Saturday, June 29, 2013

Croatia Joins the EU

On Monday, July 1st, Croatia will join the European Union as its 28th member.  It has taken 10 years for Croatia to meet the requirements for entry.  I wonder if they will still be celebrating when I go to Dubrovnik at the end of the week.

Among the many things required, Croatia had to reform its judicial system in terms of independence, accountability, impartiality, and efficiency.  There was a crackdown on corruption and organized crime.  Human rights had to be improved, along with the protection of minorities and settling outstanding refugee return issues.

The country had to extradite several Croatian citizens to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) due to the Balkan War.  Croatia also had to stop subsidizing its shipbuilding industry.

There was also a long-running border dispute with Slovenia that needed to be addressed.  Once it officially joins the EU, it will have to exit the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).   

There will be increased ease of movement in and out of Croatia.  As an EU member, Croatians will be able to enter any EU state with only a Croatian ID card.  No more passports required.  Croatia will have to eventually join the Schengen area by 2015.  This requires Croatia to change its current policies and start requiring visas for travelers from Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Croatia will keep the Kuna as its currency.  However, it must eventually adopt the Euro once it fulfills further requirements.

There are a lot of good reasons to join the EU.  However, things are not all sunshine and roses.  There are concerns on both sides right now about expanding the EU roster given the current financial situation.  Here's a video I found out on YouTube that has a few more details.
 
© European Parliament

Friday, June 28, 2013

2013 Golden Spike

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 Zlatá tretra (Golden Spike).  This is an annual track and field event held in Ostrava since 1961.  The meets were interrupted in 1999 when it was canceled due to a lack of sponsors.

Fortunately, it was so successful in 2002 that in 2003 the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) included it as part of the IAAF World Challenge Meet.  This Super Grand Prix event did not disappoint.

One of the chaps at work volunteers every year and he scored a couple of us some VIP passes.  There were more World and Olympic athletes than you could shake a stick at.  The competition was tough as many athletes used this as a warm up event to the upcoming World Championships in Moscow.

Some of the more notable Czech stars included javelin thrower Vitezslav Veselý, pole vaulter Jan Kudlička and hurdler Zuzana Hejnová.


To support our local Kiwi, we made sure to cheer for Valerie Adams from New Zealand who dominated the women's shot put event.  Not a big surprise considering she is a three time world champion and won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing and London.

Going after the chocolate spike
In order to support local kids, throughout the event there are kids races where all age groups get to run for the Chocolate Spike.   

Věra Čáslavská and Bob Beamon
This was the 52nd Golden Spike.  Among the celebrities was American Bob Beamon who won the gold medal in the long jump at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.  He was joined by fellow 1968 Olympian, Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská. Later on I was surprised with an official program autographed by Bob Beamon.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Socks and Sandals

I don't understand why, but for some reason, Czechs love to wear socks with sandals.  Aside from being a major fashion faux pas, it just doesn't make sense. 



If it is warm enough to wear sandals then do so without the socks.  If it is cold enough to wear socks then wear them with "normal" shoes.





To be fair though it isn't only Czechs who do this.  Slovaks do it too.  And so do Germans.  Perhaps it's a Central Europe thing. 





While not 100% accurate I notice that Czechs tend to prefer white socks with sandals while most Germans sport black socks with their sandals.


I found these "sock sandals" out on eBay.  So even if you don't have sandals on at the time it looks like you are still wearing socks and sandals.  I know a couple of Czechs who will be getting these for Christmas. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Moravia

Moravia was a country in Central Europe way back when.  Along with Bohemia and Silesia it is one of the traditional Czech lands.

Moravia takes up most of the eastern part of Czech Republic.  Its name comes from the Morava River.  It consists of the South Moravian region, the Zlín region, and parts of the Moravian-Silesian, Olomouc, Pardubice, Vysočina and South Bohemian regions.

Until 1641, Moravia had two capitals - Brno and Olomouc.  Once the Swedes captured Olomouc during the Thirty Years' War, Brno became the sole capital.  Brno is still the capital and the largest city.

Moravian Coat of Arms
It was once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918.  After WWI it became part of Czechoslovakia.  During WWII it was under German control as part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

When Czechoslovakia broke up in 1993, Moravia became part of the Czech Republic.

