October 3, 2009





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September 13, 2009

Czech your wallet


This little 'innocent' price list has been in Karlstejn for at least 3 years because I remember it from the time i first visited the place...

I'm surprised that nobody pointed out the ridiculousness of having the price written in letters!! for people who understand czech (therefore more or less locals). They probably did this in order not to make the 'foreign tourist price' seem like a rip off.

Well, guess what, it makes it look as twice as much the rip off, having that embarassing price list hung up there...

Oh and, btw, I took the czech version of the tour (i think they give out some english leaflets actually) and it wasn't much, almost not worth the STOPADESAT KORUN... sheesh!!!

July 28, 2009

June 28, 2009

Tort diplomat

by Cristina

prima incercare :)
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June 9, 2009

Bublin' Dublin

Dublin was the first trip of the year and it came unexpectedly as a spontaneous idea from Cristina who had read about St Patrick's day and a great offer to stay at a castle!

It was very difficult to resist it, especially since it qualified as a very nice birthday present for me :)
So a couple of hours later we were good to go the following weekend to Dublin.

We got there late Friday evening and went straight to the 'castle' which was definitely the coolest hotel we've ever stayed in. There are sooo many reasons to stay there and indulge utter comfort. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

But Dublin was definitely much more than that. First of all, it was bursting green while in Prague it looked like spring gave up any hope of beating the gloomy winter. Green and springy with a permanent wind performing disco-like effects with the sun and clouds.

That must be a reason why the whole city is so alive! Despite not having a great deal of imposing architecture nor dramatic views (which i pursue fiercely wherever I go) Dublin has a great personality as you will see in the videos i shot in a matter of a couple of hours walking through the city center.

Dublin's houses are rather modest looking: basic Victorian architecture of what was at the time a mere provincial town of the British kingdom which could hardly dream of one day becoming a prosperous capital of its people. Even so, they are very well kept - especially the doors. It seems a great deal of effort goes into maintaining a nice shine on the thick, colorful paint layers carefully laid on these symbolic and yet so functional inventions.

We spent the whole Saturday admiring the city unwinding along the banks of the Liffey and we ended the day with a fulfilling creamy experience where else than at the Guinness factory. Word of advice though, get your tickets online to get in smoothly without waiting like us for almost 2h... It's cheaper too... Anyway, it was worth it - the museum is really cool and highly interactive. The best aspect of its interactiveness is getting trained to pour your own perfect pint
of Guinness - a skill which becomes ever more important in the partner selection these days :p

Top that up with a view of the city (albeit not very impressive but nice nevertheless) from the Gravity bar, a 360 glass bar on top of the museum (which is part of the old factory in fact) and you won't even regret not catching the St Patrick's day fireworks display which we thought ought to have happened at the other end of the city when in fact it was happening in a completely different town in Ireland.

We've called it a day after wondering through the temple bar where there's no temple and no bar but in fact tens of them. There's this bar of sand which belong to the Temple family where all the bars were built in what's today Dublin's cultural core.

Sunday welcomed us with a sunny breakfast in the castle that was just amazing and kept us filled for most of the day. This day we got to experience the local flavour a bit more intensely as we walked through the pedestrian streets and parks of Dublin. We came across a great open air kids fair and witnessed the Irish baby boom - basically every family had at least two kids swirling around them. It's kind of understandable, which such nice events and opportunities for kids there's probably never been a better time to be one!

As we were headed t0 another park nearby, my eyes slipped across the firm of a very uninspiring pub and as they read ''O'Donoghues", Rory's pub advice came to my mind and we had to give it a try since we were so lucky to run into it. Rory's Irish and i met him during my monster days :) And how glad I am I did! The people you see in the video below are regulars of the 200 years old pub and we had just managed to pop by their Sunday afternoon session. It was the most flavourful Guinness we had enjoyed so far!

After crossing the park we were headed for in the first place, we saw this nice dancing troupe performing:

And finally, as we were spending our last half an hour in town before heading to the airport, from an alleyway came a most intriguing deep bass and fanfare sound from these guys.

They had no less than 6 drummers!!!

Maybe some of events that spiced up our stay were due to the St Patrick's celebrations but even without those, Dublin has always something surprising to offer and amaze! So go and green yourself up a bit!

