Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Malta log #2

Since the relations between Turkey and Israel started to deteriorate in the past few months, many Israelis have been looking for alternative holiday destinations (Antalya was a favourite of the Israeli masses). Greece has become a strong contender, but one minor contender for the holiday crown is Malta, a small island in the western Mediterranean. This is not the reason why we are in Malta.

My father's brother was killed here during the Second World War (1941), while he was serving on a minesweeper cleaning the entrance to the Maltese Grand Harbour. My parents visited Malta 35 years ago, but did not find any form of memorial, so my father initiated correspondence with the British Ministry of Defence, in order to set the record straight. Eventually he was sent a letter stating the events of his brother's death, along with a photograph of the listing.

A few months ago, my father got into his head that he wanted to visit Malta again while he is still capable of doing so (he is 88 and somewhat limited physically). I began correspondence with a few war museums in Malta but didn't get a conclusive answer as to where I might find a memorial for my father's brother (I have to call him that and not uncle as he was dead long before I was born). Once we decided to go to Malta, I saw that there were no direct flights to Israel which is why we 'stopped off for a week' in Prague on the way.

Anyway, today was our first real day in Malta. I suggested that we start our search for the elusive memorial in the War Museum, which was very interesting but not what we were looking for. At the very end I saw a reference to a Royal Navy memorial so I suggested that we go there. Whilst waiting for a taxi, my father began chatting to the Museum guard, and she suggested speaking to the museum curator. In the curator's office, we found a book of remembrance which did in fact list my father's brother.

My father was overwhelmed with emotion! We then 'held' an impromptu memorial session with my father reciting the Mourner's Kaddish.

Even though we had found what we were looking for, we went with the taxi driver to what we thought would be the Royal Navy memorial. We weren't able to find what we were looking for, so we abandoned the search. From there, the taxi driver to us to the old settlement of Medina, which was the most attractive part of Malta which we have seen yet.
After spending a few hours here (including lunch), we telephoned our friendly taxi driver who took us back to Valetta. He was unable to take us back to our hotel as he couldn't find the way although he tried; the back streets of Valetta are like a warren, and he was running back and forward in a brave attempt to find the right entrance to the maze. This included going the wrong way down several one way streets. In the end, he gave up and dropped us off in a pedestrian precinct which actually was not far from the hotel.

Here ends today's adventures.

Malta log #1

Most of today's energies were spent on getting from Prague to Malta. There is a direct flight, but we had to wait several hours in Prague airport before we could even check in. The flight itself didn't last long, but we managed to arrive in Malta just in time for the first rain of the year. After collecting our luggage (and not passing through customs, as this was an internal EU flight), our driver took us to the British Hotel.

I don't know whether the route the driver took was indicative of the buildings in Valleta, the capital of Malta, but judging by the state of our hotel, Malta has not yet reached the 21st century. If one were to describe the hotel in one word, that word would probably be 'crummy'. The only good thing that I can write about the hotel is that we have a good view over the harbour. My mobile computer has picked up a wireless network, but the signal strength is weak and does not allow a connection to the Internet. So I am writing this offline and will post it whenever I get the chance – which may be only when we return home on Saturday. Apart from being unable to blog (the least of my problems), I had expected to be able to connect to work and also to check activities for Malta.

Update: it turns out that there is free wi-fi from the hotel's lounge, but not from the rooms - maybe it's the thick stone walls that causes the wi-fi signal not to be picked up.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Prague log #5

What does one do in a city on a rainy Sunday? One goes to the museum, of course! Along with what seemed to be most of Prague's population, we too stood in a long queue in order to enter the national museum this morning, after having taken about an hour to get there by public transport (it was probably less, but that's how it seemed). The museum itself was fine as museums go, although a bit more boring than usual. It didn't help that all of the explanations regarding the exhibits were in Czech (doh). The building itself was magnificent, and we had difficulty in believing that it had been built especially as a museum; I was convinced that it had been a palace which had been converted, as both the internal and external architectures were amazing.

Later on in the afternoon, it stopped raining, so I went out for a stroll down a street which we had not visited since the first day when we bought a sim card. Down at the far end of the street (10-15 minutes from the hotel) was an open-air market selling food and trinkets, and about 500 metres past this market was ... the museum! We probably could have walked there in 20 minutes, had it not been raining.

