Thursday, November 25, 2010

Universal bed size?

I thought bed sizes were universal, but I was so wrong. There is no such thing as a "king" bed or "queen" bed here. Most of the bed mattresses are 80cm or 90cm or 140cm in width (and 200cm in length).  And, if you want to go beyond 140cm, you basically put two of the 80/90cm mattresses together and make it into a bigger bed. The previous flat had two of the 80cm mattresses. Coming from a Cal King bed, it was VERY small for us. Eventually gG gave up on sleeping on the bed with us. :-)  The new flat we just moved in has two of the 90cm mattresses, and it's like night and day. All of us (including gG) are happy.  Now he (gG) sleeps right next to me. :-)

Another thing which we can't find here is the flat bed sheet or the comfort cover which is big enough for the US King size comfort. Likewise, there are no pillow cases big enough for our King size pillows. These are the items to buy when I have a chance to travel back to the US for sure.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Indian fast food

I am a big fan of spicy food. But Czech people don't seem to enjoy spicy food too much.  I often ask for chili peppers at Italian restaurants, and I would usually get the facial expression of "what are you talking about?." Basically they don't have it.  So, when I found an Indian restaurant near the central square (Nam. Svobody), I was really happy. The food was good, but I have to say it was overpriced. 

Well, we found a good fast food place now. It is in the food court of TESCO Park, and this one is very moderately priced!  It also tastes good, too.  The restaurant is called "Indická Kuchyně." We tried one meat platter and one vegetarian platter, so that we could taste many different kinds of curries they had :-)  My favorite was the spinach saag and the chicken curry.  The lamb curry was a little bit too salty for me.  Anyway, I would recommend this place if you are up for Indian fast food in Brno.

Czech visa renewal

It was only 4 months ago that I was granted my first Czech visa, but since I am here on a spouse visa, they could only grant me till my hubby's visa's expiration date which was until Nov 12th. 

The application process can be started four months prior to the expiration, so theoretically speaking, I could have started the process right after getting my first visa, but who wants to worry about it until the last minute :)  The important thing to remember is that you need to apply at least 2 weeks before the expiration date.  I was planning my Japan trip around the timeframe, so we decided to go ahead and submit whatever we can to the foreign police in mid Oct before my trip to Japan.

It required me a lot of work when I applied for the visa the first time (see here and here). The renewal is easier in a sense that you don't have to go to the Czech embassy in a neighboring country and you need less documents. The application can be submitted to the local foreign police, which however is only open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8am to 5pm and Fridays from 8am to noon.

For the renewal, you have to submit the following documents:
- Copy of your passport picture page
- Copy of your visa
- Application form
- Accomodation contract covering the entire duration of visa
   * the signatures of owners authenticated by notary
   * all owners have to be mentioned and signed in the accommodation contract
   * land register statement: the person who signed the contract has to be the same person who is written in the land register statement
   * If the flat association called “Druzstvo” exists, you also have to get the confirmation from Druzsto that the foreigner can live there
- Official translation of marriage certificated with an apostille from California Secretary of State
- Insurance covering the duration of visa

Insurance here works quite differently here. In the US or Japan, you can be on your spouse's insurance. Here, you can't. You have to have your own insurance. And, as a foreigner, you have to have a specific type of insurance, which is not that cheap unfortunately. In my case, we had to pay around CZK 35K (much cheaper compared to the US, but still a big ouch!)  for an annual coverage.

After coming back from Japan, I prepared all the additional documents and went down to the foreign police. Well, I accidentaly went there on Tuesday and only found out it was closed.  So, I went back again on Wednesday, especially because I needed to get a new address stamped in my passport for my driver's license as well. They accepted all the docs and gave me the stamp I wanted after a lengthy explanation. They told me to come back on Friday the 12th to get my visa. 

On Friday, I finished other admin stuff and went down to the police station at 11:20am (40 mins before their closing time).  But, guess what?  It was closed!  How come??  I tired to open the door nobs and tried the bell several times, but nothing! I guess they randomly close earlier some times. :-( So, I reluctantly got on the packed tram (reminded me of the rush hour train in Tokyo in fact...) and went back to my apratment.

Monday morning, I went back, and the process was ultra smooth. The lady who was there could not speak English that much, but she was very friendly (no one ever was friendly there before) and NICE (and no one ever was that nice there before, either).  She pasted the visa sticker in my passport, logged some information into the database, and that was it.  I got my visa!  Now I don't have to deal with this for another year. Whew!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Freshly sliced bread

Czech people eats lots of bread, hams, and cheese. We went to TESCO near our new flat and found a bread slicing machine in the middle of the store for the first time. You can just stick whatever the bread you want to slice and push the button.

