Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies

Last night was the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.  A few years ago, it became tradition to get together with friends to watch the Parade of Nations on TV.  Part of the tradition is to serve the local food of the host nation.  So I had a few friends over for dinner and TV.

Some places are easier than other.  For the Beijing games, there was Chinese food.  Not a big stretch of the imagination.  For the Athens games I served Greek food.  Again, not a big stretch.  Even for the Atlanta games there were fried green tomatoes and BBQ.  But what does one serve for English food?  Especially when one has to try to come up with English food in the Czech Republic.

Thanks to a few supplies from Nat's last trip to Bristol, I was able to pull it off.  Bangers and Mash (sausages with mashed potatoes), Chicken and Vegetable Pie, and Yorkshire Pudding and Onion Gravy.  There was even Fish 'n Chips.  Well, actually fish sticks and fries but sometimes you just have to get creative.  Nat also scored us a bottle of Pimm's Cup for cocktails.

Pimm's No. 1 Cup is a reddish, gin based spirit that has a spiced citrus taste to it.  We drank it "English-style", mixed with lemonade, and pieces of cucumber, apples and oranges.  Quite refreshing.

London is one hour behind Central European Time so the TV broadcast didn't begin until 9 PM.  Watching on Czech TV was OK but I really would have preferred English-language commentary.  Oh well.  The Brits put on one heck of a show.

One of the funniest things from the broadcast was when the Czech athletes came out during the Parade of Nations.  In keeping with Czech humor, the Czechs marched out in Wellies and carrying brollies.  British English - Wellingtons are rain boots and a brolly is an umbrella.

Good luck to all of the American and Czech athletes competing in the Olympics.  I love that when my parents watch the Olympics on TV, if an American isn't competing, then they always cheer for the Czechs.

Update:  Those Wellies were a big hit.  Apparently, they were so popular that they quickly sold out in London.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

Birthday Kometa Match

I've been wanting to see a Kometa hockey match since I move to Brno.  Getting tickets, however, is not an easy thing to do.

Kajot Arena
Brno's Kometa (Comet) hockey team is the 2nd most successful team in the country.  Kometa fans are extremely loyal.  Even when they aren't playing well, it is tough to get tickets.

For my birthday, Katka and Natalie scored me a couple of tickets to a preseason match last night against St. Petersburg.  Awesome!!  Thanks Chicas!!

The match was a lot of fun and we had great seats right in the center of the rink.  Normally, most people buy tickets in the standing section on either end of the rink.

It was a kick to listen to everyone get all fired up about their team and wave their blue Kometa scarves.  In the end Kometa won 2:1 over Russia in a shoot-out.

Here's a short video I took and posted out on YouTube.  Now I can't wait to see a regular season match.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pipe Work

I don't know what exactly is going on.  But there is some major road work going on in my neighborhood.  It's been going on for the past few weeks and I have no idea on when it is scheduled to end.  I think that the city is maybe replacing water lines or sewage pipes or something.  Who knows?

My street has been a mess for a while now.  Normally it is a one way street but with the entrance closed off, everyone is going both ways and the congestion and parking is a bit of a problem.

Since I live near the city center, parking is normally an issue so with all of this going on I'm really glad that I don't have a car to deal with.  Thank goodness for public transportation.

Body Percussion

On Tuesday night the Alps team came up with another creative team building event body percussion.  It lasted one hour and it only cost 100 Kč ($5).  It really was a lot of fun.  I don't think that many people knew what to expect; I sure didn't.  That and summer vacation schedules kept the turnout only to about seven people.

I wouldn't mind doing this again with a larger group of people.  With more people you can make even better rhythms and effects.

Here's a short video of our instructor giving us a demonstration.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Peleş Castle, Romania

With a very early flight Sunday morning from Chişinău we had several hours to kill back in Bucharest.  So rather than go walk around the city again, we rented a car and drove to Sinaia.

Sinaia is a mountain resort town about 100 km (62 miles) from Bucharest.  It is 60 km (37 miles) from Bran Castle and 50 km (31 miles) from Braşov.  I had wanted to stop here in 2010 but there wasn't enough time in the day.

Sinaia was named after Mt. Sinai in Egypt.  Many of my colleagues have raved about how nice the town is.  Which makes sense because this is where Romania's King Carol I built his summer home Peleş Castle.

Construction on the castle began in 1873.  There was an interruption in construction but it was finally completed in 1883.  The castle is amazing!  Peleş combines wood, stone, bricks and marble, and it has more than 160 rooms.  Inside of the castle is quite spectacular with each each room decorated in a particular style.

