Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Back in Ljubljana, Slovenia

It's been a few years but I made it back to Slovenia.  I had two days of meetings in Ljubljana so an early flight on Sunday provided an opportunity to revisit this beautiful city.



The National Gallery celebrates its 100th anniversary on 18 September 1918.  Like Czechoslovakia, several other countries became independent following the end of WW1 including Czechoslovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Ljubljana is a really nice place to visit.  I can't believe that it's been seven years since I was last there. I definitely won't let so much time go by before my next visit.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Commonwealth of Australia

In November I'm off to the Land Down Under.  Two weeks in "Oz" followed by a few days in Wellington (hopefully minus an earthquake) and Hong Kong. I'm well excited for this holiday.  So here's a bit about Australia.

The Commonwealth of Australia consists of mainland Australia, the island of Tasmania, and a few smaller islands including Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, Coral Sea Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and Norfolk Island.  I grew up learning that Australia is the both the world's biggest island and the smallest continent.  But it seems to be the biggest country in Oceania.

Australia is +7,68 million km² (2.9 million sq miles) making it the world's 6th biggest country.  It's slightly smaller than the 48 contiguous states.  It is located between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean.  With no land borders, the closest neighbouring countries to the north are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and East Timor.  To the north-east are the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.  To the south-east is New Zealand.

Australia was inhabited by indigenous people for about 60,000 years before Dutch explorers landed in 1606.  About 150 years later the French landed and in 1770 Great Britain claimed the eastern half.  The British settled New South Wales as a penal colony.

In 1901, Australia formally became the Commonwealth of Australia.  It is a federal parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy.  It is made up of six states and several territories.  Australia is home to more than 23 million people.  The capital is Canberra and Sydney is the largest city.  Other notable cities include Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Cairns, and Alice Springs.

Australia is a long way from everywhere and almost everyone arrives by plane.  A flight to New Zealand takes three hours.  Most Asian countries take 7 to 11 hours to fly there and it can take about 24 hours or more to get there from Euroland.    

The country has the world's 9th largest immigrant population.  About 26% of the population was born outside of the the country.  Those seeking asylum, and arriving by boat, have a difficult time as all asylum seekers are housed and processed on the island nation of Nauru.  Some applicants have been redirected to Cambodia instead.  Here's a short video I found out on YouTube talking about immigration in Australia.
©Al Jazeera

$1
Australia has no official language.  However, the de facto language is English, with that charming Crocodile Dundee accent.  

The Australian Dollar (AUD) is the official currency.  The currency is also used in Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.  Australia has the world's 12th-largest economy and the 10th-highest per capita income.

Here's a short video about how powerful the country is.  
©Test Tube News

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Africa

Since I made it to every country in Europe, many people have asked me if my new goal is to see every country in Asia or Africa.  The short answer is "no", but there is a bit more to it.  Whilst I have been to every county in Europe, I for sure haven't seen everything.  Heck, I still manage to see new things here in Brno so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.  With that being said, I am excited about my July trip to Johannesburg and Cape Town.  I've been on day trips to Morocco and Egypt, but to me this will be my first real trip to Africa.  Here's a bit about it.

Africa is huge!!  It's the second largest continent, both in size and population.  It's home to more than 1.2 Billion people.  Africa has 30,370,000 km² (11,730,000 sq miles).

Within its borders it could basically fit Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Eastern Europe, India, China, Japan, the USA, and the UK.

There's a lot of diversity in Africa.  Starting with the 54 independent  countries.

North Africa - Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, and Tunisia.  Western Sahara is disputed territory.  Many people include parts of Northern Africa as the Middle East.

West Africa - Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.  Saint Helena is a British dependency.

Central Africa - Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sāo Tomé and Principe.

East Africa - Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.  Réunion and Mayotte are French dependencies.  Eastern Africa is widely accepted as the place of human origin.

Southern Africa - Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland.

While the continent if rich in natural resources, it is the poorest and most underdeveloped continent.  Of the world's 28 poorest countries, 23 of them are in Africa.

In the 19th century, European powers scrambled to lay claim to parts of Africa and established colonies.  Here's a film clip from Uganda Rising that I found on YouTube that briefly talks about the European colonies in Africa.


Following the end of WWII, with European power weakened, most colonial powers starting gaining formal independence.  

©Test Tube News

The cities of Ceuta and Melillla are Spanish exclaves in North Africa so they belong to Spain.  The Plazas de Soberanía are small islands off the coast of Morocco that also belong to Spain.  Off the northwest coast of Africa is Madeira, an archipelago that is an autonomous region of Portugal, and the Canary Islands, an archipelago belonging to Spain.


There are more than 1000 languages spoken in Africa.  Almost every country has a European language as an official language with English and French being the most popular.  Portuguese is official in six countries.

Islam is the largest religion in Africa followed by Christianity and traditional beliefs.

