Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Stifter's Trail

On Sunday I decided to walk the Aldebert Stifter trail around the hills that circle Horni Plana. I had been meaning to do it for years, and never got round to it. The walk is only about 4.5 kilometres long and although there is a bit of a climb to get out of the town it is relatively easy going after that. It is a lovely walk and has some spectacular views.

Stifter is known as the poet of the Sumava and was born in the town. The path first takes you through the Stifter Park to a monument to the poet, from where the copper and bronze figure can look across Lake Lipno to the Sumava, crowned by Plechy the highest mountain in Czech Sumava. The trail then takes you around a natural amphitheatre with spectacular views including, if weather conditions allow, views of the Alps that form a blue shadow rising behind the darker green of the Sumava (as is in this photo). You pass Stifter's spruce and then further on Stifter's beech or rather you don't as in both cases all that remains are the stumps! And then descend in to the town again.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

A Taste of Honey

A few days ago my friend and I spent a pleasant evening consuming a bottle of medovina. Medovina is honey wine - med being the Czech word for honey (a medved is a bear by the way). The golden liquid slips down beautifully, warming the heart and the stomach. It feels like you are drinking the warm sun of summer - which in a way you are.

In the summer a car journey through the Sumava will take you past houses fronted by roadside stalls, where you can buy jars of honey, medovina and other bee products. Sumava honey is particularly lovely - you can taste the forest in it or the flowers of the Alpine hay meadows. There are other Czech uses for honey - there is medovnik (the honey cake) which is a favourite of mine and my friend even told me that a local wisewoman cured her bad shoulder using a honey massage.

But at the end of a long hard day nothing can beat medovina and good company. Unlike some other alcoholic beverages medovnik does not depress, instead it mellows. You can almost feel the bees buzzing gently in your stomach.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Czech Winter Sunshine

I adore the Czechs' bright winter sunshine – this time of year the light can be quite golden, playing off the grass deadened and yellowed by snow. The red and yellow stems of dogwood almost seem on fire against the dark green of the firs. The white bones of the silver birch trunks are picked out by the sunlight, everything speaks of the life beneath the skin. It doesn't matter to me that there is little snow this January, although that brings its own joys and combined with the winter sun is quite wonderful.

The Czechs are complaining that the weather is wrong – not enough snow to ski, not warm enough for spring, a few clouds in the sky so not a perfect blue. They should try England's endless grey, the oppressive threat of rain, the cough and splutter of winter fog, they would never complain about this Czech winter again.

Friday, 18 January 2008


When I was a child I read, I read as a hungry man consumes bread. My parents have photos of me asleep, the book open in my hand, the reading light still on. I read without judgement, without caring for what others thought – good, bad, indifferent I read every book in our town's small library. Somewhere in my teens I stopped. I said I did not have time to lose myself any more, but in truth I no longer had the child's ability to let go and sink into that other world. It was only in Czecho that I really began to read again.

I started reading the latest book in the airport, then on the plane, on the train when watching my fellow travellers became boring and now it is done. Tomorrow I will start another book. But this one I recommend to you – it is The Visible World by Mark Slouka. The book is very suited to Czechophiles. It's about a boy growing up in America to Czech parents, and his slow and painful journey in to their past, which takes him to Prague, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and the dark stains that surround it. But the story is really about love and loss of love, about how the child looks for the parent, of the truth and compromises we make to survive. It is beautifully written, full of poetry.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Lake Lipno under ice

When I woke up the fog had cleared from the village, though it lay like a cotton duvet in the folds of the hills. It was cold and frosty, but the sun was already up and things were warming.

