Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Upcoming Central European Adventure

Several people have asked if I was going to let people vote on where I should travel to this year like I did in 2013.  Originally, I was going to.  I even had some very interesting places picked out for people to vote on - Antarctica, South Africa, North Korea, New Zealand or Iran.  The reason that I didn't do it is because my parents are finally making their first trip across the pond and coming to visit me.

Six countries in six weeks
Not only are my parents coming to Euroland for the first time, my aunt and uncle are coming too, and they will all be here for six weeks.  The itinerary includes Czechland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary

Many people have asked why they aren't going to take an extra couple of days and see London or Paris or Rome too.  And quite frankly, the goal is to come see where I live.  Six countries in six weeks is plenty for a first visit.  My parents definitely don't want to do one of those "11 countries in seven days" kind of tours.  They are more interested in seeing everyday life.

The plan is to start off in Prague and be there for ten days.  This will give them time to get over the jet lag.  We will have plenty of day trips to Plzeň, Kutná Horá, Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, Karlštejn, Terezín and to Dresden.

Then it's off to Brno for everyone to see where I live.  I'll for sure take them to Olomouc and Lednice-ValticeBratislava too.  It will also be burčák and wine festival time so these are must-dos.

My mom saw some TV program about Olešnice, a village about an hour from Brno (and one that I've never heard of), where they dye indigo fabric.  I guess I need to plan out a trip there as well.

Three weeks is a lot of time together so I will then ship them off to Budapest for five days.  We may need a break from each other and it will let me get some work done in the office.

A few more days in Brno and then we're all off to Kraków for a week.  Claudia and Tünde will join us for a few days there as well.

Then we will be off to Vienna for a few days.  Vienna will be my last stop as tour guide.  I will come back home to Brno and the four of them will go to Munich for another week before they fly back to the USA.

It will be great for my family to see Brno in person.  They will also finally get to meet my friends which they've heard so much about over the years.  It's also going to be interesting to see their perspective on some of the differences between Czechland and the USA.  It's going to be a lot of fun but I can't believe that they will be here next week.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Golden Hands

There's an expression over here in Czechland about zlaté české ruce which means "golden Czech hands."  I've heard two different explanations for this phrase and, honestly, I can see the truth in both of them.

An ad proclaiming they have golden hands
The first one is because Czechs are such great craftsmen, tradesmen, and engineers.  You can definitely see this in the old architecture here.  The old buildings are absolutely beautiful.  The paneláky, prefabricated apartment blocks; not so much.

The second explanation is that due to the shortages of supplies, under communism, that Czechs learned how to make do with what they had.  Czechs became masters of "do-it-yourself" using whatever materials you could get your hands on.  This sometimes led to very inventive solutions.

This afternoon I wanted to make a dessert that requires apple sauce.  It suddenly dawned on me that I don't know if I've ever seen apple sauce here Czechland.  I know they have it in Germany but not so sure here.  And I wasn't up for a mad scavenger hunt at Albert, Billa, Inter-Spar and Tesco.  Instead, I used the Google and found an easy recipe and made some apple sauce from scratch.

I guess this constitutes my attempt at having golden hands.  Which has me wondering...maybe I can find an easy recipe for blue cheese dressing because they for sure don't have it here. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Good Soldier Švejk

The years 2014 to 2018 mark the 100th anniversary of WWI - the war to end all wars.  Out of the tragedy of the first world war comes one of the best books ever.

The Good Soldier Švejk, written by Jaroslav Hašek, was published in 1923.  The novel has been translated in to 58 languages making It is the most translated work of Czech literature.

Jaroslav Hašek
The original Czech title is Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války, which translates to The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War.  Czech artist Josef Lada did the original illustrations.

It is a satirical, black comedy on the futility of war.  The author intended for the story to cover six volumes but he only completed the first three, and started the fourth, when he died in 1923.

Švejk illustration by Josef Lada
The story is about Švejk whose main goal in life is to avoid the greater foolishness around him.  It's hard to tell if Švejk is a complete idiot, a wise fool, or the smartest person around as he goes from one situation to another.

Švejk is a part of Czech culture.  Many towns will have a Švejk pub.  The Czech language even has a verb, švejkovat, meaning "to švejk". 

Here's a clip from the 1957 movie adaption that I found on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Verbal Aspect

Next month I have to take my basic Czech language exam in order to apply for permanent residency.  One thing in common to Slavic languages, which can be incredibly difficult for native English speakers, is verbal aspect.

