Sunday, February 27, 2011

Open Air Bathing in Budapest

You cannot complete exploring Budapest without dipping yourself in one of the public baths called "furdo". There are several big ones such as Gellert, Kiraly, Rudas, and Szechenyi. We went to Szechenyi, which is in a City Park on the Pest side.

Szechenyi is said to be the biggest public bath in Europe, and is famous for the chessboards set directly in the bath for the chess lovers. There are three good-size open air baths (pools), each with a different temperature.  Despite it being another cold day in Budapest, the pools were enjoyed by lots of local people and tourists like us. I, being Japanese, tend to enjoy hotter baths(defnitely above 39 C degrees), but none of the three baths had a temperature that high. I suppose it was designed to be that way, so that people can dip themselves for a long time. In fact, we were in the water continuously for over an hour (well, we couldn't get out as it was freezing!), which I could never do in a hot Japanese bath, and most people were there before we got there and stayed after we left. The old men playing chess definitely had a plan to stay there and to enjoy their Saturday chess games in the bath all day.

You will need to bring your bathing suit, a towel, slippers, and maybe a robe especially during the cold winter time. Since we only brought our bathing suit, we ended up renting a piece of cloth that they called a towel.  It didn't work out that well.  Also, the facility is not like a spa and more like a public pool. You would smell sewage, and you definitely don't want to walk through the facility with bare feet like we ended up doing. But, the bath itself is great, and we felt really good after dipping ourselves for nearly 1.5 hours.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Artistically Old and New Budapest

As our remaining days in Europe are now limited, we decided to make a weekend getaway to Budapest, Hungary. Hungary is just south of Slovakia, about 3 hrs drive from Brno through Bratislava. As the capital of Hungary, Budapest indeed had a lot to offer to us.

One thing significantly different about Budapest compared to Vienna or Prague is that the city does not have a single center point. It even looks as if the Danube that cuts through the city into Buda side (west side of river) and Pest side (east side of river) is the center. Buda side is hilly, and it is where the palace spreads alongside the beautiful Danube river. Pest side is flat, and it is where Parliament and St. Stephen's Basilica are located; both of which were really close to our hotel luckily.

What I loved the most about Budapest was that I didn't see too many modern and ugly looking buildings. Some were very old and ruined which made them even artistic - kind of natural form of Hundertwasser's Kunst Haus in Vienna. It looks like most of the renovation was done by maintaining the original exterior and modernizing the interior. Just like our hotel. The hotel clerk told me that the building itself is over 100 years old but the interior looked very 21st century. 

I also liked the arts here and there on the streets. Budapest really reminded me of the old proverb called "Onkochishin" which basically means something like "examine, learn, and appreciatethe old and understand the new." I felt the sophistication in the city.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Avia Cafe - Mediterranean Restaurant in Brno

Before moving into this new flat, the super sweet owners introduced us to the surrounding restaurants. Avia Cafe was one of them.  It is on a small alley, and you can hardly recognize it as a restaurant from outside.  The square building was built in 1929 as the first modern sacred building (it was the Jan Hus Congregational Church) in the Czech Republic. Yes, it looks like you are walking into a modern looking church. And, even when you walk in, you stop for a moment and wonder if it is really a restaurant. You see a wide floor a few steps down with cheap looking tables and chairs in three rows and a set of round and white tiled pillars reaching up to the tall ceiling.  It makes you feel like you just steped into a public bath place or something. :)

However, once I got seated and looked at the menu, I immediately had a good sense about the place. Unlike other restaurants in Brno that have hundreds of menu items (someone needs to tell them to stop doing that!), Avia had a one-page menu. Sophistication! I love it.

There was also a list of daily specials available on a small blackboard. For the appetizers, we decided to go for a salmon tartar on the daily menu and a grilled eggplant filled with goat cheese from the regular menu. I have to say the salmon tartar was okay. I could smell fish. They could have reduced the smell by mixing in some more lemon, dill, and capper. The eggplant was excellent! We also had a bowl of cream onion soup with basil, which was also great. For a main dish, we ordered seared tuna with mashed potato (well, in Czech it is called potato puree), which was also very good.

