24 July 2012

Now drop and give me twenty (pushups, not crowns)

David Cerny, the man who has brought a pink military tank adorned with a middle finger and babies crawling up a tower into the Czech art scene, has done it again ahead of the Olympics.

This time, he has taken a genuine 1957 London double-decker bus (bought from someone in the Netherlands, apparently) and has it doing pushups, complete with groaning sounds. No word on what the bus did to deserve the punishment. Perhaps it was out past curfew.

10 April 2012

On the cottage, in the nature, Part II: Telč

The records of Telč, a small town just a well-placed Petr Cech punt from the Austrian border, date to the 14th century. It has survived Hussite sympathizers tossing people out windows, numerous fires, occupation by the Swedish army, lightning striking the Holy Ghost church, occupation by the French army, and two plagues.

There's also been its share of growth -- but not in the town center. That area, thanks to the oversight of Zacharias in the 16th century, became a bustling marketplace. Essentially an elongated triangle with colorful building fronts of various styles, the town center hasn't changed much in roughly 500 years, a fact not unnoticed by UNESCO, which placed the area on its World Heritage list in 1992.

Baldy admires UNESCO World Heritage site No. 3 for him.
(The others: the Grand Canyon and historic center of Prague.)
Photos are here.

09 April 2012

On the cottage, in the nature, Part I: Overview

Of all my weekends in the Czech Republic, this one was most likely my Czechiest. I left Prague for a three-day holiday "on the cottage, in the nature," as Czechs, God bless 'em, like to say. (Although, to be fair, I once, while trying to show off my elementary level of Czech, told a young boy on the bus that his name was Baldy.)

The cottage, which belongs to the Special Assistant to the Blogger for a few more weeks, is in a village called Lhota, which boasts a population of seven. Located in the southern part of the country, a short jog from a town named after a lime tree, the cottage is where time stands still, and not just because the clock in the kitchen is stuck at 8:20.

The church across the street from the cottage.

We began the weekend by moving concrete slabs so the SAB could sink into the hole and turn on the water. The kitchen was heated by a stove that runs on wood and coal. If we needed hot water, we poured it from a kettle on the stove -- and that meant any warm shower was taken at a swimming pool 20 minutes away. The church across the street wasn't big enough to hold a basketball court. The local grocery store closed at 8. There was no Internet (OK, except on our cell phones ... we cheated), no TV, just us, Baldy, a visit from the Special Assistant's family, and constant visits from a friendly brown dog who bolted into the cottage the first chance he got. In other words, it was exactly what I needed.

The Special Assistant to the Blogger fires up the wood stove, which I guess made
me the Special Assistant to the Wood Stove Firer-Upper.

02 April 2012

Not Prague, Part 13: Return to Dresden

So much for following this piece of advice. The Guvnor and I were on the cusp of setting foot into the picturesque, historic area of Dresden when an older gentleman stopped us, asked The Guv where he was from (England), and then informed us that he was a survivor of the Allied bombings that set Dresden on fire at the end of World War II.

The man told us that he truly enjoyed saying "Good morning" to us, because when he was in school he had to greet everybody with a "Heil." No "Good day," no "Hello," no "Is Man City bottling it or what?" Just "Heil" (or perhaps "Sieg Heil" or "Heil Hitler"). He also assured us that he knew the Germans' role in starting the war. I mention this to illustrate that despite our initial fears, the man was bending over backwards to show he wasn't trying to be antagonistic. But he told his story long enough to end with this kicker: Out of his class of 30 children, three survived the bombings. And that was the start of our day in Dresden.

Of course, it's impossible not to mention the war when it comes to Dresden. The fire bombings destroyed a vibrant, cultural city, and during the Communist rule there was debate and/or foot-dragging in regards to rebuilding what had been reduced to burnt rubble. But today much of the historic center of this city, now in its ninth century, has been rebuilt -- the Zwinger in 1964, the Semper Opera House in 1985, and the centerpiece, the Frauenkirche, in 2005.

The historic center of Dresden.

