Saturday, May 21, 2011

From Prague to Frankfurt and to our new adventure land!

On May 5 around noon, we were off to Prague. gG was really calm in a car although most of the time he was burried among all the baggages we had to jam into the car. We got to the embassy in Prague and got our visas without any trouble. It was a night and day experience compared to the time I applied for a Czech visa. We submitted our applications a week ago, and both my hubby and I had a visa stamped in our passports!

We drove off to the Prague airport immediately, unloaded gG in a carrier bag, 3 suitcases, a bag containing gG's portable litter box, my backpack, my hubby's briefcases, and two paper bags containing the stuff like gG's food, water, etc. Yes, gG has lots of personal attachments.

While my hubby was returning the rental car, I repacked all 3 suitcases right in the middle of the airport while gG was meowing loudly attracting all kinds of attention from the surrounding people. :)  Since we had to stay in Frankfurt over night before taking off to our final destination, we wanted to pack everything we needed for the next couple of days in one of the suitcases and wanted to check in other suitcases all the way to our final destination. Thank god we had a plenty of time before the flight. I managed to finish the repacking, and gG managed to get a daily exercise by walking around the airport with my hubby (and getting lots of attention from people). ^^;  And, due to the exercise, he decided to go poo poo right before the boarding time, again right in front of everyone. We snapped open the bag containing the litter box, and there he went stinking up the surrounding area.  ^^;

Luckily we got business class tickets, and so did gG (well, he is considered to be the "excess baggage", but we had to pay approx. 1500 CZK for him). The flight was a quick one hour flight, and since we had an empty seat between me and my hubby, gG sat on a business class seat. :)  I think he liked the luxurious treatment he got, and he kept being quiet throughout the flight.  Good boy!

We stayed in Frankfurt one night and next morning we were off to the airport again. By then, gG knew that he was in another mission of travelling to another unknown land (btw, the taxis in Frankfurt were all Benz. Great deal!).

Luckily we were in business class for this leg too (and gG also had one seat for himself, as the business cabin was pretty much empty).  gG slept through most of the way to the destination.

It was past 1am when we got to the baggage claim. Retrieved our baggages and went to the animal quarantine center. The inspector was so nice. He checked all the documents and asked us to open gG's carriage case. So we did, and immediately after he saw gG, he was like "this is the most beautiful cat that I've ever seen!" Ha ha ha :)  Okay, I am being a silly parent here. Anyway, the process was quick, and gG and we were out of the airport very smoothly.

And, we breathed in the first air of our new adventure land!

This post is the last post of this blog. It was a great 1.5 years that I spent in the Czech Republic. I learned quite a bit about the European history, Czech culture, Janáček, and life in Brno. I met one of the greatest people whom I miss greatly. Thank you everyone for reading this blog.

If you are interested in our new adventure, I am starting two new blogs; one in English (Holy Cow! It's India) and one in Japanese (TBD). Please come and check them out when you have time.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

The last few days in Brno

The last few days in Brno were rather crazy. We got some vaccinations before heading to our next destination of mystery land, coordinated with the airline company so that gG could fly with us as a "special carrier", made several hotel reservations (in Brno and Frankfurt), divided our stuff into five piles: 1) stuff to sea ship, 2) stuff to air ship, 3) stuff to take, 4) stuff to leave, and 5) stuff to throw away, etc, and finally completed the move. Especially because there were items that came with the flat, which we didn't want the movers to accidentally pack and ship, we had to make some effort to separate them.

Anyway, everything including the move went very smoothly (thanks again to our friends who helped us through the move!). On May 4, the flat was empty except for the furniture that belonged to the flat. We spent our last night in a hotel that my hubby used to stay when he was still a consultant as to celebrate the end of our journey in the Czech Republic (boy.... the hotel was rather depressing, though. Not sure how my hubby could tolerate staying there for several months...).

We also celebrated our last meal in Brno at our favorite Japanese restaurant Koishi. Brno is not the best place to get any fresh fish, but Sushi Chef Ebina-san always magically creates wonderfully delicious sushi. I always wonder how he managed to get fresh "neta (stuff on the rice, mainly fish)".  Truely a "pro." And, yes, we were very lucky to have him in Brno!

It was already past 9pm when we got to the restaurant that day as we had to clean up the flat, but he kindly provided us a "omakase" sushi course including a creative fried sushi!  It was truely comforting after the busy couple of days.

People who work at the restaurant also came by and kindly said "good-bye" to us. I will always remember "Koishi" as one of my favorite restaurants in the world.

