Thursday, June 28, 2007

Best. Rainbow. Ever.

I was out riding my bike tonight and got caught in a pretty bad rain storm. Fortunately, I was on my mountain bike tonight so it was quite fun to ride through the rain. I got caught in the rain on my road bike Monday night and it was a much, much worse experience.

Anyway, as I crossed the bridge towards my house, I saw a bunch of people stop in their tracks and look up at the sky. I turned around and saw the most amazing rainbow I have ever seen in my life. Nothing comes close. I immediately got on my phone, called R and told her to come down with the camera.

The pictures don't even do it justice, but here are two of the better ones. I had to share them with the crowd:







We're off on a 10 day trip through Italy starting tomorrow. I hope to blog at least once during he trip but, if I can't, I'll give you all the details when I get back next Sunday.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Never Been Happier to be in Prague

Today - June 24, 2007 - is probably my happiest day in Prague. The reason for this has nothing to do with Prague (although it was another beautiful day here). But, the fact that I am in Prague means that I am not in America.

Let me explain. Last year about this time, I signed up for the Coere d'Alene Ironman Triathlon. This race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. I've done several smaller triathlons over the past couple of years and decided to make the commitment and go for a true Ironman. The race is scheduled to be today.

Well, those plans changed when I moved to Prague. I realized that it would just be too difficult and time consuming to train for an Ironman while living overseas. The race requires at least 20 hours of training per week for 6 months or more. There is no way I could have done that training while getting adjusted to a new job and a new city. So, I pulled out of the race and will have to give it a shot some other year.

As I type this, I just checked the live results and the leaders are at mile 88 on the bike course. Which means I would be around mile 40. That also means that I would still be facing over 70 miles on the bike followed by a marathon run. Instead of doing that, I think I'll grab a cookie from the cupboard, watch a TiVo'ed episode of Entourage and relax.

Yes, it's good to be in Prague today.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Czech-Switzerland

We took our first weekend excursion within the Czech Republic this past weekend. Went hiking in a place called Czech Switzerland - or České Švýcarsko as the locals call it. The name itself is rather odd because the mountain region sits on the Czech - German border. It is no where near Switzerland. I think they call it Czech Switzerland because it reminds people of the Swiss mountains right here in the Czech Republic - only not as big. As my friend Brian said, it's kind of like calling Point Pleasant "Jersey Maui" instead.

We rented a car from Prague and left early Saturday morning. You'll be pleased to know that we rented a manual car and I did all of the driving myself. I managed to get us there just fine. I'm getting better at driving a stick, but still not perfect. If I had to rank my favorite gears, 2nd is definitely my favorite, followed by 5th, 3rd, 4th than 1st. Reverse is absolutely my least favorite of all the gears.


The first day of hiking was pretty spectacular. We hiked for about a total of 17 km and hit some pretty cool natural bridge deep in the mountains. The second day of hiking was decidedly less spectacular, but fun nonetheless.

One interesting note about this weekend was how useless English is the further we get from Prague. Within Prague, basically everyone speaks English. (Everyone, that is, except for my barber - which is evident by my haircut in the pictures). As you get further away from town, English is a dead language. Fortunately my friend Stephanie joined us for the trip. Steph is essentially fluent in Slovak, which is very similar to Czech. Evey time we stopped for food she had to read the menu to the entire table. I just know the words "Schnitzel" and "croquets". The two form a fantastic combo so I really don't need to learn much more than that.


All in all, it was a good, fun weekend. Now that my confidence with the manual cars is increasing, I expect to take many similar trips in the near future.

Click here to view some photos from this weekend.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Learning to Drive. Again.

One of the not-so-minor differences between living in the US and Europe is the automobile situation. In Prague, over 90% of the cars on the roads have manual transmissions. This also means that 90% of the cars at the rental shops are manual.

This is not a big deal, unless of course you are like me and never learned how to drive a car with a manual transmission. To say that I have never driven a stick shift before is a bit of a lie.

Last year, R and I were vacationing in Australia and we wanted to take a day trip to a rain forest in Cairns. After I spent about 30 minutes finding a car rental company and signing paperwork, I found out that the only cars available were manual. So, I could either sack up and learn how to drive stick on-the-fly or we could miss out on the rain forest. I choose the former option and asked the rental car girl to give me a 5 minute lesson in the parking lot. After this lesson, I was shocked that she didn't take the keys away from me on the spot. But, alas, she gave me the keys, sent me on my way and probably had a good laugh at my expense.

The road from our hotel to the rain forest may have been one of the most beautiful in the world. We were high on a cliff, driving on an extremely windy road overlooking the bluest ocean you have ever seen. What a miserable driving experience that was! I not only had to deal with the clutch, but I also had to drive on the wrong side of the road and hear R screech every 30 seconds because she thought we were going to fall off the cliff. Anyway, we manged to survive that trip with nothing more than a bruised ego. The rain forest was great and we made it back to our hotel after stalling a dozen or so times.

I hoped that trip was the last time I would have to drive a manual car, but that does not appear to be the case. We have two driving vacations coming up within the next month and the price for an automatic car is nearly twice that of a manual. For a week long vacation, we're talking about a difference of $600. With that much moeny on the line, I need to learn to drive stick.

The good news is that I'm taking driving lessons again for the first time in 15 years. I've had 3 lessons so far with 2 more to go. The first lesson was much like the trip in Australia, but I've gotten much better. I only stalled the car once in my final lesson and that didn't happen until the very end when I was going to park. The big test will be this weekend when I have to rent a car a drive 150 km away to the national park that we're heading to. Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Amsterdam

We took a trip to Amsterdam last weekend. I had a one day conference on Friday - so we left Prauge Thursday afternoon and returned on Sunday night. Once again, we had a great time.

R and I had already been to Amsterdam less than 3 years ago. We saw most of the major tourist attractions during that trip (rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, Heineken brewery, Van Gogh Mesusuem, etc.) - so we didn't have much of an agenda. We just walked around the city and enjoyed the summer.

When we went to Paris earlier in the month, R and I both enjoyed our 2nd trip there much more than our first. Oddly enough, I can't say the same about Amsterdam. That's not to say we had a bad time or that the city got worse - we just really, really loved Amsterdam the first time we where there.

In order to keep the costs down, we decided to book a "boutique" hotel. I'm starting to realize that when someone uses the term "boutique", they really just mean small. We had a tiny room with one bed and very small bathroom. This would have been fine had it just been me and R, but we had a visitor this time around.

My friend Brian from New York joined us in Amsterdam. He recently quit his and is just beginning a 9 month trip all around the world. He'll be living with us in Prague for the next month or so. I'm going to have a contest to see who is more productive this next month - Brian, R or B. I've got all of my money riding on the dog.

Anyway, trying to cram three people into a boutique hotel room with one bed is not the best idea in the world. I'll spare you the details, but we managed to all sleep in the same bed.... we just had to be very, very still. At one point on Saturday night, I ended up spooning someone. I'm just not sure if it was Brian or R.

Anytime you go to Amsterdam, everyone always ask the same question. So, let me answer it for you..... No, we did not go see the tulips. We missed the season by a couple of weeks. We rented bikes on Sunday and toured around the city, but that's about it.

If you want to view some pictures from my trip, click here.

If you want to see Brian's memories from this trip, play the video below: