Friday, 27 November 2009

Restoring An Old Farmhouse, Making A Home

Across the village from our house stands an old farmhouse. The village is built at the upper end of a valley and sits in a semi-circle, as a result I look out of my lounge window and see the old farmhouse directly opposite my home. For a long time it was semi-derelict and a bit of a blot on the landscape. But now things are changing.

A local man has taken it on as a project. He needs a family home and is prepared to put in the hard work to turn this ruin into one. I wish him all the best in his endeavour. It was bad enough transforming our place, but he really has taken on a monster. Over the last few months the old roof has been removed and replaced. It looks to me as though he is doing much of it himself - work on the roof seemed to happen at weekends, the scaffolding was made not of the normal metal poles but of silver birch trunks nailed in place.

But making the house waterproof is the first step, every time I walk past I look at the windows and through them to the derelict interior. The new owner is a brave man, but for many Czechs the rise in house prices has made being brave the only option if you want a home.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Art Nouveau Architecture in Budejovice

Over the last few weeks I have been developing a website which promotes a comprehensive service for finding, buying and running properties in South Bohemia. The service is run by a fellow ex-pat, who has been helping Brits buy properties in the area for several years now. By the way I did it for free, so this is not a commercial.

I'm not a web designer, but I must say I am rather pleased with the result on

It was created using Google's Sites, with a bit of HTML adjustment.

And it allowed me the pleasure of wandering round Ceske Budejovice taking photos of beautiful Art Nouveau apartment buildings ( see above). Of course the site also covers how to find cottages, and houses in Cesky Krumlov, Ceske Budejovice and South Bohemia, but we found we already had photos of the other property types.

As a Brit one tends to focus on the delightful old cottages, farmhouses and townhouses that abound here, and certainly that is what attracted us to buy here. But from an investment point of view Ceske Budejovice makes a lot of sense: Budejovice Airport is opening to international flights in 2012 and the city is the commercial centre of the region. And then there are these lovely Art Nouveau apartments and villas, and even Art Deco ones too.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

God I love this country!

Every time I leave this place it puts on its best show and charms me all over again. Today I walked down to catch the bus into Cesky Krumlov before getting the Student Agency Coach to Prague, from thence to the airport and so to rainy England.

We have been having some superb late Autumn weather recently, which has been breaking temperature records, 20 degrees and over, clear blue skies and sunshine. A couple of nights ago I walked up from the bus stop under a star-laden sky. In most parts of England when you are lucky enough to have a clear night sky, you can not see all the stars because of light pollution, you see perhaps the main stars, the main constellations. Looking up here I can see not only Orion, but all the smaller dimmer stars that glisten within it.

There was no moon, but the starlight was sufficient to light the road for me. When I came among the trees and so was forced to turn on my torch, there at my feet were more stars, this time of frost covered grass. This morning the frost was still sparkling in the early morning sun. A mixture of mist and woodsmoke hung around the valley, lit up by the low sunshine. Even the realisation that I had misread the bus timetable could not deflate my joy at today's display.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Getting Ready for the Czech Winter

I've been spending my last few days ensuring we are ready for the Czech winter. It gave the north of the country quite a shock in October by arriving two months early and bringing transport to a standstill as cars and lorries, still on summer tyres, slithered to a stop on snowbound roads. But here in the south we have avoided it, so far, but not for much longer.

I gave up on a load of old roof timbers which I had been keeping under tarpaulin for a time when I might need them. They were showing signs of woodworm and some had a bloom of fungus. So I got two nice guys to appear with their chainsaw and cut them up along with the sycamore trees we cut down in the summer. That was three weeks ago and I have been splitting and stacking logs ever since, helped by the purchase of a heavy splitting axe from an ironmongers in Trebon. There is a huge pile of logs outside the front door, as I know from experience that I will not want to be fetching firewood from the snowheaps when they arrive in the yard.

The patio outside the front door was rebuilt this summer. The previous structure was a typical product of the previous owners - an awful lot of rather badly laid concrete (which probably fell off the back of a lorry). During last winter the concrete steps up to it were lethal, as they sloped in the wrong direction taking water into the foundations of the house where it turned to ice and then broke up the concrete. Result? I slipped on the ice and hurt my ankle. My lovely Czech builders found large granite sets beneath the surface of the patio, with which they rebuilt the steps and partly surfaced the patio. Everything now slopes in the right direction (I have been checking with jugs of water). And today the builders came to measure up the loft for insulation.

