Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday strolling - April 23, 2010

The weather in Brno has been so gorgeous that we decided to take a walk in the late afternoon. People (like us) were enjoying the late afternoon sun in the park behind the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul looking over the beautiful neo-gothic style cathedral.

We went around the cathedral and walked to the vegetable market, bought some veggies, stopped at the book store (and found lots of Murakami books!), and continue walking towards the Freedom Square (the central square in old town Brno).

The sqaure was filled with people and... with a bunch of military cars and men. We later found out it was the exhibition related to the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Brno. Hard to realize that it already has been 65 years since the WWII. But, if I think about my father, who has foung in WWII, being 85, it all makes sense. My father used to talk to us about the war all the time at the dinner table when we were kids.  I can now appreciate that he did that.
To end our strolling, we went to a restaurant near Moravská Náměstí. The ambiance was more comtemporary than the typical restaurants in Brno, but somehow the wooden chairs didn't go with rest of the decore in my humble opinion. We ordered a greek salad, which unfortunately was not really a greek salad, and a New York steak, which didn't taste bad but reminded me more of a thin Mexican carne asada made with a flank or skirt steak than New York strip. But I have to say that the beer there was the best so far. It had this thick very creamy foam on top. Loved it!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vegetable dishes

Unlike US grocery stores, there aren't too many varieties of beef here.  All I can find is a block of thick beef, probably from the shoulder area, which you typiacally use for stew.  I once found sirloin, but it didn't taste good.  I guess people don't eat beef too much here except putting in a stew.  Moreover, since I started to develop this anti-beef/pork mentality (well, it is only associated with me cooking), I have been focusing on veggie dishes. Here are some recipes:

1) Pizza-like veggie pie and hot veggie salad
- spread the pie dough and roll up the edges, and pread tomato sauce (or pizza sauce)
- sprinkle minced garlic, chopped onions, mashrooms, boiled spinach, or whatever the vegetables you may have in your frig.
- sprinkle cheese (and if you have Japanese mayonnaise, you can put some before sprinkling cheese)
- bake it in the oven as instructed on the package of pie dough
**Veggie Salad**
- heat up the olive oil in a deep pan with minced garlic
- put veggies, salt and pepper, and put the lid so that you can stir up the whole pan (rather constantly - good arm exercise!) for about 4-5 mins (depending on what type of veggies you used)

Very easy!

2) Summer veggie curry
- chop up vegetables (I used eggplants, some root veggies, green beans, cauliflowers, peppers, potatoes, and mushrooms)
- heat up the oil and fry each vegetable quickly (you might want to start out from harder veggies like potatoes or cauliflowers)
- put the fried veggies aside
- in a pan, heat up the olive oil (lowe heat please) and saute garlic, red peppers, and minced onions
- once onions are browned, put them towards the edge of the pan so that you can put ghee or unsalted butter in the middle
- while ghee or butter is melting, you put the mixture of spices (I usually mix: turmeric, curry powder, cumin, cardamon, garam masala - although garam masala is the mixture of spices, but anyway...), stir, and make a consistent curry roux
- mix the roux with onions
- put some water, milk, and some whole tomatoes (adjust the amount depending on the veggies you will put in later)
- once heated up, dump the veggies you fried earlier
- sprinkle red pepper, salt and pepper, if you like
- once heated up again, add sour cream or yogurt or cream if you like

3) Eggplant sauteed with miso
This dish is something my mother typically made with eggplants. One of my favorites!
- slice eggplants (3 small Japanese eggplants, or 1 large american eggplant), soak in the water
- make a mixture of miso (2 tbs), sugar (2 tbs), sake (1 tbs), soy sauce (little), Shiro-dashi if you have any (little), water (little)
- drain water and squeeze eggplants to get rid of water
- heat up the oil, saute eggplants with the lid on
- once eggplants get softened, put the mixture of moso, sugar, sake, soy sauce, etc into the plan and sautee more
- sprinkle a little bit of sesame oil if you'd like at the end

