Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Shopping in Prague


I came back to the UK in time for a family Christmas and New Year, but stopped off in Prague on the way home to do a bit of last minute shopping. The Old Town Square was the site of a large market made up of little wooden huts, selling for the most part the same touristy goods one sees everywhere in the city.

Instead of buying presents there, I went to the Kafka Bookshop and picked up a guide to Kafka's Prague and a set of Kafka bookmarks. I have another blog, in which I read and review magic realism books and on which I reviewed I recently reviewed Kafka's masterpiece Metamorphosis (http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/metamorphosis-by-franz-kafka.html).  The bookmarks will make great prizes for that blog.

Next to the shop I visited the Stone Bell House, which is a space for temporary exhibitions of the City Gallery. It is always worth visiting the city's many public galleries and museums for their shops, which often have unusual and reasonably priced gifts, books and cards. The Museum of Decorative Arts on the riverside near the Rudolfinum is particularly good.

Another haunt of mine is the antikvariat opposite the Narodni Trida tube station. I have found many treasures there - a wonderful old calendar, lots of beautifully illustrated children's books, prints and posters. This time was no exception: I found some lovely acetates of Czech fairytale illustrations and a bookler with lovely line drawings.







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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Update

Expat blogs in Czech Republic
Thanks to everyone who voted for the blog. It came fourth which is remarkable given it was up against blogs based in Prague, which of course have a bigger audience. I was really touched by your comments.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Please Vote For This Blog



Expat blogs in Czech Republic

Adventures in the Czech Republic is in the running for an Expats Blog Award. If you enjoy this blog and would like it to win in the Czech Republic category. Please vote for it on  http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/480/adventures-in-the-czech-republic.

You do so by going to the bottom of the page and making a comment and leaving a star rating.

Thanks.

Zoe 

Friday, 7 December 2012

Winter arrives


Winter has well and truly arrived here. The snow is several inches thick and last night ice flowers formed on my bedroom window. The sky was that brilliant Czech winter blue today and the sun was warm - so warm that I was glad I took this photograph of the window ice when I did, because it soon melted.

I apologise for this brief post - I have hurt the muscles in my right wrist, so typing is both painful and a problem. Let's hope normal service can resume quickly.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Conservation


Here I am in my Czech home trying to write a novel and procrastinating, so I'm writing a blog post instead. The weather outside is grey - November is a naff month here, by which I mean English weather, grey, foggy, cloudy with occasional rain. Winter hasn't really arrived yet, with that wonderful white crisp snow with skies so blue and clear you could furnish an entire navy with trousers. The village is alive with people getting ready - draping their garden plants with conifer branches and cutting firewood. But one preparation is already completed - the preparation of conserves.

All through the summer and autumn the Czechs have been making jams and marmalade, bottling fruit and vegetables and of course drying mushrooms. I too caught the bug for the latter - mushrooms were sliced and dried on trays or hung on string over the stove. And the result: I have a large kilner jar full of sliced mushrooms the consistency of foam rubber. As for fruit, well I have no need to lift a finger. My Czech friends will always bring me jars when they come to tea. And not just one jar either, a carrier bag will open and at least four jars will be produced. I am very grateful during these winter months - there is somehow nothing so warming as toast and jam.

It seems to me watching my Czech friends that they cannot bear the sight of food going to waste. What we would discard, they harvest. Baskets of bruised windfalls are gathered and every tiny bit of good saved and turned into delicious food. Perhaps it dates back to those years when food was not abundant. I am sufficiently old enough to have been brought up by parents who knew rationing and know the impact it had on their attitudes. I still feel guilty when I do not finish my food. But the Czechs do seem to take it to extremes - in Czech cellars and pantries there are jars and jars of the stuff.

