Friday, April 30, 2010

Burning of the Witches

In the ČR, April 30th is pálení čarodějnic - the burning of the witches. This is the day when winter is ceremonially brought to an end by burning either witches in effigy, or at least their broomsticks, on bonfires. As the "witches" burn so does the last of the winter chill.

According to theory, the celebration goes back to the Iron Age when both Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by Celts. A similar traditional holiday is still celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

Some people also call this Walpurgis Night, named after Saint Walpurga. Walpurgis Night is a traditional German and Scandinavian celebration that dates back to the Vikings.

Basically, this is just an excuse for a party. Tonight I'm taking my first trip to Hungary so maybe I'll get the chance to see a bonfire next year.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Ahoj - pronounced "a-hoy" is an informal greeting. You only use it with friends or close associates. It means both hi and 'bye.

Vilém, one of my colleagues, told me that its use became very popular during WWII as a symbol of Czech resistance to the Nazi occupation.

Adolfa Hitlera Oběsíme Jistě = We will surely hang Adolf Hitler

I don't know if this is true or not...but it sure makes for an interesting little story.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Momo Sushi

My friend Kamila is always talking about going out for sushi so last night Rob and I joined her for dinner at Momo Sushi. I have been jonesing for sushi for the longest time. It's been about a year. Way too long for me.

I'm used to the real thing so I wasn't too sure about "Czech Republic white-boy sushi". I mean, seafood isn't the first thing you think about when it comes to Czech cuisine.

This is the first country I've ever lived in that doesn't have a navy. It is landlocked after all. And like I tell my guy on a raft at the Brno damn is not a navy.

You can order from the menu, from the sushi chef, or just take something off of the conveyor belt. The food was really good. It was a little expensive but not tragically overpriced. The only problem was that, because of the Iceland volcano, they didn't have any fresh tuna. Damn volcano! I'll definitely go back again soon for a spicy tuna roll.

EDIT:  Unfortunately, Momo Sushi closed in November 2012.  It is now a Subway sandwich shop.  Dang it!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mikulov, Czech Republic

Mikulov is a small town in the South Moravian region, on the Austrian border, about 60 miles from Vienna. It is located at the edge of a hilly area and there is a large lake nearby. This area is the warmest part of the ČR which makes it so good for growing grapes. The Mikulov region is known for its white wines which account for about 80% of the local vineyards. The soil has a high lime content and the warm climate gives the wine a good flavor.

In the autumn, lots of people go to Mikulov to visit local wine cellars. The traditional wine festival (+200 years) is called the Pálava Vine Harvest and takes place over the second weekend in September. I so need to put this on my calendar.  And the surrounding hills look like a nice spot for some hiking.

Even if the wine season hasn't started yet, this was a really nice day trip. It takes about 1.5 hours to get there by bus but it is really worth it. The town is small with a population of about 7,600.

On the main square you’ll find a fountain with a statue of Pomona.
There’s also the Baroque Holy Trinity Statue (Plague Column) that was commissioned by Prince Walter Xavier of Dietrichstein in 1723 – 1724.
At the bottom part of the square is St. Anne’s Church.

The Mikulov Chateau of the Dietrichstein family is the most famous sight to see. It was built on a steep rocky hill with no level ground.

Jews settled in Mikulov back in 1421 when they were expelled from Vienna, and the neighboring province of Lower Austria, by the Duke of Austria, Albert II of Germany. In the 16th century Mikulov became a cultural center of Moravian Jewry when the town became the seat of the regional rabbi of Moravia.

In 1938, Mikulov had 472, mostly German speaking, Jewish inhabitants. Only 110 managed to emigrate in time. Of the 362 that remained, only 35 survived the Holocaust.

In a small square there is a WWII monument dedicated to the Russian Red Army that liberated the town from the Germans.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


The Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul stands on top of a hill, known as Petrov, presumably on the site of the former Brno castle that dates back from the 11th and 12th centuries. Following the castle's demise, the free-standing Romanesque basilica was rebuilt in Gothic style (as St. Peter's) in the 13th century. Over the years it was extended, rebuilt and St. Paul was added to its patronage.