In the evening, we took a bus to the centre of the old city, walked to the Charles Bridge, crossed it and then drank hot chocolate in a cosy cafe while waiting for night to come. Walking back, we were disappointed by the poor lighting on the Charles Bridge, but other buildings were well lit. The streets and cafes were well-populated; not as full as they are at 3pm, but much fuller than at 9am.

Here ends the broadcast from Radio Prague.

Prague log #4

We have been lucky with the weather so far; every day the temperature has been around and above 20 degrees at lunchtime, starting at a more modest 10 degrees in the morning. The weather forecast showed that Saturday would be cooler, with a 40% chance of precipitation. In other words, Saturday was a wash out (in more ways than one).

The day started well by me going out early and filming more alleys, streets and courtyards; places that we had discovered the day before when they were full of tourists eating a late lunch. At 8:30am, the streets were almost empty and I could film undisturbed. This was also the first time that I could see properly through the lens what I was filming - in all previous days, the sunlight had been so strong that I couldn't really see.

My wife had been nagging all the time that she wanted to go to a market in Prague; after extensive research, I discovered that there was a market held on the last Saturday of each month - which fortunately was yesterday. The market is held near Namesti Miru, an easy metro journey. She also wanted me to find a laundromat in order that we might wash our clothes, and ironically the only walk-in place that I could find was also near Namesti Miru. Thus we could kill two birds with one stone.

When we arrived at NM metro station - the deepest in Prague at 55m, with the longest escalator in Europe - the weather had turned to drizzle. We decided that I would stay with the laundry whilst my wife went to the market and that I would telephone her when the laundry was ready. With this plan in action, I sat down to read "Thirteen reasons why", a powerful 'teen' novel which I can heartily recommend.

By the time the laundry was supposedly dry, my wife had returned, disappointed at the market which was composed mainly of bits and pieces with nothing really interesting. Most of the laundry was not yet dry, so we had to to give it another 40 minutes in the dryer. Here I must put in an excellent word for the laudromat, which is open every day from 8am till 8pm (I think). Unlike other laundromats which I have visited around the world (and unfortunately there have been too many), this one has, along with its laundry area, two lounges with comfortable seats, a rack of books and four computers for browsing. I thought that the place also doubled as a cafe, for we had a pleasant cup of tea. To my surprise, when we came to pay for the tea, the operator said that it was free.

If one should ever need to wash one's clothes in Prague, then go to this laundromat (Korunni 14, five minutes walk from Namesti Miru metro station); one will be in a friendly atmosphere and one will not be disappointed. The clothes will be clean as well!

On the way back, the drizzle was now constant, so there wasn't much that we could do except head for the hotel, unpack the clean clothes and return once more to the Palladium shopping centre, this time to eat pizza. I didn't mention that after returning from Terezin, we ate Chinese again in Palladium; this time we tried the sushi! First up was what we consider to be 'standard' sushi - six of those little rice balls with salmon, coated with seaweed (makizushi). Whilst this was definitely edible, it wasn't stellar. So I tried another piece, a larger slice of salmon placed upon rice. If I may be excused, this was a waste of good salmon! I doubt that I will be trying this again. My wife played safe with the conventional sweet and sour chicken, which was prepared this time with big pieces of chicken in a dumpling sheath, as opposed to the more normal small pieces of chicken.

I am writing these words at 6:30 on Sunday morning; it is raining heavily outside and I am coughing away merrily inside (the viral infection which I had before leaving has come back). I do not know what we are going to do today: I can't face another day in the shopping centre, but conventional tourism seems unwise. Tomorrow we pack and fly to Malta, so at least we can be thankful that only one day was totally disrupted by the weather.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Terezin

Let us remember: Terezin was not an extermination camp. It was designed as a containment camp for Czech Jewry and then as a transit camp. As the number of inmates increased from 10,000 to 60,000, the only way to alleviate the strain was to ship people to Auschwitz in the infamous transports. Its strongest claim to infamy is that it was used for propaganda purposes: the Nazis allowed two Red Cross visits to the camp to show how well they were treating the inmates. A film was even made there, showing how good the conditions supposedly were (we were shown the film in the museum at the end of the tour).

I am not going to write any more about the purpose of Terezin or what happened there: the link provided above and the link in yesterday's blog will tell more than I can ever do. Any words which I might write would only cheapen the memory of Czech Jewry.