When my lovely friend Hannah died she left shelves full of jars and several freezers full of mushrooms and vegetables (mostly runner beans). Knowing that they would otherwise go to waste, I took a basket of jars home with me. After all those saucepans she ruined making the stuff, it was the least I could do.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Street Art - Litomysl

 I found this wonderful sequence of street art literally painted on to a street in Litomysl. So Czech!




Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Slavonice - The Lutheran Prayer Room


Slavonice is a small quiet town in the area of Czech Canada on the Austrian border. The town isn't on most tourists' itinerary, which is a shame for the tourists but good for those of us in the know. The town is decorated with spectacular Renaissance sgraffito, but for me the gems in the town are to be found inside the buildings which crowd round the town's two adjoined squares. Step through any number of archways and you will find yourself in entrance halls with wonderful ornately ribbed ceilings.

I recommend visiting the tourist information centre, if for no other reason than to admire the wall decorations. But best of all is a house where one of the rooms was used as a Lutheran chapel in the very early days of Protestantism. Three of the four walls are decorated with scenes of the end of the Last Judgement. The iconography is fascinating with the pope clearly depicted as the anti-Christ. It is not hard to see that to the worshipers who sat in that room four and a half centuries ago the day of Judgement was nigh.


The house is now a small museum and bed and breakfast. It was very strange spending the night in a museum, although I am pleased to say that you do not sleep in a room with demons dragging souls off to hell on the walls. Now that really would be spooky.

The museum is only open in the peak summer months, but can be visited by prior appointment on other months via the website http://www.evagiordanova.cz/en/modlitebna. You can also book accommodation there too.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Karel Jaromir Erben


An English edition of Karel Jaromir Erben's A Bouquet of National Legends, is being published on the 1st December.

Influenced by the Brothers Grimm and the growth in studies of European folk literature, Karel Jaromir Erben collected more than 2000 Slavic fairy tales, folk songs, and legends. In 1853 he published his most famous book A Bouquet of National Legends (Kytice z pověstí národních). He also produced Písně národní v Čechách (Folk Songs of Bohemia) which contains 500 songs and Prostonárodní české písně a říkadla (Czech Folk Songs and Nursery Rhymes), a five-part book that brings together much of the Czech folklore.  

His works reflected a wider rise of interest in Czech heritage and Czech nationalism. A Bouquet of National Legends  “is one of the three foundational texts of Czech literature, and it remains the only one of the three that has not yet been published in English.” according to Marcela Sulak, the translator of the new edition.

The new book is  published by Twisted Spoon Press, a Prague-based publishing company, which publishes English-language translations of Czech works.




Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Some Useful Links

I thought I would share with you some useful internet websites, through which you can learn more about Czech life and culture.

1) Radio Praha - http://www.radio.cz/en Don't be fooled by the name Radio Prague's website english language version is probably the best way to find out what's happening across the whole of the Czech Republic. And it is not just restricted to news - the site has excellent history, cultural and sports coverage. Search the archive for a topic of interest. You can even subscribe to a daily email update There is a Radio Prague Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/radioprague

2) Czech Literature Portal http://www.czechlit.cz/ A multi-language site promoting Czech Literature abroad - "The aim of the Portal is to provide information on contemporary Czech authors and their works (novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists including authors of literature for children)". To keep up to date sign up for a newsletter or follow on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CzechLiteraturePortal 

3) The Czech Centres You will find Czech centres in several major cities including London http://london.czechcentres.cz/ and New York http://new-york.czechcentres.cz/ Their websites include details of cultural programmes, educational programmes especially Czech language courses and Czech related news. The centres also have Facebook pages.

4) Czech Holiday  My own site about visiting the Czech Republic is on http://www.czechholiday.co.uk

Oh and this blog of course!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Crossing the Iron Curtain


I live only a few miles from where the Iron Curtain used to be. After the collapse of communism the Czechs tore down this symbol and means of their oppression. The minefields were cleared, the watchtowers and the multiple barbed wire fences were torn down. So there is very little left for the interested visitor to see. 

