Sunday, February 28, 2010

Transit Strike

There was supposed to be a strike on Monday, between 4 AM - 9 AM, by the transportation labor unions. This would have meant that the trains, trams, buses, and trolleys would not be running.

Now it looks like the strike has been postponed until Thursday, March 4th. Fortunately, this doesn't really impact me because I can always work from home, if I need to. But this has got to be a pain in the rear for people that have to get to work or have doctor's appointments, etc.

From what I understand, the strike is over a government proposal to more fairly tax employee benefits. It seems that transportation workers have traditionally received free passes and meal vouchers, but these benefits were never really taxed before. Now the government wants to tax these benefits and the transportation labor union unions are upset.

EDIT: The strike on Thursday has been cancelled. I don't know if anything was resolved or not, but all of the public transportation system is supposed to be up & running.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

QWERTZ

I'm getting much better about typing in Czech. But working a dual-language keyboard can be a bit confusing at times.

In order to switch languages you just have to press "Alt" and "Shift" at the same time. My IBM laptop flips between English and Czech while the laptop I bought here flips between English, Czech and Slovak. By the way, I'm one of the few folks here that says "laptop". Everyone else says "notebook".

In English we use the "QWERTY" layout. But Czechs use "QWERTZ". The Z and the Y are switched on a Czech keyboard. That so messes with me!

The accented letters share the number keys on the top row. To type "ř" you press the #5 key. But that only gives you lower case. To type the upper case "Ř" you have to press "CapsLk" then the #5 key. If you want to type "5" then you have to press "Shift" + the #5 key.

There is also a second "Alt" key called "AltGr". If you press this and the "e" key then you get the "".

On the English setting, all of the punctuation & symbol keys are in exactly the same place. But the same keys are scattered around the keyboard when using the Czech setting. I find it easier to just type using the English setting and switch, to the Czech setting, when I need the accented letters.

EDIT: You need to use the second "Alt" key called "AltGr" + the "v" key to get the "at sign" @. Press the "AltGr" + the "c" key to get an ampersand &.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Hockey Quarterfinals

Ice hockey is big in the Czech Republic. And everyone here is hoping for an Olympic medal from Vancouver. The team ranks sixth in the International Hockey Federation rankings. Sixteen of the teams' players are in the NHL, including captain Patrik Eliáš.
In 1998, at the Nagano Games, the Czechs won the gold medal and the entire country went crazy. I've got to admit that it would be very cool to see something like that. The team won the bronze in the 2006 Torino Olympics.

Well the Czechs are off to a good start so far. In the opening match against Slovakia the Czechs won 3-1. Can you say rivalry? They then beat Latvia 5-2 but lost 2-4 to Russia. They came back last night to beat Latvia again, 3-2, to make it to the quarterfinals.
The quarterfinals start today. The USA goes up against Switzerland while the Czechs take on Finland. The winners of these matches will fight it out in the semifinals to make it into the finals. Yes, I really want the Czechs to do well but I still have to root for the USA. I hope they both make it to the semis on Friday. Although, work on Monday should be fun because my colleages will either be really happy or really upset.
EDIT: I hope I didn't jinx it for the Czechs because they lost to Finland and are out of the medals. But Slovakia beat Sweden so they have a chance at a medal. Now the USA just needs to beat Finland to make it to the gold medal match tonight. Go USA!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Czech Grammar #1

Czech is a Slavic language so it is related to Slovak, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian, etc. I'm working hard to learn the language and the semi-private classes, twice a week, are helping a lot.

Here are some of the fun grammar things that make this language so challenging for a native English speaker.

There are no definate or indefinate articles...no "the", "an" or "a".

Nouns have gender so every noun is either masculine, feminine or neuter. And there are two types of masculine in Czech - animate or inanimate.

But since there are no articles (like "der", "die" & "das" in German) you have to look at the ending of every word to figure out the gender.

There is an informal and a formal "you". Like tu and vous in French. But personal pronouns aren't used that often (like in Spanish) because the verb lets you know what the missing pronoun should have been.

