Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kathy and "le Sabrage" (Using a sword to take the top off a bottle of champagne)...

Kathy had what she described as one of her best days in Prague yesterday. She went on one of the "Let's Go" tours with several of her friends from ISP. This one was called "Surprising Spring Walk" and covered some hidden places in Mala Strana including the Palffy Palace (music school) and Royal Gardens.

It also included a stop at the restaurant U Maliru (literally,"At the Painters") which is described on-line as "A landmark restaurant with a history spanning 460 years, appreciated by kings, diplomats and politicians alike. Fine French cuisine among the restored frescoes or in the summer garden with a view of a picturesque little square on the Lesser Side. When the famous gourmet King Rudolf II sent his spies to investigate Czech pubs, a superb kitchen was indicated by one star, an excellent one by two. The only restaurant with three stars was this one."

U Maliru's sommelier, Dita Skrivankova, demonstrated a technique called "le Sabrage", where the top of a bottle of champagne is removed with a sword, sabre or knife. This tradition was initiated in France in 1812 by Napolean and used to celebrate victories in battle. She then let several of the women try the technique themselves.




Here is Dita Skrivankova with her "weapon".


Kathy tries out Sabrage on her own.


Here is a demonstration of the "le Sabrage" technique by a French-sounding guy on YouTube.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Prague tulips...

Spring has finally sprung in Prague and the tulips are in full bloom. It wasn't a bad winter, especially considering that some cold weather and measurable snow in December had many predicting it to be long and painful.

I guess it was long, but just not too cold and not snowy at all. It seemed as if March lasted for three months. First there was FebruMarch, then March and then we got three weeks of Marchpril. The high temperatures seemed to fluctuate from 35 to 49 Fahrenheit for that entire period.

Anyway, there were some outdoor cafes open on Sunday as the temperature approached 70, and it looks like the same today.

On the way into Sunday school yesterday we (as usual) parked near Dejvicka circle and then caught the tram to Malostranska namesti where our church, St. Thomas, is. Here are a few pictures of the thousands of tulips in bloom - they were quite beautiful.



Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hello I must be going...

A lot has transpired in the last few weeks, and big changes are in the offing. We will be leaving Prague and back to Minnesota. I have already accepted a job, given my notice at Radio Free Europe and informed my staff that I will be leaving. It won't be for a little while yet - June 21 to be exact - because Noah needs to finish the school year at the International School of Prague (which he does on June 19).

We are moving back to the great state of Minnesota, and I have, thankfully, already secured gainful employment there. I will go back to work for my previous employer ATK in Plymouth, and for my old (as in previous) boss, George Frye. The company and George seemed glad that I was available to come back and once the ball started rolling it didn't take long for all of the details to get wrapped up. George's offer was fair - he has always been fair to me - and I am looking forward to getting back to work there.

I do not regret my time at Radio Free Europe. To the contrary, the experience has exceeded my expectations. We wanted to move to Prague to give Kathy and especially Noah the experience of living outside of the US. I had lived in Saudi Arabia for three years so I already knew what living outside of the US was like. And it certainly wasn't a dissatisfaction with life in the US or a belief that life in Europe would be better than in the US. I firmly believe that the US is the greatest nation in the history of the world, and I want to live there. But it's hard to appreciate how great she is (even with the faults) until you look at her from from the outside.

I will have more to say about the move back in the coming weeks, but for now we just want to officially announce our upcoming departure from Prague and return to the Twin Cities. It will be good to be home.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Turkey visit - Final tidbits...

We returned to Prague from Turkey nine days ago, so it's time for me to wrap things up. Here are a few photos that I like.



This is looking down a quaint little alley in Sultanahmet. Notice the mosque framed in the center.



Turkish women.




One of the cafes where we had a meal. You could also get a hookah, or water pipe (also known as a shisha or, in Saudi, a hubbly bubbly) for a smoke (tobacco only).


A view of the Bosphorus from the Galata tower on a warm but hazy day in Istanbul.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Trip to Turkey - The Grand Bazaar...

The last full day in Istanbul was Tuesday, April 15th. Tuana drove Noah to our hotel after her boys were put on the bus to school (she had kept them home from school on Monday just so they could be with Noah) and then the four of us headed to the Grand Bazaar in the old part of the city.

