Sunday, 24 December 2017

Happy Christmas


Happy Christmas to you all.

The print is a PF in my collection. It is by Czech artist Frantisek Emler.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Czech Christmas Decorations


You will find beautiful glass Christmas tree decorations in gift shops and on Christmas market stalls all over the Czech Republic. The tradition of making these dainty baubles in this country goes back to the 19th century when glass decorations first replaced apples which had been used for centuries. Now the Czech craftsmen and factories have to compete with cheap imports from China, but the quality of the Czech product is holding its own.

There is a wide range of styles to choose from. From the contemporary twist (sometimes literally) on the old designs, to ones which would not have looked out of place in a Victorian parlour. In addition to the blown balls and twisted glass, the Czechs also make decorations out of beads. I found this complex airplane in an “antik” shop on the Castle Steps in Cesky Krumlov. Most Czech antique shops will have a selection of old decorations for sale.


The majority of Czech glass decoration manufacture takes place in the mountainous north and east. This is because the mountains had the raw materials for glass manufacture: sand, water and timber for the fires. Christmas tree decorations is part of a much wider tradition of Czech glass making, which I intend to talk about in future posts.  


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Letters to the Baby Jesus


If you are thinking about sending a letter to Baby Jesus you better get a move on.  The special Baby Jesus post box opened on the 3rd and will close on the 10th, when the White Lady will be visiting the town to take your letters to the Baby.

In the Czech Republic tradition it is not Santa Claus who brings the children their presents on Christmas Eve but the Baby Jesus (Ježíšek). It is therefore Baby Jesus to whom children address their letters.

The tradition of Baby Jesus goes back at least 400 years and has survived Nazism and Communism, but since the Velvet Revolution Czech children have come under a cultural and commercial onslaught from the West. Is it any surprise that the Baby Jesus is under threat from the American Santa Klaus? Part of the problem is that no one knows what Baby Jesus looks like, unlike the highly branded Santa. Is the Baby a baby? No one knows.

In response to the Santaization of Christmas the Czechs have fought back - there are organisations set up to save the Baby Jesus. As one website states "We fight for traditional Czech Christmas and practices. We want the Baby Jesus to be saved from the invasion of the red fat man and his reindeer underlings." But it is going to be a hard fight.

If you are wondering where to send your letter, please note Baby Jesus does not live in Lapland or at the North Pole, but like a true Czech he lives in the small town of Boží Dar in the Czech Mountains.

Monday, 4 December 2017

St Barbara and the Miners



I was in Cesky Krumlov two years ago today and thought I was just there for the Christmas market. Nothing was due to happen until the day after (5th December) when St Nicholas, accompanied by angels and devils would arrive. I was wrong.  

In the distance came the sound of a brass band and into the town square marched men in uniform carrying standards and flaming torches. These were not soldiers or firemen, but miners from all over the country. They had gathered in Cesky Krumlov for two reasons.



First this was St Barbara's Day. St Barbara is the patron saint of miners, which was why the great church at Kutna Hora by the gold miners of that city is St Barbara's church. In a profession as dangerous as mining it was important to have a saint interceding for you. In one version of the story Barbara fled the ire of her father into a mine where the miners gave her refuge and she has been returning the favour ever since.



Secondly Cesky Krumlov was also a mining town and has its own guild of miners. Gold and silver were to be found in the hills around the town. The other metal, which continued to be mined when gold and silver ran out, was graphite. As you walk along the river path at the foot of the castle you can see the boarded up entrances to small mines and you can even go down the graphite mine on the Chvalsinska Road.


In this old picture of Cesky Krumlov miners you can see most of them are wearing the smart black uniforms that appear on the banner image (above) and that I was seeing in the square. If you look closely the miner behind the truck coming out of the mine is in his work clothes.

After the marching, the music and the speeches, the miners got down to enjoying themselves with their families. And posing for photos!



Saturday, 25 November 2017

Honouring the Czech airmen

Three Wellington Mk ICs of No. 311 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF based at East Wretham, Norfolk, March 1941. CH2265
Wellingtons from the RAF 311 (Czechoslovak) squadron.

Having just passed through the security check for my flight from Prague, I sat down to wait the opening of the gate. As I often do I started talking to the lady on the seat next to me. 

