Monday, March 31, 2008

The Magical City of Prague

: Let me start out by saying this is going to be a long post with a lot of pictures, so you may want to go to the restroom first or get some popcorn. I can't help it, Prague is just a breathtaking city.

My friend David Lassen reminded me that Prague was NOT bombed during World War II thus helping it to preserve the city as it is today. Let's hear it for both the Allies and the Axis Powers on this small oversight!

Besides the city's physical beauty, there is very good shopping for chic clothing, crystal, ceramics and beer. Every great city has a river running through it and Prague has it's Vltava River to fit the bill. You got river boats, the European red trolley cars you see in the movies, extremely polite, pleasant people and, of course the architecture.

I repeat, if you come to Europe anytime soon, go to Prague first!

This is the Czech Republic's Parliament Building near my hotel.

Wenceslas Square

O.K., it's more of a boulevard than a square but this area pictured has tremendous significance to the freedom loving Czech people. The creation of the state of Czechslovak was celebrated here in 1918, the Soviets put down demonstrations here in 1968 and in 1989, 300,000 Czechs rallied here to claim their freedom and bring the Communist government to it's knees.

Good shopping and ice cream too!

Parts of Prague are very serene like this water mill near the Charles Bridge.

Inside the Spanish Synagogue

Prague has a very interesting Jewish Quarter neighborhood named Josefov after Emperor Joseph II who in the 1780's eased much of the discrimination against the Jews.

The Quarter now houses a six part Jewish Museum complex that includes the Old Jewish Cemetery, the Ceremonial Hall and four Synagogues...Pinkas, Klaus, Maisel and Spanish.

Much of the articles on display are related to the Nazi's and the Holocaust but exhibits also include Torahs and various articles of Jewish life in Prague over the centuries.
It was very impressive to say the least!

The Old Jewish Cemetery

The reason that all these 12,ooo+ headstones are all over the place is that it was the only place Jews could be buried in Prague between 1439 and 1787. Because Jews believe that the body should not be disturbed after burial, lack of space and sheer numbers, tombs were piled one on top of another. As the newly built plateau settled the tombstones got crooked.

"Wenceslas Riding an Upside-Down Horse"

You'll find this in the Lucerna Gallery, a Prague shopping center. It was created in 1999 by controversial Czech artist David Cerny. He stirred up a lot of trouble with his anti-Communist stance and just doesn't like authority in general to this day from what I've read.

Since I am traveling alone in one of a most romantic city what could be better than posing with a statue that honors Prague's own Franz Kafka.

How about a delicious lunch of chicken schnitzel, chips and apple strudl (correct Czech language spelling) topped off with a little Pilsner Urquell beer at the Cafe Franz Kafka Delicatesse

Would my solitary meal qualify as Kafkaesque?

This may be the ONLY beer they sell in Prague, it is so good you really don't need another brand

Did you know that Czech people drink more beer per capita than any other nation on earth? Every Czech man, woman and child averages 80 gallons of beer per year! I've got some serious catching up to do!

The Czech Language

First, I love that they use accent marks, little v's, circles and sometimes the two dot umlaut (not on this sign) to help you completely NOT understand how to pronounce a word.

Then there are the multiple consonant combinations screaming to buy a vowel.

I like the sound of the language. It is not as beautiful as Italian or as harsh as German but it has a cadence that appeals to me.

Co Ad-of-the Day

What could he be wanted for? He looks perfectly harmless to me.

Co Ad-of-the-Day

I do not know.

These red trolley cars, to me, mean Europe almost as much as the unique sound of European ambulance horns.

Charles Bridge statue with the Prague Castle in the background.

The Old Town Square

This building is part of the National Gallery housing temporary art exhibits.

The Jan Hus Memorial on the Old Town Square

Hus was a Czech reform leader who was martyred by fire in 1415 A.D. He is a big symbol of freedom for the Czech people.

The Tyn Church of the Hussite movement on the Old Town Square

This is the church that I tought looked like Snow White's Castle at night in yesteday's post.

The Powder Tower

The Old Town was once the hub of the walled city of Prague. The Powder Tower was one of the original gates leading into the old city.

The inside of St. Vitus Cathedral inside the walls of the Prague Castle

Where else but the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague could you find a stained glass window with images of both St. Wenceslaus AND St. Wolfgang?

Who let St. Joanna in on this?