So are we ready for whatever the Czech winter will throw at us? We shall see; it has a habit of producing a few surprises.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ceske Budejovice Gastronomically Attractive

As part of my research for the Archaeological Society Visit, I acquired a booklet called Ceske Budejovice Gastronomically Attractive, which is as you might expect a guide to eating out in Ceske Budejovice. And very useful it is too.

However the reason I am blogging about it is the blurb about one restaurant, which I will now replicate here, without comment. I will leave that to you, dear reader:

"The interior of Restaurace Beran is one of the most beautiful and diverse in the city. The cellars in the house are unusually structured into several separate rooms. The guest can sit in the Italian saloon dominated by a model of the leaning Tower of Pisa or a Mexican hacienda with decorations evoking the atmosphere of the Mexican countryside and last but not least a mountain chalet full of rural motifs. The visitor to Restaurace Beran will find a mountain belfry, a stone well, a bird hut and a genuine ram. The restaurant's interior is full of natural materials which create a very pleasant impression. Probably the biggest surprise awaits visitors in the evening hours. A unique lightshow brings a response from every visitor. The ringing of cowbells, the rumbling of a storm, the bleating of sheep or the St Nicholas frolicking of devils, accompanied by lighting effects are professionally blended into an integral several minute show. The menu consists of dishes of international cuisine. The menu consists of dishes typical of Mexican, Italian and traditional Czech cuisine. The recipes are simple and not difficult to prepare."

The photo comes from the restaurant's website - and shows the genuine ram.

Monday, 9 November 2009


As part of my research for the Archaeological Society trip to South Bohemia (see previous post) it was interesting to return to Prachatice the other day. It has been at least two years since I went there last and quite a bit of restoration has been taking place, including to the decoration on the renaissance buildings around the town square. Many have created using sgraffito, a process by which the design is scratched (hence the name) into the plaster.

I don't usually do posts in which the main content is photos, but it seems appropriate here. I hope you enjoy them.

Friday, 6 November 2009

White Hairs

Over the last few weeks I have been running around organising a visit to South Bohemia by some 35 members of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. I am a long-standing member of the Society and in a fit of enthusiasm volunteered to organise the Society's annual overseas trip for 2010, in response to the news that the couple, who had been organising the trips for many successful years, were retiring. I am not being paid for doing this, but as I love showing my beloved Czech Republic with fellow Brits how could I resist?

The problems with the logistics of my offer did not at first hit me, until it dawned upon me that the Czech tourism year ends on 31st October at the latest, and often halfway through September for the smaller sites. I didn't know I was organising the trip until the beginning of October! So as you can imagine the last few weeks have been frantic. However they did afford me the opportunity to visit a load of historic sites, museums etc, some of which were unknown to me before I started the work and some which were known but unvisited. I promise to blog more about these visits in the near future.

But the visits to these Czech visitor sites have done nothing for my self image. Why? Because on a number of occasions I was asked if I was a pensioner! I am 51 and was horrified. At first I thought that this might be because in the Czech Republic women are allowed to retire early according to how many children they have had (or so I have been told) - a legacy of the communist era. But my friend suggested another reason - "It's because you don't dye your hair", she said, "All Czech women dye their hair, even when they are 80." And she is right. My husband and I spent an afternoon trying to spot women with white hair, and they were few and far between, I can tell you.

So what am I to do? In England it is somewhat in for a dig, especially among the educated middle classes, to dye your hair. I have been complimented on how well my hair was going grey - "You couldn't pay to get highlights like that," said my hairdresser, who should have had a vested interest in encouraging me to dye my hair. But in the Czech Republic, my second home, my hair makes me an old biddy. Oh, the dilema of having feet in two countries!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Czech Wedding

I was in Prachatice last Saturday looking at the wonderful frescos and wall decorations in the town square. Why? You will have to wait for another post about that! Anyway I was in Prachatice Town Square, when suddenly there was a great honking of car horns and a procession of cars swept round the square. The fact that they were all decorated with white ribbons rather gave the game away, if I hadn't already known, that this was to announce the arrival of a wedding party.

A group of musicians gathered by the door of a hotel and started up a traditional Czech song. Onlookers gathered, some of whom knew the party and others, one suspects, were just there for a good gawp - there is a type (usually women) that shamelessly gawps both in England and here. And, I confess, I became one of them as I waited to get a snap for this post. The bridal car swept round the square twice and then pulled up. Out she stepped in white and on the arm of her father walked in to a restaurant.

The first time I witnessed such an event, the noise of the honking (the drivers must have their hands permanently pressed on the horn) made me jump. Now I just go "Oh a wedding" and carry on with whatever I'm doing.


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