Next morning, we got up early, left gG in the hotel room, and went back to the flat to do some more cleaning before the owner showed up for the handover. We were done with the handover by 11am. Got back to the hotel to pick up gG and our 3 big suitcases and a bag for the litter box and were off to Prague by noon.

On the way to Prague, we stopped at a small town called Velké Meziříčí.  There I saw an old lady taking a stroll with two boys and a baby in a babycart. Two boys were having fun playing around the monument while the old lady was sitting on the bench watching a baby in a babycart. The weather was warm and sunny, and everything looked so peaceful. And, I realized how much I loved the simple life that most Czech people value. It is not the richest country in the world, but people certainly know how to enjoy life with their family and friends.

In my next post, I am going to write a bit more about our trip to the embassy in Prague and to our destination through Frankfurt.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Windows and Doors in the Czech Republic

Most of the windows here in the Czech Republic open up in two different ways. Maybe this is a European thing. I don't remember ever seeing such windows in the US, so I never knew until a maintenance guy came to fix our window in our previous flat one day after living there for four months or so. He was amused to see my happy reaction when he showed me how the window opens up in two different ways :)

So... typically the window knob is pointing downward. If you turn the knob sideway, the window opens up towards you (this is rather typical). But here is the trick. If you turn the knob upwards, only the top part of the window opens up. This is convenient when you just need to let a little bit of air into your room.

Another thing I noticed in the Czech Republic is that most of the entrance door knobs don't turn. So, once you shut the door, there is no way of turning and opening the door. Something which I still don't understand is that people still lock the door even though there is no way of turning the knob (and thus not being able to opening it up).  Oh also, most of the restaurant entrance doors don't shut by themselves. You are so used to the door shutting itself with a slight push, but not here. You have to make sure you close the door all the way until you hear the click sound :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Everyone loves rohlík

It would be a crime if I leave the Czech Republic without mentioning about "rohlík"!!  Rohlík is everywhere. It is a thin roll stretched to the size of a hot dog. And it is ultra cheap! Most of the stores sell them at CZK 1 (6 cents) each. Almost everyone (I mean literally everyone) leaves the store with a bag full of rohlík, as if the only purpose of the shopping was to get rohlík. It had been a mystery to us how Czech people eat that many rohlík.

Now that we are leaving the Czech Republic, we decided to give another try (yes, we tried once right after we got here, but it was so dry inside and outside and we ended up throwing it away). Guess what!? It was okay (I wouldn't say it was great...sorry). We used rohlík as a hotdog bun. The rohlík we got this time was dry outside but moist inside - a great combination of texture!  If we were staying longer, I am sure we would have discovered more ways to eat rohlík, but it was good to discover the real taste of rohlík before we leave.

Btw, it is entertaining to see the expression on clerk's face when we buy only two rohlíks :-)

Red circle on window

We had to take a quick trip to Prague in order to apply for our visa to our new destination. This time instead of driving, we took a train. Trains are cheap here. To get to Prague, it usually cost CZK 160 (approx. $10) per person. This time we took a special super express train (well... it is still slow I have to say) which cost us an extra CZK 400, but hey the train was newer and there was waitress service inside the train. You can just press a button above your head, and a waiter would come and take your order for coffee, etc.
As we sat in our seats, I noticed a red circle on the window. Hmmm... is it a sticker? Japanese flag(まあ、そんなことはなかろうが...)? What is it?  My hubby who typically knows everything didn't know, either. Then I looked up above the window and found the sign explaining that is the circle you can hit with a hammer to break the window - for an emergency. Pretty advanced! BUT.... where is the hammer? I didn't see any around.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Unlocked iPhone completely busted with the fw update

Shoot.... I knew I would make this mistake some time. I was so absent-minded when I plugged my iPhone into my USB port and iTunes popped up a window asking me if I wanted to download "something."  I am usually very careful about firmware, as my hubby who managed to have my US iPhone that I bought back in 2008 unlocked for me told me explicitly that I should not update the firmware. I had to have it unlocked as it didn't read the SIM card provided by one of the carriers here in the Czech Republic.

Anyway, I did it - accidentally. Boo! And, it was too late when I noticed that I made a mistake. It didn't recongnize my SIM and kept bringing up the screen for the Emergency Call. I looked for my old AT&T SIM card hoping that would bypass this emergency call screen, but tough luck... I couldn't find it. Along with the effort to reduce our baggage for our move to our next destination, I probably threw it away.