There isn't that much to see in the trip to Terezin: the Small Fortress has been left virtually intact, displaying its mind-numbing cruelty, but this was used as a Gestapo installation, mainly for Czech political prisoners, not necessarily Jewish. In fact, its most famous prisoner was Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife on June 28, 1914,  leading to the First World War. Princip died from tuberculosis on April 28, 1918. The Ghetto, as opposed to the Small Fortress, does not really exist anymore, and only a few buildings have remained as a reminder of what was.

456 Jews from Denmark were sent to Theresienstadt in 1943. These were Jews who had not escaped to Sweden before the arrival of the Nazis. Included also in the transports were some of the European Jewish children whom Danish organizations had been attempting to conceal in foster homes. The arrival of the Danes is of great significance, as the Danes insisted on the Red Cross's having access to the ghetto. This was a rare move, given that most European governments did not insist on their fellow Jewish citizens being treated according to some fundamental principles. The Danish king, Christian X, later secured the release of the Danish internees on April 15, 1945. The White Buses, in cooperation with the Danish Red Cross, collected the 413 who had survived.

The guides mentioned that even after the War finished, over 1,000 Jews died in Terezin as a result of typhus. After the war, Czech nationals of German parentage who served in the Wehrmacht were imprisoned in the Small Fortress, and it seemed that the ethnic Czechs performed a little ethnic cleansing of their own, in retaliation for what had happened before. I do not condone this.

According to the guide, during the Communist years, Terezin was left abandoned, and that it was only in 1996 that the site was restored and open to the public, thus informing people of a certain age about events which they never knew took place. I saw yesterday evening a poster advertising the 'Museum of Communism'; I imagine that this is not a particularly popular place to visit but I do wonder what kind of exhibits they show. Checking (sorry) its site, I see that it's only about ten minutes from where we are, so maybe I'll visit this afternoon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Karlovy Vary

If there need be a motto for our trip, it is the Israeli expression "More luck than sense", or in English, serendipity.

I think that I first heard about Karlovy Vary via the novels of John Le Carre, primarily "A Perfect Spy". The character Axel comes from KV - or maybe he comes from Carlsbad (the German name) - but one way or another, he says that he comes from a place that no longer exists (I think that he means that he was ethnic German, and all the Germans were expelled from KV after the Second World War). Presumably because of that mystery, I started investigating this place, and I recall that at one time I tried to persuade my wife that maybe we should spend a week in KV, making a day trip to Prague. She made the more reasonable suggestion that we spend a week in Prague, making a day trip to KV.

KV is a spa town; in researching our options, it appeared that all the spas were connected to hotels, and as we weren't staying in a hotel, it seemed that our chances of having a massage and some form of hydrotherapy (balneological treatment) weren't very high.

In order to get to KV, we would have to take a inter-city bus, and in order to take the bus, we had to get to the Florenc bus station. Although I believe that this is no more than a ten minute walk from our hotel, we decided to take the metro, thus adding to our Prague experiences. The B train stop underneath Namesti Republiky is very steep, so much so that I couldn't look down when we were riding the escalators to the platform. Apart from this, the metro is similar (though much simpler) than the London Underground, so we had no problems here, nor in the bus station where we bought tickets for the bus. The tickets are all numbered and are for specific times, like an aeroplane. When trying to buy return tickets, we were asked what time we intended to return, and as we didn't know, we elected to buy single tickets. Big mistake.

The trip itself took two and a quarter hours which were mildly interesting. On the bus was shown a Hollywood film, but this had been dubbed into Czech so we didn't watch it.

Upon arriving in KV, we wandered around a little until I found a sign for City Information. Following our noses, we arrived a bit later at the Elisabeth Spa (the photograph does not do the building justice).
As the information office was closed, we decided to have a pot of tea in the restaurant (the three bay windows in the front of the building on the first floor). After this relaxation, we found the office, which sold us a guide to KV, and there they said that this spa was open to all visitors! So we found where we could book treatments and ordered a full massage for my wife and a herbal bath for myself. The prices were about a third of what we would have paid in Israel.

The herbal bath treatment means getting naked into a huge bathtub which was full of warm, green coloured water, bearing a smell similar to my herbal shampoo. Once in, the attendant turned a tap on, and air started bubbling through the water; this was so strong that at first it blew me out of the water, until I figured out how to keep myself submerged (everything bar the head). After fifteen minutes of this (measured by alarm clock), I rang for the attendant; she helped me out of the bath and then enclosed me in a cotton sheet. From there she took me to an examination couch in the room, told me to lie down and then covered me with a heavy blanket. This was similar to being in a straight-jacket. I was to lie there for seven minutes (again by the clock), at which point the treatment would be over. So lie there I did, then managed to get free from the blanket and got dressed. I'm not exactly sure what this treatment did for me, but my wife thoroughly enjoyed her massage.

