Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Getting to visit 16 countries in a year isn't too shabby.  So here's a shout out to all of the countries I visited this year.

Happy New Year! Šťastný Nový Rok! سنة جديدة سعيدة! Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! Շնորհավոր Նոր Տարի! Bonne Année! Yeni iliniz mübarək! С Новым Годом! Sretna Nova godina! გილოცავთ ახალ წელს! Glückliches neues Jahr! Boldog Új Évet! Срећна Нова година! Hamingjusamur Nýtt Ár! Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Time

PF 2013
It's been Christmas time at the malls for quite some time.  But now it's really Christmas time.

The carp vendors are out in the city.

We went out today and spent some time at the Christmas market.  I made sure to get my favorite Vánoční punč - made from black tea, orange juice, lemon, cinnamon, honey and triple sec, topped with whipped cream.  Absolutely delicious!!

Merry Christmas everyone!!  And to my very international team at work... Merry Christmas! Veselé Vánoce! Veselé Vianoce! عيد ميلاد سعيد! Geseënde Kersfees! Gëzuar Krishtlindjet! Sretan Božić! Весела Коледа! Gelukkig Kerstfeest! З Різдвом Христовим! Joyeux Noël! میری کرسمس! Fröhliche Weihnachten! חג המולד שמח! Nollaig Shona! Buon Natale! Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! मेरी क्रिसमस! Linksmų Kalėdų! Среќен Божиќ! Selamat Hari Natal! Wesołych Świąt! Feliz Natal! Crăciun fericit! С Рождеством! ¡Feliz Navidad!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 Blog Contest Results

Yeah!!  I repeated as the top expat blogger for Czech Republic.  Thanks to everyone who voted!

This year's contest was much different from last year.  I'm not sure that having the contest around Christmas was the best time to hold it as most people tend to be quite busy.  This may have deterred my main challengers from last year from entering this year's contest.  None the less, it does feel quite nice to have won again.  Congrats to the runner up - Czechesotans

Here's was my original entry...

Top 5 Things I've Learned Living in Czech Republic


1.  Czechia (Czech Republic) is located in Central Europe; not Eastern Europe.  Just look at a map and it's clear that it's located right in the middle of the continent.  Eastern Europe has negative connotations.  Most of the former communist countries want to be found in Central Europe.  Even Belarus claims to be in the center of Europe.  I guess that's true if you consider Europe running from Iceland to the far eastern bit of Russia.  Regardless, Czechland is perfectly centered for travel which is why in less than five years I've been lucky enough to visit 43 countries.

2.  Patience really is a virtue.  Anyone who has spent time in a former communist country knows all about the mindless bureaucracy required in order to get even the smallest thing done.  However, what can be even more draining is just everyday life with a foreign language.  Simple, mundane things such as going grocery shopping, visiting a pharmacy or mailing a package at the post office can require an awful lot of energy.  It's important to never give up.  OK, sometimes you buy sour cream instead of coffee creamer but as long as you don't make the same mistake twice then you at least get a humerous anecdote out of it.

3.  You never know where life will take you.  I grew up during the Cold War.  When I joined the U.S. military, we still taught German, Czech and Polish.  Times change.  Who would have thought that 20 years later I would work for IBM in Czech Republic?  Much less regularly visit East Berlin, have a Bulgarian boyfriend or be Godfather to the prettiest little German-Hungarian princess.

4.  Carefully choose your words.  Just because two people speak English doesn't mean that they speak the same language.  In school, most Europeans learn British English.  Therefore it's often better for me to adjust my vocabulary in order to better communicate.  Elevator becomes lift, apartment becomes flat, and pants become trousers while underwear becomes pants.  It can be a bit confusing at times.  For example, I once called a Romanian girl "chica" which means 'girl' in Spanish and is commonly used in the USA.  Imagine my surprise when I received a lecture about how she didn't appreciate being called "a chicken". 

My most recent English-language blunder was referring to the loo (restroom, WC, toilet) as the "little boys' room".  The next five minutes trying to explain how the little boys' (or little girls') room has nothing to do with pedophilia wasn't exactly fun.

Once I was in a hurry and said that "I was off like a prom dress."  Big mistake.  Huge!  For the next 40 minutes I had to explain what an American high school prom was and why a dress would come off.  Forty minutes of my life that I will never get back.  Lesson learned...save the colloquial expressions for other native speakers.