"How long have you been here," I asked.
"Only two days," she replied.
"Not long enough," I said
"No, but I have been here many times. I just came to attend a ceremony for the families of Czech RAF airmen of the Second World War."

We talked and she showed me a picture of her father's name on the plaque just unveiled on the flying lion monument opposite Malastranska Metro station. I was honoured to sit next to the daughter of such a brave man and asked her about him. Here is his story:

He and his cousin left the country in order to fight the Nazis, first they went to Poland to fight, then to North Africa to join the Foreign Legion, before going to France and from there to England. During the war he piloted Lancasters and Wellingtons, until a serious accident put an end to his active service and he moved to training pilots instead. After the war the Czechoslovak squadrons were transfered to the reformed Czech airforce and he returned to his homeland. 

When the Communists came to power and started to purge the airforce, he flew a business man and the man's plane to freedom in the west and came back to Britain. His cousin stayed behind with his family and suffered under the Communists. After all that adventure her father's story should have ended happy ever in England, but it didn't. Still eager to continue flying, he went to Canada. There his luck ran out, his plane experienced mechanical failure and crashed in the vastness of the Canadian wilderness. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

For Those Who Gave


In the hills around my Czech home you can come across many memorials. Often they are wayside shrines to people who died on the roads. But a few remember those who died in the battle to free the country from the Nazis. In this part of the battle zone it was the American army and air force that were fighting.

On the 17th April 1945 a squadron of US fighters led by Captain Reuter had been strafing German airbases at Klatovy and Eisendorf, when Reuter and Lieutenant Preddy both in P-51 Mustangs spotted two German Me-262 jet fighters and commenced pursuit, The faster German planes led them to Ceske Budejovice airport, then a German base, where the Americans undertook another strafing run. It was to be their last.

     

Captain Reuter and Lieutenant Preddy

Both airplanes were hit by anti-aircraft fire. Captain Reuter's plane exploded on being hit and he died instantly.  Metal detectorists are still find fragments of his plane, showing the force with which it hit the ground. Lieutenant Preddy was able to get away, but with his aircraft badly damaged he was only able to get as far as the nearby village of Zaluzi, where he crashed. A local man, Jan Smejkal, took the seriously wounded Preddy by cart to a German emergency treatment centre where he received first aid only. When the Germans refused to transport Preddy to the hospital in Ceske Budejovice, Smejkal took him there in his horse-drawn cart. Preddy died in the hospital, having never regained consciousness.

You will find the above memorial to Lieutenant Preddy on a small road above Zaluzi near the crash site. The memorial to Captain Reuter is near Borsov nad Vltavou at the edge of the woods overlooking Budejovice Airport where he died.


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

So what is this building?


I was researching a trip for a friend of mine when I came across this building. The area I was exploring is the Sobeslav Blat area south west of Tabor, which is famous for its folk traditions and architecture. The buildings are often ornately decorated with Bohemian Baroque plasterwork and I wanted to show this to my friend.

I had travelled through several lovely villages and this, Svinky, was the last on my list. I drove past this building and did a double take. On first appearances it was the village chapel, which indeed it is. But what was it doing with a huge arch at the back, big enough to allow a cart in?

Some online research and I discovered that the building was chapel and smithy! Two of the most important buildings in a farming village were combined in one.

Update 9th November 2017
I have been thinking about this overnight and it has occurred to me that there is something archetypal about this. The blacksmith traditionally is seen as having magical powers. The ability to master fire,so you can turn rocks into first liquid and then solid treasures, must have appeared magical. There is the famous British ballad (No. 44 Child's Ballads) - the Twa Magicians - in which one of the magicians is a magician. At Stonehenge archaeologists have discovered the grave of a smith/shaman.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Extraordinary Portmoneum


I gave my Australian artist friend a tour of the more unknown treasures of the Czech Republic and Litomysl's Portmoneum had to be on the list of stops. From the outside the Portmoneum is a humble single-storey house on a back street in Litomysl, but oh boy what wonders await you inside!

The story of the Portmoneum is the story of two men: one the artist Josef Vachal and the other, Josef Portmon, a teacher and a collector of art especially Vachal's. Portmon's collecting fervour bordered on the obsessive and eventually his demands on Vachal put such a strain on the relationship that the older man wanted nothing more to do with his admirer. In the Portmoneum we benefit from that fervour, for how many collectors would invite an artist to decorate every surface of two rooms in their small house – ceiling, walls and all the furniture? Even then it was not enough for Portmon who sought to commission more, but Vachal refused.


