Monday, September 30, 2019

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949.  It is an international organisation that promotes democracy, protects human rights and is committed to the rule of law in Europe.  Its headquarters are in Strasbourg, France.

It's important to realise that the Council of Europe is not the same thing as the European Union.  Which can be confusing because the EU actually adopted the flag that the council created in 1955.  The council now puts an "e" on the flag to differentiate it from the EU.

The EU doesn't control the council as they are independent.  But no country has ever joined the EU without first being a member of the council.

The Council of Europe can't make binding laws but it can enforce certain agreements made by European states.  It runs the European Court of Human Rights.

The official languages are English and French.  Certain bodies also use German, Italian, and Russian.

Ten countries formed the Council of Europe in 1949 and today there are 47 member countries.  Basically every country in Europe except for Belarus, due to concerns over human rights and the use of the death penalty), Kazakhstan, due to human rights concerns, Kosovo, due to limited recognition, and the Vatican, for being a theocracy.

The "eastern block" countries didn't start joining until after the fall of communism.  Hungary was the first to join in 1990, followed by Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1991, Bulgaria in in 1992 and Romania in 1993.

Czechoslovakia was replaced by Czech Republic and Slovakia following the Velvet Divorce.  East Germany never joined because the the former territory basically joined following the reunification of Germany in 1990.  Yugoslavia wasn't ever a member.  Following the breakup, Slovenia became the first ex-Yugoslav country to join in 1993.  The Soviet Union was never a member either.  The first former Soviet republics to join were Estonia and Lithuania in 1993.  Other former republics joined later on and Russia joined in 1996.    

Montenegro was the most recent country to join back in 2007.

The Vatican does have observer status.  As does Israel, the USA, Canada, Japan, and Mexico.  The council of Europe has observer status with the United Nations.

The death penalty is abolished in member countries.  There's criticism of the USA and Japan each having observer status since the death penalty is still in practice.

Again, since the Council of Europe is not the same thing as the EU, Brexit doesn't apply.  While the UK is leaving the EU it will remain in the Council of Europe.

Here's a video I found out on YouTube that explains more about the Council of Europe

©Council of Europe

Friday, September 27, 2019

EB Diner

So who knew that there was a 50's style American diner out in the middle of Czech nowhere?

It's out in Krhov, a village of 153 people about 29 km (18 miles) north of Brno.

There's an EB Diner in Krhov and in Hradec Králové, each one connected to gas stations.

Very retro with burgers, fries, steaks, wings, and milk shakes.  I think there is also a breakfast menu.

This was the perfect place of an "off-site safety meeting".
I can't wait for the next visit.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Moon is Back

Europe's largest model of the moon is back on display at Kraví hora.  A friend took her daughter by at lunch time today to check it out.

The park is only about a five minute walk for me so I joined them for a few minutes.  It made for a nice break in the middle of the day and I got a chance to see it myself in the day time.

Update: In 2021, the moon was back with the Earth and Mars.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Agile2k19 Conference

Today was the 4th annual Agile Conference at IBM Client Innovation Centre Brno.

This year's Agile2k19 was a half-day of presentations followed by a half-day of interactive workshops.  These conferences are always very energising.

My team started these annual workshops back in 2016.  A couple of the original team members are no longer with IBM but they still came back as guest presenters.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Shanghai-Taiwan 2019 Trip Summary

My trip to Shanghai and Taiwan was an experience.  It seemed to start off a wee bit rough during check-in at Vienna Airport because I didn't need a proper Chinese visa since Shanghai offers their 144-hour visa-free travel option.

I arrived at my hotel on Saturday night.  The rain started later that night.  It rained...and rained...and rained.  This put a damper on my Shanghai experience.  First of all I really shouldn't complain.  Over the past decade of intensive travelling I've never had a serious weather disruption before.  Sure I've been caught in rain before but never enough that my trip would be sidelined.  In the four days I was in China it rained HARD!  I did manage to get some night time photos on Monday evening when there was a break in the rain.  It lasted until late Tuesday afternoon and then it started up again.  So Monday night and Tuesday day; at least I got more or less one full day to explore the city.

From what I saw of Shanghai I liked.  However, I just scratched the surface.  I think a do-over visit is in order.  Especially since I didn't get to visit Nanjing.  Nanjing was the former capital of China until 1949 and it's about 270 km (170 miles) northwest of Shanghai.  It just didn't make sense to ride the train for 90 minutes to visit the city in pouring rain.  So Nanjing is still on the bucket list.

On Thursday morning it was off to Taiwan.  I started off in Taipei and it was great.  It did rain while I was there but it only rained overnight.  The days were gorgeous.

I did a few free walking tours with Like It Formosa.  Highly recommended, especially the food tour.  The food was just incredible especially at the night markets.  I even found a corn dog which I haven't had in about 7 years.  Not quite the same as back home but still good.  The only thing missing was the mustard.

On Monday I took the high speed rail to Kaohsiung to spend a few days in the second-largest city.

Kaohsiung is definitely worth the 90 minute train ride.

