Friday, August 31, 2012

What GOD?

Several months ago I received an e-mail request from a graduate film student in Arizona.  She had seen the photos I posted on my blog about my trip to Auschwitz.  She asked if she could use my photos as part of a student project she was working on.  Of course!

Well a couple of weeks ago she sent me a copy of the final product.  Not only did one of my photos make the final cut but I even got mentioned in the credits at the end of the film.  The film, by the way, is a pretty moving piece.  It is called What GOD?  I hope that the group got an "A" for the film.

International Driver's Permit

My Georgia driver's license has expired and I had planned on renewing it when I go home to Atlanta next week.  However, I can't.  Since July 1, Georgia has enacted tough new rules which prevent me from getting a new license.  It's always been that you get your actual license within 10 minutes.  Now, the new licenses have some new security features and the driver's license is mailed to your home address.  I no longer have a house in Georgia because I sold it.  And now, in addition to showing valid state or federal ID, you must also present two recent utility, bank statement, etc., that has your current address.  There is no way that Georgia will mail me a new Georgia license to the Czech Republic.

So in order for me to drive in the USA, I needed to go with Plan B.  An International driving permit is recognized in +160 countries.  It is a little bigger than a passport and has my picture and states what type of vehicle I can operate.  It is printed in Czech, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Turkish and Icelandic.

In order for an international permit to be valid you must carry it with your actual driver's license.  Also, it is not valid in the country of issue.  It only cost me 50 Kč ($2.65) and it is valid for one year.  I will only need this for the USA because my Czech driver's license is valid everywhere in Europe.

I'm actually a little bit nervous about driving in the USA.  Driving in Malta was the last time I was behind the wheel.  Let's hope I don't get too confused by all of the different rules.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Travel Health Insurance

I'm still getting ready for my trip back home.  I made sure that yesterday I sorted out some travel insurance.  I have great healthcare over here but my VZP card isn't going to work in the USA.

In 2010, in the USA, the average cost for a hospital stay was $14,662 while the average price for an emergency room visit was $1,327.

The travel insurance was very easy to get.  Yeah!  I did everything on line (and in Czech!).  For 27 days of coverage my premium is 2,088 Kč ($110.67).  I'm covered for the following:

Health Coverage
Medical expenses - 2M Kč ($106,000)
Dental expenses - 5,000 Kč ($265)

Liability insurance for damage
Health 2M Kč ($106,000)
Property - 1M Kč ($53,000)
Financial - 500,000 Kč ($26,500)

Accident insurance
Disability 200,000 Kč ($10,600)
Death 100,000 Kč ($5,300)

Insurance of personal belongings - 10,000 Kč ($530)

Hospitalization daily coverage 200 Kč ($10.60)

I'm sure that I won't need health care while in the USA.  But with the high cost of medical services there is just no way I can risk not having travel insurance.  Knock on wood that I won't need to use it

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brno's Jewish Cemetery

Earlier today, Katka, Claudia, Norbert and I went to visit Brno's Jewish cemetery.  The 8.6-acre cemetery is in the Židenice quarter of town.

The cemetery was founded in 1852 and it is the largest Jewish cemetery in Moravia.

There are around 12,000 graves and the cemetery is still in use.  There are many different styles of graves.

All of the tombstones are written in Czech, German, and/or Hebrew.  The cemetery is a protected Czech national monument.

Hugo Haas, 1901-1968, was a popular actor and the first Czech person to make it big in Hollywood.  Since he was Jewish, he was thrown out of the Czech National Theater in the 1930s and fled to the USA.

The Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust was unveiled in 1950.  It honors the 13,000 people from Brno, and nearby villages, that were deported to concentration camps.

Two of the unmarked graves in front
In Brno, 807 Jews died before being transported to concentration camps.  These people were from Brno, the surrounding villages, and refugees from Germany and other invaded countries.  These graves of these people are scattered throughout the cemetery.  Almost 200 of them were not allowed to have a tombstone raised.  The Jewish Community of Brno raised the funds needed to build gravestones on the unmarked graves.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Two Week Countdown

I'm starting to get really anxious and excited about going home.  I haven't been back to the USA since I moved to Czechland three years ago.  And now, in two weeks I'll be on a jet plane headed back to Atlanta.

Most people can't believe that I haven't been home yet.  But with the time and expense involved it just doesn't make sense to go for a week.  By the time I recover from my jet lag it would be time for me to come back.  Plus people here don't seem to realize just how big the USA is.  Hell!  From Atlanta to Los Angeles is a six hour flight.  And I'm going to visit both.  I'm going to spend 28 days at home which will also be the longest vacation that I've ever had in my entire life. 

