Thursday, September 30, 2010

Příbor, Czech Republic

You may know Sigmund Freud, but you may not know that he was born in a small town called Příbor in the Czech Republic. Since we didn't sepend that much time in Kroměříž, we decided to take a quick stop at Příbor.

Actually Příbor is right next to Hukvaldy, the birthplace of Janacek, which I will be writing about later. And oddly enough, both of them lived there around the same timeframe (Janaeck was born in 1854, Freud in 1856), although Janacek left Hukvaldy when he was 11 and Freud left Příbor when he was 3.

The birthplace of Freud is now turned into a small museum. It is called the family house of Sigmund Freud and was opened in 2006. Of course the house has been renovated, and so little of original anything remains, but you get to walk through with a set of earphones that guide you through the house. There is more to see and learn in the Freud Museum in Vienna, but it was good to see the town the small Freud played around in.

And, I just loved the sight of the winding pavement you can peek at through the small upstairs windows.

Kroměříž, Czech Republic

"Kroměříž" - what a busy name!  The last four letters have either a háček and čárka. So instead of pronouncing as "kromeritz," it is pronounced more like "kromyejish" (well, very simply put, of course).

As I wrote in my previous post, Kroměříž was much bigger than I expected.  It is located 45 mins east of Brno. The town prospered since the archbishop of Olomouc started to live here since the 12th century. The chateau the archibishops lived stands beautifully right next to the main square of the town.

Unfortunately, since we didn't want to leave gG in our car for too long, we gave up on the idea of taking a tour of the chateau this time. Instead, we went around the buildng and walked though the huge garden with trees, flowers, and animals. We enjoyed the colorful leaves falling off the trees, which I realized I missed so much. It has been since I left Japan and moved to LA where no seasons can be observed. I appreciated the beauty and calmness of the sight of leaves just falling onto the ground slowly. I later learned that both the chateau and garden are in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

There is also a great flower garden on the opposite side of the town, too. There are lots to see for a good half a day in Kroměříž. We told ourselves that we would take a day trip here some other time.

Four day trip - From Brno, Czech Republic to Krakow, Poland

Finally "my" vacation was here. My hubby has been way too busy to take a chunk of days off, so we took an advantage of Czech holiday on Sept 28th (called Den české státnosti, I suppose) and took a day off on Monday the 27th and made it into a four day vacation.  I know he was busy, so I do appreciate his effort to make me happy (thanks hon!) :)

There were a couple of places that I wanted to visit on the way to and from Krakow, such as Hukvaldy where Janacek was born and Auschwitz.  I made the following itinerary just for fun. And, of course the challenge was "gG," our beloved cat/son.  We can't really leave him in a car for a long time, so we needed to make a plan to avoid such instances.
9/25 (Sat): Leave Brno --- (43m) ---> Kromeriz --- (2hr 45m) ---> Kobior, Poland
9/26 (Sun): Kobior, Poland --- (35m) ---> Oswiecim/Auschwitz --- (35m) ---> Kobior, Poland --- (1hr 10m) ---> Krakow
9/27 (Mon): Krakow
9/28 (Tue): Krakow --- (2hr 30m) ---> Hukvaldy --- (1hr 48m) ---> Brno

We always enjoy our short trips like this, but I made a mistake in planning this time. Firstly Kromeriz was much bigger than I expected.  Much more stuff to see.  Consequently, we gave up on taking a tour of Archibishop's Chateau, etc, and we just walked through a part of the vast garden behind the chateau. It was a nice walk with nice scenary, and we told ourselves that we had to visit there again some other time (without gG).

Secondly, the car navigation system we got from Hertz didn't work at all.  It almost got us lost, and it took much longer time to get from one place to another. For instance, you should be able to get to Hukvaldy from Krakow in 2 hrs and 30 mins, but instead it took us like 4 hrs!  Anyway, I managed to accomplish my dream visit to Janacek's second house, so I can't complain.

Thirdly, I underestimated the time we could spend in Auschwitz. You could definitely spend all day long there.

But, all in all, the vacation was fantastic. I will be posting about each place after this.  Hope you get a glimpse of what we experienced throughout the trip.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New black granite attraction at Náměstí Svobody

For a while we knew that something was being built under the huge tent-like cover at the corner of Náměstí Svobody. It was finally unveiled over the weekend.

It was a black machine looking like a small spaceship! According to the press, it is a clock made out of black granite, and it spits out (don't know how) a glass marble everyday at 11am (this 11am is related to the legend mentioned in my previous post).

I walked by it twice already this week, and at both time, the granite clock was surrounded by many Brno folks. And especially today, since it was around 10:45am when I walked by it, people were clinging around the clock being so eager to catch a ball which supposedly should come out from one of the holes of the clock at 11am. I heard you can take it home if you were lucky enough to catch the ball.  I shall stay and watch how the ball looks like next time!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Burčák at Vinná Galerie

I didn't know about "Burčák" until our Czech teacher mentioned it to us the other day. Then my hubby found it at a wine bar/cellar called "Vinná Galerie" near his office. So, off we went yesterday after work.

