Friday, March 29, 2013

Zelený čtvrtek

This is my 700th post since starting this blog.  Who would have thought that it would have lasted this long?  I used to worry about running out of things to write about but I really don't see that as a problem anymore.  Now I wonder how long until I reach my 1,000th post?

Zelený čtvrtek is "Green Thursday".  This is Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, which is the Thursday before Easter.  In Christianity it commemorates the Last Supper and is followed by Good Friday.

So every Zelený čtvrtek the Starobrno brewery puts out a limited quantity of green beer.  It is only available in select pubs and when it's gone, it's gone.  The green beer is 13° so it is stronger than normal.

I've been wanting to give the green beer a try since I moved here but I've never had any luck.  In 2010 and 2011 it was pouring down rain so I skipped it.  Then I was out of town last year.  This year I finally made it to the brewery but the weather was super cold yesterday so the outside festivities didn't last long.  The beer was pretty good and I've ticked off another thing from my to-do list.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Baby Bureaucracy

There's quite a bit of bureaucracy involved when having a baby in the ČR.  Especially if you are a foreigner.  Here's some of the "baby bureaucracy" that Claudia and Norbert have been dealing with.  Some of the hoops they are jumping through is because they are not yet married, and some are because they are both foreigners, although they are both EU citizens.

The first thing is that the government needs to determine the parental ties.  This determination of parental ties is automatic for a married Czech couple because according to Czech law, the woman that delivers the baby is the child's mother.  Her husband is automatically the father.

Note:  If the child's father is not the woman's husband then the couple has to make a formal declaration of such at the local registry office.  The law also states that if a couple gets divorced, but a child is born within 300 days of the divorce, then the divorced husband is automatically the father.  If a man is automatically given "daddy" status then he has six months to challenge it.

For people who are not married, and for all foreigners (EU and non-EU), the determination of parental ties is done at the local registry office before the child is born.  Since Norbert is from Hungary, ČR required him to submit a notarized and translated copy of his birth certificate.  There are different rules for Germany.  Claudia had to have her birth certificate notarized and translated.  But then she also had to get an apostille.  She also had to provide proof from Germany that she is single.  Claudia's mom in Berlin got the local register to provide a document that said Claudia has never been registered as married which worked.  Again with the translation, notary and apostille.

While at the registry office, the parents have to declare what the child's name will be on the birth certificate.  This means that the parents have to provide both a boy's name and a girl's name.  It doesn't matter if the parents already know the child's gender.  A boy's name and a girl's name have to be submitted.  The parent's also have to agree what the baby's surname will be.  Hyphenated last names are apparently not acceptable.  If the parents are not married then the child gets the mother's surname.  Due to the Czech name thing, a girl's surname would have the -ová suffix unless a petition is requested.  However, multiple first names are allowed for the children of foreigners.  Once Claudia and Norbert get married they will then be able to legally change the baby's surname.

When the child is born, the hospital notifies the local birth register.  The registry office then issues the child's Czech birth certificate.  This is only proof of birth.  It has nothing to do with citizenship and residency status.

If a child is born in the USA, then the baby is automatically a U.S. citizen.  That's why it is so popular for foreigners to give birth in the USA because the baby is born a citizen and the parents then apply for a family green card.  We call them "anchor babies".  But is isn't only in the USA.  Pregnant women in mainland China try to give birth in Hong Kong so that their baby gets a Hong Kong passport instead of a Chinese passport.

The Czech Republic doesn't play this game.  The only way a newborn gets Czech citizenship is if one of the parents is a Czech citizen.  In fact, there is not proposed legislation that if the mother is not an EU citizen, then the Czech father will have to take a paternity test in order to prove that the baby is a Czech citizen.  I guess there has been a big scam of Czech men claiming to be the father of non-Czech children, giving the baby rights to healthcare and the mother residency status.

If both parents are foreigners then they have 60 days from child's birth to apply for the baby's residency permit.  If the parents have different types of residency status then they get to choose the better one for the child.  If the 60 day window is missed then the baby has to leave the ČR while a new application is submitted with the Czech Embassy in the parent's home country.

Claudia is German and Norbert is Hungarian (this child will have one heck of a temper) so Tünde will get dual citizenship.  They will take translated copies of the Czech birth certificate to the German and Hungarian embassies in PragueWho knows what kind of paperwork awaits them at the German and Hungarian embassies?