Overall Czech verbs are pretty easy.  There are normally only three tenses...past, present and future.  So I went, I go, I will go.  That's it.  None of the crazy I had gone, I am going, I am going to go, I will be going tenses that we have in English. 

Czech, and the other Slavic languages - Slovak, Russian, Polish, Serbian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian,  Ukrainian, Macedonian and Belarusian, have this concept of completeness which is understood by aspect.  So first of all, for every action you have to understand if the action was completed or not.  Basically is it finished or not finished.

Imperfective verbs look at things as being a process and don't care about the end result.  The imperfective verbs have past, present, and future tenses.  For example, the imperfective aspect of to read:

I read a book (but didn't finish reading the entire book).
I am reading a book (but won't finish reading all of it).
I will read a book (but won't necessarily finish it in one go).

Perfective verbs show that something is done/completed.  The perfective verbs only have a future and past tense.  There's no present tense because it is impossible to be actively doing something and be finished with it at the same time.

I will read a book (and I will finish the entire thing).
I read a book (and I finished reading all of it).

The tricky thing is that for the future tense of perfective verbs, you don't actually use the future tense.  You use the present tense of the verb but all Czechs know that the present tense is really the future tense.  Ugh!!

Czechs use different verbs to express aspect.  So číst means to read (imperfective) and přečíst meas to read (perfective).  So to cover the whole "to read" thing in Czech you actually need to learn two verbs whereas in English you only have to learn one verb.

And it's like this for everything.  You always need to learn two verbs for every action, and then think if the action will be completed or not (imperfective or perfective), then use the past, present, or future.  But if the action is perfective, then use the present to really express the future.  This does my head in.  I had better pass this damn test.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Student Agency

Student Agency is the premium bus company in Czechland.  It's actually a full service travel agency that specializes in au pair programs and resells airline tickets.  They also offer city break packages to lots of places, like the one I took a couple of years ago to Istanbul.

But they are best known for the big yellow buses.  Despite the name, you don't have to be a student in order to buy a ticket. I really enjoy taking the student agency bus as they are comfortable and have free Wi-Fi on board.  There is a bus "steward/stewardess" that brings you magazines and you get a free hot beverage.  You get a headset to listen to music or watch a film.  On some of the routes, each seat has its own video monitor so you can select a movie or TV show in either English or Czech.

The bus lines connect Prague with Brno, Vienna, Ostrava, Plzeň, Liberec and Hradec Králové.  The most common route is Prague - Brno which takes 2.5 hours.  Besides lots of destinations in Czechland and Slovakia, there are many other routes to the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France, Hungary, Sweden and Norway.  It looks like they are also finally expanding into Poland.  I love taking the bus to either Prague or Vienna.  Although I'm not sure I could handle a 21 hour bus trip to London

Student Agency was founded in 1996 and its headquarters are here in Brno.  They even have RegioJet which is their private train service between Prague and Ostrava.

My favorite route is Brno to the Vienna Airport.  It drops you off right in front of the main terminal which is super convenient.  The only thing that you have to watch out for when you book online is for which currency you choose.  When you use the website in Czech, the prices are quoted to you in Czech CrownsMakes sense, right?

If you choose the English language option then the site automatically changes the currency to Euros.  But the prices are higher in Euros.  For example, in Crowns, my Brno to Vienna Airport route is 360 Kč (€13) but if you select Euros then the price is €17 (475 Kč).  So that's about a $5 difference just for switching from Czech to English.

However, if you choose to use the website in English, then just use the toggle switch to select CZK instead of € before you buy anything so that you save a few crowns.

Monday, August 11, 2014

HIV on the Rise in Czechland

There have been 129 new reported cases of people with HIV so far this year.  That's the highest number of reported cases since 1985.  Gays make up about 60% of these new cases.  People need to remember to wrap their willie!!

The National Reference Laboratory for HIV/AIDS has recorded 2,251 people with HIV.  Of these, 410 people developed AIDS and 209 of them have passed away.

In a country of 10.5 million people, HIV/AIDS is still relatively rare hereThe problem is that since 2003, the number of reported infections is growing.

The scary thing is that many people do not get tested so the actual number of people with HIV/AIDS is probably much higher.  Remember to wear a condom!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Toilet Adventures

Using the facilities can be an adventure in Euroland.  Firsts things first.  What do you call the facilities?  In the USA we say "restroom" or "bathroom".  In the South you might also hear it referred to as the "powder room."  Over here you will see it labeled as WC (water closet).  In the UK and Ireland it is called the "loo."  In most of Europe you call it the "toilet."

