Friday, July 30, 2010

Hvar, Croatia

Hvar is the second largest Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea off of the Dalmatian coast. It’s been ranked as one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world. I totally agree. Hvar has become a hub for every globetrotter with a sailboat. The island is filled with palm trees, orange and lemon groves, olive plantations, vineyards, and fields of lavender, rosemary and sage. It’s Croatia’s sunniest island getting over 300 days of sunshine per year.

My flight from Prague was delayed and I just barely caught the last ferry of the night to Hvar with 5 minutes to spare. The ferry from Split to Stari Grad (47 Kuna = ~$9) took just under two hours and then it was a 20 minute bus ride to Hvar Town.

Hvar Town is a small medieval town on the southwest of the island. There is a citadel on a hill above town that was built in the 16th century. From the top of the citadel there is an awesome view of the city and the Pakleni Islands.


On the east side of the town’s main square is the Cathedral of St. Stephan. The cathedral and bell tower dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It was built on the site of a 6th century church.

The arsenal was built in the 13th century. On the first floor of the arsenal is a theater that was built in 1612. It is one of the oldest in Europe, as well as, the first municipal theater.

In the 15th century the Franciscan monastery was built as a retreat for sailors.

Hvar is known for its nightlife which tends to go well in to the next morning. But the beaches are the best! Directly opposite Hvar town is the Pakleni archipelago and a roundtrip water taxi is only 33 Kuna ($6) to Saint Jerolim Beach.

These wooded islands with rocky beaches and clear blue water are absolutely beautiful. The only drawback is the constant hum of the crickets. It sounded like those annoying vuvuzela horns that were so popular during the World Cup matches. But armed with a book and my iPod, I was able to block it out and just enjoy the sun and the water. Hvar has been very relaxing and a great way to start off my Croatian vacation. Now off to Split

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Croatia

On Tuesday, I'm headed to Croatia for a week's holiday. I have a ČSA (Czech Airlines) flight from Prague to Split, on the Dalmatian coast. From there, I'll take a ferry for a couple of hours to the island of Hvar. On Friday, I'll head back to Split for four nights. The plan is to spend some time on the beaches, knock out a couple of books and just generally relax. I'm thinking of taking a day trip to Brač island and to Međugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina on either Saturday or Sunday.

Dubrovnik was another possibility but it's at least 6 hours by bus to get there from Split. So that will be a future visit.

Croatia was one of the six republics of Yugoslavia until it declared independence in June 1991. Things have long since stabilized since the war in the Balkans during the early 90's. Croatia is now a part of NATO and is working towards joining the EU.

Croatia is a very popular vacation spot for Czechs. My Czech teacher thinks that I'll meet plenty of Czechs there so I can still practice while on holiday. I've been told that German is more useful than English so between that and my limited Czech I figure that I'll be OK. Now the countdown begins until my flight. I soooo can't wait to hit the beach!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

39th Birthday

So today was my birthday and it went well. One thing is for sure...it was way better than a year ago. Last year, I had just moved and had only been in the ČR for a few weeks. I didn't know anyone yet, spoke even less Czech than I do now, was still in my temporary lodging, and had intermittent Internet connectivity so I wasn't able to speak to my friends or family. I remember wondering if I had made a big mistake by picking up and moving here. What a difference a year makes...

Rob has been working swing shifts but he got up before I left for work and gave me a travel book for my Paris trip in September. Plus, an upcoming day trip to Lednice. It was a nice way to start off the day.

Birthdays are done a little different over here. Here it's up to the birthday boy (or girl) to do stuff for one's own b-day. So I stopped by a bakery on the way to the office and took in a bunch of pastries for everyone at work. Throughout the day people came up to me, shook my hand (or did the European double kiss on the cheek), and wished me a happy birthday. It was really nice.

I had not planned any kind of party or anything because I'm going to Croatia next week. Claudia suggested just having dinner with Helena and Ferro at this Indian & Arabian restaurant in town. Well it turned out to be a surprise and it was great to also have Katka, Štěpánka, Vladan, Pavel and Tomáš join us for dinner.












