Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Chata and Chalupa - Cabins and Cottages

During the communist era it was not possible for Czechs to travel abroad easily and so many Czechs had second homes in the country. My Czech friend argues that the authorities actually encouraged this as a means of reducing anti-government resentment. Every weekend the family would pile into their cars and disappear to their base in the country to grow vegetables, sit round the barbecue, drink beer and sing into the night. And of course the Czech pastimes of fishing and mushroom picking are also associated with the trip to the chata.

There are two types of second home - the chata - a cabin built for the purpose of recreation, and the chalupa - a cottage (though sometimes a large farmhouse or similar) which once was a residential property. They can range from the very basic - some chata are merely sheds made of whatever was at hand - to the luxurious. One development that helped fuel the growth of cottage ownership in the period following the Second World War was the availability of empty ex-German homes in the Sudetenland. Another was the rise of a back-to-nature movement, connected with the scouting movement and influenced by the pioneers of American Wild West - you will even find the occasional totem pole outside a chata!

The house we bought had been used as a chalupa - although it had previously been the family home. It is a large farmhouse of the German style and is set in a village where probably 40% of the houses are second homes. For Brits looking to buy Czech property chata and chalupa offer a chance to buy somewhere in beautiful setting. They vary considerably in state of repair - sometimes they are their former owners' pride and joy, sometimes they have been the victims of the Czech obsession with do-it-yourself and sometimes they are old buildings which the Czechs have effectively camped in, not having the money to restore.

However such is the affection in which the Czechs hold their country cottages and cabins that many would not consider selling them - they are part of their best family memories - and many that do do not go through an estate agent. It therefore helps to have someone with local knowledge to assist you in finding your dream house. We found ours with the help of a local company which helps Brits find property in the area of Cesky Krumlov - we recommend them. Check out their website on

Monday, 22 October 2007

And Gathering

In my last post I talked about the Czechs as a nation of hunters and in previous posts I have talked about the Czech obsession with gathering mushrooms. In both cases they are very unlike us Brits. For the Czechs hunting is something done by all classes, unlike the British class-ridden approach. Whilst for mushrooming the contrast is even starker - going mushrooming in the Czech Republic is something that starts young, in Britain it doesn't start at all, unless you are unusual. A Czech child will take their little basket and go with their mum or granny into the forest and learn what to pick and what not. My mother, like most Brits, regarded all mushrooms with suspicion unless they were field mushrooms and I was told very clearly never to pick any fungi - they were dangerous. Now unusually I do collect mushrooms. Thanks to the instruction of my Czech friend I now recognise, collect and most importantly eat over 20 types of fungus.

A year ago I had an experience which sums up the differences perfectly. I was in the Forest of Dean collecting mushrooms - being late in the year I was on the look out for the purple Wood Blewits. I was rummaging about in the undergrowth beside a track, when a group passed by close enough for me to hear their conversation. "What is she doing?" "Looking for something, I think." and so on. I carried on and collected a reasonable trawl of purple treasures (blewits are one of my favourite mushrooms).

After a while the group came back, and again the speculation started as to what I was doing - something that would never happen in the Czech Republic as everyone would know what I was up to. For one woman in the group curiousity got the better of her and she broke away from the group and joined me. "What are you looking for?" she asked.

"Mushrooms" I replied, "Would you like to see them." I opened the bag and she looked in. She looked back at me askance. "It's all right," I assured her "They are quite edible."

"Well I hope you know what you are doing, otherwise you won't be around to do it again." She said. I assured her that I did. And she returned to her group and went her way.

When I tell this story to my Czech friends they are amazed that the British should ever be surprised at someone mushrooming, and even more so by the fear of mushrooms that she betrays. Then I tell them about her group - it was made up of a man riding a camel, and three people leading llamas. Of course to a Brit such eccentricity is taken without batting an eyelid, indeed she and her fellows regarded me as the weird one. To my Czech audience this stretches the credulity to breaking point - those Brits are weird.

Friday, 19 October 2007


When we moved into our house we found two boar skins lying in the straw in the barn, in the house the walls of the stairwell were decorated with skulls of deer and a stuffed bird. In the local restaurants you can eat wild boar, rabbit and venison. We love it - game is a favourite food of ours. The Czechs are great ones for hunting - and it seems to be something enjoyed by all classes (unlike in England). Czech men are often dressed in the typical Czech huntsman attire - second-hand army fatigues and boots.

Across the countryside you will find hides like the one above. They look out across groves in forests, fields near to the wood edge, anywhere that deer will come to feed. Sometimes you will find a block of rock salt nearby to help attract the deer.

Yes, the Czechs are great nation of hunters..... and gatherers.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Czech Dogs

The Czechs are very fond of their dogs. The above photo shows a typical Czech dog - in other words low slung with short legs, curled tail and perky demeanour. On seeing your Czech dog you have the fun of trying to work out its mixed parentage (and grandparentage) - bit of dachshund, bit of labrador, a touch of corgi perhaps! You will find signs in the Prague warning against dog fouling in parks graphically showing a cartoon of just such a dog with curly tail raised doing its business.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...