Sunday, May 30, 2010

Restaurant Hansen

Thanks to Ivan for letting us know about this wonderful restaurant called Hansen, which apparently just opened here in Brno. We of course decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is located in the historic building Besední house, which is now used as a concert hall for Brno Philharmonic Orchestra. It was built by the famous architect Theophil Hansen, who also built the Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna (1874-1883) and the Academy of Sciences in Athens.

Hansen's menu consists of the Austro-Hungarian traditional cuisine from 1850 to 1900 with a twist of contemporary taste. It was very simple compared to other restaurants here in Brno, which typically have hundreds of items on the menu. I definitely liked the short menu. Simple but very focused.

The interior is very plain with a high ceiling, and you feel like you are dining in a concert hall. In fact, the night we went there, there was a one-man musician playing a very interesting looking string instrument. The diners are rather quiet, so you do feel like you are dining in the middle of concert.

We both tried a soup called Krém z mladého pórku (Cream of young leeks), which was not too creamy or salty and just right. My hubby then tried Vepřová panenka (Pork tenderloin) as a main dish. It came with some sort of mashed potato and sauteed cabbage. I had Kachní prsíčko (Duck breast) that came with a wonderful combination of potato pancake and pureed cauliflower, which was just so wonderful.

And, everything was moderately priced. Would I recommend this restaurant?  Oh YES, definitely!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

狂言 (Kyogen) by brilliant Czech actors

After the concert by Daniel Forro and Sakura Ensemble, people gathered in the hallway and watched this brilliant act by two Czech guys doing Kyogen (狂言). Kyogen is a form of traditional Japanese theater. It is a comedy and typically played during the intermission of Noh acts. Kyogen acts are usually short and are played by two or three actors. Unlike Noh or Kabuki, the key ingrediant of Kyogen is a dialogue and rather exaggerated movements and actions (like very exaggerated way of laughing). The story is very simple, but with the combination of exaggerated acting, it becomes quite funny.

Those Czech guys were just so brilliant. The skit they played is called "柿山伏 (Kaki Yamabushi)," one of the famous Kyogen acts. The story is about a farm owner and 山伏 (Yamabushi), a Japanese ascetic hermit who lives in the mountain and is also said to be a warrior with supernatural powers.

One day, the Yamabushi wandered into a farm land looking for something to eat. Then he found a tree of persimmon (柿, Kaki). He tried to make the persimmons drop by throwing rocks at the tree but failed to do that. So, he climbed up to tree and started to eat persimmons one after another. Then, the owner of the farm came out and found out that someone was up on the tree eating his persimmons. He decided to tease him by faking to misunderstand the Yamabushi as something else. The Yamabushi would mimick anything he would say, like a bird, monkey, or dog. At the end, the Yamabushi ended up jumping off the tree when the owner says that it would fly if it was a bird. The Yamabushi hurts himself, and asked the owner to take him into his house and take care of him. The flabbergasted owner tries to leave, but the Yamabushi, who has supernatural powers, casts a spell so that the owner cannot leave. The Yamabushi tries to attack the owner, but he gets away, and the crippled Yamabushi ties to chase him as they walk away from the stage.

Here is a part of the acts by Czech guys. Not well taken but you would get an idea :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

紫陽花 (アジサイ) - Hydrangea

My hubby came back with a bunch of hydrangea as a present for me! The weather in Brno has been rather crazy (sunny, cloudy, rainy, and we even had hail!! - btw, all in one day), and it was so nice to have beautifully colored hydrangea in our room.

Japanese for hydrangea is "Ajisai." It is famous for having a set of very unique Kanji characters associated with it as 紫陽花 (3 characters represending the meaning of purple, sun, and flower). Since Ajisai typically blooms during late May to July (during the rainy season in Japan), I always associated Ajisai with rain and not with "sun" as one of its characters represents. In fact, the wiki mentions that the kanji characters for Ajisai was mistakenly adopted by the scholar Minamoto no Shitagō (911 - 983) who referred what the poet Bai Juyi wrote about another flower (assumed to be Lilac).

There was also an interesting story related to Ajisai on wiki. The famous Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, who came to Japan in 1823 during the time Japan was closed from any kind of foreign affairs. Even then, limited number of Dutch were allowed to come in, and Siebold who were both physician and scientist was one of them. Seibold was a German, but he was a Dutch army military officer.

