Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Manchester, England

Manchester is in the north of England.  It is 56 km (35 miles) from Liverpool and 262 km (163 miles) from London.  Manchester has 541,000 residents while the Greater Manchester area is home to 2,79 million people.  People from Manchester are Mancunian (proper) or Manc (slang).

It was founded around 79 AD as a Roman fort.  Manchester was given a town charter in 1301 and it achieved city status in 1853.

Manchester was the world's first industrialised city thanks to the Industrial Revolution.  The city was a major player in the textile industry and was the world's largest marketplace for cotton goods.

In 2017 it became a UNESCO City of Literature.

Today it is the third-most visited city in the UK after London and Edinburgh.

The town hall was completed in 1877.

Beetham Tower was completed in 2006 and is currently the tallest building in Manchester.  At 169 metres (554 feet) is is the 10th tallest building in the UK.

The John Rylands Library was completed in 1899 and opened to the public in 1900.  It is now part of the University of Manchester Library and is open to the public.  Well worth a visit.

Manchester's Chinatown is in the city centre.  It is the second largest Chinatown in the UK and the third largest in Europe.

The Cenotaph was unveiled in 1924.  It was a WWI memorial but has been updated over the years for subsequent conflicts.

St. John's Gardens was established in 1932.  It was previously home to St. John's Church and a graveyard from 1769 to 1931.

The Opera House opened in 1912.  It closed in 1979 when it became a bingo hall until 1984 when it reopened as a theatre.

Manchester's Anglican cathedral was built from 1421 - 1882.  It is currently being renovated.

The Corn Exchange used to be just that, a corn exchange.  The market was bombed by the IRA in 1996.  It was later renovated and is a shopping centre.

The Museum of Science and Industry opened in 1983.  It sits on the world's first railway station.  There are some really interesting exhibits that range from locomotives to aircraft and textiles to computing.  Well worth a visit.

The National Football Museum opened in 2001 and moved to its current location in 2012.  I've lived in Euroland long enough that it's football; not soccer.

Canal Street is one of the busiest streets in the Gay Village.  Manchester Pride has been held every August since 2003.

At Sackville Gardens is the Alan Turing memorial which was unveiled in 2001.  Alan Turing is regarded as the "father of modern computing" whose work breaking codes during WWII is believed to have shortened the war in Europe by at least two years and saved more than 14 million lives.  In 1952 he was prosecuted for being gay and was subjected to chemical castration before he ultimately committed suicide.  He was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.

At Piccadilly Gardens is a statue of Queen Victoria.

This is also where I came across a Czech and Slovak food stand.  Just in case I was missing some Slovak halušky.

This was my first time in Manchester and I loved it.  Not just for Pride weekend, although it was a lot of fun.  The city has a great vibe to it and I'll for sure plan a return trip.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

2017 Manchester Pride

On Saturday morning I arrived in Manchester for the 2017 Pride festival.  It took place in the Gay Village and it was so much fun.

The theme was Class of 2017 with the aim of highlighting the need for education to end discrimination and abuse against the LGBT community.

There was plenty of security for the event.  Probably even more following May's Manchester Arena bombing after the Ariana Grande concert where 22 people died.

Tens of thousands of people were there.  The highlight was the parade which had over 140 floats.

Lots of rainbows, drag queens, and regular people all just having a good time.  Some of the biggest applause came when the Manchester police marched down the route.

Overall it was just a great weekend!  

It was bank holiday weekend in the UK which might be why it was so crowded.  I hope to make it back next year

Friday, August 25, 2017

Back in the USA, Again

This past week I've been in New York for work.  I haven't been to the USA in five years.  Now all of a sudden, I've been here three times in two months.  At least I continue to rack up the airline miles.

The flight over began a bit rough.  The BA flight from Vienna to Heathrow was delayed so I had to change terminals and rush through security.  I was seriously worried that I would miss my connecting flight to JFK.

Thanks BA for the upgrade!
Fortunately they had not begun to board the flight and British Airways gave me an upgrade to premium economy.  I love having bronze status!

Me & Dušan at IBM HQ
I was supposed to be in Manchester tonight for their pride weekend.  

Due to this last minute trip that's changed and I'll fly tonight from JFK to Manchester so I should get there by 7 am tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be my first try at using the UK immigration line as a registered traveller.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dark Side of Brno Tour

Yesterday we went on The Dark Side of Brno tour.  It's a free walking tour offered by My Tour Brno. It's marketed as an alternative tour for the less known and non-touristic part of Brno near the city centre.  The tour was quite interesting.

The Agudas Achim synagogue is on Skořepka street and was recently renovated.  The functionalist temple was originally built from 1934 to 1936 by Galician Jews who found refuge here following WWI.  During WWII it was used as a warehouse.  Today it is the only synagogue with regular services in Moravia.

Brno used to be a big deal in the textile industry.  Vlněna was one of the oldest and biggest wool factories.  The old factory dates back to the 18th century.

I believe the company went under around 1997.  The main building is condemned but there is currently a lot of commercial development going on to turn the whole area around.

Brno has a puppet museum.  Muzeum Loutek has over 100 puppets.  The museum was closed but it was a good place for a group photo.  Guess I'll have to check it out another time.

The tour finished at the Museum of Romani Culture which I had finally visited a few months ago.

Along the tour we saw several stolpersteine which is German for "stumbling stones".  There are engraved brass cobblestone-sized squares that you will see across Europe.