So, I spent almost all day searching and exploring different ways to fix it. Firstly I had to find out whether it was 2G or 3G. Based on the fact that it has a plastic cover rather than an alminum cover, I ascertained it was 3G. Then, I wanted to make sure that I know what version of firmware the person who unlocked my iPhone installed. This was tough. Since most of the sites said that the 3G iPhone is unlockable. Well, but it is unlocked. I found a couple of sites, and they seemed to say it was 3.1.2.  I looked up for it and downloaded on my MacBook. Well, then I realized that my iTunes was updated to a new version and needed to re-install to an older version.  This was another tough job on MacBook. You have to erase files one by one manually. Anyway, I did. I also learned good tricks like pressing Option key while booting your iTunes will let you specify the firmware you want to reinstall, etc. But, this didn't work. I tried several times, but it kept giving me an error message. Maybe I can jailbreak my iPhone first as instructed here?  It was enough hacking for today, and now I really have to shift my focus to our move!!  As my hubby suggested, maybe I will just wait until I move to our next destination. Or maybe it is time for me to buy a new iPhone.

But Apple--! I love your innovative design sense and all that, but this is nuts. Updating the firmware completely blocks me from using my iPhone - not only as a phone but also as a device to use the apps that I purchased from your store!?!?  It is so not right.

Janáček (ヤナーチェック): House where he lived in Brno

It was rather a pure coincidence that I discovered the name of Janáček around the time I started to live in the town of Brno where he lived in most of his life. Since then, I have read a couple of books about him, corresponded with the translator (professor) of the books, visited his home town of Hukvaldy and the house he finally managed to bring his beloved Kamila to before he passed away, and saw his opera called Jenůfa. I feel like I know this brilliant composer, who was in love with the idea of loving and being loved by women.

And...finally, I had a chance to visit the house in Brno where Janáček lived with his wife Zdenka from 1910 to 1928 until he took off to his summer house in Hukvaldy spending his last 10 days or so with his beloved Kamila Stösslová and one of her sons. 

The house is located right next to a music school where he also taught. The house is small, but was equipped with then-modern facilities such as running water and electric power, and most of all it had a good size of front garden where Janáček enjoyed planting different trees and flowers. It definitely was my type of house - big garden, small house, and big windows to enjoy the view of the garden (ah!! Just remembered a song by one of the Japanese singers back in the 70's, which perfectly depicts this Janáček's house!  Listen here).

The house exhibits some Janáček manuscripts, pictures, etc. The wonderful thing is that you get to look at his workplace with the actual piano he used to compose many of his successful operas.

Opening hours:
Tuesdays and Friday: 10-noon and 1-5pm
Wednesdays and Thursdays: 10-noon and 1-6pm
Saturdays: 11am to 5pm


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Friday, April 29, 2011

Language barrier

The first barrier that I had here in the Czech Republic was the language. Not too many people at stores or public institutions speak English. I had to rely on so many people just to get what I needed like getting insurance, driver's license, doctor appointments, etc. And, thanks to all my Czech friends and my hubby's colleagues who helped us throughout our journey in the Czech Republic! And, thanks to the poor quality of Google Translate. I tried so many times to convey myself with a pre-translated memo and failed 100% of the time by either getting a completely different thing or a completely puzzled look.

Now that we are leaving the Czech Republic, I once again am facing the language barrier issue. For instance, we would go to an insurance company to cancel my insurance. The receptionist spoke a little bit of English but none of the agents did. The poor agent was clearly annoyed as we kept yapping in English. She kept talking to us in Czech, and we kept yapping back in English. Boy... :(  So, we ended up calling our friend again, so that she could explain what we needed. Fundamentally, though, we have to go back there again.

Also, the other day we visited a vaccination center without knowing that we had to make an appointment first. The nurse didn't speak English but a lady in the waiting room happened to speak English and interpreted for us. Eventually the nurse gave us a card with a telephone number and told us to call for an appointment. So, we diappointedly left the facility and called them the next day, and guess what?  The lady who answered the phone cannot speak English!  So much for making an appointment. Sigh... But, thanks again to another friend of ours!!  She called them on behalf of us and made an appointment. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

We should be able to speak more Czech of course, but at the same time I was wondering why they can't at least hire someone who can speak English in the facilities like an insurance company where lots of their clients would be non-Czech people. :(

Czech chata

I guess I will leave the Czech Republic without visiting one of the chatas that I heard so much about. The chata (pronounced like "k/h-a-t-a) is a small cottage that most Czech families own in the suburbs or countryside. It seems like lots of Czech people would use chata as a gat-away for the weekends to grow veggies, make Slivovitz, or to eat and drink and juts hang out with friends and family.
We had to take a quick train trip to Prague yesterday to apply for our visas. Along the train tracks, I saw many chata-like houses. I saw some old people working in their field (maybe planting something). I have been away from life close to the nature, but at some point in my life, I would like to tatally dip myself into nature and grow veggies (to have a self-sufficient life!) and just enjoy time with my friends and family - just like lots of Czech folks are already doing. Love it!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Another big move coming up

Our departure from the Czech Republic is getting closer. And, now that our next destination has been finalized (whew... finally!), we are wrapping things up here. Yes, another big move is coming up "again."

