Monday, March 19, 2018

Panelaky

A panelák is the slang term for a panelový dům which is a prefabricated block of flats.  Panelaky are a visible reminder of socialist times as they were built throughout the communist bloc countries.



After WWII there was a housing shortage and the Czechoslovak government employed uniform designs to provide lots of affordable housing.  These blocks of panel flats would be less susceptible to firebombing if a war broke out between the west and the east.

These blocks of flats were used to help people foster a collectivistic mentality.  Panelaky get criticised sometimes of poor designs and poor construction practices.  They often look quite drab and dreary.  However, many of flats have been reconstructed and are often painted with bright colours.

Between the early 1950s and early 1990s, there were 1,2 million flats in panel blocks built in Czechoslovakia.

You can't think of these blocks of flats like housing projects in the US or like council estates in the UK.  They are still quite popular and there is no social stigma about living in one.  Today, some 3,5 million people, about one-third of Czechland, lives in a panelák.

The Moravian Gallery currently has an exhibition called Paneland.  A few of us went yesterday and it was quite interesting.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Vladimír Remek

Vladimír Remek flew on Soyuz 28 on 2 March 1978.  Forty years ago he became the 87th person to fly in space and the first person from outside the Soviet Union or USA to do it.  To date he is still the only Czech cosmonaut to have gone to space.

In 1970 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Czechoslovak Air Force.  He was a fighter pilot in the 1st Fighter Air Regiment where he flew MiG-21s.

Interkosmos was the Soviet Union's space programme to help open up space to its allies.  Czechoslovakia was the first country to participate.

In 1988 Remek served as deputy of the 2nd Air Defence Division stationed in Moravia.  After the Velvet Revolution he was the Director of the Prague Museum for Aviation and Astronautics.  He retired from the Air Force in 1995.

From 2004 to 2013 he served as a member of the European Parliament.  Since January 2014 he has been the Czech ambassador to Moscow.

East Germany was the third country to participate in the programme.  Sigmund Jähn flew on Soyuz 31 which launched on 26 August 1978.

Here's a video from the European Space Agency that I found on YouTube.  Both Vladimír Remek and Sigmund Jähn are featured.

©European Space Agency

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Emil Boček

Emil Boček, Strach jsem si nepřipouštěl (Emil Boček, I Didn't Accept Fear), is a new book by Jiří Plachý.  He's the last living Czechoslovak pilot that flew with the British Royal Air Force in WWII.

Today a colleague scored me a book autographed by Emil Boček.  This one will be a challenge for me to read in Czech but I'll definitely give it a try.

Emil Boček was born in Brno in 1923.  In 1939, at the age of 16, he snuck out of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.  He made his way to Beirut and in the summer of 1940 he wound up fighting in France.  He then received pilot training in the UK and was admitted to the RAF.

He was a mechanic with the 312th Fighter Squadron.  He went for training in Canada in 1943.  From October 1944 he was a fighter pilot with the Czechoslovak 310th Fighter Squadron and had 26 operational flights.  In 1946 he left the Air Force.

In April 1990 he was promoted to captain and in October 1990 he was promoted to major.  In March 1993 he was promoted to colonel.  In May 2014, President Zeman appointed him Brigadier General.  In May 2017, he was promoted to Major General.  I don't understand how one gets military promotions decades after leaving the military.  Maybe the details are in the book.

In 2010 he was awarded the Order of the White Lion for extraordinary merit of defence and state security and excellent combat activity.

In 2016, he got the opportunity to fly in a spitfire again.  Here's a video of it I found out on YouTube.

©Forces TV

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Český lev

Tonight is the 25th annual Český lev, Czech Lion, film awards.  The award is given by the Czech Film and Television Academy (ČFTA) and it is the local equivalent of the Oscar or a BAFTA award.  The first awards were in 1993.

A new version of the award was created to celebrate the 25th anniversary.  Each glass statue took about three days to create.

The award categories are:  Best Film, Best Documentary Feature, Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Music, Best Stage Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

There are two television awards presented for Best Television Film or Miniseries and Best Television Drama Series.

There are also non-statutory awards for Best Film Poster, Award of Film Fans, and the Magnesia Award for the Best Student Film.