5.  It has never been easier to be an expat.  I don't think that I could have been an expat 20 years ago.  Aside from e-mail and Skype to keep me connected to family and friends, there are a whole slew of social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  The Internet provides an incredible amount of information to help people get started.  My blog started out simply as a personal journal so that my family could keep up with my adventures.  I would never have guessed that I would receive +125 new visitors per day from all over the world.  With all of the expat blogs available there really is no reason not to get started.

Top 5 Things I've Learned Living in Czech Republic
1.  Czechia (Czech Republic) is located in Central Europe; not Eastern Europe.  Just look at a map and it's clear that it's located right in the middle of the continent.  Eastern Europe has negative connotations.  Most of the former communist countries want to be found in Central Europe.  Even Belarus claims to be in the center of Europe.  I guess that's true if you consider Europe running from Iceland to the far eastern bit of Russia.  Regardless, Czechland is perfectly centered for travel which is why in less than five years I've been lucky enough to visit 43 countries.
2.  Patience really is a virtue.  Anyone who has spent time in a former communist country knows all about the mindless bureaucracy required in order to get even the smallest thing done.  However, what can be even more draining is just everyday life with a foreign language.  Simple, mundane things such as going grocery shopping, visiting a pharmacy or mailing a package at the post office can require an awful lot of energy.  It's important to never give up.  OK, sometimes you buy sour cream instead of coffee creamer but as long as you don't make the same mistake twice then you at least get a humerous anecdote out of it.
3.  You never know where life will take you.  I grew up during the Cold War.  When I joined the U.S. military, we still taught German, Czech and Polish.  Times change.  Who would have thought that 20 years later I would work for IBM in Czech Republic?  Much less regularly visit East Berlin, have a Bulgarian boyfriend or be Godfather to the prettiest little German-Hungarian princess.
4.  Carefully choose your words.  Just because two people speak English doesn't mean that they speak the same language.  In school, most Europeans learn British English.  Therefore it's often better for me to adjust my vocabulary in order to better communicate.  Elevator becomes lift, apartment becomes flat, and pants become trousers while underwear becomes pants.  It can be a bit confusing at times.  For example, I once called a Romanian girl "chica" which means 'girl' in Spanish and is commonly used in the USA.  Imagine my surprise when I received a lecture about how she didn't appreciate being called "a chicken".
My most recent English-language blunder was referring to the loo (restroom, WC, toilet) as the "little boys' room".  The next five minutes trying to explain how the little boys' (or little girls') room has nothing to do with pedophilia wasn't exactly fun.
Once I was in a hurry and said that "I was off like a prom dress."  Big mistake.  Huge!  For the next 40 minutes I had to explain what an American high school prom was and why a dress would come off.  Forty minutes of my life that I will never get back.  Lesson learned...save the colloquial expressions for other native speakers.
5.  It has never been easier to be an expat.  I don't think that I could have been an expat 20 years ago.  Aside from e-mail and Skype to keep me connected to family and friends, there are a whole slew of social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  The Internet provides an incredible amount of information to help people get started.  My blog started out simply as a personal journal so that my family could keep up with my adventures.  I would never have guessed that I would receive +125 new visitors per day from all over the world.  With all of the expat blogs available there really is no reason not to get started.
- See more at: http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/767/top-5-things-ive-learned-living-in-czech-republic#sthash.DIlFyOnS.dpuf
Top 5 Things I've Learned Living in Czech Republic
1.  Czechia (Czech Republic) is located in Central Europe; not Eastern Europe.  Just look at a map and it's clear that it's located right in the middle of the continent.  Eastern Europe has negative connotations.  Most of the former communist countries want to be found in Central Europe.  Even Belarus claims to be in the center of Europe.  I guess that's true if you consider Europe running from Iceland to the far eastern bit of Russia.  Regardless, Czechland is perfectly centered for travel which is why in less than five years I've been lucky enough to visit 43 countries.
2.  Patience really is a virtue.  Anyone who has spent time in a former communist country knows all about the mindless bureaucracy required in order to get even the smallest thing done.  However, what can be even more draining is just everyday life with a foreign language.  Simple, mundane things such as going grocery shopping, visiting a pharmacy or mailing a package at the post office can require an awful lot of energy.  It's important to never give up.  OK, sometimes you buy sour cream instead of coffee creamer but as long as you don't make the same mistake twice then you at least get a humerous anecdote out of it.
3.  You never know where life will take you.  I grew up during the Cold War.  When I joined the U.S. military, we still taught German, Czech and Polish.  Times change.  Who would have thought that 20 years later I would work for IBM in Czech Republic?  Much less regularly visit East Berlin, have a Bulgarian boyfriend or be Godfather to the prettiest little German-Hungarian princess.
4.  Carefully choose your words.  Just because two people speak English doesn't mean that they speak the same language.  In school, most Europeans learn British English.  Therefore it's often better for me to adjust my vocabulary in order to better communicate.  Elevator becomes lift, apartment becomes flat, and pants become trousers while underwear becomes pants.  It can be a bit confusing at times.  For example, I once called a Romanian girl "chica" which means 'girl' in Spanish and is commonly used in the USA.  Imagine my surprise when I received a lecture about how she didn't appreciate being called "a chicken".
My most recent English-language blunder was referring to the loo (restroom, WC, toilet) as the "little boys' room".  The next five minutes trying to explain how the little boys' (or little girls') room has nothing to do with pedophilia wasn't exactly fun.
Once I was in a hurry and said that "I was off like a prom dress."  Big mistake.  Huge!  For the next 40 minutes I had to explain what an American high school prom was and why a dress would come off.  Forty minutes of my life that I will never get back.  Lesson learned...save the colloquial expressions for other native speakers.
5.  It has never been easier to be an expat.  I don't think that I could have been an expat 20 years ago.  Aside from e-mail and Skype to keep me connected to family and friends, there are a whole slew of social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  The Internet provides an incredible amount of information to help people get started.  My blog started out simply as a personal journal so that my family could keep up with my adventures.  I would never have guessed that I would receive +125 new visitors per day from all over the world.  With all of the expat blogs available there really is no reason not to get started.
- See more at: http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/767/top-5-things-ive-learned-living-in-czech-republic#sthash.DIlFyOnS.dpuf

