Tuesday, 31 August 2010

My New Venture

Well, I've done it! I have launched my new business - Czech Tours. Those of you who follow this blog will know that by accident earlier this summer I found myself organising and leading a tour of historic South Bohemia. I also found that I enjoyed it. So over the last few months I have working on the business idea and have today launched the website http://www.czechtours.co.uk. It's still a bit rough round the edges and I need to add the dates and prices for next year's tours, but I could have delayed going public for ever - I am very good at that!

I think there is a real hole in the market for the English-speaking visitors who do not want the run-of-the-mill trip to Prague (with at most a day excursion to Cesky Krumlov). The business will be focussed on South Bohemia, as that is an area I know really well and am confident will interest other visitors. It really is all about my sharing my love, enthusiasm and knowledge of the area with my clients (much as this blog does). Therefore I want to keep it relatively small, so as not to lose the personal touch. The business will offer guided tours and tailor-made holidays to the punters. So wish me luck with my new venture; all being well I will make some money for myself and South Bohemia and meet some interesting people by doing so.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Vietnamese Shops

A few weeks ago I needed to buy some sandals - my old ones were rubbing. I went to my favourite Czech shoe shop - Bata - but I have wide feet and obviously Czech women don't. With a concert that evening, which merited dressing up (that for me means wearing a skirt rather than jeans), I needed to buy new sandals there and then. And so it was that I found myself in one of Cesky Krumlov's Vietnamese shops.

Everywhere in the Czech Republic you will find Vietnamese shops selling all sorts of cheap goods. If you want cheap clothes, shoes, pashminas, sunglasses, or handbags, these shops are where to go. Don't expect what you buy to be long-lasting. But these shops can be a god-send, when you are on holiday in the Czech Republic and you realise you left your raincoat in the overhead locker. The shops' owners are inclined to be over-zealous (to my British sensibilities) trying to sell you something, anything in the shop in fact. They call out to you if you walk too close in the street and if you do go in, be prepared to say "Ne, ne," very firmly.

The Czech Vietnamese community is the equivalent of Indian shopkeepers in the UK. They work long hours in family businesses and provide a useful service. They are very enterprising, which is surprising. Why? Because they first came to the country when it was communist, from their homeland of communist North Vietnam. The Iron Curtain fell and these North Vietnamese immigrants stayed and embraced capitalism bigtime. Undoubtedly their link to the East gives them some advantages - cheap Chinese imports for example. My observation is that the Vietnamese are not well integrated into the wider Czech community; they keep themselves to themselves and probably do not have time for anything but work and family. Conversations with Czechs reveal some resentment towards them, probably partly due to jealousy but also to the communist past.

I managed to find some sandals that fitted my feet and matched my clothes. But I had to endure the shopkeeper shoving pair after pair of sandals in to my hands. "Gut, gut, sehr billig," he said, on the basis that as he couldn't speak English, German would do. Normally this behaviour would have me running for the door, but I was desperate. Looking at them now, I am glad I didn't run: the shoes cost me about £8.50 and are remarkably comfortable.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Some Thoughts



I have been rereading this blog. It is quite fascinating to revisit my early posts from over three years ago. Sometimes my feelings and views regarding the Czech Republic, my second country, have remained constant and indeed grown, and sometimes those early impressions have proved wrong or in some cases circumstances in the Czech Republic have changed and made my posts out-of-date. But then a blog is basically a journal that you broadcast on the internet and as with all diaries the changes are part of the interest. But I hope and believe that the one thing that has not changed is my love of this country and its people. Maybe I see things better now, understand more, but that has not reduced my affection.

I have always felt strangely at home in the Czech Republic. I think that is partly because, unlike many other expats I have chosen to live in the countryside rather than in the big cities of Brno and Prague. I am by nature and birth a country girl and the Czech countryside (as various posts attest) reminds me of the English countryside of my childhood. And in living here, I return to my childhood and some of that childish wonder, which I lost as I grew older.

What I didn't expect with creating a new home in Czecho was how it would impact on my feelings about England. I love England for all sorts of reasons and of course I am at home there too. But there is now a part of me that is, dare I say it, Czech. Not properly Czech of course, that would never happen, but part certainly. I am at home in both countries (in different ways perhaps), but it is also the case that I am not at home. When I am in England, after a while I find myself longing to get back to the Czech Republic. I long for the mists rising from the Czech forests, for the smell of mushrooms in firwoods, for the night-time silence surrounding my Czech home, for Czech sunlight, for being able to write again and for a thousand other wonders. And of course when I am in Czecho I miss England. I miss understanding the language, the banter, I miss the subtle pastel shades of the English landscape and of course the wind. Perhaps this means I appreciate both my countries more; I hope so. And whilst I can afford to retain a foot in both countries there is no problem and every advantage in my situation. I just dread the day when that is no longer the case, when I must choose.

