Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sir Nicholas Winton

Yesterday the Czech President awarded Sir Nicholas Winton with the Order of the White Lion (Class I) at a special ceremony at Prague Castle.  He is 105 years old and the Czechs sent a special plane to bring him to the ceremony.

In 1939
At the onset of WWII he organized the rescue of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to England.  The British press have dubbed him the "British Schindler".  Including the offspring of those 669 children, around 6,000 people owe him their lives.

What's commendable is that he never sought out recognition for his heroic deed.  He never talked about it until his wife found an old scrapbook in the attic many years later.  He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.

In 2009, to mark the 70th anniversary of the rescue, a statue was unveiled on platform 1 at the Prague main train station.  The 669 children were the lucky ones.  A total of 15,131 Czechoslovak children were killed in concentration camps.

1st Class Order of the White Lion
The Order of the White Lion is the highest possible honor in the Czech Republic.  It is awarded by the Czech President for outstanding services to the Czech Republic.

There are five classes of the award.  The 5th and 4th classes are awarded as crosses.  The 3rd class is worn around the neck.  The second class is worn around the neck with a chest star.  The 1st class is a sash with a badge and a star.  There is also a supreme grade which also includes a gold neck chain but that may only be awarded to Heads of State.

Here's a clip I found on YouTube about Sir Nicholas Winton.

©CBS Evening News

Update:  The Order of the White Lion isn't only state honour that he received.  In 1998, President Václav Havel awarded him the Order of Tomás Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class.  He had also been awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, First Class.  In 2008, the Czech government nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Don't Have Ebola

On Sunday I had an early flight back to Prague from Oslo.  At least with the time change I had an extra hour to sleep in.  It still seems odd that Europe and the USA don't change time on the same day.  The two continents always change time a few weeks apart.  Anyway...

Prior to landing the flight crew gave everyone a form to fill out.  I've never had to fill this out before.  The form was only available in English.

According to the form it is to prevent the spread of Ebola and it is mandatory for everyone on an international flight arriving in Prague, Karlovy Vary, Pardubice, Ostrava or Brno.

You are required to turn it in to the appropriate personal upon arrival.  The form also says that if you have been in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone within the past 42 days you must immediately report to the airport's Public Health Protection Authority.

There were signs showing where the health office was but no one collected the completed forms.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Scream

The Scream is a well-known masterpiece by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch between 1893 - 1910.  Munch created four versions of it.  There are two paintings and two pastels.

Munch's Self-Portrait with Cigarette
The National Gallery in Oslo has one of the paintings.  The Munch Museum has a painting and a pastel.  The second pastel sold at Sotheby's in 2012 for $119,922,600.  This was the second highest price ever paid for a painting at auction.

This is a popular item to steal.  The Scream and another piece were stolen from the Munch Museum in 2004 but were both recovered in 2006.

The Scream, 1893
In 1994, on the opening day of the Lillehammer Olympics, two men broke in to the National Gallery and stole its painting.  The rub is that they left a note..."Thanks for the poor security".  The thieves demanded a $1 million ransom.  Norwegian and British police recovered the painting about three months later.

One of the best things about living in Europe is getting to see original masterpieces.  I'm just glad I got to see The Scream before someone tried to nick it again.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Oslo's Froger Park

Frogner Park is the biggest park in Norway.  It is open to the public and is about a 10 minute tram ride from the center of Oslo.

Gustav Vigeland
Between the 1920s and 1943, Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland created 212 bronze and granite sculptures which he donated to the city.  Each of the pieces are of naked people and shows the human condition and development of life. 



Love the ski cap that someone put on the head
The Monolith of Life

Froger Park is the world's largest sculpture park done by a single artist.

Here's a Rick Steves video from YouTube about the Park.
©Rick Steves

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Oslo, Norway

Oslo is over 1,000 years old.  It is the capital of Norway and with a population over 634,000 it is the largest city.  The Oslo metro area is home to over 1.5 million people.  Oslo sits on the Oslofjord which is a 120 km (78 mile) long lake.  There's lots of nature here.  There are 40 islands and 343 lakes within the city limits. 