Update:  Legislation passed in 2021 giving women the choice to take -ová or not.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Visa Time...Again

It's time for another visa extension.  Well actually, it was a couple of weeks ago.  First, I had to get all of my paperwork in order and then I submitted it a few weeks back.  Here's what's required for a non-EU citizen like me:
  1. A notarized copy of my original lease.
  2. A notarized amendment to my lease extending the contract until 2015.
  3. A notarized document from the co-op that authorizes my landlord to rent the flat to me.
  4. A copy of the business registry for the co-op board.
  5. A land registry statement
  6. Since my new work permit is still processing, I had to give proof that it has been applied for.
  7. A copy of my passport.
  8. A copy of my biometric ID card (which the Foreign Ministry issued me).
  9. A copy of my health insurance card.
  10. A new passport photo.
  11. A four-page application.
I've done this a few times now so I'm kind of used to it.  But somethings I just don't understand.  Why on earth do I need to provide the Foreign Ministry with a photocopy of the ID card which they issued to me?  Shouldn't they be able to look up on the computer that they are the ones that issued it to me and that it is valid?

I've been in the same flat since I moved here.  This is the third time now that I've requested an extension.  The apartment building hasn't moved in all of this time.  So why in the hell do I need to provide a copy of the land register statement again?  Bureaucracy!!!

This year I've gotten smarter about it.  A friend helped me out with getting all of the documents notarized.  And I was told that I can just mail in all of my paperwork directly to the ministry.  Once my work permit is finally approved then I will have to go down to the ministry and submit it.  Then another visit to provide new biometric data for my new visa.  Followed by a third visit to actually pick up my new card.  Ugh!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pregnancy Booklet

Claudia is having to deal with lots of baby related bureaucracy.  One of the interesting things, at least it is to me, is that she received a "pregnancy booklet".  Her doctors record all of her pregnancy stats in it. 

She is required to keep it on her and take it with her to the hospital when it's time to Little Tünde to arrive. 

I loved how on the first page, above her name, it's written that she is German.  Like they won't be able to tell when the baby comes and she starts screaming in German.  Only about another four or five weeks!

This "baby passport" is apparently common in Euroland.  I know that they have something very similar in Germany, Austria and Slovakia.  Probably in more countries too.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Brno Waste Collection Fee

Effective January 1, 2013, there is a new fee in place for foreigners living in Brno.  All Czechs in Brno pay a yearly fee for waste collection.  For some reason, I don't know why not, the only foreigners required to pay it before were those with permanent residency.  I think that most people assumed that it was a part of the monthly utilities paid to the landlord.  With so many expats living in Brno, I suppose the city realized that they were losing lots of money by not having us foreigners pay our fair share.

The new rule says that everyone in Brno, including foreigners (both EU and non-EU citizens), staying over three months must pay the garbage collection fee.  The responsibility to pay is on the individual residents, not the landlord or property owner.  The fee must be paid before May 31st or within 15 days of moving in to a new place.  The fine for not paying is three times the yearly amount and can be enforced by seizure of one's property.

The fee is only 675 Kč (~$34) per year.  Back in Atlanta, I used to pay over four times that amount.  Besides, it looks like I've received free sanitation services for almost four years so 675 Kč seems like a bargain to me.  The fee has to be paid by everyone living in a house or flat.  However, a family does not have to pay for a third or subsequent child under the age of 15, (or under 26 for students living at home). 

For people moving to Brno after May, then a pro-rated amount must be paid.  If you move flats, then you have to apply to the city for a refund for your current place, and pay the appropriate amount for the new place.

I went online and arranged a bank transfer for the fee.  It was very easy.  I've been registered with the foreign police since I moved here, so I only had to provide my birth number as my identification. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Stuck in an Elevator

When I left for work this morning I was preoccupied with thinking about all of the things I needed to get done at the office and how booked my calendar was with meetings.  While in my building's lift (elevator) I felt a quick jolt and suddenly found myself stuck between the 4th and 3rd floors.  Great.  My mind immediately started racing.  How long am I going to stuck in here by myself?  My mobile phone was 1/2 charged but I had limited reception in the elevator.  At what time do I call someone at the office to start shuffling my meetings around? Who has time to be stuck in an elevator?

