Thursday, December 31, 2020

PF 2021

Šťastný nový rok!  

Happy New Year! 

PF 2021

What a year 2020 has been and I'm glad that it is just about over.  Here's hoping that 2021 will be much better.

2020 was supposed to be a big travel year.  I was all set with trips to 20 countries in 2020.  I started off strong and then COVID-19 came in and flipped the script.  However, I was fortunate enough to still hit 8 countries.


Since 2009, I always visit at least one new country a year.  This year it was going to be Vietnam and Cambodia.  That didn't happen so my streak came to an end.  Oh well.  The biggest disappointment was not getting to the USA this year.  I missed getting to see my parents, Steven & Michael, and make it to my nieces's high school graduation which ended up getting cancelled anyway due to COVID-19.  Hopefully I can make it over to the USA in 2021 but it all depends on how quickly the vaccine gets distributed. 

I can't believe that I don't have any travel planned right now.  By this time of the year I've normally pretty much planned out the entire year.  As of now, nothing is in the diary.  I haven't even bothered to look at the 2021 public holiday calendar to find out what long weekends we'll have next year.  Very unlike me.  

At least I'm safe and don't have COVID-19.  All of my family is safe and doing their best to keep isolated.

My biggest hope for 2021 is that I can finally sit for my language exam and citizenship test.  If I pass, and can submit my paperwork then hopefully I'll get Czech citizenship some time in 2022.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas 2020

Merry Covid Christmas!  With the lockdown there was no way for me to go to Berlin for Christmas this year.  So just like the virtual Thanksgiving, this year Christmas is on Skype.  

Der Weihnachtsmann still made an appearance to drop off a bag of presents.  Just this year it was at the fence and he didn't come inside the house.

Dinner in Berlin

Claudia's mom usually makes Bolletten, traditional Berlin meatballs, on the 24th.  

So I decided on meatballs for dinner so that we'd all be on the same page.  Not as good as her's but not bad.  There was even some red and green cabbage in that care package I received so it felt more like being there.

This morning, we got up early and Skyped with our favourite Kiwi in Wellington and tonight I'll FaceTime with my family in California.

I've got to admit that Christmas was way better last year.  Hopefully 2021 will be more normal.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Carp Time

It's carp buying time.  

Pandemic or no pandemic, nothing is going to get in the way of Czechs getting carp for Christmas dinner.  Going on 12 years here and I still can't get behind fried carp and potato salad for Christmas.

I still haven't decided what I'm going to have for dinner.  Something easy for sure since it will just be me.  Like the virtual Thanksgiving, this is going to be a virtual Christmas dinner.  

Friday, December 18, 2020

BER Finally Opens

Well it finally happened.  The new Berlin Brandenburg Airport opened on 31 October 2020.  It was supposed to open back in 2011.  Six later opening dates were also missed.  So much for German engineering.

BER was supposed to be a hub for Airberlin, Germania, Germanwings, Easyjet, and Lufthansa.  Well Airberlin closed in 2017, Germania closed in 2019, and Germanwings closed in April 2020. 

There were two airports in Berlin.  Tegel (TXL) in the north and Schönefeld (SXF) in the south-east part of the city.

BER has three terminals.  Terminal 1 is the brand new terminal.  Terminal 2 was supposed to be for the low cost airlines but it's currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Terminal 5 is actually the former Schönefeld Airport which is primarily for Ryanair and some charter flights but it too is currently closed due to decreased demand due to COVID-19.

I remember that the first European protest I saw was about the airport.  The original cost was supposed to be €2,83 billion ($3.47 billion) but in the end it was around €7 billion ($8.59 billion).

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube that gives a bit of the history of Berlin's airports.


©Al Jazeera

Here's a really good 7 minute video that goes in to all of the problems and what all exactly went wrong.

©DW News

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Brno Christmas Market 2020

Despite COVID-19, Brno still has its Christmas markets but they feel sad and empty to me. 






All of the stands are social distanced.  The new restrictions prohibit drinking in public it looked like there wouldn't be any mulled wine this year.  However the government changed the rules on this one.  However, you can only get a svařak or medovina (hot honey wine) along a side street; not at the main market.

This doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  It seems that this just encourages people to drink in a more confined space.

This will be the first time that ever that I don't get my favourite Christmas punch.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

No Euro Yet

When I was deciding to make the move to Czechland many years ago, it looked like the country would change its currency from the Koruna to the Euro around 2015.  This was a selling point for me because I thought it would be a once in a lifetime experience to go through a currency switch.  Well I've been here 11,5 years and there's no outlook in sight for ever actually making the move.

When Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 it became legally obligated to adopt the Euro once it fulfilled the necessary requirements for joining the Eurozone.  There's a lot to be gained by adopting the Euro.  Three of the four countries bordering Czechland all use the Euro.  More than 57% of the country's foreign trade is with countries using the Euro, almost one-third just with Germany.  If Czechia was on the Euro then it would be easier for businesses to conduct trade because no one would have to factor in foreign exchange rates.  

Czechs are reluctant to give up the Czech Crown because they know that while it would be better for the country overall, it means that things will become more expensive as prices get rounded up but salaries won't.  The country could join the Eurozone whenever it wanted to but every time it gets close to meeting all of the requirements it seems to purposefully flub things up so that can just keep kicking the can down the road.

The government has just said that due to economic conditions resulting from COVID-19 and this year's budget deficit that the country will not set a date yet to adopt the Euro because the prerequisites for joining will not be met.

There are 19 countries on the Euro.  When it was first introduced Denmark and the UK opted out.  Now that the UK has left the EU after Brexit, only Denmark doesn't have to make the switch.  Besides Czechland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden all still need to give up their national currencies for the Euro.

Here's a short video I found on YouTube about Slovakia, from 2008, right before it was to adopt the Euro. in 2009.  It could be about Czechia today.     

©DW News

Thursday, December 10, 2020

2020 Hanukkah

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. 

Whilst I'm not Jewish I did grow up in California where there are plenty of mixed families that celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.  

Often called Hanumas or Christmakkah

So for those that celebrate the Festival of Lights...

!!חנוכה שמח Šťastnou Chanuku!!  Happy Hanukkah!!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Christmas Care Package Happiness

It's been a while since I received a care package so I was shocked when the postman delivered one on Friday. 

It's been a crazy year.  Given the postal delays to the USA and New Zealand I didn't even mail out Christmas cards this year.

Since I didn't really get to travel much this year my niece and nephew aren't getting their annual Christmas packages with Advent calendars.  Instead they're getting cash this year.

Germany is on full lock down now until 10 January so there's no going to Berlin for Christmas this year.  Well since Uncle Chris can't go to Berlin then Claudia and Tünde decided to send me a few things for Christmas.

I wasn't planning on even putting up a tree this year but now I kind of had to since I needed a place to put the goodies.   

So today out came the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

2020 World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  The pandemic that's been going on for over 35 years. 

At the end of 2019, 76 million people have been infected with HIV/AIDS and about 33 million people have died.  Around 1,7 million people acquire the virus every year.

Over 35 years and there's still not a vaccine.

I've heard people make comparisons between the AIDS pandemic and COVID-19.  The thing to remember about HIV is that the infection is for life.  There's no cure for it.

HIV has been on the rise in Czechland for the last several years and last year the country had the world's 5th largest increase.

Hopefully once COVID-19 gets under control, then the free HIV testing centres here will be able to re-open.

While there is no vaccine, or cure, available for HIV at least there is PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).  PrEP is a once-a-day pill that combines two antiretroviral medications that helps prevent transmission of the virus.  Again, not a vaccine because if you stop taking the pill then you can catch the virus.  

PrEP is covered by Czech health insurance and a 30-day supply of PrEP here only costs 1100 Kč ($51). In the USA, without health insurance, the cost is $1,600 - $2,000 (34 340 - 42 925 Kč) per month.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Exams Postponed Again

I finally got the news today that my Czech citizenship and language exams, that I was supposed to take on Saturday, have been postponed again due to the new state of emergency getting extended.  I had a feeling that this would happen but it wasn't made official until this morning. 

I've already waited an extra seven months since they were postponed the first time.

The new tests are supposed to take place maybe in January or February 2021.  I don't think that's going to happen.  In January there will be another surge following Christmas and New Year's so maybe late February at the earliest.

I was told that priority will be given to those who have had their exams postponed.  I better get extra priority since my exams have been postponed twice.

I paid for the exams back in November 2019.  I was told that if I want I can get a refund.  However, a refund will cause me to forfeit my priority whenever the exams are actually offered.  Also, next year the cost of the exams will increase so I declined the refund option.

Update:  My new exam date is 10.4.2021.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

12th Annual Czechsgiving

The 12th annual Brno Czechsgiving was much smaller than in previous years.  Certainly smaller than last year's fiesta.  Due to COVID-19 and the new state of emergency it just wasn't meant to be this year.