The moving requires lots of project management. You have to make assumptions and based on them you have to make plans. The biggest dependency was to identify when my hubby's job would be finalized. Without knowing the date, we cannot determine when to apply for our visas, and thus when to ask the movers to come, when to vacate this flat so that the owner can find the next tenant, and when to book our flights to our next destination, etc. We made an assumption (a big one) and made our plans. Luckily it looks like things are converging to work out the way we planned - I think.

Another headache each time we do an international move is gG. Every country has different requirements for bringing in your pets. This time, we found out that we had to apply for a certificate in person in the destination country. How on earth can we do that being in the Czech Republic???  Luckily my hubby found an agent that can take care of the pet relocation. We will need to send all the necessary documents within a couple of days, and they will be applying for a certificate in the destination country for us. For that, we have to have one more visit to our vet. The good thing is that the vet is so nice that gG doesn't mind going there at all :) I think we will have the certificate by the time we leave! So, that was another relief.

We were also lucky to sell most of our furniture that we purchased in the Czech Republic, so we can travel rather light. However, since we don't even know what kind of temporary housing we are getting for the first month, I have been wondering what to take, to air mail, and to ship. Probably I will send some gG-related stuff via air, just in case. After all, he is most important one among us :)

The next country is totally unknown to me. I have been studying little by little, asking my friends who are originally from there, but there are still lots of unknown stuff. We just have to live with it. After all things will work out okay no matter what - just like it has been throughout my life (^^). Still things are chaotic here, but we will deal with chaos step by step. And soon we will be starting our new adventure in the most incredible country that I always wanted to visit (well, never thought I would live there, but I will be)! Can't wait!

We will miss all of our good friends that we made here in Brno. The world is getting smaller, and I am sure we will have many chances to meet and greet again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Local wine bar

Now that spring is here(!), everyone seems to want to be outside drinking coffee, tea, beer, and wine. This is the most wonderful and beautiful time of the year in the Czech Republic, and I am sad that I will be missing it very soon - especially after the long, dark, and cold winter we endured.

As we were strolling around the neighborhood, we found a very authentic looking wine bar. The bar was cozy with brick walls and large windows, and a stout looking owner (maybe?) was pouring wine from barrels on the wall (his features made me think more of a beer hall than a wine bar ^^...but anyway). The bar was pretty full with local folks of different ages (mostly old men!) enjoying the evening wine with their friends. I could easily imagine it has been that way for more than 100 years :) I was wondering if Janacek also visited this wine bar at the end of the 19th century (he lived only a couple of blocks away btw).

A full glass of wine only cost us CZK 18 (around $1.10)!  At this price, I am sure the local folks can enjoy a couple of glasses of wine every evening with their friends and great conversation.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fan under the window?

The other day when I was walking down the alley surrounded by the apartment buildings, I noticed for the first time there were some kind of covered holes under the windows. I guess I never noticed them during the winter time, as it gets DARK(!) around 3pm.

Anyway, I asked my hubby, and he said they were fans. It makes sense to have a built-in fan there, as you can bring the outside air into the house without opening up the window at night or on rainy days. Given the fact that some windows didn't have them, I guess they were installed by the onwer of each flat. I also heard that most of the older buildings have thicker walls that it doesn't get too hot inside the house. Maybe fans are more popular and suitable here than air conditioners.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Restaurant U Kastelana: Brno

U Kastelana is one of the most famous and high-end restaurants in Brno and is right next to our flat :) We always wanted to go there, as so many people mentioned how great it was. Counting down the days before leaving Brno, we decided to go there on my hubby's birthday (yep, our birthday celebrations are pretty low-key).

The funny thing is that the building the restaurant is in looks more like a washed-up car dealer shop and not at all like a high-end restaurant. But once you step inside, you can tell that it has its personality and dignity. The ceiling is low as it is half way down to the basement. I liked the decor and spaciousness as well. Unlike other restaurants, you can actually enjoy the conversation without shouting to each other.