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grocery store in Brno

Most of the grocery stores have one of these machines near the veggie section.  Yes, you need to weigh the veggies or fruits you want to buy in advance.  Of course I didn't know about it the first time I shopped, and I ended up giving up all the veggies at the register. :-(

Luckily the machine has the self-definable pictures (except some of the fruits - in that case, I just have to go back to check the name in Czech) :)   You just put what you want to weigh on the scale, press the picture button, and the price tag will be printed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Zelný Trh (Vegetable Market) in Brno

The first Saturday morning after coming back from my long trip, my hubby and I went for a walk to the vegetable market five mins walk from our apartment. Yes, the spring is truely here!

In fact, the marekt is open every day, and you get to buy fresh veggies, fruits, eggs, and flowers.  The good thing is the veggies are not pre-packaged, so you get to buy as much as you need, and whatever you buy there is fresh and cheap! During the winter time, the prices for the vegetables are much higher I heard.  Indeed they did come down. A head of pinapple costs only $1.75 (I would have to imagine, though, that these pinapples are not locally grown)!  And, the other day I got three eggplants, some peas, and two tomatoes, and the total cost was less than $2.50!  And the tomatoes tasted just like the tomatoes I used to eat when I was a kid in Japan.  I could almost taste the earth.  I loved it!!

After getting rid of my fish-deficiency in Japan, I thought I may be able to go back to the meat-based meals easily, but it didn't work out that way.  I somewhat developed anti-meat feelings. Now that the vegetable market is open every day, I could maybe live on veggies!

Monday, April 26, 2010


I stayed in Tokyo over a night right before taking off to Vienna.  Firstly I had to go to Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit my police document for them to give me an apostille.  Secondly the flight to Vienna was leaving in the moring, and I thought it would be wiser to stay in Tokyo instead of leaving Shizuoka around 6am.   And the plan allowed me to see my friends in Tokyo area!

That night, I had a chance to meet with my old colleagues from the company called Logo Japan, which was promoting the computer language called Logo developed by Seymour Papert in MIT. It was the first company that I joined after college.  I was very Americanized back then, and people called me "Gaijin (foreigners)."   Anyway, I stayed there for the next 8 years taking care of the products.  I realized I have not seen some of them for 20 years (!!).  20 years just passed so quickly.  Yet, it was amazing that we immediately felt the same connection that we felt back then.  Of course all of us aged and went through quite a lot in these 20 years, but we thought no one has changed even a bit :)  I was semi-mesmerized with all the conversation that was carried on, but it was great to see them all after so many years. 

Earlier that day, in between the admin work I had to do, I met with a couple of more friends.  One was them was Okuyama-san whom I worked with at Bowne.  It had been like 10 years since I saw her last, and it was great to be able to meet even only for lunch and catch up what we have been up to (yep, in 10 years!) :)

Then I had a chance to meet with Higa-chan who also worked at Logo Japan.  He couldn't come to the night gathering as he had another appointment.  Anyway Higa-chan and I were the first five members to start up the company, so we go way back (more than 20 years!).  He has been engaged in many interesting projects to create "things" (you name it - basically anything from  museum to movies), and I wanted to pick his brain to let myself motivated to start out something new.  Again it was a short meeting, but the best advice was "start out big!" - yep, I will do that.

Although it was only for one day, I consider Tokyo one of my hometowns that I spent my precious 12 years after college. And it was such a pleasure to meet my old friends that I missed for so many years.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The first meeting with my niece's baby boy in Japan

I was back in Japan to visit my mother's grave and to get a document from the local police for my visa application to stay in Czech Republic.  It was a short trip, but I accomplished what I wanted to do, and had a chance to meet with my niece's first baby boy "Reiru" finally!!   Yes, my sister is already a grandma.  Boy...

Reiru-kun and I got immediately bonded, just like gG got bonded with my sister immediately.. .Okay, gG is just an animal!  But, it is very rare for gG to jump up on stranger's tummy, but he did immediately to my sister.  Anyway, Reiru-kun either enjoyed my face or what I was doing with my face :-)  He just kept smiling at me.