From Wikipedia:
The Grand Bazaar (or Covered Bazaar, Turkish: Kapalıçarşı ("Covered Bazaar")) in Istanbul is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops, and has between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather coats, gold jewelry and the like. The bazaar contains two bedestens (domed masonry structures built for storage and safe keeping), the first of which was constructed between 1455 and 1461 by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. The bazaar was vastly enlarged in the 16th century, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and in 1894 underwent a major restoration following an earthquake.

Here is one of the many covered streets (58, according to Wkipedia).






















Here is Tuana helping Kathy buy some scarfs (pashminas). It helps to have a local with you to help secure the best prices. Americans are not used to haggling for everything (in the US nowadays even the price for a car normally isn't negotiated). Imagine going into Walmart and haggling for every purchase.






















Noah and I waited outside the shop while the wheeling and dealing for scarves went on. We went to a nearby shop and found a jersey from another of the four top level football (soccer) clubs. It was offered at 20 Turkish Lira ($15.50) and I got it down to 15 ($11.50). Not bad.



We then had a nice lunch in one of the many restaurants in the bazaar. It was a very interesting experience and Kathy and I both wished we had gone there sooner to shop. As you can imagine, with 4,000 stores they have lots of neat stuff.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Does Radio Free Europe Still Exist?"...

Here is an op-ed from today's Washington post that makes a good case not only for our continued existence but for our resurgence. Since coming here in 2006 I have said that most people under the age of 45, when you mention Radio Free Europe, think of the r.e.m. song. It's time for Congress to put up or shut up. Those of you who visit the blog know that I report on the falling dollar every month, because I am greatly impacted since I am paid in dollars but most of my expenses are in Euros or Czech crowns. The same is true for RFE/RL - our entire budget from Congress comes to us in dollars and the dollar has fallen so much recently that operations may be impacted.

Radio To Stay Tuned To
By Anne Applebaum
Tuesday, April 22, 2008; A19

"Radio Free Europe? Does that still exist?"

That was the question; the speaker was an Important Public Broadcaster, visiting Europe for a few days last week. It wasn't a surprising query, as these things go, or an ignorant one. Not many other Americans know that Radio Free Europe still exists, so why should he?

Nevertheless, the query bothered me, because Radio Free Europe -- the Cold War news service that was, for decades, the only source of independent information in Eastern Europe -- does exist. In fact, it's as important as it ever was, at least in the 21 countries and 28 languages in which it is still often the only source of independent information: Farsi for Iran, Arabic for Iraq, Dari and Pashto for Afghanistan, plus Turkmen, Azeri, Belarusan, Georgian, Chechen, Tajik, Albanian, Serbian and Russian, among others. The fact that you haven't heard anyone mention RFE lately, let alone the achievements of its Afghan journalists-- they provide much of the news in much of that country -- says more about the poverty of the American foreign policy debate in general (and this election-year debate in particular) than about almost anything else. In RFE, we have an American institution that is admired, even beloved, in many difficult parts of the world; and yet we are slowly, methodically, starving it to death.

Reputation to the contrary, RFE is not American propaganda radio. It is better described as "surrogate radio": a broadcasting service that supplies local, national and international news, in radio, Internet and sometimes video form, in countries where other local news is weak or unavailable. Most of the programming is written by local journalists, who follow local politics in the local languages. Many of them live in the countries they cover, sometimes at great risk. When the Newseum was opened in Washington last week, the names of four RFE journalists -- a Turkmen, two Iraqis and an Uzbek -- all killed in the past two years, were already inscribed on a plaque there. In the past year alone, RFE has dealt with staff kidnappings in Iraq and Afghanistan, disappearances in Turkmenistan, official harassment in Russia and Belarus, and blackmail from Iran.