During his stay in Japan, Siebold lived together with his Japanese partner Kusumoto Taki (楠本滝), and later they had a kid together - only 2 years before Siebold had to leave Japan. Anyway, Siebold used to call Taki "Otakusa," and used her name as as "Hydrangea Otakusa" to name the flower (later it just became Hydrangea). Beautiful story!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Just like everywhere else, McDonalds is very popular here in Brno.  As far as I know, there are at least 3 McDonalds within walking distance. And, every time I go there, it is packed full of people. Am I a fan of McDonalds?  Nope.  In fact, I hardly ever went to McDonalds when we were in the US.  Here, things are different.  Firstly, there aren't too many fast food chains.  All we got here are KFC and McDonalds. There is a Subway store, but you will need to ride a bus for at least 25 mins to get there.  Not worth it. And, there aren't too many sandwitch places, etiher. You get a thin hoagie like sandwiches at the grocery stores, but they are typically cold.  So, if you want to get a warm sandwich quickly, the choice would be to go to McDonalds.

Anyway, you may be surprised to know that McDonalds has different menu in each country (or in each region).  For instance, in Japan, they have what's called Shrimp-Filet-O.  It is a burger with a deep fried shrimp-cake (like a crab-cake).  Not sure why it inherited the name of "filet" part, but you get an idea. They also got what's called Teriyaki Burger. I've never tried it, but it sounds pretty good.

Here in Brno, they also have different items on the menu. For instance, along with Chicken McNugget, once during winter time, I saw Fried Hermelin Cheese. We gave them a try once, and it was not bad at all.

My favorite these days is the Classic Beef Wrap. Typically I would prefer chicken, but here in Brno, I have not been eating too much beef, and McDonalds is the place to supplement my beef intake. :-)
And, what I noticed about McDonalds here was that the people working there have such a professional attitude. It is very impressive. However, one thing which bothered me was that the people in the kitchen were not wearing those gloves for the sanitization purpose. Hmmm.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Festival of small breweries

There was a beer festival near our house yesterday.  After my hubby finished up his work (yep, his work is non-stop), we decided to go and check it out.  A row of tents for small breweries were set up on the street in front of the old town hall, and the area was packed with people enjoying LOTS of beer.

We heard music coming from the courtyard. Indeed there was a band playing Johnny Cash like music and other oldies. The band members were also oldies (...sorry), but their music was so vibrant and people were so much into them.

We got ourselves a couple of glasses of beer from the Lobkowicz brewery, which is a brewery from Vysoky Chlumec (about 60 km south of Prague). It was established in 1466 and was aquired by the Lobkowicz family in 1474. The brewing was interrupted in 1939 when the brewery was confiscated by Nazis and the Lobkowicz family was forced into exile in the UK. After World War II, the family returned to Czechoslovakia but the communists took over their properties, including the brewery in 1948.  In 1992 the brewery was returned to the Lobkowicz family and the US-born William Lobkowicz took over the management of his family's assets in the Czech Republic. 

How was the taste?  Well, I am not a beer expert, but it was smooth and was topped with very creamy foam, which I loved. 

We took the beer and headed to the concert area to enjoy the "Johnny Cash Revival" (apprently it was the band's name). One beer lasted throughout the concert, but we found out there would be another band playing. So, we decided to give ourselves another try from another brewery. 

This time, we tried ones from Černá Hora.  This brewery is from the area called Černá Hora, which is about 30-35 km north of Brno. The history of this brewery goes back to 1298 (!!).  According to their web site,  there is a record from the 16th of July 1298, the Chamberlin Matouš of Černá Hora was witnessed to a Templar ceremony, when Eberhard of Steindorf waived his rights to lands in Dobřínsk and Petrovice and passed on part of his property to the Templar order in Templštejn. During this church law ceremony the beer was drunk which Matouš of Černá Hora had brought on his horse and cart. Consequently, the ceremony was validated with Černá Hora beer.  It also says, "The brewery’s templar history was not only written by Matouš from Černá Hora but also the templar Hartleb II of Boskovice, who was knighted as a Templar in 1308 and who give the order Černá Hora castle and the brewery within it. Hence, the Černá Hora brewery was the Templar brewery BRAXATORIUM TEMPLARIORUM IN MONTE NEGRO." 
We went back to the concert and enjoyed the music by Kulturní Úderka; a three-men group with guitar+vocal, bass, and drum.  Kulturni means Cultural but the Google Translate couldn't give me the meaning of Úderka (if anyone knows what it means, please let me know--). 