But, who's counting?
I'm using airline miles so my flight connections are little odd.  But at least I'm flying business class which will make the journey easier.  Plus with business class I will be able to check in two bags, at 32 kg (70 lbs) each.  That makes for a lot of souvenirs from Europe for my family.  And once my bags have been emptied I will fill them up with necessities for my trip back.  

I figure it will take me about 24 hours to get home to Atlanta.  I start with a 3 AM bus from Brno to the Vienna Airport.  Then it's an Austrian Airlines flight to Paris where I get on an Air France flight to Montréal, Canada.  Apparently, I clear U.S. customs in Canada.  Then it's a Delta flight back home to Atlanta.  The return isn't so crazy but will probably be something like 30 hours with a flight from LAX to Atlanta then on to Paris and back to Vienna30 hours!?!?  That's like flying to New Zealand.

Atlanta Skyline
It will be so good to get back home to the South for a little while.  I'm so ready to hang out with Steven and Michael who I haven't seen since our trip to Paris last year.  After a week then it will be time to catch my flight to Phoenix, Arizona.  Like many Californians, my parents retired to Arizona a few years ago and they now live about 100 miles away in Prescott.  I'm going to visit with them for three or four days and then we are all going to drive to California.  We will visit with my Uncle Kevin for a couple of days.  He wants to take us out to the lake and show us his new boat which will be fun.  I will also go visit my grandmother's grave.

Then it is on to Orange County where we'll stay with my sister and her family.  I can't wait to see everyone.  My niece is now 10 years old so she remembers me.  But my nephew was 1 year old when I left for Europe.  And even though he's seen my on Skype it will be interesting to see how long it takes before the shyness wears off.  While I'm back in California I, for sure, want to hit the beach at least one day and would like to go with the kids to Disneyland or something.  And like every true, born and raised, Southern California boy I plan to make at least a couple of visits to In-N-Out.

Almost a whole month back home sounds like a long time but I'm sure that it will go by quickly.  I will try to see as many people as I can while I'm home.  Steven and Michael are throwing a little welcome home cocktail party in my honor the day after I arrive which I'm super excited about.  I plan to do as much clothes  shopping as I possible can.  Compared to the USA, clothes in Czech Republic are super expensive and the quality isn't as good.  I only plan on taking enough clothes for maybe 3 or 4 days so that I'll have as much room as possible in my suitcases for new stuff.  People here are also hitting me up to bring them back electronics because gadgets here are, at a minimum, 30% more expensive.  I've already placed my order for a new camera which will be $200 cheaper than if I buy it here.

The hard part now is work.  I'm in the process of trying to wrap up as many loose ends as possible so that my stand-ins won't have as much to do.  I'm sure that the next two weeks will fly by which is good because I'm ready to get on that bus to the airport now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pizza Night at Nat's

Last night, Claudia, Katka and I went over to Natalie's flat for pizza night.  We found some dough that worked well enough that we had "normal" pizza crust.  By normal, I mean like normal American crust.  Not super thin like it is over here.

It was a lot of fun just hanging out and making our own combinations such as tomato, basil and ricotta, ham and pineapple, and salami and mushroom.  We used plenty of tomato sauce so there was no need to put ketchup on top. 

At least my shiner is healing
Yes, I said ketchup.  All pizza that you buy by the slice here has hardly any sauce so you have to put ketchup on top.  And the ketchup is pretty sweet.  It's just something that you get used to.  Fortunately, we didn't have to go that route last night.

I took over some Kraft grated Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper so that I could teach people how we eat pizza in the USA.  In a restaurant you can sometimes get Parmesan cheese for pizza but you will never find crushed red pepper.

It's funny how something as simple as pizza can be so different.  I remember being in Germany, when I was in the Air Force 20 years ago, and having a tuna and garlic pizza.  It sounds crazy but it actually is still one of my favorites.  And there is no pepperoni over here.  If you want what we Americans call a "pepperoni pizza" then, over here in ČR, you have to order a "salami pizza".  When I first got here three years ago I ordered a "pepperoni pizza" but the problem is that here pepperoni = pepperoncini so what I got a was a pizza with nothing but pepperoncinis.  Nothing else.  Just a pizza with a tiny bit of sauce, some cheese and pepperoncinis.  Oh well, live and learn.

Our pizza last night was so dang good!!  We did go a bit overboard and made way more than we needed.  But the leftovers made for a really nice lunch today.    

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw is about a 7-hour train ride from Brno with a change in Břeclav 

Warszawa is the capital and largest city in Poland.  With a population of 1.7 million it is the 6th largest city in the EU.