Occasionally, RFE journalists even have to be smuggled out of their home countries. But when this happens, they wind up in Prague, where, for anachronistic post-Cold War-era reasons (President Vaclav Havel gave RFE a building there after 1989) the organization now has its headquarters. Once there, they can't go home, they can't get green cards, they don't speak Czech, and, now that the dollar has collapsed to a degree not fully appreciated in Washington, they can't support themselves, either. RFE, which at its peak received $230 million annually in congressional funding, now gets $75 million in rapidly devaluing currency. That money pays for transmitters, salaries, security and anti-jamming technology as well as programming and Web content in 28 languages. To put that in perspective, as RFE President Jeff Gedmin likes to say, $75 million is also the price of four Apache helicopters.
Which is an apt comparison, since, if RFE vanishes, we may need a lot more helicopters to replace it. Many analysts -- our defense secretary among them -- pay much lip service nowadays to the need for "soft power," the non-military initiatives and institutions that, once upon a time, helped us win hearts and minds in remote places, even when we wouldn't or couldn't send an army. Each of the presidential candidates has implicitly agreed, claiming that when he or she is elected, foreign policy is going to be conducted differently, more diplomatically and so on. But what does that entail? Will "diplomacy" mean we force Slovenia and Norway to send a dozen more soldiers to Afghanistan? Or should diplomacy" mean that we help the people who are trying to foster civilized public debate in Afghanistan as an alternative to warfare? When I was at the RFE office in Prague several weeks ago, the Afghans there showed me the enormous, old-fashioned canvas mailbags that arrive every week from Afghanistan, full of letters thanking the presenters, offering arguments, making comments -- and asking why there isn't more service, more coverage, more than 12 hours of daily service from Radio Free Afghanistan.

RFE does have a good number of admirers in Washington, as well as a few constructive critics, usually people who wish it did more things better. What it does not have, however, is an advocate: someone, in Congress, the White House or on the campaign trail who remembers that Americans have done soft power rather well in the past, that the collapse of the dollar is more than a minor irritant for rich tourists, that with better transmitters we could reach more Iranians, and that we could easily swap a few helicopters for better-informed Afghans. "Yes" is the answer to the Important Public Broadcaster's question; Radio Free Europe still exists. But if no one remembers to support it, politically and financially, Radio Free Europe won't exist much longer.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Turkey Visit - We meet our friends...


Continuing with our Istanbul vacation, on Sunday (April 12th) we met our Turkish friends, Armin and Tuana and their two boys, for brunch at the Istanbul Hilton. Armin had managed the Hilton in Prague before returning to Istanbul last summer. He was there when President Bush visited last June and was able to him. He now manages three properties in Istanbul, two Hiltons and a Conrad (an upscale version of the Hilton).

They hosted us for Sunday brunch at the Istanbul Hilton, which is the flagship of the properties in Istanbul. There was a lovely view and the food and service were excellent.


Here are Kathy and I with Armin and Tuana.


Here is Noah with his best friend from ISP last year, Ares, and Ares's younger brother Marco. They got along like long lost friends, which is what they were (but it sounds odd to say about 10 year olds).

After brunch they took Noah for 2 days giving Kathy and I the chance to explore a lot of Istanbul on our own. And Noah had a great time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Trip to Turkey...Visit to Asia


Turkey is known as the place where Europe and Asia meet. The Bosphorus is the waterway that goes from the Black Sea in the north to the Sea of Marmara in the south. The old historic portion of Istanabul, Sultanahmet, where we stayed is on the European side of the Bosphorus, so we took a ferry ride to the other side so that Noah could say that he had been to Asia. There are ferries that go to many places on the asian side, but we decided to go to Uskudar. See the map. The price is extremely reasonable, about $1 per person, for the 15 minute trip.


Here we are after arrving at Uskudar. As soon as we were all off of the ferry they allowed the returning passengers board - that is them in the background.



We walked around for about an hour on the Asian side before jumping on the ferry back to Sultanahmet. We found these stairs and climbed to the top. Noah is much faster than Kathy and me.



Here is one of the views from the top - looking back to the European side. After this we climbed back down and explored the shopping area near the port. As you might expect, this area was much less touristy than Sultanhmet.

It was a good (and very cheap) excursion for us to take.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Trip to Turkey...Aya Sofya


After visiting the Blue Mosque we walked across the way along the hippodrome to the Hagia Sofia (or Ayasofya in Turkish). It is now a museum but was built as a church and later converted to a mosque.