I also made it to the post office to pick up a care package from my family. Yeah!!! My parents, grandmother and sister sent lots of different seasoning packets, peanut butter, mustard, jelly beans, pickle relish, diced green chillies, sliced almonds, clams, mac 'n cheese, and other goodies. Thanks everyone! My niece Emme included a potholder that she made me and some peanut butter cookies from her girl scout troop. Thanks Emme!

The other great thing that happened is that my house closed in Atlanta. What a relief!! No more having to continuously wire money to the U.S. to pay my mortgage back home. Overall...a really great day!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Capuchin Crypt

Near the Cabbage Market is the 17th century Capuchin Monastery. It was built from 1648 – 1651. Baroque sculptures decorate the front side that date back to 1765.





In the monastery’s basement is the crypt. People from all levels of society were buried in the crypt.

Apparently the composition of the ground and the dry air under the church made it easy to mummify dead bodies. This was a cheap way to dispose of bodies. Given their vows of poverty, the monks would recycle the same coffin, over and over, for all funerals. After a church service the monks would carry the coffin down to the crypt. The coffin had a false bottom so the body came out and was left on the ground to dry out. This went on until 1787 when the emperor, Joseph II, prohibited burying the dead inside of town limits.

There are several bodies in on display in the crypt. In one room, the bodies are laid on display. In Czech, there is a sign that translates to “As you are now, we once were, as we are now, you shall become.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Great Brno Water Battle

It's been really hot the last couple of weeks, in the mid-90s most days. So on Thursday night there was the Great Brno Water Battle at Náměstí svobody. Starting at 7 PM, people gathered by the fountain and had one heck of a water fight.

There were squirt guns, water balloons, plastic water bottles, even a few buckets. People really seemed to get in to the festivities and it looked like a nice way to cool down. There were lots of participants, plus a bunch of looky-loos with cameras, like me.

It was nice to just how in to the spirit people got. Especially with the snorkels and water wings. I could be wrong but I think that this was the second year that this has been done.

video

video

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kraví hora

This past Sunday, I went with my friend, Kamila, to Kraví hora (Cow Mountain). Kraví hora is one of Brno's public swimming pools and it's not far from my flat. There is both an outdoor and indoor pool, a jacuzzi, a separate pool for kids, and lots of room to sunbathe.

One of my colleagues asked me what the difference was going to an American pool vs. a Czech pool?



Well #1 I had to go to a Czech pool. In the U.S., the pool was in my backyard. And #2, the topless girls. Since this is Europe there is a lot of topless sunbathing. Sorry guys, no pictures of the topless girls...that would have been tacky.

This is one of the most popular pools so it can get quite crowded. During the Summer it's open from 9 AM - 10 PM but it's better to get there early. It only costs 50 Kč (~$2.50) for three hours, and 10 Kč (50¢) for each additional hour. An all-day pass is only 100 Kč.

There's also a great view of the castle from the pool area. Beside the pool, Kraví hora also has plenty of grassy areas for picnics, long walks and there is also an observatory/planetarium.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Josefov

Josefov is Prague’s Old Jewish Quarter that lies between the Vltava River and the Old Town Square. It is named after Emperor Josef II because his reforms improved Jewish living conditions in Prague. During WWII, the Nazis actually preserved the synagogues and the cemetery. They brought objects from 153 Jewish communities from Bohemia and Moravia to Prague because they wanted to use it as the “museum of an extinct race” once their extermination program was complete. Disturbing to say the least. But at least everything survived and it’s now a memorial of 700 years of oppression.

The Jewish Museum has one of the most extensive collections of Judaic art in the world. Its contents are spread across multiple synagogues, the Ceremonial Hall, the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Robert Guttmann Gallery and the Education and Culture Center.



Europe’s oldest working synagogue is the Old-New Synagogue. It was built around 1270 and is one of the city’s earliest Gothic buildings.