Friday, December 20, 2013

Queuing For Bananas

Back in the days of communism, imports from non-socialist countries were not allowed.  Shortages of goods were commonplace.  Exotic fruits, such as Mandarin oranges and bananas were normally only available at Christmas time.

When stores would get oranges or bananas, I assume from Cuba, people would wait in line for hours.  Products were strictly rationed.  You had to show your ID card and could only purchase 1 or 2 kilos of fruit per family member.   

It's hard to think of oranges and bananas as exotic.   Now one can buy as many oranges and bananas, and even kiwis and pineapples without standing in line more than a few minutes.  Oranges are still part of the Christmas tradition.  And when you see long lines of people at government offices, ticket offices, etc., the expression is that the people are 'queuing for bananas.'

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Short Trousers Day

It's been two years since Václav Havel passed away.  As a remembrance of the man, and the values he fought for, many people will roll up their trousers today.

www.denvaclavahavla.cz/en/

Monday, December 16, 2013

Prague Day Trip

Yesterday, we caught the Student Agency bus to Prague for the day.

We originally wanted to check out Alphonse Mucha's The Slav Epic.



However, after lunch, we decided to spend the day walking around the city and enjoying the crisp weather and Christmas decorations.





We'll get back to check out the exhibit next year.





Monday, December 9, 2013

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg will be forever linked to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and The Sound of Music.  It lies on the Salzach River, near the Alps.  With around 146,000 people, it is Austria's fourth-largest city.  In 1996, the historic Old Town was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Salzburg was first settled by the Celts in around the 5th century BC.  Various settlements were formed in to one city around 15 BC by the Roman Empire.

Over the years it has been a part of Bavaria, the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Great view of the Alps

In 1967, it became a sister city with Atlanta.






Mozart was born and raised in Salzburg.  The house where he was born and the family residence are both tourist attractions.  The statue at Mozartplatz was unveiled in 1842.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1628.  The 17th century Baroque Salzburger Dom is dedicated to St. Rupert and St. Vergilius.  This is where Mozart was baptized.



The Franciscan Church was completed in 1498.  It is one of the oldest churches in the city.





The Panorama Museum is a huge round painting of historic Salzburg.  It shows what the city looked like 200 years ago.