From Wikipedia:
Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya, Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia) is a former patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, now a museum, in Istanbul, Turkey. Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.

The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 AD on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and was in fact the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site (the previous two had both been destroyed by riots). It was designed by two architects, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. The Church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 50 foot (15 m) silver iconostasis. It was the patriarchal church of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly 1000 years.

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and Sultan Mehmed II ordered the building to be converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed, and many of the mosaics were eventually plastered over. The Islamic features - such as the mihrab, the minbar, and the four minarets outside - were added over the course of its history under the Ottomans. It remained as a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the secular Republic of Turkey.

For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many of the Ottoman mosques such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque.


The Empress Zoe mosaics (right) on the eastern wall of the southern gallery date from the 11th century. Christ Pantocrator, clad in the dark blue robe (as always the custom in Byzantine art), is seated in the middle against a golden background, giving His blessing with the right hand and holding the Bible in His left hand. On either side of His head are the monograms IC and XC, meaning Iesous Christos. He is flanked by Constantine IX Monomachos and Empress Zoe, both in ceremonial costumes. He is offering a purse, as symbol of the donation he made to the church, while she is holding a scroll, symbol of the donations she made.


Here is a depiction of what the Hagia Sophia looked like before it was converted to a mosque in the 15th century.


View from the second floor.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Playoff hockey 26 years ago with Styopa...



My friend Steve of Thus Spake Styopa recently relayed the story of our eventful trip to Chicago in April 1982 to attend two NHL playoff games between our beloved Minnesota North Stars (later to depart to Dallas) and the hated Chicago Blackhawks. Rather than write my own recollections (which are somewhat fuzzy due to the amount of alcohol consumed) I will just link to Steve's admirable posts.

Part 1 - Stanley Cup Playoff Hockey...26 Years Ago This Week

Part 2 - Stanley Cup 1982...Stars versus Blackhawks, Game 3

Part 3 - The Stars Fall to Their Demise...Steve and Al Live

The Blue Mosque...

After the visit to the Basilica Cistern we walked across the hippodrome to the Blue Mosque. It was quite busy but it only took a few minutes in line to make it to the north entrance, which is for non-Muslims. We had to remove our shoes before we entered the mosque.

From wikipedia:It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has become one of the greatest tourist attractions of Istanbul.

The mosque was to be built on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors, facing the Hagia Sophia (at that time the most venerated mosque in Istanbul) and the hippodrome, a site of great symbolic significance. Large parts of the southern side of the mosque rest on the foundations, the vaults and the undercrofts of the Great Palace. Several palaces, already built on the same spot, had to be bought (at considerable price) and pulled down, especially the palace of Sokollu Mehmet Paşa, and large parts of the Sphendone (curved tribune with U-shaped structure of the hippodrome).

At its lower levels and at every pier, the interior of the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, made at Iznik (the ancient Nicaea) in more than fifty different TULIP designs. The tiles at lower levels are traditional in design, while at gallery level their design becomes flamboyant with representations of flowers, fruit and cypresses. More than 20,000 tiles were made under the supervision of the Iznik master potter Kaşıcı Hasan,and Mustafa Mersin Efendi from Avanos(Cappadocia). However, the price the builders were able to pay for tiles was fixed by the sultan's decree, while tile prices increased over time. As a result, the tiles used later in building were of lesser quality. Their colours have faded and changed (red turning into brown and green into blue, mottled whites) and the glazes have dulled. The tiles on the back balcony wall are recycled tiles from the harem in the Topkapı Palace, when it was damaged by fire in 1574.

Until recently the muezzin or prayer-caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today a public address system is used, and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity. Large crowds of both Turks and tourists gather at sunset in the park facing the mosque to hear the call to evening prayers, as the sun sets and the mosque is brilliantly illuminated by coloured floodlights.



The interior of the Blue Mosque - basically one big room.



The ceiling of the mosque, showing some of the many hand made tiles.



A sign that must be obeyed.


Noah later that evening in front of the well lit Blue Mosque.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Basilica Cistern...



The first morning in Istanbul (Saturday) we started off by visiting the Basilica Cistern. The cistern is in the center of the historic section of old Istanbul called Sultanahmet. Many of the other main sites are also in this area - the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Ayasofia and Topkapi Palace. Our hotel was just a 5 minute walk to the Hippodrome, which is really a long and narrow park with the other sites around it.