Czech uses prefixes, suffixes and infixes which can make words much longer than in English.

Word order is very fluid in Czech. The case system alters the ending of words to express grammatical relationships. For example, "The dog bites the man". If you change the word order of this sentence you get a completely different meaning in English. However, in Czech, you can rearrange this lots of different ways and depending on how each word ends...everyone knows exactly who was bitten.

Adjectives have to agree with the nouns...so the adjectives have to be in the correct gender, number (singluar or plural), and in the correct grammatical case.

Verbs are really easy and incredibly difficult. There are only 3 tenses...past, present and future. None of that "I had been doing" stuff we have in English. But verbs have aspect - which doesn't exist in English. The imperfective and perfective aspects basically mean that it takes two different verbs in Czech to do what English does with just one.

The past tense acts like an adjective because it has to agree in number and gender too.

The list just goes on and on and on...But it is a really nice feeling when I can go in to a restaurant or a shop and the locals actually understand me. Fortunately, I've got a great Czech teacher who is very patient. So I guess I need to quit writting this and get back to doing my homework.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Michal Březina

Michal Březina is a resident of Brno and currently competing in Vancouver. He's just 19 years old and he's the Czech national figure skating champion. In 2010 he placed 4th at the European Championships. It's not like I know him or anything but I've got to cheer for him since he's from Brno.

It's kind of weird for me because I obviously want the U.S. to do well at the Olympics. But I want the Czechs to do well too. My friends and family back home tell me that they are cheering for the Czech athletes too.

He's the only EU skater in the top 10. I think he was underscored and is in 9th place after the short program. Tonight, he performs his long program. If he skates clean, and others make mistakes, then perhaps he'll bring an Olympic medal home to Brno. Hodně štěstí! Good luck!

video
Here's his gala performance from the 2010 Euros. This isn't the routine he'll do at the Olympics. But this was only an exhibition, and he still went for all of the hard tricks.
EDIT: He skated clean but ended up in 10th place. But hey, 10th place at the Olympics is still pretty damn good!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Czech Television

It's Olympic time and I'm not able to watch like I normally would. First of all, there's the 9 hour time difference between Vancouver, Canada and the Czech Republic. And because of international copyright laws, etc., I can't watch U.S. coverage on NBC.com from Europe.

There's also the fact that everything on TV here is in Czech. I still haven't got the full low-down on Czech TV but here's a couple of things. Most of the shows are shown with very few, if any, commercials. It looks like the commercials are shown between shows.

The start times are just odd to me. Granted the times are all listed in military time but that's not the odd part. It's the air times. In the U.S., shows all start on the hour or the 1/2 hour. But not here. It's not uncommon for shows to begin at five or ten minutes past or even twenty minutes till.

I don't quite get the 18:49 start time. Why does a show start at 6:49 PM?

My Czech teacher wants me to start watching more Czech TV to improve my listening skills. Maybe it will also help me understand why some programs have such unusual air times.

Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics

Today is the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately, with the 9 hour time difference between here and Vancouver, I won't be able to watch any of the opening ceremonies.

Czech Television will broadcast live and tape-delayed coverage on channels ČT2 and ČT4. The problem is that the I don't know the schedules and for sure don't understand enough Czech yet. Oh well.

This year's Czech squad is a record high of 92 athletes. Seven of the Czech Republic's 10 winter medals have come in cross-country skiing so they should do well there. Here are the medal contenders...

Lukáš Bauer - cross-country skiing
He is competing in his 4th Olympic Games and he won silver in the 15 km men's classic race in Turino. He placed second at the 2009 World Championships and was the World Cup champion for the 2007-08 season.

Nikola Sudová - freestyle skiing
She is a mogul specialist and has won twice during this season's World Cup circuit. In mid-January she suffered torn knee ligaments in while training and doctors have outfitted here with a special knee brace.

