Sunday, June 29, 2014

Battle on the Dam

Today I went with Claudia and Tünde out to the dam.  The original plan was to walk around the lake and to take a boat ride out to Veveří Castle.

While waiting for tickets we found out that there was a special "Battle on the Dam" boat trip on offer just for today.  The two-hour ride was 200 Kč ($10) to cruise on the lake while remote control planes and boats reenacted the Battle of Midway.

The Battle of Midway, in the Pacific, was one of the most important naval battles of WWII. 

The show included commentary, in Czech of course, from the ship's captain.  Throughout the trip, there were random history questions and history DVDs were given out to the kids with the right answers. 

There were plenty of explosions to keep everyone's attention.

While it was a 'world war', I find it interesting that the reenactment was of a Pacific battle and not a European battle. 

The most important thing was that Tünde enjoyed all of the noise.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bratislava Visit

I had meetings this past week in Bratislava.  On Thursday my meetings, which had been planned for a couple of months, started at 9 AM.  So of course, right at 9 AM, there was a fire drill.  The entire 28 floor building had to evacuate.  Not a great start, productivity wise, but we managed to get everything covered in the end.

That night we had a team outing.  It was great to get my teams from Bratislava and Brno together for the evening.  Everyone seemed to have a really good time.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Vyškov Aviation Musuem

After the Olomouc Aviation Museum we went and checked out the Vyškov Aviation Museum.  This open-air museum is much bigger than the one in Olomouc.

The exhibits are former Czechoslovak and Czech aircraft plus some other military hardware, all in various states of restoration. 

Focke-Wulf wreckage from 1939
There is also a display of World War II aviators.

As well as aircraft wreckage from the war found in the local area.

The AZP S-60 is a Soviet made 57 mm automatic anti-aircraft gun from the 1950s.  It was heavily used by the Warsaw Pact countries.

The 2K6 Luna was Soviet ballistic missile complex that was in operation from 1960- 1982.  The 3R10 rocket had a 400 kg nuclear warhead with a range of 10 to 32 km.  While used in Poland, Romania, and East Germany, I don't believe it was used in Czechoslovakia.

The Mil Mi-8 is a Soviet-designed medium transport helicopter.  It is one of the most produced helicopters in the world.

The MiG-23 was produced by the Soviet Union from 1967 to 1985.  Over 5,000 MiG-23's were put in service.

This air museum is well worth the 50 Kč ($2.50) admission.  If only the displays were written in English as well as Czech.  But oh well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Olomouc Aviation Museum

I tagged along with a fellow IBMer from Bratislava who was off to see a couple of aviation museums.  The first one was just outside of Olomouc, in Neředín.

Not much to see from the outside

The Olomouc Aviation Museum was founded in July 2009.  It was an idea of Zdeněk Svobodník who is a well known stage actor.

The city of Olomouc provided two hangers for the museum.  The staff of aircraft mechanics, pilots and engineers are all volunteers.

The foucs is on the history of Czechoslovak aviation.  It's pretty small but if you like aviation then it's worth seeing.  The entrance is only 50 Kč ($2.50).

The MiG-21 is the most heavily produced supersonic jet aircraft in history.

The cockpits were always painted a turquoise green color.  Apparently, it was found out that this color helped keep pilots awake and reduced stress on long flights.

The Aero L-29 Delfin was Czechoslovakia's first locally designed and built jet aircraft.  It was used for jet training and in the 1960s it was the standard jet trainer for all of the Warsaw Pact countries.

The Mil Mi-24 is a large attack helicopter that could transport eight people.

The Let L-610 was a prototype aircraft.  It could transport 40 passengers.  It was only in Czechland as only eight were ever built.

The Ilyushin Il-14 was a Soviet twin-engine aircraft.  It was used to transport military personnel and cargo.  The planes were manufactured in Czechoslovakia and East Germany

There's something a bit sad about seeing the planes there in pieces.  Kind of like visiting an aviation cemetery.  But still worth going for a visit.

