Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Jerusalem and Dead Sea Tour, Israel

This morning we set off from Eilat on a tour to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

The southern part (the Israeli section) of the Dead Sea is 220 km (137 miles) from Eilat through the Negev desert.  Along the way we passed Mount Sodom and the rock that is said to resemble Lot's wife.

The Dead Sea, יָם הַמֶּלַח, in Hebrew is Yam ha-Melah which translates to the Sea of Salt.  It's a salt lake bordering Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.



At 394,6 metres (1269 feet) below sea level, it's the lowest point in the world.  It is super salty!  It's 9.6 times more salty than the ocean which makes it impossible for plants and animals to survive which is why it's called the Dead Sea.  Because it is so salty you can't really swim.  Since you can't sink you just pretty much float there.

It's an awesome experience.  But when you get out you notice that the water has a sort of greasy feel to it.  Also be sure to wear waterproof sandals or aqua socks because the the salt crystals on the shore are jagged and will hurt your feet getting in and out of the water.

After a shower and change we got back on the bus and headed to Jerusalem which was about an hour's drive away.


Temple Mount
We only had a couple of hours in Jerusalem.  Our guide hit the major sites and showed us the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall.

We saw the Temple Mount at a distance but some day I actually want to go inside it.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is jointly managed by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic Churches, and it's considered the holiest site in Christianity.  It contains the last four Stations of the Cross, was the spot where Jesus was crucified and is where he is said to have been buried.

Jerusalem's municipality believes that tax exemptions have been incorrectly given to the church-owned commercial properties, which are not places of worship, so they want their tax revenue which I heard was several million dollars.  In protest, the church leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Sunday.  Obviously this didn't go well with all of the tourists.  After the mayor backed down, the church was reopened at 4 AM this morning.  The church was extra busy this today as everyone was trying to get in.  There were lots of reporters there interviewing various church leaders.

Here's a video I found out on YouTube about the situation.

©Al Jazeera

In the late afternoon we took an optional tour to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Saint Catherine's Monastery Tour, Egypt

Yesterday was an interesting day trip from Eilat to St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt.  We booked a tour and as it turned out we were the only two people so we got our own private tour.  Yeah for us!

The first stop was the Taba border crossing which is about 10 km (6,5 miles) south of Eilat.  As part of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, when Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula, it is possible to travel between the two countries.

As long as you are just travelling in the Sinai you can stay for up to 14 days without a visa.  Any further south than Sharm El Sheikh or up to Cairo and you'll need to get an Egyptian visa in advance.

Bedouin village


After crossing the border we started the 181 km (113 mile) drive to St. Catherine's.




After passing the beach resort town of Nuweiba, we had a long desert route where we saw Bedouin villages, camels, and went through numerous security checkpoints.



The Greek Orthodox Sacred Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount Sinai, is also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, and as the Monastery of St. Catherine.

The monastery was founded in 527 AD on the spot where God appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush and received the Ten Commandments.

This is the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery.  It is also home to the world's continuously operating library and, after the Vatican library, has the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts.

The Burning Bush
During the Middle Ages the monastery was a favourite pilgrimage site.










A chapel was converted to a mosque and used until the 13th century.  It was restored in 20th century and is used on special occasions.

Well of Jethro's Daughters
In 2002 the monastery became a UNESCO World Heritage site.











On a hill before arriving at the monastery is the Tomb of Aaron.  Aaron (the Prophet Haroun) was Moses' older brother who went with Moses to warn the Pharaoh about God's punishment for not freeing the Jews.  The tomb was built in the 13th century.

Saudi Arabia in the background
On the way back to Eilat we stopped off at Nuweiba to have lunch at a restaurant on the beach.

It was an interesting experience having lunch and seeing Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea.

After lunch we continued back to Taba and passed back in to Israel.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chlebíčky

Chlebíčky are Czech open-faced sandwiches.  Cheap and filling.  They are awesome.






A single sandwich is a chlebíček.  Chlebíčky is plural.  They are available in both Czechland and Slovakia.

It makes for a quick lunch and they are quite popular at parties.

Veka is a type of long white bread similar to New Orleans French bread.

Take a slice of the bread and cover it with butter, cheese spread, Czech bramborový salát (potato salad), viaššký salát (Wallachian salad) or pařížský salát (Paris salad).

Česky bramborový salát
Czech potato salad contains potatoes, mayonnaise, mustard, onions, eggs, pickles, peas and carrots.  The peas and carrots took aren't found in American potato salads so it took some getting used to when I first moved here.  But now Czech potato salad is my favourite.  At Christmas, this is the traditional side dish with the fried carp.