I pushed the alarm button a few times but nothing happened.  Of course all of the lift information is only in Czech but I figured out that I had to press and hold the alarm button for at least five seconds.  Then a man's voice came across the speaker.  I explained to him that I only speak a little Czech, that the elevator didn't work and where I lived.  I guess explaining that I only speak a little Czech didn't register because he began to speak faster and use even bigger words and then hung up.

So I decided to call the service number that was posted.  All I got was a recording that, I assume, said was that they were not open yet and to call back later.  So then I called the "non stop" (24 hour) number.  I swear that it was the same guy I spoke with before.  I asked if he spoke English, German, French or Spanish.  Of course not.  So I explained again that I was a foreigner and could only speak a little Czech.  Again, he started to speak even faster.  So I asked him to slow down.  This cycle of fun when on for a few minutes.  He said he notified a woman about it.  I finally got him to tell me that it would only be another five minutes.

A few minutes later I heard a woman's voice saying "hello".  The head of my building's co-op went upstairs and basically rebooted the elevator so that it started moving again.  When I got out of the elevator I walked upstairs one flight to say "thank you".  There were two women there, one of whom is the concierge and she only speaks Czech.  She asked me if I need to go upstairs.  "No, I needed to head to work but I'm fine and thanks for letting me out".  She then yelled up the stairs to the woman who fixed the elevator saying "Mrs Bartová!  Everything is fine!  It was just the American!  Nice. 

I only ended up stuck in the lift for 15 minutes.  But it's a long 15 minutes when you're by yourself, in a foreign country, and with everything posted in a different language.  I guess next week I'll ask my Czech teacher for the vocabulary for "Help!  I'm trapped in this f*@#ing elevator!  Please get me out!"

Monday, March 18, 2013

Where's Spring?

I'm so ready for Spring!  It's been reported that this is the coldest March in 100 years.  I'm tired of enjoying it.  I want some warmer weather.  Winter in ČR normally lasts from mid-November through mid-March.  Snow comes in November or December and lasts until March.  January and February are the coldest months with temperatures around -5° to -10°C (20° to 10°F).

This morning the sun was out and it looked like it would be a nice day so I didn't even wear a cap.  Then it started snowing all day long.  It really caught everyone by surprise.  Word has it that we may have snow like this through the beginning of April.  Damn!

I was telling someone recently that I must be getting used to the cold because this is the first year since I've lived here that I haven't broke out my long johns.  And while I do enjoy the snow...for a couple of weeks, I'm now over it.   

Today was Claudia's last day at work.  She is due in six weeks so by law she has to begin her maternity leave.  The weather must have been giving her a wintery sendoff.  Although it really wasn't so fun digging the car out of the snow without any gloves. 

EDIT:  It's now April and the snow is still here.  I'm glad that the weather waited until I was here for a number of years before it decided to go crazy.  Had winter been this long during my first year I probably would not have stayed past my first year.  All I can say is that it had better not be cold in Dubai next week.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Caucasus

The Caucasus is a geopolitical region that separates Europe and Asia.  Mount Elbrus is the highest peak at 5,642 meters (18,510.5 feet) as is considered the highest point in Europe.  The Caucasus region lies between the Black and Caspian seas and between Russia, Turkey and Iran.  The Caucasus can be divided in to northern and southern sections.

The North Caucasus region is part of European Russia.  This area is home to Krasnodar Krai, Stavropol Krai, and the autonomous republics of Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan.  Again, these are all part of the Russian Federation.

In the south are the post-Soviet states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan which all became independent countries in 1991.  The Caucasus region has been one of the most complicated areas following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Abkhazia is at the western end of Georgia, on the Black Sea, and is about 8,600 km² (3,320 sq mi).  When the USSR was breaking up, ethnic tensions grew between Abkhazia and Georgia over independence.  The war in Abkhazia lasted from 1992 to 1993 and ended in Georgian defeat.  There was a ceasefire in 1994 but fighting broke out again in 2008 during the war in South Ossetia.

It is a part of Georgia and is considered a Russian-occupied state.  However, Abkhazia considers itself to be an independent state – the Republic of Abkhazia.  It is recognized by, fellow breakaway republics, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria.  The only real countries which recognize it are Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

A visa is required to enter Abkhazia.  The only way to get there is via Russia or Georgia and you have to exit the same way you entered.  So for Russia, this requires a double-entry Russian visa so that you can go back to Russia.  If you enter from Russia and exit in to Georgia then it is considered a violation of Georgia's borders. 