When I was here in 1993 I stayed in a cheap hotel very close to the Hippodrome. I remember visiting the Basilica Cistern and that it was just a block away. When we were exploring the neighborhood I think I found the hotel that I stayed in then, and the carpet shop where I bought the two beautiful wool carpets that I still have today.

Anyway, I remember the cistern as being a great palce to see so we went there first.

From wikipedia:
The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: 'Yerebatan Sarayı' or 'Yerebatan Sarnıcı'), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that still lie beneath the city of Istanbul, former Constantinople, Turkey.

The cistern, located in the historical peninsula of Istanbul next to the Hagia Sophia, was built during the reign of emperor Justinian I in the 6th century, the age of glory of Eastern Rome, also called the Byzantine Empire.

This cathedral-sized cistern is an underground chamber of 143 by 65 metres, capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water. The large space is broken up by a forest of 336 marble columns each 9 metres high. The columns are arranged in 12 rows each consisting of 28 columns. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings. According to ancient historians, emperor Constantine had already built a basilica and cistern on the same spot. As the demand for water grew, emperor Justinian enlarged the cisterns and incorporated the basilica.

The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 meters and coated with a special mortar for waterproofing. The cistern's water was provided from the Belgrade Woods—which lie 19km north of the city—via aqueducts built by the emperor Justinian.

The cracks and the columns were repaired in 1968. Having been restored in 1985 by the Istanbul Metropolitan Museum, the cistern was once again opened to the public on 9 September, 1987.


And this, from another web site - guideistanbul.net:
The interior of Underground Cistern is breathtaking. It is 138 m, 452 ft long by 65m, 213 ft wide. There are 336 columns in the cistern. Most of the column capitals are either in Corinthian or Doric Style. At the far end of the Cistern, there are two heads of Medusa which are put upside down or side ways. The Medusa Heads are taken from an ancient Pagan site but they complement the pillars very beautifully and add a different taste to the building.
Because of its magic atmosphere and great acoustics, this cistern is now hosting many Classical Music Concerts. There is also a little café which one can sip his or her coffee and enjoy this unique building. On the way to the exit, there are two small bookshops which is full of postcards and informative books as well as some silver jewelry.

We visited at about 9:00 in the morning. I think the restaurant in the cistern is used only for specially catered occassions.



A couple of other facts about the cistern: it covers an area of 2.4 acres and can hold 21 million gallons of water (or 80,000 cubic meters).







Here is Noah with one of the two medusa heads (referenced above). One is upside down and one is sideways (this is the sideways one). It is believed that they were placed this way by design, but no one is sure why.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sarnic cistern restaurant...

We got back to Prague a few hours ago after a successful vacation in Istanbul. Where to begin? I've already downloaded the 148 photos from our digital camera and they cover a whole lot of ground.

I'm going to go with something out of the ordinary for my first post-Istanbul post. With Noah staying with our Turkish friends for a couple of nights we got to have a couple of great dinners alone. The best was at a place called Sarnic, which is in a 1,500 year old cistern located just behind the Aya Sofia.

The ceiling is about 30 feet high, and the room has six marble pillars supporting it. Until recently it was used as a car repair shop and had a second floor added. Renovation, though, meant the loss of the additional floor and back to all brick. The restaurant has tons of candles and lots of wrought iron.

Here I am - with the fireplace in the background. Obviously, this was a feature added later.
















This gives some idea of the ceiling height as well as the wrought iron gates.























Here is a photo from the web with better lighting than I am capable of.



















I found a Frommer's review on-line:
The setting for this restaurant, an old Roman cistern tucked away behind the Ayasofya, is nothing less than dramatic. The flickering light of 500 candles bounces off the iron grillwork, the lofty brick domes, and the stone pillars, while the crackling of the fire in the massive stone chimney (an inauthentic but effective addition) supplies more romance than a girl can handle. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago, before the Turkish Touring and Automobile Association bought and restored it, the cistern served as a greasy old auto repair shop.

