Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mendel Museum and Monastery - Feb 27, 2010

Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-84), known as the "Father of Genetics", served as the abbot at the monastery called Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Augustinian monastery, which stands beautifully about 5 mins from our apartment.  The courtyard next to it used to have a glass house, which Mendel used to grow his plants for his experiments. In 2002, the museum dedicated to Mendel's work was founded.  Although the significance of Mendel's work was not recognized until the turn of the 20th century, you can learn how devoted he was to his research and experiments throughtout his life.
The church section of the monastery is the most beautiful Gothic building in Brno.  It was constructed as the Marian church in the second quarter of the 14th century for Cistercian nuns and was replaced in 1784 by Augustinian monks.  However, the church itself remained rather untouched.  The outer wall has an array of naked bricks and stones used as decorative elements, and it is just gorgeous with rusted green

Unfortunately the church was closed yesterday, but we would definitely like to go back to have a tour inside.  According to the guidebook, it has a complex floor plan influenced by the cathedral in Marburg.  The triple-nave basilica has two transepts, with the chancel and the first transept forming a trefoil apse. At the intersection of the axes of central nave and the first transept, there is a tile with the letter "E", where Eliška Rejčka, the noble founder of the church is buried.

Sugar-coated Nuts - Feb 27, 2010

There is a small booth-like shop in the underground pathway to TESCO from the main train station, and I see a big line everytime I go by.  The sign says "u cukrove mandlicky" - basically meaning "sugar almonds."  You can enjoy the smell of sweetness as you walk by the shop, as they coat the nuts right there in a small booth.

We gave a try yesterday on the way to TESCO.  There were three kinds of nuts that you can choose from -  almonds, hazelnuts, and cashew nuts.  The great thing was the lady who was selling the nuts spoke English (you won't imagine how rare that is here in Brno)!!  We got a bag of hazelnuts.  They were still warm and so sweet!

Found "the" Steak Restaurant in Brno! - Feb 25, 2010

"Steak" in Czech simply means "grilled meat." So, if you go to a restaurant and see a word "steak" in a menu, it could mean pork, chicken, beef, or whatever being grilled. And the beef steaks we tried so far have been very disappointing except the steak we happened to encounter in a town called Znojmo, but we can't drive to Znojmo every time we want to eat steaks.

Then we heard about this Texas-themed restaurant called "U Straýho Billa" (Old Bill's). It is very close to my hubby's office and about 5 mins tram ride from our place. I have to say the steak was excellent!  I tried the steak called Nevada, which cost only $19 ($19 seems to be cheap, but I heard it is considered to be an expensive meal for Czech people).  Okay, it was not as fatty as it probably should for the Texan taste, but it was thick and juicy that satisfied us more than 100%!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Špilberk Castle - Feb 21, 2010

Špilberk Castle is one of the most significant landmarks in Brno and is located only 3 mins from our apartment. Špilberk is standing on top of the hill and overlooking the city center of Brno. The hillside is a wide park with a pedestrian road filled with cobblestones going up and down. The day we went up there was such a beautiful day, and many people were just enjoying the nice walk in the park.

When I hear the word "castle," I tend to imagine the Gothic or Renaissance type of buildings with lots of decoratives, but Špilberk is a bit differet. It has a very plain look. It was built around the mid 13th centry as a Gothis style castle and was converted into a massive Baroque style fortress in the 17th and 18th centries. It is famous as the "prison of nations," and was used as a dungeon from 1621, first for prisoners of war and from 1673 for criminals as well. Later it was used for the worst criminals such as murderers, robbers, arsonists, counterfeiters, or forgers of official documents, and later used for political prisoners. The prison was closed down in 1855 but even after that, it was occasionally used as a prison. In 1939 to 1941, the Nazi reconstructed the castle in the spirit of Pangermanism.

