Sunday, 25 November 2007
In a country which can get as cold in the winter as the Czech Republic, buildings are designed around the need to keep warm at that time of year. A friend, who is a specialist in traditional Czech building design and Czech stoves and chimneys in particular, was looking at a book we had brought over of Cotswolds buildings, when he asked why was it that chimneys were positioned at the outside wall of English houses, rather than in the centre (thus heating the whole house) as in Czecho. And another friend tells me that when she first came to England she was astonished to see water and sewage pipes running down the outside of walls. Having survived the 2005/6 winter I can tell you if the pipes in our house went down the outside we would have no water in the winter and we would have waterfalls down the side of the house when the spring thaw came.
We have recycled the old wood stoves, which put out a great amount of heat and have the added advantage that you can keep a mug of tea warm on top of them. Some time when we can afford to we will replace them with better ones. The best Czech stoves are covered with ceramic tiles, which keep the heat wonderfully. You will see huge ones in Cesky Krumlov Castle, but Czech farmhouses had them too - so big Granny or a sick child can lie on top of them and gain the benefit of the warmth and negative ions given off by the stove.
We have just had the chimney repaired - the photo above shows it before the repairs. This large metal door in the chimney was in the attic. The greasy stains below the door betray the use to which the chimney was put. A British friend who bought an old farm in another village found the former owners shoving a pig through such a door and up the chimney, where they proposed to smoke it. Our chimney has a smaller door - not big enough for a pig now, but big enough to give a sweep access to the flue and that is all we need.
Monday, 19 November 2007
The Czechs have an inferiority complex when it comes to clothes and fashion design. A Czech friend of mine was horrified to hear I buy my shoes from Bata rather than from a British shoe manufacturer. Never mind that Bata is a shoe manufacturer that has a proud and long tradition of high quality shoes – indeed by the early 1930s it was the world's leading shoe manufacturer having factories all over the world including in England.
Even worse the Czechs seem to think British clothes are the height of quality and design. All over the Czech Republic you will find shops called UK Zone or something similar where you can buy second-hand British clothes. I hate to think where the clothes have come from – perhaps those collections which pretend to be for charity.
You can buy some wonderful Czech clothes. A week ago I went to a boutique in Ceske Budejovice. The small shop is crammed with beautiful Czech designer clothes at English high street prices – highly original with beautiful colours, cut and detail. I must have made the shop owner's day, nay her week more like – as I bought a load of clothes to replace my tired English ones.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
Well, it has arrived - Winter and with it heavy snow. They are saying such a large amount of snow so early hasn't happened in living memory. After last winter snow's virtual no-show this is great, and the Czechs are flocking to the ski resorts. Although I do hope we are not about to have another hard winter like the one in 2005/2006, as there are a lot of old Czech roofs which will not survive it, including one on a barn down the road.
The really annoying thing about this is that I am in England at the moment facing English November rain instead. Darn it!
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Lunch (obed) is the main meal in the Czech Republic, so different from the snatched British lunch of sandwiches and a cup of tea. In Horice Na Sumave, as in most Czech towns, there is a restaurant where the local workers go to eat. In the summer I was invited to lunch by a neighbour who was working there. It was not somewhere I would think of going – it is so unlike a British restaurant. In some ways it feels like a cross between a canteen and a cafe – there are leatherette bank seats along the wall with tables in front of them at which sit the customers. Above their heads are hunting trophies – boar skins, deer antlers and stuffed beasts.
My friend comes and goes taking orders and returning behind the bar to pour drinks and chat to me. There is no menu – this is a shock to me – instead there is a set meal of goulash soup followed by wild boar stew with dumplings. Not only were there the customers sitting at tables but also people would come in with stacked metal or plastic containers like mess tins, these would be filled and taken back to the place of work. The Czech set lunch is substantial and very tasty and to be recommended to visitors. Even when you go to restaurants which do offer a menu to choose from, do look for these set lunches. They are often incredibly good value and moreover will be served quickly.
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
I was driving home the other day from Cesky Krumlov via the route that skirts the castle gardens. It was about midnight and the skies were cloudy, so the road was very dark. Then in the lights of my car he appeared - a huge wild boar. He ambled across the road and along the road side before turning into the bushes.
Wild boars are common around here. You will also find signs of them in the woods, such as scuffed-up ground where they seek for food. They are a favourite prey for the local huntsmen. As I think I have said before we found two boar skins in the barn when we bought our house. Wild boar stew is a common dish in the local restaurants. This chap was totally unfazed and rightly unworried by my intrusion into his nightly foraging. We passed in the night and continued on our way.
Monday, 12 November 2007
Aware that there will not be many days like this left before Winter truly sets in and the snow comes and covers all, I took my coat and walked up into the woods above the house. I was alone, everything was silent apart from the occasional falling leaf and the crack of twigs under my feet. On this late Autumn day you could see the wood's framework more clearly, the trees were not obscured by leaves, the rocks were clear of undergrowth. There were still a few mushrooms to be seen – the fly agaric of the fairytales, false chanterelles and even some soggy boletes.
I walked my usual mushroom collecting route, bringing me to the top of the hill and a point overlooking a pool surrounded by cliffs. It is an old quarry working but now is overgrown with birch and other trees, the rocks dropped away at my feet into the slate-grey waters. I think each time I come here, that I should throw an offering into the pool, something from my basket of mushrooms. I would hurl it as far as it would go and watch it bounce over the rocks and into the depths. An offering to the gods and spirits of the waters. As the Czechs will never tire of telling you, we (the Brits and the Czechs) are both nations that are descended from the Celts, and a sacrifice to the water – that dark entrance to the Celtic underworld - would seem appropriate.
Saturday, 10 November 2007
This morning I caught the early bus from Horice Na Sumave into Cesky Krumlov as I needed to catch the early train from Budejovice. A neighbour very kindly dropped me off at the bus stop – it was snowing, that wet snow that will not settle for long and cruelly raises small children's hopes. There were a good dozen people waiting. What was remarkable about it was the time – 4.48 am. The Czech work hours come as a shock to us Brits, many people start at 6 am or 6.30 am and then knock off at lunchtime. The rest of the afternoon for the many men is spent in the pub. The women come home or shop - schools stop at a similar time. My neighbour therefore was doing me a very great favour – she did not need to get up at 4am, well not any more. As we trundled up the hill and down again in her old skoda, she told me how she regularly used to walk the route in rain, snow and dark in order to get to Ceske Budejovice in time for work. I shivered at the thought of it.