Wednesday, July 27, 2011

40th Birthday Fiesta

OK, so I think I have now fully recovered from the 40th birthday fiesta on Saturday night. July is a tough time to throw a party because this is prime vacation time. Even still there were about 35 people who came to Železná Růže for a nice, respectable little roar. Friends even made it from Prague and Břeclav. What a great time!!

This was the same place where Claudia had her 30th birthday and they did a great job again. We had the whole back room with the bar and a DJ. They grilled turkey and pork, plus sausages, and set out vegetable, cheese, meat and fruit trays with all of the fixings. Along with plenty of champagne, wine and beer. Not to mention all of the vodka and tequila shots that people kept sending over to me. But somehow I hung in there. =)



I still can't believe that so many people made such a fuss about my birthday. When people asked what I wanted for my birthday all I said was that I wanted my friends to come and have a good time. Well my friends don't always listen to me. I received so many bottles of wine, vodka, schnapps and slivovice. Along with some cool art work and a couple of good books. My friends know I'm in this blog contest and apparently they didn't want me to run out of adventures so they lined up a few things for me to do. Let's see...I get to go paragliding and go on a hot air balloon ride. Did I mention that I'm scared of heights? But I so can't wait to do both. And if I do get a little stressed then afterwards I get to relax at a Thai massage parlor. Plus a trip to Berlin over the long holiday weekend in November. I'm totally psyched about all of my new upcoming adventures. Yeah!!

We closed the place down around 12:30 am and a good ten of us wound up at a club until late. I think I managed to crawl in to bed around 6 am. I guess I'm not too old to still tear it up once in a while. On Sunday, my friend Aleš helped me go back to the restaurant to pick up all of the gifts and leftover food. Luckily, I wasn't hung over at all but I was definitely exhausted. It's a good thing that I don't turn 40 very often. All of the photos, after editing, are out on Flickr. I'm very fortunate to have made such a good group of friends over here the ČR. Thank you again to everyone for making this such a great birthday.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Turning 40

What a crazy day today has been. I woke up and it was raining. Not that big a deal except that I was supposed to take my driving exam this morning. I received my California license on my 16th birthday so I figured I could get my Czech license on my 40th. So I get up and trek out in the rain to take my exam. Half-way there my instructor calls me and says that we have to reschedule because the person before me wrecked the test car. Go figure. I know that I owe everyone the low-down on the driving thing and I promise to get to it soon.

As soon as I got to work it was immediately time for the first meeting of the day. When I finally made it to my desk, I found a birthday card and some chocolate from my team. Have I mentioned that I have a great team!?! The rest of the day was just non-stop busy. I was so glad once the day was over and I could go home and unwind. Sort of. I have people coming to stay this weekend and of course this is the day that my housekeeper is on vacation. But it was a good thing that I did a little straightening up because then came the surprises.

At 7:15, Claudia, Norbert, Sabine, Natalie, Mariya and Andreas showed up at my door with wine, champagne and Claudi's famous Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry cake). Natalie and Mariya won't be able to attend the big 40th fiesta on Saturday so it was very sweet of them to come by and wish me a happy birthday. But the big surprise was the Claudia's parents drove all the way down from Berlin and brought me an East German goodie basket. And the cool thing is that they will be here for the party on Saturday. I am floored that they drove over 6 hours just for my birthday. They are awesome!

Claudia's mom works for the road authority, or something to that effect, in Berlin. She had them produce a 40 km per hour traffic sign. This must have taken some favors because this isn't something that you can purchase. The family signed it and it's covered with photos from some our adventures together. I can't believe that everyone went to such trouble. I am very lucky to have such great friends over here in Euroland. And now...the countdown begins until Saturday's big shindig.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pernštejn Castle

Hrad Pernštejn (Pernštejn Castle), located near the village of Nedvědice, is about 34 km (21 miles) north-west of Brno and around 156 km (97 miles) south-east of Prague.

The castle sits on a rocky hill and is one of the best castles in Moravia. Every year it receives 75,000 visitors.

The Pernštejns, who completed the castle in the first half of the 16th century, were the richest and most politically powerful family in the Czech kingdom.