Tomáš Kraus - freestyle skiing
Ski cross makes its Olympic debut in Vancouver where four racers hit the course simultaneously. Kraus was ski cross world champion in 2005 and 2007 and he ranks first in this season's World Cup standings.

Šárka Záhrobská - alpine skiing
She has medaled at the past 3 World Championships and placed first in the slalom in 2007. Her toughest competition comes from American Lindsey Vonn.

Martina Sáblíková - speed skating
She holds 5 World Championship golds and a silver in the 3,000 m, 5,000 m and all-around categories. She narrowly missed a medal at the 2006 games and is seen as the most likely Czech medalist in Vancouver. The interesting thing is that she trains in Erfurt, Germany, because there is no skating oval in the Czech Republic.

Men's ice hockey team
The team ranks sixth in the International Hockey Federation rankings. Sixteen of the teams' players are in the NHL, including captain Patrik Eliáš. The team won the bronze in the 2006 Torino Olympics. Hockey is big here! I heard that the country went crazy when the Czechs won the gold in 1998. The opening match is on February 17th against Slovakia. This should be a good match.

EDIT: It's 3 PM on 13.2 and ČT2 is showing the opening ceremonies. Everything is in Czech but at least I get to see them.

EDIT: The Czechs beat Slovakia 3-1 today. Yeah!! They go up against Latvia on Friday.

EDIT: The Czechs beat Lativa 5-2 on Friday but lost 2-4 on Saturday to Russia. They take on Latvia again on Tuesday night.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vienna City Park

The Wiener Stadtpark, Viennese City Park, was the first public park in the Vienna. It opened on August 21, 1862.

The park runs from Parkring, in the First District, up to Heumarkt, in the Third District. The park is 65,303 m² (702,915 ft²).

The Stadtparkbrücke (City Park Bridge) was built in 1857 and used to be called the Karolinenbrücke (Caroline Bridge).

There's a pond, a canal, benches, fountains, some art nouveau style gazebos and plenty of statues.

The most famous statue is a gilded bonze monument of composer Johann Strauß II. It was unveiled on June 26, 1921. Apparently the gilding was removed in 1935 and relaid in 1991.

The Stadtpark is the park with the largest number of monuments and sculptures in Vienna.









Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kampf um die Stadt

This past weekend was a road trip to Vienna, Austria. It's only about 120 km (~86 miles) from Brno.




Vienna has plenty of museums to check out and the Wien Musuem has started a new deal where admission is free on the first Sunday of each month. Regular admission is normally €9 (~$12.30) so free is great!
Claudia and I got there around 10 AM and it wasn't that crowded. However, it did start to fill up around 1 PM. The 1st Sunday special is new so I'm sure it will get much more crowded as people realize it's free.

The current exhibit is called Kampf um die Stadt - Politik, Kunst und Alltag um 1930 which is Struggle for the city - Politics, arts and urban life around 1930. It runs through March 28th and is very interesting. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Driving Basics

I've been on a couple of road trips lately to Germany and Austria so I figured that I'd share a little bit about driving here. First of all, I don't drive because my U.S. driver's license is not valid here. Since I'm in the ČR on a long-term visa, and not an EU citizen, I'm required to obtain a Czech license. Maybe one day but not right now. I mean the public transportation system is great. Plus, I don't want to go through the required bureaucracy of completing driving school, taking both written and practical tests, paying fees, and so on. Besides...I'll have to learn the different European road signs and I don't have time for that right now.

So here are the things that stand out...
Czech drivers are extremely aggressive. The rules of the road tend to be rather fluid at times which probably explains why the insurance rates are so high.

Like the rest of Europe, you have to be at least 18 years old to get a driver's license. There are no 16 year old drivers like in the U.S.

Traffic lights are placed before the intersection and not after.

Passing is only permitted on the left side and it is illegal to make a right turn on a red light.

It is illegal to talk on a mobile phone while driving. You have to use a "hands-free" device. Czech law requires that headlights must always be on, even during the day.

