Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sign Of The Times

Old-school Czechoslovak refreshment sign, taken in Brno, I believe, a few years back. Probably dates to the 1960s, I'd guess. I love it, although I'm not sure what each of the icons means. What the heck is going on in the middle right square??

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I found this tableau in the Tesco store at Zličín to be profoundly disturbing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Takes A Licking ...

We found this watch among my late father's possessions.

Note the "brand" -- Podelco, the family name. We are not watchmakers by trade.

It's 17 jewels, 14K gold. I've had it cleaned and the mechanism repaired. It works great now.

From what I understand, Sears -- yes, that Sears -- at one time contracted with a Swiss watchmaker to make these, probably in the 1950s but perhaps the '60s.

Does anyone know anything about where this watch came from and what it might be worth, if anything?

An auctioneer, going through my mom's old house, offered my sister $25 on the spot for this watch. She declined.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Curds Away

Daisy just came back from a reporting trip to Kyrgyzstan and brought back some very interesting items from the markets in the capital, Bishkek.

At the top, three kinds of curds -- balls of salty, sour milk that are extremely popular there as a snack. Kids, especially, like them and collect small change to buy a bag of them as a treat.

They're pretty hard for a Western palate to appreciate, however. (They taste like rancid milk balls, basically. A friend compared the taste to what a horse barn smells like.) Although the kind in the upper left had more fat (and were more expensive) and tasted a bit like some prehistoric cheese found in a bog somewhere (I mean that as a compliment). I could see eating a few with a glass of beer, perhaps.

Fascinating how different cultures appreciate different tastes. For example, the Chinese hate cheese, from what I understand. And I can't explain why I love bleu cheese, which is basically streaked with huge veins of mold, and I don't like the curd balls.

In the lower left, dried apricots -- hard as rocks, but they softened in the mouth after a minute or so into something like candy, with the pit still inside. Delicious.

Then dried baby figs and some incredibly good roasted almonds.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whatever Comes Our Way

Allen took a video of our ride using his Contour HD helmet cam.

Homer Simpson: The first meeting of Hell's Satans is called to order.
Ned Flanders: I move to reconsider our club name. Make it something a little less blasphemous. After all, we don't wanna *go* to hell.
Lenny: How 'bout The Devil's Pals.
Ned Flanders: Nuh-no... see...
Moe Szyslak: How about the Christ Punchers?
Ned Flanders: The Chri...! I-I don't think you understand my objections.
Homer Simpson: I'm the president and the decision is mine. We're Hell's Satans. Besides, I already made our club jackets.
Lenny: Ooo, machine wash warm.
Carl: Tumble dry... Oooh lah lah.

As some wise person once said, "It's not the destination, but the journey." And that old adage certainly held true last weekend, when I went on my first group motorcycle ride with some cool dudes from the Czech Expat Bikers Club.

I'd received an e-mail from the club's guru, Allen Harris, back in August. He'd seen a previous blog post I'd done on the ride that Daisy and I took to Český Ráj and wanted to know if I'd be interested in riding together.

He wrote:

"I have 2 cruisers, a Yamaha VX1100 Virago and a VX535 Virago. I have had them for 10 years now and after a period off them due to work I am getting them back on the road. The first job is to get new STK approval which will start next week for the 535 then I will get the 1100 back on the road as well.

"I have been looking out to find someone who might enjoy pottering about the countryside at the weekends, take in the smells, sights and life of the area. It is good that you like to drive at a moderate pace as riding cruisers at speed results in getting very long arms and continual tears rolling down your face.

"I am planning some short trips around the area as soon as the bikes are legal, so if you are interested maybe we could get together one day soon and put a mark on the map."

That sounded right up my alley. My idea of motorcycling paradise is cruising along at 70 kph on a deserted country road.

But what with my mom's injury and recovery, and my trip to the U.S. to take her home, and then the month of September was pretty much consumed by wedding plans, Allen and I never did get to ride together.

But at the end of October, Allen organized a meeting at a Smichov pub for interested riders. I stopped by for a few cold ones (OK, they were Radegast Birells) and met Allen and four or five other expat bikers, all cool guys and all interested in riding together.

The next week, Allen scheduled a ride, which I didn't think I'd be able to make, as we had friends coming over with their new baby for dinner. But then Daisy got sick, and we didn't want to risk making the baby sick, too, so suddenly I was free to ride. I didn't realize this, however, until about 45 minutes before they were all scheduled to meet at the McDonald's on Evropská.

I threw on my riding leathers and raced over. The skies were dark, but it hadn't rained, and it was quite warm (around 14 C or 57 F).

Turns out there were, in addition to myself and Allen, four other bikers, all of whom had not been at the pub meeting the week before. Here are the guys I rode with, and what they ride (photos of the bikes can be founda at the end of this post):

Allen Harris rides a Yamaha XV1100 Virago.

Marcus Pauels rides a European 2008 Harley-Davidson Softail "Rocker C" (1584 cc)

Andy Schofield rides a 1999 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade (918cc)

Karthik Shetty rides a 1999 Honda X11 (1,137 cc)

Stu Schaag rides a 2008 Harley-Davidson Nite Rod Special (1250cc)

And me? I ride a 2002 Honda Shadow 600.

By the way, Stu got his Harley outfitted with a monster after-market exhaust system that really shakes to your core. I recorded a bit on my iPhone. Take a listen:


I sort of assumed that everybody knew everybody else, and that I was the odd man out, but that wasn't the case. We were all just bikers eager to ride with other bikers but who didn't really know anyone to ride with.

Allen (left), me, and Stu at a pit stop at the lovely Ve Stoleti.