Then I was thinking that such a machine would not be sitting around in a store in the US, as kids would play with it (stick something else in it) or could cause a serious accident. Like me... I was thinking that it would be a great machine to slice up daikon for nabe, but of course I didn't stick a piece of daikon in it :) 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Milk machine

Guess what I found in a parking lot at the TESCO park near our house?  Milk machine!!  It sells empty plastic bottles and milk. You can bring your own bottle as well.  I've seen vending machines selling cartoned or bottled milk, but it was the first time seeing the milk pouring machine like this.

Just like the US commercial would say "Got some milk?" Yep! in a parking lot!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Czech Driver's License - finally after many frustrating experiences

Let's just say it is not that easy to get a Czech driver's license if you are a foreigner. Here in Czech, once you get a long-term visa, you are no longer eligible to drive with the Inernational driver's license (according to one source, but according to another source, you are eligible to drive as long as the international driver's license is valid... who knows). And, if you only own an American driver's license, you need to take lessons and tests in order to get a Czech driver's license. Since I have a Japanese driver's license on top of my American driver's license, the process to get a Czech driver's license turned out to be much easier. I can simply "exchange" my Japanese driver's license with Czech driver's license. BUT, the process turned out to be not so straight forward as usual.

The required documents are:
1) Application form, passport
2) Valid Japanese driver's license with official translation (or you may get a certificate issued by Japanese embassy - you need to go there and show your passport and valid Japanese license in order to get this)
3) Czech visa
4) 1 photo

I decided to get a certificate through Japanese embassy in Prague instead of hassling around finding an official translator to translate my driver's license.  It was an easy process. I walked into the Japanese embassy (btw, unlike other embassies in Prague, Japanese embassy is located in the middle of very crowded area, and it is very small), handed in my application form, passport, and my valid Japanese driver's license. I waited about 25 mins, and the certificate was issued. The total fee was only 410 CZK (approx. $21).

I prepared other documents and went to the driver's license place. Someone from mu hubby's company kindly accompanied me, as we knew not too many people there speak English. We went in and submitted all the documents, but of course it didn't go smoothly (it never goes smoothly in the administrative offices in the Czech Republic).  They told me that the certificate from the Japanese embassy was not sufficient enough, as the category of vehicle described on the certificate did not match their standardized categories. Poor person who accompanied me... since I didn't give up (I never do, do I?), she had to keep translating what I was saying to the officials (by then there were at least 3 officials gathered around our booth). 

Finally after about 30 mins or so of debating, they decided to accept my application, but then they encountered another problem. They couldn't find me in the database of foreign police. Apparently the foreign police department forgot to register me in the database despite the fact that I wen there right after getting my visa 4 months ago and got my address stamped in my passport.  So, after our long attempt, we had to give up. The person kindly called the foreign police and the problem was fixed within a couple of days.  So, we went back again.  The same issue with the category, etc. It took us probably 20 mins this time, but they accepted my application. Whew!

Before getting your driver's license, you have to wait about a week. By then, I had to leave for Japan, so I decided to exchange my driver's license after coming back from Japan. I went in right after coming back from Japan, but somehow I knew that it will not go smoothly this time either. And, I was right. It didn't.  I submited my passport and Japanese driver's license, and this time the lady told me that my address in the database is different from the one stamped in my passport.  Of course!!  It is because we were in the process of moving, and we submitted a new address (to be) when we applied for our visa renewal before I went to Japan. I debated for about 20 mins again. More officials came again, but I was defeated. They told me that I needed to get a new address stamp at the foreign police first.  Sigh...

So, I went to the foreing police (btw, the police is only open on M, W, and F, and on Friday it is only open till noon). I needed to go there anyway to submit additional documents required by them to renew my visa. Some of the foreign police officers speak English, but this one didn't. I kept asking him to give me a new stamp in my passport, but he did not understand me.  I kept repeating like a broken record for at least 10 times, and he and his colleague thought I was crazy and started to laugh at me (I thought it was rude. I really think they should assign someone who can speak English!).  Anyway, finally he understood, and finally I got what I wanted - a stamp with my new address... sigh....but yay!