Of course if you're looking, you will occasionally come across remnants: rusty iron hedgehogs from which barbwire would have been hung, concrete anti-tank barriers and the ruins of houses which were cleared to create the no-go zone several kilometres deep which ran the length of the frontier. Having understandably wanted to clear away these painful memories, the Czechs now find that a new generation has grown up, which has no memory of the past and to whom the story of a dark time in the nation's history needs to be told. Visitors also ask to visit the historical remains of the Cold War. 

One of the best places to visit is Bucina in the Sumava. It's a strange haunted place on the German border. You cannot access it by car as the area is still protected. Instead you approach by one of the minibuses from nearby Kvilda or on foot or bike. If you want to come by coach (as I did with my archaeology tour) you have to arrange to pick up a permit. Even the process of doing that reminds you of a scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. Clutching a numerical code on a piece of paper, you search a derelict building before finding a hidden wallsafe. You tap in the code, the safe door opens and you take the pass within. 


There is virtually nothing left of Bucina, the village houses and church were torn down to remove hiding places for those trying to cross the curtain. In among the grass and wildflowers low ruined walls and farmhouse floors are just visible. In the grounds of the one building there (a newly built hotel looking across the Sumava towards the Alps) you will find a reconstructed segment of the Iron Curtain together with information panels. 

A track takes you past the ruins of Bucina and over a small stream via a small wooden bridge. A board announces that you have just entered Germany. In a matter of minutes you have done what hundreds of Czechs died attempting to do.

Note: If you are interested in visiting Bucina and fancy staying in the hotel there, please contact me at Czech Tours




Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Czech beehives



One of the guests on my Hussite tour was a fan of beehives. As Czech beehives are a common sight on the edges of woods, I promised to point them out to her, whereupon all the beehives in the Czech Republic decided to hide! Once I had left the group at the airport ready for their flight home, of course Czech beehives seemed to be everywhere.

Unlike in the UK, Czech beehives are usually come in groups or should I say in swarms. They are sometimes in a bee equivalent of pigeonloft several hives high. These are often brightly coloured, each hive in the beeloft a different colour creating a rainbow against the background of dark pine trees. Sometimes they sit on old lorries and are presumably driven to good pollen sites.

Czech honey is wonderfully tasteful. You can and should buy it from stalls set outside cottages or on the side of the road, because this artisan honey has the best flavours, full of the flavour of the local pine woods or flower meadows.

At the Wallachian Open Air Museum we came across these wonderful examples of hives. They created in  hollow trunks (reproducing where bees might naturally nest) with a convenient access door at the back for the beekeeper. The entrance to the hives are via the mouths of the carvings on the front.     


Saturday, 28 July 2012

Review of The Puppet Maker's Bones


An angel of Death in the City of Angels: A psychopath kills a young boy, a quiet teen, then an entire family before setting his murderous desires on Mr. Trusnik, an elderly shut-in from across the street. But Mr. Trusnik is not like other people. Although very old, he is far from helpless. He is an angel of Death...and he is waiting.

I enjoyed this psychological thriller/fantasy cross. After all it had so much that I love - puppets, a Czech setting, history and a large chunk of fantasy. The author Alisa Tangredi has really researched her puppet and Czech history backgrounds to create a totally authentic feel to her descriptions. The book is beautifully and intelligently written.

The book might disappoint those people who read it expecting violence and gore, but if you like intelligent books which do not conform to the expectations of genre then you will find much to enjoy. I really enjoyed the cross-genre nature of the book - the mix of historical fantasy and modern day thriller.


The only reason I would give this book four stars rather than five is that I have a problem with the role of the other main character the young psychopath Kevin (what is it about that name  in fiction?) and the set up of the final showdown. As can be seen from the book blurb above, we know that Kevin is not going to kill Pavel, that the showdown will be very one-sided. We have also seen enough to work out what might happen.

