Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Price of Oil and Driving in Europe

I've read a couple articles this weekend on a concept called "peak oil" and what that means to the US economy. Don't bother clicking the links because, if you buy into the hyperbole, you just might end up slitting your wrists before the day is through.

Whether or not these predictions come true or not, there is a big difference between the price of gas and driving habits in Europe as compared to the US.

Right now the price of gas in the US is a little over $4 per gallon. In Europe, it is a just over $8 per gallon when you factor in the exchange rate! It's unbelievable. Last week, I rented a car for one day and drove for 230 km (140 miles) round trip - with the vast majority of the distance coming on the highway. When I filled the car up with petrol before returning it, the bill came to over $30 US dollars. That's $12 for every hour driving on the road. And, keep in mind that I was in a small, efficient car with a stick shift. We are driving to Austria (6 hours away) next weekend and I am estimating that the entire trip will cost $300 is gas.

That being said, European driving habits are much different than the US. The cars are much smaller and fuel efficient. Smart cars fill the streets. Everyone drives a stick shift. SUVs are very, very rare. I was on a day trip in France a few months ago and the driver and I were having a conversation about gas prices. He didn't know what an "SUV" was when I mentioned it. I told him that I would point an SUV out on the road when we saw one. Needless to say, we made the 2 hour trip there and the 2 hour trip back without seeing an SUV.

What does all this mean to the US? I can only assume that US driving habits will follow Europes. While I can't imagine the day when SUVs dissapear completely, we all know that the size of the "average" car on the street will be getting smaller. Hopefully, hybrid cars become more prevelant and alternative fuel vehicles make some serious advances.

Because paying $300 to drive to lake region of Austria is one thing, but I'll be damned if I am ever going to pay $300 to drive from New York to Cleveland!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cesky Raj - part dva

You may recall a recent blog post where we to Cesky Raj in search of the elusive, incredible rock formations. We never found the rock formations but had a good time hiking anyway.

The weather this weekend in Prague was supposed to be beautiful, so R, B and I decided to rent a car and go back to Cesky Raj. After all, its only an hour away and we failed miserably in our mission last time. I had to make up for it.

This time we were determined to find the right trail. We did research on the Internet and asked a few friends who had been there before for tips. We drove up to a place called Hruba Scala and parked in the exact same parking lot as last time. As soon as I got out of the car I realized one important thing: I am an idiot.

Literally right next to the parking lot there were two huge boulders with a path in between. If you simply looked through these two boulders - you could see an amazing path surrounded by incredible rock formations. I don't know how we missed that last time.

The hike itself was very interesting and worth the trip. I was getting over a summer cold (and still am) so I wasn't in top shape, but I manged to labor through the day. We saw some crazy mountain climbers trying stunts that I wouldn't dare, but we did get the "courage" to climb on top of a ten foot tall boulder. There isn't much more to write about so I'll leave you with some pics from the trip...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Italy vs. France: Euro Cup 2008

I will be live blogging the Italy - France matchup in Euro Cup 2008. Keep refreshing your browser for updates.

8:45 PM It's just about time to start the match and, as expected, I can't find an English or Italian channel. So it looks like I'll be watching the match in Czech again.

8:47 PM - I don't think the Italian star goal keeper is starting. I have no idea why. I'm sure the announcers explained it but I couldn't understand a thing.

8:48 PM - Correction. He is starting in goal. The lineup card just must have been gone. Good ol' Czech Tv

8:52 PM - The French coach looks very french. The Italian coach looks extremely Italian. And, when I watched the match a few nights ago, the Turkish coach looked just like I would expect a Turkish coach to look like. I love when stereotypes hold true. It makes it so much easier to tell who's who... especially when I can't understand the announcers

8:59 PM - One of the frustrating things about this game is that Italy does not control their own destiny. Even if they win, they will only advance to the next round if Romania loses or ties. The Romania - Holland game is being played at the same time. And, Holland is likely resting most of their starters since they have already qualified for the next round. I'll be doing a whole lot of ALT-TAB'ing while I write this to check the score of that game

9:06 PM - We're 20 minutes in and the game is tied 0-0. It looks like Italy is controlling the action,but doesn't help if they don't score.