We ended our dinner with a cup of cuppuccino and a wonderfully sweet Tiramisu. Superb!

I have to list Avia as one of my favorite restaurants in Brno. And most of all, the price was very reasonable.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Feb 11th - The 7th Anniversary with gG

Exactly 7 years ago on Feb 11, we had the honor of welcoming gG into our home. It was my hubby's idea to get a cat. I never had a cat in my life before. And to be honest, I was a bit hesitant. We visited several places including some animal shelters, but I could not connect to any of the cats... unfortunately.

One day, we saw an ad that there would be a cat adoption organized by Kitten Rescue at a nearby Petco, so we asid "hey... why not?" and we went. There were about 4 small cages on a table each with a cat inside. The furthest one was covered with a white linen on one side (the side facing other cats). I was curious to see what kind of monster might be in there. I was afraid to find out but went closer and peeked inside slowly. And, I saw a set of the most adorable green eyes looking up at me. Yes! I fell in love immediately. I was like... okay this is love at first sight! As you probably have guessed already by now, it was the fist moment that I laid my eyes on gG :) And, he really wanted us to be his parents.

We talked to a lady from Kitten Rescue, and she told us that gG was older but in very healthy condition except his teeth. She told us that one tooth had to be extracted. We asked why his cage had a linen on it, and she told us that gG didn't like other cats and that she had to put him in a separate room when she had to take care of dozens of cats at her house. I was like... hmmm strange cat. After listening to her, my hubby and I decided to think a little bit. We left Petco, and I could feel gG's eyes on my back. We went shopping at a nearby grocery store contemplating whether to go for gG or not. After the shopping, I said I loved gG and should go back and sign the paper. So, we went back immediately after the shopping to Petco and fill out the application form to be gG's parents. A couple of days later, we received a call from Kitten Rescue, and on Feb 11, we welcomed gG into our home.

While my hubby was going through the paper work with Kitten Resucue in our living room, I had gG all by myself in one of the bedrooms. I certainly didn't know what to do with the furry boy. I loved him but didn't know how to show it. Then he came close to me, looking into my eyes, and all of a sudden "thud!" fell sideway onto the rug. I remember being stunned at the act for a moment, but the next moment, I sensed that he wanted me to pet him. He was laying there with his paws stroking his head and looking so cute. I started to pet him and heard him breathing really hard, and I thought maybe he has a breathing problem but later found out that it was just a very loud purring, which he still does occasionally.

It has been a wonderful 7 years with gG. I am sure he didn't expect him to be a global cat. He moved from LA to the Czech Republic, and since then, he has travelled with us to Poland, Slovakia, and Austria. I am truly thankful that he came into our lives. And, there are so many people along the way who took care of gG, and I would also like to take this opportunity to thank them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Street arts in Brno

Lots of new statues have been created around the city of Brno last year. I already mentioned the black clock in Náměstí Svobody, but I wanted to mention these, too.

Naked Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart statue
Reduta Theatre (Divadlo Reduta) is one of the three National Theatres in Brno, and the oldest theater in central Europe. This is the theater where the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had his performance in Dec 1767. It is on the corner of Zelny Trh, and guess what I found as I was walking around the other day! A statue of little naked Mozart with a set of wings on his back. Hmmm ^^;

Three light bulbs
Mahen Theatre, which was built in 1882, was one of the first theaters in the world to have electric lights. The plan was designed by Thomas Edison himself, although he was not there when the actual installation was done. This is the theater where some of Leoš Janáček's operas were premiered. In Sept 2010, a wire sculpture of three big light bulbs was created across the street from Mahen Theatre.

"Spravedlnost" ("Justice")
This statue was also created in 2010 in front of the Supreme Administrative Court building. It is supposed to be a fountain. In fact, before it got cold, water was running through the box to the ground.