Once you step inside the bar/cellar through the wide wooden door, you see a softly sloping corridor surrounded by brick walls going down to the underground bar/cellar. The cellar expands beneath arched brick ceilings, with three huge tables displaying all kinds of wines in the middle. There is some seating along the side walls. We got there rather early, and we managed to get a seat by the window. The decor is perfectly suited to wine lovers. Something about the atomosphere relaxed me completely.

We ordered two glasses of wine as they were out of Burčák when we got there. The store clerk told us they would be getting a new barrel soon, so we sat by the window and enojyed the Moravian white wine while waiting for the Burčák.

Then it came!! A guy brought down two huge containers of Burčák. We got the first ladle of Burčák. It was like a very thick purplish apple juice. My hubby, who had drunk Burčák the previous night at the same place, told me it tasted different from the one he had. Indeed, I think it was thicker as we got the first glass out of the newly brought in barrel. The second glass (yep, I had a second glass of Burčák!) was much smoother and had a murky honey-like cream color. I also noticed a distinctive smell the second time which I didn't notice from the first glass. It actually reminded me of the smell of the stuff you apply when you get your hair permed :-)

Burčák is fermented young wine, or pre-wine sweet drink with 4 to 8% of alcohol. It is only available around this time of the year (it seems that it can be only sold from Aug 1 till Nov 30 by law), after the first grapes have been crushed. Burčák has a short life. It is said that it should be tasted rather quickly. I also heard that the alcohol content goes up as you leave it in the bottle and that it could give you a major headache if you drink 3-day old Burčák.

Moravians seem to have an especially strong bond to Burčák and seem to believe that you can't expect to be healthy unless you drink at least seven litres of the young wine each year! Indeed, it seems that Burčák is rich in Vitamin B and minerals.  And, there were lots of housewives and hubbies, often with cute little kiddies in tow, coming to the store with their own empty bottles to take Burčák back home. The store also sells the empty bottles, and we treated ourselves to a small 1-litter bottle of Burčák to take back home. It cost only 30 CZK (approx. $1.50)!

Veveří Castle (near Brno Lake)

Veveří Castle sits approx. 15km outside of Brno near Brno Lake. Our friend Jana lives near the lake, and we had a chance to visit her and her beautiful newborn baby over the past weekend (finally yay!). The weather was not so nice, but we decided to extend our daytrip to Veveří Castle, which was only 10 mins drive from her house. You could also take a boat across the lake, but again the weather was not too good and we also had a rental car, so we took with the option of driving up there.

The castle stands sturdily on top of the hill by the river Svratka which runs into Lake Brno.  It is surrounded by forests, and I could just feel the richness of the location and castle back in the time when it was used by the noble family members during hunting season.

It says that the castle was probably built around the second half of the 12th century originally. Since then, different people owned it and thus changed its formation throughout the years. The so-called Keep, the tallest and oldest of the towers of Veveří Castle which was built as the primary defence element of the oldest building stage of the castle, is the only structure which has remained preserved from the oldest building stage of the 13th century. 

As you will notice immediately after going into the castle, the castle has been going through a major reconstruction. The castle was heavily damaged during WWII. Also during the years 1953 to 1972, the castle was turned into a foresters' apprentice center, which damaged it yet more. Furthermore, it seems that there was an attempt to turn the castle into an international student center by a Brno university in the late 70's (hmmm... wouldn't it be a bit of an isolated place for the international students to be?....).  Indeed, inside the castle is devastatingly damaged. I would have to imagine it will take several more decades to complete the renovation.

The castle is open to the public daily from 9am to 6pm except for Mondays during the months of May to September. It is only open over the weekends and bank holidays from 9am to 5pm during the months of April and October. The rest of the year it is closed.

There are tours going around one of the buildings (so-called "palace with keep") on the weekends. The tour is only provided in Czech, but you can get a booklet with English explanations. It must had been a great castle when it was being lived in and used.  The walls are very thick (one of the rooms had more than 2-meter thick walls!).  The view from the so-called "romantic observation terrace" was magnificent.  It is unfortunate that the castle was destroyed to the extent that the inside is still not yet at a presentable level.  Hopefully they will at leat finish the reconstruction of the palace with keep quickly.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Ramen in Czech Republic!

As you may know, I miss Japanese food A LOT. Here in Brno, there are some sushi restaurants, but they are very expensive even by US standards. There are no restaurants where I can eat Ramen, Katsudon, Udon, or anything else!