He is 8 kg heavy(!) and has a very charismatic attitude as if he would become a Sumo wrestler.  My niece, Akari-chan, is so skinny, but her bicepts were getting big as she has been carrying 8 kg baby all day long.  And very impressive thing is that she takes great care of her baby despite the fact that she is only 19 years old and despite the fact that there are so many awful cases of mothers abusing their kids in Japan.  I am truely proud of her.

This picture was taken using the "Purikura", a short name for "Print Club."  It is basically a photo booth that has more features than just a regular photo booth. For instance, you can write words on it or put decorative items.  I forgot how many shots we made, but machine just keeps taking pictures every so often, and we just pose inside the booth.  This was the first time in many years that I was in the booth of "Purikura", and I was surprised how advanced the machine has gotten.  Out of many pictures you took, you can later choose wthe ones you want to print. With only 400 yen, you can enjoy quite a bit.  And, nowadays, the machine is getting so sophisticated, even if you are not wearing any makeups (just like all three of us in the picture), the pictures turn out to be just great!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Easter Market in Brno

Before we left for Vienna, we were wondering around the center of Brno and found an Easter market. There were about 30 or 40 little shops selling local foods or goods, and people were gathered around the tables set inside the market and were enjoying beers and wines. 

There we saw an interesting shop that was selling an interesting looking sweet. The sweet is called Tredlnik, which was like a non-fried donuts.  They wrapped the dough onto a thick cylindrical pipe, put some oils, bake them, and top with sugar or nuts. Two ladies were making Tredlnik.  One of them were so friendly.  She let me go around the shop and let me take some videos and pictures.  How does it taste?  Very yummy!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Naschmarkt in Vienna

Just outside of Vienna's zone 1, there is one of the most popular markets in Vienna. The market has been there since the 16th century! 

There are all kinds of shops selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, flowers, cheese, and so forth.  There are also a lot of small restaurants and bars which have outside seatings.  People were just sitting outside, sipping a cup of coffee or beer or wine, and enjoying the sun.

I have to say I need to learn how to relax like European.  People seemed to be able to just sit there forever enjoying the drinks, cigarette, sun, and lots of talking.   I think my tolerence level is up to an hour. I know that I adopted much slower life after I left Yahoo and have used to an even more slower life in Czech Republic, but I am not sure if I could ever become like European.

We had a glass of beer. We thought we ordered a plate of sausages, but what was served was completely different. It was a dumpling with meat inside.  Enjoyed everything, but we left in less than an hour :)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hundertwasser's Kunst Haus in Vienna

I have to say that this was one of my favorites in Vienna.  Hundertwasser was rather a controversial contemporary artist born in Vienna. Kunst House which was designed by the artist is so artistic, organic, and just so adorable.  The house contains 50 or so apartments, and the second floor has been opened to a public as a museum of Hundertwasser.  It said that Hundertwasser had a clear philosophy about the house he wanted to build.  The floor is not flat, as the flat floor is for machines.  He made the garden on top of the building, as the building covers the earth. The walls are made of plaster, so that the kids can draw on the wall and still can be repainted.  He wanted to make a house which grows with people who lives there.

The museum is filled with his paintings. What's noticeable about Hundertwasser's paintings are the colors (lots of very bright colors) and organic lines.  They sort of reminded me of Watt's Tower made by Simon Rodia, which I wrote in my LA blog. Interesting thing is that Hundertwasser's style of painting changed significantly when he was around 20 years old.  Till then, his paintings were just so beautiful and very true to life, which reminded me of Picasso's earlier paintings.  And all of a sudden it changed, as if something inside of him burst out onto his canvas.

It seems like he spent most of his time travelling.  He also spent quite a lot of time in Japan and was once married to a Japanese lady.  Although he has been deceased 10 years ago, his arts still exist all over the world including in Japan nad are being appreciated by local people.