Noticing that it was now nearly 4pm (and we were intending to catch the 7pm bus back to Prague), I suggested that we up our pace a little. We walked back to the Post Office (we had been there on our way to the Elisabeth Spa) and were about to start the tour described in the booklet when I noticed that there was a market on the bank of the Tepla river). So of course, my wife had to browse there for at least half an hour, spending what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time in choosing a nail file for our daughter. Once we got past the market, we walked a little into town and then took a path through a wood overlooking the town; this lead to a vantage point which gave us an excellent view of all the buildings in the area. From there, we walked back down to the colonnade and strolled around.

The buildings themselves and the way that they were laid out seemed very reminiscent of Bournemouth (where my mother lived for a while), and when reading the booklet, I came across the sentence "This stately building, which was built in the Neo-Gothic style typical of England, was opened on May 1st, 1866", thus making it contemporary with Bournemouth. After more walking around and eating a very late lunch (or early supper) in a restaurant, we made our way to the bus stop where we had dismounted in the morning.

When looking for somewhere to buy tickets, it became apparent that we weren't at the main bus station but rather a stop for local buses. So we had to walk another kilometre to the main station; the time was fast approaching 7pm. We arrived at the station and saw the bus waiting; I ran upstairs to the ticket office which was just about to close and ordered tickets, only to be told that the 7pm bus was full and that we would have to travel on the 8pm bus. OK. The girl demanded cash (as opposed to the credit card with which I had paid in the morning) and gave me my ticket. Here is where things get a bit funny. Although I paid her the same amount of money that I had paid in the morning (for two tickets), I became convinced that I had only paid for one seat on the bus, and the ticket appeared to uphold this theory. So it looked like I would have to wait for the bus to arrive and all the passengers to get on before we could see whether there was any room left.

No one was at the bus station until about 7:50pm, when suddenly people descended from all over the place. We spoke to the 'flight' atttendant, and she said that the bus was fully booked, and that we could only get on if someone did not arrive to claim their place. There were a couple of girls in the same situation as us, so it wasn't clear that there would be any spare place at all. Come 8pm, there are still four seats vacant on the bus (one of those is ours), so we give the ticket to the attendant and she smiles us on and refused payment from me. It turns out that I had bought a double ticket after all!

Very very relieved, we got onto the bus which made its way back to Prague, arriving at 10:15pm. More fun and games trying to find the metro station's entrance and our destination station's exit, but that was par for the course, and we arrived back at the hotel, tired but happy, at around 10:30pm.

More luck than sense - despite prior research which indicated that we would not be able to get a massage in KV, we stumbled onto the one spa which does give treatment to non-residents. The bus incident was another example.

My wife worked for a while in a travel agency near the kibbutz; there she met a lady who has since become our personal travel agent, booking the flights (I normally book the hotels). She had recommended not going to KV for unknown reasons, and my wife has declared that she will set the travel agent straight.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prague log #3

As we had decided the day before, yesterday we went straight to the Astronomical Clock, arriving there in plenty of time for the 10 o'clock "performance". I used the time to find a good spot, as far away as possible from the clock whilst still being straight in front, and checked camera angles and zoom. When the clock did chime, I was able to see the 12 apostles being displayed by the clock; there was also enough time to zoom to the clock tower and film a close-up of the trumpeter.

From the clock, we walked from the square to a different exit which lead us to Josefov, the Jewish quarter. Maybe it was the road's name, Parizska, which triggered my subconscious, but all morning the roads and the ambience caused me to think that we were in Paris.

From Parizska, we walked to Maiselov and began the 'Jewish tour'. The first stop was the Maiselov Synagogue, which has been turned into a museum. Inside were displayed articles from the Moravian and Bohemian Jewish communities: various religious utensils which were used to adorn the sifrei torah (I don't know what the gentiles would call these), menorot ("candelabra" which we use during the Chanuka festival), kiddush cups, curtains which cover the ark in which are stored the sifrei torah, special prayers written to commemorate events in history (such as the battles against the Swedish invasion of the 30 year war). The earliest articles were dated to the end of the 15th century, with most of them coming from the 19th century. This was a time when those communities thrived and even received special charters from Charles IV (also displayed, although I think that these were facsimiles). Unfortunately, things were to change in the twentieth century....

