Wednesday, October 31, 2012

L'Eau Vive

Tonight was interesting.  One of our colleagues has decided to return back to Togo and we had a little farewell evening with him at a restaurant near Petrov.

It was at l'Eau Vive.  So a French restaurant, run by African nuns, in Czech Republic.  Things are very international over here.  Now here's the kicker.  Every evening the entire restaurant sings Ave Maria. I thought that perhaps I had misunderstood the Czech but they said the same thing in French.  The sisters came around with song cards and someone came out in to the restaurant with a guitar.  You know it has to be true because I can't make up this kind of stuff.  We all sang the song in French and then Czech.  Being both Catholic and Mexican I of course know the song.  But I only know it in Spanish

One of the most most popular singers here is Lucie Bilá.  She's the Czech diva.  Here's a clip I found on YouTube of here singing Ave Maria in Czech.  Trust me, she sounds way better than we did tonight.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Time Change

Daylight savings time ended this morning in ČR.  Our clocks fell back one hour and we are now back to CET (Central European Time).  That extra hour of sleep was really nice.  The only thing here is that it will now get dark so early.  In summer, I can leave the office at 7 or 8 pm and it's no problem.  It is still light outside and I know that I still have time to get things done.  But now, it will start getting dark around 4.  This is the time of year where I just want to go home, grab something to eat and go to bed.  I need to come up with something to do during the week, besides my Tuesday and Thursday night Czech lessons, that will keep me energized.

It's funny to me that when the time changes it doesn't change everywhere.  Normally Atlanta is 6 hours behind and California is 9 hours behind Brno.  But they don't set their clocks back until next week so when I Skype everyone tonight they will only be 5 and 8 hours behind.  Arizona is confusing.  They don't change time at all so half of the year they are the same as California and the other half of the year they are an hour ahead.  Which, I think, leaves mom & dad 8 hours behind for the next six months.  Very confusing at times.

Again, the extra hour of sleep was nice.  However, when I woke up I found that we got a bit of snow.  Not a lot but seriously!!??!!  Snow in October?  Something tells me that it is going to be a long, long winter ahead.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Trnava, Slovakia

Nat was in Edinburgh last week and since she was flying in to Bratislava we decided to take advantage and do a little exploring in western Slovakia 

Trnava is only a 30 minute train ride (45 km/28 miles) north-east of "Bratsville".  The only thing we had planned was the train to get there and the departure times going back because we didn't know how long the weather would hold out for or exactly what we would find in the city.  All we knew about Trnava was that it is the oldest city in Slovakia.  But hey, that's more than enough information for a totally random little adventure.

Trnava Town Hall

Trnava dates back to around 1211 but it was granted civic privileges by the Hungarian king in 1238 which makes it the oldest city in Slovakia.  Today, the city has a population of ~66,000 and is Slovakia's 7th largest city.

Red Army Liberation Monument




I don't think that Trnava is really considered a tourist town because this is the first city in Europe where I wasn't able to find any postcards.



The first thing we stumbled across was the Western Slovakia Museum.  It is located inside of the 13th century Klarisky Convent.  The museum was pretty eclectic with lots of random pieces.  Well worth the €2,50 ($3.20) price of admission.


The Square of the Holy Trinity is the main historic square.  It is home to the town's plague memorial and the city tower.

The Renaissance city tower is 57 meters (187 feet) tall and was built in 1574.  The clock dates back to 1729 and is still accurate to within 30 seconds.

Trnava is often called the "Slovak Rome" or "Little Rome" due to all of the churches within the old 13th and 14th century city walls.  Here are just a few of them...




The Church of St. Helen is the oldest church in town.  The Jesuit church was built in the 14th century.





The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was the first early Baroque church in Slovakia.  It was built between 1629 and 1637.  Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in 2003 and there is now a statue of him in front.

One of the oldest churches in Trnava is the St. Nicholas Cathedral.  Construction lasted from 1380 to 1421.  The St. Nicholas bell, in the north tower, is one of the biggest bells in Europe.  In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed it a Minor Basilica, making it the country's 10th basilica.

It is a Catholic pilgrimage site because it is home to the Virgin Mary of Trnava.  The painting has been hanging in the church since 1585.  On multiple occasions, blood tears have appeared on the painting.  Many people come here to visit the painting and to ask for God's help and to give thanks.





The Church of St. Jacob was built in 1640.










The Jesuit Church of the Holy Trinity was built in 1729.



Since today was the Sabbath we weren't able to visit the Synagogue Status Quo Ante.  It dates back to 1831.  In 1947, a memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust (1938-1942) was erected in front.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Greece

Nat and I decided on a weekend trip to Athens in a few weeks.  She's never been there before and it's been 20 years since I was in Athens so this should be a good little adventure.  This will also be country #33 that I've visited since I moved here in July 2009.  My last assignment in the military was in Heraklion, Crete, which seems like a lifetime ago.  I'm still planning a return trip to Crete in the future.  It should be interesting to see how things have changed in Greece since I left.

