Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of the great moms out there!!

However, the people with the best mothers are me, my niece & nephew, and my goddaughter.

Erice, Italy

Erice is a cobblestone medieval town in Western Sicily

It's a very easy day trip from Trapani.  You can get there by bus but the best way to get to Erice is via cable car.   
The cable cars to the top

For someone you doesn't like heights, I really have to wonder why almost every trip I take involves dealing with my acrophobia.  Oh well, the ride to the top is definitely worth it. 

View of Erice from the lowlands

Erice is located on top of Mount San Giuliano, about 750 meters (2,460 feet) above sea level.  It offers great views of Trapani. 

Being so high up means that quite often the town is literally in the clouds.  I'm told that these clouds are known as "kisses of Venus."  The sensation of being in the clouds was absolutely brilliant!  Unfortunately, walking next to a castle, surrounded in clouds just doesn't photograph well.  

Main city gate

The town has more than 60 churches which is quite a surprise considering the town's population is only around 29,000 people.

Panoramic view from Erice

The church of San Giuliano was built in 1076.  It is one of the first churches built in Erice.  The Baroque bell tower was built in 1770.

Lots of streets to explore

The monastery and church of San Carlo was built from 1612 to 1617.

Pepoli Castle is currently being restored and will become a "peace observatory."

The Castle of Venus is a Norman castle built between the 12th and 13th century.  The area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Construction on the Mother Church (cathedral) began in 1312 using materials from the ruins of a pagan temple.  The Tower of King Frederick was built at the end of the 13th century.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Trapani, Italy

Trapani is on the west coast of Sicily, Italy.  The small town is home to 70,000 people and sits between the Mediterranean Sea and Mt. Erice.

Legend has it that Demeter, the goddess of harvests and plenty, dropped her sickle in a moment of despair while looking for her lost daughter.  The sickle landed by the sea and it is why the curved shape of the harbor resembles the goddess' scythe.

The small, fortified fishing town has a very long history.  It was an important Phoenician trading port.

The Romans ruled for a few centuries before the Arabs occupied the island in 827 AD, and then came the Normans in 1097.  During the Crusades it was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean.

Today, it is still an important fishing port.  The fresh seafood here was so good.  It's also the easiest access point to visit the nearby Egadi Islands.

The Church of Sant'Agostino was built by the Templars in the 14th century.  The Gothic church as a beautiful rose window over the doorway.  The Fountain of Saturn, in front of the church, dates back to 1342.

Dome of St. Lorenzo
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo was built in 1421.  In 1844, the church was consecrated as a cathedral by Pope Gregory XVI.

Trapani Town Hall

The Piazza Mercato del Pesce is the former fish market.  The portico arches date back to 1874.
Palazzo Senatorio

Ligny Tower is a Spanish watchtower that was built in 1671, when Spain ruled over Sicily.
Trapani is very relaxing.  It's small enough that you can walk everywhere and it doesn't take too long to learn your way around.  There are lots of lovely little cafes and so far things seem much cheaper than mainland Italy.  They've got beaches too which is one thing I really miss not having in Czechland.

I saw a 'caution sign' in one spot warning against swimming due to the lack of a lifeguard.  Well, it actually said that it is not safe, in Italian and English.  In German, it says that it is safe.  I wonder if it's a misprint or if Trapani thinks that there are too many German tourists.  Probably just a misprint.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

Oh good Lord!  I'm a bad Mexican-American.  I've been in Euroland so long that I forgot today was Cinco de Mayo. 

I knew that today was May 5th because my calendar was full of meetings but I lost the connection to Cinco de Mayo until one of my Spanish-speaking colleagues reminded me.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory of the French in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla.  It is not Mexican Independence Day (that's on September 16th).

