Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shop Hours

The time that stores are open is much different in Europe than back in the USA.  In America, stores have longer opening hours.   Heck, most big grocery stores are open 24/7.  Not so over here.

Stores in Czechland usually open between 7 or 8 AM and close by 6 PM, Monday to Friday.  It is not uncommon for small shops to close from 12 to 1 PM for lunch.  If small shops are open on the weekend then it is usually only on Saturdays and they will close by 12 or 1 PM.

Hypermarkets (shopping centers) are open seven days a week and usually close at 9 PM.  My local Albert is open from 7 AM to 9 PM.

A večerka is a small convenience type grocery store that is open late night.  Or if you're lucky there will be a local nonstop that is open 24/7.  In Brno, there's even one Tesco that is open 24 hours.

Czechs (and Slovaks), traditionally, tend to start work early in the morning and stop early enough to still make it to the local shops before they close.  It must come for the days of Franz Joseph and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Limited office hours are a leftover from the days of communism and make bureaucracy so much worse here.  Most government office are open to the public on Mondays and Wednesdays, and may have limited hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Don't even think about trying to renew your driver's license, visit city hall or go to the Foreign Ministry on a Friday.

Optician's opening hours M-F
I just don't get why shops aren't open longer here.  There's this very cool antique store in Brno which I would love to spend some money in.  Too bad  it's only open Tuesday - Thursday, from 10 AM to 1 PM.  It's like some stores are afraid to be open longer because then the employees would have to work more.

In the USA, the prime time to buy a car is on the weekend.  Not so over here because that's when the car dealerships are closed.

One of the great things that I like about Christmas time over here is that almost all shops stay open longer.  At least until 7 or 9 PM. 

As much as I may complain at times about limited shopping hours in Czechland or Slovakia, it's even more restrictive in Austria and Germany.  In Austria and Germany, Sundays are meant for family time so nothing is open on Sundays.  Not even the mall.  Unless you want to do your grocery shopping at a gas station mini-mart then you had better get your Sunday supplies on Saturday because nothing will be open on a Sunday.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

State of Israel

I’ve got a birthday coming up in July and just happened to find a great deal on flight from Prague to Tel Aviv.  So I’ll get to spend my birthday weekend in Israel.  It’s a place that I’ve wanted to visit for some time.  So here’s a bit about it.

The State of Israel, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, is in the Middle East.  It sits on the Mediterranean Sea and is bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories (the West bank and Gaza Strip).  Israel is about the same size as Maryland and is home to about 8.1 million people.  It is the only Jewish-majority state in the world.  
 
Israel's capital is Jerusalem which is where the Knesset (Israel's parliament) is.  However, this is not internationally recognized and all of the foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv. 

Hebrew alphabet
The population is about 75% Jewish and 20% Arab.  Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages.  The Law of Return grants all Jews, and those with Jewish lineage, the right to Israeli citizenship.  Since the break up of the Soviet Union, more than 950,000 people have immigrated to Israel so Russian is a commonly spoken language.

No more Israeli passport stamps
There several Arab countries that will not let travelers if their passport has an Israeli entry/exit stamp.  The way around this is to have a second passport or to request that the Israeli border guard not to stamp your passport.  As of 2013, Israel no longer stamps passports.  Instead, a small separate piece of paper is given as your visa so there is no evidence in your passport of having visited Israel.  

The Shekel is the official currency
Israel now has peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan.  However, there are still problems with other countries in the Middle East.  So when it comes to sporting events Israel competes in the European championships.  

People seems to be either Pro-Israel, Anti-Palestine or Pro-Palestine, Anti-Israel.  The problems in the Middle East are quite complex and, personally, I think that both sides have valid claims and that both sides are guilty of prolonging the problems.

There has never been a country called Palestine.  The area known as Palestine was ruled for centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire.  After WWI, the area was placed under British mandate by the League of Nations. In 1947, the United Nations recommended the British Mandate for Palestine be divided to create two countries – Israel and Palestine.  The Jews accepted the recommendation but the Arabs did not.  On 14 May 1948, the Israeli state was established.  The very next day, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded.  Israel won and they claimed more land.  Over the years there have been several wars with its Arab neighbors but Israel keeps winning.  Some land gained in wars has been returned for peace. 

I'm quite looking forward to a long weekend in Tel Aviv.  I know that I won't get to see everything but I would need at least two weeks to see all of the places I want to see in Israel and the West Bank.  But it's a start.  I'm sure that my mom will worry about me going over there but let's face it, there's always something going on between Israel and the Palestinians.  Fortunately, things haven't been too bad lately so it's as good a time as any to visit. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Jára Cimrman

Jára Cimrman is one of the most famous Czechs.  His list of accomplishments is simply staggering.

