Saturday, 26 February 2011

Masopust - Czech Carnival

Here is a video of Masopust (Czech Carnival) in my local town of Horice Na Sumave.  What I love about the Horice version is that it is very much by and for the locals. Masopust will be celebrated in Cesky Krumlov in just over a week's time. I will try and get a video of that too, so you can see the differences between the two.

Of course there is far more to Masopust than what you see here, for more see my previous blogs on the subject, or better still come and experience yourself.

PS Sorry about the spelling mistake at the end of the video - goodness knows how many times I watched the thing and still I didn't see it until it went up on Youtube!

Thursday, 24 February 2011

New Trains

The Czechs are busy upgrading their railway system. The latest development has been this swanky yellow replacement for the little train on the line from Ceske Budejovice to the Sumava via my home station of Horice Na Sumave. And very nice it is too. My only grouse with it is that for some stations like Hodnov which serves Olsina Lake you have to make a request stop. I found myself hurtling towards Hodnov without the means to attract the conductor who was clearly ensconced in the nice warm cab chatting with the driver. I ended up pressing the button by the door several times which seemed to do the trick. The conductor came out in time to speak with me only when I had dismounted (maybe I pressed the wrong button). But then this is only problem if you board at a station without a ticket office. The advantage was he was too late to collect the fare!

The other major change that is coming is the upgrading of the line between Prague and Ceske Budejovice. The change will mean the line can take high-speed trains, which will in turn cut the travel time to South Bohemia. Sadly part of this upgrading has been the installation of large concrete sound-proofing screens to protect houses along the route from the increased noise. I say sadly because one of the joys of the route was looking at the villages and into people's orchards and gardens.Now all you see is the corregated concrete wedges.

The new trains will replace what my nieces refered to as "Harry Potter" trains, with their individual compartments. These could be a blessing and a curse - a blessing because they afforded some privacy, a curse because if you were unlucky to get in one with someone with body odour there was nowhere to go and if you opened the window you could almost bet your fellow travellers would close it again!  Meanwhile I have stopped using the Prague train, the Student Agency Coach is currently faster and delivers me direct to Cesky Krumlov and at the moment because of the works on the line you may start your journey on a train, but you usually end up being transfered on to a coach and back again.We'll see whether the new fast trains can tempt me back.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Snow, ice and yaktrax

This is what I woke to yesterday. This is the view from my window. It had started snowing again late on Friday afternoon and continued to lunchtime. I decided I would walk to the bus through the winter landscape and enjoy the snow whilst it was soft and pristine. All very poetic.

But my relationship with Czech snow and ice is a somewhat fraught one. You will have seen in previous posts how much I love the snow here; it is in my opinion in a different class to the British version – dryer, finer, crisper. Ice and compacted snow however is a different matter.

Whichever way I approach my home I am required to go up hill. Two roads enter the village and neither of them are ever gritted. The passage of cars and the snowplough turn my lovely crunchy snow to ice in a matter of a few days. I probably should buy myself a sledge and slide down to the station, but I would still have to haul it back up the slippery slope.

Whilst in England on the recommendation of my osteopath I bought myself some Yaktrax. This incredible invention is probably best described as snow chains for shoes and the difference it makes is remarkable. They have one, rather major, drawback – they should not be worn on gravel or tarmac. When the snow thaws on my roads, which this year it has been doing off and on a lot, I am faced with expanses of bare road and patches of ice. I tried leaving the Yaktrax on and had the alarming experience of the metal springs actually sparking on the granite grave. And so I leave them off and try to avoid ice patches.

A week or so ago I walked down to the station on just such a day of thaw, I had done well. And I turned off the road on to the concrete path to the station. It was covered with black puddles and I walked confidently on looking at my goal. Suddenly my legs just slid out from under me and I landed on my side in an inch of icy water. Unsteadily and somewhat painfully I made my way across what I now realised was black ice to the station, only to discover that I had misread the timetable and I had a further forty minutes to wait on the cold platform in my wet clothes.

I am beginning to think, that like all the other villagers, I should get a car.These romantic walks in the snow are all very well, but I'm a fifty-year old woman with a back to think about

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Winter in the Sumava

This is a picture of my Czech home. It huddles under a hill called Liska Dira (Fox Hole) and is well-named given the number of foxes I hear and see in these winter months. It sits just outside of the Sumava natural landscape protected area, in the foothills of the Sumava Mountains and Forest.

The name Sumava comes from the sound leaves make in the wind - the whispering or russling forest. But at this time of year there is very little sound of whispering leaves, just that silence that comes with snow and maybe a "whoosh" as snow falls from the branches. Right now, I'm sitting in a friend's cottage which sits next to a frozen, snow-covered lake. In a few minutes I will put on my walking shoes and head off into the forest. I need to clear my head and fill my lungs with fresh Czech winter air. But first I am writing this for you.

Our local little train which I travelled on this morning was full of Czechs heading for the deeper snow and forests of the Sumava National Park. The Park is one of the Czech Republic's best kept secrets - forming with the neighbouring Bohmerwald the largest forest in Central Europe - "Europe's Green Lung." Only it's not very green now. On the slopes of the Sumava's mountains there are ski resorts - affordable ones - and through its forests, across its plains and along its lakes run hundreds of kilometres of landlaufing trails.

The sun is out, the snow is virginal and I'm heading for the hills.  

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Diamonds in the Snow

I keep writing about diamonds in the snow in the Czech Republic and my British friends and family nod and say "Yes, how lovely". But until you've seen them, I don't think you really can know how remarkable these ice formations are. Even in the recent snowy British winters I have not seen anything like them. They are not just the occasional flash of light against pristine winter snow. They are large crystals that grow in formation as the result of a succession sunny days followed by bitterly cold nights. The UK just doesn't get that sort of weather - a couple of bright days if we are lucky, before the grey presses in once more.

They are inevitably not easy to photograph - so my apologies that my efforts here do not do them full justice. But perhaps they might give you, dear reader, a glimmer of the pleasure they bring me.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Mice again

I have arrived back in the Czech Republic to find pristine snow glittering with ice diamonds and clear blue skies. I have also found that I share my home with mice. I suppose it is hardly surprising given the long grass surrounding the house now a foot deep in snow. My local field mice have packed their bags and taken to the warmth of my house.

This is not the first time I have had this problem, as long-standing readers of this blog will know. Before I left the house I spent a great deal of time blocking holes in skirting boards with sadra (plaster) and cutting strips of wood to fit the gaps in the floorboards (my builders had very kindly supplied the mice with perfect nest-building conditions by putting insulation materials under the floorboards). All in vain, alas.

I had left one bed ready made for my return, I turn back the duvet ready to climb in and lo! - a pile of bean husks and mice poo. The following day I searched the house to find that the little furry darlings had knocked over a container of dried peas and struck lucky as the lid had come off, not one pea was left to be seen. Well not to be seen there, all day I found stashes of peas - among the bedclothes, in the towels, in my stationary drawer. Then as I lifted a pillow off the wardrobe a huge quantity of peas fell through a hole which had been gnawed in the pillowcase. I still cannot work out how they got up there, I had to stand on a chair to look, sure enough there was another pile of peas.

Back in the bedroom where I had first found the remnants of mice midnight feast, I suddenly noticed the corpse of a mouse by the table and then, as I picked that up with a shovel, another under the radiator. There was no sign of injury on them and they were as fat as mice who had been living on the products of my larder should be. I carried them into the yard and left them for the farmcat. I am hoping the dried peas disagreed with them. It will save me from extracting mangled corpses from mousetraps if so.


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