You can still see the trace of prisons in a part of casemates. The casemates were to serve as a shelter for a garrison of 1,200 men and to store military equipment. But later, by the order of emperor, the upper floor of the norther casemates was turned into a prison, and first prisoners were placed there in 1784. Then six months later, another imperial order was given to turn the lower level ("the deepest and worst casemates") into a prison - this time to house felons sentenced to life. 29 cells were created with thick planks and beams to which prisoners were shackled in perpetuity. We went through the upper floor seeing the different sizes of cells, and the example tools for interrogation and torture. As we went into the lower level cells, somehow the air got very dense around me, and the darkness just crept into me. I had to turn around and went back outside at half way through.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day trip to Znojmo - Feb 20, 2010


Unlike other weekends, we actually decided to do something fun for a change (yes, we have been totally focused on organizing our apartment till now).  We decided to drive down to a town called Znojmo after picking up our airshipped box that finally arrived after 1.5 months(!). For those of you who speaks Japanese, the town's name sounds like Zuno-Imo (頭脳芋). :)

Znojmo is about a 40 mins drive from Brno.  It is located close to the border of Austria.  The town is famous for its medieval architecture.  Of course it was the first time there for us, and we didn't have a map of the town or anything, so once we got into the town we decided to park on the edge of one of the roundabouts that looked like it was the center of the town and walk towards the church-like building, hoping to run into something interesting.

We were hungry, so we first stopped at a restaurant we found right across from the church.   I have to say we had the best steak that we've eaten here in the Czech Republic!  We have been so unhappy with aall the steaks we have ordered ever since getting to Brno, but we finally found one that we liked!  It was not perfect, but it was the best so far for sure. We also got a cheese plate, which is supposedly a famous dish here, a cup of garlic soup that was also just wonderful, and of course a glass of beer.

Church of the Holy Cross

After lunch, we headed to the church. I felt a bit guilty going into the church after a glass of beer, but anyway... The church we went in was Kostel Nalezení svatého Kříže.  In English translation, it seems to mean "Church of the Holy Cross."  The church was founded in 1230 but got destroyed in 1555 by a big fire. Unlike the exterior look, the interior was quite gorgeous with lots of gold color.  It also contained very old looking paintings.  No one was in the church when we arrived, so my hubby knelt down and tried to be religious for a moment.


Town surrounded by rampart

Leaving the church behind, we decided to go back to the car and drive around instead of walking around, as it was getting very cold.  Later we found out, though, that we were so close to the center of the town already. But, it was good to drive around as all the houses and streets were just so cute and interesting.  The town of Znojmo seems to be surrounded by the rampart.  It also is built on a steep hill, and there is a castle on the top as well as the church called The Gothic Church of St. Nicholas.

Town Hall

IMG_5582We parked our car close to the church-like building. We knew that we would get to the city center if we aimed for a church.  But, apparently it was the famous Town Hall Tower and not a church. The tower, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Znojmo, is 75m (250ft) tall and was built around 1446.  From a distance, it looks like a church.  From there, you can walk down or up to different squares.
IMG_5578Really close to the Town Hall, there was a building with a very old looking painting on the wall. It almost reminded me of the painting using the Sgraffito technique.
Unfortunately during the winter time, most of the sightseeing tours are only available for big parties and not for individuals like us, and we could not see too much, but we just enjoyed walking around the town. I could just imagine the town filled with people during the summer time.


We drove further to the east side of the town in search of the Rotunda. Again, the tour was not there, but we enjoyed seeing the scenery from the area. It was like a pretty painting. I could just imagine how pretty it would be during the summer time with sun beaming over the red brick roofs and enhancing the vibrant color of each building.


After wandering around for a while, we managed to take a tour of Znojmo Catacombs, which is an underground series of corridors and cellars that extends over 27 km in length.  It goes down to four stories in some places and is said to be the largest in central Europe.
According to the brochure that I got at the Catacombs, it was built at the turn of the 15th centry.  Znojmo at that time was a town rich in agricultural products and also an important trade center. All of the residential houses thus had some storage spaces for goods and stocks under the ground. And at some point, they decided to interconnect these cellers. They ended up extracting 50-55 thousand cubic meters of rock, using it mainly for the strategic and defensive purposes during the battles.

It was a quick day trip, and the weather was not superb, but we very much enjoyed the town of Znojmo. We will definitely go back once it gets warmer to see the inside of Rotunda as well as The Gothic Church of St. Nicholas, another landmark in Znojmo.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Half-sliding gG

He doesn't look too happy here, as I ended up waking him up by trying to take a picture of him sliding half way. And the funny thing was he was even snoring posing like that before I woke him up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shopping Malls

There are several big shopping malls around Brno. The closest one from our house and thus to the city center is called Vaňkovka, and it is about 3 mins tram ride from the nearest station. It is also right next to TESCO (store equivalent to Target or Walmart), so if you want to do a serious shopping, you basically go to the area. Vaňkovka also contains a grocery store, pet store, book store that sells English books, bio stores which sells canned soup (believe me it is so hard to find canned soup here!), and a mid size food court, so I would go there for lunch and finish whatever the business I need to take care by just strolling up and down the mall.