The stones have the name, date of birth, and date of persecution for victims of the Nazis.  The goal was to commemorate individuals at their last place of residency.  Most stones show that a person was deported to a concentration camp.

It started as an art project in 1992 in Köln, Germany, and has spread to 22 countries in Europe.  The first stones were placed in Czech Republic in 2008.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cancelled Eindhoven Route

Wizz Air has cancelled its regular flight between Brno and Eindhoven.  Apparently due to low demand which seems odd because the route always seemed pretty full.  Wizz Air has been flying the Brno-Eindhoven route twice a week for the past six years.  The last flight will be at the end of October 2017.

Wizz Air is a low-cost Hungarian airline based in Budapest.  Like Ryanair, it prefers to land at smaller or secondary airports in order to keep costs low.  They then nickel and dime you for every little thing.  I've flown them from several times and I actually prefer them to Ryanair.

Eindhoven is 125 km (78 miles) to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  A bus from the airport to Amsterdam Central Station was just two hours.

It's a shame that they're going to cancel this route.  They used to fly from Brno to Rome but that was cancelled a few years ago.

Currently the discount airlines only fly from Brno Airport to London.  Wizz flies to London Luton and Ryanair flies to London Stansted.

We need more cheap flight options from Brno.  That was I won't always have to fly out of Vienna or Bratislava.  I'm still hoping for a Brno-Dublin route.    

Friday, August 18, 2017

Daddy's Little IBMer

Petr, Tibor, Andrew, and Michal
Four of the guys on my team are all expecting new arrivals.  Or rather their wives are all due soon.

Baby showers aren't really done over except by the foreigners so, last week, we decided to do at least a little something for them.

We had onesies made up with our team logo and "Daddy's Little IBMer" printed on them.  The guys were all pleasantly surprised.  Congratulations lads!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Registered Traveller

The UK and Ireland have their own common travel area and are not part of Schengen.  Every time that I land in the UK, along with every other non-EU traveller, I have to complete a landing card.

You have to provide your passport details, along with how long you will be in the UK, where you're staying, and your incoming flight or ferry information.

What has always driven me crazy is that I've had to complete this for a connecting flight in London Stansted.  Ryanair doesn't have connecting flights so when I fly Brno-Stansted-Dublin I have to go through UK immigration, get a stamp in my passport, pick up my bag and then proceed to departures so that I can drop off my bag for the next flight and go through security again.

In these cases, I write that my address in the UK is "Stansted Airport" and that my stay in the UK is "4 hours".  Sometimes the immigration officer writes "IT" for "in transit" over the stamp in my passport.  All of this stamping takes up valuable space in my passport.

These paper landing cards don't make much sense in a digital age and they cost the UK £3,6 million (+$4.7 million) per year.  Sometime this fall, the UK is supposed to scrap these cards.

I've been accepted as a Registered Traveller which will not let me get through the UK border much faster.  The service costs £70 ($92) to apply and £50 each year to renew.  You have to be at least 18 years old, have an ePassport, and have visited the UK at least four times in the last 24 months.

The benefits of being a registered traveller is that now when I arrive in the UK, I (a) no longer have to complete a landing card, and (b) I get to use the arrival lines reserved for UK/EU citizens.  No more having to use the non-EU lanes which all require a conversation with an immigration officer and tend to take much longer to get through.  There's also no fingerprint check.

I'll get to use the UK lines at the following airports:  Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Luton, London Stansted, and Manchester.  At all other UK airports I will still need to use the non-EU arrival lines.  But these are the major airports so not a big deal.  It will also work at the Eurostar terminals in Brussels, Lille, and Paris.

The registered traveller service is open to citizens of Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Uruguay, and the USA.

I understood that I should have received some kind of card but they ran out.  Instead a sticker was placed on the back of my passport.

If only Ireland would come up with something similar because I get annoyed with the third degree every time I arrive at Dublin Airport.

Update: 20 May 2019 - Americans get to use the ePassport gates so my registered traveller status is no longer needed.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


The StB, Státni bezpečnost, was the Czechoslovak secret police.  From 1945 to 1990 is served as the intelligence and counter-intelligence agency that dealt with any activity deemed subversive to the state.

The StB was an instrument of the communist party and was headquartered in Prague.  The StB had around 30,000 informants who helped it spy on fellow citizens.

Each Warsaw Pact country had its own secret police.  The Soviets had the KGB, East Germany had the Stasi, while in Romania is was the Securitate.

Today in Czech Republic, former StB agents, as well as informants, are banned from certain jobs.  They can not be legislators or police officers.

The Security Information Service, Bezpečností informační služba (BIS), is the Czech national intelligence service.  It was formed in 1994 and is not a direct successor of the StB.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Makro is a membership warehouse club.  Kind of the European version of Costco, sort of.  In order to shop at Makro you need to have a membership card and membership is only open to business entities.

In Europe, the stores are owned by Metro AG while in Latin America they are owned by SHV Holdings.

There are 13 Makro stores in Czechland.  They offer some very good prices.  I love going to Makro because you are able to find some things, seafood and other food stuffs, that you'll never find in a normal Czech grocery store.

One of my team approached our HR office with an idea to offer Makro memberships to IBM Brno employees.  It was a great idea and that's how I scored my card.  Good job Andrew!

One of the interesting things about the store is that young children are not allowed.  Kids under 140 cm aren't allowed inside.

I love that because you never have to deal with kids running around the store, especially with the forklifts in use.