Officially the Hellenic Republic (Ελληνική Δημοκρατία), Greece (Ελλάδα) is in southeast Europe.  Greece borders Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey.  It lies on the Aegean Sea, the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  The country has around 1,400 islands but only 227 of them are inhabited.  Crete is the largest island.  The entire country is a bit smaller than Alabama and has a population around 11 million.  Athens is the capital and its largest city.

The first advanced civilizations in Europe began here around 3200 BC.  Ancient Greece was the cradle of Western civilization.  It gave us democracy, western philosophy, and the Olympic Games.  There is a lot of history to explore here.  Greece is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the 7th most in Europe (13th in the world).

Following the Greek War of Independence, from the Ottoman Empire, Greece was established in 1830.  During WWII, Greece was invaded by Italy in 1940 and then occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944.  Then there was a civil war between nationalists and communists that lasted until 1949.  Many Greeks ended up in Czechoslovakia but more on that one later.

Greece joined NATO in 1952.  A military dictatorship took control of the country in 1967 and it wasn't until 1974 that democratic elections took place which created a parliamentary republic.  In 1981, Greece joined what later became the EU and adopted the euro in 2001.  Greece is a member of the Schengen area but may be kicked out.

Greece has several issues to deal with.  Traditionally, these have been with neighboring countries.  There is a big rivalry between Greeks and Turks.  There are always territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea between the two countries.  There is a section of Greece called Macedonia so it rejects the Republic of Macedonia from using the name.  The migration of unemployed people from Albania has helped to put a strain on the Greek government.  And these are just some of the traditional issues the country deals with.  The more recent problems are the ones that require the most attention.

Greece's economy is a wreck.  The country falsified records in order to join the Eurozone when in fact it never met the basic requirements for membership.  Greece was spending more than it was earning before it joined the euro and public spending went crazy after it joined.  To make matters worse, high levels of tax evasion have caused the budget deficit to spiral out of control.  When the global financial crisis hit, Greece was no longer able to repay its debt and the country was forced to ask for massive loans.

In 2010, the EU and the International Monetary fund gave €110 billion ($140 billion) and in 2012 another €130 billion bailout package was approved.  Most of the country's private creditors agreed to write off over half of their Greek debt and to provide lower interest rates for existing loans.  Currently Greece owes $38B to French banks, $8.2 to UK banks, $5.5 to German banks and $3.2B to US banks.

However, in exchange for all of this assistance, Greece has had to undertake major austerity measures to cut spending, raise taxes and undergo pension and labor market reforms.  Without the ability to devalue its currency, Greece has a long hard road ahead.  Over 25% of the country is currently unemployed.  For young people, the rate is more than 54%.  This prevents the country from collecting revenue in order to pay off its debt which forces further public spending cuts.  This is also causing a "brain drain" as educated Greeks are leaving the country in order to find jobs overseas.  What a mess!  At some point, there will have to be a "GrExit" from the Eurozone which will set a dangerous precedent with regards to the troubled economies in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland.

Here's a video from 2011 I found on YouTube that gives more information.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tim Tams

Natalie invited several of us over to her flat today for brunch.  This Kiwi sure can cook and she outdid herself with all of the food.  I really do need to get a couple of her recipes.







It was a really nice time just hanging out with everyone.  We definitely all finished fat and happy.

Nat even had Tim Tams for dessert.  Yum!!  Tim Tams are a chocolate cookie (what British English speakers call a biscuit).  Basically it is two layers of chocolate malt cookies with a light chocolate cream filling in between and then covered in chocolate.  They come in several different flavors.  They are made by Arnott's in Australia.  You can't get them here in Brno.  She brought these back from her last trip to the UK.   

Nat telling others how to Tim Tam Slam
The fun way to eat them is do to the Tim Tam Slam.  You nibble the corner off of one side and then the opposite diagonal corner.  You then dip the cookie in to a hot beverage, coffee or tea, and use the cookie as a straw.  It's a one-time thing because the cookie gets so soft but it is quite a tasty treat.

Showing the Tim Tam Slam
Apparently, in 2008, Pepperidge Farm introduced Tim Tams to the USA.  They were only sold in Target stores and only in a couple of flavors.  Now they are available at select stores in the USA, but only from October to March. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lucidor and Arabella

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Brno has got a great cultural scene going on here.  The ballets and operas that I've seen here rival any that I've seen before.  Every time there is a performance at the Janáčkovo divadlo (Jancek theater) you see tour buses from Austria.  It makes sense that people come here because the performances are just as good as in Vienna and at a fraction of the cost.

