Thursday, 30 July 2009

Vyssi Brod Walk

Before I got distracted by Czech mushroom figures I was blogging about Vyssi Brod and promised to talk about a historic trail which starts and ends in the town. It starts next to the major tourist carpark and follows along the edge of the Monastery complex. It took about two hrs to do the walk, the guidebooks say one and half; well thanks to a summer storm there was a tree down on the path so I had to retrace my steps at one point which added time.

The trail takes you past a number of historic industrial features such as a quarry, water hammer, iron mill, and the water channel for the abbey. In addition there are a number of natural features such as a spring and the beautiful St Wolfgang waterfalls - a complex of small waterfalls in the woods above the town.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

A Czech Obsession

I was amused to see that the Czech Ministry of Agriculture has just announced that in 2008 Czechs collected 2.7 billion crowns worth of wild berries and mushrooms from their forests. And 2008 was a bad year! I have blogged before of the Czech obsession with mushrooming and how I too have caught the fungus collecting bug, but the Ministry's figures certainly bring home the scale of the obsession - this is equivalent to 20,000 tonnes of mushrooms, 9,000 tonnes of blueberries and however many of blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries.

Back home in the UK, where mushroom collecting is a hobby indulged in by a small minority who are regarded as eccentrics with a dangerous hobby by the majority population, some conservationists have expressed fears that a small rise in British mushroom hunters will result in endangering British mushrooms. The Czech experience completely gives the lie to this. Here the forests are crawling with people with a whicker basket in one hand and a mushroom knife in the other and yet I have observed that Czech mushrooms not only spring eternal but also do so in far greater numbers than in the UK. My not very scientific evidence is supported by experiments carried out by scientists which have shown that mushroom numbers actually rise in areas which are harvested. I am therefore determined to continue to do my bit, both in the UK and in the Czech Republic, to help sustain the mushroom population (purely for conservation reasons you understand). Now where did I put my basket?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Vyssi Brod

Vyssi Brod is a small town to be found on the fledgling River Vltava just east of the Lipno Lakes and south of Cesky Krumlov. During the summer its banks are home to holidaying canoeists, in addition there are a number of tourists (many day visitors from nearby Germany and Austria) who come to visit the ancient abbey that dominates the town. And it was for this last reason that my husband and I made the short trip to the town.

The monastery was founded in the 13th Century but the current buildings date back to the 15th when the abbey was rebuilt following a disastrous fire. The monastery as the Czech guidebook has it "is the architectonic dominant feature of the town" - Czechs seem to be into architectonic dominants, as the phrase appears in several guidebooks - ie the building dominates the town.

Our first task was to get into the building. Visits to Czech buildings usually happen in guided tours, so you have to wait for one to go round, ideally one in English. Unfortunately for us we had just missed one, the next was in Czech and anyway was full up, so we had to wait for a German-language tour (we were given an English translation). This gave us an hour to waste, we therefore wandered into the main town, and away from the tourist trail. In the town square a children's theatre company were performing to a rapt audience. I wandered into the small tourist information office, where the staff looked shocked to see a tourist. They weren't expecting me, indeed every surface was covered with trays of cakes. Although looking for information was quite difficult, nevertheless I managed to find a leaflet about an industry trail which led from the abbey into the surrounding hills, - something I will blog about next time.

After a coffee we returned to the monastery and waited and waited. The coach of visiting Germans, who were to make up the majority of our party, had not arrived. Two hours after arriving at Vyssi Brod we at last stepped into the monastery sans German coach party. The highlights of the tour were for us the cloister gallery full of lovely gothic and baroque statues, the stunning library and the church itself. The Germans had arrived shortly into the tour and turned out to be a choir and were asked to demonstrate the church's wonderful acoustics by the guide. This they did and more than made up for the delay they had caused.

On leaving the church we stopped to look at part of the monastery which had not been restored. During the communist era the monastery had been allowed to decline into an appalling condition and we were shocked to see what had happened. Over the last two decades the monastery has been gradually been restored, often with money from Germany, as Vyssi Brod was very much a German monastery. On our return to the carpark I located the starting point for the historical trail, but that would have to wait for another day.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Monsters in the Wood

As I was walking in the woods above my home I came across these two monsters. I walk there regularly (especially in the mushroom season) and had not seen them before, so their appearance seemed quite magical. Maybe it was just my state of mind, which led me to find the fantastical. First there was the dragon hiding in the bilberries with that self-satisfied sneer, as if he has just finished eating an unfortunate mushroom picker..