The service was good, but it was surprising that there weren't too many waiters/waitresses who could speak sufficient English. I am sure there must be lots of foreigners visiting the restaurant.

They had a course menu, which looked pretty good and was priced very reasonably, but we decided to go with the a la carte. As a starter, I had oxtail consommé with homemade ravioli and my hubby managed to get the garlic soup with snails which was on the special course menu. I love consomme and have to say it was one of the best consomme soups that I have had - well, I still have to give more credit to the consomme that I had at Cafe Central, yet. :) And, we shared scallops with broccoli puree, cream and champagne cream leek, which was cooked just perfect!  As an entree, I had veal shoulder with shitake mushrooms and glazed vegetables and my hubby had sea bass with saffron risotto, baby spinach and butter rouilly. Mine was superb! And, we finished off our meal with cottage cheese dumplings with cinnamon and sauce of forest fruits, which was a bit overkill in terms of creativity but tasted good.

One thing that my hubby noticed was a misspelling on the menu: instead of "Carpaccio", they had "Crapaccio" :-)
The restaurant has been in business for about 20 years. The chef seems to go to Vienna every morning at 4am to get the fresh ingredients and cook in the afternoon. Kudos to Chef Michael Goeth!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

gG's EU passport

Dr. Bürglová, our wonderful vet, made gG a passport with the proof of rabies vaccination, etc.  According to some web sites, the pet passport is required to travel within EU countries. gG has already travelled to Vienna, Bratislava, Prague, and Krakow with us, and each time since we travelled by car just passing the border (without a border), no officials came and asked for gG's passport. 
Now that we are leaving the Czech Republic, I am not sure how useful it is for gG to have a passport, but hey it is just so cool to have one. Don't you think?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the footsteps of Napoleon - Austerlitz

The Battle of Austerlitz a.k.a. The Battle of Battle of the Three Emperors took place in 1805 in the area called Austerlitz (called Slavkov in Czech) about 10km southeast of Brno. It was a battle between French empire led by Napoleon and Russian-Austrian army led by the Alexander I from Russia (Francis II from Austria was said to be away from the battlefield). The battle was a huge victory for Napoleon's side. The number of deaths in the Russian-Austrian army was 15,000 v.s. 1,305 in the French army. It was tactics that led Napoleon to this huge win.

We had the honor to visit the field where the battle took place. Actually the field is some kilometers west of Austerlitz; very close to the village called Prace where our friend Marta lives with her family. Prace is a beautiful village with lots of green and gently-sloping hills. There is a chapel called The Peace Memorial on top of one of the hills built between 1910 and 1912 that holds the bones of those who perished in the battle . I heard that they are still finding bones after 200 years later, and those newly found bones are kept in a coffin which is placed inside the chapel (once it gets filled, they are moved to the basement). There are two statues of women by the entrance to the chapel. One is said to be a mother of a deceased soldier covering her face. The other is the bride-to-be who lost her future husband in the battle. In any era, wars bring sorrow to those who are left behind.

The interesting part about the chapel is that it is constructed so that two people at diagonally opposite corner approx. 20m away can hear each other even if they whisper with tiny little voice. I did the test with my hubby, and surprisingly you can hear the other VERY clearly as if the voice is coming from a speaker above your head. Amazing!

There is a small but well-organized museum next to the chapel. The museum is divided into 4 parts. The entrance section gives you the overview of the battle. The next three sections are completely divided by a door that can only be opened by the museum employees. In each section, you learn about the battle by watching the video (available in English, too). Btw, you are not allowed to take any pictures inside. Highly prohibited. The museum lady will come after you IF you did. How do I know?

Leaving the museum behind, we headed to the town of Austerlitz (Slavkov). There is a palace with an impressive looking French garden where an armistice was signed between Austria and France after the battle on Dec 2, 1805. By the time we got there, the palace was closed, but we had a chance to walk around the garden which sort of looked like a miniature and simplified version of Versailles. The garden has 4 big basins with the fountains and 47 sculptures, and it is a good place to have a walk and hang out on nice days.

The battle certainly changed the course on European history. The Treaty of Pressburg was signed on Dec 26, 1805 between France and Austria, which practically led to the end of Holy Roman Empire.

Anyway, the day was wonderful. Before heading to the monument, Marta invited us over to her place in Prace to have a wonderful lunch with her family.

Her mom's homemade duck and dumplings with the Czech-style sauerkraut were just so delicious. And the meal was perfectly completed with the homemade strudel. I felt I finally ate a real Czech meal, which I loved.