This year the films with the most nominations are Bába z ledu (Ice Mother) with 15 nominations, Po strništi bos (Barefoot) with 13 nominations, and Milada with 10 nominations.

Very much like the Academy Awards, I haven't seen any of the films that are nominated for awards.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Where's My Chair?

My team has a history of messing with my desk when I'm away from the office.  My desk has been tin foiled, my phone and chair have been decorated, and once there was even a snow man on my desk.  And of course there was all of the confetti last time.

But things like this normally happen when I'm away for a couple of weeks.  This time I was out of the office for a few months.  So I had no idea of what they would do this time.

Here's the video I received when I returned to work.


I still want my chair back.  And #cantwaitforpayback

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Eilat Trip Summary

We had a great time on our Middle East adventure last week.  Eilat was the perfect place for some quiet beach time.  Especially last week when a cold blast of snow and freezing wind set record low temperatures across Europe.

Thanks to the Sibiřská zima, Siberian cold, Brno was -14℃ (7℉).  I definitely felt friends freezing back home while it was 28℃ (82℉) on the beach.




On Monday we went to Egypt and visited Saint Catherine's Monastery.

Egypt has long been a popular beach holiday destination for Czechs.  The number of tourists declined after the revolution in 2011 but have steadily increased the last couple of years.

On Wednesday we took our long day trip to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

I can definitely see going back to spend some more time at the Dead Sea.  Quite the experience.

Then we went in to Palestine to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Something I didn't understand was that the Oslo II Accord actually divided up the West Bank into three different areas.  Area A is where the Palestinian Authority has administrative control, Area B is co-administered with Israel, and Area C contains settlements only controlled by Israel.

Israelis are not allowed to enter Area A.  This sign warns that it is both dangerous and against the law for Israeli citizens to enter Area A.


On Friday we took our tour to Petra.  It was even better than I thought it would be.  The carvings were so cool.  I wish we had more time to really explore Petra but we hit the major highlights.  I'm glad that we didn't stay over though because Jordan is ridiculously expensive.

Since 2013, Israel no longer stamps your passport.  Instead you receive a paper ticket every time you enter or exit the country which you hold on to.  There are several counties which won't let you enter if there's any evidence in your passport that you've been to Israel.

Taba visa stamps
The thing is that Egypt and Jordan do stamp your passport.  So there's now evidence in my passport that I used the Taba border crossing in Egypt, and since the only country that one can get to from here is Israel, which means it's pretty easy to figure out where I've been.

Israeli border crossing to Jordan
It's the same story with the Jordanian border crossing.  My passport now won't let me enter Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

Aqaba, Jordan, across the Red Sea
While not immediate travel destinations I would like to eventually go to Iran and Lebanon.  I'll either have to get a second U.S. passport, which will only be valid for two years, but won't show evidence of having been in Israel.  Or I wait until I eventually get a Czech passport.


The rest of the time we just relaxed on the beach and enjoyed our time in Eilat.

Mall security



Mall security is no joke in Israel.  According to the law, you can enter only a shopping centre after clearing security.  Your bags will be searched and you go through a metal detector.  It's quick and easy and you don't have to remove your shoes like at an airport.

The biggest surprise actually came when we left.  Ryanair says to be at the airport at least two hours before your flight.  However, Israeli airport regulations state that passengers should arrive at least three hours prior to your flight in order to clear security.  It took us about 2,5 hours to make it to the gate.

First you get in line to talk to a security who asks a few questions and looks through your passport.  I think there's a bit of racial profiling that goes on as well.  We were then split up and asked the same questions again separately.  It didn't seem to be a problem that we had gone to Egypt or Jordan but security had lots of questions about out visit to Morocco a year ago.  Why did I go to Morocco?  Do I know anyone there? What did I do?  Did I meet anyone there?  It took a while to explain that it was just a day trip and again, a year ago.