Vienna Boys' Choir / ウィーン少年合唱団 / Wiener Sängerknaben

Vienna Boys' Choir is the most famous boy's choir in the world, and it is almost like an icon of Vienna.  The choir was established by Maximilian I of Habsburg in 1498.  Although it was dismissed in 1918 when Habsburg was destroyed, it was reformed again in 1924. 

The role of the choir was to provide musical accompaniment to the church mass. The boys received the top musical education, and many went on to become professional musicians. Franz Schubert or Clemens Krauss were one of them. Nowadays there ae about 100 boys aged between seven and fifteen who were strictly chosen, and they have been going around the world for the concerts.

Their concerts are being held every Sunday at the Burgkapelle inside Hofburg Imperial Palace. You can buy tickets in advance, or you can line up in front of the Burgkapelle on Sunday morning to get the extra tickets they may have.  The chapel itself is not big, but thy prepared chairs on the 2nd and 3rd floor for people like us to come and listen to the boys (and they have a huge projector showing the boys, too).  Boys will be located at the rear end of the 3rd floor, so if you get a seat facing the alter, you would not be able to see them.  Well... it would be difficult to see them from almost anywhere in the chapel to be honest.  But, at the very end, they would come downstairs and sing at the alter, so you can wait till then to take a picture - like I did :)  Not sure why we want to see them instead of just being satisfied with their singing, but anyway....

Unfortunately the alleged abuses from the past members of Vienna Boys' Choir were reported recently.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freud Museum in Vienna

There is a house Sigmund Freud lived from 1891 till 1938 just outside the ring in Vienna. Sturdy but elegant building had total of five stories. The second story was used for his office. Now the second floor has been turned into his museum. You can learn a lot about Freud there. Somehow... I have been interested in Freud ever since I learned about him. Unfortunately I couldn't spend too much time there, but I was thrilled to step into his apartment and office that he actually lived his life. Btw, the middle aged Freud was quite a good looking guy, which I never knew :)

There were a couple of things that I learned about Freud. He was born in Moravi (!!), a little town called Příbor; then an Austrian town but now a Czech town. His parents had a 20 year of age difference. I understand that he found that he had a strong affection to his mother and also came up with the theory named "Oedipus complex," and I wonder if his parents' age difference had anything to do with it. He was also born with a caul, which was considered to be a sign of good luck back then.

I wanted to re-read his book "The Interpretation of Dreams," but it is packed in one of the boxes which were sent to the storage house in LA... :(

Cafes in Vienna

If you are Japanese, I am sure you've heard of a coffee called "ウィンナーコーヒー (wiener coffee = viennese style coffee)."  I remember I was around 10 years old when I first heard the name of this coffee.  My father took me and my sister to a cafe near our house, and asked us if we want to try the coffee.  I asked if a sausage is in the coffee :-)  As the word "ウィンナー (wiener)" also meant "sausage" in Japanese.  I suppose the original naming of the sausage was "ウィンナーソーセージ (wiener sausage = viennese style sausage)" and we started to omit the most important part of "sausage" and started to call the sausage "wiener."  
Anyway, whenever I hear about vienneese style coffee, I remember this story.

Cafes seem to be deeply integrated into Viennese life.  There are hundreds of cafes even just inside the ring, and they are full of people throughout the day. It is not only a place to drink coffee or eat breakfast, it is a place to read newspaper, relax, meet with friends and talk. 

I would say the most famous drink is "Melange."  It is topped with thick foam, which resembles Cappuccino.  The wiener coffee that I mentioned above seems to be called Einspanner.  Coffees are served with a small glass of water and a small chocolate.  After taking a long walk around the ring, coffee definitely helped us relaxed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

gG and Stadtpark in Vienna

Since we felt guilty leaving gG alone in a strange hotel room, we decided to take him to a city park across the street from our hotel. The park was huge (according to the wiki, it seems to have an area of 65,000 square meters) filled with lots of beautiful trees and flowers.  Viennese folks were enjoying the sunny weekend afternoon in the park. 

