Saturday, September 12, 2015

On a Bus to Poland

Well it's time for our third quarter team building event and this time it's being hosted in Poland

We've rented a bus and 17 of us are now on our way to Wrocław.  Let's hope that we make it. 

And if we do then let's hope that my liver and dignity survive the experience.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Finally Extradited

Some good news!  The USA extradited Kevin Dahlgren back to Czechland to stand trial for the quadruple-murder of his family in Brno back in May 2013.

He has spent the last 27 months in custody in the USA fighting extradition.  I've been reminded by people several times that the United States rarely ever extradites American citizens.  Well as of 31 August 2015 he is in Czech custody.

Now I've read over and over how this is the first time that America has ever extradited someone to Czech Republic.  Now let's be fair here.  This is first time that the Czech Republic has ever requested extradition of an American citizen before.  The way I see it is that the USA always complies with Czechland on these matters.  

He was in court the day he arrived back in the country and his request to be released on bail was denied.  He is appealing the decision but so far there's no date for the appellate hearing.  In the meantime he is being held in prison in Brno's Bohunice district.  If he is found guilty of the murders then he could face life in prison.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Honey Ball?

So at lunch today someone asked me if I've seen the TV show "Honey Ball".  Honey Ball?  Nope.

No, she said.  "Honey Bell".  Honey Bell?  Nope.  I wondered if she was talking about "Honey Boo Boo" which believe it or not is shown on Czech TV. 

Well it turns out she was asking about "Hannibal".  She just said it with a thick Slovak accent. 

I've heard of the show but never seen it.  Just a little linguistic misunderstanding but it sure made for a fun lunch discussion.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Josef Jungmann

Josef Jungmann was born in 1773 and died in 1847.  He was a poet and a linguist who was a leading figure in the Czech National Revival.

Along with Josef Dobrovský he is considered to be one of the creators of modern Czech.  He introduced the Czech language in schools and wrote the first Czech-German dictionary in five volumes.

Jungmann statue in Prague
Jungmann is the guy I blame for Czech vocabulary being so different from other Slavic languages.  In order for his dictionary to have a rather stylistic range of vocabulary that could be used for poetic effect he revived archaic words, borrowed from different Slavic languages and created new words.

He's the reason why most Slavic languages use "teatr" for "theater" but in Czech the word is "divadlo".  Or why "music" here in Czechland is "hudba" instead of "muzyka" as it is in most everywhere else.  Like I really needed another reason for Czech to be difficult to learn.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Josef Dobrovský

Josef Dobrovský was another important figure in the Czech National Revival.  He was born in 1753 and died in 1829 at the age of 75. 

Dobrovský was a historian and Slavic philologist.  Along with Josef Jungmann he is considered to be one of the creators of modern Czech.  He was also an accomplished botanist.

He was a close friend of František Palacký and he helped establish both the Royal Czech Society of Sciences and the National Museum in Prague.

Dobrovský is connected to Brno.  He studied here with the Jesuits in his youth and this is where he died.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

František Palacký

František Palacký was a historian and politician and a very influential person in Czech history.  He was born in 1798 and died in 1876 when Czechland was still part of the Hapsburg Empire.

Along with Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, he is considered one of the three "Fathers of the Nation."

Along with Josef Dobrovský and Josef Jungmann he was active in the Czech National Revival.  His most important work was The History of the Czech Nation in Bohemia and Moravia.

Palacký is on the 1000 Kč banknote.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Die Biene Maja

One of Tünde's favorite things is Die Biene Maja.

Maya the Bee debuted in a book in 1912 in Germany.  There have been comic books, an animated TV series and a movie was released in 2014.

Maja is obviously the main character and she goes on random adventures with her friends Willy the bee and Flip the grasshopper.

I had never heard of Maja before but apparently she is popular across the world.

In Czechland the show is Včelka Mája.  The original theme was sung by Karel Gott who released German, Czech, and Slovak versions.

Here's the Czech version that I found on YouTube.

video

Friday, August 14, 2015

Spreewald, Germany

On the way back from Świebodzin we stopped off at Spreewald.  The Spreewald is about 100 km (62 miles) south east of Berlin.  It's a great place for nature lovers.  It's a 484 km² (187 miles²) of woods with over 200 small canals. 

