Saturday, 29 September 2007

Horice Na Sumave Passion Play


Horice Na Sumave is famous for its passion play. The play is performed each summer outdoors in a theatre created in a natural arena just above the town. The audience is under cover, the actors not so. The 50 performers are local amateurs and when we first saw it a couple of years ago, Jesus was performed appropriately enough by our carpenter. The play is delightful, even if we hardly understand a word, in a way only amateur productions can be, and the play has the added piquancy of the devotion of the performers.

The play has been performed since the 19th century with a break during the Nazi and Communist regimes. It even used to have its own theatre, which was destroyed by the communists. Originally it was performed in German up until the Second World War, after which the German-speaking population were expelled to Germany and a new Czech population established. Thus when the passion play was revived in 1993 it was rewritten in Czech.

As a postscript when we first moved to the area, the town used to have a hotel innocently called Hotel Passion. There was a sign for the hotel on the main road just before you came to the turn off to Horice. I note that they have now renamed the Hotel Stare Skola, no doubt because of the unwanted attention the hotel used to receive.

For more about the history of the Horice Na Sumave Passion Play - check out the dedicated page on the Cesky Krumlov website from which we have borrowed the above photo.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Chanterelles

A friend of ours, who works on the North Sea oil rigs, has just bought a forester's cottage in the woods. The house is sited right next to the forest as you would expect and there is even a small private gate from the garden that takes you immediately into the trees. To get there you climb a winding forestry road out of Cesky Krumlov, on which you will occasionally meet large forestry lorries laden with trunks coming down in the opposite direction – not something to enjoy on the narrow road, but which mean that in the winter the road is kept clear of snow.

Alongside the cottage runs a track which after a brief spell among the trees takes you to an expanse of upland grassland and spectacular views across the Sumava mountains all the way to Austria. That is of course if you get that far. The woods behind the little house are a first-class place for collecting egg-yolk coloured chanterelle mushrooms in the moss covered ground. My friend's partner being Czech born and bred has of course discovered this fact and moreover in the spell after the rain did not even make it to the garden gate and into the forest before her basket was full of these treasures with their slight scent of apricots. I do wonder however whether having mushrooms reliably on your doorstep will not in some way reduce the enjoyment of the hunt. We shall see.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Seashells in the Czech Republic


As you may recall in an earlier post as part of my decorations for our Czech house I brought over some seashells collected on a beach in Kent. I thought they would be very English objects for my Czech home, a bit of the seaside in landlocked central Europe. I very carefully washed them (so as not to smell) and placed them in a bowl of tap water on the windowsill, thus showing off their colours and patterns. There they sat for a few weeks; they sit there no longer.

The local man, who had first found the house for me two years ago, arrived one morning on my doorstep with his three children. I was pleased to see them and invited them in. Fruit tea and cola were offered and accepted and we settled down to an awkward silence. He is a man who never uses a sentence when one word will do, and often not that. My Czech was not able to sustain a one-sided conversation, and our attempts at broken German were equally short-lived.

The little lad made up for his father's silence with a running commentary in Czech on anything and everything. His father produced a small plastic toy which had come out of a chocolate egg - it was an octopus. We counted the legs - first in Czech and then in English. I had no toys to keep him occupied, but then I had a brainwave. I took the shell bowl from the window, drained off the water and showed the shells to the children. All three children including the teenage eldest daughter were totally caught up in looking at the shells. The different shells were looked at in detail, held up to the light, the razorshell became a false finger nail, the small empty crabshell scuttled again, and the shells were used to make pictures on the floor. Of particular note were the two fossilised shark's teeth, which had come from the same beach, and were suitably violent for a small boy's imagination. I suggested that the children could choose some to take away with them and a long process of selection took place. The older girls chose a few pretty shells, but the little boy found it impossible to stop - "To mam" he said over and over - "I have that".

They left clutching a bag of shells. It was fascinating to see how something that we Brits take for granted was so wonderful. These children will not have seen the sea, let alone walked on a beach collecting shells. So now the bowl is nearly empty and I will have to return to the seaside to replace its contents. There are more children in the village.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

A visit to Ceske Budejovice


Normally when we go to Ceske Budejovice it is with a specific purpose - we go, do what we need to do and come away again. But a few days ago we decided to spend some time as tourists. Ceske Budejovice is a place which is often compared unfavourably with Cesky Krumlov – it is a large town and comes with retail parks, factories and all that that implies. It simply is not as pretty as Krumlov and it doesn't perch quaintly in a lovely setting.

However were it not being compared with its UNESCO-rated neighbour Ceske Budejovice would score highly on the tourist map. The old town bounded by the river on one side and moat on the other is a delight. The town square is enormous surrounded by arcaded renaissance and baroque buildings. We wandered around the square and the various streets that radiate from it – finding that Budejovice offers a far better range of shops and gifts than Cesky Krumlov does. Krumlov's shops tend to all of a kind, offering the same gifts in every shop. Why is that? Surely the tourists at whom Krumlov's shops are aiming their wares would like more variety. But no, it is all part of the lack of imagination which Krumlov displays in dealing with tourists. You will like wooden toys, amber beads and fancy soaps, or else!