31 March 2012


If most Czechs aren't spending their springtime Saturdays enjoying a walk "in the nature" or storming the nearest Ikea, they're going swimming. Although the complex at Podoli, with its outdoor pool, is the facility of choice, the Special Assistant to the Blogger dragged accompanied me to the indoor pool in Barrandov, the area most known for its film studio.

Some impressions:

26 March 2012

Strahov Stadium: "Enduring but not endearing"

I'm not sure that words or photos will do justice to explain just how huge the all-but-abandoned Strahov Stadium in Prague is, so I'll settle for numbers. One is 240,000 -- the number of people who officially can cram into the seats. The other is 9 -- as in, when Wikipedia lists the dimensions of the playing surface, it simply says, "9 football pitches." So it is not just, as you say, a shtadium, but a masshive shtadium.

We couldn't get in, but you can see a panorama video here.
It is also pretty much a ushlesh -- sorry, useless -- stadium. AC Sparta Prague trains there, and several musical acts (most notably the Rolling Stones and most recently George Michael in 2007) have performed there, but aside from that, Strahov Stadium is a relic often bypassed by tourists and left in a state of disrepair.

24 March 2012

For anyone who forgets their keys ...

... or is a climbing wall now standard for every apartment building?

(From student housing in the Strahov neighborhood. Blog post title kinda sorta stolen from either The Professor or He Who Hasn't Beaten Me At FIFA Since The Last Time He Beat Me At FIFA.)

19 March 2012


Over the past 10 centuries, Vysehrad has been a castle, a fortress, an overtaken castle and fortress, a neglected set of ruins, a refurbished fortress, a training ground, and, finally, a place to go for a walk on a lovely day.

13 March 2012

They've got balls

Just had to show you what the Special Assistant to the Blogger showed me earlier today -- the special train that will transport Czech Republic soccer fans to Euro 2012 this summer:

Photos courtesy of Ceske drahy, the national train company.
The Czechs are in a group with Russia, Greece and Poland, and all the matches are in Wroclaw -- the venue closest to the border. Sounds like a road trip is in order with The Professor and He Who Finally Beat Me in FIFA 12.

07 March 2012

Return to paradise

The O2 Arena in Prague is a pristine, modern, NHL-quality hockey building with the Czech Republic's most impressive jumbotron, a replica of Michelangelo's David, and more than 17,000 seats. In other words, it's a huge venue with a crap atmosphere.

For the postseason, Slavia Prague decided to return to its roots, playing its home matches at the cozy, unfashionable and rather loud Zimni Stadion Eden, which was Slavia's home ice until 2004. (The Eden name comes from the former amusement park, which included a roller coaster of longer than 5 kilometers and closed in 1935, in the Vrsovice neighborhood. Locals also refer to the nearby football stadium as Eden.)

I don't know if Slavia chose this for a better home-ice advantage or for financial reasons, although I do know Slavia does have money problems and paying for Eden (where they train and hold youth team games) and the O2 Arena is not helping them. Whatever the reason, it was the right move. The atmosphere for Friday's postseason opener (attendance: just under 4,000) was brilliant. The fans in the standing section wouldn't shut up, with chants of Slavie do hoto toho! (Come on Slavia, basically) echoing throughout the joint that better resembles a practice facility than a hockey arena because, well, it's a practice facility.


After. (Or during, I guess.) These standing seats cost 50 crowns -- less than
$3 USD. Seats on the other side cost 100 crowns. There was one concession
stand, and you had to leave the area to walk to the restrooms.
Most reporters who covered the game, a 2-1 loss to Verva Litvinov, focused on the support. "The fans Friday night was a success, domestic players have less," this article says, via Google translate. I second the awkwardly-worded notion. Here are the fans singing to the players after the game:

03 March 2012

Keys to the city

The Czech Republic is known for its offbeat artists, which may have been brought up on this blog once or twice. So I guess in a land of barcodes on babies' faces, pink tanks with a middle finger extended and a traffic signal showing a man defecating, I should not have been surprised when I saw this at an I.P. Pavlova tram stop on Friday ...

The display even has occasional audio of a man yelling that a piano is falling, followed by a crashing sound.

