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.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Czech National Security Centre

This week the Czech National Security Centre (NCKB) opened its new headquarters in Brno.

The role of the NCKB is to prevent cyber attacks at the national and international level . 

IT specialists here will focus on defending against potential threats, testing software, suspicious code and malware.

I don't know where in Brno the new site is; just that it is located in a former army building.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Favignana & Levanzo, Italy

The Egadi Islands are the three small, mountainous, Mediterranean islands of Favignana, Levanzo, and Marettimo.  They are off the northwest coast of Sicily and make a great day trip from Trapani.

Favignana is the largest island with an area of 19.8 square kilometers (7.6 square miles).  The island is about 7 kilometers (4 miles) west of Trapani.  It takes about 40 minutes to get there by boat.

Favignana is known for its "butterfly" shape.  About 5,000 people live on the island. 

This was once home to the largest tuna factory in the Mediterranean.  The old tuna fishing plant is now a museum.


Monte Santa Caterina is the tallest hill (314 meters / 1,030 feet tall).  On top of it is an old Norman castle.

City Hall
There are two main squares.  Europa Square has city hall and Madrice Square is home to the Mother Church. 



The church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, was built in 1759.


 
Levanzo is the smallest of the three islands with a total area of only 5.82 square kilometers (2.25 square miles).  About 450 people live on the island which is 13 kilometers (8 miles) west of Trapani.


Although the smallest, it is the oldest of the islands.  There is evidence of Neolithic cave paintings on the island.

The port village consists mostly of fisherman's cottages.

The third island is Marettimo but we didn't visit this one.  It's 24 kilometers (15 miles) west of Trapani.  Maybe next time.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Palermo, Italy

Palermo is the capital of Sicily and is the industrial and commercial center of the island.  The metro area is home to 1.2 million people (about the size of Prague), which makes it the 5th largest city in Italy. 

Palermo is about a two hour bus ride from Trapani.

There's a lot of history here.  The city was founded by the Phoenicians in 734 BC.  Over time it was ruled by Carthage, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs, and the Normans.


The Massimo Theater is the opera house dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II and celebrates the unification of Italy.  It opened in 1897 and has a capacity of 1,387.  It's the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe.


The Palermo Cathedral belongs to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Palermo.  Construction began in 1185 and it was finally completed in the 18th century.




San Domenico is a beautiful Baroque church that was built in 1640.




Mazzara was a port city gate.  It opened in the 13th century.  In the 17th century it was incorporated into a bastion and became useless for transit.  The bastion was demolished in 1885.


Piazza Pretoria is between two churches and the center is taken up by a fountain and numerous white statues.  It dates back to the 16th century and was restored in 2003.



The Politeama Theater was completed in 1891.  The neoclassic theater can accommodate 5,000 people.



Zisa Castle, known locally as the Castello della Zisa, was built in the 12th century.  It was the home of counts until the 1950s but it fell into disrepair.  It was restored in the 1980s.


The city takes its football (soccer) quite serious.  U.S. Città di Palermo is Sicily's top-ranked club.  The "rasanero" (pink-blacks) contributed four players to the Italian team that won the 2006 FIFA World Cup. 

The Mafia is still a serious problem in Sicily.  This monument is in memory of victims killed in the fight against the Mafia.




Quattro Canit (Four Corners) is officially the Baroque square, Piazza Vigliena.  The near-identical facades of the four buildings have fountains and each one contains statues of a season.

Palermo has some beautiful architecture.  The city is actually much bigger than I had imagined it would be.  I'm still glad that we stayed in Trapani, which was very relaxing.  Since Palermo was only a day trip there wasn't enough time to visit Monreale.  Next time I suppose.  However, there was for sure enough time to grab an awesome cannoli.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of the great moms out there!!

However, the people with the best mothers are me, my niece & nephew, and my goddaughter.

Erice, Italy

Erice is a cobblestone medieval town in Western Sicily

It's a very easy day trip from Trapani.  You can get there by bus but the best way to get to Erice is via cable car.   
The cable cars to the top


For someone you doesn't like heights, I really have to wonder why almost every trip I take involves dealing with my acrophobia.  Oh well, the ride to the top is definitely worth it. 

View of Erice from the lowlands


Erice is located on top of Mount San Giuliano, about 750 meters (2,460 feet) above sea level.  It offers great views of Trapani. 

Being so high up means that quite often the town is literally in the clouds.  I'm told that these clouds are known as "kisses of Venus."  The sensation of being in the clouds was absolutely brilliant!  Unfortunately, walking next to a castle, surrounded in clouds just doesn't photograph well.  

Main city gate

The town has more than 60 churches which is quite a surprise considering the town's population is only around 29,000 people.

Panoramic view from Erice


The church of San Giuliano was built in 1076.  It is one of the first churches built in Erice.  The Baroque bell tower was built in 1770.


Lots of streets to explore









The monastery and church of San Carlo was built from 1612 to 1617.

Pepoli Castle is currently being restored and will become a "peace observatory."

The Castle of Venus is a Norman castle built between the 12th and 13th century.  The area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Construction on the Mother Church (cathedral) began in 1312 using materials from the ruins of a pagan temple.  The Tower of King Frederick was built at the end of the 13th century.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Trapani, Italy

Trapani is on the west coast of Sicily, Italy.  The small town is home to 70,000 people and sits between the Mediterranean Sea and Mt. Erice.

Legend has it that Demeter, the goddess of harvests and plenty, dropped her sickle in a moment of despair while looking for her lost daughter.  The sickle landed by the sea and it is why the curved shape of the harbor resembles the goddess' scythe.

The small, fortified fishing town has a very long history.  It was an important Phoenician trading port.



The Romans ruled for a few centuries before the Arabs occupied the island in 827 AD, and then came the Normans in 1097.  During the Crusades it was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean.


Today, it is still an important fishing port.  The fresh seafood here was so good.  It's also the easiest access point to visit the nearby Egadi Islands.


The Church of Sant'Agostino was built by the Templars in the 14th century.  The Gothic church as a beautiful rose window over the doorway.  The Fountain of Saturn, in front of the church, dates back to 1342.

Dome of St. Lorenzo
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo was built in 1421.  In 1844, the church was consecrated as a cathedral by Pope Gregory XVI.





Trapani Town Hall








The Piazza Mercato del Pesce is the former fish market.  The portico arches date back to 1874.
Palazzo Senatorio



Ligny Tower is a Spanish watchtower that was built in 1671, when Spain ruled over Sicily.
 
Trapani is very relaxing.  It's small enough that you can walk everywhere and it doesn't take too long to learn your way around.  There are lots of lovely little cafes and so far things seem much cheaper than mainland Italy.  They've got beaches too which is one thing I really miss not having in Czechland.

I saw a 'caution sign' in one spot warning against swimming due to the lack of a lifeguard.  Well, it actually said that it is not safe, in Italian and English.  In German, it says that it is safe.  I wonder if it's a misprint or if Trapani thinks that there are too many German tourists.  Probably just a misprint.