Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Tonight I will be in Spain.  Well sort of.  It depends on whom you ask.  I'm headed to Barcelona, but Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia.

Catalonia is an autonomous region in the north-east part of the Iberian Peninsula.  It was once part of the Roman Empire.  Officially it is part of Spain.
The flag of Catalonia

Many Catalans see themselves as a nation without a country.  Under Franco's dictatorship, the region was oppressed from 1939 - 1975.  During this time the people were forbidden to speak Catalan because the government wanted to promote Castilian Spanish.

Since 1979, the region as obtained more autonomy from Madrid but many people want full independence.  Catalonia contains about 16% of Spain's population, contributes around 20% to Spanish GDP and accounts for 25% of Spain's total tax revenue.  However, in relation to what it contributes it receives little from Madrid for public investment.

Catalan Separatist Flag
Catalonia is roughly the same size as Switzerland (about twice the size of New Jersey).  Switzerland has 8 million people and Catalonia has around 7.5 million people.  So the argument goes that if Switzerland is able to function then Catalonia is viable as an independent country.

Given Spain's current economic problems I'm sure that the loss of Catalonia would be devastating.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

European Spanish

Tomorrow night I'll be in Barcelona.  I'm so psyched to visit.  Even though the primary language is Catalan, everyone speaks Spanish as well.  And it's the Spanish that I have to adjust to.

Just as there are differences between British English and American English, there are differences between European Spanish and Latin American Spanish.  Part of my family is Mexican and I grew up in Southern California so I'm used to Spanglish.  When I speak Spanish here people can immediately tell that I'm not European.  And when I listen to Euro-Spanish it just sounds so odd.

There is an urban legend that King Ferdinand of Spain spoke with a lisp.  And since no one wanted to make fun of the king, everyone just spoke like him.  Nice story but it isn't true.  

In Mexican Spanish, the letters Z, S, and C (before E or I) are all pronounced as an "S".  But in Spain, the "S-sound" is pronounced like "TH".  So instead of hearing Buenos Días you hear Buenoth DíathIt's like nails on a chalk board to me.

The other big difference is that European Spanish has an extra personal pronoun.  I'm used to using ustedes for "you (plural)" regardless if it is for formal or informal use.  Over here, ustedes is only the formal version of "you (plural)" and vosotros is the informal version of "you (plural).  I don't know vosotros or how to conjugate any verbs with it.

There are also lots of vocabulary differences.  Over the past few weeks, I've been making an extra effort to speak more Spanish so that I can get my ear used to the different speech.  Just for fun, here's part of a video that I found out on YouTube using Star Wars to compare Castellano (Castilian Spanish) and Español (Mexican Spanish).  Can you hear the differences too?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Loosova Bus Stop

After our day of horseback riding on Saturday, we walked through Brno's Lesná district and I saw the funkiest bus stop ever. 

The Loosova bus stop is for buses #57 and #66 (and night bus #92).

The stop looks like a giant octopus and was inspired by late-Czech architect Jan Kaplický.

Apparently, the design was to be used for the Czech National Library building in Prague but the project was blocked by some folks who felt it was a bit too outrageous.

I like the groovy thing.  Definitely a lot more than the cock clock.  It even has an anti-graffiti coating on it.  Yeah!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Horseback Riding at Panská Lícha

Again with the teambuilding activities.  This time our Nordics team at work came up with an early afternoon of horseback riding.  The Panská Lícha Riding Grounds are about 20 minutes away by bus.

Nat riding Burbona

I can't remember the last time I road a horse.  Natalie joined in on the fun as well as my +1.  The course is two hours and there is both a practical and theoretical part.  Ten of us were broken in to two groups and we all got to ride for about 10 minutes each.  Several others showed up to lend moral support and take photos.

Then we all took a tour of the stables and riding grounds.  We were given a lecture, in Czech, about horses and got the opportunity to feed and groom some horses.  We even earned Riding Academy certificates.

Afterwards, we all had lunch at the restaurant and played some card games.  The weather was great yesterday and this for sure was one of the best teambuilding events that has been organized so far.  Let's see what they come up with next.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Malmö, Sweden

Malmö is the 3rd largest city in Sweden.  The city was founded at the end of the 13th century, in 1275.  For centuries it was Denmark's second-largest city.  In the 17th century it became part of Sweden.  It is nicknamed the City of Parks.

It's almost a suburb of Copenhagen thanks to the Öresund bridge.  For a while, housing prices were cheaper here so many Danes bought property and commute to Denmark for work.

Malmö has a diverse population of 300,000 people.  Some 30% of the population has foreign roots.  About 9,500 come from Denmark, then it's people from the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Poland, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Hungary and Somalia.

It's a nice city to visit and there are plenty of historic buildings in the old town center.  Stortorget was built in the 1530s and is the oldest town square.  The statue is of King Karl X.

The town hall was built in 1546.  The façade was changed to Dutch Renaissance in the 1860s.

St. Peter's Church is the oldest building in Malmö.  It was built in the early 14th century.

Malmöhus Castle is the oldest remaining Renaissance castle in Scandinavia.  Today it hosts the city museum.

The Turning Torso is the tallest skyscraper in Scandinavia, the tallest residential building in the EU and the second-tallest residential building in Europe.  It opened in 2005.  Its 54 stories reach a height of 190 meters (623 feet).  The first ten floors are for commercial use and the rest are for luxury flats.