The hall itself was very crowded with people; this is partially because it is relatively a small space so any number of people within is going to make it seem crowded, but also because it seems that many tour groups cover these sites. I found myself wondering all morning what these people would make of the synagogue and its display; I suppose it's like when I have toured medieval cathedrals; I can admire the various displays without necessarily knowing the emotional baggage.

From there, a short walk lead us to the Pinhas synagogue; this too has been decommissioned, although male visitors were strongly encouraged to cover their heads as the traditional Jewish mark of respect (I saw several males with uncovered heads, one woman with a covered head (a Reform Jewess, as my wife suggested, but I think that it was more out of ignorance but maybe respect) and one youth who placed his kipa on top of his hat). If the Maiselov synagogue was a testament to the golden days of the 18-19th centuries, then the Pinhas synagogue was testament to the defining event of European Jewry in the 20th century: the Holocaust. There were no items on display; the walls were covered - without bare patches - with the names of over 80,000 members of the Jewish communities of Prague, Brno and other Czech towns who were exterminated in the concentration camps of the Nazis.

Tears naturally came to my eyes then, and I am crying (or more accurately, leaking tears) as I write these words now, in the safety of my hotel room. Again, the museum was crowded, and it seemed that German was the dominant language being spoken. I wonder how much those people - some older than me, who would have been babies at the end of the war, and some youngsters still at school - understand and what they feel. Are they detached from the abominable activities of a misguided generation or two? Are they ashamed of their country's modern history?

Upstairs was an exhibit of children's drawings mainly done in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp (we will be visiting there tomorrow, so I won't write any exposition today). I don't recall ever seeing similar displays in the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, although the above article on Terezin suggests otherwise. There is so much to see in Jerusalem - and most of that through tears - that it is not surprising that some things remain hidden from the consiousness.

The path from the synagogue leads directly into the old Jewish cemetery. As in common with all cemeteries, it is very quiet here, with only a whispered commentary from the tour groups breaking the silence. My wife remarked that the stones were placed in such a way that it was impossible to know where each separate grave was; I pointed out that the gravestones had probably been collected and placed in the best way possible. The sanctity of the graves themselves was not the point, but rather the huge collection of stones - dating from the 15th century. As opposed to modern gravestones whose paltry text state the name and dates of the deceased, these stones were covered in writing from top to bottom. We couldn't make out much of the text, but what could be deciphered tended to be religious writings and not personal details.

The graveyard leads into another synagogue converted into a museum, the Klausova. After the emotional stress of the past hour or so, we were content to sit on a bench, look around the crowded room and get our emotions back in order. From there, we found ourselves back in Prague, or should I say, Paris? We crossed a main road and found ourselves in a quiet street with no tour groups, and in fact, few pedestrians. We entered a small tea-room which could have been transported brick by brick from Paris, and enjoyed a quiet cup of tea. The name of the road is Bilkova; from there we walked to Kozi which lead to Dlouha, all the time the roads being more and more populated, but enjoyable all the same. No tour groups, very quiet and very beautiful. Dlouha ends on Revoluchni, a main thoroughfare, which leads of course to Namesti Republiky and our hotel.

We ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant in the Palladium shopping centre, which is where we seem to spend most afternoons. We are girding ourselves to trying sushi but at the moment are sticking to chicken dishes that we know and like. After lunch, we shopped (and shopped and shopped). Unless my calculations regarding the exchange rate are seriously wrong, clothes are incredibly cheap here and my wife was in heaven. I found several jackets which roughly were what I wanted (in the bargain basement of Marks and Spencer, to be accurate), costing 899 CHK. I tried a few on, but they were either not wide enough around the body or else the arms were too long. Enter a saleswoman who may not know English but does know her jackets: 44 short she kept on saying and eventually found a jacket with the correct measurements. 44 chest to cover my barrel-like middle age pouch, and short arms.Yes!

A neighbouring C&A seemed like a bargain basement, selling shirts at give-away prices. My wife snatched a few hoodies for our son, I bough some corduroy jeans and she bought herself some items. I jokingly suggested that we buy items in order to sell them in Israel at twice the price, which still would be less that the comparative Israeli price, thus financing our trip.

