22 August 2013

A stupid wolf, some fog, a neighborhood, and a national record

For those of you who have harbored a burning desire to write the longest sentence without a single vowel in Czech history, you now have a role model. His name is Milan Hanak, a former architect who has crafted a truly historic and utterly nonsensical sentence with 52 consonant sounds and zero vowel sounds.

Photo courtesy of the Agentura Dobry Den (Good Day Agency).
The Special Assistant to the Blogger translates the sentence as follows: "The stupid wolf who is full of non-tasty drinks proudly escaped from the fog of Brdi through the hill Smrk into the neighborhood Krc, which is full of does [female deer]."
  • Brdi is the name of highlands in Central Bohemia southwest of Prague. The use of "Brd" is correct here because noun forms change depending on how they're used in a sentence. 
  • Smrk, in this usage, is the name of a hill; as a common noun, it's a spruce tree. 
  • And Krc is a neighborhood in Prague 4.
The Agentura Dobry Den is an agency for keeping records in the Czech Republic. Up next, according to its website: The good people of Zlin will try to establish a record for most pancakes thrown into the air. My only regret in typing that last sentence was the use of vowels.

21 August 2013

The longest night

Today seemed as good as any to visit the Police Museum in Prague, given that there was the opening of a new exhibition marking the 45th anniversary of one the the country's darkest days -- the Soviet-led invasion of Prague.

Quite simply, the invasion was the Soviet Union's way of showing their annexed Communist countries who was boss. The Soviets had freed the former Czechslovakia from Germany, which had wiped the country off the map. Three years later, Communist rule kicked in. Over time, the Czechs sought reforms that would give them more freedoms, prompting the Soviets to call for about 200,000 troops and 20 tanks to roll into town the night of 21 August, 1968.

Prague - Tanks
Courtesy Paul Goldsmith Photography

15 August 2013

Adventures in German

Actual conversation between the Special Assistant to the Blogger and I somewhere in Austria, after she took a swig from my water bottle during our bike trip last Saturday:

SAB: "This tastes bitter."

Me: "I got it from that neighborhood we were in. The sign said 'Trinkwasser'."

SAB: " 'Trinkwasser' or 'Kein Trinkwasser'?"

Me: (Hoping kein means fresh) " 'Kein Trinkwasser'."

SAB: "Kein is no. Not drinkable water."


13 August 2013

Smooth sailing

This photo isn't the most picturesque from our bike ride from Bratislava to some Austrian villages, but I'll argue that it's the most historically significant:

That yellow building in the background is the former customs building in Berg, Austria. That empty patch of road is where travelers would sit for hours as guards checked cars leaving the former Czechoslovakia (before 1993) or Slovakia (after 1993). Communism fell in November 1989, the Czech and Slovak republics split in 1993, but cars weren't free to cruise on through to Austria or other neighboring countries until less than six years ago.

Before late November 1989, natives of the former Czechoslovakia weren't even allowed to leave the country unless they were important or special enough. After 1989, when they could leave, the average border stop would still last 2-3 hours. Sometimes, if something was suspected stolen or someone who shouldn't be leaving was suspected of leaving, border guards would stop every car. Otherwise the guards would randomly select cars to direct to the side and search. 

There were still restrictions on what people could bring to Austria or Germany, so those families who could travel but were unable to afford, say, eating out for every meal in those countries, were allowed to bring only so much food out of the country. I can't speak to this, but the Special Assistant to the Blogger can, and her family would always (a) make sure whatever they brought didn't exceed what was allowed and (b) include a 2-3 hour wait into their travel plans. Families who chose to bring more food than was allowed packed the extras with their clothes, where they (often correctly) figured the guards wouldn't bother checking.

And then came 21 December, 2007, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were among nine nations to join the Schengen Area -- the European nations where one can travel across borders without being stopped. Goodbye barbed wire and armed guards on their posts, hello freedom. Celebrations included fireworks and a disco event at the Berg crossing. From this report by Czech Radio:

Back at the Austrian-Slovak border, in Berg, I could feel that today we witnessed a historical moment for Slovakia given the fact that 18 years ago this place was surrounded by barbed wire and many Slovaks were killed trying to cross it in order to escape from the communist part of Europe.
Communist propaganda was praised [sic] the border guards for being very effective in catching all those who tried to cross the border. The use of arms was regarded as a normal practice. The border guards were supposed to be envied by everybody, among other things, for spending their working hours in nature. ...
I was wondering what might these former border guards who served during communism think today? Well, none of those we found wanted to be interviewed. And if I am allowed a personal comment, I am sure that most of them enjoy the new freedom of travelling to capitalist Vienna, without being stopped and checked.
Today, traveling from Austria to Slovakia is as easy as zipping under this sign:

The sign reads "Slovensko," in case you can't read it.
But limiting the effect to cars doesn't tell the whole story. Cycling from Slovakia to Austria (and vice versa) has become a popular way for tourists and natives to spend their summer days. Some companies offer Vienna-to-Budapest packages that include stops in Bratislava. The Special Assistant to the Blogger and I settled for a daylong jaunt to Bad Deutsch-Altenburg (German spa-old castle), Austria, where we ate traditional meals at a fifth-generation restaurant and continued just past town to see an old Roman amphitheater.

A woman walking her cow, and her dog, in the Austrian countryside.

The Danube in Hainberg.

The top of Roman columns at the Carnuntum museum in Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.
The Romans liked the area and set up an army base roughly 2,000 years ago.

Saw these butterflies all over Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.

Remains of a Roman amphitheater past Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.
They still have concerts here.

The past and present meet at the Austrian-Slovak border. In the background,
a cafe and accommodation. In the front, an old sign marking distances
to Vienna and Pressburg (the German name for Bratislava).

08 August 2013

George's town

Roughly 100 meters (and deeper) below ground level in Podebrady lies a supply of mineral water that is apparently helpful in treating heart disease, hypertension and other illnesses.That's the reason most people flock to this spa town of 13,000 people.

As for the Special Assistant to the Blogger and myself, we just wanted to go swimming. So last Saturday we traveled less than an hour by train to visit the town that had plenty of surprises for us, not the least of which was the day happened to be the hottest August 3rd on record in the town at 37 Celsius (nearly 100 Fahrenheit).

The park, across from the train station.

01 August 2013

Cesky Krumlov: It's fairy taley!

Had a student ask me yesterday if "fairy taley" is a word. It's not a real one, I told him, but great minds of the previous millennium and the current one have created words, so why not?

The student was referring to Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO-approved hamlet in southern Bohemia that boasts, among other things, the second-largest castle in Czech Republic, a majestic garden and a revolving theater where the centrally-located seats rotate.

The Vltava River bends and runs through Cesky Krumlov.