If I had been born there, I probably wouldn't want to live in a city. Life there seemed to be self-contained and down-to-earth. The value of life with family and nature is something that is hard to find in a busy city.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lobster meal in a drug store?

I think it was Sunday during the last cold winter, I noticed a building on the junction of Masarykova and Janska that had a nice looking fake lobster on top of the store door. The store was closed (all small stores are closed on Sundays here), and I assumed that it was a restaurant probably serving seafood and lobsters. Back then, I didn't know the mark for the drug store or how short on lobsters or any kind of seafood Brno might be. :-)

Anyway, I later realized it was NOT a seafood restaurant. It was a drug store. I tried to do some research on how the lobsters (well, I found a smaller one on the side of the building, too) ended up getting up there, but I couldn't find anything on the web (at least in English). My guess, or I should say my wishful thinking, is that the place used to be a fine seafood restaurant serving all kinds of good seafood from Italy or wherever. Or, maybe it is one of the arts on the street thing. Who knows.

Anyway, I thought it was cute to have a couple of lobster hanging above the drug store in the middle of landlocked Brno. :-)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brazzale - Great cheese store in Brno

My hubby and I were walking towards Nam Svobody after shopping for fresh veggies at Zelny Trh and found this new and neat looking cheese store called Brazzale, an Italian store just opened up its branch for the cheese lovers in Brno. Brazzale also carries moderately priced Italian wines.

We were so happy to get a pack of Ricotta cheese there, which we could never find in any of the grocery stores in Brno. I guess I have to look forward to my hubby's fabulous eggplant lasagna again soon which he recently made for me using cottage cheese and mozzarella cheese. It was soooo good.

The store is on a small street called Radnicika (just around the corner from Zelny Trh).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trencin, Slovakia

Trencin is a small town just south of the border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is a very cute town with a significant view of enormous Trencin Castle on the hilltop. The castle is said to be the largest in Central Europe.

The history of the castle goes back to the time of the Roman Empire. There have been many different owners. The region was conquered by a Polish king, a Hungarian king, and owned by different royal families, etc.

The castle was once burned down in 1790 along with the entire town. It was only in the 19th century that the town of Trencin flourished again. During WWII, Nazis occupied the town and a prison camp was placed there until Soviet troops captured it in 1945.

Trencin Castle has been renovated and has been serving as a museum exhibiting historic items such as weapons, pictures, and furniture. The tour is only in Slovak unfortunately but there are "some" explanations in English on the walls.

The exhibition was not something that we were interested in, but it was good to walk around the site (you need to pay for the tour in order to get in). You may, however, also just enjoy the sight of beautiful castle from below. Most of the stores were closed when we were there as it was on Saturday, but it seemed like it would be a wonderful place to hang out during the spring-summer time. It would be just nice to sit at the square and to enjoy the view of the castle with a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Miyabi in Prague: Wonderful Japanese Restaurant

Whenever we visit Prague, we enjoy also visiting a Japanese restaurant which serves typical Japanese cusines other than sushi. Brno has a couple of sushi places, but we cannot get Katsudon or Tempura Udon type of dishes. Our favorite in Prague so far had been the restaurant called Katsura, but we decided to try out a new restaurant called Miyabi this time.

The restaurant had a great ambiance with modern decor and lighting. The chairs and tables were somewhat outdated and didn't really fit into the entire mood, but it had the "wabi sabi" meets European cafe type of feel to it. There are also some Tatami rooms in the back.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about this restaurant, as the Japanese guidebook said that the chef is Czech rather than Japanese. Yes, my presumption was that it might not taste authentic. But, my presumption was completely wrong. It was more authentic than could be! I did some research on the chef and found out his name is Mr. Marek Hora. He was one of the Seven Sushi Samurai at the Sushi Award 2009. He didn't win the top award, but his creativity was well acknowledged. According to this site, Miyabi's logo is "CaJ" meaning Czech and Japan, representing the chef's wish to bridge two cultures and also to appreciate the mind of Japanese "tea ceremony" (caj is a Czech word for "tea").

In addition to sushi, they have Udon, Soba, typical a la carte dishes such as Agedashi Tofu as well as different kinds of Bento with all kinds of goodies. We ordered Shokado Bento which came with yakizakana (grilled fish fillet), tempura moriawase (4 different kinds of tempura including shrimp), sashimi moriawase (4 or 5 different kinds of sashimi), yasai nimono (boiled veggie - that day they served wonderfully cooked eggplant), rice, miso soup, and dessert. All this for only 450 CZK!!! Much cheaper than eating sushi in Brno.