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Global Peace Index Results

The Global Peace Index uses 22 indicators which gauge the absence of, or fear or, violence.  It looks at the level of safety and security in society, the extent of domestic or international conflict and the degree of militarization.

Some of the items which go in to the formula include:

  • Perceived criminality in society
  • Violent crime, number of homicides,  access to weapons and the number of people in jail
  • Political instability, relations with neighboring countries, civil liberties, freedom of press, gender inequality, adult literacy, education spending, enrollment in primary/secondary/higher education
This year's results have Iceland ranked #1 out of 162 countries.  Czech Republic just missed making the top ten.  It tied for 11th place with Sweden.  The USA didn't fare so well as it ended up #101.

Update:  The 2015 results.
Update:  The 2016 results.
Update:  The 2017 results.
Update:  The 2018 results.
Update:  The 2019 results.
Update:  The 2020 results.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brno Bans Soliciting

Brno city council members have now banned soliciting anywhere in the city.  Apparently there was a previous ruling that restricted it to certain places.  A prostitute caught soliciting will now be fined 1000 Kč ($50) on the spot or will get a ticket and have to pay up to 30.000 Kč ($1,500) to the authorities later.

I hadn't realized that there was a solicitation problem but then again I'm not exactly looking for it either.

How it works in Czechland is that prostitution is legal but soliciting isn't.  So one can have sex for money but it is against the law to offer sex for money.  Loczech.  Although organized prostitution is illegal, there are a number of brothels in Prague and I'm sure there are in other Czech cities as well.  It's not an uncommon site to see Czech prostitutes working the roads near the German or Austrian borders.

In some other countries, like Germany or Austria for example, prostitution is legal.  Prostitutes have to be registered with the state, undergo periodic health exams and pay taxes.  In the past, the Czech government has tried to legalize prostitution but attempts never get approved by the parliament.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Shop Hours

The time that stores are open is much different in Europe than back in the USA.  In America, stores have longer opening hours.   Heck, most big grocery stores are open 24/7.  Not so over here.

Stores in Czechland usually open between 7 or 8 AM and close by 6 PM, Monday to Friday.  It is not uncommon for small shops to close from 12 to 1 PM for lunch.  If small shops are open on the weekend then it is usually only on Saturdays and they will close by 12 or 1 PM.

Hypermarkets (shopping centers) are open seven days a week and usually close at 9 PM.  My local Albert is open from 7 AM to 9 PM.

A večerka is a small convenience type grocery store that is open late night.  Or if you're lucky there will be a local nonstop that is open 24/7.  In Brno, there's even one Tesco that is open 24 hours.

Czechs (and Slovaks), traditionally, tend to start work early in the morning and stop early enough to still make it to the local shops before they close.  It must come for the days of Franz Joseph and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Limited office hours are a leftover from the days of communism and make bureaucracy so much worse here.  Most government office are open to the public on Mondays and Wednesdays, and may have limited hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Don't even think about trying to renew your driver's license, visit city hall or go to the Foreign Ministry on a Friday.

Optician's opening hours M-F
I just don't get why shops aren't open longer here.  There's this very cool antique store in Brno which I would love to spend some money in.  Too bad  it's only open Tuesday - Thursday, from 10 AM to 1 PM.  It's like some stores are afraid to be open longer because then the employees would have to work more.

In the USA, the prime time to buy a car is on the weekend.  Not so over here because that's when the car dealerships are closed.

One of the great things that I like about Christmas time over here is that almost all shops stay open longer.  At least until 7 or 9 PM. 

As much as I may complain at times about limited shopping hours in Czechland or Slovakia, it's even more restrictive in Austria and Germany.  In Austria and Germany, Sundays are meant for family time so nothing is open on Sundays.  Not even the mall.  Unless you want to do your grocery shopping at a gas station mini-mart then you had better get your Sunday supplies on Saturday because nothing will be open on a Sunday.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

State of Israel

I’ve got a birthday coming up in July and just happened to find a great deal on flight from Prague to Tel Aviv.  So I’ll get to spend my birthday weekend in Israel.  It’s a place that I’ve wanted to visit for some time.  So here’s a bit about it.

