Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Celebration 1 - The 5 Petaled Rose

I devoted several posts last year to Cesky Krumlov's annual jolly The Celebrations of the Five-Petaled Rose, but this year it will have to do with one. For three days the town is full of people wandering round in historical dress (you do get in free if you are in costume) and everywhere you turn, there is entertainment. Last year I was wowed by it, this year, I think because of a combination of less fortunate weather and the beginning of a migraine, less so. People's jollity all seemed a little bit forced, not surprising in the rain. Nevertheless my husband, who was seeing for the first time, enjoyed it.

One of the fun things about the event was watching for anachronisms - renaissance children with modern knapsacks as above. Men in doublet and hose answering their mobile phones - you get the idea.

My favourite site for entertainment is always the castle courtyard - this is where you get small local community groups performing as well as more professional entertainers. It was here that I caught the local gypsy dance group. A fat little man, whom I have seen regularly strutting around the streets of the town, fiddled with a large tape deck and a group of girls of all ages, dressed in their traditional costumes, danced on the grass in front of an appreciative audience.

Around the courtyard was set the market selling crafts and some food. The festival provides three red-letter days in the calendar of local craftspeople, a time when they get to sell to an audience of many thousands. But this year the rain took its toll, last year by the third day the stalls were beginning to look bare, but this year they were almost as full as on the first. My husband did his bit, by buying me a little basket in which to collect wild strawberries from the woods (I have used it already). But I fear that at this time of recession the town's weather conspired against a good harvest for the craftspeople of Krumlov.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Englishman Swimming the Vltava River

Paul Whitaker is a keen sportsman, but (he says) by no means an elite athlete. Nevertheless, in October 2009 he set himself the daunting challenge of swimming from České Budějovice (leaves 28 June) to Prague (arrives 17 July). That's 175 kilometres, which is about 174.90 more kilometres more than I could manage. He plans to swim three hours a day, followed by back-up boat containing two Czechs and hopefully a barrel of beer.

Apart from the usual British "because it's there" motive, Paul is doing this to raise money for a Czech charity, Asistence, which supports people with disabilities. And I reckon we expats should be supporting his efforts. So come on dear reader put your hand in your pocket for Paul.

Donations from within the Czech Republic the bank details are bank account 235376432, bank sortcode 0300, from outside it is IBAN: CZ3103000000000235376432, BIC: CEKOCZPP, Bank: Československá obchodní banka, a.s., Radlická 333/150, 150 57 Praha 5, Czech Republic.

Paul has a website on if you want to know more, and includes a blog for Paul's diary.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

What My Visitors Liked - Budweiser Budvar

A number of my friends have asked what the members of the tour I organised liked most. The answer is that everyone seemed to like different things. I had designed the tour to offer something for everyone and to ensure that each day had variety, combining stunning Renaissance buildings with Gothic and Baroque, industrial history with fine and folk art. Feedback suggested that people were surprised by what they saw - we Brits have so little knowledge of this country outside Prague. They were surprised too by the quality of the food and hospitality.

One woman said that the surprise for her was the tour of Budweiser Budvar Brewery. She had expected not to enjoy it - it being a "man's thing". The brewery tour was included by special request of the (male) Chairman, quite rightly as how can you visit this home of beer and not go to a brewery. What made it a joy for her was the guide - a delightful middle-aged Czech lady (see picture on previous post) who just loved her subject. She would make comments about Czech men ("our men") and their love of beer and beam at us. Her grin would fill her face, so much so that her eyes disappeared.

And what she had to tell us was also fascinating. The water used to make the beer comes from huge artesian wells under Ceske Budejovice. The heat generated by the brewery is piped to local homes to provide heating - an advantage of having had a planned economy. The hops come to the brewery on their own trains and railway line. At the end we saw the huge bottling plant, including bottles being recycled (more of that in a future post). Of course we had a visit to the cellars and a chance to taste the amber nectar.

However a cloud hangs over Budweiser Budvar. It is still state owned and there are moves in the current climate of costcutting and savings to privatize the brewery. The workers are worried, as are many Czechs, that the company will be sold to a large international conglomerate. How long would Budvar's traditions last, not just in its approach to brewing (which takes more time than that of its competitors) but in its wider place in the community? Would our lovely lady guide still be beaming in her pride at working for a national institution?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Tour

Well, my first guided tour of South Bohemia is over. My guests departed on Sunday. Since then I have slept a lot, scythed part of the orchard, gone shopping, cleaned the house, washed a week's worth of clothes etc and generally re-emerged into real life.