I found a few food reviews for Sarnic on the web and they say the food is so-so. Actually, we found the food and service to be quite good and reasonably priced. The wine, while good, was quite expensive and next time we would probably pass on the wine.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Istanbul update...

I'm sitting in one of the many internet cafes in Istanbul - just $2 an hour for a computer with a high speed internet connection.

Noah is staying with our friends, Tuana and Armin, and their sons Ares and Marco. We will get him back tomorrow, so tonight will be another nice evening at a better than usual restaurant (where we won't have to worry of there is something that will appeal to Noah.

Spent all day so far (it's 4:30 in the afternoon) site seeing. We spent all morning at Topkapi palace - very interesting. Then we went to the spice bazaar to look around - also very interesting. We had lunch at a restaruant on the 5th floor roof of a building overlooking the Golden Horn - the waterway that separates the older and newer European sections of the city. Finally, we went to the shopping district of Beyoglu and bought Noah a jersey from one of the four top league teams in the city - Fenerbache. Fenerbahce had beater Aresenal in a shocker here in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago, but then they lost in England and are out of the UEFA cup. Still, even though they lost we got the jersey anyway.

That's the quick update for now. Back to Prague on Wednesday.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We're off on spring vacation...


The three of us are heading to the airport shortly to take a flight to Istandul and will be there until next Wednesday. I wanted us to go somewhere exotic for a vacation and Istanbul seemed like a natural destination. I visited Istanbul (along with much of the rest of Turkey) way back in 1993. It's a great place.

We will see some friends who left Prague last year to return to their native Turkey. I posted on their going away party here. Armin ran the Prague Hilton, and met President Bush when he stayed there while visiting Prague last June. His wife is Tuana and is a good friend of Kathy's.

Armin and Tuana have a son, Ares, who was in Noah's class last year and the two of them were best friends. While we are in Istanbul Noah is going to stay with them from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday morning - he is very excited to stay there and see his old (relatively speaking) friend. Of course, Noah being with them for a couple of days gives Kathy and I the opportunity to see some sites that we wouldn't be ablr to otherwise.

Istanbul is a very large city with 17 million people and we will be staying in the old historic section called Sultanahmet where the most popular tourist attractions are. The hotel terrace has a view of the nearby Blue Mosque (see picture).

I haven't decided yet if I will bring the laptop. I wasn't planning on it, but noticed that the hotel has free wi-fi so I might bring it (if anything just to keep up on the Wild playoffs scores and fantasy baseball). Posting will either be light or non-existent through Wednesday.

My good deed for the day...

Returning from a visit to our new building yesterday (see previous post) I came to the top of the escalator at the Muzeum metro station and saw one of the metro police with a young woman. At first I thought that the young woman was trying to get help in working the automated ticket machines, since they were standing next to a bank of them and they are not that easy to decipher. So I decided to stop to see if I could help.

As I approached I could see that the young woman was sobbing and I heard her say "I don't understand" to the unmoved female policewoman. I suppose I could have bailed but she looked so distressed that I thought I would at least see what the problem was.

Apparently, the girl had just arrived from the airport. She had purchased a transportation ticket at the airport but when she was spot checked (the metro police often check riders of the metro for valid tickets since the honor system is used, i.e. no turnstiles) the policewoman said that there was a problem. She would have to wait for the regular city police an dbe dealt with accordingly.

You can buy tickets that are valid for 24 hours anywhere within Prague, but there are also tickets where the validity is based on either time or distance (in zones). I listened to the young girl and explained that I didn't speak Czech but that perhaps the ticket she bought at the airport might, indeed, be expired. Not to worry, I said, they usually just want you to pay the fine and then you can be on your way.

I asked her if they told her the amount of the fine. 700 crowns, she said (about $44). That seemed a bit steep to me - I had expected around 400 crowns. I turned to the policewoman and asked if the fine could be smaller - and for effect I placed the thumb and forefinger of my right hand close together. I expected some answer in Czech that I wouldn't understand. But she said, in perfect English. "That is impossible". I didn't dare ask what was impossible about it since I didnt want to get arrested myself.