Clown-nosed girl on the window sill
I like the fact that she is all white except her nose. It sort of blends into the background. I saw a similar thing in Prague, too.
Horse on a balcony

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Introducing Central Europe to Rick and Lindsey

We had the honor of having both Rick (my hubby's brother) and Lindsey (my hubby's sister's daughter) here with us at the end of January. It was rare to see both of them at the same time. Rick lives in China now, and we hardly ever get to see him any more. The last time we saw him was more than 2 years ago. And, in terms of Lindsey, the last time we saw her was when she was still a toddler. She is now a grown up lady and studies in France.  And, magically the time both Rick and Lindsey could visit us coincided. My hubby also magically had more time to entertain them throughout their visits, so he went to Prague to pick them up at the airport and spent a couple of days there before driving them down to Brno, where I was semi stuck finishing up my consulting project.

The plan was to take off to Vienna the next day, so we only had one evening in Brno. We took them to a booming neighborhood restaurant called White Lamb and fed them Czech and Slovak dishes such as pork knuckles and halušky. Had a great talk over great dinner and great Moravian wine.

The next day we headed off to Vienna. Our furry son gG also accompanied us. We were packed into a small car including gG's litter box, and it wasn't all that pleasant, but we made it to Vienna (yes, after being lost in the center of Vienna for a while).  The hotel Rick kindly reserved for all of us was right in the middle of the old town, and it was just so convenient.  We quickly checked ourselves into the hotel rooms (Rick and my hubby in one room, and Lindsey, me and gG in another room) and went out for a walk towards the Hofburg Palace, which was only 5 mins away.  Although I had been there before, it was nice to visit there again during the winter time when few tourists were around. There was no long line going into the Sisi Museum for instance. So, we went again to the museum. This time the audio guidance was also available (last time they had run out of headsets), so I got to listen to the explanation in Japanese for a change.

It was already around 5pm when we got out of the museum. We strolled towards St. Stephen's Cathedral and peeked inside quickly.  The air was getting a bit too chilly to walk around more, so we decided to head back to the hotel. On the way back, we again managed to get ourselves lost, and accidentally found a very popular bar, where we stopped to warm ourselves up with drinks and snacks.

Next morning Rick was already leaving for Frankfurt. After saying good bye to him, Lindsey, my hubby, and I decided to go to Schönbrunn Palace, which was 20 mins train ride away. The palace is famous as a place where Maria Theresa and her 16 kids including Marie Antoinette spent most of their time.  Maria Antonia later tried to recreate this atmosphere in her little palace called Petit Trianon in France.  There is also a cute rumor that the 6-year old Mozart asked Marie Antoinette to marry him after finishing playing in the palace.  The palace is huge with 1441 rooms. There are two kinds of tours: Grand Tour which takes you through 40 rooms, and Imperial Tour which takes you through 22 rooms. We decided to go with the latter, as it covers pretty much the main part of the palace. The funny thing was that the credit card machine broke down just at the time we reached the ticket counter after waiting in line for a while. We were stuck there for about 15 mins and finally got a paper-based ticket. The tour also came with audio guidance that gave you an overview of how the nobles spent their lives in the palace. The most interesting story for me was that Maria Theresa had her favorite child, Maria Christina, who was the only one allowed to get married to her choice of sweetheart. The rest of the children had to marry those their mother chose for them, and Maria Theresa's favoritism divided Maria Christina from the rest of the siblings.

After educating ourselves with more Habsburg stories, we headed towards the center of Vienna. Had a quick lunch and went to the Belvedere Palace to see The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Of course the museum carries much more than just The Kiss or Klimt, and I really enjoyed the audio guidance here as well to learn about each painting.  But I have to say that I most enjoyed Klimt's section. I was surprised that there were so many unfinished paintings by Klimt. What was also interesting was that most of Klimt's paintings were on a square canvas. The Kiss was much bigger than I imagined - 180cm x 180cm with an interesting composition of heads almost touching the end of the canvas. Klimt's paintings are very sexual. He himself seemed to be rather obsessed by sex as well. He is known to have fathered 14 children although he never got married.