In 1777, the church became a cathedral for the Brno bishop. It was converted to the Baroque style in the 18th century and at the end of the 19th century, the church was rebuilt in Neo-Gothic style; keeping parts of the Baroque interior.

Every day, the bells are rung at 11 AM. This commemorates the period of the Thirty Years' War and 1645, when Brno was the only city in Moravia to successfully defend itself against the Swedish siege.

The legend goes that, following a 3 ½ month long siege, General Torstenson announced that he would be able to capture the city before the bells rang mid-day. The leader of the defending army, Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches, had the bells ring an hour early, and the Swedish army retreated without a shot being fired. Pretty slick!

The southern slope of Petrov is surrounded by viewing terraces and the Denis Gardens with a marble obelisk, which has been there since 1818 to commemorate the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Monday, April 19, 2010

St. Wenceslas Cathedral

Olomouc was Moravia's capital until the 17th century so this is where the most important religious buildings were built.

Katedrála svatého Václava, St. Wenceslas Cathedral, is 900 years old and dominates the city skyline.

The Cathedral has been a Bishop or Archbishop church throughout the entire period of its existence.

The main tower is 100.65 meters (328 feet) high making it the tallest spire in Moravia, and the 4th tallest building in the ČR.

The original Romanesque basilica was consecrated in 1131 but was rebuilt in Gothic style during the second half of the 13th century.

After further adaptations in the cathedral, the front was given a Renaissance appearance. In 1616 - 1661 the Baroque presbytery and the crypt underneath were built. The front was changed in Classical style in the early 19th century. Neo-Gothic reconstruction (1883 - 1890) and construction of the choir chapel and a new tower gave the cathedral its present appearance.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the chapel of St.Anna. The chapel is attached to the chapter house, where the last Premyslid king, Wenceslas (Václav) III was murdered in 1306. In 1767, eleven year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his 6th Symphony here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Yesterday, one of my colleagues hosted a team building BBQ. It was in Dvorska village, out near the Brno airport in Tuřany. What a great time!

It was really nice to see people outside of an IBM office. There was grilled ham and Czech beer, plus ping-pong, volleyball, patonk, horses and nohejbal. I didn't understand what the heck 'nohejbal' was either...but it was a lot of fun.

Nohejbal (pronounded no-hey-ball) was invented in the ČR, in 1922, by members of the Slavia Prague football (soccer) club. It's also called football tennis or net ball. Basically, you are playing volleyball with a football on a tennis court. Since you're playing with a football (soccer ball) you only get to use your head or feet; no hands. One, two or three people play on each side of the net.

There have been European championships since 1993 and world championships since 1996. People here take it seriously.

Another colleague put together a video of the day's events. The music is Knipe by Tři Sestry, Three Sisters, a famous Czech punk rock band.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Olomouc Astronomical Clock

The Olomouc astronomical clock can be found in a recess at the northern wall of the town hall building on Horní náměstí (Upper Square). It dates back to the early 1400’s. However, it was so damaged in 1945, during WWII, that rather than reconstructing the original, the town representatives replaced it with a contemporary one in the 1950's.

The mosaics on the each side illustrate the twelve months. However, in good socialist realist style, the religious and royal figures were replaced with factory workers, farmers, athletes, scientists, mothers, and other proletariats. The glockenspiel was also altered to play three pieces of local, traditional music.

The lower dial represents the earthly sphere and indicates minute, hour, day, month, year and phase of the moon. The upper dial represents the heavenly sphere and shows a star map, the sun, earth, and the five planets known at the time, against a background of the twelve houses of the zodiac. This clock was even Y2K compliant because it is capable of displaying the year as "9999".