He gave the world yogurt, the CD (Cimrman's disc), dynamite and roller skates.  He invented the electric light bulb but Edison beat him to the patent office.  He helped Baron von Zeppelin design the airship.  He came up with the idea of the Panama Canal and proposed it to the U.S. government.  He narrowly missed discovering the North Pole by only seven meters (23 feet).  He even invented the Internet.  He is regarded as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, composers, inventors, and poets of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The list goes on and on...   

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of him.  He's the fictional character created by Jiří Šebánek, Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák. 

His debut was in 1966 on the radio program Nealkoholická vinárna U Pavouka (The Spider Non-Alcoholic Wine Bar).   

In 2005, there was a television contest to name the greatest Czech of all time.  Cimrman was leading the race until the sponsor disqualified him since he was never a real person. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

50 in 5

It's no secret that I've done quite a bit of traveling since I began my expat adventure in Czechland almost five years ago.  While I've been to a whole lot of places I have yet to visit every country in Europe.  At least not yet.  Sooner or later I will visit every country in Euroland at least once.

So how many countries have I been to?  Well that's a great question.  I've met lots of fellow travelers on my many adventures and it seems that everyone has their own definition of what counts as a visited country.  Some make more sense to me than others.
  1. It doesn't count unless you get a passport stamp.  Schengen did this one in.  There are no more passport stamps between member countries.  Besides, when I went to Reykjavík last year, I flew from the UK (non-Schengen) to Norway (Schengen) then on to Iceland.  I got a Norwegian stamp in my passport since I entered the Schengen zone from the UK but I only spent 30 minutes in the airport before my flight.  I don't think it counts.
  2. It doesn't count if you just drive through the country.  I agree with this one.  But does it count if you stop along the way, have a meal, buy some gasoline and keep on driving?  I don't think so.  When I travel to Vienna airport, and buy a latte or something along the way I never count that as a trip to Austria.  
  3. You have to spend a night in order for it to count.  I don't necessarily think this is right either.  What about a day trip where you spend several hours?  If you've spent money there, supporting the local economy, then I think that counts.  
  4. It doesn't count unless you have sex in the country.  This is probably the craziest guideline I've heard.  Does it have to be with a local?  What if you hook up with a tourist, not from the country you're visiting, does it still count?  I'll just leave this one alone.
  5. It has to be an internationally recognized country.  This gets a little trickier.  I don't count Transnistria because it's a break away republic and only other break away republics consider it another country.  While most of Europe has recognized Kosovo as an independent country, it is not a member of the United Nations (because Russia has veto power and is allied with Serbia).  I count Kosovo.  The Vatican isn't a UN country member but is a non-member observer state.  I count Vatican City as a separate country.
So now how many countries are there in Europe? 
  1. As already mentioned, I count Vatican City and Kosovo but exclude Transnistria.
  2. I count England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, collectively, as one country - the United Kingdom.  If Scotland votes for independence, then any visits prior to an independent Scotland will still count as a visit to the UK.  
  3. Turkey is generally considered to be part of Europe.  After all, it is trying to join the EU.
  4. Some consider Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to be part of Europe.  Some consider them to be part of Central Asia.  Some consider them to be Eurasia.  It's a bit of a stretch but, given the Eurasia argument, I'll count the Caucasus as part of Europe.
So in my book there are 50 countries in Europe.  According to how I define "visiting a country" then I say I've been to 44 countries.  The only ones remaining are Belarus, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Ukraine.  I still haven't made it to Wales yet either but again, all four parts of the UK still only count as "1" in my book.

44 countries so far
July 1st will be my five-year anniversary of my arrival in Europe.  I don't see that I'll visit all 50 countries by then.  I'm going to use up practically all of my holiday time this year when my family comes in a few months so I don't see myself getting to all 50 countries by the end of the year either.  But maybe by the end of 2015.  So while it won't be 50 countries in my first five years it could still be "50 countries in five years". 

I always wanted to visit Charleston, South Carolina.  I've always heard how beautiful it is.  It's only about a four-hour drive there from Atlanta.  But in 13 years, I never once made it to Charleston.  It was always one of those things that I meant to do.  When I started this little adventure I vowed that I would not have "another Charleston".  I want to go everywhere.

Of course it's much more than just "collecting" countries.  If I was only concerned about collecting countries then I would have for sure already hit all 50 by now.  If the "50 in 5" was all that motivated me then I would not have gone to Italy, Croatia, France, Poland or Germany so many times.  I could have easily skipped going to Sicily and spent a weekend in Riga in order to pick up Latvia.  It's not about putting a tick in a box.  It's about visiting places that I've only read about before.  It's about trying to understand history.  It's about figuring our another culture.  It's about meeting locals and fellow travelers along the way.  It's about getting out of my comfort zone, and having wonderful adventures along the way.