The band played some heavy metal stuff which I didn't enjoy that much, but their fusion jazzy ones were so awesome!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brno parking

One of the first things that caught my eye after arriving to Brno was the way the cars are parked here. Cars were parked completely "on" the sidewalk.  The sidewalk here is rather wide, so you can still walk next to the cars (well, at most places). But, it still was an interesting sight for me, as you don't see that too often in Japan or in the US. 

Is this illegal or done by a habit?  Nope. It is totally legal. In fact, there is a specific sign indicating you "must" park your car completely on the sidewalk. I heard there is also a sign indicating you must park one side of the car on the sidewalk. As long as you park your car as the sign says, you are cool.

Amazing thing is that people don't seem to have problems with the parallel parking even though they have to drive over the curb in order to do that (you know, you have to park ON the sidewalk!).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Czech beer!

Czech Republic definitely have a strong beer culture. Everywhere you go, you see Pivo (beer) on the menu.  In fact, people do enjoy beer even during the lunch hour as well.  And, according to the 2004 data, the Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world!!

It seems that the first brewery existed in the 12th century here in Brno!  Then two other cities Plzeň (Pilsen, famous for Pilsner beer) and České Budějovice (Budweis, famous for Budweiser.  American Budweiser name was originated from this Budweiser) had their breweries in the 13th century.

I noticed each beer comes with the numbr such as 10°, 11°, 12°, etc.  They are printed on the cap or label. And, it is not the alcohol percentage. Apparently, it is the scale called "Balling degree," which indicates the sugar density in wort.  So, the lower the balling degree is, the lighter the beer is.  And, in Czech Republic, there seems to be four categories of beer based on the different balling degrees:

below 8° Balling: lehké - a "light" beer
between 8° and 10° Balling: výčepní - "tap" beer (can be bottled)
between 11° and 12.99° Balling - ležák - "lager" beer
above 13° Balling - speciál - "special" beer

The most popular beer locally in Brno is called Starobrno, and typically it is 11°, which means lager.  I also tried a "light" beer once.  Maybe I have tried the "tap" beer at the bar, too (assuming everything on tap is between 8° and 10° Balling).  Yet, I have not seen the "special" beer, which sounds very "special."  I would love to try that some time.

Applying for Czech visa - 2

Finally! My visa application has been successfully submited to the Embassy of Czech Republic in Bratislava. Thanks to my hubby, Jana, and others who helped me throughout the process!

I already wrote about a set of documents we needed to prepare for the application, but there were additional facts that were not written anywhere on the web. 

Firstly we had to translate our marriage certificate, which I wrote about last time. So, we made a copy of our marriage certificate with apostille from California government.  Then we had them translated into Czech, and had the copy and the translation notarized.  The embassy lady was satisfied with it this time. 

But, there were two new things this time.  

Firstly, she asked me to submit the second photo.  All the documents that I read on the web or on the paper never mentioned that I should have two photos.  In fact, it says one photo.  But, luckily, just in case, I had the second photo ready. :)   I suspect the embassy lady didn't expect that.  I could hear a subtle challenge in her voice when she asked me the second photo, and when I gave it to her, she looked rather reluctant.  Boy...

Then, she started to go through the documents, and asked where my name was on the apartment lease agreement. We only had my hubby's name on it, as I was not even here in Czech Republic when it was signed.  Plus it was never mentioned anywhere that my name had to be on the lease.  I am not sure if we really needed to have my name on it, or if she was just giving us a hard time (I have a suspicion it was the latter). Anyway, after my hubby debated with her, she told my hubby to sign my name, DOB, and passport number on the lease agreement and put his signature below them.  Okay, so he did it. 

After all, I understand that it is her job to make sure to inspect all the applicants and applications, but I also have to say that the required documents for the application have to be clearly stated somewhere.

By the way, you also need to prepare a copy of all the documents that you will be submitting.  When you go to the embassy, you need to have your passport, application with 1 photo (well, it was 2 photos in my case), a set of original doucments, and a set of copied documents.  And, if you are a Japanese citizen, the application fee is free, but depending on your nationality, the fee will be applied (I think it was 95 EUR for American citizens).

Friday, May 14, 2010


Škoda is the Czech auto manufacturer, which became a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group in 1991. You see Škoda everywhere here in Brno. I certainly didn't know about Škoda until I came here, but it seems that it is a fairly well known car throughout Europe and worldwide including China, India, and Russia (but not in the US or Japan).

I was reading some articles about Škoda, and it said that Škoda was the top-selling passenger car in Q1 of 2010 in Czech Republic! Its sales rose up by 61% and now dominates a 35% of market share. Impressive.