Warsaw 1945
Warsaw has been around roughly 1,400 years and it has been Poland's capital since 1596.  Throughout its long history it has survived many wars.  This is why Warsaw has been called "Phoenix City".  You can appreciate the nickname when you consider that after WWII, 85% of the city had been destroyed and then rebuilt.  So even though practically every building only dates back to the postwar era, the eclectic mix of architecture – Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical, was all painstakingly restored.  

The Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

The Royal Castle was originally built in the 15th century.  Between 1971 and 1988 the castle was rebuilt using original remains and rubble.

The King Kygmunt III Waza column is the oldest and, at 22 meters (72 feet), the tallest non-church monument in the city.  It was originally raised in 1644 to honor the king who in 1596 moved the capital from Kraków to Warsaw.  The statue holds a sword in its right hand and the legend goes that if the King's sword falls downward then disaster will follow.

The Basilica Cathedral of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist was originally a 14th century parish church.  Eventually it became the most important church in Poland.  There are several tombs here belonging to dukes, archbishops, a former president and the last Polish king.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Grace the Patron of Warsaw was built from 1609 to 1629.  Reconstruction of the church lasted until 1957.  In front of the church is a stone bear.  Legend has it that it is really a shy prince who is waiting for the one woman whose love can restore him to manhood.

In the middle of a small triangular square is a huge 17th century bronze bell.  It has never hung in any church.  Apparently you will get good luck if you circle around it three times.

Narrow house in the center
This square is home to the narrowest house in the city.  Or at least the front of the house is narrow because in the old days, the wider the external façade of the house, the more taxes the owner had to pay.  So the landlord, very cleverly, made the front narrow while the back side is huge.

The Old Town Market Square was founded in the 13th-14th centuries.  It used to be Warsaw's main square.  It was completely destroyed after the war.  The reconstruction has given the square its 17th and 18th century appearance back.

The square is home to the Mermaid Statue.  This one is actually a copy and the original Warsaw Mermaid is at the Historical Museum.

During the war, 30% of the population was Jewish and were moved in to the Warsaw Ghetto.  In April 1943, Jewish fighters launched the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  It's amazing that the resistance fighters held out for so long in spite of being both outnumbered and outgunned.  Almost all of the survivors, roughly 150,000 to 200,000, were killed.  The city wasn't finally liberated until 1945.

The Little Insurgent Monument, in the Old Town, honors the heroic children who fought against fascism during the Warsaw Uprising.

Warsaw's New Town isn't really that new.  It was founded at the end of the 14th century.  Like the rest of the city, all of the "old" buildings are all post-war reconstructions.  This is where our hotel was and there are lots of little sidewalk restaurants and cafés.

The Church of the Holy Spirit is a Baroque church that was originally built in the 18th century.  It was rebuilt in 1956.  Every August, for almost 300 years, there is an annual pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in Częstochowa that departs from the front of this church.

The Marie Curie Museum is located in the 18th century house where she was born.  Born Maria Skłodowska, she is the only woman to have been awarded the Nobel Prize twice and the only winner ever to be honored in two different natural science fields physics and chemistry.

The Warsaw Uprising monument honors the thousands of people who gave up their lives in the fight for their homeland.  The fighting went on for 63 days until they were finally beaten by the Nazis.  The Warsaw Rising Museum was opened on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of fighting.  Here's a Rick Steves video I found on YouTube that tells more about what happened.
©Rick Steves

The Presidential Palace has been the official work place for the president since 1994.  It is one of the largest palaces in the city.  However, it is not the official residence of the president.  The Prince Józef Poniatowski monument was erected in 1965.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was laid here in 1925.  The remains are of a defender of Lwów from WWI.  There is an urn with soil from every 20th century battlefield where Polish troops died in battle.  A military honor guard stands watch by an eternal flame.

The new National Stadium was recently built for the 2012 European Football Championship that Poland co-hosted with Ukraine.  The retractable roof opens in 15 minutes.

The most visible landmark in the city is the Palace of Culture and Science.  Construction began in 1952 and lasted until 1955.  It was a gift from Joseph Stalin to the people of Poland and was built by 3,500 workers from the USSR.  At 231 meters (757 feet) it is the tallest building in Poland and the 8th tallest in the EU.  Many people originally hated the building because it was considered to be a symbol of Soviet oppression. 

One of the things that I was really looking forward to seeing was the Fryderyk Chopin museum.  It is supposed to be the most modern biographical museum in Europe with multimedia exhibits and touch screens.  It was a big disappointment.  Everything is accessed by using an electronic card but the flow of the museum was very difficult to navigate.

I would have been better off just reading a book about Chopin and listening to his music on my iPod.  Even though this was the only let down in Warsaw, I did get a photo of Chopin and I both throwing the Peace sign.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Le Regina Hotel

This weekend's trip to Warsaw has been great fun.  Many people told me that there is nothing worth seeing here and that a trip to Poland is better spent in other cities.  And this mostly came from Poles.  However, I disagree.  Warsaw has been a really nice trip and I'll be back here for sure to see the stuff that I didn't have time for this visit.