More pictures here

May 30, 2009

George Orwell's cup of tea

Prague is a very cultural city: there is always something happening in any immaginable art field. However in some of them there's the language barrier which is totally understandable obviously. My basic Czech skills aren't of much use when attempting to see a play for instance.
There are fortunately some very good workarounds: I discovered here the non verbal theatre which can be fascinating really as I've already seen two such shows - it emphasises how speech is merely one of the many forms of communication, many times not necessarily the best one.

The second workaround is actually proper theatre in English. Thanks to the large expat community in Prague and to the people who care about their theatrical cravings, there is the Fringe festival every year for 8 or 9 years now.

And since i have a weakness for theatre I fully profited from this veritable 'theatre season' and saw 7 performances, some better than others. If you read till here you might be wondering about the title - well here it is: I saw a really good performance of George Orwell tonight, he was telling the audience stories from his life 'through' a really good actor who spoke at an alarming pace which really kept me attentive for the full hour and a half.

Apart from reading 1984 which is a chilling experience and an mind opener in respect to world politics I didn't really know much about him. Turns out he was a very interesting character, an idealist escaping from life's unfairness in his work. A thing he failed to mention in tonight's performance however - quite unforgivable for an Englishman trying to set the world on the proper course - was how to make proper tea!


Tori Amos has a new album only 2 years following her previous one and more excitingly, she's on tour again visiting Prague. I can't wait to see her again!

You can listen to her new album on we7. For me it happends that initially her songs don't get to me that much (maybe also because the lyrics are hard to understand) but after listening to them a few more times, I really become addicted to some of them! I guess it's just the same with people, it takes time to start apreciating the ones who really matter.

Enjoy and really, do go and see her if she comes on tour somewhere near you. She's the one of the best live acts (if not the best!) i've seen so far!

May 26, 2009

Fiti darnici

O initiativa foarte faina in lumea virtuala romaneasca care mertia toate laudele si care sper sa va inspire!

Carevasazica, http://www.oamenidarnici.ro/

April 7, 2009

Delightful athens

Having heard mixed reviews about Athens before visiting it last weekend, i wasn't sure what to expect but as before when people say there's not much to see/do in a place or the other, somehow we've always found something intriguing, interesting and disarmingly beautiful wherever we went. The most recent example is Dublin about which I'll (hopefully) write soon although it's been a month almost since we visited it.

Somehow predictable, Athens proved to be a great experience, staring even with the sky europe flight which was on time and with their original new boeings :) (seems they've re-gained them back). The route offered an incredible Olympian god's view of the ancient city now spread across a humongous valley between mountain peaks: whitewashed, dwarfy looking buildings spilling into the sea from the sloped relief.

Once on ground, it all seemed like a giant ant colony but clumsier and more cluttered than the miniature creatures'. And still it's probably much better that some decades ago with the massive infrastructure boom which came with the Olympic games held in 2004. I would dare say, Bucharest's traffic is a laughable wannabe compared to the one in Athens, but then again, i never really lived in Bucharest.

We stayed in one of the most picturesque neighborhoods of Athens (kind of like Zizkov in Prague) called Monastiraki, which at first sight looks a bit shady: crumbling buildings, nonexistent sidewalks so you have to crawl between the slow-motion cars stuck in traffic, overflowing garbage bins, a rainbow of immigrants pursuing their hopes for a better life, all under the sumptuous acropolis plateau, soaring unspoiled above the busy surroundings. The hostel, although very basic, offered a great view of the neighborhood, ancient Agora and the Acropolis from its roof top and it was always withing walkable distance from any spot of interest. Monastiraki is a good place to stay in even more as we discovered some very interesting back alleys with flea markets at day and typical tavernas at night which were not as touristy as the ones in Plaka, the posh-est neighborhood.

As we arrived on Friday afternoon, we've set to this steep hill next to the Acropolis called Lycabetus. Legend has it that Atena had dropped a rock it was trying to put on the acropolis plateau to make it even higher and so the hill was created.
It's got a dramatic view of the city, with the Acropolis half the way to the sea stretching on the horizon.
We caught the sunset on the peak of the hill where there's a tiny church which used to be part of a monastery complex which has turned with the times into a restaurant with a terrace.
The area surrounding the hill is the residential quarter of Athens' nobles: posh homes, restaurants and clubs, all hidden behind bloomed orange trees. Their perfume was enchanting, seemed a bit like jasmine. It is probably the greatest antidote to the city's smog problem and helps the people keep their chilling Mediterranean mood.