Andy (left), Karthik and Marcus across the table at Ve Stoleti.

Someone decided we should ride to Lany, which is the town where what you might call the Czech Camp David is located. There's a chateau there that's long served as the summer residence of Czech presidents. The first president of Czechoslovakia, Thomas Masaryk, is buried in the local cemetery. President Vaclav Havel used his regular "Talks From Lany" radio programs to comment on current events.

Anyway, that sounded like a fine destination, probably a 30-minute trip from Prague through the rolling Czech countryside. In the end, though, the trip took us something like 90 minutes, after the leaders got lost numerous times.

For my taste, we spent way too much time on major highways on that route and not enough time peeling fall leaves off our visors, but it was still a hell of a lot of fun.

Here's a funny bit of audio I recorded of Marcus and Stu discussing where we'd all gone wrong on the roads:


In Lany (where just about everything was closed for the season), we stopped for coffee (I had another nonalcoholic Birell) and then headed down to Beroun, twisting through some genuinely gorgeous autumn-hued countryside.

From Beroun, we headed back toward Prague and stopped again in a really cool restaurant and hotel that Marcus knew called Ve Stoleti in Loděnice. He spoke highly of the food and service, and while I didn't eat, the place had a great vibe and looks like it is spectacular in sunny, warm weather.

Stu and I needed to get home to our wives, so we cut out a few minutes early and headed up the highway. Turns out that that was a smart move. About 10 minutes from home, it started to rain, and rain pretty hard. I managed to make it home before getting too soaked, but the guys who stayed behind had a very wet ride ahead of them once they finished their meals.

Members of the Expat Bikers Club? Or an outtake from "Wild Hogs"? The gang stops in Lany for a break -- (left to right) Andy, Karthik, Stu, me, Allen and Marcus.

Let me just say a few words about riding motorcycles in a group. This is the first time I've ever ridden with even one other rider, and it does have its advantages:

1. You have support if something goes wrong.

2. You have someone to talk to when you stop for a coffee.

3. You can just follow the pack and not worry about where you're going.

4. And I must admit: You really feel like a badass when you're one of a gang of six motorcyclists passing through a town or village. People stop and stare and generally get the hell out of your way. You feel, well, cool. There's no other way to say it.

I had a fantastic time on this ride, which ended up being around 140 kilometers or so. I do have to admit that I'm an enthusiastic motorcycle rider, but I know next to nothing about the geeky aspects of riding -- that is, I don't know that much about bikes, or engine sizes, or horsepower, or the advantages of a twin-cam air-cooled engine.

All the other guys really seem to know their torque from their compression. And truth be told, I really don't care that much. I just want to ride. And that seemed cool with them.

Despite feeling slightly out of place, I had a fantastic time. I made some new friends, saw some beautiful countryside, and experienced that surge of adrenalin that only comes with riding a motorcycle.

When's the next ride, gents?

Karthik's 1999 Honda X11 (1,137 cc)

Stu's 2008 Harley-Davidson Nite Rod Special (1250cc)

Allen's Yamaha XV1100 Virago.

Marcus's 2008 Harley-Davidson Softail "Rocker C" (1584 cc)

Andy's 1999 Honda CBR900RR Fireblade (918cc)

My bike, a 2002 Honda Shadow 600

Prague's Own Mysterious 'Missile' Launch

All the hubbub over the mysterious contrail off the coast of California, which many people believe was some sort of missile, had me thinking back to just a few weeks ago, when my friend Rob Coalson posted these pictures on his Facebook page.

He took them from his apartment in Prague 6 at sunrise on October 29.

These pictures certainly had us intrigued. The angle just seems too steep for it to be the vapor trail of a jet. But I could find no reports in the Czech press of anyone else reporting a missile launch or anything else strange in the sky on that day.

Since the Pentagon has denied any sort of missile launch in the Pacific, the current explanation for the California "missile" seems to be an optical illusion produced by a simple jet contrail.

"It's an airplane that is heading toward the camera and the contrail is illuminated by the setting sun," John Pike, director of the U.S.-based security analyst group, is quoted as saying by AP.

But Pike is baffled about why the U.S. military has not recognized it as a contrail.

"The Air Force must...understand how contrails are formed," he said. "Why they can't get some major out to belabor the obvious, I don't know."

Seems like there may be the remains of a second earlier "missile" on the left of this photo.

And Fox News cites as saying the trail of condensed water vapor that is spewed out of a jet engine resembles a missile trail when seen from some angles.

The confusion between a missile launch and a jet plane contrail is caused by several common misconceptions, the site notes, explaining that the angle of launch, the direction of flight, and even the shape of the Earth can lead to the illusion.

This might explain the Prague missile launch, too.

As for me, I'm not totally convinced. Anyone else out there see anything in Prague on October 29?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The 2011 Prague Bike Blog Calendars Are Here!

A blog post from my sister site, Grant's Prague Bike Blog, that may interest Gusto readers, too.

Yet another blog post in which I make excuses for not riding...

I got married earlier this month -- as you may have read ;-) -- and was out of the country. Then I got sick for two weeks with bronchitis, which I'm just now pulling out of.

I hope to be back in the saddle again soon.

In the meantime, I am thinking of putting together a 2011 Grant's Prague Bike Blog Calendar, featuring some of the best, funniest, and most entertaining photographs from the blog over the past four years.

It hasn't been created yet (I'll post a link when I get a final version together), but in the meantime, let me know if you'd be tentatively interested in ordering one of these babies, at cost.

It'll probably run you around $20 each, plus a few bucks for shipping.

They make excellent Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers!