Thursday, December 31, 2015

PF 2016


PF 2016!!  Šťastný nový rok!!


I'm really not quite sure where the year went but it just flew by.  Another great year over here in Euroland with lots to be thankful for.


2015 was another good year for travelling about.  Happy New Year to all of the places that I was lucky enough to visit.

Happy New Year! Šťastný nový rok! Head uut aastat! Bonne année! Gelukkig nieuwjaar! Glückliches neues Jahr! Ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος! Boldog új évet! Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh! Жаңа жыл құтты болсын! Laimīgu Jauno gadu! Laimingų Naujųjų metų! Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku! С новым годом! Bliadhna mhath ur! ¡Feliz año nuevo! Жаңы жылыңыздар менен! Mutlu Yıllar! З Новим роком! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

New Flat

It's been a busy month with lots going on but I managed to find a new flat.  It's in Stránice in the Masarykova čtvrť (Masaryk Quarter) part of town.  This is the north west part of Brno's centre.  It's a quiet area with many old villas and not far from Kraví hora (Cow Mountain) and the observatory.



The building is quite modern looking and stands out among all of the surrounding houses.  The owner is the architect and I assume that he must have had some pull with the city.  It has been recently renovated and I will be the second person to have the flat.

When I started looking for flats I considered downsizing and wanted another furnished flat.  Fast forward a bit and I ended up choosing a slightly larger place and unfurnished which means now I need to buy some furniture.  The flat is a 3+kk which is a two-bedroom flat with a living room and a corner kitchenette.

Things in the kitchen are a bit smaller.  The refrigerator and freezer are smaller than what I have now.  There's a little less counter space and no dishwasher but I don't think that will be a problem.



It will only be a challenge for when I cook Thanksgiving dinner.  Oh, and the washing machine (no dryer) is next to the oven.

The bathroom has a tub with the traditional Czech hand shower wand but I should be able to sort out a shower attachment.

There's a separate loo and it has a sink.  It also has a hot air dryer.  I can honestly say that I've never seen an air dryer in a flat before.

I will lose my view of the castle and cathedral but I do have a balcony with a view of the garden.

The highlight of the flat is the onyx wall next to the kitchen.  It is beautiful and it lights up.  I may have to call the place mini Tugendhat.

The biggest drawback is that there is no closet but built in closets are not the norm over here.  It looks like I'll be spending some time at Ikea so that I can pick up a wardrobe and other furnishings.  I'll post a future update once I'm all moved in.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Polská krev

Polská krev (Polish Blood) is considered to be the most popular and most played Czech opera.  It was composed by Oskar Nedbal and it was first performed in Vienna in 1913.

In 1934 a musical film was produced.

Tonight was a production at the Janáček Theatre and it was outstanding!

The story is a revenge plot that goes wrong and turns out well in the end.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

Czech Antarctic Expedition

©National Geographic
Yesterday, six experts from Brno's Masaryk University left on an annual expedition to Antarctica.  The scientists will continue their research on geology, climate change, UV radiation and the ozone hole.  They will also test some new technologies developed here in Czechland.

In 2006 the Czech Republic finished building the state-of-the-art Mendel Polar Station on James Ross Island in Antarctica.

The teams go to the station every January to March, during the Antarctic summer, when the weather is the best.

Update:  On 14 March 2016 an automated weather station recorded a temperature of 17,8 ℃ (64.04 ℉) which is an all time high.  More evidence of global warming.

The team also discovered a new species of bacteria which they named Pseudomonas gregormendeli.  It is named after Johan Gregor Mendel, the 19th-century founder of modern genetics.  The discovery will be published in the journal Current Microbiology.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Spooky Brno Fog

I'm not sure what's going on but we've had really heavy fog in Brno for the last 5 days and nights.

This would have been great around Halloween.

Here's what I woke up to this morning.  Nice and spooky fog.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 Christmas

Well another Christmas has come and gone.  On Christmas Day (24 December) which is what I still call Christmas Eve, was a German Christmas with Claudia's parents coming down from Berlin.

Orphan's Christmas goose





Of course Tünde was spoiled rotten.  But that's a part of being a kid.  She really seemed to enjoy the keyboard and microphone that Santa Claus brought.  It was even worth going through Czech Black Friday to get it.