I only wish that my Czech was good enough so that I could see some of the dramas and comedies at of the local theaters.  I've heard good things about those too. 

Tonight, I joined Claudia, and her friend Yvonne, who is visiting from Berlin, at the ballet.  Last night was the premier of Lucidor a Arabella so we saw the second performance.  It was amazing!  The performers danced with such passion and the costumes and stage settings were just great.  This is one that I wouldn't mind seeing again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Back at the Gun Range Again

Jiří, the organizer
One of our colleagues, Jiří, organized some time for a few of us at the gun range after work today.

After a long day it is a nice way to blow off some steam.


Since I served in the U.S. military everyone here thinks that I must be some sort of marksman.  I was in the Air Force, and while I did have to qualify with an M-16, it's not like I was always out shooting.  In fact, I probably only ever had to fire my a weapon maybe 7 or 8 times and that's been almost 20 years ago.

I honestly can't remember the last time I was at a gun range in the USA.  And it's not like I go all the time here.  This was third time I've even been to the range here in Brno.  It is fun to compete with everyone else.


We had a little challenge this time.  With a 9mm Glock we all had three bullets and, using the same target, the goal was to get a head shot.  Either I got real lucky, or my training came back to me, because I put one right between the eyes.  Probably luck, but I'll at least claim that it was skill.  The only problem is then I have to deliver next time too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Expat Blog Award Nomination

I've been nominated for a 2012 Expat Blog Award.  In late December, there will be a Gold, Silver and Bronze award for the best Expat Blog in Czech Republic.

This is not the same contest which, thanks to all of my loyal readers, I won last year.  That was a one-time deal looking for the best blogger in all of Central and Eastern Europe.  I still can't believe that I won that by only 3 votes.

This new competition is by country so I am only competing with other bloggers in ČR.  Of course I have a lot more competition this year.

One of the judging criteria will be based on reviews left on my listing.  Of course, this isn't the only judging method but a few well chosen words from my readers surely can't hurt.  So please go show some love for this blog by leaving a comment at http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/60/christophers-expat-adventure

Thanks and wish me luck!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kroměříž, Czech Republic

Kroměříž is a beautiful little town in Moravia.  It's only 30 km (~19 miles) from Zlín.  By bus, it takes about 1¼ hours to get there from Brno.  With that, Nat and I took off for a day's adventure.

The town was founded in 1260 by the Bishop of Olomouc.  Kroměříž has had some hard times over the years.  In 1643 and 1645 it was ransacked by Swedish troops during the Thirty Years' War.  Today, the population is around 30,000.

The most famous site in Kroměříž is the Archbishop's Château.  It had to be rebuilt after the Thirty Years' War.  It is quite impressive.  The chateau was used for some scenes in the films Amadeus and Immortal Beloved.  I can understand why Tomáš and Annie chose this place for their wedding.

Apollo and Mars
This is also home to a great collection of 15th to 18th century Central European paintings.  One of the most famous pieces is "Apollo and Mars" by Tiziano Vecelli.  During the guided tour there is a strict no photography rule in place.

Me and my shoe covers


Aside from the no photography bit, in order to take the guided tour everyone had to wear shoe covers.  OK, this seems logical to me.  Except that the guide didn't have to wear them.  What I could not wrap my head around was that I had to cover my shoes but then someone was allowed to bring their dog on the tour.  Mind you, not a seeing eye dog, just a big dog on a leash.  Loczech in action.

The chateau garden sits on 64 hectares (158 acres).  The Baroque style garden is open to the public all year round.  It's a great place to go for a nice long walk.  There is even a small wild life corner with peacocks, canaries, and baboons.


On the other side of town is the Flower Garden which was once called "The Orchard of Delights".  The garden was built by Italian architects.



The colonnade contains statues of Greek gods.  It's possible to walk along the top as well to get a nice view of the gardens.  I'm sure it looks great in spring.




In 1998, the Archbishop's Chateau and the Flower Garden were added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Velké náměstí is the Large Square in the center of town.  It's about 1 hectare (~2.5 acres).

The Town Hall was built from 1550 to 1611.  The clock on the tower is from the 17th century with the upper face showing hours and the lower face showing minutes.

The town's Plague Column was built from 1715 to 1716.

The Church of St. John the Baptist was consecrated in 1768.  It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful 18th century churches in Moravia.  Unfortunately, the door was locked so I guess another visit is in order to properly check it out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Katka's Birthday

Last night we had a get together for Katka's birthday. 


She invited several of us out to Bistro Franz to celebrate. 

It was great seeing everyone.  Gízá was the chief photographer so these are actually his photos.