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Monday, April 30, 2007

You can now email a post..

If you see a post on the blog that you think someone else would enjoy, now all you have to do is click the little envelope icon at the end of the post and you can email it to them. Very easy. And I'll do my best to post interesting stuff.

Noah's first baseball game of the season...

Baseball isn't big over here, but since ISP is an American school they offer at least some baseball. There are enough kids interested to have two teams in his age group and they end up just playing each other over and over. The first game of Noah's Marlins against the hated Orioles was Saturday. They don't fomally keep score but the kids do anyway (and somehow each side believes that they won). Noah can hit from either side, but prefers left. I'm trying to keep him in the habit of switching between right and left. Look at that form!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Peacock Park...

Another Sunday morning stroll while Noah was at Sunday school. The weather has been glorious lately and it was as well today. A little cooler - around 60 - but sunny and pleasant. We walked to a park near St. Thomas church that I had stumbled upon earlier. It is Vojanovy Sady and is about as big as a square city block. Fodos says of the park "the Vojan Gardens originally formed part of the Archbishop's Palace before becoming the property of the monastery attached to nearby St. Joseph's church. Hidden behind high walls, they form a peaceful retreat from the surrounding bussle." There is only one gate to get in and out and there are several peacocks wandering about. There are also two old chapels on the grounds. Here are some pictures.

Here is the park...

Here is one of the peacocks...

Here is one of the two old chapels on the grounds. Notice the trees growing out of the walls of the chapel.

Here is a sign in the shape of a peacock for a hotel located just outside the gate of the park...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why come here to research a spy movie?

Last week we had acclaimed film director, writer and producer Michael Mann at RFE/RL to do research for an upcoming spy movie that he is working on. For those who are not familiar with Mann, he wrote, produced and directed the movies "Miami Vice" (2006), "Heat" (1995) and the upcoming "Arms and the Man". He also produced "The Aviator" (2004) and directed the Tom Cruise movie "Collateral" (2004) as well as "Ali" (2001). His TV credits are too numerous to mention.
From Prague he was travelling to Moscow to continue his research. I'm not really sure what he was looking for at RFE/RL, because while the CIA did fund operations for many years, that ended in the 1970s. Since then RFE/RL has been publicly funded by Congress.

More news on RFE/RL journalists...

BBG, RFE/RL Condemn Iranian Threat
To Keep Radio Farda Broadcaster in Iran

(Washington, DC--April 24, 2007) Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson and RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin condemned news that the Iranian government plans to keep RFE/RL journalist Parnaz Azima from leaving Iran for "two or three years," in defiance of Azima's wishes.
Tomlinson said, "The Iranian government's refusal to allow Radio Farda journalist Parnaz Azima to leave the country underlines that government's attitude toward basic human rights as well as its refusal to accept a free press and an open society."
For his part, Gedmin said, "I find it contemptible that Iranian government officials are, in essence, criminalizing the efforts of a daughter to visit her severely ill mother. Parnaz Azima is being kept in Iran against her will, in a form of virtual house arrest. I urge the Iranian government to release Mrs. Azima now, so that she can return to her professional duties and, more important, to her children and grandchildren living outside of Iran."
Azima entered Iran on January 25 to visit her ailing and hospitalized mother. On arrival, officials at the airport in Tehran seized her Iranian passport. Since then, Azima has tried unsuccessfully to reclaim the passport on several occasions.
Most recently, one of the lawyers representing Azima, Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi, visited the Security Department of Tehran's Revolutionary Court on Monday, April 23 to reclaim Azima's passport. During this meeting, Aghasi was told by an official attached to the Security Department that Azima's passport will not be returned to her any time soon and "she will remain in Tehran for two or three years." According to Aghasi, the offical dismissed all appeals to the letter of Iranian law in refusing to return Azima's passport.
Azima is a broadcaster with Radio Farda, the joint RFE/RL-Voice of America 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Persian-language broadcast service to Iran. She joined RFE/RL in 1998 and is based at RFE/RL's broadcast headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic. Azima endured a similar situation in Iran during the spring of 2006, when her Iranian passport was seized and held for several weeks before being returned to her.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Here's our ride...

