Friday, 30 May 2008

A Run-in with the Czech Police

A few days ago I got pulled over for speeding. I have no idea whether I was or not, I was in the middle of a stream of cars all going at the same speed and I was concentrating on what was happening around me. However of all those cars I was pulled over.

Having paid my 1000 crowns fixed fine, I waited in the car for a receipt with my sisters. We watched as the Police pulled over another car - again from the middle of a queue of vehicles. My sister, fresh from England, was puzzled - why that car and not the car in front which was presumably setting the speed and moreover had only one working headlamp, why had they pulled me over and not one of the others? I pointed out that both mine and the second car were nice expensive looking new cars, that 1000 crowns was a significant chunk out of many Czechs' monthly wage and so the Police appeared to be targeting drivers they thought would be able to pay the on-the-spot fine.

"That's not fair!" my sister said. "Oh, I don't know," I said. Cars on Czech roads, I explained, tended to divide into two types - newish ones owned by people who had flourished in the world of capitalism, and the old bangers owned by everyone else. These old cars have their bumpers held on with bits of wire, bonnets that are a different colour from the roof, windscreen wipers that fall off at the first sign of rain and, if you are unlucky to drive behind them, smoke-belching exhausts whenever they change gear. If the Czech police were to apply the law evenly, undoubtedly a large chunk of the population would be without transport and the economy would grind to a halt. My sister was unimpressed by this argument for social justice - "I still think it's unfair," she said.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

More Czech flowers

Given the positive response to my last post, here are simply more photographs of lovely Czech flowers, which I have taken on my various walks over the last few weeks. The first (above) was found near the Schwarzenberg Canal in the Sumava mountains - it's an Alpine Snow bell.

And this one is another flower from the Nature Reserve - I am afraid I don't have the name, but it was to be found in the woodland areas

along with Solomon's seal.

The woods around Divci Kamen castle were carpeted by masses of stitchwort, much as the woods in England are carpeted by bluebells.

All along the road from our village to the station the ditches are full of the jewel-like flowers of the common comfrey. I have been known to allow an extra 10 minutes for the walk to the train, so that I can be distracted on my way there.

For more Czech flowers visit my August flowers post

Sunday, 25 May 2008

May Flowers on Vysenske Kopce

I had been meaning to visit the Vysenske (Vyšenské) Kopce Nature Reserve, to be found just to the north of Cesky Krumlov below the Klet Mountain for several years. I had even bought a book about it in the Information Centre. But it wasn't until yesterday that I actually made it. And how I kicked myself about missing out on this lovely oasis for all those months.

I took the little train to Cesky Krumlov, then I walked up the road that leads to Vysny, and at the crossroads I followed the signs to the Headquarters of the Blansky Les Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, outside of which was a large board about the reserve and the signposted walk that takes you through it. The couple of hours that followed were ones of sheer delight. The sun shone, the views were fantastic and the may flowers were out in profusion.

The Nature Reserve encloses a number of very different habitats - conditioned partly by the fact that it sits on a change in the geology and so has plants suited to limestone, granite, and loam in a relatively small area. The walk takes you through all these areas and has information boards at key points to help you identify what you are seeing. For the wildflower lover, such as yours truly, there is even an area at the beginning with the flowers in a bed labelled to show you what to look for.

So what flowers did I find? Well too many to detail here - the anemone at the top of this post is rare in the Czech Republic and is not seen in the UK and yet in the reserve you can see crowds of them waving their white heads on tall stems in the grassland and at the wood's edge. The spring pea also is not to be found in England and has as you can see the most vibrant colours. There were bushes covered with blossom - bird cherry, wild privet, hawthorn and the wild berberis (shown above) - and which so hummed and vibrated with bees collecting nectar that they sounded like small electric substations. There was so much more to see and hear.

I shall return to Vysenske Kopce in the summer and blog again about the summer flowers. Suffice it to say that if you visit Cesky Krumlov, do make the trip here and enjoy this area's natural treasures as well as its historical ones.

For more Czech flowers in May visit my next post

And for August flowers

Friday, 23 May 2008

Sunset at Lake Lipno

This evening I dragged my sisters away from supper to chase the sunset at Lake Lipno. Lipno sunsets are one of my great pleasures in the Czech Republic – they are always in some way different but have yet to disappoint.

There are two spots where I watch the sunset and I took my sisters to enjoy the view from both. The first is near the ferry dock at Horni Plana, which is where this photo was taken. The second is from the headland near Cerna v Posumavi where you can view of the lake in both directions – there are information boards which tell you about the views.

The lake at first burned with the setting sun's rays, then turned a darker orange and red, then to steel and finally a deep slate grey. A silence fell on the water. The shadows lengthened and deepened until all became dark, the fishermen packed up their rods, and we returned to the car and went home. The light show was over.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Some Czech animals and a present.