It is quite impossible to fully describe the impact of the Portmoneum. Vachal's art is vibrant, full of strong colours, metaphor and spirituality. Created in the early 1920s Portmoneum's expressionism stems from the Art Nouveau movement, but it both looks back at the Baroque and forward to today. In this his greatest work Vachal manages to combine a sense of humour with profound psychological depth. There is so much going on in the art, which literally surrounds the viewer, that it is impossible to take it all in.

Vachal has a very contemporary appeal. However it was not always so. Obviously his spirituality did not sit easily with Communism, so it was not until the late 1960's that his reputation began to recover. Even so the Portmoneum suffering from water damage was allowed to decline until the 1990's, when at last restoration began. I have visited twice and on both occasions we found ourselves alone to enjoy Vachal's amazing work.  

If you want to own a Vachal, it is quite possible to do so, as he also produced ex libris. Here is one from my collection: 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Stamp Collecting & President Benes

By Nelliette (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It is funny how people can be drawn to visiting a country. When I was running Czech Tours I always made a point of asking why people had chosen to come here, what had sparked their interest. In one case it was stamp collecting.

Anyone who has collected stamps as a youngster will know that Czechoslovakia produced loads of great stamps. I assume stamp production was a way to generate income from the West for the then Communist state. I no longer collect stamps, but I do collect Czech graphics and many of the artists I now collect also were hired to design stamps and first-day covers.

But it wasn't the graphical flair that had caught my customer's interest, but the story of the presidents whose faces appear on the stamps. In particular my customer was fascinated by President Benes. Now Benes has a very mixed press among Czechs. Many do not see him as the wartime leader, but as the president who failed to stop the Communists. To the Sudetenland Germans he is the man responsible for the forced expulsion from their homes and the deaths of those who fell or were slain on the route. But my customer made the pilgrimage to Benes' home near Tabor and came back enthused.


Friday, 18 August 2017

Cezeta - The Pig Flies Again


The Pig is the affectionate nickname given by the Czechs to a 1960s scooter and design icon produced by Cezeta. This is partly due to the scooter's snout and partly due to the pig as a Czech symbol of luck. Cezeta had been producing motorcycles since the 1930s, but it is the Cezeta 500 series culminating in Cezeta 505 that sticks in the collective memory.

Instantly recognizable due to its distinctive torpedo shape, the Čezeta was popular for its simplicity, reliability and durability. Due to its long wheelbase, it was originally marketed as a ‘car on wheels’ and never called a scooter. Two people could go on holiday with their bags stored in the body space, whilst the larger seat made comfortable room for lovers riding pillion. The Čezeta quickly became a symbol of freedom and adventure for young Czechs. It was also raced for fun by the company’s engineers. Following Grand Prix success in 250cc and 350cc classes, the ČZ brand became famous and because of it more than 100,000 Čezeta scooters were sold around the world, many of which have been lovingly restored and are now collectors’ items.

This year, thanks to the enthusiasm of a British ex-pat, Neil Eamonn Smith, the Cezeta 506 is being launched. Whilst keeping many of the design details that so appealed to its 1960s customers, the new scooter has been brought up to date. The 506 is a high performance sports scooter with a 0-50 km/h in 3.2 seconds, a powerful bike you can control, engineered for everyday use. It boasts new proprietary technologies including the electric drivetrain, the Sway throttle and the Dynamics torque selector.

A limited edition of just 600 bikes has been launched this year. But hopefully this will be the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the Cezeta Pig.

More  at www.cezeta.com

Sunday, 6 August 2017

A tinker's craft


I have been looking for a present for my cousin's 25th wedding anniversary. It had to be small enough and tough enough to survive going in hand luggage. And this is what I found. It combines a ceramic base with a hand-woven wire rim attached by holes drilled in the rim of the base. Isn't it beautiful!

The dish is a good example of a domestic handicraft, which traditionally was hawked around the villages by Slovak tinkers. Legend has it that after the tinkers had presented the Empress Marie Theresa with a cradle made of wire so brilliantly that it would rock forever with one push, the grateful empress granted the tinkers the right to travel all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Much of their trade would have been in repairing pots or wrapping them  in wire nets to stop breakages. Mousetraps, birdcages, whisks, coat hooks, strainers, and other household goods were also offered. All the craftsmen needed in their packs were rolls of soft flexible wire, a hammer, pincers, and a stitching awl. The wire was bent cold and so no bellows or anvil were needed.