This room houses the tomb of St. Wenceslas at St. Vitus Cathedral

Why did I feel like dancing inside this church? The Czech kings were crowned in this room.

How much would it cost to build just this room in St. Vitus Cathedral today?

Another doorway into the Tomb of St. Wenceslas

Who doesn't love a great flying buttress?
The back side of the St. Vitus Cathedral

Pane Angelicus

This was at the Baroque music concert in Prague's St. Francis of Assisi church last night. The song is Cesar Franck's "Pane Angelicus", a personal favorite.

Vlog Time

I've had a little trouble uploading these vlogs in a timely fashion, sorry.

The Italian version of the post game "2-4-6-8" cheer.

The Heralds luring me to the Concert in Prague's St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Prague Evening

Prague is quickly becoming my favorite city after only 8 hours! It is as if Disney's Fantasyland meets a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. People are out and about and I find it a very romantic city when the sun goes down. I just took a short jaunt around the historical Old City Center to get my bearings and was stunned by the physical beauty of Prague.

The famous Charles Bridge in he background spanning the Vltava River

On the Charles Bridge

They say that one must go to a concert while in Prague so I opted for this one.

It was a 15 song set of classical church music combining the fabulous interior of St. Francis of Assisi Church, a soprano, a tenor and an ancient church organ. My two favorite pieces they played were Cesar Franck's "Pane Angelicus" and, of course, Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria"

After a concert what could be better than a sausage and a couple of Pilsner Urquell beers to relax.
No pictures inside please!

Don't forget, amongst all the beauty of the Old City, that this was an Iron Curtain country from 1948 to 1989.

As you drive in from the airport you see many grim reminders of the Communist era. Very stark, box like housing projects that are a sign of a 41 year period where being a creative architect would not have been a good idea.

Snow White's Castle?

Prague Castle at Night

Good to see that Blue's financially set off the field!

Milan Morning

Because of my need to be at the airport by 12:30 p.m. for my flight to Prague, I had very little time to see the sights of Milan Sunday morning. I limited myself to 7:00 a.m. Mass at Milan's Duomo and a stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a shopping area next to the Duomo.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Very high end fashion houses have shops here.
I saw a GREAT Prada purse for Laurie in their window but unfortunately they were closed!

The famous Belle Epoque glass ceiling of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The Milan Duomo is the fourth biggest church in Europe.
It can seat 10,000 worshippers!

The Duomo is rather ornate outside

The inside of the Duomo is also very humbling.
It was very serene to be here with only 30 other people for Mass.

IFL Week #1 Results

Game Results of IFL Week #1
Catania 47 - Milan 40
Bergamo 39 - Parma 18
Bologna 33 - Palermo Corsari 14

BYES: Ancona, Bolzano, Palermo Sharks

Catania     1-0
Bergamo        1-0
Bologna     1-0
Ancona        0-0
Bolzano        0-0
Palermo Sharks  0-0
Milan        0-1
Palermo Corsari  0-1
Parma        0-1

Games Week #2
Both games this weekend are scheduled for Sunday, 6 April at 3:00 p.m.

Palermo Corsari (0-1) at Palermo Sharks (0-0)
Ancona (0-0) at Parma (0-1)

BYES: Bergamo (1-0), Catania (1-0), Bologna (1-0), Bolzano (0-0) and Milan (0-1)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Upon Further Review...

I realized that typing out my thoughts about the Milan game at 2:30 a.m. after the game may not be the optimum way to go. It's 1:00 a.m. in Prague right now so that's O.K.!

I have two more players to mention who did big things for us at Milan. WR Fortunato "Call me Lucky" Camarda made a GREAT, diving recovery of the Rhinos onside kick late in the game to help preserve the victory.

Alessandro Grana came off the bench and played very well at offensive tackle replacing two players.  Davide Giuliano was in Catania by his beautiful bride Daneiela's side for the birth of their first child. Franky Basting is still battling food poisoning and played very rarely in the second half.

You'll notice that I have no pictures from the game itself, I thought it would be a good idea to coach during the game itself. Go to Jason's blog for game action shot by Christie.

Coach Matteo Belfiore broke his ankle at last Monday's BBQ
Still flew to the Milan game and coached

WR Claudio Mangano shows off his Spring collection!

"Isn't it time for lunch yet?"

The linebacking corps bonding during a break in our trip.
"Smoke 'em if you got 'em!"