The smallest Turkey ever


On the bright side the cooking didn't take as long.  Last year's bird was 11 kg (24 lbs) while this year I just ordered a turkey breast that was only 600 g (1,3 lb) since it was just going to be for me. Yet I still ended up with leftovers.

Claudia ordered food from a restaurant in Friedrichshagen and her parents come over for dinner.  We then got on Skype and had a virtual Thanksgiving.  

Basically like one of the recent virtual pub nights but with dinner.

It was nice to keep the tradition alive but I did miss all of the madness that goes along with a flat full of people all getting together to celebrate the holiday.  Hopefully we can all get together again next year. 

I have a feeling that it's going be a virtual Christmas as well this year.

Friday, November 20, 2020

PES

The Ministry of Health is now using a colour-coded scale, from 0-100, that corresponds to the current COVID-19 threat level.  Protiepidemický systém, PES, is the anti-epidemic system.  "Pes" is the Czech word for "dog" so there are 5 different coloured dogs.

Green is level 1 (0-20) and equals a state of caution.  

The epidemic is under control, the number of infected people int he entire population is low, the epidemic is not growing significantly, testing and tracing of contacts is effective, low risk of community spread of the disease.

Yellow is level 2 (21-40) and equals a state of attention.

Local outbreaks of the disease appear, which require immediate anti-epidemic intervention with the protection of vulnerable groups, high emphasis on maximum effectiveness of testing and tracing of contacts.

Orange is level 3 (41-60) and equals an emergency.

The spread of the epidemic is growing, the pressure on the health care system is increased, the situation requires intensive monitoring of the number of infected and hospitalised, high emphasis on the maximum effectiveness of testing and tracing of contacts, high risk of community spread of the disease.

Red is level 4 (61-75) and equals a serious condition.

The number of infected people in the population is high, there ism a significant immediate risk of further deterioration of the situation, tracing of contacts is limited, community spread of the disease is taking place.

Purple is level 5 (76-100) and equals a critical condition.

The total capacity of the hospital inpatient and intensive care system is beginning to approach its limit, the number of infected people in the population is high, including the intervention of vulnerable groups population, tracing of contacts is significantly limited, community spread of the disease is taking place.

There are restrictions at each level.  For example, restaurants are closed and only take-out windows open at levels 4 and 5.

The current PES level is published daily on the Ministry of Health website.  The website shows the score for the entire country and for each district.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Another Virtual Pub Night

Thanks to the new state of emergency our regular pub night isn't possible.  So Friday was time for another virtual meet-up.  

I'm starting to lose it a bit I think with all of this virtual-ness.  All of my work meetings are virtual, all of my Czech classes are virtual, and we're back to pub night being virtual.  Even Czechsgiving this year will be virtual.  

As maddening as all of this is, I'm thankful that I'm healthy and that work is fine.  Busy but fine.  All of my friends and family are healthy too.  But I am so looking forward to life getting back to normal.  Whatever that will look like in the future.

Friday, November 6, 2020

eRouška

Another tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is eRouška.  It's a mobile application that notifies you anonymously of risky encounters with infected people.



If an eRouška user tests positive for COVID-19 then the public health officer gives him or her a verification SMS code that the user will send anonymously through the application.  People who were closer than 2 metres apart and longer than for 15 minutes will be notified by eRouška to get tested.

The application doesn't collect any personal data or your location.  The application is free and it's available for Apple and Android devices.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

My Absentee Ballot Finally Arrived

Yesterday, 3 November was the U.S. Presidential election.  Due to the postal delays because of COVID-19 my absentee ballot finally arrived. Today.  It arrived...today.  The day after the election.

Thankfully I was able to submit a write-in ballot and it made it back to Atlanta in time to be counted.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Rome Family Reunion

Today was a little reunion on Skype with the Rome family.  It's hard to believe that our trip to Rome was 9,5 years (and 4 kids) ago.  Where does the time go?  

I haven't seen Janelle since the Rome trip.  I saw Eiko in Helsinki in March.  I think I last saw Liz at Eiko's wedding in Helsinki in 2016.

Since we couldn't get together this year, due to COVID-19, Skype was the the next best thing.  

Friday, October 23, 2020

2020 Pride Business Forum

The 10th annual Pride Business Forum was supposed to take place in Prague on 17 June but it was cancelled due to COVID-19. 

