Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brazzale - Great cheese store in Brno

My hubby and I were walking towards Nam Svobody after shopping for fresh veggies at Zelny Trh and found this new and neat looking cheese store called Brazzale, an Italian store just opened up its branch for the cheese lovers in Brno. Brazzale also carries moderately priced Italian wines.

We were so happy to get a pack of Ricotta cheese there, which we could never find in any of the grocery stores in Brno. I guess I have to look forward to my hubby's fabulous eggplant lasagna again soon which he recently made for me using cottage cheese and mozzarella cheese. It was soooo good.

The store is on a small street called Radnicika (just around the corner from Zelny Trh).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trencin, Slovakia

Trencin is a small town just south of the border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is a very cute town with a significant view of enormous Trencin Castle on the hilltop. The castle is said to be the largest in Central Europe.

The history of the castle goes back to the time of the Roman Empire. There have been many different owners. The region was conquered by a Polish king, a Hungarian king, and owned by different royal families, etc.

The castle was once burned down in 1790 along with the entire town. It was only in the 19th century that the town of Trencin flourished again. During WWII, Nazis occupied the town and a prison camp was placed there until Soviet troops captured it in 1945.

Trencin Castle has been renovated and has been serving as a museum exhibiting historic items such as weapons, pictures, and furniture. The tour is only in Slovak unfortunately but there are "some" explanations in English on the walls.

The exhibition was not something that we were interested in, but it was good to walk around the site (you need to pay for the tour in order to get in). You may, however, also just enjoy the sight of beautiful castle from below. Most of the stores were closed when we were there as it was on Saturday, but it seemed like it would be a wonderful place to hang out during the spring-summer time. It would be just nice to sit at the square and to enjoy the view of the castle with a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Miyabi in Prague: Wonderful Japanese Restaurant

Whenever we visit Prague, we enjoy also visiting a Japanese restaurant which serves typical Japanese cusines other than sushi. Brno has a couple of sushi places, but we cannot get Katsudon or Tempura Udon type of dishes. Our favorite in Prague so far had been the restaurant called Katsura, but we decided to try out a new restaurant called Miyabi this time.

The restaurant had a great ambiance with modern decor and lighting. The chairs and tables were somewhat outdated and didn't really fit into the entire mood, but it had the "wabi sabi" meets European cafe type of feel to it. There are also some Tatami rooms in the back.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about this restaurant, as the Japanese guidebook said that the chef is Czech rather than Japanese. Yes, my presumption was that it might not taste authentic. But, my presumption was completely wrong. It was more authentic than could be! I did some research on the chef and found out his name is Mr. Marek Hora. He was one of the Seven Sushi Samurai at the Sushi Award 2009. He didn't win the top award, but his creativity was well acknowledged. According to this site, Miyabi's logo is "CaJ" meaning Czech and Japan, representing the chef's wish to bridge two cultures and also to appreciate the mind of Japanese "tea ceremony" (caj is a Czech word for "tea").

In addition to sushi, they have Udon, Soba, typical a la carte dishes such as Agedashi Tofu as well as different kinds of Bento with all kinds of goodies. We ordered Shokado Bento which came with yakizakana (grilled fish fillet), tempura moriawase (4 different kinds of tempura including shrimp), sashimi moriawase (4 or 5 different kinds of sashimi), yasai nimono (boiled veggie - that day they served wonderfully cooked eggplant), rice, miso soup, and dessert. All this for only 450 CZK!!! Much cheaper than eating sushi in Brno.

Kudos to Chef Hora. I highly recommend this place!

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Hrad Karlstein near Prague

We had some errands to run in Prague this past Friday, so we rented a car and explored Hrad Karlstein which had been one of the places we wanted to visit. Hrad Karlstein is a beautiful castle only 25 km away from Prague. As you may have guessed from the name, it was build by the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th century. It was the place for safekeeping of the royal treasuries, particularly a collection of holy relics and Imperial crown jewels. The record shows that Charles IV himself stayed in the castle to supervise the building works and interior decoration in 1355.

The castle has a stair-like formation starting from the lowest-lying Well Tower and Burgrave's Residence, continuing on to the extensive Imperial Palace, then to the Marian Tower, and finally to the Great Tower. What's amazing is that they completed the construction within 17 years back in the era with no bulldozers!

There are tours almost every hour even in English. The tour does not include the viewing of Chapel of The Holy Cross in The Great Tower, which we really wanted to see, during the winter time (they said it is only open to the VIPs which obviously we are not), but it takes you through major rooms such as Emperor's Bedchamber and Audience Hall.