Kevin is also much less well-drawn than Pavel, who is wonderfully drawn - complex, flawed and hurt. In some ways this is a study of loneliness - not only has Pavel Trusnik been confined to his house for decades, but he has been denied the comfort of human touch for his entire life, something which drives him to the verge of madness and possibly over it. Alisa Tangredi is a very intelligent writer and I am sure could have done more to develop the parallels and contrasts between these two angels of death - one unwilling and one willing - and to create more suspense for the reader.  But regardless of this quibble The Puppet Maker's Bones is wonderful book and I recommend it to you.

It's available on Amazon as a paperback and as a kindle (click the image above to go to the site).

I was given this book as a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice


I have been asked to put together another tour by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society for May next year. This time I will be taking them to South Moravia, which is an area of spectacular archaeology. The most remarkable site is at Dolni Vestonice and the Palava Hills, where archaeologists discovered the camps of Paleolithic mammoth hunters protected by a layer of dust blown over the site by glacial winds.

As part of my research my husband and I visited the small museum in Dolni Vestonice. From the outside it seemed that there will be little to see, but the museum was like the tardis. This is no local museum, but one dedicated to one of the most important paleolithic sites in the world. Archeaologists have been excavating the sites around the town and neighbouring Pavlov since 1925 and thousands of objects have been discovered, including stone tools, animal bones and several burials.

Traditionally it was believed that "advanced" technologies - firing ceramics, polishing stones and weaving - didn't appear until 20,000 years later with the Neolithic revolution. That was until finds at Dolni Vestonice proved otherwise. Impressions of woven fabric on clay revealed that the mammoth hunters were already weaving (probably nettle fibres used by the Czechs for some traditional fabrics). 

Archaeologists discovered approximately 2,300 clay figurines which had been fired in the hunters' fire. The animals are recognizably lions, mammoths, bears, and wild horses. The most famous figurine is of a woman - the Dolni Vestonice Venus. Dated to 29,000 to 25,000 BC and discovered in 1925, the figure is the oldest ceramic representation of the human figure discovered. In 2004 a scan of the figure discovered a finger print of a child in the clay. Suddenly you are transported back to a hut made of mammoth bones, branches and hides where a child picks up a still damp figure that one of the adults has just sculpted. Perhaps the child is told off, the figure is probably an offering to the gods. Later as night falls the hunters gather around the hearth and place the venus into the fire and the fingerprint is preserved.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Kutna Hora - Silver Mine Museum


I recently had an email from someone who came on the May archaeology tour. She wrote: "The silver mine has to be one of my all-time holiday highlights". I’m not surprised – the tour of the medieval silver mines in Kutna Hora is utterly unique.

Kutna Hora was quite literally built on silver, the hill on which the old town stands is riddled with mine shafts and galleries, where men toiled to in the darkness to dig out by hand the precious silver ore. You can read about how hard their work was and think you understand, but it takes a visit to the mines to really bring it home to you. By the time you finish you will understand why their life expectancy was 35.

You are kitted out in a white coat (similar to those worn by the miners), lamp and protective helmet (which the miners did not have) and then you walk a few hundred metres uphill to where you enter the shaft. The first part of your visit consists of climbing down several flights of stairs to the first level of the mine. The miners would have had to climb or slide down thin ladders. It is a long way down to the first level, there are four more below you.

A medieval miner was a lot shorter than a modern man – only 1.5 metres high – and so you are warned to watch your head as you walk along. You soon are grateful for your helmet. You are also grateful for your lamp. At one point the guide asks you to switch off your lamps and you are plunged into darkness, s/he then lights a torch and placing her hand over the light tells you that that is the total amount of light available to our medieval forebears. For that reason touch and feel were used to identify the ore deposits. Once a vein was found it was followed into the rock, some of the tunnels being so low that even a medieval man would have to crawl.

Having hacked the silver from the rock it was then carried or dragged back to where it was raised to the surface (via the horse-powered winch you saw in the museum or by a man-powered one). Human beings had no such luxury, the only way back to the surface was a long climb in the dark. Fortunately for wimpy modern visitors the exit to the mine is via a door lower down the hillside.

