Friday, November 30, 2012

Thanksgiving Prep

Thanksgiving is already here again.  Well, it was actually last week in the USA but I'm celebrating it tomorrow.  Since Thanksgiving isn't a Czech holiday I normally host a Thanksgiving party on the Saturday after.  However, this year, for several reasons, it worked out better to wait a week.  Plus, it's not really like people here have noticed it's a week later than normal.

This year's boxes from Steven and Mom
Yeah for my annual Thanksgiving care packages!!  I normally get packages from Mom & Dad, in Prescott, and from Steven & Michal, in Atlanta, on my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Which is great and they are so much fun to get.  But my favorite care packages are the ones I get at Thanksgiving because the ingredients are necessary in order to pull off a traditional turkey day fest here in Brno.

My German care package
This year, I even received a Thanksgiving/Christmas pack from Claudia's mom in Berlin.  It even came with a little Krteček advent calendar which is for my nephew in California.

Getting ready for this year's Thanksgiving has been a bit more stressful than the previous three years.  The biggest issue has been the turkey.  Last year's turkey was 14 kg (31 lb) was way too big.  So rather than deal with the halal shop again I decided to go back to our normal place in Židlochovice.  So two weeks ago I placed an order for a 10 kg (22 lb) bird.  They told me no problem and they took down my mobile number when I called them.

For some reason, I just knew that I should reconfirm everything with them again.  So yesterday, a friend called to check and they said everything was fine and they had my 7 kg (14.5 lb) turkey ready.  We reminded them that the order was for a 10 kg bird and their response was "yes, but we received small turkeys so it is 7 kg".  When asked why they didn't call to let me know about the problem their response was "what good would calling have done, the turkey is still only going to be 7 kg".  Uuuggghhh!!!!  I swear that at times Czech (nonexistent) customer service just makes me want to stick a fork in my eye.

This year's tiny turkey
At least I found out about the size issue yesterday so I had time to come up with Plan B.  Had I gotten this surprise when we went to pick it up today I'm sure my head would have spun around three times.  Although today they had a possible solution.  I could either have my 7 kg turkey or take a 15 kg (33 lb) turkey.  I elected to go with the 7 kg bird and thanks to "Plan B" we are also going to have a 5 kg  (11 lb) ham as well.  I'm sure that there will be plenty of food for the 28 people coming to my flat for turkey day tomorrow.  And the good news is that 7 kg won't take as long to cook so I don't have to get up at 5:30 AM to put it in the oven.  Which is good news because tonight I'm off to attend our department's Christmas party.  Let's hope that it isn't too late of a night because I still have lots more cooking to do tomorrow.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Body Percussion #2

The body percussion session that the Alps team came up was such a hit that one of my other teams decided to do it too.  We had a few more people than last time which made it even better. 

We had the same instructor as before but he did different things so it wasn't just a repeat of last time.  Given that we all laughed so much tonight shows that this can be a ton of fun even for uncoordinated people.

Monday, November 26, 2012


There are a few perks about living in an EU country.  One of them is that consumer goods come with a mandatory two-year warranty period.  I don't mean an extended warranty.  I mean that the minimum coverage, by law, is a full two years.  Retailers and manufacturers can still offer extended warranties beyond the two year minimum.

In the USA, you almost always have to have the receipt in order to take something back to a store.  Depending on the store policy, you can either exchange the item for another one or you can get your money refunded.  Some stores don't even require a receipt.

My repair invoice with a stamp & initials
Over here, it is a bit different.  When you purchase a consumer good, the sales clerk will rubber stamp your receipt and then initial it.  Other places, like government offices, also do the stamp and initial thing.  The receipt isn't valid without the stamp and clerk's initials.

A few months ago I purchased a cover, with a wireless keyboard, for my iPad.  Suddenly, the Z, X, C and V keys stopped working.  So I grabbed my receipt and took it to the store where I purchased it.  All I wanted was a new one.  Here's how it works...

The retailer has 30 days to fix the defective item.  If, after 30 days, they can't fix it then they have to give you a new one or refund your money.  I was told that the retailer gets to determine if the product is faulty or not.  No problem for me because the keys didn't work for the clerk either.  So I was given a repair invoice, with another stamp and initials, and told that the store would send it out for service.  It really would have been easier, if they had just given me a new case on the spot but that's not how things work here.