After lunch I drove over to Lake Lipno – the deep blue lake of the summer had turned polished steel. Slight white ridges running parallel to the shore looked like small waves but as I grew closer it was obvious that ice covered the lake's surface as far as the eye could see. Snow still lay compacted on the ground and the heights of the Sumava mountains were white. Gone were the windsurfers and catamarans of the summer (see my previous post Wot no sea). I had no business there and wanted to get on, but was glad I had come when I did, they are forecasting a thaw.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Home again - train journey

I left a wet Glouestershire bracing itself for more floods and caught the plane to Prague. The plane set down in a foggy Czech Republic and I proceeded across town to catch the train to Ceske Budejovice. As I have said before, I like the journey down to South Bohemia - it is part of my submersion back into the Czech. The compartment was already half full when I came in and settled down on the leatherette seating.

I rang my friend and told her which train I had caught and asked her to sort a taxi to meet me the other end. My travelling companions watched and listened, recognising that I was speaking in English and went back to their conversation secure in the thought that I was not eavesdropping. I wasn't really, just catching the occasional word or phrase, sometimes enough to understand. And of course I was able to watch them, again they paid no attention to me as if my visual interpretation was somehow also alien and so I was unable to read their faces and actions.

On one side sat a couple facing each other by the window. She was in her late fifties unless the lines on her animated face were prematurely the gift of too many cigarettes. The one thing that contradicted the years was her long and thick brown hair which fell about her shoulders and of which she was clearly proud, as her subconscious stroking and sorting betrayed. All the time she chattered to her male companion, leaning forward in her seat in a conspiratorial way, whilst he sat back in his, giving the occasional monosyllabic response. They were friends I thought, but not too close and he less close than she. I was right - she got out at different stop.

Opposite me was a young man, who reminded me of one of those daddy long-legs you get in the bath. He was all long arms and legs which he crunched up in a suit large enough to fit his height but too wide to fit his frame. His face was almost the face of a boy - it was as if the hormones had spent all their energy telling his limbs to grow, and they had run out of puff when it came to his childish chin. Each wished me goodbye "Nasdar" as they got out of the train, the daddy longlegs saying it in English.

At the station the taxi was waiting and I was sped off along the foggy road to Cesky Krumlov. The fog was pressing in but my taxidriver insisted on overtaking any car that was driving cautiously. As we passed Lidl just outside Krumlov I found myself smiling and despite the driving a sense of wellbeing was creeping over me, growing as we sped on, I was coming home.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Irony of Ironies

I return to the Czech Republic tomorrow and my friend emailed me on Friday to warn me that the weather was changing there. The snow was melting, so no skiing. The ice on the lakes likewise so no skating. She and her partner, along with the rest of the population of the Republic had been enjoying both. Now the weather had turned remarkably spring-like, just in time for my return. Although not a skater or a skiier I had been looking forward to the lovely cold bright days of the Czech winter.

The irony was that the email arrived the very day I had taken three hours making a one-hour journey (from Oxford to Winchcombe). The reason for my long journey was a blizzard that swept in from the west, first there was torrential rain causing floods and then as the day turned night it turned to snow. I was caught by surprise - the slippery roads impassable I ended up in a ditch. When I finally got in I emailed my friend back, that maybe I was not so keen on snow after all!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Of stones and crop circles

I return to the Czech Republic in a week's time, but already my thoughts bend that way. Today being a bright crisp Winter's day, my husband and I made the trip to Avebury. The sun was low even in the middle of the day and the stones cast long shadows over the winter grass.

Like Cesky Krumlov, Avebury set in its unique prehistoric environment is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even in the Winter the place has its visitors and yet it still has tremendous power - a power that demands wonder. The scale of the place is remarkable - the ditch and rampart that ring the site are quite enormous, despite the wear of time and browsing sheep. I took this photo of a mother and child in the ditch to show this and then I saw the shadow of a standing stone beside them.

All my Czech friends would love this place. They have bought the whole "new age" thing hook, line and sinker. They talk of ley lines, crystals, standing stones, and crop circles - Avebury would blow their minds.

I am often overwhelmed by the stunning landscape around Krumlov and the way in Krumlov one can feel the past as though it is walking alongside you. And in so doing I forget that this country too is just as powerful in its gentle rolling way.


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