It is one of the best preserved castles in the ČR. This makes it a great place for studios to film movies which take place during the middle ages.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the afternoon to take the full inside tour. Though we did have enough time on Saturday, after visiting Žďár nad Sázavou, to at least walk around the castle grounds. I've heard that the tour only takes about an hour and is totally worth it. So it looks like I'll definitely be back another day for that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Žďár nad Sázavou, Czech Republic

Žďár nad Sázavou is a small city, with about 24,000 residents, about 64 km (~40 miles) from Brno. It's 124 km (77 miles) from Prague which puts it near the border between Moravia and Bohemia. It's just another small Czech town with one exception. The Pilgrimage Church of St. John of Nepomuk, on top of Zelená hora (Green Hill), is about 3 km from the city center.

At the start of the 18th century a new architectural style called Baroque Gothic developed in Bohemia where Gothic elements were transposed into baroque form. Built from 1719 to 1722, the church is the final work of famous architect Jan Santini. In 1994, the church was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Jan Nepomucký was a priest who regularly heard the queen's confessions. The story goes that the king ordered him to reveal if the queen had confessed to having a lover. The priest never said anything and ended up on the rack. He was killed and his body was thrown from Prague's Charles Bridge into the Vltava River.

Supposedly, when his tomb was opened 300 years later a piece of reddish tissue fell out of his skull. The tongue that would not reveal confessions. A nice story. In 1973, scientists showed that the reddish tissue was part of the brain with congealed blood; not a tongue. Though I'm sure that the tongue story went a long way in St. John's beatification.

On the night of his execution there were five stars that hovered over the Vltava. So the church is based on fives. There are five entrances, five altar niches, five stars and five angels on the main alter all arranged in a "V" which is the Roman numeral "five". Inside the church, on the ceiling, is a tongue.

The church is surrounded by graves. This is surrounded by cloisters in the shape of a ten-point star. I understand that the church was build on the highest hill around. If only there was another hill or a viewing tower nearby where you could look down and view the church in its entirety. All in all, it made for a nice Saturday morning day trip. There's a large monastery at the base of the hill, also designed by Santini. Perhaps that will be a future day trip destination too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Punkva Caves

The Moravian Karst is a protected landscape of around 92 km² (~35.5 square miles) about 30 minutes from Brno. There are over 1,100 caves and gorges but only four caves are open to the public. I've wanted to visit the caves since I moved here, two years ago, but it's never worked out before now. Natalie's cousin came to visit from New Zealand so it was the perfect opportunity to do something local.

The best cave to tour is the Pukvevní jeskyně (Punkva Caves) because this tour includes an underground boat ride and you get to see the bottom of the Macocha Abyss. Nat, Cousin Pip, Mcghee and I headed out to the caves early Saturday morning. Since the caves are so popular we weren't sure if we would be able to get tickets but we lucked out and scored the ones we wanted. Later on we overheard some tourists who were pretty upset that they could not get tickets. I guess it pays sometimes to get up early on a Saturday.
The caves were awesome! There are all of these interesting stalagmites and rock formations. It's no wonder that it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the ČR. The tour was given in Czech so we had to read the tour brochures beforehand because we knew that it would be too dark inside to try to read.

The Macocha Abyss got its name from a popular Czech legend about an evil stepmother (macocha in Česky) who threw her stepson down in to the abyss. However the boy grabbed on to a tree branch which kept him from falling to his death. He later climbed out and told everyone in the village what had happened. Fearing punishment, she committed suicide by jumping in to the abyss.

After the tour we hiked around for a bit and then headed back home. I'm really glad that we got to see the Punkva Caves on our first visit. But now I really want to see the Kateřinská jeskyně (Catherine's Cave, the Balcarka Cave and the Sloupsko-šošůvské jeskyně (Sloup-Šošůvka Caves) too. I just need to make sure that it doesn't take another 2 years to get there.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Czech Holidays

Today is the 4th of July so Happy Independence Day to everyone back home. Unfortunately, it wasn't a holiday for me over here. Go figure...but that's OK because July 5th and 6th are public holidays over here in the ČR. Yeah!

Now a lot of my friends back in the USA seem to think that there are public holidays galore over here. That's not really the case. There are 12 public holidays observed in the Czech Republic. However, (and this is a BIG HOWEVER by the way), if a holiday falls on a weekend then you don't get an extra day off. In the USA, if a holiday falls on Saturday then you get Friday off and if it falls on Sunday then Monday is a day off. Not so over here...dang it!