The State of Israel, מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, is in the Middle East.  It sits on the Mediterranean Sea and is bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories (the West bank and Gaza Strip).  Israel is about the same size as Maryland and is home to about 8.1 million people.  It is the only Jewish-majority state in the world.  
Israel's capital is Jerusalem which is where the Knesset (Israel's parliament) is.  However, this is not internationally recognized and all of the foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv

Hebrew alphabet
The population is about 75% Jewish and 20% Arab.  Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages.  The Law of Return grants all Jews, and those with Jewish lineage, the right to Israeli citizenship.  Since the break up of the Soviet Union, more than 950,000 people have immigrated to Israel so Russian is a commonly spoken language.

No more Israeli passport stamps
There several Arab countries that will not let travellers in if their passport has an Israeli entry/exit stamp.  The way around this is to have a second passport or to request that the Israeli border guard not to stamp your passport.  As of 2013, Israel no longer stamps passports.  Instead, a small separate piece of paper is given as your visa so there is no evidence in your passport of having visited Israel.  

The Shekel (₪) is the official currency
Israel now has peaceful relations with Egypt and Jordan.  However, there are still problems with other countries in the Middle East.  So when it comes to sporting events Israel competes in the European championships.  

People seems to be either Pro-Israel, Anti-Palestine or Pro-Palestine, Anti-Israel.  The problems in the Middle East are quite complex and, personally, I think that both sides have valid claims and that both sides are guilty of prolonging the problems.

There has never been a country called Palestine.  The area known as Palestine was ruled for centuries as part of the Ottoman Empire.  After WWI, the area was placed under British mandate by the League of Nations. In 1947, the United Nations recommended the British Mandate for Palestine be divided to create two countries – Israel and Palestine.  The Jews accepted the recommendation but the Arabs did not.  On 14 May 1948, the Israeli state was established.  The very next day, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded.  Israel won and they claimed more land.  Over the years there have been several wars with its Arab neighbors but Israel keeps winning.  Some land gained in wars has been returned for peace. 

I'm quite looking forward to a long weekend in Tel Aviv.  I know that I won't get to see everything but I would need at least two weeks to see all of the places I want to see in Israel and the West Bank.  But it's a start.  I'm sure that my mom will worry about me going over there but let's face it, there's always something going on between Israel and the Palestinians.  Fortunately, things haven't been too bad lately so it's as good a time as any to visit. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Jára Cimrman

Jára Cimrman is one of the most famous Czechs.  His list of accomplishments is simply staggering.

He gave the world yogurt, the CD (Cimrman's disc), dynamite and roller skates.  He invented the electric light bulb but Edison beat him to the patent office.  He helped Baron von Zeppelin design the airship.  He came up with the idea of the Panama Canal and proposed it to the U.S. government.  He narrowly missed discovering the North Pole by only seven meters (23 feet).  He even invented the Internet.  He is regarded as one of the greatest Czech playwrights, composers, inventors, and poets of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The list goes on and on...   

Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of him.  He's the fictional character created by Jiří Šebánek, Ladislav Smoljak and Zdeněk Svěrák. 

His debut was in 1966 on the radio program Nealkoholická vinárna U Pavouka (The Spider Non-Alcoholic Wine Bar).   

In 2005, there was a television contest to name the greatest Czech of all time.  Cimrman was leading the race until the sponsor disqualified him since he was never a real person. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

50 in 5

It's no secret that I've done quite a bit of traveling since I began my expat adventure in Czechland almost five years ago.  While I've been to a whole lot of places I have yet to visit every country in Europe.  At least not yet.  Sooner or later I will visit every country in Euroland at least once.