The area surrounding the Lotus Pond is awesome.

There's lots to see and you can spend a whole day just here.

I did a couple more walking tours with Like It Formosa in Kaohsiung as well.  There was one rainy day but I used my Shanghai souvenir umbrella and soldiered on.

Just like in Taipei, the food was oh so good.  And cheap as chips.  But for sure it's not low-carb with all of the rice, noodles, and dumplings.

In one of the night markets there was a place that I found fried soup dumplings.  Wow!

One of the best bits in Kaohsiung was Cijin Island and it's only a 10-minute ferry ride across the harbour.  A beach, palm trees and 32℃ (90℉).  It felt like paradise.

On Friday I took the high-speed rail back to Taipei.  It was the start of the Moon Festival so on the train they gave out small moon cakes.

On my last night in Taipei I had to go for a shaved ice.  Really decadent but worth it.  After this trip I'm going to have to put in some extra time on the elliptical machine.

I wasn't ready to give up the 32℃ in Taiwan for the 20℃ (68℉) at home in Brno.  I survived the 24 hours of travel to get home and had to immediately begin Operation Laundry.

I got officially spoiled on the trip home.  From Taipei to Doha I had my first experience in Qsuite which is the new Qatar Airways business class.  It's only available on certain planes and routes.  I had my own cubicle with a door, a fully lie-flat bed, and they gave me pyjamas.  After this, the hassles I had at the start of my trip are nothing.  Travel may never be the same again.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Cijin Island, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Cijin Island is a thin island in Kaohsiung Harbour which serves as a natural breakwater.

The ferry over to the peninsula costs NT$25 (€0,72 / $0.85) and takes about 10 minutes.

The Kaohsiung Lighthouse sits on Cijin.  It was built in 1883 and restored by the Japanese in 1918.

There are a number of temples and markets on Cijin.  It's a popular place for fresh seafood.

The biggest draw for me were the palm trees and a shot at some beach time.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Kaohsiung高雄, is located in the southwest of Taiwan about 362 km (225 miles) from Taipei.  It is home to 2,7 million people and is its second largest city.

The city's port is the world's 6th largest cargo-container seaport.

Kaohsiung, used to be known as Takao and it started off as a small fishing village in the 17th century.

The Daitian Temple was built in 1951.  There's a Taoist hall in the front and a Buddhist hall in the back.

The Qing Shui Temple was built in 1787.  When entering temples, it is auspicious to enter on the left and exiting on the right side provides an escape from danger.  Only the Gods may enter via the middle, unless you are holding holy statues.

The Chi Ming Palace was built to promote Confucianism 1899.  The palace was rebuilt in 1973.

The statue of the Xuantian Emperor is 22 metres (72 feet) tall.  It's the tallest god stature on water in Southeast Asia.

The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas were built in 1976.

The Pillar to Heaven and Protection of the Land at Lotus Lake is a memorial to the victims of a 7.3 earthquake that hit Taiwan on 21.9.1999.

The Wuli Pavilion is a symbol of good fortune.

Near Lotus Lake stands part of the Old Fongshan City Wall that dates back to the Qing Dynasty.

The Tianfu Palace was built in 1660, at about the end of the Ming Dynasty I think.

The Kaohsiung Confucius Temple was originally built in 1684.  At 167 square metres (1800 sq ft) it is the largest Confucian temple in Taiwan.  During the Japanese colonial period it fell into disrepair and the new temple was built in 1976.

Near the Lotus Pond is Shoushan National Park, also known as Monkey Mountain.  It is 356 metres (1168 feet) tall.

Kao Tong Tong is the city's agricultural mascot.  We needed to get a selfie together.

The Pier-2 Art Center used to be an old sugar warehouse during the Japanese era.  The area was rebuilt in the 1962 and today it is a contemporary art gallery with grass lawns between warehouses and old railway tracks.

The 85 Sky Tower was completed in 1997.  It is 347,5 metres (1140 feet) tall and it was tallest skyscraper in Taiwan until Taipei 101 was completed in 2004.

The former British Consulate was built in 1879.  It's currently a historic site with a popular cafe for the tourists.

The Kaohsiung Lighthouse was built in 1883 and was restored in 1918.  It actually sits on Cijin Island.

The port is the 15th biggest in the world.

The Dome of Light is a public artwork found at the Formosa Boulevard MRT station.  It is the world's largest stained glass installation made up of 4.500 glass panels.

The food here is simply incredible.  One of the local night markets had the best Xiao Long Bao - soup dumplings.  Delicious and super inexpensive.

Gua Bao is a "Taiwanese hamburger".  It's a steamed fluffy bun with pork and fatty pork belly that's topped with pickled mustard greens, crushed peanuts and coriander.  Tasty but I prefer it also with some hot chilli.

Kaohsiung is well worth a visit.  Especially when the high speed rail only takes around 90 minutes from Taipei.

One of the interesting things I saw was the musical garbage truck.  Not sure if this is only a Kaohsiung thing or a Taiwan thing.