Warming up for the season opener

We Came, We Saw...


Final score Elephants 47 - Rhinos 40.

It was indeed the proverbial wild shootout.  We were down 20-6 at one point early in the second quarter but stormed back with a TD to end the half with 28-20 lead. The key was taking the opening drive of the second half in for a score to go up by 2 TD’s and never give up the lead.

Offensively, our line, led by Brandon Bennett, did a very solid job protecting our QB Jason Johnson and opening holes for our HB Enrico Lombardo. Our receivers did well also with Matt Epperson and Claudio Mangano leading the way.

I was very proud of Jason who took a couple of VERY good hits but bounced up as if nothing had happened and went on to the next play. He might actually be tougher than I give him credit!

Defensively, we kept shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties and missed a bunch of tackles but give major credit to Milan RB Steve Silva, TOUGH RUNNER! Their QB John Stocco also played very well as did their TE Manny Di Grande and WR Luca Catalano.

The big defensive play of the game for the Elephants was a great interception by CB Massimo Tribulato to seal the victory with about one minute left in the game. Back-up MLB Roberto Conti played very well after our starter had to leave with bruised ribs.

These are two very good offensive teams that played at Milan’s Veledrome Vigorelli today!

Bottom line was we won, are 1-0 and are in first place in the league by ourselves until the results of the other two games on Sunday are reported.

BYE week this week and then we fly to Bergamo for our second game of the season.

I do have some pre-game notes I want to share with you.

DAVIDE AND DANIELA ARE PARENTS: About one hour before kick-off we got the word that Alessandro finally arrived in Catania. Great day all the way around for the Elephant family.

WATER UPDATE:  Suddenly at 11:40 p.m. last night the water came on at Malibu! I woke up at 3:45 a.m. to take a much needed shower only to find out that we had no hot water and very little water pressure. When I raised the shower head above my waist, no water! At least half of me is clean.

FLIGHT TO TURIN: I know we are playing Milan but one of our team sponsors is a local airline named Wind Jet and their first flight to Milan today lands at 1:00 p.m. for our 3:00 p.m. kickoff. Thus we flew to Turin at 6:05 a.m. and after landing in Turin, boarded a nice, new recliner bus for the 90 minute to 2 hour trip to Milan. We made a pit stop along the way probably for a smoke more than for their restrooms and food.

PRE-GAME: We were at the Velodrome about 45 minutes before the gates opened, one more chance to smoke before kick-off!

POST GAME: The teams do an Italian version of “2-4-6-8…” after the game but it is a lot more interesting! 

Two pretty darn good QB's
Jason and Milan's John Stocco after the shootou

Jason and George after the first win of the season

Did you know that The Beattles played in the Milan Velodrome in 1965?

Meeting My Italian Cousin

From the left, Isabella, Dario, George and Maria Clara
My Italian Relatives

I have a cousin who is one month older than me named Evangelina. She lives in Buenos Aires and I have not seen her since her family left Castro’s Cuba in about 1961. At that time her family lived with us for about a month before moving on to Chicago and then Argentina. That was the last time I saw Evangelina.

After the game tonight I met Evangelina’s oldest child, Maria Clara, her husband, Dario and their beautiful daughter, Isabella. They are a very nice family indeed. They very graciously bought me dinner at a very nice pizzeria, Rossopomodora. I think we all had a good time and I was very happy to meet my relative.

Now, what should I call her, is she my SECOND cousin? Those of you into genealogy give me a hand on this one. Thanks in advance!

I have relatives in Milano! 

Friday, March 28, 2008

Even More Last Minute Details

After a nice walk-through for the offensive line this evening we got home relatively early to pack only to discover that our water was still turned off in the entire building at Malibu.

Since it was after 9:00 p.m. and we need to be at the airport by 5:00 a.m. to catch our flight to the game in Milan, desperate measures were called for!

We assessed all of the possibilities and decided that the best option was to drive to the Baia Verde Grand Hotel, pay the customary 3 euros for an hour of internet service and then take turns using their bathrooms to take the equivalent of a sponge bath.  Fortunately the bathrooms in this very nice hotel are individual rooms with a sinks, a toilet and ample room to bathe.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

The nice thing is that we will all three be gone from Aci Castello until next Friday.  The reason I say this is that we have found out that things like plumbing issues do NOT get handled on weekends.  There is a very good chance that if we stayed in Aci Castello we would be without water until at least Monday.