Yesterday was the second day of Christmas (25 December) and I had a few people over for another "Orphan's Christmas".

Today was St. Stephan's Day (Boxing Day) so mainly just hanging out and trying to recover from the past couple of days.  Merry Christmas to everyone back in the USA!  In Czechland, Veselé Vánoce všem!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Christmas Video

It's that time of year when you buy a Christmas carp and let it swim around in the tub for a few days.






Seven Czech Christmases so far and I still don't quite get this one.

As the last working day before the Christmas holidays I want to wish my very international team...

Merry Christmas! Veselé Vánoce! Veselé Vianoce! Selamat Hari Natal! Boldog Karácsonyt! Wesołych Świąt! Geseënde Kersfees! Crăciun fericit! Gëzuar Krishtlindjet! Весела Коледа! 圣诞节快乐! Sretan Božić! Vrolijk kerstfeest! Joyeux Noël! Срећан Божић! Fröhliche Weihnachten! क्रिसमस की बधाई! Nollaig Shona! Buon Natale! عيد ميلاد سعيد Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus! Milad bayramınız mübarək! Linksmų Kalėdų! Среќен Божиќ! Feliz Natal! С Рождеством! ¡Feliz Navidad! மெர்ரி கிறிஸ்துமஸ்! З Різдвом Христовим! Chúc Giáng Sinh Vui Vẻ! میری کرسمس ! חג מולד שמח!

This year at work we made a "Happy Holiday" video.  Merry Christmas everyone!!
  video

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New €20 Banknote

In November the new €20 banknote was released in to circulation.

The new €5 banknote was introduced in May 2013 and the new €10 banknote was released in September 2014.

Front side


Here's a comparison of the new and old banknotes.

The new version is on the top and the old version is on the bottom.


Back side


I guess the new €50 banknote will get released some time in 2016.

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube about the new €20.

video
©European Central Bank

Monday, December 21, 2015

Vienna Gay Traffic Lights

During this year's Eurovision finals in Vienna the city installed some interesting new traffic lights to demonstrate tolerance and openness.  Specifically some same-sex traffic lights.

Instead of traditional single figure lights, the new lights show hearts and three different couples - a man and a woman, two men, and two women.

The lights were installed at 120 different crosswalks in the city.  The lights cost €63 000 (~$70,000) to install.  They were meant to only be temporary but it looks like they are here to stay. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 Vienna Christmas Market Trip

Yesterday was a day trip to Vienna to enjoy some of the city's Christmas markets.  And there are definitely a few.

The first December Market was held back in 1298.  Today there are more than 20 different Christmas markets held in December.

Most of the markets open in November and close in December.

The main Vienna markets are the ones at the Rathaus (city hall), Maria-Theresien Platz, Belvedere Palace, Schönbrunn Palace, Spittelberg, and the former general hospital.

Aside from visiting six different markets we managed to visit a couple of new sightseeing spots as well.

In District I is the Judenplatz which was the centre of Jewish life in Vienna back in the Middle Ages. The Holocaust Memorial was unveiled in 2000 and commemorates the more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed between 1938 and 1945.

At the end of WWII, Vienna was divided into four occupied zones by the American, British, French and Soviet armies.  At Schwarzenbergplatz is the Soviet War Memorial.

The monument was unveiled in 1945 to honour the 17,000 Soviet soldiers that died in the Battle of Vienna.  The city restored the monument in 2009.

As many times as I've been to Vienna it's nice to know that there are still new sights to see.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Louskáček Time Again

It's Louskáček time again!!  Time to go see The Nutcracker at the Janáček Theatre.


This really has become a Christmas tradition here.  I think I've seen it at least four of the past seven years.



The ballet here in Brno really is world class.  And you can't beat centre seating.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Passport Renewal

Today I requested a new passport from the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava.  My passport was valid until mid-2018 but I only had two blank pages left.  That's even with the extra pages I added a few years ago.  Too much travel I guess.

U.S. Embassy in Bratislava ©Wikipedia
When you apply for a visa, most countries require a minimum of two blank pages.  As an American I can apply for a new passport in any U.S. embassy or consulate.  The closest is the one in Slovakia so I took the train there is morning to apply.