It's kind of pricey to tour the castle.  Admission to the castle was 50 Romanian Lei ($14) four the tour of the ground floor (official reception areas) and the first floor (private areas).  They wanted to charge another $9 just to take photos inside of the castle.  I elected to forgo the interior photos but there are pictures on Flickr of the outside which you can take photos of for free.

Peleş Castle was the first European castle to be entirely lit by electric current.  The castle had its own plant that produced electricity.

Next to the Peleş Castle is Pelişor (Little Peles).  King Ferdinand felt that Peleş was too big to be used as a summer residence so he had a smaller, 70-room chateau built.  There wasn't enough time to tour Pelişor.  So maybe next time.

A return visit to Sinaia may just be in order.  Besides Pelişor, I would like to tour the Sinaia Monastery.  Plus, there's also the town itself which should be nice and relaxing.


One of the things that make Transnistria a bit of a shady place, in the eyes of the world, is Sheriff.


Sheriff is the second-largest company in Transnistria.  It was formed by a couple of members of the KGB back in 1993.

The former long-term president's son has also been a key player in running the company.  Sheriff owns gas stations, supermarkets, a construction company, a Mercedes-Benz dealer, a couple of bread factories, a spirits factory, casinos, an advertising agency, a publishing house, a TV channel, a mobile phone network, and the Sheriff Tiraspol football club.  It recently spent around $200 million to build the new Sheriff Stadium.

The company is heavily involved in politics and supports the government by preventing the opposition from reaching the masses via TV, advertising or publishing.  In return, the company benefits from reduced taxes and import duties.

With Transnistria separated from the rest of Moldova, Sheriff basically has a monopoly.  The company does offer discounts to pensioners at supermarkets and is responsible for employing many people across the country.

However, the company has been accused of basically being a mafia-run organization that is used to launder money for the government.  Accusations of people smuggling and arms trafficking have also been raised.

Tiraspol, Transnistria

Tiraspol is the capital, and largest city, in the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) Transnistria.

It is the second biggest city in all of Moldova, after Chişinău.  Tiraspol is home to more than 160,000. 

Tiraspol was founded, in 1792, by Russian general Alexander Suvorov.

The town is home to several relics of its Soviet past.  Most of the sites are along the main street 25 October Street.

Home of the Young Pioneers

The Supreme Council building is home to the PMR Parliament.  It has a large Lenin statue in front of it.

The Soviet T-34 tank commemorates the victory over fascism in WWII.

The eternal flame honors those people who died defending the city in 1941, as well as, those who liberated Tiraspol in 1944. 

Other war monuments are dedicated to those who died in the Soviet war in Afghanistan and in the War of Transnistria.

There is a bust of Lenin in front of the city hall.

Over 40% of the city is Russian and another 32% is Ukrainian.  Moldovans are the minority here with about 18% of the population.  I didn't hear anyone speaking Romanian here.

Transnistria even has its own currency the Transnistrian Ruble. 

Since the currency is not traded internationally the country sets its own exchange rates.  No one wanted to take Moldovan Lei or Euros so we were forced to go to the bank for rubles in order to buy postcards.  Transnistria has its own stamps but they are only good within the region.  For international mail you have to buy Moldovan stamps.

Tiraspol is also home to the relatively new Sheriff football (soccer) stadium.

I was in Tiraspol for my birthday.  How many people can say that they spent their birthday in a breakaway republic?  I never made it to the USSR before it collapsed but, with all of the Soviet style architecture, this place gave me a feel for what it may have been like.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bender, Transnistria

Transnistria is pretty much everything on the east side of the Dniester river.  However, there are a few places on the west bank of the river, in Moldova, that are under the control of Transnistria.  And you have to go through the checkpoint to get there, even though you are still in MoldovaA bit confusing.

Dniester River
The second largest town, after Tiraspol, has three different names.  In Russian, it is Bendery, in Moldovan it is Tighina, but it is most commonly called Bender.  This town is located in the buffer zone that was set up at the end of the 1992 war in Transnistria.  Some of the worst fighting took place here.

Bender was founded in 1408 and has a population around 94,000.  It is 45 km (28 miles) from Chişinău and only 5 km (~3 miles) from Tiraspol.

There is a medieval fortress.  Unfortunately, the place is not a tourist spot because it is now occupied by the Transnistrian army.  I believe that the Russian 14th Army also has barracks here.

There are several memorials in the center of the town.

Here's a WWII military cemetery next to an Orthodox church.

The Memorial of Memory and Grief honors the defenders of Transnistria who died in the 1992 war.