The other night I was walking down the street and was struck by the scent of woodsmoke on the frosted air. It doesn’t matter where in the world I am, I just have to smell woodsmoke and I am in the Czech Republic and in particular in Cesky Krumlov’s narrow renaissance streets on a Winter night. Somehow scent is the most powerful of the senses for triggering memories. I only have to smell new-mown grass to be taken back to the playing field of my secondary school, and the smell of earl grey tea transports me to my college rooms at Oxford. Woodsmoke on a winter night takes me to my second visit to Krumlov.
It was January and a very hard winter. I stayed with my friend in Prague, where the Vlatava river was part covered with ice so thick we walked on it. She suggested we take the train down to Cesky Krumlov, where she had a small house, and stay a few nights. I had already visited the town in the previous summer and loved it and so accepted the invitation eagerly. My previous visit had not prepared me for the impact of Cesky Krumlov in winter. Gone were the tourists, I was virtually the only non-Czech there. The town lay blanketed in snow. In the wind-less streets the smoke from the wood-fired stoves hung and diffused the light from the street lamps. It was totally magical and I was hooked.