The retailer/vendor must complete the repairs within 30 days but it is up to the consumer to check on the status.  Odd...but whatever.  After 30 days, I went back to the store with my invoice.  They still didn't have any word back from the service center but I had my invoice showing that it had been 30 days.  I was told that I could get my money back or use a credit towards something else.  The store ended up giving me the new, updated version of what I had originally purchased for the exact same amount.  I wasn't thrilled about not having a case for 30 days but now I'm happy again.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


This morning I was invited over for breakfast with friends.  I was in charge of bringing over some juice.  When I went to the market, I decided against the usual flavors - orange, apple, grape, pineapple, or grapefruit juice.  I didn't even get multivitamin juice which is my favorite.  

As I was looking at the shelves I decided to mix things up a bit.  I went with apricot juice, strawberry juice, peach juice, pear juice and sour cherry juice.  I'm still reluctant to try the banana juice because I just can't imagine how exactly they juice a banana.

I've noticed that many Czechs mix juice with water.  Some have told me it is because the juice is too strong if you drink it without water.  I think it's really because they've always drunk it with water so they don't know what juice is really supposed to taste like.  Friends have told me that back in the days of communism, you had to make things last as long as possible which is why people put in just enough juice to flavor up the tap water.

Another popular thing over here is flavored syrup.  You mix a small bit with some water and you have a fruit flavored beverage.  The syrup isn't bad but given a choice I'll stick to real juice.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Czech Names

There are all sorts of rules when it comes to names in Czech Republic.  Each day of the year has a particular name assigned to it and people celebrate their svátek (name day).  It's almost like a second birthday.  On your name day, you normally receive flowers and you are supposed to give out sweets to your friends.

For example, my name day is September 18th so everyone in the country named Kryštof celebrates on this day.  Everyone seems to know when it is someone's name day.  Names are preprinted on almost every calendar here.  Plus, florists write on the shop windows the name of the day so you know if you need to pick up some flowers on your way in to the office.

The name day calendar goes back to the 18th century and it really doesn't get updated that much.  If your name isn't on the calendar then you don't get a name day.  This helps explain why there isn't a whole lot of diversity in Czech names.

Official Czech Baby Name Book
Here are some of the most common Czech names.  (By no way a complete list)

Boys:  Dalibor, Ivo, Jakub, Jan, Jíří, Luboš, Luděk, Lukáš, Martin, Michal, Ondřej, Pavel, Petr, Roman, Tomáš, Vojtěch

Girls:  Alžběta, Anna, Eva, Hana, Jana, Kateřina, Jitka, Lenka, Markéta, Martina, Petra, Pavla, Šárka, Zdeňka 

Then there are the short names.  In English, William is often called Will or Bill.  Depending on William's age and the level of intimacy, he could even be called Willy or Billy.  It's kind of like that over here but with way more shades of gray.

Jan can be called Honza, Honzík, Honzíček, Jenda, Jeník, Jeníček, Jeňa or Janek.  Anna can be called Anka, Aníčka, Andulka, Andula, Anča, Anínka, Anína or Anuška.

Under communism, parents had to receive special permission to give a child a name that wasn't already on the Czech calendar.  Not that much has changed.  Authorities make things difficult if the child's name isn't on the official list.  Since 1989, parents can name their child whatever they want as long as the name already exists somewhere in the world.  And it must be approved by a special office in Prague which charges a service fee.

Czechs don't have middle names.  On all of my official papers here, I have to use my first name and middle name as the Czech first name just so that my documents all match my passport.

Czechs have a given name and a family name.  However, the family name is different for women.  Because the Czech language is dang complicated, last names are treated as adjectives and therefore must follow gender rules.  A man can have Novotný as his last name and his son(s) will be called Novotný.  However, his wife and daughter(s) will have Novotná as their last name.

The most common difference is -ová.  Novák becomes Nováková.  Czechs add the -ová to the last names of foreigners too.  So in the Czech press, First Lady Michelle Obama is Michelle Obamová and Madeleine Albright is Madeleine Albrightová.  Even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is J.K. Rowlingová over here.

I would think that this different last name thing would cause problems.  For example, if a single mother was traveling internationally with her male child, then the last names wouldn't match up in their passports.

Until 2004, every woman in ČR was required to adopt the feminine version of her husband's last name, unless he was a foreigner whose name ended in a vowel.  I guess foreign names ending in vowels were OK.  Since 2004, the law allows anyone who marries a foreign man to take her husband's exact last name and thus avoid the whole -ová thing.  However, there is a fee for this.

Note:  I also found out that Czechs don't do the junior or senior thing.  If Martin Veselý names his first born son Martin then they are both called Martin Veselý.  There is no Jr., or II, to differentiate between them. 