Hmmm. I asked the girl if she had any crowns and of course she didn't. She was just coming from the airport. Hmmm. I had another thought. "Do you have friends in Prague?" I asked. Yes, her boyfriend was here in Prague. Great - I would lend her my cell phone and she could call him to come and help her out. Then she quickly went on - "but his mobile phone is off, I can't reach him".

Hmmm. I knew I only had 300 crowns on me, well short of the 700 needed. If I wanted to trust her I could leave and find an ATM (there was one at my building just a few minutes away), get some money and come back. But that would take some time and the police might show up by then and take her somewhere else. Then one of those strange occurences - occured. I looked up and there in the station was an ATM, not 30 feet from where I was standing.*** I had never noticed it before. But I took it as some kind of sign and told her to wait and I would be right back. I walked over to the ATM and put in my card. While it was reading my card I began to worry "what if I can only get 1,000 crowns out of this thing. I don't think the metro police will make change".

Just then I heard the girl's voice behind. I turned to see the policewoman leading her away and the girl pleading "they are taking me somewhere else". They vanished around the corner.

I typed my PIN and, as luck would have it, while the machine didn't offer a 700 crown amount it did offer to spit out 600. I withdrew that and added 100 crowns from my wallet. I grabbed one of my business cards from my wallet and went to see if I could find them. Luckily, I turned the first corner and there was the girl and the policewoman - they had been joined by two Prague policeman.

I folded the bills so that they were smaller than my business card and walked up to her. I tapped her on the shoulder and handed her my business card, but in a way so that the others wouldn't see the money behind it. "Here is my card", I said, and then whispered that there was also 700 crowns if she needed it. And I turned and walked away. Her look as I turned was a mix of gratitude, relief and a little disbelief.

I didn't think much more about it the rest of the day and even forgot to tell Kathy about it when I got home (maybe because it would sound like a crazy thing to do). I had just cleaned up the dishes from dinner when my cell phone rang. That doesn't happen very often and so I wondered who it was. It was the girl from the metro. She had to use the 700 crowns for the fine and wanted to meet me the next day to pay me back. We agreed to meet in from of the National Muzeum right across from my office at 12 noon today.

She was right on time, and had her boyfriend and another girlfriend with her. She explained that the ticket she had bought at the airpotrt was indeed for a set time and that she had exceeded the time on the ticket by 3 minutes! All of this hassle for 3 minutes. The police had threatened to hold her for 24 hours if she hadn't paid the fine. All three of them were very nice and very grateful.

It was nice to act as a good samaritan, especially as an American. Also, I can't believe that Prague would allow this kind of treatment of tourists by it's police. It's not like tourism is important to the city or anything (//sarcasm//).






*** There was also an ATM even closer, just right around the corner, not 10 feet from where we were standing. I passed this one every day but only remembered it later.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The new Radio Free Europe building...

I made a visit to the new building today, after about two months since I was last there. There is much progress but also much work to be done. Our technical guys will get in soon to start


Here is the building juxtaposed against the artist's concept on a billboard.

This is the view from inside the building looking up to the top of the atrium. Of course, it will look a little better when all of the scaffolding is gone.

You have to use your imagination to visualize it, but this is my future office. This is where the future magic will happen.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

First anniversary of the blog...

Tomorrow, April 9th, is the first anniversary of my first blog post here at www.tischlersinprague.blogspot.com. It was a riveting account of our Easter festivities. You can reminisce here.

In that one year I have posted 347 times, or about 95% of the days. I don't think that's too bad. If someone bothers to visit I feel that I should at least have something recent to offer. That's not to say that they were all quality posts - I am painfully aware that there were some clunkers and others that qualified merely as space fillers. Still, in the end the readers get what they pay for.

In the beginning I experimented with widgets, being generally fascinated with the variety available. I added headlines in the Czech republic and a basic hit counter. Later, I added pictures showing progress on the new Radio Free Europe building here in Prague.

What really got me excited, though, was when I added the capabilities of web-stat.com. After that I could not only see how many people were visiting, but where they were, what time and for how long they were at the blog, and how they found it, even down to the words they put into the Google search. That has made checking the blog much more interesting.