Oslo was founded in 1048 by King Harald Hardåde.  During the union with Denmark the city was renamed Christiania after the Danish King Christian IV.  In 1877 it became Kristiania until after Norway gained independence.  In 1925 the city became Oslo again.

University of Oslo
In 2012 Oslo was ranked #1 for quality of life among large European cities.  However it is one of the most expensive cities in the world.  In 2011 it was the #2 most expensive city after Tokyo.  In 2013, it tied with Melbourne, Australia as the #4 most expensive city in the world. 

Det Kongelige Slott is the Royal Palace.  The 173 room palace was completed in 1849 and is the official residence of the Norwegian monarch.

St. Olav's Cathedral
St. Olav's Cathedral was consecrated in 1896.  It is the Roman Catholic cathedral in Oslo.

Since 1866, Stortinget has been the Norwegian parliament building in central Oslo.

Trefoldighetskirken is the Church of the Holy Trinity.  The red brick church belongs to the Church of Norway.  It was consecrated in 1858 and is one of Oslo's largest churches.


The National Theater was built in 1899 and is the country's largest theater.


The Oslo Cathedral is the main church for the Church of Norway.  The church was consecrated in 1697.

Akershus Festning
Akershus Fortress is an Oslo castle that was built in the 1290s.  It was built to protect the city and has also been used as a prison.

Holmenkollen ski jump


Oslo Børs was founded in 1819.  It is the only independent stock exchange within the Nordic countries.

Opera House
The Opera House opened in 2008.  The exterior is covered with Italian marble and white granite.  It looks like it is rising from the Oslofjord.  You can walk up on the roof and it's a great place to watch the sunrise.


At 45 hectares (111 acres), Frogner Park is Norway's biggest park and is home to 212 bronze and granite sculptures by Gustav Vigeland.

The Fram Museum is a ferry ride away at Bygdøy.  It opened in 1936 and is dedicated to the Arctic and Antarctic exploration of the Fram which launched in 1892.  The ship sailed further north and further south than any other wooden ship.  The Fram is preserved inside and it is possible to walk through it.  The museum is also home to the Gjøa which was the first ship to sail through the Northwest Passage.

Oslo rådhus
Construction on the Oslo City Hall began in 1931 but was delayed because of WWII.  The building opened in 1950.  Every December 10th, this is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded.

Nobel Peace Centre

The Nobel Peace Center opened in 2005 to mark Norway's 100th year of independence.  The center is home to permanent exhibition about every winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

National Gallery

One of the cool things about living in Europe is getting to see original masterpieces instead of just prints.  The National Gallery is home to Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Here's a Rick Steves video about Oslo that I found on YouTube.
©Rick Steves

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Air Kiss

In Europe it is common to greet people with a kiss on the cheek - the air kiss.  At times it can be a bit confusing.  Especially if you are from the USA where it is not such an everyday thing.  What can really make things complicated is that the standard air kiss is different depending on where you go. 

First a few general rules... 
1.  Don't kiss people you don't know.  Unless you are introduced to them in a social environment.
2.  Shake hands prior to the kiss.  It is also common to put your left arm on the other person's arm or shoulder as you go in for the kiss.
3.  Move your head to the left so that you kiss the right cheek first, then the left cheek.  Most of the time, sometimes it is the left cheek first.
4.  You don't actually kiss.  Your cheeks may touch but your lips should never actually touch the other person's cheek.  Hence the term "air kiss."  Otherwise you could mess up a lady's makeup or her lipstick could leave evidence of a kiss on your cheek. 
5.  Play it safe and always follow the other person's lead!

It is very common for women to kiss women and for men to kiss women.  Depending on the country, and the context, you may see two men kiss but it is less common.  When two men do kiss it isn't a gay thing.

The number of kisses by region in France
Normally it is two kisses.  Sometimes three.  Sometimes more.  I go for the traditional two kisses.  Once, on my birthday, a colleague from Romania said that three kisses are traditional for birthday wishes.    

In France it is called la bise.  You can tell what part of France someone is from by how many kisses you receive and it is very common for men to kiss each other. 

