Powerful Explosion Rips Through Prague’s Tourist District

Anyone familiar with Prague’s postcard-perfect Old Town will be saddened to hear a powerful blast tore through the tourist district this morning, reducing one building to rubble, shattering windows and – worst of all – injuring up to 40 people.

AP is reporting the blast, which is believed to be a gas explosion, stranded tourists on street corners and caused evacuations in the surrounding buildings. Windows were blown out of the 19th-century National Theater, one of the most important cultural institutions in the Czech Republic. According to the news outlet, the center of the explosion was a row of several-story tall brick buildings that date back about a century.

Prime Minister Petr Necas likened the blast’s destruction to an air assault or a bomb explosion, but mayor Bohuslav Svobodo ruled out a terrorist attack. Only two injuries were serious, but two or three people are believed to be missing. Rescuers are searching through the rubble, while the blast has also caused major traffic disruptions and confused thousands of tourists in the area.

[Photo credit: Smtunli, Svein-Magne Tunli, Wikimedia Commons]

Ethnic Element Of Boston Bombing Complicated By Geography Skills

Killed and captured, Boston marathon suspects Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are understandably a trending topic across social media platforms. That’s no surprise. Perhaps now some reasons behind the bombing will surface and we can begin to categorize the event, learn from it, vow to never forget and move along, albeit with a bit less of a secure feeling.

Also no surprise is that most of us have no idea where the Tsarnaev’s are from. Chechnya? Dagestan? The Czech Republic? The fact that nearly a third of U.S. young adults cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map comes back to bite us again.

To many Americans, where they came from is of little interest. But to others, where the bombing suspects came from does matter – a whole lot.

“The Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities – the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation,” said Petr Gandalovič, Ambassador of the Czech Republic in a statement.

More importantly, the Czech Republic is committed, just as is the United States and many other nations, to fight terrorism. “We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect; there is no doubt about that,” adds Amb. Gandalovič.Chechnya, on the other hand, has a long and violent history of terrorism-like activities stemming back to the first Chechen war between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

The Los Angeles Times writes, “Chechen fighters have traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring Caucasus regions for military and explosives training, joining their cause to a worldwide jihad.”

But the Tsarnaev brothers came to America at a very young age, were not known to associate with militants and looked very much like thousands of other students in the Boston area.

Out of cyberspace and off the airwaves, talk of the Boston bombing is right down on street level too. It’s the kind of topic that can be discussed with a perfect stranger as though continuing a conversation.

On Friday it was:

“…so they got one of them.”
“…they’re closing in on the other one.”
“…what I can’t figure out is why they did not plant the bomb(s) then get on the next plane out of town.”

I was at our local Apple Store in the afternoon. Talking to one of the sales people, the conversation was very much like the above. Safe, current, trending.

Then our chat took a different direction, highlighting just how dangerous our challenged knowledge of geography can be.

“This is going to be just like after 9-11,” said the Lebanese Apple employee. “I was in high school then and got hater looks and stares for years after that.”

She is not alone either. Anyone who looks to be even remotely Muslim will no doubt be on the receiving end of that suspicion, much like anyone who looked even remotely Asian was after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

[Photo credit – Flickr user ToastyKen]

Why We’re All Drinking ‘Canadian’ Beer

A few facts about beer:

  • In ancient Babylonia, where the first beer was supposedly made, they took the sudsy stuff so seriously that if you made a bad batch, you’d be drowned.
  • The Vikings’ version of heaven, Valhalla, was really a great meat and beer hall in the sky, complete with a giant goat whose udders spewed-you guessed it-beer.
  • Light makes beer go bad, hence the reason one usually finds it in a tinted glass bottle. When exposed to prolonged light, beer gets a skunk-y smell (Corona, anyone?).
  • The melody to the American national anthem, the “Star Spangled Banner,” was taken from a beer drinking song. Seriously.
  • Much of the corporate brewery beers from other countries that you might consume in the United States was either made in Canada or America.

[Record scratch across the heavens] Wait, what? That’s right. Big breweries don’t necessarily fall over themselves to keep this a secret. But they don’t exactly advertise it, either.I had never thought about this or the effects of travel on beer until I was recently at Hospoda, a Czech restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side. There was something about the taste of the Pilsner Urquell on draught was so…good. It was crisp and light yet the flavors were not muted, as is the case sometimes when I drink it on tap at other bars in North America. And then Lukas Svoboda, who is in charge of the beer at Hospoda, told me that restaurant is one of the few or only places in North America that has their Pilsner Urquell kegs shipped to them in air conditioned containers.