Here is a little bit about Charles IV. His father is John the Blind of Luxembourg who became blind 10 years before he died in the Battle of Crécy in 1346 at age 50. Charles was his eldest son and was crowned King of Bohemia one year after his father's death at age 31. He was French educated and founded University of Prague (a.k.a. Charles University), the first university in Central Europe, in 1348.

The first workout in the Czech Republic

My hubby and I used to go to the gym everyday. At one point we even had a trainer who pushed us vigrously. I could bench press 80 lbs, and my hubby could do 100 lbs at one point. Let's just say we were fit :)

Now that the time has passed, and we have been only working out by ourselves at home (doing cardio and yoga mainly), we started to feel rather weak. So, off to the gym we went.

There is a small gym near our flat, and you can workout for 60CZK/person without having a membership. Good deal! Okay, the machines are about 10 years old at least, and the locker room is rather depressing, but you get to work out. I was also surprised that there were so many people around noon time during the weekdays. Way to go Brno people!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Genuine Tzatziki at Hermes in Brno

We found a great Greek grocery store called Hermes in downtown Brno. It looks like the store is headquartered in a town called Krnov, which is a small town on the border between the Czech Republic and Poland. Hermes Brno branch is a small store, but you can get stuff like Tzatziki (very genuine stuff!), all kinds of pickled peppers and olives that are stuffed with cheese, Baklava, etc. They also have a great stock of Greek wines as well.

According to wikipedia, roughly 12,000 Greek citizens fled to then Czechoslovakia during the 1946-1949 Greek Civil War. Most of them were concentrated round the towns of Brno (Brunn), Ostrava, Opava, and Krnov. In 1975, the emigration back to Greece started including those born in Czechosolovakia, and by 1991, there were just 3,443 people in Czechoslovakia who declared Greek ethnicity; almost all of those were in the Czech portion of the country, with just 65 in the Slovak portion. However, many of those who emigrated back to Greece kept the strong contact with the Czech Republic and helped in establishing the trade links between two countries. Is this the reason why I see lots of Gyros places around Brno?

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travelling coat

There was an unexpected event during our trip to Budapest at the end of Feb. We had a great dinner at one of the local restaurants called Klassz. It was a crowded night at the restaurant, and we were asked to move to another table.

Almost all the restaurants around this area have several coat racks for the customers to hang their coats. There was indeed several of them in Klassz as well, and so we did. But, when we moved our table, we didn't move my coat to the nearest rack. After we finished our wonderful dinner, my hubby kindly went to the coat rack and got my coat, which I wore that night to go back to our hotel.

Next morning, when we were about to leave for the Parliament tour, I noticed something slightly odd about my coat. The color was slightly softer. I searched for my lip cream in one of the pockets, and it wasn't there. Then I picked up my coat and realized it was lighter. By then, I knew it was not my coat :)

Strange thing was that the coat fit me perfectly. It had almost the same shape, length, color, even the number of buttons, etc. Anyway, since it was the only coat I had for the morning, the coat ended up going to the Parliament with us. We needed to leave for Brno that day but waited until the restaurant was open. We stopped at the restaurant hoping that they would know something about the swapped coat accident from the previous night, but they didn't.  We left our phone number hoping that whoever had ended up with my coat would contact the restaurant.

We were on our way back to Brno when we received a call from the restaurant. The lady who had ended up with my coat was there, too. Apparently she was a tourist from Sweden. A couple of days later, we got an email from her notifying us of the address we should send her coat to, so we did.  Finally her coat was reunited with its owner! And, she used the box to send my coat back to Brno. My coat enjoyed a trip from Budapest to Sweden and back to Brno. :)  It was the first adventurous trip my coat took without me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lost in translation in Japan

I wonder who proudly translated these.... :(

1) Sign in Shinagawa Prince Hotel...a half door??

2) Sign on an elevator door...I guess the translator was being lazy.

3) Sign on an electric hot pot...huh???

4) In Shizuoka... I would love to have a coin ROCKER!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Incredible power of Tsunami caused by M9.0 earthquake in Japan

This topic is a bit off from the theme of this blog, but I cannot avoid writing about the devastating occurences during our quick visit to Japan last week.

It was on March 11th, one day after my birthday, around 2:45pm JST. We were on a train to an onsen (hot spring) hotel. We heard a loud and sudden announcement from the train conductor that the train needs to have an emergency stop. And, it stopped abruptly, which stunned me, but then within a couple of seconds, we felt a shake, which stunned me more. The shake continued quite a long time and then became even more vigorous from right to left like a pendulum. Since the train stopped in between two tunnels on top of the cliff, we were worried that it might flip over and fall down the cliff. Anyway, even after the aftershock we were okay. Later I heard it was only Shindo-4 around that area. It certainly felt bigger than that.