Kudos to Chef Hora. I highly recommend this place!



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Monday, March 28, 2011

Hrad Karlstein near Prague

We had some errands to run in Prague this past Friday, so we rented a car and explored Hrad Karlstein which had been one of the places we wanted to visit. Hrad Karlstein is a beautiful castle only 25 km away from Prague. As you may have guessed from the name, it was build by the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th century. It was the place for safekeeping of the royal treasuries, particularly a collection of holy relics and Imperial crown jewels. The record shows that Charles IV himself stayed in the castle to supervise the building works and interior decoration in 1355.

The castle has a stair-like formation starting from the lowest-lying Well Tower and Burgrave's Residence, continuing on to the extensive Imperial Palace, then to the Marian Tower, and finally to the Great Tower. What's amazing is that they completed the construction within 17 years back in the era with no bulldozers!

There are tours almost every hour even in English. The tour does not include the viewing of Chapel of The Holy Cross in The Great Tower, which we really wanted to see, during the winter time (they said it is only open to the VIPs which obviously we are not), but it takes you through major rooms such as Emperor's Bedchamber and Audience Hall.

Here is a little bit about Charles IV. His father is John the Blind of Luxembourg who became blind 10 years before he died in the Battle of Crécy in 1346 at age 50. Charles was his eldest son and was crowned King of Bohemia one year after his father's death at age 31. He was French educated and founded University of Prague (a.k.a. Charles University), the first university in Central Europe, in 1348.

The first workout in the Czech Republic

My hubby and I used to go to the gym everyday. At one point we even had a trainer who pushed us vigrously. I could bench press 80 lbs, and my hubby could do 100 lbs at one point. Let's just say we were fit :)

Now that the time has passed, and we have been only working out by ourselves at home (doing cardio and yoga mainly), we started to feel rather weak. So, off to the gym we went.

There is a small gym near our flat, and you can workout for 60CZK/person without having a membership. Good deal! Okay, the machines are about 10 years old at least, and the locker room is rather depressing, but you get to work out. I was also surprised that there were so many people around noon time during the weekdays. Way to go Brno people!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Genuine Tzatziki at Hermes in Brno

We found a great Greek grocery store called Hermes in downtown Brno. It looks like the store is headquartered in a town called Krnov, which is a small town on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland. Hermes Brno branch is a small store, but you can get stuff like Tzatziki (very genuine stuff!), all kinds of pickled peppers and olives that are stuffed with cheese, Baklava, etc. They also have a great stock of Greek wines as well.

According to wikipedia, roughly 12,000 Greek citizens fled to then Czechoslovakia during the 1946-1949 Greek Civil War. Most of them were concentrated round the towns of Brno (Brunn), Ostrava, Opava, and Krnov. In 1975, the emigration back to Greece started including those born in Czechosolovakia, and by 1991, there were just 3,443 people in Czechoslovakia who declared Greek ethnicity; almost all of those were in the Czech portion of the country, with just 65 in the Slovak portion. However, many of those who emigrated back to Greece kept the strong contact with the Czech Republic and helped in establishing the trade links between two countries. Is this the reason why I see lots of Gyros places around Brno?


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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travelling coat

There was an unexpected event during our trip to Budapest at the end of Feb. We had a great dinner at one of the local restaurants called Klassz. It was a crowded night at the restaurant, and we were asked to move to another table.

Almost all the restaurants around this area have several coat racks for the customers to hang their coats. There was indeed several of them in Klassz as well, and so we did. But, when we moved our table, we didn't move my coat to the nearest rack. After we finished our wonderful dinner, my hubby kindly went to the coat rack and got my coat, which I wore that night to go back to our hotel.

Next morning, when we were about to leave for the Parliament tour, I noticed something slightly odd about my coat. The color was slightly softer. I searched for my lip cream in one of the pockets, and it wasn't there. Then I picked up my coat and realized it was lighter. By then, I knew it was not my coat :)

Strange thing was that the coat fit me perfectly. It had almost the same shape, length, color, even the number of buttons, etc. Anyway, since it was the only coat I had for the morning, the coat ended up going to the Parliament with us. We needed to leave for Brno that day but waited until the restaurant was open. We stopped at the restaurant hoping that they would know something about the swapped coat accident from the previous night, but they didn't.  We left our phone number hoping that whoever had ended up with my coat would contact the restaurant.