A quick search of the Internet revealed nothing, despite attempts in English and Czech, which means I have little choice but to rely on the analytical skills of the Special Assistant to the Blogger, who after much deep thought informed me: "We have people who do strange things."  So there you have it.

29 February 2012

The second time is no harm

For the first 41 1/2 years of my life, I never attended an opera (unless you count The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which I would rather not). This month, I've attended two, and I can't decide if this means I'm more mature, more open-minded, or just looking to bide time until the Red Sox start playing again.

Truth is, if there was ever a time for me to delve into the opera, doing so while living in Prague and visiting other places in central Europe is as good a time as any. Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic all boast state opera houses, and Prague in particular is a hotbed of classical music with world-class artists visiting from around the world.

So last Friday, I took the plunge by attending a performance of Carmen, which is also known as "The World's Only Famous French Opera" and "The Opera With The Music From The Bad News Bears." For those of you unfamiliar with the story, an officer falls in love with a gypsy, who in turn falls for a bullfighter, which leads to the dramatic climax where the officer is thrown out at home plate trying to score the tying run against the Yankees. And then everyone pours beer all over each other.

The venue was the Narodni Divadlo, or National Theater. This building took 13 years to build, and slightly more than two to rebuild; a fire destroyed the place two months after it opened in 1881, was ready for business again in November 1883, and has been open ever since. The gold lettering above the stage reads "NAROD SOBE" -- "The nation for itself," a motto used as a rallying cry while collecting enough money to rebuild the theater so quickly.

National Theater, right, as seen from Petrin Hill.

27 February 2012

Not Prague, Part 12: Return to Berlin

No stadium that I've been to has a more significant place in sports history than Berlin's Olympic Stadium. Completed by 2,600 workers for 500 companies and designed to be the stage where the Nazis would flaunt their Aryan might in the 1936 Olympics, American Jesse Owens stole the show by winning four gold medals.

(As a sidenote, the story about Hitler refusing to shake Owens' hand is true, but out of context. Hitler wanted to only shake the hands of German winners at the Games, and when he was told to congratulate all the winners or none of them, he chose the latter. In other words, he was a twat to everybody. But it's not as if Owens was treated much better in his own country, where Owens was honored with a reception in the Waldorf-Astoria but had to ride the freight elevator to get thereJesse, we love how you represented our country and stuck it to Adolf, now get away from our white people. Here, have a sip of our blacks-only champagne.)

So, anyway, the reason The Professor, He Who Still Cannot Beat Me At FIFA12 and I traveled to Berlin two weekends ago was to check out historic sights such as the Olympic Park, the UNESCO-endorsed Museum Island and the path where the Wall stood. And, you know, since we were heading that way anyway, we might as well have caught our first Bundesliga match, featuring local bumblers Hertha Berlin and defending champions Borussia Dortmund.

24 February 2012

The man is urinating. You may cross the street now.

Five years ago, at roughly 50 crosswalks throughout Prague, standard figurines of people crossing and not crossing the street were replaced by icons such as these:

Artwork by Ztohoven, taken from this story

17 February 2012

A rising problem

Czech males are better-endowed than men from every EU country other than France, but that doesn't mean they don't have their issues. According to this story from the Czech Position, the country's customs officials seized twice as many counterfeit erectile drugs in 2011 than they did in 2010.

These drugs, advertised to help men perform better behind closed doors, if you get my drift, instead can contain plain sugar or other drugs that are meant to treat other ailments. Therefore, anyone who took them may have suffered from an irregular heartbeat or allergies.

I can only assume that the perpetrators face stiff penalties.

16 February 2012

Not Prague, Part 11: Austria-Hungary

I spent last week in Vienna and Budapest, which means by the end of the holiday I had Culturally Significant and Gorgeous Old Building fatigue. I watched an opera, ice skated in front of the most stunning city hall I've ever seen, stayed up late on a Monday morning to watch a sporting event I've forgotten all about by now, and walked -- a lot. Most enjoyable was a stroll through a snowfall in Vienna around the Karl Renner Ring with its row of historic buildings, which includes the State Opera House, a building that, according to the Special Assistant to the Blogger, was initially ridiculed for resembling a train station. And now it's one of Vienna's top landmarks, even if it was only the second most beautiful opera house I saw last week.