When we moved here I thought I might buy a used Audi or BMW or even Volvo or VW. We only need one vehicle so the idea was that we could get something used and more upscale. Who doesn't want to drive a fine German (or Swedish) engineered auto? But we found out that car theft is probably the bigggest classification of crime in the Czech Republic and the car thieves target nice cars like BMWs and Audis. So...we ended up with a Ford Mondeo. What is a Mondeo? Well, Wikipedia says the nickname for the Mondeo is the Mundano - for mundane (bland). It is the European version of the Ford Contour. It had everything we wanted - 6 airbags, it's a little bigger than the average vehicle on the road here, it's a combi (the European word for station wagon), with none of the annoying style or performance that the higher end makes are saddled with. My guess is that our Mondeo has little chance of being stolen.
We have had the car for 6 months now, and have only put on about 6,000 miles. That is good since gas is about $5-$6 per gallon. I take public transportation to and from work and we only need the car to drive Noah to work and for Kathy to run errands and go shopping. We will use it to make day excursions around the Czech Republic and nearby countries - particularly Germany and Austria.

Of course, sometimes I would like to (as the VW commercials call it) "unpimp" my auto.

"oh, snap!!"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Sunday morning stroll...

We are back to our typical Sunday schedule. February was bad with Kathy having her little medical situation, then we spent a weekend in Geneva, then I was gone for two weeks for my dad, then Danny came for a visit. This is the first Sunday in a long time where we did our usual thing.
Noah has Sunday school at 9:45 at St. Thomas church near Malostranska Namesti and then mass is at 11:00. That gives us about an hour to either take a walk or go for a cup of coffee at one of the many cute cafes nearby. Today was a sunny, crisp spring morning so we decided to take a walk. We went across the Charles Bridge and explored some back streets that we hadn't gone down before.

Here is a cafe overlooking the Vlatava river at the Charles Bridge.

This is a blind girl who regularly sings on the Charles Bridge. She sings opera and has a very good voice. She accepts "donations" and I think she does quite well.

Here is something interesting we saw on our little walk. It is a figure above a door with "CERMAK" above it. Cermak is the family name of my oldest sister's family.

A Saturday Night Out...

We went out to dinner with three other couples last night. Dinner was at La Bodeguita Del Medio, the only Cuban restaurant in town. The dinner was very good - I had a creole sampler - but the beer prices were the highest I have paid in Prague. It was 90 Crowns (about $4.50) for .3L of Pilsner Urquell when even at the usual tourist restaurants you can get .5L of Pilsner for about 60 Crowns. I think they try to steer you to the Mojitos (a rum based drink).
We skipped the dessert and elected to go for a walk and find someplace else to get something sweet. We ended up several blocks away at a place called Creameria Milano, a high end cafe specializing in ice cream. The picture is Kathy with the other three wives (Leslie, Dana and Meagan). We sat outside and although the temperature was probably about 60, they had gas heaters to keep things toasty. Kathy and I split an ice cream dessert that was about $16. The others were smart enough to walk inside and order a cup of ice cream for about $4.50. I'll have to remember that.
La Bodeguita Del Medio has a cigar bar and I will try that later. I've never smoked a Cuban cigar and they are legal here (well, they are legal everywhere ecept the US). All in all a very pleasant evening.

Feel free to comment...

I've changed the settings to make it easier to leave comments. Before you had to register to blogspot to leave comments, but now anyone can leave a comment even without registering.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

More Embedded Video...

I've gone back through the blog and embedded the other videos that were originally linked. These are the two Radio Free Europe PSAs and the eToys commercial. Going forward all video will be embedded (as long as I have the Html code).

Hank's List...

Got an email from my buddy Hank criticizing my all-time favorite songs. Hank and I have known each other for about 40 years and we both like music - just different kinds. There is some overlap of artists and songs that we both like, but he is more of a KISS guy while I'm more Elvis Costello. Anyway, because it's so easy to make new lists on Finetune, here is collection of mostly 80's hair band classics. Enjoy, Hank.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Embedded Video (Nice pictures of Prague)...