Anyway, I was wondering what "Škoda" means in Czech. I checked the Google Translate, and it gave me back the word "damage."  Sounds like an awful name for a car, doesn't it??  Anyway, it seems the name was coming from the company called Škoda Works that was named after the owner's family name.

So, I did a quick check on its history. Škoda Auto goes back to the early 1890s.  It started out as a bicycle manufacture. It said the guy named Klement was trying to get some spare parts to repair his German bicycle.  He returned the bike with Czech letter asking for a repair, but then the German manufacture get back to him in German stating that he should write them a letter in German if he wants them to reply to his inquiry.  Klement got upset and decided to open up his own repair shop by partnering with a guy named Laurin who had his own bicycle manufacture in 1895. The company grew fast and started to manufacture motorcycles, and became a manufacture of automobiles by 1905!

It was after the WWI when they were aquired by a company called Škoda Works, which was one of the largest industrial conglomerates in Europe in the 20th century. Škoda Works was founded by the noble family Waldstein in 1859. It was the leading arms manufacturer producing weapons such as heavy naval guns and mountain guns. The machine gun called Škoda M1909 seems to be the one of its famouse products. 

In 1859, they opened a machine factory in the town called Plzeň (Pilsen), which is now famous for the beer Pilsner. They made machinery and equipment for sugar mills, breweries, mines, steam engines, boilers, iron bridge structures, and railway facilities. And, Emil Škoda served as a chief engineer there. Okay, now you started to see the connection to the name Škoda!!  He bought the factory three years later in 1869.  The factory expanded over the next decade, and he incorporated his holdings in 1899 as the Škoda Works - only one year before his death.

Since Emil was deceased in 1900, it must had been his successor who did the deal with Laurin-Klement company.

The one we've been renting from Hertz (it seems like Škoda is the only car they have) here in Brno is called Fobia Fabia (thanks to Ivan for the correction). Very basic, but compact and runs well.  We've been happy about it. I also heard they have been making a concept car such as Joyster (3 door car). Hip stuff!

Btw, is it only me?  The one in the middle of Škoda's logo reminds me of Murloc from World of Warcraft. :-)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Applying for Czech visa

I seem to be applying for visas all my life... Starting out with the F1 visa that I got for the US college, I once had J1 to teach Japanese in Allegheny College. Then H1 to work in the US, etc.  Now I need to apply for a spouse visa in order to be able to stay in Czech Republic with my hubby. 

The process has been rather cumbersome, and unfortunately the information regarding the documents that I need to prepare for the visa application has not been very crystal clear. We thought we prepared all the documents necessary and went to the Czech Embassy in Bratislava to apply for a visa last weekend, but we failed to do that as we didn't have the translation of certain documents :-(   Hopefully by next week, we will have everything, so that I can apply asap.

In order to apply for a visa here in Czech Republic, you have to present the following documents to the Czech embassy:
- Passport
- Application form (for Schengen Visa) + 1 photo
- Proof of funds to cover the cost of stay in the territory
- Marriage certificate
- Copy of rental contract or the document confirming the availability of accommodation
- Police record proving that you don't have a criminal record (in my case both from the US and from Japan)

With regards to the US police record, it was easy. You can simply sign the paper claiming that you never committed any crimes in the US, and go to the notary office and get the paper notarized. 

However, for the Japanese police record, you actually have to go to the police station where your last "Jumin-Hyo (registration of residence type of official goverment record)" was registered, submit the application with required documents, and wait for a week for them to get a police record in a sealed envelope (you shall not open it!).  Then, you have to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, submit the envelope to get an apostille from them.  It typically takes only one day, but since I had to leave the next day, I called them in advance to arrange a quick turn around. The envelope is again sealed. But, not yet done! Once you have that, then you have to go to the Japanese Embassy in Prague (or have someone go there on behalf of you by writing a letter explaining why you cannot go by yourself), and have the document translated into Czech. This process typically takes up to 3 days, but we contacted them in advance and managed to get the translation back in 1 day (well, someone from my hubby's office kindly went there for me for this part of the process). The final sealed envelop after all these processes is the one you have to take for the visa application. You can also get the Japanese police record through theJapanese embassy in Prague, but it will take up to 2 months.

What we didn't have was the translated marriage certificate. We got the apostille from the California government, but apparently we needed to make a copy of the certificate/apostille, have them translated into Czech, and get a notary on the translated documents. 