But the highlight of our visit to Budejovice was unquestionably the Church of the Sacrifice of Our Lady. The church is impressive sitting on another large square, although the eye goes to the building of the former city armoury next to it first. But it is the inside of the church that excels. The medieval murals around the nave (on walls and nave pillars) are real stunners (see picture). The side aisles have some great painted vaulting brackets showing a number of gurning faces. On the altar is a panel painting of the Virgin Mary of Budejovice (early 15th century). All of which mean that the church alone makes visiting Budejovice well worth while.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

More on water and the Czechs


In a previous post I talked about Czecho not having a sea - Wot No Sea. Anyone visiting Cesky Krumlov during the summer will have noticed that the Czechs enjoy messing about on the river.

The river on a sunny day will be full of Czech holiday makers in canoes, rubber rafts and even rubber tubes making their way down the Vltava. It is something of an institution for young people to have a holiday travelling down river by boat from the river's beginnings at Lake Lipno, sometimes all the way to Prague. Their goods are stored in plastic barrels, bottles of beer are trailed in the water to keep them cool and everyone has a wonderful time. There are campsites for the travellers along the river banks. There is a clear appeal to young couples - beer, freedom, and scantily clad females, but you will also see whole families in rafts making their way north.

Part of the fun is taking the various rapids along the way and falling in. The capsizing Czechs make for great free entertainment for the people lining the banks and bridges at Krumlov. People who make it through the rapids successfully get cheered and those who fall in in style are also applauded. If you fancy a go yourself there are shops which will hire you the equipment and even take you upriver to your starting point or collect you from your chosen destination. You don't even need to go far, the ox-bow bends in the river at Cesky Krumlov mean that you can just go round and round easily. Perhaps by the end of the day you too can take the traitorous rapids and stay afloat.

Friday, 7 September 2007

News from UNESCO re Cesky Krumlov


There has been some good news on the UNESCO front. In my post a couple of months ago about the Alchemist's House I told you about the fears some of us have for Cesky Krumlov and the fate of its historic buildings in the face of high levels of unsustainable tourism and inappropriate developments which are killing the heritage goose that lays the golden eggs. I was involved in helping a group of concerned local residents write to UNESCO asking for action to be taken.

And I am glad to report that UNESCO appears to have heeded their appeals. In the report that went to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting in July it was reported that: “In February 2007, the World Heritage Centre received information concerning the inappropriate use of certain buildings of the Historic Centre of Cesky Krumlov from representatives of the local community (non-governmental organizations based in the Historic Centre of Cesky Krumlov)”. And it was agreed that the World Heritage Committee “requests the State Party to provide to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2009, an up-dated report on the progress made ....... on the state of conservation of the property, including guidelines for the use of the monuments within the Historic Centre of Cesky Krumlov.”

The local Cesky Krumlov newspaper has reported that UNESCO is asking for an audit. My Czech friends are delighted, but know this is only the beginning of changing the disastrous policy for managing this wonderful town. As for me, of course I will help further if I can, although it needs to be their initiative. It is said that this old town demands a toll of those that fall in love with her. If by using my skill in community empowerment I pay part of her toll, so be it. It will be interesting to see what else this beautiful but demanding mistress asks of me.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Wot No Sea!


Some of my English friends do not see how I could possibly buy a house in a country, which has no seaside, surely they say it would be better to buy in France or Spain, Croatia or Bulgaria. The British magazines about buying property abroad hardly mention the Czech Republic apart from references to buying in Prague or Brno. Again I think the assumption is that this landlocked country has little to appeal to us sea-loving Brits. Well they are wrong - there is water here, it just isn't salty.

A friend of mine came over for a long weekend with me a few weeks back. She had stayed with friends last year in Cesky Krumlov and loved it, so I decided to introduce her to the countryside around here. We took the little train from Horice Na Sumave station up to Lake Lipno. The ride is a complete joy and for only a couple of quid it is also a complete steal. It winds through the hills and wooded valleys behind our house, past unspoilt Lake Olsina in a natural bowl of mountains.

My friend could not help herself but kept exclaiming at the beauty of the scenery - "I had no idea that it was this beautiful," she said "No wonder you love living here." The train follows the shoreline of Lake Lipno with spectacular views of the Sumava beyond. This is the Czech equivalent of the Lake District, with the mountains covered with thick forests and snow in the winter. Lake Lipno is 48 kilometres long and up to 10 kilometres wide. The lake is the site of all sorts of activities you would normally find at the seaside - sailing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding, together with quieter activities such as fishing and swimming. But this inland "sea" offers more sports in the winter - skating, iceboarding and even ice skiing, whilst on the shore at Lipno there is a proper (land-based) ski resort.

