Thursday, June 29, 2006

283 Steps

283 Steps. That's how many stairs you have to climb to reach the top of the bell tower at St. Vitus Cathedral, which is situated inside Prague Castle high above the city centre. I'm not sure what possessed me to climb them but the reward was a brilliant view of the beautiful city of Prague and the Vltava River.

I finally found some free time today after my meeting ended and visited a few of the sites. Besides the aforementioned castle and cathedral, which was absolutely gorgeous (see pictures here), I also saw St George's Basilica, the Prague Toy Museum, the Charles Bridge, and the Astronomical Clock.

Ironically, we walked up on the Astronomical Clock just on the stroke of 5pm so we got to see the little animated "Apostles Dance", which frankly was a little anti-climatic after hearing about it from several others who had visited Prague. I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Munich.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Red Bull Flugtag Prague

If only I'd gotten here one day earlier, I could have witnessed Red Bull Flugtag Prague. For those not familar with Flugtag, or "Flying Day", here's a brief summary:

The idea of the Red Bull Flugtag is stunningly simple. The home-made flying machine may be no longer than 6 meters & no wider than 10, and may only run on pure muscle power! It should also be able to float, as each Red Bull high-flyer splashes down in the water - so that a not unwelcome return to Mother Earth, albeit wet, is provided for the pilots. The quantity and quality of the hopeful pilots' entries for previous flying days all around Europe have confirmed that to fly is still Man's greatest dream. The entrants then have to build their machines - and hope!

Flying depends on having the right attitude. Although for most of the flying machines the six metre high take-off ramp is the highest point they'll ever reach in their short life-span, the competitors proudly climb into their creations to win over the illustrious jury. At the Red Bull Flugtag the distance of the aeronautic descent is marked and points are also given for the machine's originality. It's doesn't matter how the pilots arrive in the water - horizontally or in a nose-dive, elegantly or in hilarious fashion - what does matter is that in the evening, they all have a great party together and swap stories over the day's unusual flying experience...

Here's some video from the event in Prague on the River Vltava. I hate I missed this.

This should be fun...

The way my company works its global marketing strategy is that in each segment, one country takes a leadership role and assists the other countries around the world with their business plans. For example, I have the leadership role in Semiconductor Manufacturing (because so many of the machines are made in the USA) while my work in the packaging industry is directed out of our office in Italy. Today, at the conference I am attending, I met my new counterpart from Italy and all I can say is that I've been paired with Roberto Benigni!

Not only does this fellow have the effusive, bubbly, excitable character of Benigni, but he kind of resembles him AND his first name is Roberto and his Italian last name starts with "B"!

There is no way I'm going to be able to put that image out of my head when working with this guy. This should be fun...or at least interesting.

The World's Largest Stadium

I'm sitting here on the 24th floor of the Corinthia Towers in Prague staring out the window at a beautiful view of Prague (I swear, it's a nicer view than this live webcam, more like this). Atop the hill across the river Vltava, I can see the Strahovský stadion (background in the picture above), the world's largest sports arena. The stadium seats close to a quarter of a million people! The sport field is 63,500 square meters. Compare that to a typical soccer pitch which will run you about 10,000 square meters. They don't use the stadium for events much anymore but Sparta Prague has recently turned it into a training facility with 6 full-size and 2 futsal-sized soccer pitches. Ironically, Sparta's new training facility sits directly beside Stadion Evžena Rošického (mid-ground in the picture above), the home of SK Slavia Prague, Sparta's cross-town rivals. Our meeting is wrapping up at 2pm tomorrow and I plan to spend most of the day wondering around Prague. Perhaps I'll take the funicular to the top of that hill and see if I can get inside the world's largest football stadium.

Last night, after two days of sweltering (mid-90s) heat, it cooled off nicely with a massive electrical and rain storm just about the time we were headed out for our free evening on the town. We ended up ducking into a little Italian cafe near the Staroměstské náměstí, or Old Town square. Just as we finished up dinner, the weather broke for a beautiful evening and we stumbled (too much Gambrinus I guess) into the square where we watched the France v. Spain World Cup match. By the end of the match, when France finally broke it open, there were probably about two thousand supporters in the square, broken out evenly between French, Spanish, and neutrals chanting, singing, and drinking their way to the final whistle. I had a lot of fun at our get-togethers at the Fox and Hound in Cary, but it didn't come close to the atmosphere in the Square last night. My favorite part was when one of my colleagues, a non-soccer-savvy sports fan asked me "Why do the keep singing Yellow Submarine in French?".

At this point, I feel I am a cursed football supporter, so far I have thrown my support behind the following teams -- United States (out), Holland (out), Australia (out), Switzerland (out), Ghana (out), and Spain (out). I'm almost hesitant to declare my allegiance for the next round. Perhaps reverse psychology will work? If so, then Forza Italia!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


After I got back to the room Monday night, I tried to stay awake to see the end of the Ukraine v. Switzerland match but as the match looked likely to head to extra time, 36 hours of being awake got the better of me and no matter how hard I fought, sleep came.