Pařížský salát is made from mayonnaise, mustard, strips of ham/bologna, peas, pickles, onion, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

Vlaššký salát is pretty much the same thing as pařížský salát plus it contains potatoes and carrots.

Then various toppings such as salami, ham, hard boiled egg, red pepper, pickles, tomato, cucumber, cheese and parsley.

Sometimes they can be quite posh.  Some have crab spread while others contain Brie and Camembert cheese, smoked salmon or pickled Herring.

A chlebíček is an inexpensive snack.  Each one costs 15 - 25 Kč (75¢ - $1.20).  

I had an equivalent sandwich for lunch, in Gothenburg, the last time I was in Sweden.  Like everywhere in Scandinavia everything costs significantly more.  There an open faced shrimp sandwich, räksmörgås, set me back 105 SEK ($13).  It was quite tasty but I would have preferred a chlebíček for 25 Kč.

Monday, February 19, 2018

České dráhy

České dráhy, Czech Railways, was established in 1993 when Czech Republic became an independent country.  It is the successor of Czechoslovak State Railways.  ČD is the country's primary railway operator for both regional and long-distance travel.  It is among Europe's top five largest railway cargo operators.

Until 2008 it was the biggest employer in Czechia.  Today it is the country's 5th largest employer.

ČD operates lots of different types of trains.

Osobní vlak (Os) are passenger trains.  These are Czech local trains that stop at every station along the way.  These are slow trains that take forever to get from point A to point B because they do stop at every possible along the way.

Spěšný vlak (Sp) are local trains but they are a bit faster because they only stop at selected stations.

Rychlík (R) are "fast" trains.  Well, faster than Os and Sp trains.  But still slow and they normally have old carriages.

Rychlík vyšší kvality (Rx) are high-speed trains.  They are faster than the R trains and they normally have new carriages.

Express (Ex) trains are fast trains that link different regions in Czechland.  They are usually faster and more comfortable than the R trains.

Supercity (SC) trains are high-speed trans that run between Ostrava-Olomouc-Pardubice-Prague.

Eurocity (EC) are international trains that travel through at least two countries.  EC trains must meet 20 mandatory criteria for comfort, speed, cleanliness and food service.  All train cars must be air-conditioned, only stop at major cities and stops last no more than five minutes.  All of the conductors must speak at least two languages and one of the two must be either English, French or German.

Euronight (EN) are EC trains with sleeper cars.

Intercity (IC) trains are pretty much the same as EC trains but only travel within the country.  IC and EC trains usually run every hour or every other hour.

Railjet (RJ) trains are high-speed trains run by ČD and ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways) between Czechia and Austria.  The route is Prague-Brno-Vienna-Graz.  Railjet trains travel up to 230 km/h (143 mph).


ÖBB also operates Railjet from Austria to Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and Italy.

For ČD, you can purchase a 3-year In Karta card with a 25% discount on tickets for 990 Kč.  A 3-year In Karta card with a 50% costs 8,490 Kč.

Student Agency runs trains as well.  They run RegioJet (RJ); not to be confused with Railjet, which is pretty much an EC train that runs in Czechia and Slovakia.  I'm looking forward to trying RegioJet as they have just started regular service between Brno and Vienna.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another Shooting

There was another tragic school shooting in the USA.  18 people, 14 students and three adults, died.  And the only thing more tragic about this is that the American government won't do anything other than offer "thoughts and prayers".  I'm so over the "thoughts and prayers".

Since 1 January 2018, there have been 18 school shootings in America.  There have been more than 300 school shootings since 2013.  That's an average of one per week.

In 1988, Pan AM Flight 103 was brought down by a bomb and 259 people died.  As a result, all US airlines were required to x-ray all checked luggage.

One guy on a Paris flight tried to ignite explosives in his shoes and the TSA began randomly searching people's shoes.

More safety regulations were imposed on auto makers when people die from faulty air bags or seat belts.

So why the hell can't the USA enact reasonable gun control to help keep people safe?  The right to bear arms, was about militias, and this has been distorted by the NRA.  And let's face it, the Constitution said that slavery was okay and the Constitution was changed.  So why the hell is an incorrect interoperation of the 2nd amendment so damn sacred?

I'm quite happy that I live in Czechia which is the 6th most peaceful country in the world.  The gun problem just doesn't exist here in Europe like it does in the USA.

