Friday, 18 December 2015

Happy Christmas


Happy Christmas to you all. 

This photograph is of the central panel in an altarpiece that you can see at the Ales Gallery of Gothic Art in the stables of Hluboka Castle. Don't you just love those cow eyes! The Gallery is full of treasures like this and yet most of the visitors to the castle just pass it by. 

I have had a fascinating 2015 and worked for some delightful visitors to the Czech Republic, some of whom I now count as friends. 

Sadly towards the end of the year I experienced problems with my ankle. It looks like I will need an operation, which means I am having to cancel some of the tours for next year. I am thinking about stopping leading tours altogether in October with the exception of tours for friends. I will update you on this blog.


Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sly Subversion - A Very Czech Trait


There is something about the Czechs that enjoys sticking a pin in pompous orthodoxy. It is often done slyly and with humour. It is there in The Good Soldier Sveyk and in the tales of Jara Cimrman.

And it is also to found in Czech architectural decoration. Above are some Atlases very grimly holding up the facade of a building on Brno's Svobody Namesti (Freedom Square). No humour here. Atlases like these can be found on many of the Czech Republic's larger buildings.

But if you walk down a road from the square you will find Czech subversion at work. Instead of an Atlas you get a dwarf!


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas is Coming




Yesterday saw the official arrival of Christmas in Cesky Krumlov. The square was full of parents with the children listening to three devils playing jolly music whilst waiting for the arrival of St Nicholas. Two angel comperes stepped forward and announced the arrival of the great man and there he was. A tremor of excitement went through the younger members of the audience as he approached the stage. 

 
Small children stepped up to sing to the saint and answer questions about whether they had been good this year. It was all very wholesome and organized. Meanwhile on the opposite side of the square more riotous and traditional scenes were being played out. Here the devils far outnumbered the angels and there was not a St Nick to be seen. It was mostly the devils who were interrogating the children and those children who had not been good ended up in the devil's sack.



A female devil was inviting children to draw and display their diabolic portraits and other devils were offering the opportunity to throw horseshoes into a bin in return for a reward.
 
Meanwhile a couple of angels gave out sweets to the children.

The square was still heaving when I left. The adults were buying warm Gluhwein and sausages from the Christmas market stalls. And the children were thronging a stall selling illuminated devil's horns and fairy wands (or were they light sabres?). I made my way to the car passing yet more devils coming in the opposite direction rattling their chains and growling. Someone is going have to do something about Krumlov's devil/angel/St Nicholas ratio.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Sleeping in a Wine Barrel


Looking back over 2015 one of my more unusual experiences was the night I spent in a converted wine barrel in a vineyard in the Palava hills near Mikulov. As I approached the barrel (above) I felt I was in a Tolkien-like world. The barrel was just big enough to take a small double bed and a bench seat and was very suited to a hobbit.


As I lay on my bed I took in the view through the semi-circular window of rows of vines laden with grapes and the small fig tree complete with fruit directly in front of my barrel. If I rolled over and drew back the curtains of the little rear window I could see the steep slope to the ridge of  Palava on which was lodged a ruined castle.

The lady from the vineyard appeared carrying a basket of goodies, including a bottle of wine, corkscrew, towel and various snacks. My inner Peregrin Took was delighted. She invited me to the cellar and I of course agreed. After an hour or so tasting the various wines on offer, I walked slightly unsteadily the 100 yards back to my barrel, carrying several bottles including some Palava. Palava is a grape variety unique to these hills which produces my favourite Czech wine.

After I had sobered up enough, I wandered into the village and to an excellent restaurant that had been recommended to me. I was in heaven. The sun set while I was eating and as I made my way back to the barrel I was glad of the torch which I had found in the basket. I lay on the bed once more, listening to the crickets as I drifted into sleep.

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