Update:  Czech name rules cause difficulties for trans people because they can only select gender-neutral names.

Update:  Legislation passed in 2021 so in 2022 women can choose whether to take -ová or not.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Architecture Lecture

On Monday night, a few of us went to a lecture at Vila Tugendhat.  Fortunately, the lecturer was visiting from the University of Texas at Austin so everything was in English.

Dr. Christopher Long is professor of architectural and design history at UT Austin.  His presentation was "Thoughts on the Ground Plan: Spatial Ideas in Mies, Loos, Strnad, Frank and Scharoun".  Basically how each of these Central European architects contributed to modern conceptions of space-making.

I know very little about architecture and even less about modern architecture.  I was a bit worried at first that with since the majority of the 70 person crowd were architecture students that the material would go right over my head.  However, the presenter was excellent and I even learned a few things.  Not bad for only 100 Kč ($5). 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dr. Fish

With all of the walking that we did in Athens, we decided to go for another "first".  Our first fish foot therapy session at Dr. Fish.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  But, hey, why not?  I'm all for new adventures.

We first had to wash our feet and then we put our feet in to the fish tanks.  Garra Rufa fish then gently remove dead skin and make your feet feel soft.  It was a very odd feeling at first.  It felt like your feet were on a mild jacuzzi jet. 

The fish don't have any teeth so it is painless.  They have this suction-cup mouth which they use to eat dry, dead skin.

Garra Rufa are also called nibble fish.  Actually, they are a form of carp.  The experience was fine and my feet felt great afterwards.  But I'm not so sure that I would do it again.  It definitely does not put me in a mood for Christmas carp.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Greek November 17th Protest

AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
Greece and Czech Republic both had holidays on November 17th.  In ČR, it is Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.  On Saturday, Greeks commemorated a student upraising against the former military dictatorship.

In 1973, there were student uprisings, against the government, that began on November 14th.  There were several violent clashes with police on the 16th and in the early morning hours on the 17th, Greek army tanks stormed the National Technical University in Athens.  Twelve people died, more than 1,000 were injured and hundreds of people were arrested.  Greek law now forbids police and the army from entering any university campus. 

The student protests weren't enough to overthrow the government.  However, on November 25th, army hardliners overthrew dictator George Pasdopoulos.  A civilian government took over in July 1974.  Every year, tens of thousands of people march from the university to the front of the U.S. Embassy in Athens where they normally burn an American flag.  Many Greeks blame U.S. Cold War politics for backing the dictatorship from 1967 to 1974.  A similar march also takes place in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece which culminates with protests at the U.S. Consulate there.

I received a warning from the U.S. Embassy to stay clear of the protest area.  Early in the afternoon we saw that the streets at Syntagma Square were closed off, hotels had covered up their windows and the riot police were taking position. 

We spoke with a police office who assured us that the march has nothing to do with the latest round of austerity measures.  He made it a point to let us know that nothing ever happens during this march because everyone knows that the there are over 6,000 police officers deployed.  Even still we made it a point to stay clear and find something else to entertain ourselves with.

I'm not sure what the police officer was talking about because back at the hotel I found lots of footage on YouTube from previous years and it didn't look quite as easy going as he tried to tell us.  This year, there were about 20,000 protestors in Athens and the police detained 70 people.

Here's some footage I found on YouTube of this year's protests.


While not directly related to the November 17th memorial, I'm sure that the current austerity measures still have an impact.  This video gives you a glimpse of just how bad the financial situation is in Greece.

©Al Jazeera

The Acropolis

The most famous landmark in Athens, if not in all of Greece, is the Acropolis.  It is a flat-topped rock 150 meters (490 feet) above sea level.  The surface area is about 3 hectares (~7.5 acres).  In 1987, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On top of the Acropolis are the Propylaea, the Erechtheum and the Parthenon.

The Propylaea is the giant gateway that marks the entrance to the Acropolis.  It is made out of white marble with accents of grey marble and limestone.  Construction began in 437 BC.  Although not completely finished, construction stopped in 432 BC.

The Erechtheion is an ancient temple on the north side of the Acropolis.  It was built form 421 to 406 BC.  It is made entirely of marble.  The temple was built on a slope so the south and east sides are about 3 meters (9 feet) higher then the north and west sides.  The temple underwent restoration from 1977 to 1988.  The coolest feature about the Erechtheion are the caryatids - columns in the form of women.  However, these are only exact replicas.  One of the originals is in the British Museum and the remaining ones are on display at the new Acropolis museum.