The days of the itinerant tinkers are over. But in Slovakia and the Czech Republic some craftsmen are keeping the tinkers' craft alive, adapting it to modern markets and I was lucky enough to meet one yesterday at a stall on Ceske Budejovice's main square.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

Prague - The Other City


I have just finished reading The Other City by Michal Ajvaz.

In this strange and lovely hymn to Prague, Michal Ajvaz repopulates the city of Kafka with ghosts, eccentrics, talking animals, and impossible statues, all lurking on the peripheries of a town so familiar to tourists. The Other City is a guidebook to this invisible, "other Prague," overlapping the workaday world: a place where libraries can turn into jungles, secret passages yawn beneath our feet, and waves lap at our bedspreads. Heir to the tradition and obsessions of Jorge Luis Borges, as well as the long and  distinguished line of Czech  fantasists, Ajvaz's Other City—his first novel to be translated into English—is the emblem of all the worlds we are blind to, being caught in our own ways of seeing.

It is one of several books I have read which portray an alternative Prague existing alongside the "real" Prague. I have reviewed some of them on my Magic Realism Books blog: including A Kingdom of Souls  by Daniela Hodrova,  Keeping Bedlam at Bay in The Prague Cafe by M Henderson Ellis, Gustav Meyrink's works including of course The Golem and of course Kafka's The Metamorphosis.  And there are more such books on my to-be-read list.

I am not surprised that Prague has almost spawned a sub-genre of place-based magic realism. During my first visit to the city, only a few months after the Velvet Revolution, I was acutely aware of the magical or spiritual energy that seemed to flow out of Prague's ancient stones, rippling across the Vltava and climbing the steps to the castle and Emperor Rudolf's alchemical workshops. That magical echo is less audible now beneath the footsteps of eager tourists and the kerching of cash registers, but it is still there.


The Other City is set in a Czech winter, a time of year when I have always felt the Prague magic most acutely. Maybe it is because of the way the snow deadens sound and redraws the familier outlines of buildings, smudging the boundaries between water, land and sky.  Ajvaz's Other City also emerges at night, something that is hard to imagine in the real city busy 24/7.

The alternative Prague that Ajvaz creates is too fantastical for my liking, closer to surrealism than magic realism. The author obviously had great fun inventing an amazing alternative world and mixing it in with the real Prague - "Customers at Cafe Slavia are seldom assaulted by sharks". I particularly loved the idea of the bases of the statues on Charles Bridge being used as stalls for tiny elks, but at times the weirdness just went on too long. I am perhaps too Anglo Saxon to appreciate this very Czech absurdism. By the way there are some great jokes about the Czech language in the book; "Case endings were originally invocations of demons." For this failed student of Czech, they still are!

It is hard at times, as the novel's central character pursues the Other City and is at times pursued by it's inhabitants, to see where the novel is going. But there is a resolution - a philosophical one, which comes to the central character in the last chapter.  Ajvaz is a researcher at the Prague Centre for Theoretical Studies and has published not only a book on Borges but also one called Jungle of Light: Meditations on Seeing and in many ways this book is also a meditation on seeing. I will say no more for fear of spoiling the book for you.




Saturday, 22 July 2017

Limonade


On a hot day there is nothing better than to order a carafe of domaci limonade and sit at a terrace table under a parasol. This is not lemonade in the fizzy artificial sense. It is in fact a home-made fruit or herb squash. Domaci means home-made and is a useful word to look for on menus in all sorts of contexts.


Of course being home-made the flavours are only as limited as the ingredients available to its maker. Limonade may not even include lemons among its ingredients. Other common flavours are raspberry, mint, and ginger.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Walking the Bear Trail


I have been meaning to blog about walking the oldest nature trail in the Czech Republic for some time now. I actually walked the trail a year ago, but never got round to blog about it. 
The Bear Trail (Medvedi Stezka) gets its name from a stone three quarters of the way along the trail, which marks where the last brown bear in the country was shot in the 19th century. Now the only bear you will come across is on the signsposts and information boards for the trail, which feature a bear on a yellow and black background. 