In 1991 it was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  It is home to about 50,000 people and around 18,000 species of flora and fauna.

Gurken.gifIt is also home of the best pickles in the world!  You can't go wrong with a Spreewaldgurken.  There are mustard flavored, Senfgurke, and salt pickles, Salzgurke, but my favorite ones are the dill pickles, Gewürzgurke.

The magic formula is a secret.  There are only about 20 picklers but they account for the vast majority of pickles sold in Germany.  Spreewaldgurken are so popular that when Germany reunified, it was one of the few East German products that continued to be available without any disruption.

Another treat is Schmalz which is basically lard.  Yes, lard.  Actually it is rendered goose (or pork) fat and spread on dark bread.  It sounds crazy but it is really good, especially with a dash of salt.

The rendered fat is often flavored with onions or apples.  Griebenschmalz is the best as the lard contains cracklings.  It's good but you definitely need to do two weeks of cardio to compensate for it.

Schmalz is also popular in Austria.  In Poland it's called smalec.  The Czech equivalent is sádlo.  I don't think it is as popular here as it is in Germany or Austria.  I only tried the Czech version once and did not like it at all.  But to be fair, what I had here was store bought and in Germany I've always had delicious homemade Schmalz.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Świdbodzin, Poland

Once my delayed train finally arrived in Berlin I met up with Claudia and her parents and we headed off to see the world's tallest statue of Jesus.

Świdbodzin is a small town in western Poland with a population of around 22,000 inhabitants. 

It's 130 km (81 miles) east of Berlin and 195 km (121 miles) northwest of Wrocław.

The town was part of Germany, known as Schwiebus, but was ceded to Poland at the end of WWII.  The Germans were expelled and Poles were moved in.  

I suppose that there's a few sights to see in the town but we only went to see Jesus.  After five years the world's tallest statue of Jesus was completed on 6 November 2010.  It's even larger than the Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

The statue is made of concrete and fiberglass.  It is 33 meters (108 feet) tall and the crown is another 3 meters (9.8 feet) tall. 

The idea for this came from a retired Polish priest with the hope that the statue would become a pilgrimage site and reinforce Roman Catholicism in Poland.  The project cost about $1.5 million and was funded entirely by contributions.


One of my best memories from grad school was a study trip to Brazil.  While in Rio I went on a helicopter ride with Steven and Brian and we flew around Jesus' head.  So it was pretty difficult for me to grasp that this one is 3 meters taller.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

European Heat Wave

It's been hot!  Real hot.  All across most of Europe.  Friday was an all-time high in Germany when Kitzingen hit 40.3 ºC (104.5 ºF).  Berlin hit 38.9 ºC (102 ºF).  This summer has seen record highs in Spain, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.

More than 15 Czech cities have tied or set new all-time records so far this summer.

Claudia and Tünde have been at her parent's place in Rahnsdorf for the past week.  The plan was for me to catch the sleeper train to hang out in Berlin for the weekend.  Plus a day trip to Świebodzin, Poland to see the Christ the King statue.  Then I'll ride back with the girls to Brno.  Easy enough.

My train was supposed to leave Brno at 1:11 AM on Friday night and arrive in Berlin a little after 9 AM.  I knew that the extreme heat has been causing problems with the trains during the day.  I didn't really expect that it would cause a problem with the night trains.  What I didn't think about was that the delayed day trains caused a knock on effect delaying the night trains too.

Never ending train delay
At 3:30 AM by train was already 150 minutes late.  I finally got on board just before 4 AM.  I was so happy to have a reserved sleeping berth.  I managed to get to Berlin around 12:45 PM.

With a sleeper car reservation you get coffee and a croissant in the morning.  You also get two bottles of water - one flat and one sparkling.  All across Europe the blue cap means flat (still) water and the red cap means sparkling water.