"And how did it go?" I hear you ask.

The answer is really well. After weeks of rain and cold the sun shone, the temperature shot up to 30+ degrees and South Bohemia put on its best clothes for my visitors. Before their arrival I had worried that they would not like it, that my plans would go astray, that we would arrive somewhere and they would have forgotten that we were coming. Now looking back I ask myself why I put myself through so much angst. Of course my visitors loved South Bohemia - it is a wonderful country. The sites we were visiting were the best I could find. The days were carefully balanced so that there was something of interest for everyone. Hadn't I always said that the educated Brits would love this part of the world if they only found it? And I was right.

What I hadn't really expected was the welcome my visitors would receive from the Czechs. At nearly every site we were warmly welcomed and told that this was the first group of Brits they had had and how much they wanted more Brits to come. In the hotel (Hotel Budweis, Ceske Budejovice) the receptionist would search the web for information for the British guests. It was interesting to see that the warmth was reciprocated - the coach driver commented on how lovely my guests were and a number of other Czechs also spoke with admiration of the British guests, in particular their genuine interest in what they were seeing.

I have always thought that there was some common bond between our two peoples and this visit seems to confirm it. I suppose my previous fears were not just about failure on my part, but about being wrong about this. Well, I needn't have worried.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Chicken of the Woods

For the first week of my return to the Czech Republic it hardly stopped raining (or it felt like it anyway). Now at last the sun is shining and I hope it stays that way, as the long planned tour of South Bohemia by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society starts on Monday.

But being British I managed to find a silver lining to the clouds: for the first time I have been picking one of my favourite fungi here, chicken of the woods. I was driving along and there it was growing on one of the oak trees that line the man-made lakes near Trebon. I stopped the car, quarter filled a carrier bag in a few minutes and went my way. One night I ate it schnitzel style with lemon juice and the night before I used my favourite chicken of the woods recipe – risotto. The rest is in the freezer, as this fungi freezes without loss of texture and flavour.

I was telling a Czech friend about it and she sighed. “We Czechs do not eat it,” she said. “You British are much more adventurous.” She couldn't be further from the truth – most Brits wouldn't dare pick any wild fungus, let alone eat it. I am an exception from that rule. But then I suppose having broken the British "don't eat any wild mushrooms" taboo, I don't have any of the Czech prejudices either, including the one against fungi that grow on trees. All the more for me then!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


I apologise for the short pause between postings, but I have been driving back to the Czech Republic after my few weeks in England. I arrived in England on the day of the General Election and then managed to arrive back here just in time for the Czech election. I am clearly a glutton for punishment. I am not a fan of the hoohah that surrounds elections, the principle of elections yes, but I'd rather just put a cross in a box without having to endure the weeks prior.

It has however been interesting to observe the Czech election process. The first difference I noticed was the sheer number of election posters. Huge billboards with smiling or frowning politicians (usually male) line the roads, even in the country. Every telephone box and bus shelter is covered with them. And why, I ask myself, do they choose such awful photos, ones they should be ashamed to have even in a passport? Either that or politicians are particularly ugly. I was talking about one poster to some British friends. “You know the one,” I said. “The one who looks like a shocked weasel.” Sadly for the poor man, my friends all knew which one I meant.

The Social Democrats have had a particularly mawkish poster campaign in a shameless effort to portray itself as a protector of the family (or should that be “hard-working family”) against the cuts and austerity proposed by the right-wing parties. Here's one such poster – and yes they also had one of a baby being kissed. This campaign then was countered by a series of parodies - one poster showed Paroubek with the slogan "I promise the weekend will be five days longer."

Throughout the campaign it appeared that the Social Democrat approach was working, with opinion polls showing them apparently heading for "a great victory" (according to their leader the so-called bulldozer of Czech politics Jiri Paroubek). But it does not do to believe opinion polls, the Social Democrats did come first with 22%, but only 1.8% ahead of the next party the Civic Democrats. It was hardly a victory, the Czechs had swung to the right and the only viable coalition government is a right-wing one. The real victors in this election was TOP 09 a new party which ran its campaign on a ticket of welfare cuts and austerity. The unpopular Paroubek recognised the country's mood and stood down as leader. Meanwhile the talks to form a centre-right coalition began. Now doesn't this remind you of somewhere else?


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