Rathaus, or City Hall, in Vienna. For other views, plus shots of the massive ice skating
rink and route in front of it, check out my photo album (link below).
Last weekend marked my second visit to Vienna. I don't know if I'd call the city lively, but it certainly is full of history, being the seat of the former Habsburg Empire and the center of classical music. I can imagine the palaces and amusement park would also be a better venue in the spring. Regardless, I have photos of the rink, a Mozart statue through the snow, the interesting church at Karlsplatz, and other stuff here.

Then I hit Budapest. The city is divided into two sections: Buda and Pest. The banks of the Danube River, which divides the city, are designated as a World Heritage site, no doubt for many reasons, although providing this view of the Hungarian Parliament building is reason enough for me ...

... and this view from the Chain Bridge isn't shabby either ...

UNESCO mentions two other cultural landmarks in its World Heritage listing for Budapest: Andrassy Avenue, the tree-lined, fashionable street that has the world's second-oldest subway line running underneath it, and Buda Castle, which has retained its status despite Katy Perry's best efforts to deface it.

There are three photo albums on my Flickr site: the Buda side with the castle, Matthais Church and Fisherman's Bastion; the more bustling Pest side, with its churches, synagogues, Opera House, majestic buildings and the right hand of a patron saint; and a combined album with shots crossing the Danube and on Margaret Island, an oasis in the middle of the Danube. 

Up next: A return trip to Berlin, this time with The Professor and He Who Can't Beat Me at FIFA 12, to take in one of Europe's most vibrant cities and watch the Bundesliga champions play Hertha Berlin.

07 February 2012

Not Prague, Part 10: Return to Vienna (or: Our Opera House is Your House)

I attended an opera tonight. Whoever lives closest to my Mom, please knock on her door and make sure she can get back off the floor. As for the rest of you, I'll follow up by telling you what I wore: a blue hooded sweatshirt, jeans and hiking boots.

Such is life when one decides, at the last minute, to attend a show at the Vienna State Opera House, which offers standing-room tickets for every show starting about 80 minutes before the curtain rises. The Opera House runs shows from the fall to the end of spring, and it often produces a new opera every night. That, along with the accessibility of standing-room tickets, makes it a popular destination for tourists (actual opera lovers optional).

I had just completed a walk past some of Vienna's biggest, most audacious buildings when I realized I was standing at the Opera House. With no other plans for the veening, I figured I might as well see if there were tickets available. I met travelers from Seoul and Beijing, and we decided to go in together after we were finally let in out of the cold. We were directed down the hall where we found a very helful person with a handful of what looked like tickets. They were, in fact, programs for 90 Euro cents, and this being our first opera, we told ourselves, geez, these are pretty basic tickets. We eventually found the correct booth and bought standing-area seats, in the back facing the stage, for 4 Euros.

Our area featured a cross-section of sweatshirts, pullovers, suits and sweaters. Many of us had jeans on. (Those who bought reserved tickets were dressed more appropriately.) An usher handed us old white scarves to tie to the rail in front of us to mark our spots. In front of us was a small electronic screen that would show us the words, in English or German, that the performers would be singing. Before the show began, a female usher who had to be in her 20s stood in front of us and called out the etiquette: No whispering, no photos, no cell phones on, no leaving until one of the two 20-minute intermissions. And with a hush, the show began.

We watched Andrea Chenier, the story of a poet condemned to death during the French Revolution and his lover who chose to be executed with him rather than live without him. In other words, it was the second-saddest thing I saw this weekend.

29 January 2012


Next week I'm heading to Vienna, where the town center and one of its palaces is on UNESCO's World Heritage list, and Budapest, where the entire city, including the banks of the Danube, is listed as a World Heritage site. So naturally, the first thing I've done is ensure where I'll be watching the Super Bowl.

For the record, I'll be watching it here. You probably think this was an easy process. It wasn't.

01 January 2012