Passport applications are taken by appointment only and they can be made online.  Just take the application, a photo, and cash.  For an adult passport renewal the fee is $110 and you can pay in dollars or local currency.  I paid €105 for mine.

Expedited passport requests are not available to those applying overseas because the passport is printed in the USA.  However, all of the applications from embassies have priority so it only takes five to seven business days.

The photo is the one thing to watch out for.  In Euroland the photo is 35 mm X 45 mm but the USA requires that the photos be 2 X 2 inches (51 X 51 mm).  Apparently many people make the mistake of trying to submit the smaller photo and their application is rejected.  When I went for my photo I told the clerk that I needed the American size and it was no problem.

The application process only took about five minutes.  I spent more time than that just going through security.  They let me keep my current passport but I have to bring it with me in order to collect my new one.  I figure with the Christmas holidays it will take at least two weeks.

Security is strict at all embassies and they don't care for people taking photos outside.  That's why the photo of the Bratislava embassy came from Wikipedia.

Update:  I received an e-mail from the embassy that my new passport is ready.  It only took four days!  Wow!!  I have to go to the Bratislava office in January so I'll pick it up on my way to work then.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Tree is Up

'Tis the season so my little Czech Charlie Brown Christmas tree is now up.  And thanks to Natalie and her mom I know all about Christmas crackers which helps fill up things under the tree.

It's been the normal busy holiday season.  In addition to Christmas parties and the recent VUT ball, there has been the usual rush to get things done.

My Christmas season actually starts in mid-November.  I always include advent calendars in the care packages that I send to my niece and nephew so I need to make sure that they arrive in the USA prior to 1 December.  I also try to get my holiday cards in the mail no later than the first week of December.  Not only because it usually takes about 10 days for a card to reach California from here but because the lines in the post office here in December go on forever. But at least here the main post office is open on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015 Department Christmas Party

On Thursday night we held our IBM project management Christmas party.  The theme of this year's bash was "secondhand extravaganza".  The goal was to spend no more than 100 Kč (around $5).

There are lots and lots of second hand shops here in Brno.  So it was kind of fun trying to put something together.  I was surprised that you could actually find some good stuff but of  course never in my size.

The party was a lot of fun.  Some folks for sure got creative with the outfits.












 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Brno Districts

I've been pouring over flat listings now that I need to move.  I prefer to live near the city centre.  Not too close but a short walking distance away would be great.

Of course Brno is like every other city where prices are more expensive in the centre and become cheaper the further out you go.  Here's a map from foreigners.cz of the Brno districts with the English language equivalent.  Some of the translations are quite funny.

I wouldn't mind staying in Veveří (Squirrelville) but Žabovřesky (Frogscreams) or Stránice (Hillslope) are possible locations too.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

2015 VUT Christmas Ball

Several of my guys at work are attending the Brno University of Technology.  In Czech it is Vysoké učeni technické v Brně - VUT.

One of our interns this term had a project to organise their Christmas Ball with IBM as the primary sponsor.



VUT was founded in Brno, in 1899, as the Imperial Czech Technical University of Franz Joseph.  When the school opened it only offered a single civil engineering course.  This was the first Czech institution of higher education in Moravia.

My guys who helped pull this together.
Between WWI and WWII is when the institution was renamed the Brno University of Technology.

With 24,000 students studying in 8 different faculties, VUT is the largest technical university in Czechland.  For several years in a row it has been ranked among the best universities in the world.  The head of the university is the rector and currently that is prof. RNDr. Ing. Petr Štěpánek, CSc.

The rector and I giving our welcome speeches.
Since I've been supporting the guys they gave me a VIP ticket to the ball.  Sweet!  Especially since all I had to do was show up.  Well...we had a couple of things come up so I found out on Thursday afternoon that I need to represent IBM and give a speech to 1500 people.  Not so sweet.

Let's just say that I wasn't thrilled about having to get up and speak but I managed to get through it.  Then After midnight I participated in a raffle where IBM donated a couple of iPhones and a MacBook Air.

The entire evening was simply outstanding!  I can't wait to see what happens next year.  Here's a video that VUT put together of the ball.
video