On Saturday, we ventured to some more off-beat paths. Kicked off the day by visiting an old Gas Plant now turned into a cultural center that takes advantage of the industrial buildings to turn them into 'modern' art, then made our way through the city center and took a bus to the city outskirts, at the footsteps of a mountain range to the east of Athens attempting to reach a nice monastery which was recommended in a guide. We were put off by the uphill walk of a couple of km, which a guy selling mortuary stuff at a cemetery had gaily suggested would be 'good gymnastics' after asking if i was from Suceava :). We pondered if it's worth the time and energy and decided to head back into city but then we spotted a taxi which eventually took us there. I just hated the feeling we had come all the way to there for nothing. Well, in fact the monastery was closed but still we didn't go there for nothing: the setting was very nice: a very green, flowery hill looking onto the city with some grazing donkeys and a typical Greek cottage was a welcome break from the intense city rhythm.

We've ended the day with a trip to Piraeus, Athens' huge port which is rather disappointingly industrial when first exiting from the metro almost on the quays.
But the whole area is more of a peninsula and on the side opposite of the port, we've discovered some picturesque harbors with small boats and restaurants. We had to indulge ourselves in some deliciously fresh sea food and it was well worth catching the sunset there.

The second day was mostly dedicated to visiting the historical Athens as it was the first Sunday of the month which means it is free everywhere. We've tried to get there as early as possible which wasn't really early but still reasonable (the second day of 'free' breakfast consisting of marmalade, butter and overly sweet orange juice helped our hastiness) to avoid the hoards of tourists. And guess what, we met there hoards of tourists, probably following the same advice of avoiding the hoards of tourists... Anyway, there weren't just tourists, there were some immigrants as well, enjoying the morning on Areopagus Hill, an ancient rock where they used to judge the worst crimes of antiquity.
And also, hard to ignore some utterly lazy and extremely fat stray dogs lying around like some forgotten relics. My theories about these dogs are that they're either sick, either overfed from all the great restaurants spread at the foothills, or rather both after having eaten rotten food.

The ruins are impressive even more if nobody tells you that most of the interesting parts are replacements with the originals being either destroyed, stored in the acropolis musem or at the british museum... The partheon was in reconstruction as well: fixing the crappy restauration from a century ago. There are many temples roughly 2500 years old around the acropolis hill, the best preserved being the temple of Hephaestos, you can easily spend half a day visiting them like we did.

Following a local tip, we found a nice little family restaurant called Sholarhio, right at the foothill of the Acropolis where we had a 'sampling' of mezes (small portions of various dishes, kind of like tapas). Trust me, it's very difficult to chose when the waiter drops a tray of about a dozen mezes on your table out of a sudden, facing you with the tough decision 'to eat or not to eat?'. That's why we got a bit carried away and got 7 of them instead of the 5 reccomended for two.

The Greeks seem to find time to enjoy life in this hectic city and you'd find them taking refuge in such typical tavernas spending whole afternoons with their large families. It's also interesting how the central neighborhoods have distinct things to offer: flea markets in Monastiraki, night life in and great pastry shops! in Psiri, picturesque streets climbing to the acropolis and tourist hot spots in Plaka, all in all making a mediterranean city with attitude.

Athens is a contrasting city, I can't help calling it a combination of Bucharest and Lisbon with a twist of Rome and a tendency to Istanbulishness. I know, it sounds freakish but that's how i kind of felt it.

Check out some more photos here.

March 29, 2009

Exploring food

Thinking about posting some of my culinary (happy) experiments here.
Today I've mixed some recipes I've read on the internet, added a bit of personal twist and came up with pan-grilled (no place for an open fire unfortunatelly) salmon with cream&caper sauce, home made american potatoes and soya-sauce beans.

Went perfectly well with a 'Feteasca Alba' from Panciu. This is a typical romanian type of wine, with quite a nice 'grape flower aroma', to quote comrade, doctor, engineer, economist Pusca here.