Czech

As the blog gets larger I thought I might help readers interested in certain topics by creating some pages which list the blog's content by theme. I promise to update the pages as new posts are added.

The themes are: Czech Nature, Czech Customs & Culture, Places to visit in South Bohemia, Buying and Restoring a Czech House, Czech History and Politics, Day to Day Life in the Czech Republic. This post covers Czech Customs and Culture, click on the links above for the others.

CZECH CUSTOMS AND CULTURE

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hiking


I spoke a few posts ago about the kids clubs one sees on the little train, but there is another group which one can also observe on the train at this time of year - the hikers.

These are not the typical British hikers out for a nice walk in the country. These are seriously outdoor adventurers. They are young people of both sexes in their late teens and early twenties arriving with rucksacks for a few days in the country. The idea is to get back to nature, camp under the stars or the forest canopy, sing traditional songs (which their parents would have sung before them) around a campfire, eat sausages and drink beer, before climbing back on the train to travel back to modern life.

However these are considered wimps and diletantes by the serious Czech hiker. He (and it usually is a he) often sits on his own in the corner of the train carriage ignoring the others. He is dressed in ex-army camouflage, army boots, and a bandana round his neck. Around his waist is a large leather belt together with knife in a sheath and a kharki water bottle. He may not have even a rucksack and almost certainly won't have a tent or sleeping bag - he will be sleeping on the hard ground under the stars. You can almost hear him say "Rain, what's a little rain? That's nothing; when I did my military service..." He's off to the obscurer and wilder parts of the Sumava. But like the others, one suspects, he will be back to his ordinary life and job come Monday, having fed something important in his Czech soul.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Kvinterna Again

video

Back in May fellow blogger Karen of the Empty Nest Blog (see Related Czech Links) came to stay and was much taken with the music of local group Kvinterna. She asked me to post about them again and so here it is. In July this year I enjoyed a concert by Kvinterna at the Minorite Monastery on Latran. I was sorry that Karen could not join me, she would have loved it.

The video above is my own creation of local frescos and the music is a song called Planka from Kvinterna's album Landscape of Sweet Sorrow - an album of Sephardi songs and Moravian folksongs (click on the arrow to play the video). The juxtaposition of the two music types works brilliantly and is typical of Kvinterna's style. In their own words they "have created the instrumental element in a highly individual way derived from the technique of Gothic painting". For more on this, visit their website . This has inspired my choice of images for the video. By the way Planka is a Moravian song about a crab apple tree.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

List of posts in Czech History and Politics

As the blog gets larger I thought I might help readers interested in certain topics by creating some pages which list the blog's content by theme. I promise to update the pages as new posts are added.

The themes are: Czech Nature, Czech Customs & Culture, Places to visit in South Bohemia, Buying and Restoring a Czech House, Czech History and Politics, Day to Day Life in the Czech Republic. This post covers Czech History and Politics, click on the links above for the others.

CZECH HISTORY AND POLITICS

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Kids Clubs

Quite often at the moment I will be happily sitting in a relatively empty carriage on the the little train, when the train pulls into the station and lo I am surrounded by children and young people. The noise levels will rise dramatically as maybe twenty excited kids will occupy the carriage.

This is because many Czech children are sent on kids clubs by their parents. After the shock of their arrival, I spend the rest of my journey, or until the children disembark, observing the group, the behaviour and hierarchies. I have observed that girls are usually outnumbered in these clubs, as you can see in the photo above. There can be quite an age range in the group from quite young children to young teenagers, who often look rather embarrassed by being in the company of the little ones. There are often the cool ones (see the sunglass-wearing dude above), who ignore the others and keep to the hip set. The rest whoop and run around, flick bits of paper at each other and share sweets.

One thing that surprises me when I meet these groups, particularly ones which are obviously off to go camping in the Sumava, is the age and number of adults who are "in charge" of the groups. The leaders often seem to me hardly out of their teens, and there are far fewer than one would get in health and safety conscious Britain. But then Czech kids seem to have the sort of childhood that I remembered from my childhood, in which adults allowed us to take risks, and we ran relatively free in the countryside. Lucky them!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

List of posts about Czech Nature

As the blog gets larger I thought I might help readers interested in certain topics by creating some pages which list the blog's content by theme. I promise to update the pages as new posts are added.
The themes are: Czech Nature, Czech Customs & Culture, Places to visit in South Bohemia, Buying and Restoring a Czech House, Czech History and Politics, Day to Day Life in the Czech Republic. This post covers Czech Nature, click on the links above for the others.

Czech Nature

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