Last Friday, I went to Prague along with my hubby who needed to apply for a Chinese visa (apparently as a US citizen, he could not have someone else to go for him). I also had to go to the Japanese embassy to get a certificate for my Japanese driver's license which I will need in order to exchange my Japanese driver's license for a Czech driver's license (will write about it later). So, off we went. It was a quick day trip to Prague.

We left Brno around 7am, and ran some errands and hit the highway a little before 8am. We were in Prague by 10am. It was already past noon when we finished all the things we had to do. We decided to look for a Japanese restaurant for lunch. I know there are a whole bunch of nice restanrants that we could have gone to in Prague, but I really needed to have anything Japanese.

We found one called "Katsura" near the Chinese embassy. Although it was in a nice hotel called Diplomat, the ambience of the restaurant was not too wonderul, but the lunch dishes they had were great! My hubby ordered Katsudon, and I ordered their daily special, Ramen! I haven't eaten Ramen in a restaurant for more than 4 months, and was so happy to see it as a daily special.

The katsudon came with a bowl of miso soup and three side dishes; Hiyayakko (tofu), Japanese-style macaroni salad, and Tsukemono (Japanese pickles). My Ramen was just satisfactory. It had a chunk of ox tail in it. The soup was a simple soy sauce based one and it was not too greasy and certainly didn't smell like a bad Ramen soup (you know, the soup is the key as you see in the movie called "Tampopo"; video below). It also came with a huge bowl of fried rice and two of the same side dishes: Hiyayakko and Japanese-style macaroni salad. There was no way that I could finish everything and I ended up taking some of the fried rice back home, but all in all I was so happy that I finally got a taste of Ramen in the Czech Republic!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Château Konopiště

Château Konopiště is one of the most visited chateaus in the Czech Republic. It is in a small town called Benešovn, about 44km south of Prague. The chateau was owned by many different people, but the last one was the famous Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria whose assassination in Sarajevo triggered World War I.

The chateau was originally built in the 13th century in a Gothic style. Later around the 18th century, it was transformed into a Baroque style. Then Franz Ferdinand bought the chateau in 1887 and remodeled it into a luxurious residence. The chateau stands on top of a hill overlooking a surrounding forest. I felt a quiet peace as we walked up the hill in the shadows of tall trees. There is a lake near the chateau, which you can enjoy a beautiful view of from the top of the chateau.

What's interesting about this chateau is the history surrounding Franz Ferdinand. He was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The former heir, his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf, committed suicide scandalously, leaving Franz Ferdinand's father, Archduke Karl Ludwig, first in line to the throne, but he then renounced his succession making Franz Ferdinand the heir. He was also one of the wealthiest men in Austria after inheriting most of the huge estate of his cousin Duke Francis V of Modena. 

So, yes, he was wealthy and powerful.  Then he fell in love with someone who could not be allowed in such a high-powered top-drawer noble family.  Her name was Sophie Chotek. They met at a ball in Prague. They dated secretely for a while until the relationship was made public by Archduchess Isabella (there is always a gossipy lady), and at that point Emperor Franz Joseph made it clear to Franz Ferdinand that he could not marry Sophie, as her family was not a member of one of the reigning or formerly reigning dynasties of Europe which would make her an eligible partner for a member of the Habsburg Imperial Family. Sophie's family was noble but not noble enough.

However, that didn't stop the love between Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. After getting support from powerful people like Pope Leo XIII and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, Emperor Franz Josef was successfully convinced to let them marry but as a morganatic marriage which prevented their descendants from succeeding to the throne. Sophie also could not share her husband's rank, title, or precedence. They were married on July 1, 1990. Neither Emperor Franz Josef nor Franz Ferdinand's siblings attended the wedding.

In 1909, Sophie was given the title "Duchess of Hohenberg" (Herzogin von Hohenberg), which raised her status considerably. However, whenever the couple attended the gatherings with other members of royalty, Sophie was forced to stand far down the line of importance, separated from her husband. But their marriage was strong. They had three children; Sophie, Max, and Ernst. And, despite the bad-tempered characteristics of Franz Ferdinand described by many people, he seemed to be a great father and husband and continued to be so until he and Sophie were assasinated together in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 (a couple of days before their 14th anniversary).

Typically Sophie would not be allowed to accompany her husband, but on this particular occasion, Franz Ferdinand arranged for her to come along as an anniversary gift. What an irony :(  They were still breathing after being shot, and his last words to Sophie were 'Don't die darling, live for our children.'  Sad story indeed. Their children were only 13, 12, and 10 years old when their parents were killed.

At Konopiště, there are three guided tours in different languages. We took Tour 2 (the tour for the weapon collections) simply because that was the only tour available in English around the time we arrived. But, we had a private tour! You see thousands of horns of hunted animals on the wall throughout the chateau, as Franz Ferdinand was famous for liking hunting. He is said to have killed over 300,000 animals (average of 15 per day)!