My friend now plans to bring her teenage sons for a action-packed holiday at Lipno. As for me the very thought of all that activity leaves me exhausted. Give me instead a glass of Czech red wine on the veranda of a restaurant looking out over the lake, as the sun sets behind the Sumava mountains turning the still water surface from pink to silver to dark steel

The Walk From The Station


I have already written about the walk up from the bus stop, so here I thought I might tell you about the walk from the small rail station that serves Horice Na Sumave. Again as with the walk from the bus stop the walk should be taken slowly and in a leisurely manner, to allow frequent stops to admire the views that unfold, the details of nature that reveal themselves, always the walk changes. I say this and all of it is true, but it is also true that the stop gives me time to catch my breath on the hill up to the village.

The road from the station goes along a level section at first - across a field of gunnera and thistles you can see a beautifully restored mill or farmhouse. At this time of year the the field is full of small birds, finches clearing the thistle heads of their downy seeds and as you pass they suddenly take flight to hide among the silver birch trees. The next major landmark is the town swimming pond. These wonderful creations are all over the Czech countryside - man-made ponds designed for swimming in in the summer and skating on in the winter. Ours is fed by the little river that starts in the hill above the house and is the home of ducks and frequented by housemartins skimming small insects off the surface. I remember as a teenager cycling to a similar swimming pond in a village near my Cotswold home. I remember too how wonderful the water was, unclourinated, warm with only the rays of the sun. Of course the health and safety bods have long since closed it down, but here in the Czech Republic the swimming ponds survive.

I then pass a small copse of elder and birch, where in the winter I was greeted by a huge chattering of hundreds of invisible birds. In the grass verge the other day I found two young snakes curled up and perfectly still. In the winter there was a dead deer in the snow. The road bends under a rail bridge and the walk up the hill starts. There are two groups of wayside trees - they are how I know where I am in the dark. The first at this time of year is host to mushrooms (though mostly inedible) and the second to a treecreeper, a little mouse-like bird that does indeed creep up the tree. In between I have wonderful views and of course the company of the ubiquitous cows.

At the top of the hill one arrives in the village. At the T-junction there is the village pond and the crucifix, with Christ's lolling head now blotted with bird droppings. There is a footpath sign - we are 700 metres above sea-level it tells us and so many miles from Horni Plana. Some time I will tell you about the walk to Horni Plana.

The Party

I finally decided to have a housewarming party. It's two years since we bought the house. I know, but it has hardly been in a fit state to host visits from curious neighbours. They all thought I was mad to buy the place - that crazy Englishwoman living in that wreck of a house when she could have a nice new one. But it is now looking pretty wonderful and the vision I had for it two years ago is now beginning to be visible to all.

I wrote out an invite and hand delivered it to all the houses in the village, where either there was a letterbox or there was someone at home. The first response by those who opened their doors to me was bewilderment (clearly this sort of thing is not done out here) and then as they read the invitation it changed to delight. Thank you, they would come. I wasn't sure whether this was the usual Czech way of saying no, but hoped rather that curiousity would get the better of them.

I laid down a stock of sausages and beer and waited the day, hoping that the summer night storms would not hit us that evening. I needn't have worried. A stream of visitors arrived throughout the evening - bearing cakes, home-made slivovic (plum brandy), wine and flowers. The weather held and we sat outside and drank and ate. There were regular guided tours of the house at the request of my visitors - "Jesus, Maria!" was a regular exclamation at the changed house and in particular at the central heating water tanks taking up the space of a small ship's boiler room. Fortuanately one of my neighbours turned out to be a heating engineer who explained that this was, actually despite its size, not an extravagence but the most effective way to heat the house.

I had cut and sharpened some hazel sticks and the kids stuck sausages on the end of them so the sausages could roast them over the fire. The sausages had been split in four at both ends, and curled back like an octopus' tentacles in the flames. There was clearly a nack to it, one which I and the younger children had to be shown. One neighbour arrived with a jug of burcak - the young cloudy wine still in a state of fermentation, which you can buy in unnamed bottles from roadside stalls. I had seen it but never tasted it before and it is lovely - how any wine gets to its final state in Czecho escapes me!

Everyone chattered and talked with each other; new arrivals came and old ones went throughout the evening and at the end the hard-drinkers were singing. A major topic of conversation was of course the wild mushroom harvest, gazing at the full moon they commented that the moon would be good for the mushrooms, which were as they spoke muscling their way through the leaf litter and pine needles in the forest on the hill behind the house.

At the end of the day I had invitations to go and eat at various houses in the village, and am now waved at every time I drive or walk through the village. One neighbour commented to me -"It is good you do this, we Czechs never do this, we do not meet as a village. It is funny it takes an Englishwoman to do it." So there you go, even when I don't try I am being a community development worker. I think I will make this an annual thing - a summer party for the village - my present to this small community that has allowed me to join it.

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