Fortunately and very luckily, we have people from my hubby's company helping us on preparing the translation and notary. Thank you!!!  I should be very close to apply for the visa!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Devín Castle in Slovakia

Devín Castle is one of the most significant archeological sites in Slovakia. The castle is located in a town called Devín, which is about 10km west of Bratislava and almost right on the border to Austia, where River Danube meets River Morava. It was the ideal place to control the important trade route along these rivers. It says that the site was first settled in the Neolithic age(!) and was fortified in the Bronze and Iron Age.  During the 1st and 5th century, it became the fortresses for Romans. And in the 9th cntury, it became the most important fortress for the Great Moravian Empire.

The stone castle seemed to be built in the 13th century and continued to be expanded until Napoleon destroyed it in 1809.

From the parking lot, you climb up the hill for about 15 mins to get to the ruin (yes, it is a good exercise!). The ruin sits on top of the cliff looking down the beautiful rivers and surrounding nature.  So magnificent!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A quick trip to Bratislava, Slovakia

My hubby and I went on a quick trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. The main purpose of this trip was to apply for my visa, which is a very time consuming process (will talk about later).  Anyway, it was of course the first time for me (and gG) to visit Bratislava, and there were again lots of things to learn about the country and its capital.

Bratislava is located approx. 130 km south of Brno, VERY close to the border of Austria.  It is one of the smallest capital cities in Central Europe but is full of historic monuments and culture. And as some people may know, the beautiful River Danube runs through Bratislava.

We arrived at Bratislava too late to do a meaningful sightseeing, but we had a chance to walk through the old part of town.  The old town felt even smaller than the one in Brno.  It only took us a couple of hours to go around the town.  We made the reservation at the hotel called Devin, which stands along the River Danube. From there, we walked towards north to the long and narrow park called Hviezdoslavovo Nam.  The park was just so cozy, charming, and beautiful.  There were a bunch of cafes and restaurants along the park, and people were enjoying the beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon with coffee, tea, beer, or wine.

We walked along the park for a while and headed west to visit St. Martin's Cathedral, which is a 15th century Gothic style church that stands high at 85m.  I heard 11 Hugarian kings and 8 consorts were crowned between 1563 to 1830.  On top of the tower, you see a replica of the Hugarian crown, which weighs 300kg.  The most amusing thing was the crypt outside of the cathedral. It said "Grof Palffy Csalad, Sirboltja" with the dates 1600 to 1845 on the tomb stone. Huh??? He lived 245 years???

Later that day, we went out for a dinner, walking towards the St. Michael's Gate, one of the four gates originally built in medieval era. This gate is the only one survived to the day. At night, it lights up, and you can admire its beauty from the outside seatings of cafes and restaurants on Michalska Street.

We went into a Slovak restaurant called Presburg on Michalska Street. We are getting very familiar with the slovak cusines by now, and we ordered our regulars: garlic soup (which was different from the ones we have been eating in Czech Republic and it was creamy), halušky (a bit different as well, and I do have to say I prefer the one we had at the restaurant near our house), kabab type of dish (we decided to go for it as we were semi getting tired of pork ribs), and a plate of pickled cheese (this is also one of my hubby's favorites).

Good food, good ambience, and good company - what else can you ask in life?

Found the Korbáč

On Saturday as we were shopping at the largest mall outside of Brno called Olympia, we accidentally found a store selling all kinds of cheese.  My hubby found the "Korbáč" in the list.  We were literally jumping up and down :) 

Finally we got to see the real korbáč!! There were smoked ones and non-smoked ones.  We bought a bag of non-smoked ones, as the clerk told us she prefered them. 

I have to say this cheese might be my most favorite so far.  And, gG just loved it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

More about Slovak/Wallachian foods

There were some words in a menu that I couldn't figure out. I asked Jana about them, and she kindly exlained to me about them (thank you Jana!).

One of them was "Jánošíkova" in Jánošíkova žebra, which we ate last time. I knew it was a rib, but we didn't know what Jánošíkova meant. She told me it was coming from a person named Juraj Jánošík. Then why "Jánošíkova" instead of "Jánošík"? In Czech, you basically put "ova" at the end of the noun to make it into a possesive case (just like yo uput -'s in English).