Set in the spectacular scenery of the Sumava National Park. the trail links the two former lumberjack settlements of Ovesna and Cerny Kriz, both are on the train line from Cesky Krumlov. Although the trail is only 8.7 miles long, you should allow a day for the walk, as you will need to coincide your walk with the train timetable and you will want to stop for a drink and food at Jezerni Vrch.

Cow Head Rock

The first section of the walk between Ovesna and Jezerni is probably the most spectacular, as you climb the forested slopes of Mt Pernik - the trail rises from 736m above sea level to 1037m before dropping down to Jezerni. Walking in the forest can be a bit tedious, but not so on the Bear Trail, because all the way up are a number of rock formations with descriptive names: including Pernikova Skala (Gingerbread Rocks), Goticky Portal (Gothic door), Hrib (Mushroom), Obri Kostky (Giant's Dice), Draci tlama (Dragon's Mouth) and Soutezka lapku (The Highwaymen's Gorge). In places the forest parts to afford spectacular views across the river valley to the ancient forested hill of Boubin.




At Jezerni Vrch you will find the Schwarzenberg Wood Canal and places to eat and drink. After refreshments you continue along the trail past the Bear Stone and on to Cerny Kriz and the train back home.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Saints Cyril and Methodius


The Czechs have two bank holidays back to back in early July (5th and 6th), which always catch me out.I roll up to a shop or bank only to realise my mistake. The two dates are both related to three holy men in Czech history. The latter is Jan Hus's day and I have blogged about it already here. The former is dedicated to the founding fathers of Czech and Slavic christianity: St Cyril and St Methodius.

1150 years ago the two "apostles to the Slavs" arrived in the empire of Great Moravia. The Empire was large and powerful extending as far as that of Charlemagne.

The two brothers had attended the University of Constantinople and were considered the best scholars in Christendom and they brought that scholarship to bear in their missionary work.. Their contribution to Czech and more widely Slavic Christianity and culture cannot be overstated. They invented a Slavic alphabet Glagolitic, which formed the basis for Cyrillic, in order to translate the Bible into the local language. They also put into writing the Slavic Civil Code.

For this anniversary there are a number of celebrations taking place in the country, culminating in annual national pilgrimage to the Monastery of St Cyril and St Methodius at Velehrad (above). The basilica is an extremely impressive Baroque church, but if you want to get an idea of the early churches of the Slavs go to the archaeological site of Mikulcice, where you can see the foundations of twelve churches from a thousand years ago.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Horice Na Sumava Passion Play


Before we had even bought our Czech home, we attended a performance of the Passion Play at the small town of Horice Na Sumave. This year I was invited to see it again by a neighbour who is taking part in the chorus.

When we arrived at the open-air theatre on the outskirts of town an hour before curtain up (not that there was a curtain) there was already a lot of people sitting at tables drinking beer and tucking into chips and mayonnaise. As it was the first night, this was very much a performance by and for the locals. There was a group of Austrians. whose town also has a passion play and who were made very welcome. 


The Passion Play is staged in a specially landscaped amphitheatre. The audience sits on the flat undercover, but the performers must risk the elements. The show starts at 8.30pm, so as the play proceeds towards the crucifixion the night takes over. Torches gutter and from the wooded hills come the calls of wild animals. It all makes for a very special experience and even though the play is in Czech I was very much engaged in the show.



Passion plays have been performed at Horice Na Sumave since 1816. The Horice Passion was so famous that in 1897 it was the subject of one of the earliest films, made by Klaw and Erlanger and distributed by Edison's Company. The Passion then went on for hours and was performed in a huge theatre complex on the site of the current theatre.

The original theatre complex

So what happened? Why isn't the Horice Passion as well known as Obergammergau? What happened was first the Second War and the displacement of the German population and therefore the play's performers from the area. The new Czech population tried to revive the plays and apparently the 1946 and 1947 performances (now in Czech) were a great success. But the arrival of the Communists in power ensured that this expression of communal religion was suppressed. The theatre was demolished and it seemed that the Horice Passion was silenced.