I've figured out how to embed videos into the blog so it looks better than just having the link. I wanted to try it out and found this photo montage on YouTube. I t has some great pictures of Prague, although you also get a lot of pictures of the couple who took all of the pictures (I can live with that).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In Memoriam...

Today at the office we had a memorial service for Khamail Muhsin Khalaf, a journalist with Radio Free Iraq, who was kidnapped and murdered in Bagdad two weeks ago. Khamail was a well known and respected personality in Iraq, having served as a TV anchor for many years. She joined Radio Free Iraq in 2004 and, because of the danger her work entailed, she sent her three daughters to live in Syria. Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. foreign broadcasting, said two weeks ago "The tragic death of Khamail [Muhsin] Khalaf reminds us that each day Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondents risk their lives in pursuit of truth". Reporting the truth is very dangerous in many parts of the world, which is something we tend to forget in the safe confines of the US. In my 9 months here, this is the third murdered journalist associated with RFE/RL. Please keep Khamail's family in your thoughts and prayers today.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...

I have added a couple more widgets. One just gives the current time in Prague. I specifically chose one that designates "AM" or "PM" since the time difference between here and the US is confusing. The other is a feature showing current news headlines for the Czech Republic.
I know I have gone a little crazy with the widgets. I considered adding a widget to show the scores from the current World Cup of cricket and that's when I realized I needed to step back. I will hold off adding anything else for a while and see how it goes.

Another RFE/RL PSA...

Here is another public service announcement for Radio Free Europe, this time from 1971. Gone are the ominous tones of the 1959 PSA, replaced with a more upbeat attitude. Instead of somber scenes of the Iron Curtain we get an ultra-hip Hungarian DJ - replete with jacket around the shoulders and smoking a cigarette - spinning "On Broadway" by The Drifters. It's not freedom that those in the Communist bloc wanted and needed - it was American pop music. "The 'In' sound from the outside", indeed. This was the era of detente, after all, and the Soviet Union was a nation to be coexisted with, not feared. It wouldn't be labeled the "Evil Empire" by Ronald Reagan for another 16 years. Oh, how naive we were...

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Wonders of Technology - II

I just stumbled upon a new feature for the blog. It's called Finetune and it allows me to insert a playlist of 45 of my favorite songs. By stumbled upon, I mean I found it referenced in James Lileks blog "The Bleat" which I read over lunch every day. You can visit The Bleat using the attached link. It is a very entertaining and worthwhile blog.
So feel free to give Finetune a click and listen to a few of my songs. Many you will expect (at least those of you who know me well will expect them), but there are many that will come as a complete surprise. (Have you ever heard of a group called the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Well, they are represented here). Enjoy!

The Wonders of Technology...

Kathy went on a shopping trip to Dresden (Germany) two weeks ago with some of her women friends from ISP (Noah's school). Dresden is only about 1 1/2 hours away by car and has much more selection and cheaper prices than the Czech Republic. Maybe in 10 or 20 years this will not be so, but for now we will make the occassional drive (or train trip) to Dresden.
I have been in the market for a long time for a car GPS. Driving here is difficult as the city is compact and very crowded, the drivers are aggressive, there are trams all over the place, none of the street signs are in English, and because of the Vlatava river you have to contend with bridges. I found driving in Saudi Arabia much easier even though the drivers were 10x worse (for example, red lights were merely suggestions to slow down). But in Saudi the infrastructure - the freeways and roads - was relatively new and space was no limitation. Also, nearly all road signs were in English (and Arabic).
Back in November we went to a mall and had no trouble getting there (I think we just got lucky) but it took 1 1/2 hours to get home - it should have been a 20 minute trip. We kept driving around and around and not finding our way home. It was extremely frustrating. So as soon as our house sold I strarted researching GPSs. I finally settled on a Garmin and had Kathy pick up one in Dresden. We don't drive much during the week but go shopping on weekends and we will be doing day trips around the Czech Republic now that the weather has warmed.
We've just used it a couple of times and it is amazing! It was money very well spent. It just has maps of the Czech Republic and Germany, but I can buy additional country maps if needed (including all of the US when we move back).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sparta win!....Sparta win!...Sparta win!...