I mentioned that I was taking advantage of the BYE week to visit Milan, Prague and Vienna.  Christie and Jason are going to Milan, Lake Como, Venice and Barcelona while Brandon and Matt are going to tour Milan, the Swiss Alps and Venice.

It should be a great week for all of us but we still have a BIG game to play first in Milan!

Last Minute Details

INTERNET UPDATE:  Day 87, still no internet at Malibu

DANIELA UPDATE:  Month 23, still no Alessandro, she went to the hospital  for the second straight day, no luck

NEW MALIBU ISSUE:  Our entire complex has been without water since 11:00 a.m. this morning after everyone worked out, we don't smell too good, the plane flight to Milan could get interesting, hope they let us on the plane

MILAN GAME:  We fly out of Catania at 6:05 a.m. Saturday to Turin and then take about a 90 minute bus ride to Milan.  Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m.

MARIA CLARA:  I'm excited to report that my Argentine cousin Evangelina's oldest daughter, Maria Clara, lives in Milan and we are going to meet for the first time ever after the game.  Should be a lot of fun.

BYE WEEK:  Next week the Elephants have a BYE week and we won't practice until next Friday.  I'm taking advantage of the time off to spend time in Milan, Prague and Vienna.  I'm not sure about internet connections on the road but I will do all I can to keep everyone posted.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Newest Elephant

DANIELA PREGNANCY UPDATE:  Davide drove her to the hospital at 4:00 a.m. where they spent about 10 hours before being sent home with the traditional first baby false labor phase of the pregnancy.  Any moment now...

NEW ELEPHANTS LINEMAN: The IFL made a slight rules change a few weeks ago that allowed each team to add one more non-Italian player to their roster.  This player could not be an American or a Canadian, i.e.,  he must have a valid European passport.  After a long search Davide Giuliano, the Elephants' Head Coach and General Manager, signed a lineman from Frankfurt, Germany with several years of experience named Franky Basting.

He arrived last night and is a big, rugged and good natured guy off the field.  I think he will be a big help to the team.

Franky Basting in the now traditional
Catania Airport arrival picture

The "Dueling Lemon"
Mascot of the 2008 World Fencing Championships

From April the 5th to the 14th, Acireale, about 5 minutes north of Malibu, will host the World Fencing Championships.  The "Dueling Lemon" mascot, currently seen at the Catania Airport, strikes fear into the hearts of any surviving French Musketeers don't you think?  We, of course, plan on buying tickets.  Who doesn't love a good sword fight!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The 2008 Italian Football League Season Kicks Off

The 2008 Italian Football League season starts this Saturday, March 29th at 3:00 p.m. when your Catania Elephants travel to Milan to play the home standing Rhinos.

To review, there are over 50 teams playing American football in Italy and the IFL is made up of the nine best teams in the country. The following nine teams are members of the IFL:

Ancona Dolphins
Bergamo Lions
Bologna Doves

Bolzano Giants
Catania Elephants
Milan Rhinos

Palermo Corsari
Palermo Sharks
Parma Panthers

During the season each team will play every other team in the league once (8 games) and then a team will play a second game with each of it's two closest league rivals for a grand total of 10 games in the regular season spread over 13 weeks due to BYE games each week.  The Elephants will play the two Palermo teams (the Corsari and the Sharks) twice each, home and home.

The dates and times of a few of our games are still up in the air due to a combination of travel and/or stadium rental issues.

The opening weekend of games stacks up thusly:

Saturday, March 29   Catania at Milan, 3:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 30   Ancona at Palermo Corsari, 3:00 p.m.
Sunday, March 30   Parma at Bergamo, 3:00 p.m.

First Week BYES:   Bologna, Bolzano and Palermo Sharks


The goal of all nine teams is to win the Italian Super Bowl at the end of the season. The playoffs will see the top four teams in the league, based on best overall records, open the playoffs on the last weekend in June.  On Saturday, June 28th, the 1st and 4th seeds play each other and on Sunday, June 29th the 2nd and 3rd seeds do battle.

After two weeks off to prepare, the Italian Super Bowl will take place on Saturday, July 19th.

According to the experts, the pre-season favorites to secure the four playoff spots are Bergamo, Bolzano, Milan and Parma.  Let's play some games and see how things pan out.