As for the witch, she fair made me jump. I was walking along a familiar track and there she was, her arm raised. She was formed, when the main body of the tree was snapped off probably by a wind leaving a ragged half stump. I walked along a bit and looked within a few paces the witch was gone and all there was an old tree stump. I retraced my steps and she magically appeared once more.

How appropriate to meet them in a deep, (and not so) dark wood in this home of fairytales.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Finsterau Museum of Sumava Architecture

As I think I said a while back my husband and I have had fun behaving like tourists. As any one who, like us, is doing up a house will tell you, all your spare time is taken up by home improvements, so much so that one forgets what brought you to this country in the first place. So after three years of working on the home, we decided to spend a fortnight going to all those places we kept saying we would go to and never did.

One such place is the open-air museum in Finsterau just over the German border. Here we found a wonderful collection of farms and farm buildings (including a smithy, inn, woodworking workshop) drawn from the German part of the Sumava Forest (Bohmerische Wald). These are kitted out as they would have been in the earlier part of the last century. It is a fascinating museum and gives an insight into a way of life that was devastated by the sudden fall of the Iron Curtain, which split the Sumava in two and destroyed communities.

It of course had particular interest for us, as it gave us some idea about how our house and its outbuildings would have worked. There was not a house exactly like ours, perhaps partly because ours is entirely made of granite, while the majority of the Sumava houses are of timber. Of particular interest was to see the barns in working order and not covered with the debris of neglect as ours are. It gives us an idea that under the layer of earth and compacted manure are stone-floored stalls. We were also particularly interested to look in the cellars. Perhaps we too had a stone trough which held the spring water for use upstairs at one time. Then there were the design of the doors and their furniture etc.

We had lunch in the restored inn – a bowl of goulash soup eaten at a long table that we shared with a family of Germans. Interestingly the waitress, as with the man in the ticket office, did not speak English. We had rather assumed that they would. However, I thought, I have A level German I will understand. Not a bit of it, my German teacher was from Berlin, these people were from Bavaria, the accents were as different as say Glaswegian and Zumerset. The vowel sounds were transformed, something akin to being spoken by a cow.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Devil's Wall

As I am in the UK at the moment I have decided to write a few posts about some of my favourite walks and other sights around Cesky Krumlov.

At a place on the road from Lipno to Vyssi Brod, a little way after you pass Loucovice, you can pull into a carparking area called The Devil's Wall. This remarkable piece of geology sits at the top of an oxbow in the young River Vltava as it makes its way down from Lake Lipno. It is a large cliff of granite slabs left there during the Ice Age by a glacier and nothing is going to move it, not even modern engineering.

Having an afternoon free I decided to make a walk around the area. I parked at the car park but resisted the temptation to stand on the top of the cliffs, that could come as a climax to the walk, instead I followed a path indicated by red lines on the trees down through the forest to where Lake Lipno II (the smaller sister of the larger Lipno to the west) sat in the valley. I followed the path (now a small road) into Vyssi Brod and then took the circle route which runs back first along the northern edge of the lake and then along the northern bank of the River Vltava. The route enters a steep canyon where the giant slabs of granite lie in the riverbed and line the sides of the path.

I crossed the single-track railway line and left the cycle route to enter a nature reserve. The walk had been lovely up then but here it was stunning. Here the path runs right alongside the river which rushes and gushes its way, forcing its path through large granite boulders. This part of the river is called Certovy Proudy, the Devil's Torrents, and with some cause. The river is utterly impassable by canoe here and a sad tribute can be seen to one canoeist who presumably tried and failed. The woodland floor was covered with lily of the valley and other woodland flowers.

Having walked back along the road from Loucovice (a rather sad dull place dominated by its paper mill) towards my car, I took the short track to the top of the Devil's Wall. It was already dusk, but the views along the valley and of the trees clinging to rock were still impressive. I walked back to the car park, delighted to have another lovely walk to add to my collection.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Stopped by the Czech Police

Czech Police regularly do roadside checks, flagging down vehicles they fancy. A few weeks ago I was flagged down. This turned out to be a very good natured affair with a great deal of laughing. The first thing that happened was they realised that they had to change where they were standing, as I was of course in a British right-hand drive car. That done they asked for my papers, which I produced (you are required to have your licence, insurance and registration documents with you at all times). The licence was not a problem – it was a photo one and I was clearly driving. Then they came to the insurance and registration documents. There was a great deal of joshing and banter going on as two of the three policemen were clearly saying to their colleague - “You pulled over a British car, now you read the documents.” One held a paper upside down and laughed. It was obvious that I could have given them my shopping list and so long as it looked right they would have accepted it. Then they realised that my car registration number was on the documents as was my name, so they checked those. Then with a big grin they waved me on.


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