No matter if my "50 in 5" is reached in 2014, 2015 or beyond, it won't stop me from continuing to travel.  There are still plenty of places that I want to see, in countries that I've already been to (most more than once).  When it does come time for my adventure here to end, and who knows when that will be, there's no way that I'll have another "Charleston". 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jan Amos Komenský

Jan Amos Komenský (John Amos Comenius) was a teacher, educator, philosopher, and writer.  He is considered by many to be the father of modern education.  He was born in Moravia in 1592 and died in 1670.

He believed in universal education, to include women and poor children.  Comenius was the innovator who first introduced pictorial textbooks.  He wrote texts in Czech instead of in Latin and supported learning via logical thinking instead of only via route memorization.

On the 200 Kč banknote (~$10)
On 28 March, each year, his birthday is celebrated as Teacher's Day in Czechland and Slovakia.  But it's not a pubic holiday

In 1919, Czechoslovakia founded Comenius University in Bratislava.  In 2001, Comenius University opened in Prague.

UNESCO Comenius Medal
In 1992, UNESCO established the Jan Amos Comenius Medal to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his birth.  It is one of UNESCO's most prestigious awards and his given to educators who have made a significant contribution to educational research.
The Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sport of the Czech Republic and UNESCO established the Jan Amos Comenius Medal in 1992 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the birth of the great education.

The Medal, one of UNESCO’s most prestigious awards, is intended to acknowledge the work of those educators who have made a significant contribution to the development or renewal of education. More precisely, it is designed to reward outstanding achievements in the fields of educational research and innovation
- See more at: http://www.ibe.unesco.org/en/areas-of-action/international-conference-on-education-ice/comenius-medal.html#sthash.twlLy2ca.dpuf
The Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sport of the Czech Republic and UNESCO established the Jan Amos Comenius Medal in 1992 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the birth of the great education.

The Medal, one of UNESCO’s most prestigious awards, is intended to acknowledge the work of those educators who have made a significant contribution to the development or renewal of education. More precisely, it is designed to reward outstanding achievements in the fields of educational research and innovation
- See more at: http://www.ibe.unesco.org/en/areas-of-action/international-conference-on-education-ice/comenius-medal.html#sthash.twlLy2ca.dpuf

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lemonade Joe

Lemonádový Joe aneb Koňská opera (Lemonade Joe, or the Horse Opera) is a cult classic movie here in Czechland.

The film was released in 1964.  It's a musical parody of early Westerns and was based on a novel and stage play by Jiří Brdečka.  The film was directed by Oldřich Lipský.

The film takes place in Stetson City, Arizona where our hero, Lemonade Joe, who only drinks Kola Loka (crazy cola), takes on the bad guys and convinces the town to abstain from alcohol. 

One of the film's characters notes that "What's good for Kola Loka is good for the law."  By the end of the film, Lemonade Joe has cleaned up the town and has eliminated whiskey as a competitor of his favorite beverage.

Did Joe clean up the town because it was the right thing to do?  Or did he only do it because he wanted to eliminate the competition?  I guess in 1960s Czechoslovakia, Kola Loka was code for Coca-Cola and how corporations seek to take over the world.

Here's a clip I found out on YouTube of Lemonade Joe singing Můj bóže, můj bóže (My God, my God).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tripadvisor Thread

Like a lot of people I find a lot of valuable information on tripadvisor.  And since my family is coming in a few short months on their first trip to Europe I'm starting to plan things for us to do.  Well the other day I was checking things out in the Prague Forum and found an old top thread from 2012 about my blog.

On the right side of my blog I've got a list of a few items that are not available over here in Czechland.  Not that this make it a horrible place to live in or anything.  It's just a few of the little things that I miss from the USA.  Heck, when the day comes for me to leave here I know that I'll miss kofola.

Well, the thread started out fine saying that "it is a fun list of items."  Of course, the person obviously didn't focus too much on the details because the thread is called Not available in Prague - Really?.  I don't live in Prague.  Of course it's easier to find things in Prague.  That's where the vast majority of American expats live.  I'm in Brno where, until recently, it has been much harder to get certain items.

A few comments suggested that "when in Rome, do as the Romans".  Duh!  A few agreed with a few items, especially the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  I've never met an expat that didn't miss something from home. 

My list has changed over the past five years.  Black beans are no longer on the list as I've been able to find canned black beans here.  Not everywhere, but I can find them.

I've managed to find "soft" sandwich bread.  It's not exactly like back home but it is close enough.

I've managed to find some something close to angel hair pasta.  The noodles are only an inch or two long but the texture is the same.

A few stores now carry Dr. Pepper; just not my local Albert.

And thanks to The Candy Store I no longer have to import jelly beans.

A few more things I've found in other countries.  I can get Caesar salad dressing in Germany and Natalie keeps me stocked with Bisquick from the UK.  Plus, when I get desperate I can always count on care packages from my best friends in AtlantaI guess I need to start making a list of supplies for my family to bring with them.