Surprisingly the dogs were banned from the park. We saw this sign and wondered if cats were allowed... (I guess not too many people take cats to the park :) 

Anyway, we let ourselves in the park. gG is typically very adventurous, but he was uneasy with the huge open air.  But, after all, he enjoyed the grass he hasn't seen since we left our home in Los Angeles.

One of the most famous monuments in the park is the gilded statue of Johann Strauß II, who is famous for waltzes such as "The Blue Danube."  The park also has the Kurslon where Johann gave his first cncert on Oct 15, 1968.  Since then, the Kursalon became a popular place for concerts and dancing.

Enjoy "The Blue Danube"!

There are several other monuments, such as the one of Franz Schubert, Franz Lehár, Robert Stolz and Hans Makart.  But most of all, it is just a wonderful place to relax with your beloved ones!

Rather artistic pedestrian light in Vienna

One of my hobbies (!?) is to check out the pedestrian lights wherever I visit.  Vienna's pedestrian light was just so artistic.  I suppose there are lots of people riding bikes there, too. 

Btw, when I was in Japan this time, I noticed that the bikers follow the same lights with cars instead of the pedestrian lights!!  I did some research and indeed in Japan bikers are supposed to follow the traffic lights for cars unless the pedestrian light has a sign next to it saying "Signals for Pedestirans and Bikers" speficically.  Hmmm.
Anyway, I liked this semi-meaty man on Brno's pedestrian light, too :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

The symbol of Vienna, St. Stephen's Cathedral, stands tall in the center of Vienna. The first sight of the south tower was just surprising and magnificent. We were walking down the narrow street, and all of a sudden a tip of beautiful looking tower appeared in front of us. It reminded me of a scene from the UFO movie :) Yes, I was that surprised with the first sight.

The cathedral was first built in the 12th century and has been remodeled to be the current gothic style in the 14-16th century. The south tower is 137m high, and it has a nickname of "Steffl."  You can actually go up the tower, although we didn't as the last admission ended at 4:30pm.  We were late for that.  What I really liked was the roof of the cathedral.  It was just beautiful.  It says that it is covered with 230,000 glazed tiles.

The cathedral also has catacombs which holds the remains from the massive death by Black Plague (killed 150,000 people in Vienna).

Vienna Streets

Just like Tokyo, Vienna consists of 23 zones (Bezirk), but each zone is much much smaller than the one in Tokyo.  The zone-1 is the center of Vienna, and the street called Ring runs around zone-1. Most of the popular sightseeing destinations such as St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephandom), Vienna State Opera, and Hofburg Imperial Palace are located inside zone-1, and everything is so close by that you can walk to any destinations or take a tram which goes around the ring.

We headed to Vienna around noon on April 2nd. By 3:30pm, we arrived at the hotel near Stadpark that is also right next to the station called Parkring. Our plan was to stay there until April 5th, the day I flied out to Japan from Vienna Airport.

We had two full days of sightseeing already planned, but we were eager to check out Vienna as soon as we arrived to the hotel.

We cheked into our hotel, situated gG with a glass of fresh water and a plate of his favorite food, and we decided to take a walk to the Stephansdom, which was about 8 mins away from the hotel.

The most streets inside the zone-1 are narrow and surrounded by the beautiful buildings.  I wonder if it is due to the Easter holidays, there weren't too many cars in zone-1, etiher. Although it was still cold outside, we bundled ourselves up and enjoyed the early evening walk in the city of Vienna.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Open borders

It has been a while since I updated this blog as I had been traveling. We had a great opportunity to visit Vienna, Austria during the Easter holidays. We rented a car and drove down to Vienna. From Brno, it only takes about 2 hrs. Very easy drive I must say.

The great thing is that you don't need to show your passport when you cross the border between Czech Republic and Austria.  Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, which EU countries (except Ireland and UK) have adopted. Basically it is "open borders." You see a gate for the border, but no one is there or no gate is set up. You just drove by as if you were crossing the state borders in the US. But then, the difference is once you cross the border to Austria, language chages. You see German signs rather than Czech signs.  Open borders certainly benefits the travelers, but I also have to imagine it benefits illegal immigrants as well as criminals.