We were stuck in the train for 3 hrs before we were led out down to the railroad track via a ladder from Car 15, which had a better landing. It took a while for everyone to vacate the train, as they only had one ladder and we were in Car 1, which was the last car to be evacuated. We were asked to walk to the nearest station along the railroad track. It was getting dark, and we had two heavy suitcases. Then a man who was in the same car with us came and offered me  help. He said he was over 60 years old, and I was hesitant, but his help was greatly appreciated.

The train station where we arrived had literally nothing around it - except one landline phone. Our mobile phones were not working, so I lined up for the landline phone and called the hotel to cancel our reservation. It was a pity as I had spent about 4 hrs researching the best inns around that area, and we were very much looking forward to it. However, that feeling was wiped out when I saw the image of what had happened to the Tohoku area later on. I literally was at a loss for words...

I was watching the news, and it said that the tsunami wave typically moves at 900km/hr until it hits the land at which point it decreases its speed to 90km/hr. But still 90km/hr!!  It is like being hit by a landing jumbo jet. Thousands of dead bodies were found by the shore a couple of days after the first M9.0 earthquake. The tsunami wiped out many towns up to 10km inland. 10km!?!?  How could one imagine that the tsunami could travel 10km inland...

The electricity is out and thus the water which is supposed to keep the nuclear reactors cool could no longer be pumped in. People are trying hard to avoid the reactors overheating, but the effort has not been completely successful. There have been hundreds of earthquakes here and there still (see here:, and the one in my hometown which happened right after we left raised an additional concern of potential eruption of Mt. Fuji. TEPCO decided to do a rolling power outage, which reduced the number of trains in Tokyo area significantly which impacted everyone commuting in Tokyo. Most of the grocery stores have no stocks. People in severely impacted areas don't have food, water, heat, or electricity. There will be serious hygiene issues as well (lack of toilets, no bath, etc). This is truly a catastrophe. And, I believe it will continue that way for a while. The psychological impact was just huge as well....

We got back to the Czech Republic a couple of days ago despite the fact that I felt bad to leave my friends and family behind. We got an announcement a day before our departure date that the departure time had been changed. We were still in Shizuoka (it typically takes about 3 hrs to get to Narita under normal circumstances), and we were worried whether we could get there on time. The Narita Express was not running, and I heard that the buses going from the hotels were not running, either. But later we found out that the buses were running from the Bus Terminals like Hakozaki. We managed to get to Narita in 3.5 hrs. The flight we were booked on was supposed to be a direct flight, but we found out that there would be an extra stop in Korea to change crews and refuel. The total flight time to Vienna was 15 long hours. Once we got to Vienna, we were immediately asked to undergo a radioactivity test. Very thorough. Finally we were reunited with gG in Brno around midnight, exactly 24 hrs after we left Shizuoka. It was good to hold him indeed.

I have been keeping my eyes glued to the earthquake-related news ever since I came back. I am truely worried about my friends and family and how Japan can return to normalcy... If you have $5 to spare, please do donate some money to help people in Japan (

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cat's microchip issue

When we moved from the US to the Czech Republic, we implanted a microchip into gG's back as it was one of the requirements.

Now that we have been laying out lots of different scenarios for our next step, we wanted to make sure that gG, our furry son, can travel with us wherever the desination we choose.

So, we went to the Czech vet and were about to get the process going such as getting another rabies vaccination and blood test, etc. But, the Czech vet needs to be able to identify gG by reading the microchip the US vet implanted about a year and half ago. Guess what? When the vet tried to scan gG's microchip, she couldn't. She even called for a help by another vet, and they still couldn't. gG was relieved to escape the sharp needle, but we were stuck.

We came back home and did some research and found out that the microchip our US vet implanted was not an ISO-standardized chip which has a 15-digit number but was something called AVID Eurochip which has a 10-digit number. Here are some more information my hubby found:

PETS TRAVELING TO AN EU COUNTRY: If you are traveling to an EU Country then you want the 15 digit chip which meets ISO standards 11784/11785 134.2 kHz FECAVA. We recommend the Datamars (Crystal Tag) microchip.

PETS TRAVELING IN EUROPE AND LIVING IN EUROPE: If you are living in Europe or traveling throughout Europe then you should use a microchip a 15 digit chip at 134.2 khz such as the Datamars (Crystal Tag) microchip.

PETS TRAVELING TO OTHER COUNTRIES: For travel to all countries you should use ISO 15 digit microchip that meets ISO standards 11784/11785.