Having gun control doesn't mean that you can't have guns and it's not like there aren't any guns in Czechland.  There are more than 300,000 registered gun-license owners and over 700,000 legally-registered guns here.  But people aren't murdered here like in the USA.  In 2003, 16 people were murdered in Czechia with a legally held gun.  In 2007 it was seven people and in 2008 it was two people.

Over here a person much pass and extensive multiple choice test, take a practical test in front of a police commissioner and pass a medical check.  If your GP thinks it necessary then you also have to take a psychological test.  Once all of these criteria are met then you can get a gun license and legally purchase a firearm.

The closest thing to the NRA over here is Český střelecký svaz, the Czech Shooting Federation, but it has no political leverage.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Add 1 Challenge Day 30 Video

So I'm still doing pretty well with my Add 1 Challenge.  I've exceeded my target of studying Czech at least 45 minutes a day, five days per week.  In the past 30 days, I gave myself one day off.  I did at least 45 minutes for 29 days.  That's great for me.

Here's my required 30 day video.  This is only my second video ever.  The video is a bit rough but you get the point.  I really need to learn how to add English subtitles at the bottom of the video but that's just something else to learn now.


In the past 30 days we had to complete our first mini-challenge which was to find three new people to speak your target language with, for at least 30 minutes, on italki.  I had never used italki before but I really like it.  So far, I've done four video sessions.

I've also played around with using memrise a bit to practice vocabulary.

Besides using my text book, I'm using CzechClass101 and I've started reading a few Czech fairy tales.  I rewatched Kolja and Pelíšký without any English subtitles.

Let's see what the second mini-challenge will be.  Maybe I can figure out how to add English subtitles to my 60 day video.

Update:  No day 60 video.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Street Numbers

In Czechland, and Slovakia, all addresses have two sets of street numbers.  It was a bit confusing when I first moved here but I eventually figured it out.

The číslo orientační (reference number) is displayed on a black plate (in Moravia), along with the district/neighbourhood name.  This is the number used by the land registry office.  In Prague the plates are blue.

The číslo popisné (descriptive number) is displayed in red on a white plate, along with the actual street name.

In Europe your address is written as street name followed by house number.  In the USA it is the opposite.  Street number followed by street name.

Your official address is written as street name reference number / descriptive number.  For example,  this one would be written as "Sokolská 360/12".  But your mail will get delivered if it only says "Sokolská 12".

Most of the time you only ever need the descriptive number.  When you order a taxi or have groceries delivered you only give the "red descriptive number".

I've only had to give the full address with both numbers a few times when I've dealt with some government offices.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Brno Street Name History

When Brno was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, all of the street names were written in German.  After 1918, and an independent Czechoslovakia, the street names were written in Czech, although many still had unofficial German versions.  During occupation, the streets were again written in German but now had unofficial Czech versions.  Since the end of WWII, in 1945, all of the signs have been in Czech.

In the 1990s the street names changed again.  Like most countries after the fall of communism, many places in Czechland starting removing communist era names and giving them new names.  Here are some of the biggest name changes that I've come across in some of the various Brno neighbourhoods.

Brno Centre
In 1915, the main square in the centre was called Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Platz.  In 1918, it became náměstí Svobody (Freedom Square).  On 17.3.1939, it was named Adolf-Hitler-Platz during his one day visit to Brno.  The next day it became Freiheitsplatz.  In 1942, it was renamed náměstí Viktoria and in 1945 it once again became náměstí Svobody.

In 1915, the Krautmarkt became Kaiser-Wilhelm-Platz.  In 1918, it became Zelný trh (the Czech version of Krautmarkt).  In 1952, it became náměstí 25. února (February 25th Square) to commemorate the communists taking power in 1948.  In 1990, the square's name was changed back to Zelný trh.

In 1990, náměstí Rudé armády (Red Army Square) became Moravské náměstí (Moravian Square).  The Red Army soldier is still there.

Nová became Reinhard-Heydrich-Straße (třída Reinhardt Heydricha) in 1942, in honour of Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942), the Nazi Reich Protector in Bohemia and Moravia who was assassinated.  In 1945, it became Nová again.  Then in 1946 it became Lidická, in honour of the village of Lidice.  The village in Bohemia was destroyed on 10 June 1942 in retaliation for Heydrich's assassination.

Alois Rašín
Kostelní became ulice 9. května (May 9th Street) in commemoration of the end of WWII.  Remember that the Soviet Union and other communist countries celebrated on 9 May.  After the Velvet Revolution, the day was changed here to 8 May to match the correct time zone of when Nazi Germany actually surrendered.  In 1991, the street became Rašínova to honour Alois Rašín (1867-1923), a politician and national economist who was assassinated.