So today the event was streamed live, with parts having been pre-recorded.  I was impressed with how well the organisers pulled this off.
The entire event is available on YouTube.  It is 2 hours, 44 minutes long.

©Pride Business Forum

Among the key guests include:

Fabrice Houdart, Managing Director, Out Leadership

Vladimír Dlouhý, President, the Czech Chamber of Commerce

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on SOGI

Zdeněk Hřib, Mayor of Prague

Dagmar Kuchtová, Director General, the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic

For the first time, IBM placed first for the the LGBT Friendly Employer Award.  If you don't watch the entire video you can skip to IBM winning at 1:46:41.


The jury praised IBM's comprehensive approach to LGBT equality in the workplace, including setting internal rules against discrimination and homophobic / transphobic bullying, a proactive approach to recruiting and retaining LGBT talent, active work by internal employee resource group and strong support for LGBT people in Czech society.  In particular, the jury praised the active role that IBM's management played in the country's debate on equal marriage in 2019.

IBM tied for first with last year's winner Vodafone.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

My FWAB Arrived

My Federal Absentee Write-In Ballot, that I had to drop off at the Prague Embassy almost three weeks, arrived in Atlanta.  It took about 2,5 weeks via diplomatic mail to the USA and then normal post to Georgia.  The good news is that I have confirmation that they received my ballot.

I was able to cast a vote for President and for the Senate.      

At least I was able to submit the write-in ballot.  Given the postal delays due to COVID-19 it's anyone's guess when my real absentee ballot will actually show up.

Monday, October 5, 2020

New State of Emergency

As of today there is a new state of emergency in Czech Republic. The country was doing well in keeping COVID-19 in check, including being the first country to mandate face masks.  However, with the recent surge of cases, Czechia is now the worst country in Europe for new infections.

The new state of emergency will last for 30 days.

  • Groups over 10 people indoors or over 20 people outdoors, except for family members, are prohibited.
  • Concerts and theatre performances involving singing are prohibited. 
  • Theatre, film or other performances, without sining, can take place for less than 500 people.  Everyone must be seated and no refreshments are allowed.
  • Sporting events can take place with up to 130 people but no spectators are allowed.
  • Religious services may take place for up to 130 people but no singing is allowed.
  • Restaurants can only have up to 6 people at a single table.  There needs to be 2 metres between tables.
  • In all red or amber regions, only distance learning is permitted for secondary schools, higher vocational schools, and universities.
  • Plus masks are back.

Hopefully this will allow things to get back on track.

Update:  As of 9 October there are additional restrictions.

  • All casinos and gambling places are closed.
  • The use of indoor sports grounds is prohibited.
  • All swimming pools and wellness facilities are closed.
  • All zoos are closed.
  • Restaurants now must close at 8 pm with no more than four people allowed to sit at a single table.
  • At food courts only two people can sit at a table together.
  • A maximum of two people may enter shopping centres together.
  • No public wireless internet is available in shopping centres (to prevent people from congregating there).
Update:  As of 12 October there are additional restrictions.
  • All cultural, sporting and social events, religious services, dance or club events are cancelled for over 10 people indoors or 20 people outdoors.  There's an exception for members of the same household.
  • All trade fairs, fun fairs, and carnivals are prohibited.
  • Weddings and funerals can have up to 500 people as observers.  A maximum of 30 people can be active participants while maintaining social distancing of at least 2 metres and wearing masks. 
  • Students are not allowed at universities except for clinical, practical teaching and internships for students in general medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and healthcare programmes.
  • Teaching at secondary schools, higher vocational schools, and conservatories is prohibited.
  • Elementary schools are divided into half-classes and the classes alternate weeks. Al l school clubs and leisure centres are banned.
  • Group language school courses are prohibited in person.

Update: As of 13 October there are additional restrictions.
  • School attendance is banned on 26 and 27 October.
  • Public authorities will limit public office hours, over the next two weeks, to only two days per week, for five hours per day.
  • Visits to medical and social facilities are banned.
  • Masks must be work at mass transit stops, platforms and waiting rooms.
  • People may not congregate in one place, either inside or outside, in groups over six people.
  • Bars and Restaurants are closed.  Take out windows can operate only until 8 pm.
  • All music, dance, gaming, social clubs, and discotheques are closed.
  • Public consumption of alcohol is prohibited.
  • Elementary schools will be completely closed from 14 October until 2 November.  
Update:  As of 21 October, people have to wear face masks even in cars if they are not from the same household.