Moravia is the wine producing area of the country so it's natural that Moravians drink more wine than Bohemians (Czechs).  Don't get it twisted though, Moravians still drink their fair share of beer too.

Flag of Moravia
Moravians are also known to have more folk (and better) folk festivals.  I've heard the Moravians speak more proper Czech than Bohemians.  But they also have more Czech dialects here.

In the 2011 Census, Moravians made up the second largest ethnic group with over 520,000 people.  I've noticed that men here tend to be more passionate about saying they are Moravian; not Czech.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Czech Tartar Sauce

Czechs love tartar sauce.  It is served as an accompaniment to fried cheese, boiled potatoes, and fried cauliflower.  When you order french fries, you will be asked if you want ketchup or tartar sauce.  To Americans this sounds really odd because we only have tartar sauce with fish.

However, the Czech tatarská omáčka doesn't taste anything like American tartar sauce.  The American-style sauce has more dill and lemon flavor to it.  The Czech version is a bit more plain, kind of like a bland ranch dressing.

Here's an recipe I found online for Czech tartar sauce.

Ingredients:
  • About 1 cup of mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon of white pepper
  • a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 finely chopped sweet pickles
  • about 1/4 finely chopped onion
  • a bit of lemon grind
Mix everything together and let it chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.

The way Czechs use tartar sauce is similar to what Americans do with ranch dressing.  Ranch dressing has been the most popular salad dressing in the USA since 1992.  We use it as a dip for potato chips (crisps) and raw vegetables.  And it goes great with french fries.  Unfortunately, there is no ranch dressing over here.  Lucky me though, I have wonderful people back home who send me care packages with Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing spice packets.  All of my Czech friends who have tried it have loved it. 

Since not everyone can come to my flat, here's a recipe I found online to make ranch dressing.  However, the recipe is not in metric.   

Ingredients
  • 1 cup of well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup of mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons of sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chives
  • 4 teaspoons of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Mix all of the ingredients in a 2-cup Mason jar or a container with a tight fitting lid.  Seal tightly and shake to evenly distribute all of the ingredients.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as desired.  Chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Montenegro

In a couple of weeks I'm headed off to spend a couple of days in Dubrovnik, Croatia, with a day trip to Montenegro.  Of all the countries that used to be a part of Yugoslavia, this is the only one I have yet to visit.  So here's a little bit about Crna Gora.


Montenegro, "Black Mountain", sits on the Adriatic Sea and is bordered by Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania.  It is a little smaller than Connecticut with a population just over 653,000 people.  The capital and largest city is Podgorica.

Montenegro was under the Ottoman Empire but maintained a level of autonomy.  A series of bishop princes ruled the nation as a theocracy from the 16th to 19th centuries.  In 1878, Montenegro was internationally recognized as an independent sovereign principality.  Montenegro fought with the Allies in WWI and afterwards it was absorbed by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  After WWII, it became one of the six republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

When Yugoslavia broke up in 1992, Montenegro joined Serbia to become the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  Then in 2003, it became part of a decentralized state union called Serbia and Montenegro.  In 2006, Montenegro declared its independence.  Today, the country is a republic with a president and a prime minister.  It is a candidate to join both the European Union and NATO.

The population is 43% Montenegrin, 32% Serbian, 8% Bosniak, 5% Albanian with everyone else making up the remaining 12%.

Montenegrin Alphabets
The official language is Montenegrin which is basically the same thing as Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.  Just like Serbo-Croatian, the language has both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.  The Latin script is becoming the most popular.  I guess it's more difficult to Google with a Cyrillic script.

The country doesn't have its own currency.  In 1996, the government wanted to avoid hyperinflation so it adopted the German Deutschmark as its official currency.  When Germany switched to the Euro in 2002, so did Montenegro.  However, it is not a part of the Eurozone and does not mint its own coins.

Here's the kicker.  Montenegro is a candidate to join the EU and will be required to eventually adopt the Euro as its official currency.  However, before it does, it must maintain a low inflation rate, a budget deficit under 3% of its GDP and a gross government dept to GDP ratio less than 60%.  The country also has to have a stable currency exchange rate with the Euro for a specific period of time.  So, to join the EU, Montenegro may have to quit using the Euro, adopt a new currency and then officially switch to the Euro.