Some of the Datamars scanners, which are the standard scanner in EU, seem to be able to read the AVID Eurochip, but the vet doesn't seem to have them. If they can't read the chip, we need to implant another microchip into gG's back :( How pathetic is that? gG the cat with two microchips :(

If you are traveling to the EU with your cat, make sure to ask your vet to implant the 15-digit microchip that meets ISO standards 11784/11785.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Exploring Pest side of Budapest

There is a lot to see in Budapest, but if you are there during the cold winter months and have only 2 days to explore yet want to dip yourself in the public bath, I would suggest the following sites:

1) State Opera House
2) Parliament
3) St. Stephen's Basilica

1) State Opera House
Opera seems to be one of the great forms of entertainment for the residents and tourists in Budapest. We didn't have a chance to see the opera itself (just because we were hesitant to disrespect others with jeans), but we did have a chance to go on a tour of the opera house.

The opera house was built from 1873 to 1884. Even WWII didn't destroy the building. The old looking building has a very sturdy look with a little bit of "eastern" flavor to its roof.

Inside is not too big but gorgeous with lots of decorative wood curvings, gilding, and chandeliers. The theater is made all out of wood to create better acoustics. I heard that it was ranked as the 3rd best acorstics in Europe after La Scala in Milan and the Palais Garnier in Paris.

One thing we learned here was the composer named Ferenc Erkel. Liszt is rather famous worldwide, but neither my hubby nor I knew anything about Erkel. In fact, when we visited a music museum, his name was all over the place. His statue is in front of the opera house (another one is of Liszt), and he was called the father of Hungarian grand opera. The tour is in English, Italian, German, French, Spanish and Hungarian and leaves at 3pm and 4pm daily. Our English tour guide was a very happy and pleasant lady. Just make sure to get permission at the ticket counter if you want to take pictures. 

2) Parliament
Wow was my first word when I saw the first sight of it. It is BIG! The parliament stands along the Danube, and it is one of the most popular landmarks of Budapest. The construction of the building began in 1885, right around the time the opera house was completed, and finished in 1902. It is said to be the world's third largest parliament (according to our tour guide) after the ones in Romania and Argentina.

The unique interior design includes huge halls, over 12.5 miles of corridors, a 96 meter high central dome, and 691 rooms.  The long and wide main staircase (96 steps) going up to the central dome area is just breathtaking. You would definitely feel important (and elegant) going up the stairs. The stairs lead you to the central dome, which is also breathtaking. It is surrounded by the statue of Hungarian kings including the Hungarian King Saint Stephen I (a.k.a. István) and interestingly three from the house of Habsburg like Maria Theresa.

The central dome is the place where you get to see the famous Holy Crown of Hungary, which came back to Hungary by order of the US President Jimmy Carter after being lost for a while. The cross on top of the crown which is said to be added around the 16th century is tilted but no one knows exactly what happened. Yet, it seems to have been that way since the 17th century. The interesting thing was that the crown is considered to be a living entity and symbol of the permanence of the heavenly transcendent presence. In other words, king was not the sovereign but the holy crown was. Yes, the "crown" was. It backs up the saying of "the Holy Crown is the same for the Hungarians as the Lost Ark is for the Jewish." And the nation and the king are hierarchically below the crown; both being equal. The nation cannot "rule" the kingdom, and the king is a "substitute" for the nation. Pretty democratic. Another interesting thing is that the king, nation, and its political and even justice system are all tied around the holy crown and thus with a specific religion. The fact that the holy crown is preserved in the center of Parliament is interesting.

The tour ticket is hard to get. It is recommended that you go there around 8am to make sure you get the ticket. There are tours in different languages available at different times. The English ones are available at 10am, noon, and 2pm.

3) St. Stephen's Basilica

You cannot talk about Hungary without mentioning St. Stephen, a.k.a. Saint Stephen I or  István, the first King of Hungary (there is a debate on the "first king" part, but anyway...). He was the one who broadly established Christianity in the region. He was canonized by Pope Gregory VII in 1083, approximately 50 years after his death. St. Stephen's Basilica is the Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of St. Stephen and the place his mummified right hand is preserved.

Anyway, the construction of the building took more than 50 years, as the dome collapsed once in 1868. The ceiling of the dome is HIGH! 96 meters (315 ft). By now, you might be wondering what's up with the "96" number and Budapest. I head it is coming from the year 896 when the Principality of Hungary was recongnized as a kingdom. Even after the collapse, I guess Hungarian really wanted to keep the dome to be tall with the height of 96 meters. I have to say it was worthwhile. You go in, and you feel the enormous-ness. You feel the infinite air flowing inside surrounded by golden glow. You do feel semi-transofrmed into something sacred.