The situation in South Ossetia is pretty similar to the one in Abkhazia.  South Ossetia is a part of Georgia but it declared independence in 1990 as the Republic of South Ossetia.  The South Ossetia War was from 1991 to 1992 with additional fighting in 2004 and 2008.  In 2008, fighting broke out between Russia and Georgia when the Russian army entered South Ossetia.  Today, Georgia considers the area to be a Russian-occupied territory.  If you are not a Russian citizen you need permission from the Foreign Ministry of South Ossetia in order to visit.

Nagorno-Karabakh is the third breakaway republic in the region.  It was a mostly Armenia area, 4,400 km² (1,699 sq mi), which was made a part of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era.  With the breakup of the USSR, the region declared independence from Azerbaijan and was supported by Armenia.  The war in Nagorno-Karabakh lasted from 1988 to 1994.  Internationally, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized as part of Azerbaijan but it has not had control of the region since 1991.  The borders are closed between Azerbaijan and Armenia so the only way to enter Nagorno-Karabakh is from Armenia, provided you have a visa from the Nagorno-Karabakh embassy in Yerevan.

Azerbaijan considers entering Nagorno-Karabakh as a violation of Azeri territory.  If your passport shows any evidence of travel to Nagorno-Karabakh then you will not be allowed to enter Azerbaijan.  And regardless of your citizenship, if you happen to have an Armenian surname then you won't be allowed entry in to Azerbaijan.  Then to make things even more complicated, part of Azerbaijan sits on the other side of Armenia.

The borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia are closed so the only way to get from one to the other is by going through Georgia or Iran.

Turkey is an ally of Azerbaijan, and in part because of the Armenian Genocide, the borders between Turkey and Armenia are closed.

There is a large Azeri population in northwest Iran.  In order to keep the area from trying to join Azerbaijan, Iran has allied itself with Armenia.

Here's a 2010 video I found out on YouTube which gives a good overview of the geopolitical issues going on in the Caucasus.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Maternity & Parental Leave

With Claudia and Norbert expecting Tünde soon, I thought it would be interesting to chronicle some of the things involved with having a baby in Czechland.  I'll just start with comparing parental leave in the ČR and the USA.

In ČR, a woman is legally entitled to 28 weeks of maternity leave.  For twins, she gets 37 weeks.  The maternity leave can start up to eight weeks before the baby's due date.  However, a woman must start her maternity leave no later than six weeks prior to the due date.  Pregnancy is considered an illness so maternity leave is covered under sickness insurance benefits, normally at around 70% of one's salary.  There's no super complicated process for this either.  A physician fills out a statutory form that gets turned in to HR and the company submits it to the state.

Then the parental leave kicks in.  Mothers can take 2, 3, or 4 years of paid maternity leave.  If another child comes along while mom is out on maternity leave then the time gets extended.  Some companies offer bonuses to mothers that come back after six months or one year.  By the way, either mom or dad can take the parental leave so it's usually the one with the lower income.  Both may actually take parental leave at the same time but only one will receive state support. 

The money received by the state is proportionate to the duration of the time away.  The two-year plan pays about 11,400 Kč ($575) per month.  The three-year plan pays 7.600 Kč ($384) per month.  The four-year plan pays 7,600 Kč per month for the first nine months and then pays 3,800 Kč ($192) per month.  For children with disabilities, a parent is entitled to seven years of leave at 7,600 Kč per month.

Once the duration of parental leave has been chosen it cannot be changed.  It is very difficult to find day care for children under three years of age.  Since the government is paying money for a parent to stay at home, children under 3 cannot go to preschool more than five days per month.  While children over 3, cannot go to preschool more than four hours per day.  These rules are probably why most mothers, or fathers, end up staying at home for three years following the birth of a child.  Not a bad deal at all.

There are only four countries in the world that have no national law requiring paid maternity leave.  They are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the USA.  Ouch!

In the USA, there is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).  As long as the company employs 50 or more people within 75 miles, and as long as the employee has worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months, then the employee is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  It's no wonder that in the USA, it's not uncommon for women to work right up to their due date.

The FMLA is the national law.  Each state is allowed to mandate additional benefits.  For example, California requires paid family leave.  It really is embarrassing that the USA is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't mandate paid leave for childbirth. 

