Sunday, 25 July 2010

Blog Themes Updated - Places to Visit

As the blog gets larger I thought I might help readers interested in certain topics by creating some pages which list the blog's content by theme. I promise to update the pages as new posts are added.

The themes are: Czech Nature, Czech Customs & Culture, Places to visit in South Bohemia, Buying and Restoring a Czech House, Czech History and Politics, Day to Day Life in the Czech Republic. This post covers Places to Visit in South Bohemia, more posts for other themes will follow.

Page updated 28 July 2010

Blog themes - Day to Day Updated

As the blog gets larger I thought I might help readers interested in certain topics by creating some pages which list the blog's content by theme. I promise to update the pages as new posts are added.
The themes are: Czech Nature, Czech Customs & Culture, Places to visit in South Bohemia, Buying and Restoring a Czech House, Czech History and Politics, Day to Day Life in the Czech Republic. This post covers Day to Day Life, click on the links above for the others.

List updated July 26th 2010.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Basket of Forest Fruits

I mentioned in my recent post on the Celebrations of the Five-petalled Rose that my husband bought me a small basket for picking forest fruits. I thought you might like to know that I very quickly made good use of it.

One day I arranged to meet Salamander at Olsina for supper and an evening swim in the lake, but I decided I would walk there. I left the house when the afternoon was still sweltering and headed up the hill and into the woods. I took with me two baskets - one for chanterelle mushrooms and one (this one) for wild strawberries and bilberries.

There's a good bank for strawberries along the path and I soon was picking. Further into the woods on the other side of the hill the bilberries were now ripe. The wild bilberry harvest this year has been patchy - there are whole areas which show no berries at all and others where berries are ripe and ready for picking. Picking these fruits (without one of those wood and wire berrypickers) takes forever, but they are worth it. They taste heavenly and only a few of the little fruits is enough to produce a lot of flavour, so unlike the watery cultivated varieties. My favourite recipe is simply to microwave them with some sugar for a minute or so and eat with either cream or yoghurt. Another recipe is to make some babovka mixture (the commercial babovka dry mix does nicely), pour into a baking tray, sprinkle with bilberries and cook in the oven 160 degrees for an hour or so.

It was hot work and took a couple of hours to pick this lot (and a load of chanterelles), so boy did I need that swim. But it was worth it - there were maybe five meals in this basket.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

World-class Concert Hall for Ceske Budejovice

It looks as though Ceske Budejovice is going to get a world-class concert hall. The hall, nicknamed the manta ray (reynok in Czech) because of its shape, was designed by the Czech architect Jan Kaplicky, who died in January. Kaplicky, who had lived in London for forty years, will be known to British readers for his media centre at Lords Cricket Ground and for the curvaceous Selfridges building in Birmingham. However in his home country Kaplicky had been less honoured. His remarkable plans for an octopus-shaped National Library, to be built in Prague, won an international architectural competition, but foundered on the prejudice of Czech politicians and, one suspects, the envy of other architects.

It is perhaps an indication of Ceske Budejovice's aspirations and forward-looking nature that the architect Prague rejected Budejovice welcomed. It is also an indication of the city's aspirations to be a major cultural centre. The Manta Ray will be the home of the South Bohemian Philharmonic Orchestra, which currently has to make do with a converted church as its home. The Ray actually will be called the Antonin Dvorak Centre, but I prefer the Ray and so no doubt will my fellow South Bohemians. There will be two concert halls - one with 1000 seats and another with 400. A major feature of the design is the inclusion (unique as far as I know in concert halls) of a large window at the rear of the hall looking out onto the park in which the Ray will be built.

Ceske Budejovice deserves the Ray. Jan Kaplicky deserves at last, albeit too late, to receive proper recognition in his homeland. And I can't wait to step inside this weird and wonderful building and better still to sit in one of its auditoria and listen to a concert.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Dream Language

People regularly ask me, "So do you speak Czech, then?"

The answer is no, but it could increasingly be: "No, but sometimes I understand it." My attempts at learning the language have in many ways failed, but somehow (in a way I don't quite understand) it is creeping into my subconscious.

I now know this for a fact rather than a fancy, because a week ago I actually had a dream some of which was in Czech. Am I certain it was Czech? No, as I didn't entirely understand what was said in my dream, but I understood bits of it. Nevertheless I rather think that my brain has been processing Czech without me realising it.