Now I had my correct address stamped, I went to the driver's license place again. It was crowded and had to wait for about 15 mins, but the lady this time was very professional and spoke good English.  I showed my passport and my Japanese license, and I explained that I got my new address stamped in the passport (so that it is different from the one on the application, etc), but the lady told me explicitly that it didn't matter. And within 2 mins, she gave me my Czech driver's license.  Well, why did they ask me to get a new address stamp to begin with then???  Anyway, I got it finally!  Next day, I went down to Hertz to rent a car to go pick up my hubby at the airport :-) 

My 25th move with a bunch of banana boxes

Our old flat
After relocating myself 10 months ago to Brno, Czech Republic, I was hoping the next move will be back to the US or to Japan, but we decided to move within Brno. It was unfortunate, as the flat was very contemporary and nice (heard that it was designed by a famous architect) and was very close to the center of Brno. But, we could not bear the noise problems. We believe there was some structural problems as we could hear the trams going by as if we were sleeping outside, and there was a massive construction going on right off of our balcony.

Construction outside of our old flat
We started to look for a new apartment at the end of September. Another reason for that was our visa renewal. Here in the Czech Republic, you need to have a rental contract to cover the duration of visa. So, we needed to find an apartment by mid Oct when we needed to start our visa renewal process. Anyway, we looked at 4 or 5 flats, and finally we decided on a wondefully renovated apartment; a bit further from the center but only 2 tram station away. Mostly we liked the owner, so we decided right away. The signing of the contract took a while, as the realtor needed to send the Czech contract to the translator for us to be able to understand the content in English. Plus for the visa purpose, we had to ask for a list of all the owners in the building (not only the flat but for every single flat in the building), the owner's land register statement proving that he is the person who owns the flat, and his notarized signature. Yes, the renter had to do a lot more to rent the apartment to the foreigners like us. So, we really appreciated everything he did for us while he himself was busy with his new job and move.

Contract was successfully signed by mid Oct, when we submitted our application for visa renewal with whatever the documents we had then (you don't have to submit all the docs all at once). And I was off to Japan knowing that I had to jump right into the move preparation after my trip.

The move took place on Nov 6th and 7th. Amazingly we collected lots of items in a year in Brno. Mainly because the flat didn't have nothing but the bed, and we had to buy a sofa, a cabinet (to store dishes), desks, etc. The mover (the company called Stehovak) decided to spend the fisrt day to pack and the second day to move. Prior to that, we also wanted to pack the immediately needed items into our suitcases, and we managed to do so after another quick trip to Prague on Friday the 5th. On Saturday, four movers came around 9am (the great thing is that the Czech movers are on time!) with a whole bunch of banana boxes!! The first time I learned that they will be packing our clothes directly into the banana boxes, I panicked (sorry I am Japanese ^^). I immediately got some plastic bags and started to pack all our clothes into them before they got to them :-) Another thing was they packed almost everything that day, so the plan to just relax our last night there completely failed. Our living room was filled with the banana boxes. I have to say, though, the movers were really efficient and professional. I was completely satisfied with them. And the good thing was that they had one person who spoke English, which helped us so much.

hubby working on the floor
before the move
Next morning they came back around 10am and loaded all the boxes to their truck. They were done in a couple of hours. Very efficient! The original plan was that I would stay at the old flat to clean and my hubby would go with the movers to the new place, but I decided to go with them after looking at the number of boxes. They were done unloading all the boxes and furniture by 3pm, and this time the new flat was filled with a whole bunch of banana boxes again. I started to unload them one by one, and it seemed like an infinite work ahead.

My hubby had to leave for his business trip early next morning, so he had to return the rental car that evening. He went off, and I kept working till he came back. I was exhausted by then, so we stopped for that night, took a walk to a nearby restaurant for a quick bite (I have to say we finally found the good and moderately priced restaurant in Brno!), and went to bed. Of course gG was still being uneasy, and he woke us up early, which was good, as my hubby had to leave the house by 7am.

After my hubby took off, I kept putting things away one by one again. It continued all day on Monday and Tuesday, except that I had to go to a foreign police, etc. On Tuesday, the movers came back again and took all the emptied boxes. I was wondering whose living room will be filled with them next :-)

The busiest 3 weeks

My life all of a sudden became unbelievably chaotic. For the last 3 weeks, I had to worry about my visa renewal, my Czech driver's license, my passport renewal, a trip to Japan, 2 very quick trips to Prague (to the Japanese embassy), and finally the move (again!). And, not to mention that I caught a nasty cold right before going to Japan, and gG got very sick and hospitalized while I was in Japan.

Japan was great except that I was still recovering from my sickness, and every occasion that I laughed I was stormed with my coughs. Anyway, I met with 12 of my high school friends in my home town. It had been more than 20 years since I met some of them, but strangely enough, none of us felt we had changed much :-)  Since we had such a great time that I even forgot to take a single picture :-(  I also had great time with my family including my one year old great nephew (I wonder it is the right way to call him - he is my sister's daughter's son).