For those who know Montenegro from the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale, think again.  While part of the movie was set in Montenegro, all of the filming took place in Czech Republic.

Here's a Rick Steves video I found out on YouTube about Montenegro.


©Rick Steves

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tünde's Dual Passports

Claudia and Norbert managed to get both of Tünde's passports sorted out at the embassies in Prague.  I still find it funny how the EU is supposed to standardize things between all of the member countries but in reality it just kind of helps a whole bunch of different countries interact with each other.

Tünde has four first names.  Well, her first name is Tünde and she has three middle names.  Most of Europe doesn't really do middle names so she has four first names.  Due to the Czech name rules, the baby could not be named Tünde until it was first proved that the name already exists in Hungary.  In Hungarian, it means "little fairy."
Hungarian Baby Passport

For her Hungarian passport, the embassy did not want to allow four first names.  However, they complied because Germany allows for it.

For her German passport, the embassy did not want to allow for a hyphenated double last name.  However, the German embassy complied because it is valid in Hungary.

I'm not sure which passport they had first in order to prove it to the second embassy.  Holy bureaucracy!!

German Baby Passport
The German baby passport is valid for six years.  I'm not sure how long the Hungarian passport is good for.

As far as I know this is the end of the passport adventure.  Tünde has dual citizenship from two different EU countries.

I know a German couple here in Brno, and their daughter was born in the USA when they lived in North Carolina.  Since she was born in the USA, she is an American citizen.  She also has a German passport.  However, they told me that when she is 18 years old, Germany will require her to decide which passport to surrender.  The USA doesn't require her to choose and she can keep both.  I wonder if it's because the second passport isn't from a fellow EU country?

Monday, June 10, 2013

My (Hopefully) Last Temporary Long-Term Visa

Today I received my new biometric long-term residency permit card.  Once again, it took me five visits.  These Czechs have got to figure out a way to streamline the bureaucracy.  It is absolutely maddening! 

The first visit was to submit my paperwork for another two-year extension.

Due to the delay in getting my work permit, I received a certified letter from the Interior Ministry that my visa renewal was put on hold until the work permit is finalized.  So when my work permit was finalized I had to go back to the ministry to provide them with a notarized copy.  That was the second visit.

I had to go back for a third time to get a temporary extension of my previous visa due to my Caucasus trip.  My previous visa would have expired while I was outside of the Schengen Zone.  I was told that it probably wouldn't be a problem since I have an American passport but I didn't want to risk it.  The temporary extension was another visa sticker that went in my passport.

My fourth visit to the ministry was to have a new photo and my fingerprints taken.

2500 Kč = $132
On my fifth, and thankfully final, visit I had to give them the 2500 Kč.  The only way to pay is with government stamps.

So I'm legal in Czechland until 2015.  Next year will be my fifth year so if I want I can apply for permanent residency.  This means that next year I'll have to go through all of this, (and a bit more), all over again.  On the upside, I will never have to deal with this again.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Vranov nad Dyjí, Czech Republic

Yesterday, Nat, Krasimir and I headed out to explore Vranov nad Dyjí.

The town was first mentioned in 1100.

Vranov, with its 888 residents, is on the Dyje River in South Moravia about 3 km from the Austrian border.

The town's plague column was built in 1713.  It commemorates the 81 residents who died from the Black Plague in 1680.

Vranov's parish church was built in the early 13th century.

The Baroque chateau overlooking the town is absolutely stunning.  After a devastating fire in 1665, the chateau was remodeled by the counts of Althann.



The property changed hands a few more times until the start of WWII.  Today it is a Czech national cultural heritage site.



The most impressive part of the chateau, aside from its location, is the Hall of Ancestors of the Althann family.  The oval hall and its Baroque frescoes are beautiful.


The chateau comes complete with a Gothic watchtower and the Holy Trinity Chapel.  Below the chapel is the crypt of the Althann family.


This was a nice little day trip.  It's really neat to just head out and explore some of the these random Czech towns.  You never know what you'll find.