Africa is not a great place to be gay.  Homosexuality is against the law in 34 countries.  Being gay in Uganda, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone can result in imprisonment for life.  The death penalty is in place in Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria.  The exception is South Africa which was the first country in the world to protect sexual orientation in its constitution.  South Africa, the Spanish and French territories all permit same-sex marriage.

You can't talk about Africa without considering the impact of slavery on the continent.  Between the 7th and 20th centuries, the Arab slave traders took 18 million slaves Africa.  Between the 15th and 19th centuries, between 7 to 12 million slaves were taken to the the Caribbean, North and South America during the Atlantic slave trade.

The continent has its share of current problems including authoritarian governments, political instability, corruption, armed conflicts, human rights violations, illiteracy and high levels of HIV/AIDS.

©Al Jazeera

Africa is home to just over 15% of the world's population.  Yet, more than two-thirds of the world's HIV/AIDS cases are in here.  Over 15 million people have died which has left many orphans and quite a young population.

Prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Africa, total (% of population ages 15–49), in 2011 (World Bank)
  over 15%
  5-15%
  2-5%
  1-2%
  0.5-1%
  0.1-0.5%
  not available























The African Union is their version of the European Union.  Except that every African country is a member of the AU.

©Test Tube News

Many believe that Africa is the future of economic growth.  Over the past years China has invested lots of money and today it is Africa's largest trading partner.  Ghana, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Senegal, and Tanzania, are among the world's fastest growing economies.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GDPR

GDPR is on its way.  The General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, was passed by in April 2016 and it gets implemented on 25 May 2018.  There's a lot to it and but the bottom line is that Europe will now have the world's strongest data protection rules.

The GDPR directive gives control to European citizens, and residents, of their personal data.  The personal data can be anything that helps identify you including a person's name, a photo, an e-mail address, medical information, bank details, social media posts, and even computer data to include location data, an IP address, cookie data, and RFID tags.

Companies need to obtain informed consent from a person before collecting, storing, or using any personal data.  Any data collected must be minimised, accurate, portable, and secure.  An individual has the right to be forgotten which means that a company must delete personal data upon request and provide proof of deletion without any undue delay.  And in the case of a data breach, consumers must be notified within 72 hours.

This pertains to all EU and EEA countries.  It also pertains to companies outside of Europe if the personal data leaves Europe.  So for example, although I am an American citizen, I am a European resident so my personal data falls under GDPR protection when I sign up for a random mailing list in the USA.

And it's not like business can just ignore the law.  Fines for not complying with GDPR can reach up to €20 million or 4% of a company's global annual turnover.  For every time they violate the directive.  Ouch!!

Here are a couple of short videos I found out on YouTube that talk about GDPR.

©CNN Money

©Wall Street Journal

Sunday, May 13, 2018

2018 Eurovision Final Results

Last night were the 2018 Eurovision finals.  The top 26 countries from semi-final #1 and semi-final#2 competed.

Mikolas Josef performed great and, with 281 points, he finished in 6th place.  That's the highest the Czechland has ever placed.  Way to go!

Here's his performance from last night's grand final.

©Eurovision

Netta Barzilai and her song Toy placed first with 529 points.  So next year's contest will be in Israel.  Here's her winning performance from last night.

©Eurovision

Friday, May 11, 2018

2018 Eurovision Semi-Final Results

It's Eurovision time again and this year's contest is held in Lisbon, Portugal.  Tuesday night was the first semi-final and 19 countries competed with the top 10 moving on to Saturday night's grand final.

Mikolas Josef competed and he did Czechland proud!  He ended the night in third place with his song Lie to Me.  Not bad considering he injured his back last week during the first rehearsal.

Here's his performance from the first semi-final.  Hopefully he'll do well on Saturday night.  Hodně štěstí!

©Eurovision

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Chernobyl Tour, Ukraine

ChernobylЧорнобиль, is about 104 km (65 miles) north of Kyiv.  It was founded in 1193 and gained city status in 1941.  Chernobyl is most known for the world's worst nuclear accident which occurred on 26 April 1986 in what was the Soviet Union.

Here's a video I found on YouTube that does a very good job of simplifying the science behind what went wrong.
©Radio Free Europe
And here's an RT video about some of the delays in evacuating people following the accident.

©RT News


First Responders Memorial
Prior to the accident, Chernobyl was home to about 14,000 people.  Today the population is about 690.  Chernobyl falls within the 30 km (18.5 miles) exclusion zone.  It's pretty much a ghost town and many of the people there work two-week shifts there and then leave for two weeks.

In 2015, Ukraine passed legislation for decommunisation.  Street names and public places with communist-related themes received new names while communist symbols were removed.  But there's still a statue of Lenin standing in Chernobyl.

There were about 160 villages that fell within the exclusion zone and were evacuated.




ZalissyaЗалісся, was home to 2,849 people.  Nature has taken over the village and it really looks like something out a zombie apocalypse movie.