The green wheel shows the names of 365 patron saints. In the ČR, you celebrate both your birthday and your name day. So if your name is Tomáš then you celebrate St. Thomas' Day. My name day falls on September 18th for St. Kryštof.
This wheel also has red highlights spliced in for communist observances such as Lenin's birthday and the deaths of Stalin and Gottwald.
Get this...Klement Gottwald was the first communist president of Czechoslovakia. He died in 1953, just two weeks after Stalin died. He underestimated Moscow's weather, caught a chill at Stalin's funeral, and was buried two weeks later.
Here's a video of the clock I found out on YouTube.

©Rick Steves
After Czechoslovakia's communist government fell, most of the nation's socialist monuments were replaced. Luckily, the Olomouc clock is still around.

Update:  Siren tests take place differently in Olomouc due to the clock.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Visa Renewed

Woo-Hoo!!! I'z legal for another year!

I guess all of that running around last month paid off. I went back to the foreign police office today to see if my new visa was ready and it was. And just three weeks to the the day from when I submitted my application.

I was proud of myself too because I did everything at the office in Czech. But that's also because no one spoke English, German, French or Spanish.

Regardless, I can now stay in the ČR for another year. I don't have access here to a color scanner so the black & white picture will have to do. This one doesn't look anything like my original visa. From what I understand it's because the first one was a visa issued by a Czech embassy outside of the country and this one was a residency permit issued from within the country. So from now on they will look like this.

The only small problem is that this permit takes up a whole page in my passport. Pretty soon, I'll have to visit the American embassy in either Prague, Bratislava or Vienna, and pay to have extra blank pages added to my passport. Sounds like a really boring day trip.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Olomouc, Czech Republic

Olomouc (pronounced “O-lo-mow-ts), with around 100,000 inhabitants, is the 5th largest city in the ČR.

Olomouc was founded in the mid-13th century. In the Middle Ages it was the biggest town in Moravia and competed with Brno to be the capital. During the Thirty Years‘ War, the city was occupied by the Swedes for eight years (1642-1650). Olomouc was left in ruins and Brno became the capital of Moravia.

On Monday, I went with Steven & Michael on the 1.5 hour train ride to Olomouc. A round-trip ticket from Brno is only 234 Kč (~$12). The outside of the Brno train station looks nicer than the outside of Olomouc’s. However, I've got to say that the inside of the Olomouc station is 100 times nicer than Brno’s.

It’s a really beautiful city and the center has the largest historic preservation zone outside of Prague. The city is full of fountains. Unfortunately, they were still drained so I guess I’ll have to go back during summer so I can see them with water.

We saw all of the main sites, including the astronomical clock, St. Wenceslas Cathedral, the Holy Trinity column, the city wall, the Virgin Mary column, plus the fountains.

The Town Hall, located at the Upper Sqare, is the most prominent historical building of secular architecture in the city. It still serves as the seat of the elected town government. It is also where you'll find the Orloj (astronomical clock).

Orloj is one of two astronmical clocks in the country. I prefer this one to the one in Prague. I'll do a separate post on this later.
The Neo-Gothic St. Wenceslas Cathedral dates back to 1883-1892. It is located on the site of an original church dating back to 1104-1107. I'll do a separate post on this one too.

The Byzantine style orthodox church was built in 1937.

The front of the Theresian Armory is from 1771-1778.

The Archbishop's Palace was built in 1665-1685. This is where Emporer Franz Josepf I ascended to the throne in 1848.

The Church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows is a Baroque building constructed from 1712-1719.

Legend has it that Julius Caesar founded Olomouc, but it is not true. But the Caesar Fountain is the largest of the six Baroque city fountains. It was built in 1725.

The Holy Trinity Column is the largest collection of Baroque statues within the framework of one sculptural group in Central Europe. It reaches a height of 35 meters and the lower part of the column contains a chapel. The sculpture was blessed in 1754 in the presence of Empress Maria Theresa. In 2000, the column was registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site

The Virgin Mary Column was built between 1716–1723 in order to commemorate the victims of the plague from the years 1713-1715.

In Bezruč Park you can see part of the city walls that were a part of the Olomouc Baroque fortress.

Here's a Rick Steves travel video I found on YouTube about Olomouc.

©Rick Steves

Update:  Siren tests take place differently in Olomouc.