If you're keen on more details, I'll add the recipe as well :p

March 20, 2009

Representing my corner of Europe

I was very nicely surprised when i heard that my county will represent Romania at the European Regions' festival called Taste Europe that was organized in Prague as part of a summit related to the Czech EU presidency.

They had a really nice stand at Mustek, decorated with traditional handcrafted quilts, wooden masks and icons. The hosts were also dressed in what i believe is the local traditional costume (each region has one specific costume). To my shame, I am not really a connaiseur of folklore dress etiquette so i couldn't really say if it was authentic or not but it sure looked very nice.

They were present there for only two days, leaving before the weekend so even if I'm not a hardcore folklore fan, as i said earlier, i still sacrificed my lunch break to attend a concert from 'Tara Vrancei', a local folklore group who put on a very nice live representation.

It was almost surreal to meet these people from my hometown's local administration and have a chat with them about how things are going back home, how some really good wines are totally unpromoted abroad but how at least they could bring some to give a taste to praguers.

They also had this delicious smoked cheese called cascaval(from italian caciocavallo) which is prepared by the villagers in the mountains and shaped in nice artistic wooden casts.

Vrancea is a very culturally rich area where people have kept old rituals and crafts but it's unfortunately very little known even to the locals (myself included) due to poor or nonexistent promovation. It's sad to see that even the historically flourishing vineyards are slowly degrading and badly managed. It's also a bit embarrassing for me that I've visited quite a few places in Europe but have seen little of my own small county. I'm planning to set out to the wild and remote Vrancea sometime in a future holiday.

But all in all, their presence in Prague was enchanting an very well set. Despite being a legendary set for a definitory and rather fatalist Romanian pastoral lyrism and also the epicenter of earthquakes in the country, Vrancea's people are joyous through their lively music, colourful costumes and probably, most important, the delicious wines.

You can find some more photos on my picasa album here.

March 11, 2009

About responsibility in a much more immediate way

It so happens nowadays that when people talk about responsibility it refers to more general concepts: finishing your studies, being good at your work, living healthy and so on.

The lack of responsibility however hits unexpectedly many times in the most brutal ways when people ignore its most basic purpose: to avoid any harm to others or yourself, not to behave recklessly.

That kind of life threatening behavior is far more common in our modern ultra developed world that should ironically make our life safer and easier. I bet people die in car accidents more than from some common diseases. It doesn't really stand out until it confronts someone you know or some friend of theirs.

I knew there are way too many reckless drivers in Romania and that it's turning into a big problem and I've recently learned about a friend's colleague who's been in an accident and has good chances of recovery in a clinic in Germany.

What's even more revolting is that her treatment wasn't paid for by the insurance since it could have been handled in Romania as well (but of course with much less efficiency because of the technological differences) so she must rely on your help to pay the expensive recovery treatment that would give her the best chances.

If you are able, please donate (paypal should be available soon, try to get in touch with the family/friends via the blog)

February 19, 2009

Fantastic art of Mark Ryden

I've discovered these intriguing artworks today while browsing on some blogs, be sure to check out the artist's website.


February 8, 2009

Foreigners = strangers?

It's funny how in both Czech and Romanian, the word foreigner also means stranger. It might have to do with a common pre-judgement that whoever comes from a different country is not awarded the same neutrality that the americans give for instance (their whole nation is based on 'foreigners') but they're rather treaded with a certain degree of suspicion.

What's the connection with the gracious ice skater in the poster? Well, the show has a foreign name, traditionally Czechs don't really appreciate things that can't/won't be translated because the Czech language is rather conservative, although among the young there's a similar english-ifying frenzy as is with romanian 'corporatists'.

However, one should not judge harshly a bewildered and outraged inhabitant of Sidliste Dablice, a panelak neighborhood at the outskirts of Prague, who, eager to manifest his dissaproval of spoiling the list of cultural events in Prague displayed in the bus stop with this uninteligible event, wrote a warm 'up yours, foreigners !!' in a meticulous marker caligraphy. Notice the double underline!

January 18, 2009

Picture of the day

Hospudka U Zviratka, Roztulky u Prahy

You can find more photos from the Prague Monitor inspired trip by clicking here

Sunday's music

In today's episode (wow, guess what, it's the first one!), Amanda Palmer proudly presents:

Discover Amanda Palmer!

For an even whackyer one, check out Oasis:

January 4, 2009