After enriching ourselves with lots of art, we headed back to the hotel, rested a while, and went out for dinner to a nearby cafe called Cafe Central, which opened in 1860 and is one of the most historic cafes in Vienna, loved by famous people like Sigmund Freud. We filled ourselves with good Austrian cusine and lots of cake :)

It was a quick but a great trip. Hope Lindsey and Rick enjoyed it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New year and our new lives

The Year of the Rabbit started out quite differently from usual. First, I didn't make Osechi just like I usually did for the last how many years I forgot.  Why?  It was simply because there were no ingredients that I could get here in the Czech Republic to make Osechi.  Instead, I got a pack of very tired Shimesaba, which was not that wonderful, and a frozen package of Ebi Fry, which my hubby seemed to like but not me.  I then made Sunomono just with Wakame and cucumbers, since I could not find any octopus.  I, however, managed to make Ozouni as I got some Mochi when I went back to the US in Dec. But, of course, I could not find the right kind of greens, so I ended up using Hakusai instead.  :( 

So, it started out rather lame, and then the consulting gig that I was engaged in was giving me lots of headaches. Yes, I am a consultant, so I should do whatever my sponsor tells me to. But, no, I just couldn't, although a couple of people tried to force me into it. If I had, it would have not only jeopardized my to-dos but also the integrity of the project team.  So, I acted as a backstage person to guide and lead the key stakeholders for the project, which was also frustrating to me.

Then in mid-January, even a sadder turn of event happened; my hubby ended his relationship with the company he worked for the last year and a half. It was really unfortunate that it ended this way, as my hubby was indeed passionate about changing the company's future. If you know anything about the localization business, you would feel the same way as my hubby did. The industry is slowly going into a commodity business. In order to break through the drastic change in technology and world in general, you really need to think and act differently. Unfortunately, I suppose the company didn't see it that way.  But, I have to say it is also unfortunately true that you tend not to see the technology change so clearly if you are in the Czech Republic, if you do not pay attention. For instance, I heard that one senior executive at the company astonished a client visiting from the US by not knowing what Twitter was. One thing that I was amazed at during my quick visit to the US in Dec was the massive change in technology and how people interact with the new technology. In the short year since we left the US, it seems like "everyone" has gotten either an iPad or a Kindle. The new paradigm around streaming video and TV apps has arrived, and we saw new names such as "roku", "boxee", and "apple tv" all around. Things are definitely changing, and the way people interact with new technology is certainly evolving.
That said, I strongly support what my hubby was trying to do and has done in the company, and this turn of events will give us another opportunity to really look into the way we want to work, live, and contribute to the society going forward.

Signs in Dubai

Arabic writing to me is a little art.  When we found a "pay phone" in Arabic, I couldn't resit taking a picture of it. It looked so... artistic :)
Also we found a sign explaining the pedestrian light signals.  Wouldn't you say it is very friendly?
This is the sign for Banana Republic.  I guess this one is nicely designed to fit the image of Banana Republic somehow.
Okay, this sign is just in English, but I can tell the effort to protect the water taxi from all the tourists coming from all over the world. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dubai creek ride

If you are in Dubai, you cannot ignore Dubai Creek.  It functioned as the main port for the city for a long time. I also learned that the Dubai pearling industry developed along the creek until cultured pearls, which were developed by the Japanese :-(, became popular.

Even now the wooden dhow (traditional gulf sailing vessel) boats bound for ports from Kuwait to Iran and Oman to India dock there loading and unloading their cargo day and night. 

I saw a massive number of dhow boats with lots of boxes along the creek.  Some of the boats had wonderful decorations on the exterior which pretty much contradicted with the meanish looking men who were looking down from the boats. :)  Also, we found lots of great looking cruise-type boats for tourists along the shore as well, which indicates the important role this creek is playing to the Dubai economy.

Also, Dubai Creek is very busy with lots of water taxis.  Water taxis are convenient for the tourist who wants to go from one shore to another (either from Deira to Bur Dubai or vice versa). There are frequent departures and most wonderfully they are CHEAP! 

You can also hire a water taxi for an hour to do a tour along the creek.  We decided to do this on our last day as our flight was leaving Dubai at 2am (!) and we had to simply kill time. But, I have to say it was a good hour of relaxation that we just spent on a boat looking at the salt water splashing along the side of the boat.  I am sure my hubby was in a deep meditative state thinking about work and life in his own world - and I love it when he gets to have that moment. :)