For everyone back home, gas here is around $7 per gallon, so no complaining about how how high it is there.

Czechs are required to have two sets of tires - summer tires and winter tires. I was told if you have the wrong tires on and get into an accident, even if it wasn't your fault, you are still held at fault.

The speed limit in residental areas is 50 km/hour (~30 mph) and 130 km/hr (~80 mph) on the highway.

In most countries you have to purchase a vignette (windshield sticker) in order to drive on the highways. These can be purchased at gas stations, border crossings, post offices, etc., and can be purchased for 7-10 days, a month or a year. A one-year permit for the ČR is 1200 Kč (~$66). The one-year sticker for Austria was €76,40 (~$105). Germany is the best because they don't have this so you can drive on the highways there for free.

The police are allowed to collect traffic fines on the spot, up to 5000 Kč (~$275).

There is a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving here. The maximum blood alchohol level is ZERO. And now the country is cracking down even more. As of January 1, 2010, the law requires that every driver stopped by the police will be breath-tested.

EDIT:  Link to Czech driving rules in English.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Aida

On Wednesday, there was a performance of Aida at Janáčkovo divadlo - Brno's largest theater. So Claudia, Tomáš and I joined Helena and Ferro for a night at the opera.

Aida is a four-act melodrama that was composed by Giuseppe Verdi.

Here's the plot...

Aida is an Ethiopian princess that was captured and is now a slave in Egypt. Radames is an Egyptian military commander and he is in love with Aida. Amneris is the Pharaoh's daughter and she is in love with Radames. The kicker is that no one knows Aida is royalty. The Ethopians invade Egypt and Radames is chosen to fight them back which tests everyone's loyalty.

The performance was good and the music was excellent. The only "problem" was that the opera was sung in Italian and the subtitles were all in Czech. It's a good thing that I read a summary of the four acts beforehand so I had an idea of what was happening on stage. But the cool thing was that I was able to pick out quite a few words from the subtitles, so I guess the new Czech lessons are starting to pay off.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hromnice

February 2nd is Hromnice. Basically the same thing as Groundhog Day in the U.S. The weather on Hromnice indicates how long winter will last. Here are some of the many Czech Hromnice sayings.

Svítí-li slunce na Hromnice, bude zimy o šest neděl více.
If the sun is shining on Hromnice, there will be six more weeks of winter.

Hromnice-li jasné, čisté, potrvá déle zima jistě. Pakli sněží nebo hřímá, jaro jistě v blízku dlívá.
If Hromnice is bright and clear, winter is sure to linger. If there is snow or thunder, spring must be near.

Vyjde-li jezevec o Hromnicích z díry, za čtyři neděle zpátky zas pílí.
If the badger comes out of his hole on Hromnice, he'll be rushing back four weeks later.

Jest-li o Hromnicích teplo, staví medvěd boudu; pakli o Hromnicích zima, bourá medvěd boudu.
If Hromnice is warm, the bear builds himself a shed. If Hromnice is cold, the bear tears down his shed.

Na Hromnice husa po vodě - na velikonoce po ledě.
If the goose swims on water on Hromnice, it will walk on ice at Easter.

Pošmourné Hromnice sedláku milé jsou velice.
Cloudy Hromnice makes the farmer happy.

Kdyby o Hromnicích napadlo jen tolik sněhu, co je na černé krávě znát, bude úrodný rok.
If as little snow falls on Hromnice as can be noticed on a black cow, the year will be fertile.

Na Hromnice kalužky, budou jabka i hrušky.
If there are puddles of water on Hromnice, there will be apples and pears.

Jestli na Hromnice mrzne a sněží, úrodný rok na to běží.
If Hromnice is freezing and snowy, a fertile year will follow.

Na Hromnice má sedlák raději vlka ve chlévě i ženu na marách než slunce.
On Hromnice, a farmer would rather have a wolf in his barn or a wife dead than the sun in the sky.

Well it snowed again today in Brno. And then later it cleared up. So who knows when winter will end here?