While not a destination found on the tourist maps, our hotel was great.  Natalie decided that this weekend she wanted something a bit fancier than a hostel or pension so she got us a room at MaMaison's Le Regina Hotel.  So glad that she found a deal on it because this five star hotel is quite posh.  The service was wonderful and it made the perfect base for our weekend Warsaw getaway. 

The hotel is hidden away in the New Town section of the historic district.  In the 18th century the hotel was once the Mokrowski Palace.  It was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 1953.  It was the U.S. embassy in Poland until 1963.  Way cool!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Shiner

So everyone wants to know the story about the shiner that I've been sporting for a week since Tomáš and Annie's wedding.  Well, it really isn't that exciting.  I was leaving the restroom, I slipped, I fell, and my face scrapped the side of a concrete step.  Not very graceful but I was really lucky because I could have done some serious damage. 

So there wasn't a brawl at the wedding or anything.  I'm glad that it happened towards the end of the evening so it didn't detract from any of the festivities.  And while I wasn't falling down drunk, thank goodness I was buzzed enough that it didn't hurt as bad as it would have if I had been sober.  But it sure hurt like hell on Sunday evening.

Here's a photo that was taken the following morning, about 6 hours afterwards.  At least I was in good spirits and could laugh at the whole thing.  As bad as it looked in the photo, it was worse on Monday when the side of my face scabbed up.  But I was still a trooper and went in to the office Monday morning and then gave a presentation to 100 people on Tuesday.  Let's hope that it clears up soon though.  I've got less than three weeks before I visit the USA for the first time in three years. 

I did go to the ophthalmologist this morning just to make sure that everything was OK.  My vision was fine but as a precaution I was sent to the hospital for some x-rays, but not until after my eyes had been dilated.  That was fun.  Trying to find the radiology department, in Czech, and not being able to read the hospital directory because I could not focus on the letters.  With some help from a couple of nice orderlies, I eventually made it to where I needed to be and all is fine.  The best part was that the doctor's visit, 3 sets of tests and x-rays only cost me 30 Kč (~$1.50).  Got to love the Czech health care system.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

2012 London Olympic Results

The 2012 London Olympics came to a close last week.  It wasn't a big surprise that the USA topped the medal standings.  With 46 golds, 29 silvers and 29 bronzes, the USA left London with 104 medals.  Way to go USA!!

The Czech Republic did a fine job as well.  With 4 golds, 3 silvers and 3 bronzes, the country's 10 medals put them in 19th place.  Not bad for a country that traditionally does much better in the Winter Olympics.

A big congrats to all of the athletes who competed in the games.  It's a huge honor just to be able to compete for your country.  Here are the Czech medal winners.  Huge props!!

Gold Medalists
Miroslava Knapková - Rowing
Barbora Špotálkova - Javelin
David Svoboda - Modern Penthalon
Jaroslav Kulhavý - Mountain Bike Cycling

Silver Medalists
Vavřinec Hradilek - Slalom Canoeing
Ondřej Synek - Rowing
Andrea Hlaváčková and Lucie Hradecká - Doubles Tennis

Bronze Medalists 
Adéla Sýkorová -  Sport Rifle Shooting 3 x 20 shots
Zuzana Hejnová - 400 Meter Hurdles
Daniel Havel, Lukáš Trefil, Josef Dostál and Jan Štěrba - 1000 Meter Flatwater Canoeing

Monday, August 13, 2012

Third Wedding of the Year

This past Saturday was the third wedding of the year that I was invited to.  Weddings in Europe, at least in Central Europe, are different from the "normal" weddings I was used to in the USA.  However, the most important thing is that you've got two people who love each other and want to make a commitment to marriage.  And that part is the same.

Tomáš and Annička had their ceremony in the Kroměříž chateau.  I was told that it would be a civil ceremony performed by the town's mayor.  As far as a justice of the peace wedding goes, this one was awesome.

And if you are going to get married in a government building then you can't go wrong if it just happens to inside of a UNESCO World Heritage SiteThe location was fabulous!!  This has got to have been the coolest "town hall" wedding ever.

After the ceremony, there were all of the usual traditions that I saw at Alex and Ondra's wedding and at the village wedding...breaking plates, doing shots of slivovice, etc.  After the ceremony and photos we all headed over to lunch at the reception in their village of  Litenčice. 

This turned out to be one heck of a great party that lasted well in to the early hours of the morning.  Lots of food, drinks and dancing.  It was definitely one heck of a party and I had a great time.  The only downside was the shiner that I'm now sporting.