Update:  As of 22 October, the free movement of people is prohibited.  You can travel to and from work, to see family, to visit the doctor or to purchase basic necessities.  Hotels and other accommodation facilities are closed, as are food courts in shopping centres.  All non-essential retail stores are closed.

Update:  As of 23 October, visits to people in jail, prison or pre-trial detention are prohibited.

Update:  As of 28 October there's a curfew in place from 9 pm to 5 am.  You can only go out during curfew when going to/from work, seeking medical attention or to walk your dog within 500 metres of your residence.  

Update:  The state of emergency has been extended to 20 November.

Friday, October 2, 2020

I Voted

Due to the postal delays I still haven't received my absentee ballot.  Fortunately there's the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 which allows for overseas American citizens who have applied on time for a ballot but still haven't received it to use a write-in ballot.

Today I dropped off my Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) off at the American Embassy in Prague.  Today was the last day to drop off ballots at the embassy.  The ballots will now go via diplomatic mail to Washington, DC, and from there by regular mail to the appropriate polling stations in each state.

So my ballot will now get to Atlanta in time for the 3 November election.

It was a whirlwind day.  Normally I would go to the Bratislava embassy because it's closer to Brno but the border is closed with Slovakia.  


So I spent 3 hours on a train to Prague, then caught a tram across town to the embassy, dropped off my ballot, went back to the train station and caught the next train back to Brno.  Quite a bit of travel and I was only at the embassy for five minutes.

It was kind of ironic that while on a train to cast my vote for president that I used the time to study for my Czech citizenship test on 5 December.  

At least I'm still hoping that my exam will be on 5 December.  I have a sinking feeling that it will get postposed again in the next round of COVID-19 restrictions.

Update:  My FWAB arrived in Georgia on 20 October.

Update:  My real absentee ballot didn't arrive until 4 November.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Absentee Ballot Status

Back in May I mailed in my application for an absentee ballot so that I can vote in the U.S. Presidential election in November.  My last address in the USA was in Atlanta so I get to vote still as a Georgia resident.  At least for federal offices.  As a non-resident, I don't get to vote in state or local elections.

There are only seven weeks until the election but Georgia won't issue my ballot until next week.  Due to COVID-19, the mail is delayed and it took +7 weeks to get birthday cards from the USA.  

So soon as my ballot arrives I head to the Prague Embassy to submit my ballot.

As an American citizen I get to vote in federal elections even though I live overseas.

An EU national living in another EU country has the right to vote in municipal and European elections held in the country they live in.  For example, an Irish citizen living in Czechland get to vote for a Czech MEP.  But an Irish citizen doesn't get to vote in Czech national elections because he or she is not a Czech citizen.

Not all EU countries allow citizens to vote in national elections if they are not residents.  Ireland doesn't allow citizens to vote in national elections if they don't live in Ireland.  

I remember Scottish friends in Brno saying that they didn't get to vote on Scottish independence because they weren't living in Scotland at the time of the election.

To me this always seems odd that a citizen doesn't get to vote in national elections if they aren't a resident. But then again, they don't have to pay taxes at home on income earned abroad.  They pay taxes only where they earned the income.  Americans get to vote while living abroad but we also pay taxes in the USA on income earned abroad.

I don't know if Czech citizens get to vote in national elections if they live abroad.  Probably not, but if someone knows then please let me know.

Update:  My absentee ballot didn't arrive until 4 November, the day after the election.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Masks Are Back

As of today masks are back.  They have to be worn on public transport and public indoor areas like grocery stores, office buildings, post offices, and all medical offices.

Indoor events over 100 people and outdoor events over 1000 people are prohibited. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Support for Belarus

On Sunday there were rallies in Prague and Brno to support the protests going on in Belarus.  The protests going on in Minsk are against Alexander Lukashenko who has led the country for 26 years.  

He became president in 1994 when Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union so he is the only leader that the country has ever had.  Lukashenko is known as the last dictator in Europe.


The Jošt statue in Brno now displays the Pahonia on its shield.  

The Pahonia was the official emblem of Belarus in 1918 and from 1991 to 1995.

Update:  8 October 2020, the Belarus government has pretty much shut down the embassies of Poland and Lithuania in Minsk.  The government has accused them of meddling in its internal affairs.  In solidarity, Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, and Latvia will now recall their ambassadors to Belarus.  The EU has blacklisted 40 Belarusian officials over the police crackdown on demonstrators against rigged elections.