In Czechland and most of Europe two kisses are the standard.  In Serbia, Russia, Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland you generally exchange three kisses.

The air kiss is a standard greeting between friends and acquaintances.  The only time I still get a bit uneasy about it is when it is at the office.  Then it seems a bit odd.  But I just go with rule #5 and follow the other person's lead.

Here's a video I found out on YouTube.  It is a Good Morning America segment trying to explain things to Americans.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

More Visitors

Well it looks like I'm going to have more American visitors this year.  My best friend Steven is bringing his mom to Europe for a couple of weeks in November.  Yeah for last minute surprise trips!

I'll meet them in Prague where we will stay for a few days.  Then we're coming to Brno for a couple of days before heading on to Vienna.  I'll leave them in Vienna and they will continue on to Salzburg and Munich before flying back to Atlanta.  It's almost like a mini version of my parents' itinerary.

I guess at some point I may just have to become a tour guide.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Living in Europe has required me to embrace the Metric system.  It really does make much more sense than the Imperial system we use back in America.  It's hard to believe that the USA is the only major industrial country that doesn't use metric.  I've done pretty well with temperature but length and distance is what has taken a while to sink in.

The basic unit of measure is a meter.   The original definition of a meter was 1 ten millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator through Paris. 

A meter is 3 feet, 338 inches.

For length you pretty much use centimeters and meters.  One centimeter is about the width of a fingernail.  For comparison, 1 inch equals 2.54 cm.

Height is measured in meters.  Most adults are between 1.5 and 2 meters tall.  For comparison, 1 foot equals 30 cm.

Distance is measured in kilometers.  1 mile equals 1.6 km.  My reference point has been that a 5 km race is 3.2 miles.  Speed is measured in km/h (kilometers per hour) instead of miles per hour. 

The United Kingdom uses a mix of metric and imperial measurements.  Distance in the UK is in miles.  You can tell when you cross between Ireland and Northern Ireland because the road signs change from kilometers to miles.

One thing that, now I realize, never made sense is how to break down miles.  You could say quarter mile or half mile but that's about it.  No one ever knows that 1 mile equals 1,760 yards or 5,280 feet.  Whereas 1 km equals 1,000 meters which does make sense.  Another reference point I used was that 1 km takes about 15 minutes to walk.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kingdom of Norway

In a couple of weeks I'm headed off to Oslo for a weekend.  Norway will be the 49th country I've visited since moving to Europe.  So here's a bit about Norway.

The Kingdom of Norway is in Scandinavia and borders Sweden, Finland, and RussiaNorge is a bit larger than New Mexico and has a population of about 5.15 million people.  It has one of the longest coastlines in the world with about 50,000 islands.  It also claims a portion of Antarctica.  Oslo is the capital.


Norway was in a union with Denmark for over 400 years and then in a union with Sweden for more than 90 years.  In 1905 Norway became an independent country.  Today it is a constitutional monarchy.

In the late 1960s, oil and gas were discovered.  It is the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas outside of the Middle East and this accounts for about 30% of government revenues.  Norway is smart because it knows that one day the oil will run out so the money goes in to the world's largest sovereign wealth fund which is valued at more than $830 billion.  The return on the fund goes to support the country's generous social welfare programs.

Norway is the second wealthiest country per GDP in the world.  There are high salaries and high taxes so everything is quite expensive.  For example, a Big Mac costs about $10 and a beer will run $8-$11.

Norwegian alphabet

Norwegian is the official language but it has two official written forms - Bokmål and Nynorsk.  In nine municipalities Sami is also an official language. 

Norway is a founding member of NATO.  There is mandatory military service for males from 19-35.  People serve one year and then there are 4-5 refresher periods, up to age 60, which totals 18 months.  In 2013, Norway became the first country in Europe to draft women as well as men.

The country is pretty progressive.  Norway was the world's first country to have an anti-discrimination law that protects gays and lesbians.  It recognized civil partnerships in 1993 and in 2009 it became the 6th country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage.

It is part of the Schengen zone and contributes to the EU budget as part of the European Economic Area (EEA) but Norway is not part of the European Union.  The country rejected EU membership in 1972 and again in 1994.