It's a big deal in Puebla; less so in other parts of Mexico.  It's a very big deal in the USA, especially in states with large Mexican populations like California and Texas.  North of the border it's more about celebrating Mexican heritage (and drinking) than remembering a +150 year old battle.  I've done a decent job of celebrating Thanksgiving over here, perhaps next year I should look at doing something for Cinco de Mayo.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Charles IV

Charles IV was the King of Bohemia and of the Holy Roman Empire.  He lived from 1316 to 1378.  He was born Václav (Wenceslaus) but took the name Karl (Charles) when he inherited his crown.

He was quite well educated in France and could speak Latin, Czech, German, French and Italian fluently.

In 1347, he was crowned King of Bohemia.  In 1349 he became King of the Romans and in 1355 he became the King of Italy and then the Holy Roman Emperor.  That's a lot to be king of.
Charles IV statue in Praha

During his reign, Prague became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.  His name is everywhere...Charles University, Charles Bridge, Charles Square...

Czechs consider him to the "Father of the Country".  He even appears on the 100 Kč banknote ($5).

Friday, May 2, 2014


Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located between Italy and Tunisia in North Africa.  Sicilia, and a few small surrounding islands make up an autonomous region of Italy.

Archeological evidence puts people living on the island as early as 8000 BC.  Over the years, it has been home to Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans.

Sicilian flag
In 1860, it became part of Italy and in 1946 it became an autonomous region.  Sicily has a population of 5 million (like Atlanta).  The island's capital city is Palermo.

The Sicilian language is distinct from Italian.  Sicilian is mostly spoken at home but most people speak both Sicilian and Italian.

I've heard so many great things about Sicily.  For the longest time I've wanted to take a week off and drive around the island.  Well I don't ever seem to have a full week available so I'll just have to do the islands in waves.  Next week I'm off to enjoy a nice long weekend in Trapani.

When most people think of Sicily, the Godfather and the maifa are often what first come to mind.  However, when I hear Sicily, I think about Sophia Petrillo as played by Estelle Getty on the Golden Girls.  Here's a small video I put together about Sophia's Sicily.  Let's see how much really applies.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

10 Years in the EU

Today is 1 May and it's a public holiday.  Today is also the 10th anniversary of Czech Republic joining the European Union.

In 1952, six countries (Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, France, Netherlands, and West Germany) formed the European Coal and Steel Community.  In 1953, Denmark, Ireland and the UK also joined.  This eventually developed in to a European common market.

Greece joined in 1981 and Portugal and Spain both joined in 1986.  After German reunification in 1990, the EU picked up what used to be East Germany.  Sweden, Finland, and Austria all joined in 1995.

2004 was a big year for the EU.  The single largest EU expansion (number of countries, territory, and population) occurred in 2004.  The EU welcomed Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

In 2007, Bulgaria and Romania joined.  Last year, Croatia became the newest member.  Today, the EU contains 28 countries and more than 500 million people.

Still, not every country in Europe is an EU member.  Norway, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland are not members.  Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey are all candidates to join the EU.  Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Ukraine are not yet even candidates to join. 

Czechs have gained economically from joining the EU.  Plus it's a heck of a lot easier for Czechs to travel now.  However, many Czech people consider EU legislation as a negative and only around 20% or so of the people want to give up the Crown for the Euro.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tram Fine

I like buying the annual tram pass in Brno.  The yearly pass costs 4.750 Kč ($238) for unlimited transportation in Brno on all of the trams, buses and trolleys.  It's way cheaper then buying individual tickets.  Plus, with an annual pass, one person gets to travel with me for free on the weekends.

The only odd thing is that when you purchase an annual ticket, rather than giving you one ticket for the year, you receive four quarterly tickets.  Each ticket says that it is part of an annual ticket but you must carry the current quarter's ticket with you on the tram.  Well, I goofed up.  I forget to replace my previous ticket with the current ticket and was stopped yesterday by the undercover tram police.

Normally, riding without a valid ticket is a fine of 800 Kč ($40).  I was issued a ticket that said I was traveling without my current ticket.  With this, I had three days to go to the main office to show my valid pass and pay 50 Kč ($2.50).  Otherwise, I would have been liable for the full 800 Kč fine.