We were on our way back to Brno when we received a call from the restaurant. The lady who had ended up with my coat was there, too. Apparently she was a tourist from Sweden. A couple of days later, we got an email from her notifying us of the address we should send her coat to, so we did.  Finally her coat was reunited with its owner! And, she used the box to send my coat back to Brno. My coat enjoyed a trip from Budapest to Sweden and back to Brno. :)  It was the first adventurous trip my coat took without me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lost in translation in Japan

I wonder who proudly translated these.... :(

1) Sign in Shinagawa Prince Hotel...a half door??


2) Sign on an elevator door...I guess the translator was being lazy.


3) Sign on an electric hot pot...huh???


4) In Shizuoka... I would love to have a coin ROCKER!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Incredible power of Tsunami caused by M9.0 earthquake in Japan

This topic is a bit off from the theme of this blog, but I cannot avoid writing about the devastating occurences during our quick visit to Japan last week.

It was on March 11th, one day after my birthday, around 2:45pm JST. We were on a train to an onsen (hot spring) hotel. We heard a loud and sudden announcement from the train conductor that the train needs to have an emergency stop. And, it stopped abruptly, which stunned me, but then within a couple of seconds, we felt a shake, which stunned me more. The shake continued quite a long time and then became even more vigorous from right to left like a pendulum. Since the train stopped in between two tunnels on top of the cliff, we were worried that it might flip over and fall down the cliff. Anyway, even after the aftershock we were okay. Later I heard it was only Shindo-4 around that area. It certainly felt bigger than that.

We were stuck in the train for 3 hrs before we were led out down to the railroad track via a ladder from Car 15, which had a better landing. It took a while for everyone to vacate the train, as they only had one ladder and we were in Car 1, which was the last car to be evacuated. We were asked to walk to the nearest station along the railroad track. It was getting dark, and we had two heavy suitcases. Then a man who was in the same car with us came and offered me  help. He said he was over 60 years old, and I was hesitant, but his help was greatly appreciated.

The train station where we arrived had literally nothing around it - except one landline phone. Our mobile phones were not working, so I lined up for the landline phone and called the hotel to cancel our reservation. It was a pity as I had spent about 4 hrs researching the best inns around that area, and we were very much looking forward to it. However, that feeling was wiped out when I saw the image of what had happened to the Tohoku area later on. I literally was at a loss for words...

I was watching the news, and it said that the tsunami wave typically moves at 900km/hr until it hits the land at which point it decreases its speed to 90km/hr. But still 90km/hr!!  It is like being hit by a landing jumbo jet. Thousands of dead bodies were found by the shore a couple of days after the first M9.0 earthquake. The tsunami wiped out many towns up to 10km inland. 10km!?!?  How could one imagine that the tsunami could travel 10km inland...

The electricity is out and thus the water which is supposed to keep the nuclear reactors cool could no longer be pumped in. People are trying hard to avoid the reactors overheating, but the effort has not been completely successful. There have been hundreds of earthquakes here and there still (see here: www.japanquakemap.com), and the one in my hometown which happened right after we left raised an additional concern of potential eruption of Mt. Fuji. TEPCO decided to do a rolling power outage, which reduced the number of trains in Tokyo area significantly which impacted everyone commuting in Tokyo. Most of the grocery stores have no stocks. People in severely impacted areas don't have food, water, heat, or electricity. There will be serious hygiene issues as well (lack of toilets, no bath, etc). This is truly a catastrophe. And, I believe it will continue that way for a while. The psychological impact was just huge as well....

We got back to the Czech Republic a couple of days ago despite the fact that I felt bad to leave my friends and family behind. We got an announcement a day before our departure date that the departure time had been changed. We were still in Shizuoka (it typically takes about 3 hrs to get to Narita under normal circumstances), and we were worried whether we could get there on time. The Narita Express was not running, and I heard that the buses going from the hotels were not running, either. But later we found out that the buses were running from the Bus Terminals like Hakozaki. We managed to get to Narita in 3.5 hrs. The flight we were booked on was supposed to be a direct flight, but we found out that there would be an extra stop in Korea to change crews and refuel. The total flight time to Vienna was 15 long hours. Once we got to Vienna, we were immediately asked to undergo a radioactivity test. Very thorough. Finally we were reunited with gG in Brno around midnight, exactly 24 hrs after we left Shizuoka. It was good to hold him indeed.

I have been keeping my eyes glued to the earthquake-related news ever since I came back. I am truely worried about my friends and family and how Japan can return to normalcy... If you have $5 to spare, please do donate some money to help people in Japan (http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_newsroom/japan-earthquake-and-tsunami-how-to-help).