Miran has some family that lives near Malmö who he has never met.  So after our sightseeing we met up for coffee with his cousin Malin, her fiancé Fredde, and their new baby Alice.  They were really nice and we may see them in Slovenia later this summer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Øresund Bridge

The Øresund Bridge is a combination bridge-tunnel for cars and trains that connects Denmark and Sweden.

The bridge joins Copenhagen with Malmö in about 30 minutes by train.  It has the longest cable-stayed main span in the world.  The tunnel part is the longest underwater tube tunnel in the world.

The bridge runs 8 km (5 miles) from Sweden to an artificial island in the middle of the strait.  Then it's a tunnel to the Danish island of Amager.  The tunnel portion was created so that the bridge would not interfere with air traffic from Copenhagen's airport.  It also allows for ships to have a clear channel and prevents ice floes from blocking the strait.

Construction began in 1995 and it was completed in 1999.  It cost about $5.7 billion to build and it should pay for itself by 2035.  It's definitely better to cross the bridge by train because it is a toll bridge.  A one-way trip across in a car is €40 (~$50).  However, with an annual subscription you can get a discount and it then only costs €20 each way.

While I did ride the train across the bridge I wasn't able to take any pictures.  The weather was so overcast that it was impossible to even see the bridge from Sweden.  The photos here are ones that I found out on the Internet.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Helsingør, Denmark

Helsingør is about 50 km (31 miles) from Copenhagen and it takes 45 minutes to get there by train.  The city dates back to 70 BC and has a population of +46,000.

Helsingør sits on the northeastern tip of Zealand island and is at the narrowest part of the Øresund Sound between Denmark and Sweden.

The Swedish city of Helsingborg is only 4 km (~2.5 miles) away across the water.  Normally you can see Sweden but it was so overcast that I wasn't able to see a thing.

The town is quite small and charming.  But everyone goes there to visit the Kronborg Castle where William Shakespeare's Hamlet takes place.

The castle was completed around 1585.  In 2000, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Here's a video I found out on YouTube about the castle.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Christiana is a self-proclaimed freetown in Copenhagen.  There are around 850 residents on 34 hectares (85 acres).

It was established in 1971 on the grounds of former military barracks.  It's basically an area for hippie and free-thinking types.

I saw a plaque stating that Christiana was listed under UNESCO which I found to be a real surprise.  

Hard drugs, guns and cars are prohibited.  And you are not allowed to take photos on Pusher Street.  The "Green Light District" had people openly selling marijuana and hash from street stands.  Although possession and use are illegal in Denmark.

Since the property is so valuable the government has been trying to take over the land for many years.
Here's a Rick Steve's video I found out on YouTube.
©Rick Steves

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark

København is Denmark's capital city.  With a population of 1.2 million it is also the country's largest city.  Copenhagen actually sits on the islands of Zealand and Amager. 

The city is very flat which is why bicycles are so popular here.  It also makes it very easy to cover most of the city in a day by foot.

The Tivoli Gardens is an amusement park in the center of the city.  Among its attractions are the world's oldest Ferris wheel and roller coaster still in operation.  The park opened in 1843.  Unfortunately, it was still closed for winter.  I guess my excuse for a return visit to Copenhagen will be that I need to check out Tivoli.

The city's most popular icon is "The Little Mermaid", based on the story by native author Hans Christian Andersen.  OK, so how big should the little mermaid be?  I wasn't expecting the sculpture to be quite so small.
Statue of Hans Christian Andersen
Rundetårn, the Round Tower, is a 17th-century tower that was originally built as an astronomical observatory.  Now it's just a nice high tower that affords a good view of the city.

Børsen is the old stock exchange that was built from 1619-1640.  The building is known for its spire which is made up of four entwined dragon tails.

Christiana is a self-proclaimed free town of 850 residents.  

To me, Nyhavn is what I picture when I think of Denmark.  Nyhavn is a waterfront district that is lined with brightly colored 17th and 18th century buildings.

Now the street is home to many cafes, bars and restaurants and there are plenty of boats to look at in the water.

Amalienborg Palace is the royal family's winter home.  It's made up of four palaces around a courtyard.  There's a statue of King Frederick V in the center.

Frederick's Church, sometimes called the Marble Church, is just north of Amalienborg.  Construction began in 1749 and it finally opened in 1894.  It has the largest church dome in Scandinavia.  It's possible to climb all the way up to the top for some great views of the city.  Of course, not so great if you don't like heights.

The Gefion Fountain is the city's largest monument.  According to legend, a Swedish king promised the Norse goddess Gefion that she could keep all of the land she could plow in 24 hours.  So Gefion turned her four sons into oxen and the land that they plowed was thrown out in to the Danish sea.  The land became Zealand which is home to Copenhagen. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dragør, Denmark

Dragør is located on the southeast coast of Amager island; about 12 km (8 miles) from Copenhagen.

The town was founded in the 12th century and quickly grew as a fishing port.

In the early 16th century, Danish King Christian II invited farmers from the Netherlands to settle here in order to produce food for the royal household.

Twenty-four families arrived and were settled in the neighboring village of Store Magleby.  These farmers introduced the carrot to Denmark.

Dragør is known for its well-preserved historical buildings.  The thatch roofs looked really neat.  Many of the homes in the old town are several hundred years old.