Anyway, Jánošík was the famous Slovak outlaw. According to the legend, he was the ultimate "good" thief. He stole things from the riches and gave them away to the poors. It reminded me of Nezumi Kozo, the famous thief in Japan during the Edo period. Jánošík's exact birth date seems to be unknown, but the record shows that he was baptised in 1688. He was raised in the northwestern part of Slovakia. At the age of 23, he became a leader of a forest robber group. It says that the group was active mostly in northwestern Kingdom of Hungary (today's Slovakia), around the Váh (Vág) river between Važec (Vázsec) and Východná (Vichodna), but the territory of their activity extended also other parts of today's Slovakia, as well as to Poland and Moravia. He was captured several times. The final trial took place on March 16 and March 17, 1713 when he was sentenced to death. There is no record of his execution, but it became a part of the legend. According to it, a hook was pierced through his left side and he was left dangling on the gallows to die (yikes!), which was the common way of execution for leaders of robber bands. A legend also says that he refused to offer the list of soldiers in exchange of his execution, but it says that he said "if you have baked me so you should also eat me!" and jumped on the hook. He certainly sounds like a hero.

The second unknown word was Smažný korbáč. We knew "smažný" means "fried", but we could not figure out what "korbáč" meant. Apparently, it was Slovak rather than Czech. According to the google tranlsate, it means "string." Jana gave us more detailed information about the word and the related tradition which was rather interesting. The word "korbáč" is a Slovak word for “tatar” or “pomlazka (whip)” in Czech. They are a bunch of sticks twisted together like this one or this one. This type of woven stick is used for an Easter tradition. People use the stick to hit (or spank) girls (more precisely any women's bottoms - ouch!) to make sure they will have enough power and health in the coming year. I did some seach on this matter and found out that you see men spanking women's bottom all over the place in Czech Republic on the Easter day. WOW!  I did a bit more research on this rather interesting tradition and found the article saying this:

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a tradition of spanking or whipping is carried out on Easter Monday. In the morning, men spank women with a special handmade whip called a pomlázka (in Czech) or korbáč (in Slovak), or, in eastern Moravia and Slovakia, throw cold water on them. The pomlázka/korbáč consists of eight, twelve or even twenty-four withies (willow rods), is usually from half a meter to two meters long and decorated with coloured ribbons at the end. The spanking normally is not painful or intended to cause suffering. A legend says that women should be spanked in order to keep their health and beauty during whole next year.

An additional purpose can be for men to exhibit their attraction to women; unvisited women can even feel offended. Traditionally, the spanked woman gives a coloured egg and sometimes a small amount of money to the man as a sign of her thanks. In some regions the women can get revenge in the afternoon or the following day when they can pour a bucket of cold water on any man. The habit slightly varies across Slovakia and the Czech Republic. A similar tradition existed in Poland (where it is called Dyngus Day), but it is now little more than an all-day water fight.

Very interesting!!!

Okay, so "korbáč" means whip-like woven sticks. We sure know that we can't eat that. Apparently the menu was about a very salty type of cheese in a form of twisted "tatar." Jana also told me that she typically eat it non-fried. We tried to get this item yesterday when we went back to the restaurant, but they were out of it. Rats!

The last unknown word was "fragály" in the menu item called "Valašské fragály." The word "valašské" means Wallachian, which I explained in my previous entry. Apparently, the word "fragály" was originated from the word "frgal," which means "pejorative." Basically "fragály" seems to refer to "a not well-done cake." You can find the picture of making this cake here. Jana also told me that the topping can be anything, but the most comnmon ones are dried pears, plum jam, quark and poppy seeds. Yummy!

Guess what? We went back to the restaurant last night and did try the cake. It came with two slices. One was lemon based topping, and the other was some sort of berry based topping. Mmmmm, it was soooo good!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Restaurant Skanzeen

About 3 mins down the hill towards the Mendel museum from our house, there is a restaurant called Skanzeen.  I have been there with my hubby before, but this time we took Ken-chan and Kae-chan with us.  It is a Slovak and Wallachian restaunrant, and the ambiance is great. Inside the restaurant is decorated with woods, stones, bricks, and different kinds of plates and artifacts.  Just a wild guess, but it seems to be mimicing the peasant house in Slovak and Wallachian areas.

Slovak is well known, but most of us probably don't know what Wallachian means. Wallachia is a southern region of Romania that is situated north of the Danube and south of the Southern Carpathians, but I believe this Wallachia means "Moravian Wallachia," which is a mountainous region located in the easternmost part of Moravia, near the Slovakian border.  It seems that the region was called Moravian Wallachia, as it was the place Romanian shepherds from Wallachia region migrated between the 14th and 17th century. The language has been lost, but the culture as well as the culinary culture remained.