Within the exclusion zone is the once top-secret Duga radar station. It was an over-the-horizon radar system that functioned as an anti-ballistic missile early-warning system.  The system used to produce powerful shortwave radio bursts that produced a repetitive tapping sound so it became known as the Russian Woodpecker.

The station  was in service from July 1976 until December 1989.

The other two stations that made up the system have since been destroyed.  However, this site can't be demolished because of the radioactive particles that would be released in to the air.

KopachiКопачі, is another village that has been evacuated since 1986.  All of the houses were torn down and buried but at the time the government hadn't realised that this further contaminated the soil and water.

There's a WW2 monument and just a kindergarten and another brick building still standing.  Going in to the kindergarten is hauntingly surreal.



The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is 14,5 km (9 miles) from Chernobyl and 16 km (10 miles) from the border with Belarus.

It used to be called the Lenin Nuclear Power Station and in Soviet times it produced 10% of the electricity in Ukraine.

Reactor #4 was the one that exploded.  Even still, the other three reactors remained in service.

It is now covered with the new sarcophagus which was the world's largest movable structure.

Here's a video about the new sarcophagus.
©NBC News

PripyatПрипять, is 1.5 km (1 mile) from power plant and it was built for the workers.  It was founded in 1970 and declared a city in 1979.  It had been home to 49,360 people before everyone was eventually evacuated in the afternoon on 27 April 1986.


It was once a model Soviet city but today it is a full on ghost town.

The city's amusement park never actually opened.  It was scheduled to open on 1 May in time for the annual May Day festivities.





There are strict rules to be followed while on the Chernobyl tour.  As a safety precaution, we were scanned three different times throughout the day.

Visiting Chernobyl and Pripyat is another item I get to cross off of my bucket list.  I've been on many tours before but I must say that this was by far the best one I've ever been on.  It's a long day but definitely a must do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Back in Kyiv, Ukraine

Independence Square
The only time I've been to Ukraine was back in March 2015 when I had a one-day layover in Kyiv.  I didn't get to see a lot but it was enough that I knew I would for sure make it back again.

St. Michal's Cathedral


This time I spent two days in Kyiv really exploring the city.  I did visit some of the same sights again like Independence Square, St. Michael's Cathedral and St. Andrew's Church.  
St. Andrew's Church 






Luckily this time I managed to see even more.


Pechersk Lavra is the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves.  It was founded in 1051 and it is still an important pilgrimage destination for Orthodox believers.  The 28 hectares (69 acre) complex is huge and you can tour the caves.

The National Art Museum of Ukraine has a collection of 20,000 pieces.  The building was constructed in 1898.





At Eternal Glory Park is the monument to the millions of victims of the Great Famine of 1932-1933.  Below the monument is a museum.

At the park is also the Monument of Eternal Glory.  There is an eternal flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  The monument was unveiled in 1957.

Ukrainian House is the International Convention Centre.  It opened in 1982 and it used to be the Vladimir Lenin Museum.



The Dynamo Stadium opened in 1934.  It is home to the Kyiv Dynamo Football Club.



The Olympic National Sports Complex is the second-largest stadium in Eastern Europe.  It opened in 1923, was expanded in 1978, and renovated in 2011.  The stadium was used during the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The Afghanistan War Memorial was unveiled in 1994.  It honours the Ukrainian soldiers who died serving in the Soviet military during the 1979-1989 war.

The Salute Hotel was built in 1984.  It's architecture was unique for the time which made it quite popular.

The Arsenal metro station is the deepest in the world.  The station opened in 1960 and it is 105.5 metres (346 feet) deep.





It is so deep that it can take up to 10 minutes just to take both escalators down to the trains.

The Verkhovna Rada is the Supreme Council of Ukraine.  The parliament building was completed in 1939 and like most building had to be renovated after the war.

Mariyinsky Palace is the official residence of the Ukrainian President.  It was built from 1750 to 1755 and was intended to be a miniature Versailes.




Mariynsky Park was founded in 1874.  There's a granite statue at the grave of Soviet Army General Vatutin who liberated the city from the Nazis in 1944.



The Kyiv opera company is the third oldest in the country.  The Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian National Opera House opened in 1901.

The Motherland Monument was unveiled in 1981.  It is 62 metres (203 feet) tall and weighs 450 tons.

The monument is on top of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War.  The museum opened in 1981 and until 2015 it was simply called the Museum of the Great Patriotic War.

The museum is quite interesting and there's currently a large exhibition documenting Russian aggression in the east.

Near the Love Bridge, also known as the Devil's Bridge, is a statue called Love Story.  In 1943, Luigi was an Italian POW and Mokryna was a displaced worker.  They met in an Austrian war camp and they spent two years together.  In 2004, after 60 years, the couple was finally reunited on TV.

I was able to see quite a bit of the city.  Although I probably could have spent another day or two checking out all of the sites.  But I had limited time as I wanted to be sure to fit in my tour to Chernobyl.