Update: In 2016, the Czech government provided for one-week of paid paternity leave to fathers.
Update 2019:  Extended benefits.
Update 2020:  Parental benefits increased.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sultanate of Oman

As part of my quest to find some sun when I'm in the UAE, I've arranged a day trip to Oman.  The plan is to cruise on a traditional Omani dhow, down the fjords, to see some dolphins, visit Telegraph Island, and for a bit of swimming.  So here's a little about Oman.

The Sultanate of Oman, سلطنة عُمان, is the second largest country on the Arabian Peninsula.  It borders the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  There are two exclaves; Musandam and Madha.  Oman is a little smaller than Kansas and is home to 3.15 million people.  Muscat is the capital city.

The Musandam Peninsula is separated from Oman by the UAE.  It occupies a strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz, controlled by Oman and Iran, which is the only sea passage between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.  About 20% of the world's petroleum makes its way through the Strait of Hormuz.  Musandam is 1,800 km² (695 square miles) and is home to 31,500 people.

Inside of the UAE, halfway between Musandam and Oman is Madha.  It is about 75 km² (29 miles²).  But within Madha is Nahwa, a UAE enclave.  So inside of the UAE is a piece of Oman that has a piece of the UAE in it.  How's that for confusing?

Oman had an empire, from the 17th century, and it competed with Portugal and Great Britain for control of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.  Oman's empire lost it's influence during the 20th century and it became heavily influenced by the UK.

Oman is an absolute monarchy where the sultan holds all legislative, executive and judiciary power.  The Sultan of Oman is Qaboos bin Said Al Said who came to power in 1970 when he overthrew his father.  He is currently the Middle East's longest-serving ruler.  Accordingly, political parties are illegal in Oman.  The country's laws are based on sharia - Islamic law.  Like other Middle East countries, Oman has a problem with Jews and Gays.  Oman does not officially recognize Israel and homosexuality is currently punishable by three years in prison.

Oil is the country's biggest industry but it doesn't produce as much oil as the UAE, Saudi Arabia or Iran.  Oman is trying to diversify its economy in order to reduce the dependency on dwindling oil reserves.  Currently about 60% of the workforce is made up of expats.

Here's an Omani travel video that I found on YouTube.  The second half talks about the dhow cruises from Musandam.

©Unravel Travel TV

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

United Arab Emirates

I'm so over this bloody cold weather.  I need some sun.  So next month I'm off to the Middle East.  Specifically, to the U.A.E. and Oman for a few days.  I know that mom isn't exactly thrilled with my going there, especially with the whole gay thing being illegal, but I'll only be there for a few days so I'm sure that I'll be fine.  Besides, I'm not going there to organize a parade.  I'm off for the sun and to check out some of the country's phenomenal architecture.

The United Arab Emirates, دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة, is on the southeast Arabian Peninsula of the Persian Gulf.  It shares land borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia, and it is across the sea from Qatar and Iran.  The UAE is a little smaller than Maine and the capital is Abu Dhabi.  The largest city is Dubai.

The UAE is a pretty young country.  The emirates were under UK control until 1971 when six states joined to form the United Arab Emirates.  Then in 1972 another emirate joined the group.

Today the UAE is a federation of seven emirates:  Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.  The emir of each emirate passes the title down to his son.  The emir of Abu Dhabi is the president and Dubai's emir is the country's prime minister.  Islam is the official religion and the legal system is a mix of Islamic law and civil law.

Oil was discovered in the 1950s.  This has helped transform the region in to a modern country.  The country's oil and natural gas resources are each ranked the 7th largest in the world.  It also has the world's 7th highest per capita income.

There are more than 8 million people in the UAE but less than 20% are citizens.  Around 80% of the people are expats who are there for work.

While the majority of expats are Indians and Pakistanis, more and more are from Western Europe. 
There is no naturalization process in the UAE.  The only way to become a citizen is to either be born one or after being married to an Emirati man for several years.

Here's a video I found out on YouTube which gives some more info about the UAE.

©Journeyman Pictures

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Two Deaths

On Saturday, I was headed out, to do some grocery shopping for the baby shower, and saw some police officers in the foyer of my apartment building.  They then went outside with some people.  I assumed that maybe someone's car was hit or something.

