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. :-)