The other evening my sisters and I were barbequing some sausages over an open fire in the warm May evening air, when we realised we were being scrutinised. From the dandelions in the orchard a small farm cat was watching us and the sausages. The little cat was a lovely combination of white, ginger and black with only its head to be seen above the leaves. My sister made the usual cat attraction noises but nothing happened. We therefore ignored it, and slowly it came nearer drawn by the smell. Eventually its confidence raised it was rubbing its head against the table legs and even tried to jump up on my lap. My Czech friend arrived and being a cat owner and lover was soon making a fuss of the little one, including feeding it some leftover sausage pieces, which were pounced on and devoured – better than the cat's usual fare to to be sure.

In the morning at breakfast we discovered there was a present lying for us on the patio – a slow worm neatly bitten in two. The orchard is full of wildlife, a reason for the presence of a hunting cat in the first place. The ground is pockmarked with the holes of voles and mice, and the grass is also the haunt of their hunters – cats, grass snakes and adders. The orchard backs on to farmland and a wooded hillside and as I have said in a previous post it is visited by deer, here to scrump the fruit. Another animal in these parts is the beech marten which I have yet to see alive – I have seen several as roadkill – and which I look forward to meeting, although I am told they are a menace as they will chew through cables. The slow worm is another hunter in the grass and hibernates in the wood piles and heaps of grass cuttings. But this one thanks to our furry friend will hunt no more.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Czech Folk Dance

The sisters and I decided to go to Ceske Budejovice yesterday. The main purpose of the visit was to look for presents for my nieces, brother-in-law and parents, and as I have said in a previous post I prefer Ceske Budejovice for shopping to its more touristy neighbour Cesky Krumlov. Another purpose was to share with my sisters some of the architectural discoveries I have made in Budejovice. This is a town that bears exploration, it can offer everything from medieval to art deco and nearly everything in between - more perhaps of that in another blog.

Towards the end of our visit I took my guests to the Church of the Sacrifice of Our Lady. Outside on the square all was activity - market stalls were being erected, people scurried around with boxes of craft goods for sale. In front of the church a large stage was in the process of rising, whilst in front of it men were setting up trestle tables and benches. Interested to see what was going on, we sat down at a table of the pizzeria on the Square and watched, whilst very slowly eating our lunch and drinking several drinks. After a short while the square started to fill with children dressed in traditional dress, doting mothers taking snapshots and dance teachers also in costume. It was becoming apparent that we had stumbled into a folk dance festival.

More and more dancers arrived. Some were adult teams, and as would be the case with any British morris side they set about buying beers from the Budwar tent. There were men in black, with black boots and ornately worked leather belts and older women in their thick gathered skirts. Musicians arrived with a range of traditional instruments, some beautifully carved. Eventually after much faffing around with the sound system and the children becoming bored and disappearing off, the dance teachers gathered their teams and processed in to the square. A master of ceremonies announced the first troupe from his clipboard - a group of small children sidled on to the stage - and the festival began in earnest.

I was interested to see the different dance forms - most of which seemed pretty tame to me after my interest in the pagan roots of English morris (for more on this do visit the Independent's excellent article on the subject ) But equally this was not the rather embarrassing folkdance that I learnt at school - the guy with the Mohican haircut showed no self consciousness - there was a degree of national pride in it. There seemed to be several influences at play in the dance and music. One I assumed to be a more lyrical Czech one, and another more in the German Austrian oompah style, (it even had calf slapping.) But then what was this? Here was something I recognised - a hobby horse was working its way through the crowds. This was part of the English tradition or is it that Celtic tradition that both the Czechs and Brits lay claim to?

We spent most of the afternoon watching the dance and browsing the craft stalls for unusual presents. We seemed to be the only foreigners there - this festival was for the locals and not sited where tourists would find it. The benches were full of beer-drinking Czechs clapping enthusiastically, children ran around in the sunshine and proud grandparents beamed.

Friday, 16 May 2008


My two sisters are staying with me in my Czech home. For one of them this is her first time in the Czech Republic, indeed her first time on continental Europe. When asked by my Czech friend what she thought of Cesky Krumlov her comment was typical; "Mmmm, well, it's different. It's not like a holiday in England."

Indeed it is different - she is constantly commenting on the driving (including when I am negotiating a winding road with Czech logging lorries bearing down on me). She comments on the food, which she is gamely trying and liking some of it (such as honey cake) and pulling wonderful faces at others (pickled fish did not go down well). She comments on the houses and the Czech approach to architecture - they have windows like cuckoo clocks apparently. It is very interesting to see this country through the eyes of someone whose world has been so limited.

