I have always been fascinated by maps and so I recently enjoyed an exhibition of historic maps of the Sumava (which included my own village) at the South Bohemia Museum in Ceske Budejovice. The website www.mapy.cz offers a wonderful service – allowing you not only to see maps of locations in the Czech Republic, and to pick out waymarked trails, cycle routes, tourist sites, but also to see the locations as satellite images and on a historic map (1836 -1852). These historic maps are fascinating – for starters the place names round here are in German as this was a German-speaking area up to the end of the Second World War. Moreover even the most cursory examination of the area around our home reveals a whole series of small hamlets which have completely disappeared – I do not know why this is, perhaps it was a consequence of the forced removal of the German population after the War, perhaps it was a result of changes in the economy.
But somehow there is nothing like spreading out a paper map and gazing at it. I have a pile of local maps. The Czech maps don't seem to have the equivalent authority of the British Ordnance Survey maps. The maps I tend to have are maps for walkers and cyclists, with the tourist paths and cycle routes marked as colour-coded lines. It is interesting to contrast what different maps choose to highlight. For example I have one map which has marked on it mystical sites – so appropriate for all those Czechs who believe in leylines, crystals and standing stones.
I have spent many a happy hour looking at my Czech maps. One of the things I love about them is the fact that Czechs mark important trees – so you will see dub (oak) marked on them and other trees. You don't see that on British Ordnance Survey maps. This map-gazing has also helped me increase my Czech vocabulary. I know of two words for hill – vrch and kopec, whilst hora means mountain, dvur means courtyard but also seems to mean a large courtyard farm, then there are words for castle and chateau – hrad and zamek, forest – les, prales, stone and rock – kamen and skala. I have yet to really get to grips with the differences between say a vrch and a kopec, but at least I know what they mean generally. And then of course all over the Czech maps you will find the word potok.