In Hungary the color code is reversed where blue means sparkling and red means flat.  And since this was the Budapest to Berlin train we got Hungarian water.  Even though I do drink sparkling water it still catches me off guard when I get a fizzy blue bottle of water.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Common Travel Area

The United Kingdom and Ireland are not part of the Schengen agreement that makes it possible to travel through most of Europe without passport checks at every border.  Instead they have the Common Travel Area. 

The CTA is basically a mini-Shengen agreement that allows for open travel between Ireland and the UK, as well as, the British Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.  Sort of.

Since 1997 Ireland checks everyone arriving by airplane.  So when I land in Dublin it doesn't matter if I flew from London or Prague, I still have to go through immigration and get my passport stamped. 

However, when I've flown from Dublin to London Standsted, London Gatwick and Inverness there was nothing.  No immigration or passport check.  There are random checks though.  When I flew from Dublin to Cardiff there was a random check.  I had to show my passport but it wasn't stamped.  I guess because I was already in the CTA. 

One of the confusing things for me is that Ireland and the UK each have different visa requirements.  So it's possible for someone to need a visa for one of the countries but not the other.  Yet, the CTA would allow the person to travel freely (except for a random check).

If either country ever joined Schengen then the CTA would end because of the requirement to secure borders with non-members.  I've heard that Ireland would like to join Schengen but I don't see that happening.  The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is open.   If Ireland joined Schengen then the border between the two countries would have to be closed and it hasn't been that long since "the Troubles" ended.  Any hopes for a united Ireland would immediately end.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Craic

A common expression in Ireland is "what's the craic?".  It's pronounced "crack" and it's the Irish Gaelic word for "fun". 

So when you hear people in Ireland going on about "having the craic" it has nothing to do with any type of illicit drugs. 

Here's a link to a short interview with a few members of the band Kodaline where they share a few more Irish colloquialisms.








Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sandymount Strand, Ireland

Although Ireland is an island, most people don't associate it with the beach.  But there's actually a beach in DublinWho would have thought it?

Sandymount Strand, Dumhach Thrá, is a stretch of beach that makes up part of the south side of Dublin Bay.  The beach runs about a kilometer and the promenade is a popular place to walk.

When the tide recedes there's about 1,5 kilometers (about 1 mile) of shore to enjoy.  However the beach almost disappears once the tide comes back in.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Inverness, Scotland

Inverness, (Inbhir Nis, in Gaelic), is the most northern city in the UK.  One of only seven cities in Scotland, status is only received in 2000, it sits on the River Ness.  It is considered the capital of the Scottish Highlands.

The River Ness
While it's only home to about 47,000 people it is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe.  Last year is was ranked at the happiest place to live in Scotland, and the second happiest place in the entire United Kingdom.

Inverness Castle was built in 1835.  Only the castle grounds are open to the public and the castle itself is now a sheriff court.

The Georgian tollbooth steeple was built in 1791and is located on the high street.

The Victorian Gothic Town House was completed in 1882.  It is the local office of the Highland Council and is currently under renovation.

The Ness Bank Church was built in 1901. 

The church is home to the Faith, Hope and Charity statues.  The statues used to be on the roof of a drapery store but the building was demolished in the 1950s and they were bought by a collector in Orkney.  After the collector passed away the city purchased the states for £55,000 in 2011.

The WWI monument is dedicated to all of the local men who died in 1914 - 1918.   

High Street













St. Andrew's is the cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church which was completed in 1869.  The spires are squared off because funding ran out before they could be built.  St. Andrew's was the first new cathedral built in the UK since the Reformation and it's the northernmost cathedral in mainland Britain.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dunrobin Castle

So last year for my birthday I received a puzzle of a Scottish castle.  This year I received this trip to Scotland to go see the real deal.  How incredibly awesome is that!?!

Dunrobin Castle in the Highlands and was completed in 1845.  It is the seat of the Earl of Sutherland.  The castle has 189 rooms and it is the largest house in the north of Scotland. 

From 1965 to 1972 it was a boy's boarding school but since 1973 the house and grounds are open to the public.  The only drawback is that no photography is allowed inside.


The garden is beautiful.  Twice a day there's a falcon show which is quite entertaining. 

This was such an awesome day.  Hmmm...now what to do for his birthday?