This is not a tour for people with claustrophobia (the mine-shaft gets so narrow at points that I feared I would get wedged like Winnie The Pooh in Rabbit’s hole) nor is it for people with mobility, heart or breathing problems. But if you can, it is well worth doing - an extraordinary experience.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Guest Post - How I Put a Goddess in The Maidens’ War


In my new career as a writer, I have met some fascinating writers on the web, a number of whom share my love of all things Czech. I therefore plan to introduce you to some of them over the next few months. In today's post I welcome writer,  Lynne Cantwell, whose book The Maidens War is inspired by the Czech legend of the same name. I asked her to write about this post for you about how she came to write her book...


I am a third generation Czech-American.  My mother’s parents emigrated from Czechoslovakia with their parents around the turn of the 20th century, then met and married here.  My mother was the third of their six children.  Of course, they spoke Czech at home.  As a child, I would hear words and phrases in Czech when we visited my mother’s side of the family, and I always intended to learn the language.

Decades passed.  Eventually, I found a reasonably-priced language program offered by a Czech-Slovak heritage association and began taking classes.  At about the same time, I came across an English translation of Alois Jirásek’s retelling of “The Women’s War” from his book, Legends of Old Bohemia.  I learned later that I was not the first person to be entranced by the story.  But Šarka’s tale struck me.  I remembered how Disney had changed the story of Pocahontas for its animated movie, morphing the real child into a nubile young woman who dove off waterfalls in a primeval forest (I lived in Tidewater Virginia for many years, and I am here to tell you that neither grand waterfalls nor primeval forests exist there), and I wondered whether Jirásek hadn’t done a similar disservice to Šarka.  What if she hadn’t been a man-hating vixen?  What if she had been coerced into trapping Ctirad?  And what lessons would she be mulling over while trapped for centuries inside her mountain?

It was clear to me that Šarka deserved to be freed from that mountain; she deserved to pass on her hard-won wisdom to someone.  So rewrote her story, and then I invented the character of Maggie, an abused girl just starting college, who could benefit from Šarka’s advice.  I titled my novel The Maidens’ War.

To write the book, I did a fair amount of research into early Czech civilization, including some on the pagan Slavic pantheon.  I settled enthusiastically on the figure of Mokoš, an earth mother goddess who, I thought, was a prime candidate for leading Šarka into her mountain, and wrote her into the story.

I was nearly done writing The Maidens’ War when I decided to look up the Slavic pantheon in Czech on Wikipedia, just to be sure I had the names spelled correctly.  I noticed the Czech entry for Mokoš was a lot shorter than the one in English, so I read it as best I could. Then, in dismay, I printed it out and did a better translation.  Alas, the result was the same both times: the article said there was no evidence that Mokoš had ever been worshipped in the Czech lands.

But the good news was that I was writing fiction.  So in my book, Šarka has a Ukrainian mother who brought her worship of Mokoš with her to the Czech lands, and the nascent worship of the goddess among Czech women is crushed when Děvín falls.  Problem solved.

************************************

Lynne's book is available on: http://www.calderwoodbooks.com/#/the-maidens-war/4540053928 and on Amazon.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Kutna Hora St Barbara Cathedral



I've now visited this cathedral three times, first on my own as a reccy the second with my building buff of a husband and thirdly with a group of 12 British archaeology fans. No doubt I will visit it again and will rejoice to do so, because this building must be one of the great medieval ecclesiastical buildings of Europe.

Many people visit Kutna Hora as a daytrip from Prague. Some take one of the many minibus tours that speed between Prague and Kutna Hora and the more canny take the train and save themselves money. The best way to approach St Barbara's is to walk up the hill from the train station and turn left to go past the Vlassky Dvur and St Jakub church and so come on a viewing platform, from which you will get the best view of the cathedral with its extraordinary roof line (above). Then follow the lane up to the Hradek and approach the cathedral along a walk lined on one side by statues and beyond them vines and on the other by the Jesuit Seminary now an important art gallery. 