Eventually we finished, drank a concluding pot of tea in a coffee bar (again, the tea seems cheap, 50CHK, which I calculate to be less than half the equivalent price in Israel, and this is for a pot of tea, which yields nearly two large cups) and then back to the hotel to unpack, get organised and do Internet research for the days to come. The program seems to be:
Thursday (today) - Karlovy Vary by bus
Friday - Terezin, organised tour
Saturday - flea market in Prague, including journey by Metro
Sunday - to be announced
Monday - flying to Malta

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Prague log #2

There isn't much to add to the log for our first day. After getting settled in the hotel, we walked to the nearby Namesti Republicky (Republic Square) which is a huge concourse with several roads leading off it. After a few wrong turns, we found the street that we wanted, which housed a T-mobile shop; here we bought a local Czech SIM card for my wife's mobile phone, thus enabling her to call me, me to call her and the children to call her.

By the time we finished there, we discovered that we were ravenous so we stopped at the first restaurant that we found and had a meal (too much salt). From there, we walked back to the hotel and rested a while. Later on, we went to the huge Palladium shopping centre, which is literally a stone's throw from the hotel; we each drank a pot of tea in order to revive ourselves and then checked out the variety of stores. Most of them seemed to be women's clothing, which means paradise for my wife and boredom for me. We found a big bookshop, but of course all the title are in Czech.... After leaving the shopping centre, we rambled a bit outside (actually getting a little lost, but I have an inertial guiding system in my head so we reached the hotel without difficulty. Even though it was only about 7pm, we went to bed, as the lack of sleep had been getting to both of us.

Day 2
We woke at around 6:30am; I did my daily chores on the computer, and then we had a sumptuous breakfast in the hotel's dining room which was fairly full. When we hit the streets, they were pleasantly empty - there were a few tour groups but they weren't a hindrance. From our central location, we located the Powder Tower (a very imposing - and tall - building) and behind it, Celetna street which would take us to the Old Town Hall and a major square. We walked down the narrow street, mainly admiring the architecture; one has to look more up in Prague than down, as the buildings are tall and the architectural frivolies are outstanding.

In the Old Town square is located the Astronomical Clock; unfortunately we just missed its 9am call.

From there we carried on into the old city (it's like Jerusalem!) until we found the Charles Bridge. We crossed this slowly and made our way into the little 'Venice' section at the other end, which was charming. Part of it also reminded me of a French boulevard. Whilst the bridge had been moderately crowded, this part was fairly empty which added to its charm. After resting a while and drinking an ice cream sundae, we took one of the boat cruises, which started off in the mock canal (which apparently featured in the first 'Mission Impossible' film, masquerading as the real Venice) and then continued onto the Vltava, where we changed onto a bigger boat.

After the boat trip, we checked out the Charles Bridge museum, which although small was interesting, showing how the bridge had been built and how it had been renovated. From there, we saw that we had about ten minutes to get back to the Astronomical Clock before it chimed 3pm, so we fairly ran through the now crowded streets in order to get there in time. Just as we arrived, the clock chimed, a trumpeter (live) blew a fanfare from the tower's top ... and that was it. Maybe we were missing something. I intend to go back again this morning, when there are fewer people and check what is happening, because the Wikipedia page says that there is more to meet the eye.

Returning via Celetna, we stopped in the souvenir stores which we had studiously ignored in the morning, and my wife bought all manner of Czech souvenirs. The most interesting was a little shop which we found buried in a sidestreet, featuring little 'sculptures' of objects made solely of nuts and bolts. We bought a small chicken, mouse and dog (if I remember correctly), but there were much bigger pieces. Imagine trying to get them past customs....

After another rest in the hotel and sorting our possessions out, we went to the shopping centre again,  to eat a passable Pizza. This time we found all the shops selling clothes for men - they're simply on a different floor to the women's shops. We tried to find a linen jacket for me; it took some explaining from me before my wife understood what I wanted. Eventually we found something good - only it was too small and they didn't have anything larger.

From there to gentle (as Robert Fripp tends to write). More days await us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Prague log #1

It's 10:30 on a sunny Monday morning and we have just arrived in Prague for a week's stay. Our hotel room was ready and waiting, there is an adequate wireless Internet connection, and the signs could not be better.