The Klausen Synagogue was completed in 1694 in the Baroque style. Today, it contains an exhit detailing Jewish customs and traditions, in addition to, an exhibit of Hebrew prints and manuscripts.
The Pinkas Synagogue was founded in 1479. After WWII, it turned into a Jewish memorial. One wall inside contains the names of all of the Nazi death camps and the others are covered with the names of the 77,297 Czechoslovak victims. The walls are organized by different part of the country.

The Spanish Synagogue was built in 1868 and combines different architectural styles. Its name comes from its Moorish interior. It houses an exhibit on Jews in the ČR from emancipation to today. The synagogue is very impressive. Unfortunately, they are really strict about the “no photography” rule inside.

The Old Jewish Cemetery is Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery with over 12,000 visible tombstones. It’s hard to image that 100,000 people are buried in 12,000 graves. But the body count is much higher due to the layering system used to save space. This is because Prague Jews were not allowed to bury their dead outside of the ghetto so they had to make d0. The oldest tombstone, actually now a replica, dates back to 1439 while the newest one dates back to 1787.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Museum of Communism

The Museum of Communism focuses on Czechoslovakia’s totalitarian regime from the coup in February 1948 to its collapse in November 1989. The museum’s theme is “Communism – the Dream, the Reality, and the Nightmare”.

The museum is divided in to three main rooms; each filled with various artifacts. There are exhibits focusing on daily life, education, the arts, sport, propaganda in the media and the secret police. There are replicas of a grammar school, a grocery store and an interrogation room used by the ŠtB (the Czechoslovakian secret police).

The best part is room where a video shows archive footage of life under the communist regime and the Velvet Revolution in 1989. It was amazing to watch the video of people risking everything and standing up to the police.

Claudia’s parents had no interest in going to this museum. I guess they had their fill of communism living in East Germany.

One of the funniest things to me is that the museum is next to a casino and a McDonald’s. It leaves no doubt who the winner was in the war between communism and capitalism.

Victims of Communism Memorial

At the bottom of Petřín Hill is Prague’s Memorial to the Victims of the Communist Regime.





The memorial commemorates the victims of the communist era from 1948 – 1989. It’s both interesting and kind of spooky. The line of statues shows a person’s destruction. Each figure loses parts of its body until it just disappears. It’s meant to symbolize how political prisoners were affected by communism.

The bronze strip that runs through the center shows the estimated numbers of the victims.
205,486 – arrested
170,938 – forced into exile
4,500 – died in prison
327 – shot trying to escape
248 – executed

The memorial consisted of seven statues when it was unveiled in 2002. Unfortunately, one of the statues was destroyed during two bomb blasts in 2003. No group ever admitted to the attack.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prague Metronome & Stalin Statue

A huge, functional metronome was built in Letná Park for a national fair in 1991. Designed by Vratislav Novak, it is 23 meters (75 feet) tall and monotonously ticks away as it overlooks the Vltava River. The area behind the metronome is popular with skateboarders. I heard that at one time the city wanted to put an aquarium there but nothing has ever really been done about it.

Today's metronome stands on the spot where there was once the world's largest statue of Joseph Stalin. The Stalin monument was a huge granite statue that took 5½ years to build. It was unveiled in 1955 and was 15.5 meters (51 feet) tall and 22 (72 feet) long. The sculptor, Otakar Švec, was pressured by the government to build it even though he received hate mail for it from Czech citizens. He committed suicide three weeks before the statue was unveiled.

The statue didn't last long...only 7 years. After Stalin was denounced by Nikita Krushchev the statue became an embarrassment to the Czechoslovakian Communist Party. So in 1962, with orders from Moscow, 800 kilos (1,763 pounds) of explosivses were used to blow up the monument.
A few years ago, Atlanta built the world's largest acquarium and it is awesome. So while, in my opionion, the metronome is better than the Stalin memorial, I love the idea of Prague losing the metronome and putting in an acquarium. But who know's if that will have happen?