In the USA, we call the porcelain item a "toilet bowl" but we never say that "I'm going to the toilet."  To an American, saying that one is going to the toilet sounds vulgar.  For our sensitive ears it is much better to say that "I'm going to the restroom."  In Europe, no one has any qualms about letting you know they are going to the toilet.

In Euroland you normally have to pay to use the WC.  Some places are free such as in a restaurant, pub, movie theater, airport, office building, etc.  But almost everywhere else, like shopping malls, train or bus stations, public parks, etc., you will have to pay.  Normally the price is 10 Kč ($0.50).  There is usually an attendant who you pay the money to as you enter.

TP on the wall before you enter
All restrooms will have toilet paper.  It did throw me one time when I was at a school and there was no paper in the cabin.  There was a large dispenser on the wall and you had to tear off the amount needed prior to going in to the cabin.  

In every cabin you will find a toilet brush.  It is not there just for the attendant.  Use it.  It is really bad form to leave a commode with any visible trace that it had been used.

Occasionally in Czechland you will find a place with two prices, 5 Kč or 10 Kč, depending if you only need to stand or if you need to sit down.  If you pay to sit then you will be given a few sheets of toilet paper as you enter.

Paying for the loo seemed really dumb to me when I first moved here.  However now it just seems normal.  The fee isn't that expensive and public restrooms here are always very clean.  In my opinion it is well worth the 10 Kč.

It's also no big deal over here for a female attendant to go in to the men's room while it is in use.  This includes men's locker rooms at the gym.  Yes, it can be a bit distracting at first when the cleaning lady starts sweeping around your feet while you're standing at the urinal but you eventually get used to it.  The women are just doing their jobs.  Besides it's nothing they haven't seen before.

Most toilets in Europe are designed to conserve water so you will usually find two buttons.  A small button if you only need a small flush and a bigger button for when you need a larger flush.

Some toilets have a washout shelf
Most of the commodes here are similar to the ones in the USA.  Mainly that when you sit down, you are sitting over water.

Austrian shelf toilet
In Germany and Austria it is common for there to be a shelf in the bowl where "everything" lands.  This makes inspection much easier.  Don't ask me why.  When you flush the toilet "everything" on the shelf is washed away. 

Turkish squat toilet
In Turkey, parts of Greece, and parts of Italy, I've come across the squat toilet.  Sometimes they flush and sometimes there is a pitcher of water that you pour into after use.  These are not my favorite as it takes a bit of balance.

In some places, the plumbing may be frail so you can't flush the toilet paper.  In this case you have to put the used paper into a bin.

It's not a drinking fountain
Very rarely will you ever see a bidet in the USA but they are quite common in Europe.  For those that don't know, a bidet looks kind of like a toilet but it shoots up a stream of water from the base.  After you use the toilet, you then use the bidet to clean yourself.  This gets you cleaner than just using toilet paper and it saves paper but it can be tricky to use the first few times.
Shower/bidet combo

One hotel in Portugal had a combination shower & bidet.  I've never run across this again.

The douchette

In the UAE and Azerbaijan I came across the douchette which looks like a dish sprayer.  Sort of like a "bidet pistol".  This one must take practice to use and not hose down the entire room.

I guess this about covers everything.  I'm sure someone will leave a comment if I've missed something.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Emergency Numbers

In the USA, if you need to make an emergency call for the police, fire department or an ambulance you dial 911.  In Europe, each country has their own emergency numbers.  For example, in Czechland you call:

150 for fires, natural disasters, accidents and emergencies
155 for health problems, injuries or accidents requiring medical attention
156 for the municipal police
158 for disturbances of public order and safety, traffic accidents or to report a crime

And that's just for Czechland.  To get an ambulance in Spain you dial 061, in Austria it is 144, in Italy it is 118, in Croatia it is 94, in Hungary the number is 104, while both the UK and Ireland use 999.  The list of numbers goes on and on. 

It can be a real problem if you don't know the emergency number in the country you're visiting.  So the European Union came up with the 112 number.  Aside from the local numbers, anyone in any EU country can dial 112 for any emergency - police, fire, ambulance.  112 even works in some non-EU countries such as Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Vatican City, Iceland, Macedonia, and Serbia.

112 is a free call from either land line or mobile phones and can be used even without a SIM card.  The 112 number is awesome because the operators are prepared to dispatch calls in foreign languages.  So no need to speak Czech if you need the police.

Here's short video I found out on YouTube about the 112 emergency number.