Inside the cathedral lives up to the expectations raised by its spectacular exterior. The vaulting is utterly unlike any you will have seen in the west, a pure example of the style known as Bohemian gothic, with the ribs flowing from the columns. Along the gallery huge wooden sculptures look down on the nave. If you get a chance pay the small fee and go up to the gallery to see the statues and ribbing up close. 


That this is a cathedral for the silver workers of medieval Kutna Hora is evident throughout the building. Miners in their regulation white coats appear as statues and in frescos, minters sit striking coins and others are counting. In fact the cathedral's frescos merit repeated inspection: I was still finding new elements on my third visit. The frescos are remarkably realistic and human. But then the building is human too, as large in footprint as a large church, which makes its wonders all the more impactful.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Apology


I apologise for not blogging for a whole month. I have been extremely busy with tours in the Czech Republic and my blog writing routine stalled. But the upside of that is that I have been to some incredible places in the Czech Republic, which I propose to blog about in the forthcoming months. What is more I've come back with a load of lovely photos to accompany my future posts. So I hope you will forgive me. We start in earnest tomorrow with a post about the great cathedral of Kutna Hora.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Gingerbread workshop & a song

I organised a short arts and crafts tour for Wanderweg Holidays last summer. On the last day we went to an old mill near to Cesky Krumlov, where we were given a wonderful workshop in painting traditional Czech Easter eggs and making gingerbread. But the highlight was something I hadn't planned. Here's a video of what happened.


We have places available on an arts tour at the end of September, for details go to http://www.czechtours.co.uk/czech-art-culture-1

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Traffic Light Artist


On Saturday David Hons, better known as the artist Roman Tyc, was released from Prague's Pankrac prison in Prague. The artist spent 30 days in jail after refusing to pay a 60,000 crown fine for defacing public property.

In 2007 he "amended" 48 road crossing lights in the Czech capital city, to show the normal red and green figures in a number of unusual positions, including walking the dog, urinating, drinking etc. The above video shows the man in action.

In protest at Tyc's imprisonent Czechs started to behead figures on traffic lights by placing black stickers over the heads, while others baked cakes for him. Many people were shocked by the severity of his punishment, especially when President Klaus refused to grant a pardon to the artist, even though the President has over the years pardoned a number of people found guilty of serious corruption and fraud. But then what did they expect from a president that steals pens?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Why I'm here. Part 2


I had two reasons when I bought my lovely derelict Czech farmhouse. The first as I said in my post of the 9th March was my friend Hannah Kodicek, the second was to create somewhere I could write.

The two reasons were not unconnected. Hannah always encouraged me to write. I think we really became close friends when she read a long poem I had written. She had known me as a manager, something that she respected but didn't love. At the time of the house purchase I was managing an inner-city regeneration programme working with the most disadvantaged. It was worthwhile work and I would have argued then that it allowed me to be creative in other ways than producing poetry that no one read. But Hannah begged to differ, she saw better than I did how one side of my personality was dominating the other, driving the poet and mystic underground. But when I came to visit her in the Czech Republic I found that side of me welling up in response to the landscape and history of Bohemia.

So I bit the bullet and bought the house. I said I wanted a hut in the forest, something that didn't need too much work, but my subconscious saboutaged that and I bought a huge farmhouse needing lots of work. I spent the next few years working hard at my job and pouring the money I earned into restoring the house, but still I did not write.

Things came to a head when one day I found myself crying in Hannah's study. It was soon apparent that I could not continue working in my wonderful but high pressured job. I said goodbye to my old career and came over to the Czech Republic and started to write. Not poetry but a children's novel. I loved the process. Even if my first book is now in a drawer in my desk never to see the light of day. The second one's there too. I am now on my fifth book. All of my books have been written in my Czech house.