Stores here sometimes don't provide you the bags to carry your shopped items. Typically people carry their ecobags, and in my case, I have been utilizing my old Yahoo backpack as my shopping bag (the size is just perfect!). I also stash a couple of extra bags just in case in there. One thing I haven't been able to do ever since I left the US is to exercise every day. But, certainly the shopping has been a great exercise for me, as you end up carrying 20-30 lbs of weight on your back and on both hands (sometimes) and walk 15-20 mins! Even if it is -5C outside, you come back basically sweating as if you ran for 20 mins.

Another mall that we started to go whenever we have a car is called Olympia.  It is about 15 mins drive south from the city center.  It is a HUGE mall with hundreds of different stores.  There are two big furniture stores called ASKO and KIKA that we also bought some of our furniture from.  We also made the big purchase of our first TV and DVD player at the store called Electro World (something like Best Buy) that is also located in the mall.   The mall also contains a grocery store called Albert, so it is very convenient.  The first time we went there, we didn't know what stores are located where, so we ended up walking around the mall for about 4 hrs straight.  I remember we were so exhausted with our heavy coat on ourselves that we could not even talk to each other.  Now we have been there several times, we became very efficient doing shopping in the mall.   And the best thing is that we now know who to talk to in English :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Caesar Salad

One of the things that we miss here in Brno is a good Caesar Salad.  We used to go to a resutaurant called Tender Green and got ourselves a plate of Caesar Salad all the time.  We also made it by ourselves at home using an already-made dressing or sometimes home-made dressing my hubby would make with olive oil, vinegar, boiled egg, and anchovi paste.  Caesar Salad was something so easy to get before, but now it became so hard to get, and even if you get, most of the time, you get disappointed by the rediculously sweat taste of the dressing.

But today at the restaurant called Zemanova Kavárna, we found a very genuine Caesar Salad!  I would go back there even just for the salad for sure.

Click restaurant's web site to learn more about the restaurant.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day Cookie

Since our stuff hasn't arrived here yet from the US, I had to make these heart-like shapes with my fingers... :-(  But, it's the  thought that counts, right?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cress - Source of vitamin during winter time

Thanks to Jana!  She bought me a bag of cress seeds, and here you go. In 7 days, it grew.  I had some this morning with a great Czech croissant. Yummy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

One month anniversary

It has been exactly a month since we arrived to this winter wonderland! All three of us definitely settled in, and a month passed just like that (snap!).  I already got involved in a small project and spent the last 1.5 weeks working on that. It was an intense 1.5 weeks, but actually working seem to help you feel more at home, somehow. 

gG seems to be a bit bored without being able to go outside, but he has been doing just fine. Since he lost the exercise opportunity of following me around the big house, he started to put on some weight, which is good as he was very skinny.  But he shall need to exercise some more.  Maybe I will take him out in a snow for a walk.

The challenge here is the language.  I heard most of the young people speak English, but I haven't had a luck meeting anyone who can speak English in any of the grocery stores that I go to.  It takes a long time for me to find even a simple thing like flour.  So the strategy I came up with was to make a shopping list and translate them using Google Traslate in advance.  If I can't find something, I would just show the list and have a clerk help me find the item.  It works most of the time, but not all the time.  The other day, I was trying to buy a corn starch (kukuřičný škrob), and the clerk brought me a can of corn :)  Later I found out that Czech people don't use corn starch.  Instead they use potato starch, which is called bramborový škrob.  Another time was when we were looking for a sour cream, and we were shown a liquid cream.  So, yes, there is a challenge.  The best thing would be to learn some Czech!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Finally found Natto (fermented soybeans)!

I have been having a serious craving for Japanese food ever since I got here. I really don't know what it is that we, Japanese, have. You would be surprised to find out that most tourists coming to the US from Japan would prefer going to the Japanese restaurants in the US. They would arrive to the US, and the first thing they want to eat is rice or udon! The famous story is that Kimiko Date, the famous tennis player, used to take her rice cooker wherever she travelled. And to be honese, I would understand that. Although I am not a big rice eater, I miss Japanese food especially when you know you can't easily get it.