The Parthenon is one of the most famous buildings in the world.  It was built as a temple for Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, strategy, civilization, law and justice.  Construction began in 447 BC and it was completed in 432 BC.  It's incredible that it only took 15 years to build.

In the mid-3rd century AD, there was a major fire which destroyed the roof and most of the interior sanctuary.  In the 4th century a wooden roof with clay tiles was installed but left the building's sides exposed.  In the 5th century the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church.

After Athens fell to the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque in the 1460s.  In 1687, the Turks used the building as a munitions dump and during a battle with the Venetians, the Parthenon was bombed.  The explosion caused most of the damage that can still be seen today.  

Thomas Bruce was the Earl of Elgin and the British ambassador to Constantinople (Istanbul).  In 1806, he removed many of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon and Erechtheum.  There is doubt as to exactly how much permission he actually had from the Ottoman Sultan to do so.  In 1816, he sold the pieces to the British Museum in London, England, where they are still on display.

Some critics feel that this was basically looting and want the pieces returned to Greece.  Others feel that the pieces were saved from the inevitable pollution damage that would have occurred had they remained in Athens over the past few hundred years.  The new Acropolis museum was built specifically to counter this argument.

Over 50% of the original sculptures are currently in the museum.  There are a few pieces in the Louvre and in Copenhagen but almost half of the original art is in British Museum.  Since 1983, the Greek government has campaigned for the pieces to be returned to Athens.  However, the British Museum refuses.  The British government has been unwilling to enact legislation that would force the museum to return the artifacts to Greece.  It's all rather highly controversial.

Here's a Rick Steves video I found on YouTube that talks about the Acropolis and everything on top of it.

©Rick Steves

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Athens, Greece

Nat and I decided on a quick weekend getaway to Athens.  With 19 °C (66 °F) it was a nice little break from the 8 °C (46 °F) in Brno.  We had a really nice time but aside from the Acropolis there really isn't that much to see. You can check out pretty much everything in a day.  Whilst I still want to go back to Greece to visit Iraklion, Kos, Mykonos, Santorini and Thessaloniki, I don't have any burning desire to go back to Athens anytime soon.  I was there in 1993 and now in 2012; so perhaps in another 20 years.

Athens, Αθήνα, is the capital city and the largest city in Greece.  With around 3,400 years of recorded history it is one of the oldest cities in the world.  Today, the metro Athens area has around 4 million people which makes it the EU's 4th largest capital city and the 7th largest city overall.

In 1896, Athens hosted the first modern Olympics.  The Panathenaic Stadium, Παναθηναϊκό στάδιο, was rebuilt from the remains of an ancient Greek stadium.  It is one of the oldest stadiums in the world and it is the only one in the world that is built entirely out of white marble. 

Omonoia Square, Πλατεία Ομονοίας, is Athens' oldest square.  It's in the northern corner of downtown.  The "Five Circles" was erected in 2001.  It is a 15-meter (49 feet) tall stainless steel mobile that runs with water.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Annunciation, Καθεδρικός Ναός Ευαγγελισμού της Θεοτόκου, is simply known as the Mētrópolis.  It is the archbishop's church of Athens. 

Construction began in 1842 and it was completed in 1862.  Marble from 72 demolished churches was used to build the church walls.  The church is home to the tombs of two different saints who were killed by Turks during the Ottoman Empire.  The church is currently undergoing renovation. 

Syntagma (Constitution) Square, Πλατεία Συντάγματος, is the city's largest square.  The square was built from 1836 to 1840.  It is home to the Greek Parliament which used to be the Royal Palace.  With everything going on in Greece right now, this is a main spot for protests.  Every hour on the hour you can see the changing of the presidential guards at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Zappeion, Ζάππειον Μέγαρο, is located at the National Gardens.  It was the first building that was constructed specifically for the modern Olympic Games.  At the 1896 Summer Olympics it was the site of the fencing competition.  It was the press center during the 2004 Summer Olympics.  Today it is a meeting center used for official ceremonies.

Hadrian's Arch, Αψίς του Ανδριανού, is a gateway that was built in honor of Roman Emperor Hadrian.  It dates back to 131 or 132 AD.  It is solid marble; no cement or mortar was used.  It is 18 meters (59 feet) high.

The arch is near the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Ναός του Ολυμπίου Διός.  The temple was dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Greek gods.  Construction on the temple began in the 6th century BC but wasn't completed until the 2nd century AD around 638 years.  It was once the largest temple in Greece.  The column on the ground collapsed in 1852.