The trip did not start on the right foot, though. Friday night/Saturday was Yom Kippur, the most holy Jewish day; unfortunately, I woke up at 6am, and although I rested most of the day, and dozed for a few hours, I was unable to get to sleep at night. I eventually fell asleep at about 1:30am, and was up again at 5:30am on Sunday. Our flight was scheduled to leave Tel Aviv airport at 5am on Monday morning, which meant that we had to be there at around 2:30, which meant getting up at around 1:15am. Although I went to lie down at around 9pm, I was too agitated to sleep, so basically I've been awake since yesterday morning. I am quite tired.

Even though we did in fact arrive at the airport at 2:30am, there were crowds at passport control and personal luggage checking, which meant that we didn't clear these sections till about 3:50am. As we had to board at 4:30am, there wasn't much time left for duty free shopping and other activities. I had intended to get out the computer for some work, but it was clear that there would be no free time.

About a month and a half ago, I and my wife were issued American Express credit cards. The way in which we were approached raised my antennae, and for a few hours I thought that we had been victims of a scam, but it all seems to be above board. One of the perks of the card is free entrance to the VIP lounge at Ben Gurion airport, and this trip seemed the ideal opportunity for testing the perk.

As we had so little time, we could only spend about ten minutes in the lounge. By this time, I was almost shaking from low sugar, so I very quickly ate a few biscuits and drank a bottle of fruit juice (all free). My wife had some crackers and tea. It's a shame that we were only there for a short period; next time, we will try to have a longer stay in the lounge. When we leave Prague, we will fly for a few days to Malta before returning home, so we will have the opportunity of testing the equivalent Prague VIP lounge. Although we have a certain amount of 'perk' as regarding the lounge, we also have to pay $27 to gain entrance, and I am not sure that we will get our money's worth.

My wife is unpacking at the moment; afterwards we'll probably have lunch and hit the town.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A twilight health stage

To quote Michael Covington, "The astute reader will surmise that I'm working hard on something other than writing blog entries". I wish this were true about me. I have been suffering from a presumably viral infection that frequently elevates my body temperature (but never to more than 37.5 degrees), makes me cough on and off, and generally leaves me listless without causing any great pain.

It's also the holiday season in Israel. Last week we had four days off from work (wed-thur-fri-sat), although Wednesday was a 'compulsory' day which will be deducted from my holiday allotment. Next week there are two days off and again the week after. This is an ideal time to go somewhere for a holiday, and indeed, next Monday morning we (my wife and I) are flying to Prague for a week, and then continuing to Malta for another four nights. I hope that I feel better before we go.

I'm not exactly busy at work which is just as well as I don't think that I have enough strength to cope should the need for my services heat up. I'm too well to stay at home but not really well enough to be at work: a twilight health stage.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Ian Rankin: "The Complaints"

After Rankin's literary creation DI John Rebus took compulsory retirement, it is now the turn of Inspector Malcolm Fox to star in Rankin's novels. Fox is almost the complete opposite of Rebus: Rebus was in CID, Fox in Complaints and Conduct (specifically the Professional Standards Unit, which investigates 'bent coppers'). Rebus was a hard drinker and smoker, whereas Fox is teetotal and a non-smoker. Rebus is a loner, whereas Fox has a sister and a father whom he visits all the time.

So the stage was set for a different kind of novel, showing police work from a different angle. And indeed, 'The Complaints' starts out completely differently from a Rebus novel. But after four or five chapters, suddenly the style of the novel became familiar. Fox gets suspended but continues investigating; the plot thickens and thickens and only Fox is able to get the insights which lead him to a conclusion. In effect, this is a Rebus novel without Rebus.

That isn't to say that this is a bad novel; on the contrary, it is gripping, intriguing, full of suspense and one is never sure where it is going to lead. Those who enjoy the Rebus novels which enjoy this one as well. But I had expected a different style, and in this Rankin does not deliver. One aspect which did not exist in the Rebus novels is the family: Fox feels responsible for his father who is living in an old age home. The episodes are handled very realistically.

Nitpicking: there is a conversation between Fox and a bouncer. The latter was released from prison just under two years ago, yet he is the father of an eighteen month old child. Assuming that there were no conjugal visits, the age of the child doesn't add up (unless of course the bouncer is not the biological father).

Fox is not a music lover like Rebus. Instead of listening to the Rolling Stones and dropping musical references all over the place, Fox might listen to FM Classical but generally listens to a radio channel called 'Birdsong' which plays ... continuous birdsong. But Rankin still manages to drop in a subtle in-joke: one of Fox's colleagues is called Tony Kaye, which just happens to be the name of the original organist in Yes.