All the Pilsner Urquell one’s drinks in the world is made in Plzen, in western Bohemia. But almost none of it shipped with an air conditioning unit inside the shipping container. And that, apparently, makes all the difference.

Which is one reason why most of the big breweries open up localized breweries to make their beer. Like Japanese beers such as Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo? It’s brewed in North America by Molson and Anhueser-Busch. Foster’s? Nope, that didn’t come from down under, but rather from up over: it’s made in Canada. The same goes for Beck’s, Heinekin, Bass, and many other “foreign” beers.

Which gives some incredulity when you see “imported” on some beer labels. It’s not lying; it’s imported. But likely from Canada.

I always liked drinking foreign beer at home because it gave me a taste of the world, a bit of travel on my palate, knowing it was made half a world away by guys (and gals) who toiled over the beer making process. But I guess I just failed to read the fine print on the back of the label that says it was made in a not-so-distant land.

I turned to beer expert and widely published writer, Evan Rail for an explanation. “Big industrial breweries usually have one reason for everything they do: to maximize profits,” said Rail who is the author of “Good Beer Guide: Prague & the Czech Republic,” and the Kindle singles “Why Beer Matters” and “In Praise of Hangovers.” “Beer is heavy. Shipping it can be really expensive. And shipping it under refrigeration – which a good beer really deserves – adds even more to the cost.”

But does it change the flavor? Does it destroy any sort of “terroir” that the beer would have had if it was still brewed in the land for which it originally hailed?

Rail says: not really. “Heineken, for example, really shouldn’t be any different when it is brewed in Canada: modern industrial brewing is so incredibly precise that the beer should taste almost exactly the same – at least within the occasional variations for the brew in its place of origin. This is more true for industrial lagers like Heineken and American Budweiser, which are relatively flavorless anyway.”

Interestingly, some previously smaller breweries are getting into the game. Brooklyn Brewery is building a facility in Sweden to make beer. San Diego’s Stone Brewery has been, according to Rail, trying to build a brewery in Europe for a few years now.

The best thing you can do, whether you’re home or traveling, is to drink whatever brew is made nearby.

Rail puts it nicely: “In terms of cost, taste and the environment, there’s really no substitute for drinking local beer.”

[Photo courtesy of deege@fermentarium.com via Flickr]

Traveling Couple Hits 20 Countries In 312 Days On 3 Minutes Of Video

In a quest to tackle 30 must-have travel experiences before they turn 30, career breakers Gerard & Kieu of GQ trippin traveled 108,371 kilometers (67,338 miles) in 312 days through 20 countries for one adventure of a lifetime.

Shooting 1,266 videos along the way, the traveling couple ended up with 11 hours of video but has reduced it and their entire year of travel to just three minutes as we see in this video.

While traveling, the couple simply gathered video, saving countless hours of editing and production for later.

“We never claim to be vloggers, which is probably why you hardly saw any videos from our travels last year,” says Gerard & Kieu on their GQ trippin website, charged with a simple mantra: See Eat Trip. “Most are short clips of random things that don’t really make sense on their own, so we didn’t bother sharing.”

A year of travel also means a lot of meals, some not so good, prompting the couple to post their Worst In Food this week.

Controversy In Czech Republic Over Making Water Cheaper Than Beer

If water is cheaper than beer, what do you choose? Beer. No wait, water. No, beer. Water?

It’s not an option most of us are presented with – a free glass of water is easy to come by. But in bars and taverns across the Czech Republic, the birthplace of pilsner, opting for beer is in fact often cheaper than water. But according to the Wall Street Journal, that could soon change.

Beer (and drinking in general) is a cornerstone of Czech culture, in fact Czechs drink an average of 37 gallons of beer per year, but Health Minister Leos Heger thinks the country needs healthier options and wants to require restaurants and bars to offer at least one nonalcoholic drink that is cheaper than beer.

Such a proposal sounds easy enough, but it has left some bar and tavern owners in a fit. “It ticks me off,” said Eleni Atanasopulosova, 34, the manager at U Zelenku, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

The deeply ingrained beer culture in the Czech Republic might not make Heger’s proposal easy to get through. For now, it haven’t even been approved by the cabinet, but if it makes it any further, it could spark some cultural controversy, pitting beer lovers against those wanting public health changes.

After all, it’s hard to change tradition – especially when it comes to beer.

[Photo Credit: Debarshi Ray]