Saturday, June 30, 2012

Meet the New Spouse Party

This must be wedding season.  On my largest team alone, I have three different people all getting married.  Not to each other but to other people.  So last night we had a little get together at a local pizza place for everyone on the team to meet the new new & future spouses.

David has grown since we "wet his head"
It was a lot of fun.  I think that everyone enjoyed being able to just relax after a long week.  And it is always nice to get to know people outside of the office.  Some people even brought wives or boyfriends and we had a couple of kids.

Alexandra and Ondřej just recently got married.  This was my first Euroland wedding

Kasia and Radek are both Polish and have already had their civil ceremony.  Now they will go back to Poland for the big village wedding.

Tomáš and Annie have their wedding in in about a month.  I'm sure that it will be one big party.

After a while, we pulled all three couples outside and congratulated everyone.  There were the traditional flowers, handshakes and the European double kisses.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cannes, France

Cannes is only a 20-minute train ride from Nice.  Located on the French Riviera, it's another major tourist destination even though there isn't exactly a lot to see there.  Cannes is where many of the super rich and their luxury yachts come to relax.  Go figure when its sister city is Beverly Hills.  I managed to visit for a couple of hours before I had to catch my flight back to Vienna.

Thanks to the Mediterranean climate, the winters are mild and the summers are warm with ocean breezes to keep everyone cool.

Suquet Hill, in the old town, overlooks the port and offers a great view of the city.

At the top is the 12th century fortified Mt Chevalier tower. 

There is also the church of Notre Dame de l'Espérence which was completed in 1648.

The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès is home to the annual Cannes Film Festival.  Founded in 1946, it is the world's most prestigious film festival.  It is by invitation only and previews new films and documentaries from all over the world. 

Since 1955, the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) has been the highest prize awarded.  It goes to the director of the best feature film.

Around the main entrance are hundreds of hand prints and signatures of famous stars.

The beaches here seem to be better than in Nice or Monte Carlo.  There are 7.5 kilometers (4.6 miles) of actually sandy beaches.  Of course most of there are private beaches so you have to pay in order to lay out in the sun.  Each year, the city spends €650,000 (~$815,000) to re-sand the beaches.

WWI Memorial
If I had had more time then I for sure would have taken a boat ride out to Île Sainte-Marguerite.  It is about half of a mile off shore.  In the 17th century, the fortress was home to the Man in the Iron Mask.  His identity was never proven but some believe that he was a French noble.  I guess I'll just have to visit his cell the next time I'm back at the French Riviera.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monaco is broken down in to four quarters: Fontvieille, Monaco-Ville, La Condamine and Monte Carlo.  So Monte Carlo is officially an administrative area and where the casino is.  But for all intents and purposes you can think of Monte Carlo as the country's capital.  So far as a capital in an almost 2 km² country can be.

The train from Nice to Monaco is only about 20 minutes which makes for a very easy day trip.

There is no airport in Monaco.  The closest one is in Nice.

The Palais du Prince (Prince's Palace) is where the Grimaldi family has ruled Monaco since 1297.

The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium is world renowned.  You kind of figure it has to be if Jacques Cousteau was the museum's director for over 30 years.

The Saint Nicholas Cathedral is the home of the Archdiocese of Monaco.  It was consecrated in 1875.

This is where Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III were married.  Many of the Grimaldis are buried here including the Prince and Princess.

The Japanese Garden opened in 1994 after three years of building.  It is 7,000 square meters and sits on top of a car park.  It makes for a nice little place to relax in such a congested area.

The casino was established in 1863 and is world famous for roulette, poker and blackjack (my favorite).  This is where the mega-wealthy hang out at and you can tell just by looking at the parking lot.  Every other car is a Ferrari or a Bentley.

As far as I got in to the casino.
Jackets and ties are required and tennis shoes are not allowed so I obviously didn't get a chance to break the bank at the casino.  Besides it costs €10 just to get inside to the slot machines and no cameras are allowed.