So how many countries have I been to?  Well that's a great question.  I've met lots of fellow travelers on my many adventures and it seems that everyone has their own definition of what counts as a visited country.  Some make more sense to me than others.
  1. It doesn't count unless you get a passport stamp.  Schengen did this one in.  There are no more passport stamps between member countries.  Besides, when I went to Reykjavík last year, I flew from the UK (non-Schengen) to Norway (Schengen) then on to Iceland.  I got a Norwegian stamp in my passport since I entered the Schengen zone from the UK but I only spent 30 minutes in the airport before my flight.  I don't think it counts.
  2. It doesn't count if you just drive through the country.  I agree with this one.  But does it count if you stop along the way, have a meal, buy some gasoline and keep on driving?  I don't think so.  When I travel to Vienna airport, and buy a latte or something along the way I never count that as a trip to Austria.  
  3. You have to spend a night in order for it to count.  I don't necessarily think this is right either.  What about a day trip where you spend several hours?  If you've spent money there, supporting the local economy, then I think that counts.  
  4. It doesn't count unless you have sex in the country.  This is probably the craziest guideline I've heard.  Does it have to be with a local?  What if you hook up with a tourist, not from the country you're visiting, does it still count?  I'll just leave this one alone.
  5. It has to be an internationally recognized country.  This gets a little trickier.  I don't count Transnistria because it's a break away republic and only other break away republics consider it another country.  While most of Europe has recognized Kosovo as an independent country, it is not a member of the United Nations (because Russia has veto power and is allied with Serbia).  I count Kosovo.  The Vatican isn't a UN country member but is a non-member observer state.  I count Vatican City as a separate country.
So now how many countries are there in Europe?
  1. As already mentioned, I count Vatican City and Kosovo but exclude Transnistria.
  2. I count England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, collectively, as one country - the United Kingdom.  If Scotland votes for independence, then any visits prior to an independent Scotland will still count as a visit to the UK.  
  3. Turkey is generally considered to be part of Europe.  After all, it is trying to join the EU.
  4. Some consider Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to be part of Europe.  Some consider them to be part of Central Asia.  Some consider them to be Eurasia.  It's a bit of a stretch but, given the Eurasia argument, I'll count the Caucasus as part of Europe.
So in my book there are 50 countries in Europe.  According to how I define "visiting a country" then I say I've been to 44 countries.  The only ones remaining are Belarus, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Ukraine.  I still haven't made it to Wales yet either but again, all four parts of the UK still only count as "1" in my book.

44 countries so far
July 1st will be my five-year anniversary of my arrival in Europe.  I don't see that I'll visit all 50 countries by then.  I'm going to use up practically all of my holiday time this year when my family comes in a few months so I don't see myself getting to all 50 countries by the end of the year either.  But maybe by the end of 2015.  So while it won't be 50 European countries in my first five years it could still be "50 countries in five years".

I always wanted to visit Charleston, South Carolina.  I've always heard how beautiful it is.  It's only about a four-hour drive there from Atlanta.  But in 13 years, I never once made it to Charleston.  It was always one of those things that I meant to do.  When I started this little adventure I vowed that I would not have "another Charleston".  I want to go everywhere.

Of course it's much more than just "collecting" countries.  If I was only concerned about collecting countries then I would have for sure already hit all 50 by now.  If the "50 in 5" was all that motivated me then I would not have gone to Italy, Croatia, France, Poland or Germany so many times.  I could have easily skipped going to Sicily and spent a weekend in Riga in order to pick up Latvia.  It's not about putting a tick in a box.  It's about visiting places that I've only read about before.  It's about trying to understand history.  It's about figuring out another culture.  It's about meeting locals and fellow travelers along the way.  It's about getting out of my comfort zone, and having wonderful adventures along the way.

No matter if my "50 in 5" is reached in 2014, 2015 or beyond, it won't stop me from continuing to travel.  There are still plenty of places that I want to see, in countries that I've already been to (most more than once).  When it does come time for my adventure here to end, and who knows when that will be, there's no way that I'll have another "Charleston". 

Update:  I finally made it to all 50 countries in 2016.  Just over seven years.