Friday, 16 March 2012

Czech Egg Tourism


Easter has a very special place in the Czech heart and part of Czech Easter is the traditional painting of eggs. But EU legislation has let a fox into the henhouse. Egg prices have risen as a result of EU legislation against factory farming. What are the Czechs to do?

According to Bavarian newspaper, the Suddeutsche Zeitung, the Czechs are crossing the border and buying up cheaper German eggs, creating a possible egg shortage there too!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Why I'm Here


"Why am I here?"

I don't mean in the philosophical sense, but why here in a half-restored old farmhouse on the edge of a small Czech village. I have talked about this in the past and regular readers of this blog will know the various answers I could proffer, but I suspect that there are new readers who might not know and also, more importantly, I have had reason to ask that question again over the last twelve months.

One reason has gone. The only reason I am in the Czech Republic is/was the fact that a dear friend, Hannah Kodicek, moved back here and then more importantly moved to Cesky Krumlov. If she had stayed in Prague I have no doubt that I would not have bought a house here. As you may know we are approaching the anniversary of her all-too-early death and sitting here in my living room I am surrounded by memories of her. A photo of her is above my desk, it's of her looking back at me as we walked on the hills above Cesky Krumlov. She's saying something to me. I remember the walk because we had been delighted to see carpets of purple buttercups in the woods presaging the arrival of spring. But I do not remember what she was saying.

I checked the date when I chose the picture for this blog: it says 30th March 2005. In September 2005 I found the farmhouse and two months later I was legally a temporary resident of the Czech Republic. On the 2nd April 2011 I was walking in the woods on Petrin Hill, Prague and enjoying the flowers. Hannah had taken me there too. I rang her in the hospice and told her about them. At the end of the call we said goodbye.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Ma Vlast

Bedrich Smetana's Ma Vlast (My Country) is a powerful musical evocation of the landscape and history of the Czech Republic. A cycle of six symphonic poems the music was composed by Smetana over a period of five years and first performed as a complete piece in 1882. The music expresses the Czech nationalism which has always been bound up with a love of the landscape and myths of nationhood. It is a heady, beautiful piece of music even to this non-Czech.

There are several wonderful CDs of Ma Vlast available but for me the most powerful is of a performance conducted by Vaclav Talich on 5th June 1939 in the National Theatre. The sound quality is limited by the equipment of the time, but this is a recording like no other. There is a fierce urgency in the music verging on violence, but then this is no ordinary performance. This is a performance in a country which has just been sold down the river to the Nazis. It is a brave statement of national pride and the audience knows it. At the end of the different movements there is applause and at the end the audience spontaneously begins to sing the national anthem, itself a brave act. When I heard it I was moved to tears.

The performance was broadcast by Czech Radio and would have been lost had not Norwegian Radio picked it up and recorded it.

You can sample this extraordinary recording on http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/r/Supraphon/SU40652 It is available to buy for £13.99

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Masopust

Today is Masopust - the Czech Carnival.

I am not in the Czech Republic this year to enjoy it. So I am sharing with you again the video of the last year's event.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Banks!

A recent Facebook post by an ex-pat friend of mine reminded me that I have been intending to write a post about Czech banks for some time. He was complaining that his bank asked him to pay 65kc (over £3) to pay 200kc into his girlfriend's account. Yes, you read that correctly, the charge was about a third of the sum being paid!

How do Czech banks get away with such extortionate charges? If they were in the UK - there would be general outrage and tv and radio programmes on the subject. I suppose the Czechs don't know that in other countries such as the UK free current accounts are the norm.

I have a Czech bank account (essential for paying my electricity bill). Most months the only transaction that takes place is a standing order to EON, or rather it's the only transaction other than a list of bank charges.