While the Minnesota Wild are suffering through the first round of the NHL playoffs, the professional Czech Elite League has just finished its equivalent of the Stanley Cup finals. Prague has two teams in the league - Sparta and Slavia. Sparta plays in an old smaller arena - kind of a cross between the old St. Paul auditorium and the old Met Center (that sentence made me realize how old I really am), while Slavia plays in a brand new 18,000 seat arena along the lines of the Xcel Energy arena. We support Sparta but mostly because that is the team that my company gets season tickets to. Nice seats, too - VIP box seats.
The tickets are occasionally used to entertain Czech politicians but often they are available for employees to get and we went to three regular season games (a lot of our jounalists are from the "Stans" - Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgistan, etc. where ice hockey isn't a big thing). So we lucked out and got to see game 6 of the final series between Sparta and hated Parduvice. Sparta had been up 3 games to 1 but was beaten handily on Thursday night, 5-1. They needed a win tonight to avoid a seventh game in Parduvice.
It was a great game with Sparta dominating but the Parduvice goalie singlehandedly keeping the game close. In the end Sparta prevailed 2-0 to take the championship, their second in a row.
The energy and the noise were amazing. There were two coworkers of mine who left after the first period because it was just too loud for them. The feel is a lot different than NHL playoff games. It's closer to a European soccer match - must be a European thing. Lots of flag waving. Non-stop chants. The arena is multi-level but the first level behind each goal has no seats and everyone stands. These are the areas for the young, rabid, chanting fans from each side (each team has its own side, of course). I was a bit concerned that a riot would break out at the end of the game - very much like European soccer - but there was nothing but good sportmanship all around. Lots of police, too, which probably encouraged the sportsmanship.
Here are a few pictures to give you a flavor for the evening. It was a lot of fun! Go Sparta!!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

How about a picture without the fake smile, please?

Noah has an annoying habit of using the fakiest smile imaginable when posing for a picture. This was even more annoying when we used the old 35mm camera and would waste pictures with him and his faky grin and then pay to have them developed. The technology now, of course, allows us to delete these awful pictures without further expense. Here is a rare picture of Noah with a normal smile. I took this on the funicular* going up the hill to the Petrin tower.

* funicular railway ; noun; a short, very steep railway having two parallel sets of tracks, upon each of which runs a car or train raised or lowered by means of a cable that simultaneously lowers or raises the other car or train in such a way that the two are approximately counterbalanced.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Another (ho hum) great view (#2) of Prague

Here is the view of Prague Castle (St. Vitus cathedral) from Petrin tower. This tower was built for Prague's 1891 Jubilee Exhibition and is inspired by the Eiffel Tower. It is not nearly as tall as its French cousin, being about 18-stories tall. But its placement on Petrin hill makes for a stunning view.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A little song, a little dance...

As part of catching up on what has happened lately I have to mention that my dad passed away on March 14th. He had had a severe stroke in June 2004 (a few hours after the funeral of Frank Kraemer, who was the husband of my sister, Chris, who died in 1994) and was not expected to make it. But he did make it. And although the stroke weakened him physically (he was no longer able to drive, which affected him greatly) he remained mentally strong. He also changed emotionally. While it always seemed difficult for him to express his emotions (he had very emotionally reserved Germanic parents) after the stroke he was much, much better about it. Maybe it was because he needed people, especially my mother, to do things for him that he used to be able to do himself; maybe he decided that after facing death he would purposely be nicer (I am thinking of the song "Live Like You Were Dying"). Or maybe the stroke actually physically changed his brain that caused some of the emotional change. I don't know, but it was very touching to see my normally reserved dad telling my mom over and over again how much he loved her. To be truthful, within a few months after the stroke some of that old veneer had returned, but it was too late since by then we all knew what a softy he was. In the end, the last three years after the stroke were a blessing of untold proportions.