There are so many items on the menu, but we ordered most significant ones:

1) "The" garlic soup
I am not sure if it is so much of Wallachian and Slovak, as I see it at the regular Czech restaurants, too.  The garlic soup here has lots of croutons and cheese (at the bottom), and it is one of my favorites of all in so far.

2) Halušky
The famous central European dish. It sort of reminds me of Spätzle from Switzerland. It is a smaller version of dumpling (or round version of pasta), and it is typically made out of flour or potatoes. It is topped with some kind of very strong cheese, which I cannot tolerate to eat a lot unfortunately. And it is also topped with the bacon bits, which I don't particularly love, either. So, this is not my dish but my hubby's #1 favorite.

3) Lokše (dried potato pancake)
It is a famous Slovak dish. The pancake looks more like a crape or tortilla but is made out of potatoes. You can choose what to put inside. We ordered Lokše with spicy pork, cheese (again!), and something rather in it. Simply put, it is very similar to Enchilada :)

4) Jánošíkova žebra
First we thought this might be a Zebra meat.:-) But, it wasn't. It was a roasted pork ribs. I tried to google-translate the word, but I couldn't tell what Jánošíkova meant. Although I am not a big pork eater or rib eater, I liked this especially with the hot sauce served with it. I love very spicy (hot) food, and ever since I moved to Czech Republic, I have been missing spicy-hot foods. So, I really appreciated the hot sauce.

5) Mixed Salad
I was imagining the mixed salad with lots of lettuce, but there was no lettuce in it. It was made out of cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, green peppers, cheese, and bacon bits. After eating so much cheese, I just skipped the cheese and bacon bits part and focused on the veggies.

What a feast! I would highly recommend this restaurant, if you are in Brno.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


The vegetable market has been my shopping destination these days.  There are lots of fresh veggies, but the one I am addicted to is the "Peas (えんどう豆)."  When I was a kid, it was one of my jobs to take the peas out of the pods, so that my mother can make 豆ご飯 (rice with peas).  And, yes, it was my favorite, too.

I realized that I haven't had 豆ご飯 for such a long time, I decided to make it.  Since I don't have a rice cooker here, I had to make it in a pot, but it worked out great.  You rinse rice as usual, put water as usual, then put rinsed peas in it, add 1 tbs sake, 1/3 tea spoon salt (sea salt recommended), and a piece of dashi-kobu. 

I wonder if it is a sign of luckiness.  I found a pod with only one pea :)  It was sitting quietly by itself in a pod.  It looked like a beautiful green pearl.

Pea has a strong relationship with Brno, as Mendel who studied the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants.  His lab is within 5 mins walk from our apartment.

Měnín Gate

The only one of the original five old town gates that survived. It was constructed around 1600.  Back then, it was an arsenal which stood next to the place the Brno executioners stayed. In 1865, it was converted into a house, and now it serves as an exhibition space for the Brno City Museum. 

The current building was rebuilt in the second half of the 19th century. The building is not that attractive looking, but I would still praise the attempt to keep the original gate.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Capuchin Crypt

The Crypt at the Capuchin Monastery, Brno, Czech Rep.
Source provided by
The Capuchin crypt was built by the Brno builder Ondrej Erna between 1648 and 1651. The crypt contains quite a few mummified bodies of monks and ex-Brno residents. Once I stepped into the crypt, I could defitenily smell death.

I heard that mummification was never the intention. Apparently it was the composition of the subsoil and the dry air in the vault that made the mummified corpses. It was just a cheap way to dispose of the dead bodies. Following their vows of poverty, the monks re-used a single coffin over and over again. After the funeral, the monks would carry the coffin with the dead body in it, and they would slide away the bottom of coffin and let the corpse fall to the ground to let it naturally mummify over the years.

The brochure we read said that at one point there were over 100 mummies in the crypt. Now, there are only 24 in the furthest vault. There are other bodies (those of dignitaries) closer to the entrance. Later I read somewhere that there was also a corpse of a woman with a label saying that she had been accidentally buried alive (Okay, the label was in Czech obviously and we didn't know till later). How unfortunate that is. She was stuck in the crypt alive and still exists in the crypt as a mummy... I would have to guess that she wants to get out of there at some point :-(

Primarily the crypt was used as a resting place of the deceased Capuchin monks over a period of 300 years. This practice was banned by hygiene laws towards the end of the 18th century.

The outside air seemed fresher after coming out of the crypt.