Even with 12 official days it is impossible to ever get all 12 days. 2011 is the worst possible year for public holidays over here, since January 1st fell on a Saturday, because we only get 7 days off. When January 1st falls on a Monday or Thursday then you get the maximum 10 days. During a leap year then you want January 1st to fall on Wednesday to get all 10 days.

Here are the twelve official Czech holidays.

1 January - New Year's Day (& Czech Independence Day)
Easter Monday
1 May - Labor Day
8 May - Liberation Day
5 July - St. Cyril and St. Methodius Day
6 July - Jan Hus Day
28 September - St. Wenceslas Day (Czech Statehood Day)
28 October - Independent Czechoslovak State Day
17 November - Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day
24 December - Christmas Eve
25 December - Christmas Day
26 December - Second Day of Christmas

So again, Happy 4th to everyone back home. And to everyone here, Happy St. Cyril & St. Methodius Day and Happy Jan Hus Day!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape, Czech Republic

Back in the mid-13th century the dukes of Liechtenstein came to Lednice and built a chateau. In the 14th century they built another chateau in Valtice. The castle in Valtice became the duke's main residence while Lednice became the summer home. The countryside between the two castles was given various Baroque and Romantic touches at the end of the 18th century. Today, the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, and 283 km2 (~109 miles2), it is one of Europe's largest artificial landscapes.

There are several pavilions and follies scattered between the two castles. With lots of hiking/bike trails between the two towns it is very easy to see all of the various touches that were added to the landscape. Some of which include:

Rendezvous (The Temple of Diana) was hunting lodge that dates back to the 1810s.





St. Hubert Chapel was built in the 1850s and was dedicated to the patron saint of hunters.


The Temple of the Three Graces is from the 1820s.





John's Castle is a fake Neo-Gothic "ruined" castle built in 1810.


There's even a fake Roman aqueduct by one of the lakes. I've decided that henceforth, it shall be known as the "fakeueduct".

One of the most out of place structures is the minaret in the Lednice Castle garden. It was completed in 1804. When it was constructed it was the tallest minaret in a non-Muslim country. I'm still not quite sure why the House of Lichtenstein needed a minaret but maybe they were running out of ideas for new structures to build.

Yesterday, I went with Natalie and Verity on what was supposed to be a 12 km trek though the Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape. We took the train from Brno to Valtice and hiked over to Lednice where we had lunch. We then continued our little nature walk from Lednice all the way to Břeclav. It was a really nice day but those little old' 12 km (~7.5 miles) turned in to 25 km (~15.5). Ouch!! My poor feet are still sore. Maybe next time we'll rent bicycles and hit a different trail to see some of the other follies.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Polls Are Open

The polls are now open and voting has begun for the best Eastern Europe Expat Blog. I believe that voting will take place through the whole month of July.

Good luck to all of the other bloggers who were also nominated. However, please go to http://easteurblogcomp.blogspot.com/ and cast your vote for Christopher's Expat Adventure.

When you cast your vote you should be able to see the current standings. I don't know if you can vote more than once. Perhaps only one vote counts per computer. I guess to be safe you can vote once a day from every available computer and smartphone. Not that I'm competitive or anything. Just saying....

Thanks for everyone's support!!!


EDIT: Thanks to everyone who voted and helped me win 1st place.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Two Years Down

Well I did it. I made it through my second year of living in the Czech Republic. Woo-Hoo!!

Two years ago I stepped foot in this country for the first time. First time, ever! Yes, I know it was kind of crazy to move to a foreign country that I had never been to before. However, I do love a challenge and this has been a big one.

When I arranged my IBM transfer from Atlanta to Brno, the deal was that I would be here for at least 2 to 3 years. Things have been going well. Busy but well. The Czech government has extended my visa for another two years so it looks like I'll be here until at least 2013. At that point I will have been here for 4 years. If I stay a 5th year, and pass a Czech language exam, then I can receive permanent residency in the ČR. Not sure if that is something I will do or not but that's a good 3 years away.

I've had the opportunity to do quite a bit of traveling. I guess 17 countries in two years isn't too shabby. I still have 3 weeks of vacation to take this year so let's see how many new countries I can make it to. Right now, I'm planning a good 2 - 3 weeks back in the USA in Fall 2012. This will be the first time I visit home since moving here. I need to get back to Atlanta to recharge my batteries and I'm definitely ready to spend some quality time with my family in California.