And the worst thing ever happened to me in Japan was to find out that gG got sick.  He had to be hospitalized as he was so weak (apprently he stopped eating and drinking right after I left).  I felt very helpless and devastated being so far away from him and not being able to do anything for him. The luckiest thing wast that the vet my hubby found was super nice, and she kept informing me about his condition via email every single day, and I felt better afterwards (the vet couldn't figure out anything serious except that gG needed to have a vigorous teeth cleaning).  gG only weighted 1.5kg when he was brought into the hospital...  Anyway, he got better.  I came back on Oct 28th, which was a Czech holiday, so the hospital was closed, but we picked him up the next day after us taking a quick trip to Prague to renew my passport at the Japanese embassy (this was needed for my visa application).  gG was still very skinny and rather disoriented, but he gained his strength little by little, and by Monday the following week, he was back to normal. By then my jetlag was also being cured as well.

And, another week of chaos began with the preparation for the move and gathering of more documents for my visa renewal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brno underground passage

One day we were walking down the street, and my brilliant hubby who can now read most of Czech signs noticed a poster talking about the tour of a newly renovated underground passage around Old Town Hall and Zelny Trh.  It seems that they spent more than EUR 3M to make it happen. It was finally opened for public. Being curious ourselves, we went to Old Town Hall and made a reservation for a tour on Oct 10th.

The tour started by going down the spiral staircase at the eastern edge of Zelny Trh. Unfortunately we couldn't understand most of what the guide was saying (I wish they prepared a brochure or something for non-Czech speakers), but it seems that some of the rooms will have some kind of exhibitions in the future. At the time we went, it was basically empty.
The tour took about an hour and we all came out from the other edge of Zelny Trh. Sorry not too much information about this somewhat interesting pathway, but I will try finding more information about it. In the meantime, I wanted to share the pictures with you :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Janáček (ヤナーチェック) Opera - Jenůfa

Finally! I had a chance to go see a Janáček opera on Oct 9th. Unfortunately, it was right after us coming back from the wine festival, and we were exhausted from all the hiking and drinking under the sun. But I could not miss this opera. So, we went!
It was back in September that I found out about the International Festival Janáček Brno 2010. There are a series of Janáček's pieces being played in different theaters in Brno. The one on Oct 9th was called Jenůfa and was to play in the theater called Janáček Theatre, one partof the National Theatre in Brno, located fairly close to our flat.

Jenůfa is said to be the first opera piece Janáček composed, and was first performed in Brno in January of 1904. The story contains immoralities in many senses including the killing of an infant, a love affair among Jenůfa, a man Jenůfa made a baby with, and his stepbrother, etc.  How shocking it might had been 100 years ago. If you are interested in reading the brief story, check out the wiki here.

Jenůfa was also special for Janáček and his wife Zdenka. Olga, their daughter was suffering from an unknown desease at the time Janáček started to compose the piece. He depicted her daughter's suffering as Jenůfa's suffering, and he himself cast his love towards his daughter to the other character in the opera Kostelnička (a stepmother of Jenůfa).  Olga unfortunately died in 1903 without seeing her father's opera. Janáček dedicated Jenůfa to her memory. For Zdenka, it was a bitter piece. Janáček started to have an affair with Gabriela Horvátová, who played Kostelnička in the Prague premiere of Jenůfa. The incident led his wife Zdenka to an attempted suicide and their informal divorce.

The International Festival Janáček Brno 2010 is still going. I am hoping to go to see another piece before it ends.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grilled goat cheese. Yummy!

Ever since we tried the grilled goat cheese at the wine festival, we became a fan of it. The concept of grilling the cheese directly on the grill was interesting enough, but the shape was also cute. Yep, it has a barrel shape :)   The problem is that we can't find the kind of cheese in the grocery stores around my house. 

There was some kind of festival around Nam Svobody (central square) in mid Oct. Guess what? We found the cheese!

We made our version of the grilled goat cheese on a piece of bread.  I admit that I am not a big cheese eater, but this one became one of my favorites.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Funny sign on the train window

We took a train to the Mutenice wine festival. We ended up sitting very close to a bunch of drunk college students who were chugging wine straight from the bottle and being obnoxiously loud. Then we noticed this sign on the window. At first, I didn't realize what it meant, but my hubby guessed that it was the warning for those drunken passengers not to throw away the bottles out of the window. Certainly they looked too drunk to care about anybody or anything else. I wonder if this is a Czech specific sign.