"2" is low risk but "6" is the highest risk
After about five minutes they put a yellow sticker on my passport and I could then get in the queue for baggage inspection.  All of your bags go through a screening machine.  Some people were told to remove iPads but I wasn't so I left it in the bag.  Depending on the number on the yellow passport sticker, some people had to then go to another bag check where they had open their bags and watch an official inspect every item.  I'm glad that this didn't happen to me.  Then you go to the airline counter and check in your bag.  After this you then go through "normal airport security" where you remove your liquids from your carry-on, take off your shoes and pass through metal detectors.  Then you go to passport control and then finally you are cleared to go to the gate.  Super thorough but you can definitely feel safe at an Israeli airport.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Eilat, Israel

Eilatאֵילַת, is the southernmost city in Israel.  The earliest settlements in Eilat were established around the 7th century BC but as an Israeli city it was founded in 1951.  Today the city is home to just over 50,000 people.

The city is south of the Negev Desert.  It's on the northern tip of the Red Sea, wedged between Egypt and Jordan.  On a good day you can see Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba.



Eilat is a popular beach resort with an average of 360 sunny days each year.











The 1947 UN Partition Plan designated the Eilat area as part of the Jewish state.  The British Umm Al-Rashrash police post was taken in Operation Uvda on 10 March 1949 without a fight.  The 1949 Armistice Agreement formally granted Eilat to Israel.

The Ink Flag sculpture commemorates the capture of the police post during the war.  When the Negev Brigade discovered they didn't have an Israeli flag, soldiers made a flag by drawing ink stripes on a sheet and sewed on a Star of David from a first-aid kit.



The Artists Gallery is dedicated to the work of local artists.





The Eilat Museum is all about the history of the city of Eilat.  It's small but interesting.  But there's not much history wise since around the mid-1990s.




Behind the museum is a big blue pyramid.  It's the former IMAX theatre which is no longer open.




The Coral World Underwater Observatory is the largest public aquarium in Israel.  It was founded in 1974 and it is home to over 800 species.



In 1989, there was a Sculptures for Peace exhibit.  One of the pieces still on display in a city park was by Czech Artist Jan Koblasa.  He was a founding member of the Czechoslovak post-war art scene.  In 1971, he defected from Czechoslovakia and was sentenced in absentia to nine years in prison for illegally leaving the country and much of his work was hidden in custody.  He passed away in 2017.

Eilat is a small town but it's a great place to go to just to get away.  It's possible to visit Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  It's also quite easy to cross in to Jordan to visit Aqaba or tour Petra.  Or you can cross over to Egypt to visit St. Catherine's.

Of course you can also just hang out at the beach which is totally awesome!  You can't beat beat 28℃ (82℉) on the beach, especially when it's -14℃ (7℉) in Europe.  Though I'm not so sure I'd want to visit in the summer when it reaches +40℃ (+104℉).

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Petra Tour, Jordan

On Friday we took a day trip to Jordan in order to visit Petra.  From Eilat, we crossed the border to Jordan where we received our tourist visas.  From there our bus drove by Aqaba, العقبة, which is visible from Eilat, just across the Red Sea.  Aqaba was founded in 4000 BC and is home to around 150,000 people.
King Hussein, King Abdullah II, and Crown Prince Hussein


We then drove through Wadi Rum, which is the country's largest valley cut from sandstone and granite.  Wadi Rum is 60 km (37 miles) east of Aqaba.

We made a brief stop near Ma'an, معان.  It was founded sometime between the 2nd-4th century BC.  It was a perfect stop for some great views of the desert.



Petra, البتراء, is 138 km (85 miles) from Eilat.  It is an archaeological city that was built possibly as early as the 5th century BC.

Petra was originally known as Raqmu.  It was the capital city of the Nabataean kingdom making it a regional hub for trade.  By 700 AD the city was abandoned.

In 1812, the city was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer.  Petra is famous for its rock-cut architecture.  In 1985 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After leaving the visitor centre, it is about a 600 metre walk (or optional horse ride) to the Siq which is a narrow gorge that leads to the ancient city.  The Siq is about one km long.  There are various carvings to look at along the way.

At the end of the Siq, the first thing you see is the treasury which is carved in to the rock.

Other sites to see include various tombs, a sacrificial palace, and an open theatre.  We only had about 1,5 hours to see as much as we could.  In a perfect world we could have spent two to three days exploring everything here.
 

 











In a 2007 poll, Petra was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.