Hadrian's Library is on the north side of the Acropolis.  It was built in 132 AD.

The Theater of Dionysus is one of the earliest preserved open-air theaters in Athens.  It was dedicated to Dionysus who was the Greek god of wine and the patron of drama.  Excavation of the theater began in 1838 and lasted over 100 years.  Local area remains around the theater date back to the 6th century BC.  A partial restoration is underway and the $9 million project is scheduled to finish in 2015.

The Tower of the Winds is located in the Roman Agora.  It is an octagonal marble clock tower.  It is a combination sundial, water clock and wind vane.  The tower is 12 meters (39 feet) tall and has a diameter of about 8 meters (26.25 feet).  It was excavated in the 19th century.

The Temple of Hephaestus, Ναός Ηφαίστου, was inaugurated in 416-415 BC.  It was built for Hephaestus who was the Greek god of metal working and craftsmanship.  From the 7th century to 1834 it served as the Greek Orthodox church of St. George Akamates.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Ωδείο Ηρώδου του Αττικού, is a stone theater on the side of the Acropolis that was used for music concerts.  The 5,000 seat theater was built in 161 AD.  It was renovated in 1950.

The new Acropolis Museum, Μουσείο Ακρόπολης, is really well done.  It was built in order to house every artifact found on and around the Acropolis.  It opened in June 2009.  It is 14,000 sq meters (~150,700 sq ft) and is currently home to around 4,000 objects.  Admission is only €5 and everything is in Greek and English – Yeah!

The Acropolis, Ακρόπολις, is the most famous landmark in Athens.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Many people seem to use the words "Acropolis" and "Parthenon" interchangeably.  The Acropolis is the big flat hill that overlooks the city.  The Parthenon sits on top of the Acropolis.

The Parthenon is a temple that was built from 447 to 438 BC to honor Athena, the patron goddess of the city.  It is quite large at 30.9 meters by 69.5 meters (111 feet by 228 feet) and is considered to be the world's finest example of Doric-style architecture.

Hotel room view of the Acropolis
Over the centuries it was also a church and then a mosque.  During the Turkish Occupation of Greece it was used as a munitions depot.  In 1867, there was an explosion that occurred during a battle with the Venetians which caused most of the damage seen today.  There is a lot of work being done on the Parthenon but estimates are that it will take another 20 years and €70 million to complete the restoration.  So again, perhaps I'll head back in another 20 years.

Update: March 2023, the Vatican has returned three pieces of the Parthenon to Greece.

©BBC News

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Greeks in Czech Republic

There is a small Greek community in Czech Republic.  During the Greek Civil War more than 100,000 refugees fled Greece.  Around 12,000 of them went to Czechoslovakia from 1946 to 1949.  About 5,200 were actually unaccompanied children.

Resettlement Areas for Greek Refugees
Relocation to Czechoslovakia was facilitated by the Greek Communist Party who, during the war, urged people to send their children away to safety in socialist countries.  The original thought was that everyone would return to Greece once the Communists won the civil war but that never happened. 

Major resettlement camps were in Prague and Brno.  Most of the Greeks were finally settled in Brno, Ostrava, Opava and Krnov as these were areas where Greek farmers could help revive local agricultural production.  Some people eventually became citizens while the majority of the Greek population returned to Greece in the 1980s.  By 1991, only 3,443 still declared having Greek ethnicity.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2012 Brno Grand Prix

I've always been a big fan of gymnastics.  Previously, I wrote about Czechoslovakia's most famous gymnast - Věra Čáslavská.  So how did I not know that this past Saturday there was going to be a pretty decent competition, here in Brno, less than a 5-minute walk from my flat.

The Brno Grand Prix is an annual mixed-pairs competition.  One male and one female gymnast pair up as a team.  They each compete on two events in the qualification round, one event in the semi-finals and then there is a four-team final round.

This was a world-class event with some athletes having competed in the 2012 Olympics.  Participating athletes represented Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.  And the admission price was only 80 Kč ($4).  Again, how did I not know about this?  The Ukrainian team won the event followed in second by the Czech/Spanish team.  You can bet that I will be on the look out for this next year.

On YouTube I found the balance beam routine from Mariya Livchikova from Ukraine.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Laser Tag Team Building #2

Last night we had another laser tag team building.  This time it was with the Alps team.  Again, lots of fun.

This team isn't as big as my IGA team so we had longer matches than we did the last time.  You really do get a work out running around the course.

This time, we we got run their new course a couple of times which is definitely more challenging than the normal one.  I have a feeling that we'll be back again.