One day visit by Ken-chan and Kae-chan

My hubby's older son, Ken-chan, visited Brno with his girlfriend, Kae-chan.  It was such a short visit, but we enjoyed strolling around the old town of Brno and drinking Brno beers here and there :) 

The course we took was this: Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul (listen to the organ and went up to the top of the tower) --> Capuchin Crypt (will write about it separately) --> Coffee break --> Vegetable Market --> Měnín Gate (will write about it separately) --> Freedom Square --> St. James' Church --> Beer break --> Red Church (couldn't go in) --> Park around the Spilberk Castle

It was also the first time for me to climb up the tower of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral. The tower is called Towers of Petrov, and they were built in 1904-1905 by an architect named Augustus Kirstein. The entrance to the tower is located on the side of the church.  The tower is 84 meters high, and yes, the staircase continues for a while until you reach to the top (smokers, be careful!).  Once you reach to the top, though, you would be gifted with a beautiful vast view of the town of Brno.   I read that there was a quote above the main entrance to the tower saying "Come here everybody who is toiling, I will refresh you. Your soul will find peace."  And, truely, you will feel very refreshed and peaceful up there!

The picture of Ken-chan and Kae-chan was taken at the top of the tower.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The House of the Four Titans

As you walk around the Liberty Square (Namesti Svobody), you see this interesting building with four naked men holding up the 5 story building. It is apparently called "the house of the four titans," and was built in 1901-02 as a palace for the V. Gerstbauer Foundation. As you can see in men's faces, it must have been exhausting to keep holding up the building :)

Btw, one of the most intriguing things about Brno is the architecture. Churches are gorgeously beautiful, but there are so many other buildings that amuse our eyes. Here are some from my archive:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pernštejn Castle

Forty kilometers to the north west of Brno, a beautiful armour-bearer looking castle called Pernštejn stands quietly overtopped by the neighboring hills.

There were only two trains going to the Pernštejn castle area from Brno in the morning, and we took a later train which left Brno at 10:55am. The train was comfortably packed with hikers, bikers, and families. We rode the train for about 30 mins to Tišnov, and there we switched a train to go to Pernštejn Castle.

After 30 min ride, we arrived at Nedvědice, where lots of people got off. We were wondering why the place was so popular. We kept riding the train. Then as the train goes faster and faster, we saw a castle on our right hand side. But, the train kept going, passed the castle, and never stopped until we were about 5km away from the castle. My hubby who was responsible for checking the station to get off surrendered and said "ooops, we missed the right station." We got off at the next station called Vežná, a nowhere land without any people. We checked the time for the next train going back and only found out it wasn't coming for another two hours.

We could have waited there, but we said "well, we got two pairs of legs. why not walk!" So, we headed to the direction of castle not knowing whether the road will lead us there (although we had a high confidence it would, as it was the only road). The walk was amazingly nice. We walked 5.5 km (it wasn't bad at all) to the magnificent sight of the casltle. It looked strong but elegant and a bit odd like a bunch of different sizes of square and triangular boxes stuck together on one side.  It reminded me of an art homework once I did in college.

Once you go into the entrance, the first thing you notice is the bar and restaurant.  After accidentally ended up walking for 5.5 km without water, we were so thirsty and hungry.  We sat down at the bar restaurant and had a sausage (well, that's the only thing we could order as we didn't know any other foods in Czech) and a couple of beers (well, I thought beer would make me more dehydrated, but I tried beer anyway - I guess I am just trying to be a Czech person).

The castle was indeed sturdy looking. It was first built by the Lords of Medlov in the 13th century on the rock (the rock penetrates the building up to the second floor). The family branch seated at the castle and adopted the then fashionable name Pernštejn, which is the Czech version probably derived of the German name, Bärenstein - the "Bear Rock".

We took a tour (well, the tour was in Czech, so we went along with the English brochure in our hands) through the main part of the castle. The first thing you notice when you step into the castle is the temperature. It was a warm day, but you could tell the significant drop of temperature immediately. I guess the thick wall shuts out the heat coming in from outside. There were hundreds of rooms connected by the nesting corridors and staircases (unfortunately we don't have any pictures of inside, as we were not allowed to take any pictures). I am sure it was meant for the protection from the enermies, but it reminded me of old fairly tales related to the European castles that I read when I was kid. And, it would be a fun place for kids to play hide and seek for sure :)

I had been having very dull pain around my neck and shoulders since I moved to Czech Republic, but they disappeared after visiting this castle.  Is it due to the ghost supposedly appearing in this castle?  :)