I certainly can understand sometimes when a) it doesn't matter, b) the person speaks slowly and c) there are enough words that I do know and the context is such that I can probably guess a significant number of the rest.

But speaking Czech - that is another matter. However even here I am beginning to detect signs of progress. I had to speak Czech a bit for the tour I organised and I was even complemented on my pronunciation of the famous Czech soft r - which apparently I pronounced perfectly. There is a downside to this: in the museum at Zumberk, as I had asked for the tickets etc in Czech, I was expected to translate for the guide. And did I manage it - do I hear you ask? Yes, some of it anyway.

Yesterday I drove to England from the Czech Republic and I got linguistically extremely confused. Although German is officially my second language (I have an A level in it), I kept speaking in Czech both in Germany and France. Then on the ferry I actually managed to apologize to a Brit in Czech!

Ah well, all these signs seem to indicate that I am getting somewhere with this infernal language at last.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


One of the delights of Czech cuisine are the many recipes made using poppyseeds. To feed the Czech appetite for "mak" you will find the Czech countryside covered with fields filled with poppies. They make a stunning show too, but alas a time-limited one. Unlike the sometimes equally remarkable display of wild poppies we have in England which can turn a field bright red, the Czech version is a pale lilac colour.

The reason is that these are opium poppies. In the old days Czechs would harvest some of the green poppy heads and set them aside for medicinal uses. I heard on Prague radio the other day that even eating too many Czech poppyseed cakes for breakfast can result in your blood testing positive for the narcotic. But don't let that stop you trying them, you have to eat at least six before it does so, and six is too much for even the most avid cake eater.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Swimming with the Fishes.

With the temperatures in the 90s the Czechs are taking to the rivers and lakes. Cesky Krumlov and the Vltava River, that flows through it, are thronged with people making the journey downriver by canoe or raft. It is very much a communal thing - with the river looking like a motorway on a bank holiday. As the rafters sail past they shout ahoy to the onlookers lining the bridges.

But I prefer the more solitary pleasure of swimming in a local lake. This is a pleasure I have only recently discovered, having been invited by fellow blogger Salamander to swim in Lake Olsina (above). At Olsina (a shallow carp lake) the water is warm but pleasantly cooler than the air temperature. There is usually no one there but us and the occasional fisherman or a passing cyclist (or even once four nuns) . I am no great swimmer but you don't need to be, the water is shallow. So I just lie back in the water, float and look up at the mountains. You are at one with nature. Crested grebes call to one another and large carp rise to the surface. Complete bliss - and I can walk there from my house.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Celebration 2 - Golden Path

A week after Cesky Krumlov had its Five-Petaled Rose festival , I went to a similar festival in Prachatice. This was a celebration of 1000 years of the old salt way - the Golden Path.

The Golden Path was one of those old trade routes which have crossed Europe for centuries. Along it salt was brought from the mines in the Alps (via Passau), over the Sumava to Bohemia. Salt, as the historians among you will know, was extremely valuable * - allowing people to preserve meat when there were no fridges and hence the path came to be known as the Golden Path. Prachatice grew up rich on this trade and the Golden Path.

The festival bore several similarities to the Five-Petaled Rose Celebration - historical processions, performances on the square and in the Parkan gardens, and a large (larger than in Krumlov) market. Prachatice clearly has ambitions as a tourist town, something it is very suited to. However this was above all a local community celebration, everyone was out enjoying themselves, including the local gypsy population which seemed to have set up camp in the middle of the square and were holding a celebration all of their own.

One of the highlights of the day was the arrival of a packhorse caravan, which I believe had traveled all the way from Passau. Another procession featured parties from other salt route towns, including ones in Austria and Germany, and other local Czech towns, which showed a certain generosity on the part of Prachatice.

I like Prachatice. The Tourist Information Centre was very helpful to me when I was organising the recent tour. Unlike the Cesky Krumlov TIC the Prachatice one is full of leaflets from attractions in the surrounding area and even further afield. I like the way Prachatice centre still feels like a real town, rather than a centre devoted to visitors, with the locals pushed out to the edge. I like the town's dynamism. And Prachatice is set in divine countryside - on the edge of the Sumava Forest. So, yes, it should be much better known as tourist destination. Cesky Krumlov watch out, there's a new kid on the block!

* The english word salary is derived from the latin from salt.


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