Monte Carlo's only public beach is Laryotto.  It's small but nice.  The pebbles are much smaller than at the beaches in Nice.  But I still can't wait to get back to California's sandy beaches.  

The Champions Promenade is a walk of stars for famous footballers (soccer players).

Future Grand Prix racer?

My personal little quest this trip was to find the grave of Josephine Baker.  It took a while but I finally found it.  She was an American singer, dancer and actress who at one time was the richest black woman in the world. 

Due to segregation and racial prejudice she gave up her American passport for one from her adopted country, France, whom she helped during WWII as a member of the Resistance.  Later in life she adopted twelve children of all races whom she called her Rainbow Tribe.  When she died in 1975 she was given a state funeral in Paris and was buried here in Monaco.  Here's an 80-minute documentary I found on YouTube that tells her story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nice, France

Nice, on the French Riviera, is the 5th largest city in France.  It's the main city on the Côte d'Azur. 

The city has around 350,000 people but there are about 1 million people in the greater metro area. 

Nice was a part of Italy for years but has been a part of France since 1860.  Due to the mild Mediterranean weather it has long been a popular tourist destination.

With 4 million tourists each year, it is the second-most visited city in France, after Paris.  From the latter half of the 18th century, the English upper classes took to wintering in Nice.  The main seaside promenade is called the Promenade des Anglais.

The beach is great except that there is no sand.  The public beaches here are made up of large flat stones.  The beach time was fine but I can't wait until September when I'll be back on a California beach with my niece and nephew.

The Colline du Château (Castle Hill) has a great view of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), the harbor and the Old Town.

On top of the hill is also a Christian cemetery with Catholic and Protestant sections.  There's also an adjacent Jewish cemetery.

At the base of the hill is the Monument des Mort which honors France's war dead.

The Orthodox Russian Cathedral was built in 1912 right before the Russian Revolution.  Unfortunately, it was closed for some reason when I went to visit it.  I guess another trip back to the Côte d'Azur is in order.

Here's a Rick Steves video I found on YouTube that talks about Nice.
©Rick Steves

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Jungle Park

Last night was another Alps team building event.  This time a group of us went to Jungle Park.  It's a rope course in a forest, near the Svratka river in Brno.

It was a lot of fun.  The course has 33 obstacles and is 365 meters (~1,200 feet) long.  Each obstacle is hung three to seven meters above the ground.  It took about two hours for all of us to complete the entire course.  Our guide does the course several times a day and we watch him complete the entire thing in only eight minutes.

I still don't like heights and hanging from ropes seven meters (23 feet) up isn't my favorite thing.  But it was still a lot of fun.  My favorites were the zip lines.

We had a great turn out and the celebratory beer afterward sure hit the spot.  It was definitely a work out because I'm feeling my age this morning.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Principality of Monaco

The Principality of Monaco is the world's second smallest country, just ahead of the Vatican.  It's basically a city state on the French Riviera.  It's tiny; about three times the size of The Mall in Washington, DC.  Monaco sits on the Mediterranean Sea with France bordering on three sides.  With a population just over 36,300 in an area of 1.98 km² (0.76 square mile) it is the world's most densely populated country.  Since the country is so small there really isn't a capital city.

Monaco has a constitutional monarchy with Prince Albert II as the head of state.  Although an independent country, France is responsible for defense.

There is no income tax and low business taxes so the country is a tax haven.  It has the world's lowest poverty rate and the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita.  So there is a lot of money here.  The unemployment rate is 0% with 48,000 people working daily in France and nearby Italy.

Tourism is the main industry.  Many cruise ships make stops here and lots of people dream of striking it rich at the famous Monte Carlo casino.

Even though Monaco is not a member of the EU, the national currency is still the Euro.  The country is a de facto member of the Schengen zone.  Monaco joined the United Nations in 1993.

In 1956, Grace Kelly married Prince Ranier III.  I think most Americans know Monaco simply because of Princess Grace.

Here's a Rick Steves video I found on YouTube to give more information about the country.
©Rick Steves