When it came, the end came quickly (something I'm sure he appreciated). At first his hospital stay was expected to be brief. Once things turned for the worse and it became only a matter of keeping him comfortable, I worried that I might not make it back from Prague in time. Moving here involved weighing the benefits of the experience with the negative consequences of being so far away from family. My biggest concern with living in Europe was exactly what happened - having something happen to one of our parents. In the end, though, I made it back and was able to spend a few hours with him before he passed. Others say that he was holding on until I got back, and I would like to think that is true, since it demonstrates concretely the power of love and at least implies some kind of control over death (albeit fleeting).

My father was a very good man. He raised and provided for six kids and was married to the same woman for 58 years. It is an honor to be his son and I will miss him very much. If your parents are still alive, why not stop by for a visit (if you live near them) or call them on the phone. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We interrupt the Cold War to bring you this message...

I stumbled across this old 1959 public service announcement (PSA) for Radio Free Europe. It's scary and ominous and refelcts the times in which it was made - at the height of the Cold war. You will notice that at the end they ask for ordinary citizens to donate to RFE. More on that at a later date.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What's all this then? (Amen, Amen)

Danny is still in the air between Frankfurt and Detroit and the three of us (me, Kathy and Noah) are very tired. Besides getting up early this morning we spent the last 5 days doing little but walking (around the tourist spots) and eating. Two all-you-can-eat meals didn't help with the diet.

Since the blog was just begun yesterday I will spend the next few posts catching up on what we've been up to.

Danny's visit gave us a chance to go to some of the tourist spots. Many of these we had already visited before, but others we saw for the first time. On Friday we all went to a beer hall - but not just any beer hall. The U Fleku has been an operating beer establishment since 1499. Columbus was still celebrating his discovery of the New World when the U Fleku opened. Oh, yea, there's been the odd fire now and again over the last 500 years but you can imagine the place looking pretty much the same in the 16th century. They serve food, but the attraction is the dark beer that is brewed on-site. And the musicians that favor the accordian. Here's Danny with two of them (they seemed to only play for 30 minutes before new ones took over). The one collected tips in his french horn (or is that a tuba? I'm certainly not a musician).

Danny is on his way back home

Kathy and Danny left the house at 5:45 this morning to head to the airport. Danny's flight to Frankfurt was at 7:20. Of course, Murphy's Law dictated that our first flat tire would occur on the way to the airport. While Kathy called a taxi Danny started changing the tire. He had the spare tire on the car just as the taxi pulled up. Kathy gave the guy a few crowns for his trouble and they headed to the airport in our car. We got a sms from Danny saying that he is on the plane to Frankfurt so all is well. I guess it's time we bought the new set of tires (which are very expensive here - about $850 for 4 average quality tires).

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Views of Prague - #1

Here is the most recognizable sight in Prague - Prague Castle. It's really St. Vitus cathedral on the grounds of the castle.

Kicking off the new blog

Monday, April 9th, 2007

If you are reading this then you have made your way to our new blog - Tischlers in Prague! It took us eight months to get a decent digital camera (we couldn't spend any money until we sold our house in Minnesota - and that happened in February).

Easter was a lot of fun - as you can see by the picture. A couple we know from ISP (that's the International School of Prague) hosted an Easter egg hunt on Sunday for the kids. That's Noah in the back giving the bunny ear treatment to two of the girls.

Kathy's son, Danny, is visiting from the US. He leaves tomorrow, but we all had a wonderful five days. His visit was a surprise early birthday present to Kathy. It ended up only being a pseudo-surprise since she found out about his arrival a week and a half before he got here. No one spilled the beans, she saw my credit card statement with the charge for his air fare. I wasn't aware of this, but the credit card statement had his name and full itinerary - I couldn't think of a plausible aliby. But we've had a great time and it will be sad to see him leave tomorrow.