A couple of days later I found out what had actually happened.  On the 9th, a woman in our building died at home.  Then on the 10th, someone else in our building died.  Both were older and died of natural causes.  The odd thing was that their flats were each sealed with police tape for a few days.
I didn't know either person who passed away.  I remember meeting the woman though back in 2009 on the day I moved in to my flat.  I was coming in the front door of the building, behind her, and she asked me who I was there to see.  She didn't speak English but she spoke basic German.  I explained to her that I now lived here which caught her obviously by surprise.  She wasn't able to quite figure out why an American was living in ČR or how could an American speak German.  She was nice, and would always says hello when we ran in to each other, but we probably only saw each other a half-dozen times in almost four years.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Claudia's Baby Shower

Claudia and Norbert are expecting their first child at the end of April.  It's a girl and her name is Tünde.  They are so excited.  On Sunday we had a baby shower at my flat.  Czechs, and most Europeans, don't really do the baby shower thing.  So we kept it kind of simple with a big American style brunch and we didn't do any of the typical baby shower games that people do in the USA.  
Some of our Czech friends found the whole idea a bit different.  Apparently it is considered bad luck to give presents for the baby before the baby is born.  I guess that makes some sense but in the USA we give gifts, before the baby is born, so that the parents have what they need before the child arrives.

Cultural differences.  But I think Czechs tend to push the whole bad luck thing a bit.  For example, when you buy a pram (a baby stroller) you are not supposed to keep it in the house until after the child comes home.  So you either keep it at a relative's home or wait to pick it up at the store.  To me, it just seems odd to put things like this off until later when they can be done ahead of time.

With such a mix of nationalities, one of the neat things that Claudia and Norbert wanted for Tünde were children's books from our home countries.  I guess this way she will never run out of bedtime stories. 

Note:  Little Tünde arrived on April 27th.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Iceland Weather Impact

I had a great time in Iceland but did I ever pick the wrong week to go.  The temperature in Reykjavík was 3-4 degrees warmer than Brno every day, for three weeks, before I left.  However, I must have brought the  Czech weather to Iceland because it got quite cold the week that I was there.  Of course, my friends were quick to let me know that Brno had some nice Spring weather for a week.  Damn!

With the wind chill it got down to -16°C (3°F).  It was so bad that they closed all of the roads going in and out of the city.  You know it must be bad if even the locals couldn't drive in it.  The weather ended up cancelling my South Coast tour which meant that I wasn't able to stand behind the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and I missed the black lava sand beaches.  It also meant that none of the whale watching tours operated either.  While this did put a cramp in my touring schedule it did force me to actually take a couple of days off and just relax.

My #1 reason for going to Iceland was to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).  I heard that they were quite visible on Sunday night but my tour was booked for Monday night.  Guess what...  Due to the snow, there were too many clouds and we weren't able to see anything.  And the tours were cancelled every other remaining night. 

However, on Sunday night, we did visit the "Bridge Between Two Continents".  The 18-meter long bridge allows you to cross the mid-Atlantic ridge and walk from Europe to North America.  It was pitch black, cold, and windy, so only three of us, out of 60, actually got off the bus to cross the bridge.  I don't understand why someone would go all the way there and not bother to get off of the bus.  It was too dark to take a photo but here's a daytime photo that I found out on the Internet.

Even though the weather could have been better, and I would have preferred not to miss out on my tours, it was still a wonderful trip.  I'm really happy that my readers chose Iceland as my first trip of the year.  I definitely plan to make it back there sometime.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon, about 40 km (25 miles) southwest of Reykjavík, on the way to Keflavík Airport.  The geothermal seawater is actually run-off water from the Sartsengi Power Station which is renewed every two days. 

The water is rich in silica, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfate and fluorine.  It is believed to have health benefits, particularly for skin ailments such as psoriasis.

There is white silica rich mud at the bottom of the lagoon which people put on their faces.  It's supposed to make you look ten years younger.  I did it a few times.  The warm water averages 37-39°C (98-102°F).  The water felt really good, especially with a bit of icy rain coming down.

Iceland has strict hygiene rules when it comes to its bath houses because the water doesn't have any chemicals or chlorine.  People have to shower before and after swimming.  The proper way to do it is to get completely naked, shower, and then put on your swimsuit.

It does seem kind of crazy if you think about it.  If someone asked me to go swimming in the run-off water of a power station in the USA or Czech Republic I would think that it was the craziest idea ever.  But in Iceland it is an absolute must!