I'm feeling a lot better this morning after 8 hours sleep and a huge European breakfast. The meeting has kicked off and you know I must be in the midst of a global conference representing 34 countries because the first 5 minutes were spent lamenting the World Cup results from yesterday. (What do you get when you cross the Italian Olympic Diving team with...I digress)

As I settle in for the week, I'm having fun observing, comparing, and contrasting some cultural items. One thing that is fun is to see which things are the same here, for example, there is "TigerWash" at the Esso (Exxon/Mobil in the States, I guess "TigerWash" doesn't translate), the McDonald's has a "McDrive" (instead of a drive-through) and then there's a KFC to satify your fried chicken fix on about every other street corner.

However, there are a few things that you don't find in the States that I've come across already. For instance, the muzak speaker in the hotel room's bathroom incessantly playing elevator music (it took like 5 minutes to figure who to shut it off) or perhaps the "ironing room" -- apparently ironing is a big deal to the Europeans, something you definitely shouldn't do in your own hotel room. The Metro has the fastest escalator's I've ever dared step on to (or maybe it was just the aforementioned Pilsner Urquell) and then of course, there's the Sex Machines Museum.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Well somehow, I made it. It's 10pm CEST and I haven't fallen asleep yet. The team building exercise turned out to be a bit of a Prague scavenger hunt. After about 10 minutes, me and two Aussies decided not to get off the Metro with the rest of the group and headed to the downtown square where they were showing the World Cup on a giant screen. We gathered there and watched with hundreds (maybe a thousand?) Aussie, Italian, and neutral supporters to watch the match. I was completed gutted for my new Aussie friends when they lost on a penalty kick as stoppage time expired. I have no doubt that the penalty was drawn by yet another Italian dive...disgusting.

The only good news is that as the party broke up in the square, we happened to catch the rest of our team-building group winding down their scavenger hunt. We re-joined them for the last ten minutes and ended up at the Pilsner Restaurant at the Municipal House near Namesti Republiky metro stop. The place a beautifully decorated cellar pub and the food was supposed to be authentic Czech cuisine. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed, having had much better fare in Dresden, about 100km away, but you can't really complain too much as the Pilsner Urqell was flowing like tap water.

The buses weren't supposed to pick us up until 10:30pm but by nine, I was nodding off at the table so I jumped on the Metro and headed back to the room. After all, we have to be back at it by 8:30am tomorrow morning. On the way, back to the room, I saw a really cool ad in the subway station honoring the Carolina Hurricane's Frantisek Kaberle, the Czech hockey player who scored the Stanley Cup winning goal at Game 7 a week ago Monday.

Made it

Turns out we made up all but about 10 minutes in the air due to favorable winds, but honestly it wouldn't have mattered. Brussels Airport is an awesome airport to connect through. Nice and quiet and convenient transfers, no luggage hassles, no passport control if you're in transit. Not at all like Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle the last few times I've been through there. I think it took me a grand total of 10 minutes to change gates, and that included a trip through security.

Had a nice flight down to Prague on Czech Airlines, where I learned from the in flight magazine that Peter Cech transported a porcupine and a lemur to London when he transferred to Chelsea, and CSK arlines flew them there.

I was a little anxious about flying Czech Air not knowing what to expect, but I was impressed. Roomy, leather seats...a complimentary sandwich and soda snack...and even a "landing sweet" (a piece of chocolate). More than you can expect from American Airlines.

I took a taxi to the hotel. Not having any concept of where anything is here, I would swear the cabbie took me on the "scenic" certainly wasn't direct. If it hadn't been a flat-rate fare I would have been worried. Nevertheless, I got to the hotel too early to check in but an hour later I managed to get into my room and splash some cold water on my face. I've had 90 minutes of sleep and my meeting starts 20 minutes from now, and runs until 10pm tonight.

I got a response from the Aussie ex-pat group but now I don't know if I'll be able to make. We'll have to see what they have planned for team-building tonight at the meeting (and if it involves a TV tuned to the soccer match).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hoping for a tailwind

6/26 3am CEST

I watched the Holland v. Portugal match today in a bar at O'Hare airport. It was an interesting mix of folks that had taken pause from their travels to catch the match. I ended up chatting with a bunch of Englishman (who supported Everton, Mansfield, and Huddersfield, respectively). Interesting conversation. Turns out the McBride and Convey are the only two American soccer players in England that they respect. Just after halftime, a dutchman joined us and we hung on every futile Oranje attack with him. This match ended up looking a lot like the Italy v. USA match to me. Certainly not 'o Jogo Bonito' and the side I was supporting didn't win.

