Friday, May 27, 2011

Nuclear Power & Beer

OK, so there are somethings that you just can't say "no" to. When one of my colleagues invited me "to go drink beer at a nuclear power plant", I just had to say "yes". Beer and nuclear power? How could anyone not want to join in the festivities?

The plan was to actually go take a tour of the Dukovany Nuclear Power Station on Friday afternoon and then to visit the Dalešice Brewery, spent the night at a pension and be back in Brno early Saturday. There were about 30 Czechs (OK, a couple of Slovaks) and me. Not quite sure why none of the other foreigners from work came but oh well.

We rented a bus from Brno to Dukovany, about an hour away on the southern Moravia border. Dukovany is the oldest of the two nuclear power plants in this country. The first reactor went into operation in 1985, the second and third units went live in 1986 and the fourth opened in 1987. Bids are in for a fifth reactor and the winner should be announced sometime this year.

There is a visitor's center that anyone can go to. There are a couple of movies (one was in English) and lots of exhibits. Apparently, if you are a Czech citizen and go through a background check then it's possible to even visit the command center. Not an option for this trip.

Then we headed off to what I thought was a tour of the Dalešice Brewery. Much less of a tour and more of a drinking beer and hanging out event.

Apparently, the beer brewing tradition here goes back to the 17th century. The brewery became famous in 1981 when part of the movie Postřižiny (Cutting It Short) was filmed here. I'll have to see if I can find the DVD.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

French Food

So there is no way around it. French food is simply the best. Some people may wonder how how eating liver, onion soup, snails, frog's legs, raw beef and cheese can be good. But it so is.

Everything is so fresh and absolutely delicious. My morning café au lait always tastes better in France. Especially with a fresh baked croissant. The bread here is amazing!! With so many bakeries the French just don't believe in not having a fresh baguette.

In France, the entrée is the appetizer. Unlike in the U.S. where the entree is the main course. This is where you have some delicious onion soup, escargots or the foie gras (duck or goose liver). I'm not too keen on the frog's legs...they taste like chicken but with a lot of bones. But hey, you've got to try them at least once.

Then you move on to the main course. My favorite is the beef tartare. I know that it is raw beef but it is yummy.

After that you then have a cheese plate or dessert, or both. And how can you go wrong with crème brûlée?

And don't forget the pre-meal drink, all of the wine and the post meal beverage.

The good thing is that in a city like Paris there is a lot of walking to do which is needed to help work off all of the rich food. Otherwise you will do nothing but gain a ton of weight. But what a way to go.

Here's a short Rick Steves episode from YouTube where he talks about all of the cliché French food worth trying.

©Rick Steves

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Château de Versailles

On Friday, Steven, Michael and I, went with Marcus and his family to Versailles. It's a little over 20 km (~14) southwest of Paris by train. It was amazing!!! It's no reason that it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list for over 30 years.

Le Château de Versailles began as Louis XIII's hunting lodge. In 1682, Louis XIV expanded Versailles and moved the French court here.

The three French kings that followed all added improvements until the royal family was forced back to Paris in 1789 after the start of the French Revolution.

Most of the palace's furnishings were stripped during the revolution. In the 19th century Versailles became host to the Museum of the History of France.

The place is just massive and incredibly beautiful.

The gardens are amazing but unfortunately none of the fountains were running. I guess it was still to early in the year.

Here are a few details to appreciate how big it really is...

Floor space..........67,000 m2 (+721,000 sq ft)
# of windows.............2,153
# of rooms..................700
Museum paintings....6,123
Museum sculptures..2,102

The only thing that I didn't care for were these giant steel sculptures that were being set up. French artist Bernar Venet is displaying seven contemporary sculptures from June 1st to November 1st, 2011. I'm sure that some people will like them but to me they just looked like a bunch of rusting geometric steel beams that weren't quite finished. But to each their own.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Atlanta Reunion in Paris

It's been about a year since I saw Steven & Michael. They decided to celebrate Michael's birthday with a European cruise. We planned to meet up in Paris after their cruise for a few days. I have been counting down the days to spend some time with my boys.

I haven't seen Marcus since his going away party in Bratsville. He is back in Atlanta now and is now in the same MBA program at Georgia State that Steven and I went to. Well as it turns out, by coincidence, Marcus planned to be in Paris at the same time. He went to Europe with his brother, mom and aunt. So we ended up with a whole lot of Atlanta folks in the city of lights. It was so great to see everyone.

Steven, Michael and I rented an apartment in Montmarte. It was about a 5 minute walk to Sacré-Cœur. Steven and Michael hadn't been to Paris in about 20 years so we just did the normal touristy stuff. We walked the entire city...through the Latin Quarter, down the Champs-Élysées, past the Arc de Triomphe, and visited all of the usual sites such as Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Seine. We all went with Marcus' family to see Versailles which was simply incredible. We managed to eat our way through Paris as well. You just can't beat French food. It was a good thing that we did a lot of walking.

Another perk about seeing everyone was that they brought me supplies. With what Steven and Michael brought me, plus what Marcus brought, I was pushing my baggage allowance. I managed to get back with only a ½ kilo (1 pound) to spare. I don't know how they did it but I ended up with lots of loot. The best was that Steven managed to bring me some aluminum turkey pans so that it will be easier for me to cook the Thanksgiving turkey this year. The last two years I've cooked the turkeys in a pan that is only about an inch deep because I can not find a roasting pan over here large enough to hold a 20 pound bird. But now I'm set with 3 of them. Is it bad that it is only May and I'm already trying to figure out what I'll need for Thanksgiving in November?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

1st Department BBQ

On Sunday, my department held its first Spring BBQ. The weather wasn't the best but we had fun. The morning started off a bit rainy but half of my team still managed to make it.

We rented a club house at a local park that had a grill, ping pong tables, and volleyball nets. If only the weather had been better and we could have played some volleyball. A few played badminton and we tossed some frisbees around.

Everyone agreed to bring some kind of meat and something extra. Well we definitely didn't need to worry about a lack of food. With all of the sausages, chicken and pork we had enough food to feed an army. But at least with all of the leftovers I'm sure that most people didn't have to cook for a day or two.

I'm glad that this turned out well in spite of the weather. Now to plan something else for my team in July or August.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011 Brno Museum Night

Once a year, several cities in Europe have a museum night where all of a city's museums are free in the evening. Yesterday was Brno's 7th annual museum night and, from 6 pm to midnight, there was free access to 16 different institutions.

Most places had some sort of exhibition at the top of each hour, in addition to, the normal permanent and temporary exhibits. There were also some music and dance exhibitions at the old town hall.

Given the crowds, over 140,000 people, it did get a bit crowded at times. But it is a great way to check things out for free. I really enjoyed the Moravian Gallery, the second largest art museum in the country. Here they had a photography exhibit, as well as, The Head of Medusa (circa 1618) by Peter Paul Rubens.

Next Saturday is going to be Brno's Night of the Churches. Same thing as museum night but you can go inside all of the churches and even in to parts of the churches that are normally off limits. I missed it last year and it looks like I will have to catch it next year because this year I'll be in France. Steven and Michael have been on a European cruise and when they finish they are going to meet me in Paris for a few days. By coincidence, Marcus will be in Paris with his brother, mom and aunt. So I'll get to see a bunch of Atlanta folk in France. Can't wait.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

2011 World Hockey Championships

The 2011 World Hockey Championships are going on right now in Slovakia. They are being held in Bratislava and Košice (the second largest city in eastern Slovakia). Hockey is taken seriously over here. The Czechs are the defending champions and everyone is going crazy over the competition.

Various artists were commissioned to produce 21 larger-than-life statues of hockey players representing the participating countries. They are scattered all over downtown. Of course, the Slovak player got the prime location in front of the Presidential Palace.

I was in Bratsville for a seminar and on the walk from the office back to the hotel I managed to snap a few pictures on my iPhone.

The statue for Norway was kind of different. I thought it was cool that the statue for Sweden had its face painted to look like a real person. I was pressed for time so I never made it out to find the statues for the USA or the ČR. I hope that doesn't jinx either team's chances.

Last night on the 6th, the Czechs beat Slovakia 3-2.

EDIT: On the 11th the Czechs spanked the USA 4-0 in the quarterfinals. I caught a little bit of hell for this one at work the next day. But the Czechs are the defending champions and the USA has a very young team here. Not making excuses or anything...just saying.

EDIT: It's all over. The Czechs had the best record of the tournament and only lost one match to Sweden. Last year, the Czechs beat Russia for the gold but, with the way it worked out, this year they got to beat Russia for the bronze. Finland (who the Czechs beat in the earlier rounds) took the gold over Sweden.