I am now up to over 1,000 hits per month, which is extremely modest as things go, but still much more than I ever thought I would reach with my little blog on our life in Prague. There are a few topics that I blogged on that keep bringing readers. Starbucks always generates a lot of interest. The Palladium mall fire, while not very interesting to my friends and family back home, brought (and still brings) a lot of English speakers to the blog since information on the fire and resulting shutdown of the mall was hard to come by. The same is true of the reporting on the murder of American Mike Murray in Prague by a drunk off-duty Prague policeman. If you are a friend of Mike's you know that there was very little information to be had (that is still the case) and all I did was accumulate it into a single spot.

Other posts that get a lot of continuing hits relate to places we have visited. The Colliseum in Rome and Terezin here in the Czech Republic have continued to draw readers over time. And, of course, my multiple posts on the fall of the US dollar seem to be of interest (despite how awful I have been at predicting where the dollar will go).

I will continue to post as long as the name - Tischlers in Prague - still applies. We don't know yet how long that will be, but while we are here we are enjoying the experience.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Noah's feet...



It was cool and rainy today - the weather we were supposed to have yesterday for the birthday party but didn't (thank goodness) so after church we took a drive to Prague's first outlet mall that opened last fall. Noah needed new play shoes and we needed to find something reasonably priced. For his last pair we tried a Czech brand because they were quite a bit cheaper, but they only lasted a few months, so we decided to go back to a name brand

The outelt mall had stores for just about every brand of show that we are familiar with - Nike, Addidas, New Balance, Rebock, and others. Kathy said that the Rebocks ran a little wider and Noah has wide feet so we went there There was a sale going on and we were able to find a pair that he liked on sale for 1200 crowns (about $75, and that's a GOOD deal)

I know that Noah is getting big, but I wasn't prepared for the fact that he now wears a size 9 1/2 (European 42.5). I wear a 9. They say you can tell how big a dog will get by his paw size when he is a puppy. I wonder how big Noah will be at 18.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Noah's birthday party...

Yeah, I know he turned ten years old six weeks ago. But we had visitors in town and also wanted the weather to be warmer, so here we are havinig his birthday party in April. All week the forecast for today was cool and rainy, so of course it was mild and partly cloudy - thank goodness.

We had six other boys invited to the party and so we had a long list of games to keep them occupied. In a fortuitous turn, Noah won one of several items that were raffled at his school a couple of weeks ago. What did he win? Free use of a large inflated bouncy castle, and a large custom made cake. (See the pictures).

Kathy's organizational and culinary skills were put to great use. Besides the list of games, she had each kid make their own personal pizza, and that was a hit. What kid doesn't like pizza? The kids seemed to have a good time and were well behaved. Two hours, though, was enough.


Here is Noah with the free cake he won in the school raffle.

Here is Noah with the free bouncy castle that he won in the school raffle. It was really big, but it inflated in only about a minute.

The obligatory blowing out of the candles on the cake. The cake is really about 30 cupcakes with loads of frosting. If we had paid for the cake the cost would have been $125 (which means, of course, that he wouldn't have had this cake).

Here I am giving instructions for the egg relay race. The non-American boys were bemused by the idea of racing carrying an egg on a spoon.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Falling Dollar - April edition...















It's another first week of the month, and no it's not April Fool's Day - I purposely didn't post about the dollar on the first. In a nutshell, over the last month we have had more of the same from the dollar - weakening. You can see from the graph that the trend is still lower. There was a brief recover from 16.0 to 16.5 in the middle of the month, but that was just the dollar mocking us before it turned and continued its slide. As I write this the dollar is below 16 again, standing at 15.94. When we arrived in Prague in August of 2006 we could get about 23 Czech crowns (koruni) for one dollar, now we can only get around 16, a 30% drop.

Today's Prague Daily Monitor reports that the Czech government is going to get proactive in moderating the crown's strength. While the dollar has fallen tremendously to the crown, the crown has also grown stronger against the Euro, but at a slower pace.

Measures against strong crown to be established in a week
prepared by Prague Daily Monitor editorial staff / published 4 April 2008

An agreement concerning the excessive strengthening of the Czech currency being put together by Ministry of Finance and Czech National Bank should be ready in a week. E15 informs that the aim of the agreement is to freeze the flow of foreign currency into the Czech economy.

We'll see how much this helps - and how quickly.