T.G. Masaryk
Masarykova is the main Brno centre street that runs from the train station to námeěstí Svobody.  In 1939, it was renamed Hermann-Göring-Straße (třída Hermanna Göringa), after Hermann Göring (1893-1946), the German Nazi Air Force Marshal and Minister of Defence.  On 10 may 1945, it became Masarykova again after Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), the father of Czechoslovakia.  In 1955, the communists changed the name to třída Vítězství (Victory Road) in honour of the Red Army's victory over Nazi occupation.

In 1968, even after the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces invaded, the street once again became Masarykova.  Surprise...in 1970, it was renamed třída Vítězství again.  In 1989, after the Velvet Revolution, the street became Masarykova and the name has stood for almost 30 years.

In 1946, Koliště was renamed Stalinovy sady (Stalin Gardens) after Josef Stalin.  In 1953, it became sady Osvobození (Liberation Gardens) in honour of Brno's liberation from Nazi occupation in WWII.  In 1990, it got it's old name back and the street is again called Koliště.

Kobližná was renamed Gagarinova in 1961 in honour of Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968), the Soviet cosmonaut, who in 1961, became the first person to fly in a rocket.  In 1990, Kobližná got its old street name back.

Not everything communist was done away with.  In 1946, náměstí Richarda Wagnera (Richard Wagner Square) was renamed Malinovského náměstí (Malinovsky Square) after Soviet Marshal Rodion Malinovsky (1898-1967), the army commander who liberated Brno from Nazi occupation in 1945.  This is the square where the Mahen Theatre is and there's a Malinovsky memorial nearby.

Veveří
From 1915 to 1918, Veveří used to be called Hindenburgstraße (Hindenburgova), after Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), the German Field Marshal and President.

Václav Kounic
In 1946, Giskrova was remanded Leninova (Lenin Street).  In 1990, the street was renamed Kounicova, after Count Václav Kounic (1848-1913), a Czech nobleman, lawyer and politician who supported Czech secondary school in Brno and who a patron of the Brno university colleges for Czech students.

Obilní trh was renamed Stalingradské náměstí (Stalingrad Square) after the Soviet city in 1946.  In 1963, it became náměstí Sovětských hrdinů (Soviet Heros Square) until it once again became Obilní trh in 1990.

Milan Ratislav Štefánik
In 1946, Pražská (Prague Street) became Eisenhowerova, after Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969), the general of the western allied forces in WWII.  In 1948, the street was renamed Dimitrovova, after George Dimitrov (1882-1949), the Bulgarian communist party official and statesman.  In 1990, it became Štefánikova, named after Milan Ratislav Štefánik (1880-1919), the Czechoslovak astrophysicist and general who was the country's first Minister of Defence.  He helped Masaryk create an independent Czechoslovak Republic.

Královo Pole
Kosmas
In 1958, Manželů Rosenbergových (The Rosenbergs Street) was built in honour of Ethel (1919-1953) and Julius (1921-1953) Rosenberg who were executed in the USA after being found guilty of disclosing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.  In 1991, the street was renamed Kosmova after Kosmas (1045-1125), the founder of Czech historiography.

Jan Skácel
In 1946, Moskevská (Moscow Street) was built.  In 1990, it became Skácelova, in honour of Jan Skácel (1922-1989), a Brno poet, writer, translator and publicist.

Židenice
In 1961, náměstí Komsomolců was built.  Komsomols were members of the communist youth league in the Soviet Union.  In 1991, it became Juliánovské náměstí.

Černá Pole
Milada Horáková
In 1946, Francouzská (France Street), became Churchillova in honour of Winston Churchill (1874-1965).  In 1948, it became třída Jana Masaryka (Jan Masaryk Road), named after Czech diplomat and politician Jan Masaryk (1886-1948), the son of President Masaryk.  Then in 1952, the name was changed to třída Říjnové revoluce (October Revolution Road) to commemorate the 1917 October Revolution in Russia.  In 1990, it became Milady Horáková, in honour of Milada Horáková (1901-1950), a lawyer and sociologist, who was executed by the communist regime following a political show trial.

I'm sure that there are many others.  The name changes over the years is like a living history class.  I never would have known that I lived on the corner of Lenin Street.

I bet all medium to large cities in the U.S. have a Martin Luther King Street.  Most Czech towns all have a Masarykova, Dobrovského, Dvořákova, Jungmannova, KomenskéhoPalackého, and Sokolská.