So, I wrote in my previous blog that I managed to find Tofu at the Vietnamees' market, but I was still missing stuff like "Umeboshi" or "Natto." I knew there was a Japanese store (probably the only Japanese store in Brno) behind the sushi restaurant called Koishi. My hubby goes there a lot to get some liquid that he loves (yeah, yeah, people who know him would know what kind of liquid that I am talking here), but he told me that he could not find Tofu, Umeboshi, or Natto.

We had a chance to go back to the sushi place again (yay!), so I peaked into the store.  Guess what?  I found Tofu(!), Umeboshi, and Natto! I also found some instant noodles, which are not my favorite but they would serve the purpose of me getting rid of my crazy cravings. So, here you go. I got all of them! Prices are rather high compared to LA, but these should improve my life :)

Got a TV!

We were contemplating whether or not to get a TV, but we did! We went to the big mall called Olympia which has the famous electronic store called Electro World. We definitely wanted to get a LCD display, and being the x-Sony fan, we again got a Sony 40" LCD which also has an ethernet jack, so that you can browse Internet if you want.

In addition to the TV, we also got a DVD player. Until we get satellite programs, I am sure we will be watching lots of DVDs. And, DVDs here are VERY cheap. I am certain those DVDs are dubbed somewhere, but the cheapest that I found was only $1.50! They are sold in newspaper stands, tabacco stores, or book stores. Selections are not that great, but you can't beat the price! And they are something that you can watch in ENGLISH :)

Czech Salary

After I wrote about Subway price, I was wondering whether what I heard was correct or not, so I did some searches and found this site:

If this is correct, I really have to say that Subway is priced too high!

First Subway

In a big mall called Olympia, which is about 10 mins ride by car from Brno center, we found Subway!! I used to eat Subway quite a bit for lunch, and I missed their Roasted Chicken Breast sandwitch.

We got exactly the same sandwitch as we did in LA except that the bread was much sweeter for my taste. And another thing I noticed about these American chain stores is that the prices are pretty high compared to the regular Czech restaurants. I have been going to lunch here in Brno, and typically lunches cost somewhere between $3 and $5. If you pay $5, it is usually paired with a cup of soup even. But, Subway seemed to be priced higher compared to these lunches. For instance, we got a foot long sandwitch and made it into a meal like we always did in the States. The price for that was approx 140Kc, which is about $7. That's normal for the US, but given the fact that the median annual $10K up to whatever, I have to say $7 is a bit aggressive for a foot long sandwitch. I suppose Subway turned into a luxurious sandwitch place here in Brno :)

Anyway, it is good to know that I can get Subway if I wanted to.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Scene from my office window

I got a couple of consulting works here in Brno recently and have been spending quite a lot of time in my office. The scene from the office changes throughout the day, but all of them are just so comforting to me. Something about the way streets are formed and the way tram runs through the street, etc. My favorite is around 5pm when the sun starts to sink and cast a great deal of reddish shadow in the sky. Lights in the windows, smoke from chimneys... They are all beautiful. It just give me a very warm feeling.




Friday, February 5, 2010

Post Office

We had to go to get our certified mail to the post office near the main train station. In the US, you can request to the post office to redeliver your mail many times (as necessary). Here you can't. Plus even the firt time, the mailman doesn't even bother ringing the door bell (well the bell downstairs so that I can come down and get it), so there was no way for us to get the mail. If you get a certified mail, it seems that you are semi-forced to go to the post office to get the mail.
The post office near the station looked like it went through some renovation with lots of bright colors here and there, but is it just me??? It sort of reminded me of a jail... :(

Btw, Východ means "entrance." ý is a lengthened y, and ch is like German "ch" but slightly different sounding, and it seems to be pronounced as, simply put, "veehod." The strange thing is why put a sign for "entrance" when you are on the 2nd floor. I would assume people want to see "exit" instead??

gG was making some kind of statement

Cookie challenge

Got this recipe from one of the Japanese cooking sites.  It is a lot different from typical American cookies, but I loved those.  You probably don't want to eat too much as it contains lots of butter and sugar just like any other cookied do, but making them is certainly fun!
butter    1/4 cup
sugar     3 table spoon
milk    2 table spoon
flour     little less than 2/3 cup
cocoa    1 table spoon
Leave butter in a room temperature until it is soft. Mix it sugar (little by little) until it gets creamy. Add milk (room temperature). Add flour and cocoa and mix well.  Heat oven to 170C (approx 340F).  Bake for 12-15 mins.
I also made the version with lemon zest.  They were both pretty good!