When I try to go to my local branch I am often caught out by the fact that the bank is closed for lunch and on Tuesday afternoon. And when I do manage to arrive when the door is open, I am always surprised by the fact that there is only one cashdesk and one lone cashier, all the rest are devoted to other activities. So heaven help you if you are standing behind some local trader with a carrier bag full of small change. Another difference in Czech banking is that they don't use cheques, instead you either go into the bank and fill in a transfer form, stamp it and drop it into a slot or you sign up for electronic banking, for which of course you will be charged extra.






Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A Menu




Traditionally Czech restaurant food has been heavy on meats, and it still is, although there is now more choice for vegetarians. Czech restaurants often offer a selection of grilled meats cooked over a logfire on a griddle (as here), these are eaten with a choice of side vegetables. Others offer casserole-based dishes such as goulash or meat smes (a mixture of meats in a spicy saunce). Then there is the offering of various roasted meat in sauce such as the Czech classic svíčková (when cooked well one of my all time favourite meals anywhere in the world) which is roasted marinated beef in a spiced vegetable sauce with cream.

Sometimes the translated menu can bring some interesting images to the mind of the bewildered foreigner,  as here in this menu from a restaurant in Slavonice. But then one has to wonder how on earth one could translate English popular foods such as spotted dick or roly poly pudding. I shall say no more than that I had a chop of Mrs Katerina and it was excellent and my husband enjoyed Zacharias' chop.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Coasts of Bohemia


A few days ago as I was looking at the Google Analytics account for my new business website Czech Holidays to see what search terms people on the internet were putting into Google which led them to my site. It is a source of endless amusement and bemusement to me.

The first source of bemusement is just how many people still search for Czechoslovakia - even though the Czech Republic and Slovakia split happened in 1993 nearly twenty years ago.

The second is the number of ways people come up with of spelling Czech (bear in mind that this is an English language search), here are some from last month: Czek, Czexh, Tchech, Chez, Cheze, Chczh, Chek, Chec, Checkz, Cezk, Chec, Cezh, Check, Chech and of course Chekeslovakia and Checkislavkia.

The third are some searches which say something about perceptions and misunderstandings:
  • sex tour Czech Republic - I'm not going to comment on that one
  • is Czech Republic safe to visit? - answer: yes very
  • Hogwarts Castle in Czechoslovakia - I love this query, the country is full of wonderful magical medieval castles (NOTE to Author: possible line for marketing?)
  • beach holidays in the Czech Republic - despite Shakespeare talking about the coast of Bohemia* in the Winter's Tale the Czech Republic is right at the middle of the European landmass, the only beaches the Czechs have on lake and river banks and probably not what the searcher had in mind.

Alas, all these search terms show what a task I and other Czechophiles have to increase knowledge of this lovely country.

*watch out for a full blog on the coast of Bohemia/Winter's Tale which I planning to write soon. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Coals to Newcastle, Fezes to Turkey

In the museum housed in Strakonice Castle you will discover much of interest, but nothing is so extraordinary as the story of the Strakonice fez industry. How did this provincial town in South Bohemia come to be the centre of world fez production?

The story is that a Linz businessman came to the town and asked for someone to make fezes to sell in Turkey. That someone was a knitter called Jan Petras. Petras was so successful that other knitters soon followed and the Strakonice fez industry was born.

In the 1820's a Jewish entrepreneur called Furth established the company that was to take fez production in the town to a whole new level. With mechanisation the production grew and the company expanded selling fezes to Egypt, India and the middle east as well as to Turkey. By 1937 business employed 3000 people, sadly with the war the Germans took over the factory and then after the war the business was nationalised. Now the successor company no longer makes fezes but instead creates fabrics for car upholstery.

I was in an antikvariat the other day and found a selection of fez labels (see above) and there it is in French (so presumably it was destined for Morocco) - "Societe Anonyme des Fabriques de Bonnets Turcs. Strakonice, Republique Tchecoslovaque".

I will be taking a group of people to the Museum on the Czech Tours Hussite Tour .

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