My other sister has been here twice before, each time with her family. So this time she has taken advantage of their absence to go on walks in the country. I love this, I love exploring the countryside with someone who like me is prone to stopping abruptly when she sees an unusual flower or a great view. At such a point all three of us will produce our cameras and take photos of what excites us. These photos have several uses - I can use them to identify the flower from my book of European flowers back at the house, the sisters have something to show their families and I have some photos to use in this blog some time. In fact I feel a series of posts about Czech flora and fauna coming on. Also coming is more on my sisters' visit.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Mystery car

I came across the old car mouldering in a timber yard on the edge of Horni Plana. It looked so neglected, so forlorn and yet you could see that it once had been a fine car. I showed this photo to my husband - who as a boy had swallowed the Observer Book of Automobiles whole and usually can still tell the make of car from a distance. At first he thought it was a Citroen, but then thought better and suggested it was a 1930's Tatra.

I appeal to anyone who knows to let us know one way or another. But, as this is a blog about the Czech Republic, the former Czechoslovakia and all things Czech, I shall assume it is a Tatra - as it allows me to blog about this fascinating car manufacturer. Its story is in some ways a mirror of the history of the Czech people. In the first part of the last century the Czechs were at the forefront of design and engineering. The Tatra is the world's third oldest car manufacturer and its car design and engineering were ahead of their time. The T77 launched in 1934 was the first production aerodynamic car with its dorsal rear fin and rear-mounted engine. It was to be very influential - Ferdinand Porsche used some of its design features in the more famous Volkswagen Beetle.

As with the wider history of the Czech Republic, this flowering of innovation came to an end under the German occupation. Whilst German officers enjoyed the car's speed, the company's
activity was restricted and its designs plundered in favour of German car companies. After the war the company was nationalised under the communists. Even under the communists the Czech company still managed to produce some fine cars; these were not for the proletariat but for the senior officials and Party elite. More recently the company has abandoned car production and focused exclusively on lorries. Despite all the problems of its past, Tatra has survived and is being rebuilt - rather like the country that spawned it.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


I am in England. And it is wonderful here, but I feel the Czech Republic beginning to creep into my thoughts. Perhaps it is because I know I will going back on Tuesday and I am getting ready. But I doubt it. I rather think of Czecho as ringworm. It gets under my skin and keeps spreading, just like the alien in that Doctor Who episode which I watched from behind my parent's sofa. If that sounds unfair (and it is) of all the similes I could use for Czecho I think a fungus is most appropriate.

How does it get under my skin? Well I get the urge to read fairy stories and poetry and I dream about the house. I get the urge to walk in woods, to sniff the air and smell pine resin, leaf loam and that mushroomy smell. And so yesterday I went up into the woods and walked. In the morning I was British enjoying the May sunshine and the sea of bluebells, in late afternoon I returned together with basket. This I filled with St George's mushrooms, which were nearly as abundant as the bluebells and seemed to like the same conditions. Now, in Czecho I doubt I would ever go out in mushroom season (which is after all most of the year) without a basket and mushroom knife. I will be back to get my fix of Czechness very soon.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Tourist Information

In a previous blog I recommended that visitors to Cesky Krumlov avoid the Unios Information Centre in the castle and go instead to the town information centre on the Town Square. As regular readers of this blog will be aware I am concerned about the visitor management and the development of sustainable tourism in this lovely town and I would be loathe to suggest that the Town Square Information Centre is doing a brilliant job, it isn't.

My much loved and much missed Aunt Zoe used to run the tourist information centre in the small Cotswold town where we all lived. She like all her team were volunteers, who gave freely of their time to share with visitors the joys of the place and location. They were committed to promoting the town and supporting the local economy. The small information centre was packed with rack upon rack of leaflets about where to stay, where to eat, what to visit and do. A tourist visiting the centre would walk out of it with the itinerary for their visit (be it for a weekend or a fortnight) filled. The team behind the desk were knowledgeable about the area and were generally able to answer any question, and if on the rare occasion they couldn't they would get on the phone and find the answer.

Contrast this minor British tourist information centre with the ones you find here in the Czech Republic. You are hard pressed to find more than a couple of leaflets of relevance in the Cesky Krumlov Town Information Centre and the staff are often unable to help. My aunt knew that the way to sell her local town was not just to promote what was there, but what was nearby, thus encouraging the visitor to stay in the town for several nights rather than the one and use the town as a base to explore the wider Cotswolds. This lesson appears not have been learnt in Cesky Krumlov. Where are the leaflets on the Sumava National Park, on Ceske Budejovice and other nearby towns? Surely this is the way to encourage longer stays in the town to show that it is a perfect base for a longer holiday. It is as if the staff are afraid that the visitor will be tempted to leave rather than stay longer. Aunt Zoe would have soon put them right.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...