlanta and Los Angeles on vacation in 2012. If I swing through New York maybe I'll get the chance to see Rose and Janelle next year too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gram 1919 - 2011

My grandmother recently passed away which has been really hard. This June she would have been 92 years old. It has been a rough couple of weeks to say the least.

People ask me quite often about the benefits of living abroad. Well this is when living overseas, and so far away from your family, isn't so great. Especially when dealing with the 9 hour time difference between here and California.

I've called my grandmother every Sunday for years. When I told her that I was moving to Europe she was afraid that she wouldn't get her Sunday calls anymore. She didn't really get how Skype worked. All she knew is that every Sunday I called her mobile phone from my computer.

One of her very good friends from church used to come by several times a week to give her communion. They would also sit together and read all of my blog posting from Europe. Thank you Francis!! I really appreciate everything you did for my grandmother.

Although I miss her a lot, I know that Gram is in a better place and I need to be happy about that. Though it's especially tough on Sundays.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Work Permit #2

I've received the renewal for my work permit. I can now continue working in the Czech Republic for another two years. But now the fun begins.

Now that I have received permission from the government to work here for the next two years, I need to apply for another visa ("green card") so that I can keep living here. It still sounds crazy to me that one can have permission to work here but not live here. But these matters are handled by two different government departments and getting a work permit is only the first step to getting a residency visa.

Well it's time to start gathering all of the paperwork I need to apply for my new visa. Since I've been here a while I have the option of applying for a two-year visa. At least I won't have to deal with all of the paperwork next year.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Beds

Beds are different over here in Central Europe. Unlike in the U.S., a mattress on a box spring just isn’t done over here, which means that beds are lower to the floor. Some mattress can also be a bit on the thin side since many are just pieces of foam.
In the U.S., mattress sizes are twin, full, queen, king and California king. Over here the length is 200 cm (79 inches). The width sizes are 80cm, 90cm, 140cm, 160cm and 180cm. My bed frame is 160cm (63 inches) but in typical Czech fashion it had two single mattresses. I don’t understand the reason for this because it makes it impossible to sleep in the center of the bed or to cuddle up with someone.
Beds here have a duvet instead of a top sheet, blanket and a bed spread. The norm is to have two single duvets on a double bed. At least when there are two duvets no one has to fight over the covers.
The time came for a new double-sized mattress so it was off to IKEA. I went with the firm Sultan Hamnvik mattress for 7.490 Kč (~$450). I have to thank my friend Aleš for helping me arrange for my new mattress to be delivered. Thanks Aleš! The delivery window was from 8 AM to 10 AM. So I was very happy when they showed up at 7:56 AM. Well worth the 419 Kč (~$25) delivery fee.
My Czech still isn’t that great but I could tell that the delivery guys weren’t very happy about having to carry my new mattress up five flights of stairs. Or when they found out my bedroom is upstairs. But the important thing is that I have my new mattress and I can now comfortably sleep in the center of the bed.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pat and Mat

Pat and Mat is a stop-motion animated series that was created by Lubomír Beneš and Vladimír Jiránek. The show is called A je to!, Pat a Mat ("And that's it!, Pat and Mat"). Pat and Mat are two handymen that come up with surprising solutions to mostly self-inflicted problems. The show continues to be popular here and in other countries as well.

The characters made their debut in 1976 but it took another three years before the next episode was made. The writers targeted the humor towards adults but, in Czechoslovakia, the show could only be made as a child's TV program and had to stay within a short time format. Although the show was made in Prague it was produced by Slovak TV in Bratislava. Slovak TV produced 28 episodes from 1979 to 1985. Episode #78 was the last in the series and aired back in 2003.

The first time I saw Pat & Mat was on my ČSA flight from New York to Prague when I moved here 20 months ago. Dang! I can't believe that I've been here almost two years.

You can find a lot of the episodes out on YouTube. Here's most of episode #2 - "Wallpaper" from 1979.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shut the Front Door!

Czechs seem to be very security conscious. Which is not a bad thing. It's the implementation that seems to be a bit odd. At least to me that is. Like most apartment buildings, the front door to my building has a lock and a dead bolt lock. If you put the key in and turn the lock, the door opens. If you put your key in the lock and turn it twice then you lock/unlock the dead bolt.

To enter my building you must have a key to open the front door. Or, press the intercom and I can buzz the door which lets you in. But that only works from between 7 AM to 7 PM.

The sign on the front door has been there since before I moved in to my building in August 2009. It says...

Dear tenants,
For the security of us all, we ask you to check whether you have really closed the front door behind you. Recently, several times, it happened that the door remains wide open (even at night). During night hours (19-7 pm), lock your front door!
Committee Authority

The building rules say that the dead bolt must be used from 7 PM until 7 AM. So if you come visit me at 7:15 PM I can't just buzz you in. I have to go down 5 floors to physically let you in. If you leave before 7 AM then I have to go down to let you out. There is no way to leave the building after 7 PM if you don't have a key to the front door. Can you say fire hazard? If the building catches fire and you forget the key as you flee the building then you had better hope that one of the neighbors brings a key. And that they don't lock the front door behind them. I understand the whole wanting to feel secure thing. I just don't get why you need a key to leave.

My Czech teacher shows up at 6:30 PM so I just buzz her in. But the lesson ends at 8 PM so I always have to walk her out. It was a pain when the elevator was being replaced. Going down 5 floors was fine...but going back up 5 floors sucked.

It seems that the mail ladies, (I have never seen a mailman), have keys to all of the buildings so that they can deliver letters. But what happens when you need to call the police? I don't know if the police have keys to all of the buildings as well. Does someone have to let the police in? Do they break the front door down?