Because there was so much stoppage time, I had to run through K Concourse at O'Hare to catch my flight. Just as I was thanking my luck that not only did I get on board in time but that the only empty seat on the plane was the middle seat in my aisle, the pilot warned of pending weather delays out of hour later we were airborne. Let's hope the winds favor us as I only had a 80 minute connection in Brussels!

-- written Sun night / Mon morning, 33,000 ft above Northeastern Canada

Blogging my way to Prague

Well, I'm on my way to Prague on business. I used to get terribly excited every time I got to go to Europe on business, now I'm just annoyed that I won't be at home during the World Cup to watch all the matches in High-Definition. I guess I've become pretty jaded about all this. I understand Prague is an amazing city and I really can't wait to see some of it. Unfortunately, I arrive Monday morning 90 minutes before my business conference starts and they have us programmed about 14 hours a day every day I'm there (save one free evening).

The adventure started at the airport when I realized that one leg of my airline ticket was missing from the paper ticket my travel agent issued. I hate paper tickets and still don't understand why sometimes they still issue them, but nevertheless, I was a bit concerned that I was going to get to Brussels and get stuck without a ticket to Praha. A quick call to my company's emergency 24 hour travel agency (glad I programmed that into speed dial) confirmed that I did in fact have a ticket, but that one leg (of the 6 I'm flying roundtrip) was issued as an E-Ticket (go figure).

I missed the first 80 minutes of the England v. Ecuador match this morning while I was in the air to Chicago. As soon as we were off an active runway at O'Hare I was texting my buddy Jonathan asking for the score. As I de-planed, I noticed that one of the video terminals that normally shows arrivals and departures had the match on so I stood in the middle of Concourse G creating a traffic obstruction (with about a dozen others) and watched the last 10 minutes of the match.

Now, I'm killing time on my 5 hour layover (the joys of trying to get a good connection out of Greenville-Spartanburg, near where I had to be Saturday for my cousin's wedding). The good news is that boarding for my flight to Brussels should start at just about the same time as the Holland-Portugal match will be wrapping up. I've already staked out a spot at the bar across from the gate to watch the match!

Since I know I won't have a lot of free time, I've hardly spent any time planning anything to do. Thanks to the WiFi in O'Hare though, at least I was able to download a few wikipedia pages on Prague and fire off an email to an Aussie ex-pat group in the Czech Republic asking for a good spot to watch them humble the Italians tomorrow night (fingers crossed).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sam's Army

Most of you know that I travel around the country following the US National Soccer Team as part of Sam's Army. Here's a great feature ESPN2 did on "The Army". Look for me in the opening scene.

Bring Out the Cup

Looks like my investment in a Game 7 Stanley Cup ticket is going to pay off. After going up 3-1 in the playoffs, Carolina has conceded two games to Edmonton and will be playing a one game, winner-take-all Cup Final here in Raleigh on Monday. I've always dreamed of going to a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 -- I even decided not to spend some time in Germany during the World Cup and rather spend that budget on hockey tickets. It should be a grand time.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Chicken Dance Elmo

Now that was a $200 hockey game

Ever since December, I felt like that Carolina Hurricanes were going to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Then, as the playoffs wound up, I began to feel like the Canes were a team of destiny. I decided to not buy any playoff tickets and instead save up all my money for the Finals.

Sure enough, Carolina polished off Buffalo in 7 games to make it to their 2nd Finals in 4 seasons. So for my birthday and for Father's Day, Liz allowed me to buy myself tickets to Game 1 and Game 7. Each ticket cost a whopping $194 (including all the TicketBastard convenience charges) but it's not like you can see YOUR team play in a cup final every year so I bit the bullet and hoped the game would be worth it.

I must admit that when Carolina was down tonight 0-3 with less than 24 minutes to play in the game, I was feeling like I'd thrown $200 in the trash. What a disappointment the game was turning out to be until our captain Rod Brindamour, number 17, scored at 17:17 of the 2nd period to give us a lifeline. Numerologists take heed -- that magical combination of 17s set off Category 5 squall inside the RBC Center that saw the Canes rattle off three more unanswered goals, the last of which was even shorthanded, to take a 4-3 lead. After the home team squandered the advantage, Brindamour stepped up just as he did in Game 7 of the Buffalo series and scored the game winner -- this time with a mere 31 seconds to play in regulation.

You can bet I'm feeling like that was money well spent at the moment.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me!

The Carolina Hurricanes gave me a wonderful birthday present last night when they came from behind in the 3rd period to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Now that they've captured the Prince of Wales trophy, Carolina gets back to work on Monday, June 5th in the Stanley Cup finals. Since Monday is the day after my birthday, it quickly became pretty obvious what I was getting for my birthday!

Tickets went on sale this morning at 8am and I have tickets to both Game 1 and Game 7 of the Finals. I've been to the Stanley Cup final once before, in 1999 when Buffalo played Dallas a few years back. I even caught a puck at that game! But I've never actually been to a game of this magnitude where MY team was one of the competitors. This should be amazing!