9:10 PM - Big Break for the Italians. Luca Toni gets tackled in the box. Penalty Kick time. GOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!
1-0 Italy just like that

9:15 PM - No one milks a 1-0 lead like the Italians. I just watched two minutes of the defenders passing the ball back and forth to each other. The next 60 minutes may be painful to watch.

9:25 PM - One of the surprising things about this game so far is the lack of flopping by the Italian players. With Italy playing in their white jerseys (which is hard to get used to) and the Italian players actually staying on two feet when someone lightly brushes against them, I barely recognize this team.

9:33 PM - It's halftime and Italy has played it's best ball of the tournament. They have a 1-0 lead and can hopefully keep the French scoreless in the 2nd half. Now, we just have to wait for Holland to shut down Romania (that game is tied 0-0 at the half)

9:55 PM - Not much action to report. Italy is up 1-0 and Holland is tied with Romania 0-0. If these scores hold for the next 40 minutes, Italy advances to the next round.

10:00 PM - Since there is not much going on in this game, can we revisit the last time Italy and France met in a major competition; The World Cup 2006 Finals. It's been two years and that Zidane headbut never gets old. Just once in my life I would like to knock some one down by headbutting them in the chest. You really can't ask for a better way to take someone out.

10:03 PM - Big break. Holland just scored. So unless Romania can score 2 goals in the next 30 minutes against a superior Dutch team, Italy will move on if they can hold on to the lead against France.

10:07 PM - GGOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!!!!! Italy scored out of nowhere to take a commanding 2-0 lead. The shot actually went off of Henry's foot - so it could be considered an auto goal. Good. I never liked Henry. He just seems like a punk. Although the 2-0 lead looks insurmountable right now, you can't count on anything after watching the Czech - Turkey match a couple of nights ago.

10:12 PM - One of the biggest differences between watching soccer and American sports is that most of these guys just seem like regular dudes. I mean, every one in American Football is a physical freak. The average height of an NBA player must be 6'-6" if not taller. Baseball is full of steroid fueled meatheads. If you are just a regular sized dude (like me) and want to be a professional athlete (like I do), then it seems like your best options are either soccer or golf.

I have enough experience golfing to know that I never, ever had a chance at that game. But, maybe I could have been a good soccer player. The last time I played I was five years old. I remember being the best player on my team - although I fully admit that I may be the only person that remembers it that way. Maybe I should have focused more on soccer as a kid rather than football. Although some of my fondest memories are from high school football, it was pretty obvious that my 135 pound frame as a senior in high school was not going to take me very far. I should have played more soccer. I also think I would be very good at luging, but that's a story for another day.

10:20 PM - 15 minutes to go. The only thing keeping Italy from qualifying for the next round would be two goals each by the French and the Romanians. Assuming they do qualify, their next game will be against a tough Spanish team on Sunday night.

10:30 PM - I've got to say, live blogging kind of sucks. I feel like I could barely get into the flow of the game because I was too busy typing. Well, it was an experiment and I will likely never do it again.

10:33 PM - Holland scores again. We could tell by the reaction of the audience. is about 4 minutes delayed with the news. And they consider themselves to be the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Not by my watch.

10:38 PM - Game Over. Italy moves on. The French go back home to their croissants. Which really isn't that bad of a reason to go home. Have you ever had a real French croissant? They're excellent.

Thanks for joining me in this live blogging experience. Consider yourself lucky, because it will never happen again.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Live Blogging the Italy - France Euro Cup Matchup

The Euro Cup 2008 is currently going on in Austria and Switzerland right now. Although it doesn't get much attention in the States (especially opposite the NBA Finals and Tiger Woods), it's a pretty big deal in Europe. I've followed it more closely than I have ever followed soccer in my life.

Although the Czechs were eliminated last night in a loss to Turkey (in one of the most amazing soccer matches I have ever witnessed) there is still a big match for Italy coming up tomorrow, Tuesday June 17th.

I've alwasy wanted to give Live Blogging a try - so tomorrow will be my first attempt. I'll be blogging during the Italy - France matchup for no other reason than my own personal enjoyment.

If you are interested, consider this your 24 hour warning. The match starts at 2:45 PM EST tomorrow.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Karlstein Castle

There is a little town about 40 km outside of Prague name Karlstein. It has become a popular tourist destination due to the pretty impressive castle that sits on top of the hill. It has also become a popular destination for cyclists since it is the perfect distance from the city and has some nice routes to get you there.

I decided to do a solo ride to Karlstein about a month ago. It turned out to be a pretty horrible trip. 45 minutes into the ride I had my worst bike accident ever and scraped up my arm pretty good (I'm fine - just had less skin for a few weeks). I also got lost - not once - but twice. So the 40 km ride turned out to be more like 75 km - with the final 5 km straight up a huge hill. I should also mention that I took out my road bike because I thought most of the ride would be on paved roads. But since I got lost (twice) I ended up having to do about 15-20km on dirt roads and gravel. Any cyclists out there knows what a horrible experience that can be. The castle at the end was great to look at but by the time I got there I was so miserable I just wanted to eat, drink a pivo and take the train back home.

Despite this bad experience, I decided to give the ride to Karlstein another try. The weather during the morning was perfect for a ride and I needed to get a good workout in. I even convinced R to join me despite that fact that she wanted to go spinning.

Fortunately, today's ride was a much more pleasurable experience than my first time out. We took our mountain bikes and followed the route straight down the Vlatva river. It was a much more scenic trail than I took the first time out.

The ride also signified many of the things I like most about living in Prague. Although we live in one of the major European capitals, within a 20 minute bike ride it feels like you are in the absolute country. The Czechs love being outside and you could really tell today. We passed by hundreds of cyclists, people walking their dogs (EVERYONE has a dog in this country), families camped on the bank of the river fishing ans swimming, etc. Basically, just a bunch of people enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon. It was nice to see and something you don't experience often in New York.

The total ride took about 2 hours. We then stopped in Karlstein for a nice Czech lunch before taking the train back. We didn't bother actually visiting the castle since we had our bikes with us and had to get back to the dog. But, maybe we'll save that for another date when we have visitors.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Grandparents visit Prague

My grandparents came to visit us in Prague this weekend. They live in the States about 8-9 months every year, but they also have a house in Sicily that they spend the rest of the year at. During the summer months SkyEurope has a direct flight from Catania (which is about 45 minutes from their house) to Prague. SkyEurope had a buy-one-get-one-free special a couple of months ago so I surprised my grandparents and bought them tickets to come see us.

Like any good Italian Grandmother, my nonna filled her entire suitcase with food. Including the biggest block of cheese I have ever seen. It literally weighed 10 pounds. She barely had room for her clothes.

The trip was great. Although my grandfather is over 75 and my grandmother is no spring chicken, they are both in pretty good shape. We took them to all of the major tourist sites in Prague and they were able to keep up without any problem. Of course they came back every day after lunch and took a nap - but you know what - I like to do the same when I'm on vacation. Hell, any day that includes a siesta is a fine day in my book. I wish I had more of them.

The highlight of the trip was supposed to be their final night of Prague. The 2008 Euro Cup has just started and this was the night that the Italian team was set to make their debut. This isn't just any Italian team, these guys are the defending Campioni del Mondo. It was a big night.

I had reservations for four at one of the top Italian restaurants in Prauge (which isn't a complete oxymoron, the food was actually pretty good. It's run by an Italian guy who ships in everything fresh from Italy several times a week). We got there early and gathered around the TV with several other Italians to watch the big game.

Everything was set up perfect... and then the game started and the Italians shit the bed. They got absolutely destroyed by Holland and lost 3-0. It wasn't even that close. I don't have a big enough library of soccer knowledge to analyze what went wrong, so let's just hope it was an off night. They have to bounce back and beat both Romania and France or else their tournament is going to end early.

Despite the loss we still had a good time at dinner and my grandparents enjoyed the trip. My dog B even found a surprising new friend in my grandfather. I didn't see that one coming - I never knew he liked dogs. My grandmother, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with him. Which is unfortunate because they have so much in common. My grandmother spends more time in the kitchen than anyone I know and B's best friend is always the person closest to the food. It could have been a match made in heaven.

R and I have plans to visit my grandparents in Sicily again later this summer. We visited there about 5 years ago and had a great time. We were treated like kings and ate even better. Now that we are so close to the mother country and SkyEurope has great flight options, we'll have to take advantage of it.