The Mirabell Palace was built around 1606.  I bet the gardens are wonderful in spring.


The Festung Hohensalzburg is the city fortress and was built in 1077.  Over following centuries it was expanded and is the city's primary landmark.  It is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.

Here's a Rick Steves video I found out on YouTube that tells about the fortress.


©Rick Steves

Friday, December 6, 2013

Off to Salzburg

It's time to get away for a long weekend.  Krasimir and I are headed off to enjoy some Christmas market fun in Salzburg, Austria

And thanks to John and Katie, and Natalie, I finally saw The Sound of Music so I'm allowed to now enter the city.

By train, it's almost 430 km (267 miles) from Brno to Salzburg.  We change trains in Vienna and it should take just under five hours to get there.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2013 Expat Blog Contest

The good folks over at Expatsblog.com have put together another contest.  Last year the rankings were primarily determined by readers' comments.  In order to make it a bit more fair for new bloggers, this year they've decided to make a twist.

Participants need to write a "Top X" list for their particular country.  The contest entry must be written solely for this challenge so no previously published blog entries count.

I guess I need to come up with the "Top 10 Things to do in Brno" or the "Top 5 Expat Hangouts in Moravia."  Who knows what I'll come up with?

I need to submit my entry by December 11th and voting runs December 16th - 20th.  Wish me luck and don't forget to show some love by leaving feedback on the 16th.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Czech Class Starts Again

7 Czech Cases
My Czech teacher and I both took on new jobs so we put my lessons on hold for a while.  Today was my first lesson in about three months.  My head feels like it is going to explode. 

While I speak Czech every day, it is still basic Czech.  I can survive on a daily basis but it's not like I'm giving presentations at work in Czech.

This grammar, especially the case structure, is truly difficult. 

It's time to really focus on improving my Czech beyond basic day-to-day needs.  Next year, I have to pass a language test, with a minimum mark of A2, in order to qualify for permanent residency.

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 World AIDS Day

Yesterday was World AIDS Day.

The government launched HIV testing in 1985.  Since then more than 1600 positive people have been registered.  Since not everyone gets tested it's assumed that the infection rate could be at least three times higher.

ČR doesn't spend a lot of money on HIV/AIDS prevention.

One thing that I don't understand, and haven't understood since I moved here, is why so many Czechs don't like to use condoms.

Statistics show that more than 1/3rd of Czechs don't use condoms.  Please wrap your willie before going outside.

Part of the reason may be because the younger generation isn't as afraid of AIDS as before.  Due to people living longer, there is a belief that living with HIV is just as manageable as living with Diabetes.  It's simply not the case.

The Czech AIDS Help Society provides information in Czech and English.  Here's one of their public service commercials I found on YouTube.

©Czech AIS Help Society

Sunday, December 1, 2013

5th Annual Brno Thanksgiving

This weekend was the 5th Brno Thanksgiving.  I can't believe it's been five whole years since the first one.  It's a lot of work but it is so worth it to get everyone together and enjoy the day.  The good thing is that after five years I've pretty much got a system in place.

This year was a little different though.  First of all it was the first time it's been a destination party.  Eiko flew in from Sweden.  Liz and James flew in from England.  Natalie flew in from London, after only a few days of flying back from New Zealand.  Brian even finally made it here from Florida.

Little Tünde and Artíček
The party seems to get a little bigger each year and for good reason I suppose.  This is the first year that we've had babies here.  Three of them - Tünde, Artur, and Adam.     


My tradition is that before we eat, everyone has to say what they're thankful for.  Last year, the theme was marriage.  Obviously, this year the theme was newborns.


As always, we had enough food to feed an army.  Turkey, dressing, gravy, glazed ham, mashed potatoes with pumpkin, cranberry sauce, spicy pumpkin soup, deviled eggs, corn bread muffins, green bean casserole, macaroni & cheese, corn casserole, steamed carrots, broccoli & rice casserole, sweet potatoes, red velvet cake, pumpkin pie, and pecan pie.

Brian's dad was worried about him being alone in Europe on Thanksgiving.  He had nothing to worry about.

Slivovice toasts
Later we headed out to the Christmas market for some mulled wine and to help shake off the turkey coma.


It wasn't too late of a night though because of the early morning flights home.