But the spirit of the Passion was and is strong. No sooner had Communism been overthrown, but the Passion play began to be revived. A society was set up and in 1993 the Passion was once more performed on the hillside above Horice Na Sumave. As I sat in the gloom last night, watching Christ on the cross being raising above the theatre, it did not matter that this was an amateur production, that the Pharisees appeared to be wearing lampshades or that the acting was sometimes a bit wooden. The passion behind the Passion won through and the commitment of those taking part gave the play an authenticity that a professional production would lack.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Back At Last



At last I have made it back to the Czech Republic! The last 12 months have been, as the Queen would say, an “annus horribilis”. First there was Brexit, which threw my whole future in this country into doubt and is still not much clearer. Then in the Autumn my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the prostate and my mother with Alzheimers. Of course as they were both in the UK I wanted to be there for them. And then to cap it all I had a minor heart attack at the end of November and another scare in May a few weeks after Dad's death.

Is this the end of my Czech Adventures? No. I still love this country and I have many friends here. I just cannot commit myself to being here the way I used to be. Family comes first. How long this situation will last, I do not know. My Czech friend Hannah used to say that the way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. He certainly will have had a good laugh at me. Twice I got so far as to buy the plane tickets to come back here, only to have to cancel them. So I am not making plans any more. I will just enjoy the time I have here.

Is this the end of this blog? Far from it. Already I have enough subjects for posts to last me for years: places I have visited, sights I have seen, observations I have made, to say nothing of what may happen in the future. The only issue, as has been the case over the last year, is the other demands on my time. They have eased at least for the moment, so here's hoping!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Masopust Masks - A Traditional Manufacturer


Over the last seven days Masopust (Carnival) celebrations have been taking place across the Czech Republic. An important element of Czech carnival as it is in other countries is the wearing of masks. Some will have been home-made, some will be cheap plastic masks from China, but some will have been purchased from the traditional mask manufacturer PVO, which is based in Zakupy in the north of the country. PVO is the last surviving company in Europe to make traditional papier-mache masks by hand. 

Scraps of paper impregnated with starch glue are pressed into moulds in a series of layers and then allowed to dry. The masks are then handpainted. The workshop is lined with shelves for the 2500 original moulds used by the company. In addition to masks the company also makes giant heads. 


You can buy masks from the company's e-store: http://www.karnevalove-zbozi-masky.cz/ 
Or you can commission a unique mask or head. The masks are remarkably good value, starting at about £3.50. Better still why not visit the company museum, you might even get a chance to paint your own mask! The address is E.H.Muzeum Nám.Svobody 247 471 23 Zákupy. 


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

PFs - New Year Cards


About a year ago I blogged about my new hobby of collecting Czech exlibris and other small prints. Well, the collection has grown a lot since then.



In addition to exlibris (bookplates), a significant part of the collection are PF's or "pifees" as the Czechs call them. Pifees are New Year greetings cards. The PF stands for Pour Feliciter. As you can see the term is French, which was spoken at high levels of Czech society at the start of the 19th century, when Count Karl Chotek of Chotkow and Wognin is said to started the fashion for the PF abbreviation. 


The cards were often commissioned from the artist by the family and sent to friends. As you can see many are signed by the artist and were by their very nature limited editions. One of the joys of PFs is the way they reflect not only the artist but the interests and characters of the commissioners.


Not all PFs are/were commissioned. Some are designed and sent by the family. My first experience of PFs were when I received them from my Czech friend, Hannah. At the time I took them to be home-made Christmas cards. But now I understand them to be another sign of Hannah's Czech roots. 



Note the artists featured above are in order: Antonova, Vaculka, Kaspar, Stech and Mezl. The more sharp-sighted among you will have noticed that Mezl's Pf is a print of Cesky Krumlov.

Friday, 20 January 2017

More on Winter in the Czech Republic


Yesterday we woke to bright sunshine, sparkling snow and frost flowers on the exterior window pane. This is the type of winter weather that first helped me fall in love with this country. Bitterly cold but divinely beautiful, so beautiful that it stirs the soul.

Today the weather was even more beautiful. The temperatures had fallen further and so every surface was covered with hoar frost. The trees were iced with white crystals. When we came to drive the car into Ceske Budejovice, we found it covered with crystals like snowflakes growing out of the paintwork. As you can see from the photo above they were nearly at right angles to the car's surface. I grabbed the camera and snapped. This picture does not show the brilliance of the crystals as they are semi-transparent and have taken on the colour of the car's metallic paint.

As we drove off, the temperature guage was indicating a temperature of -17 degrees at 10 am. Goodness knows at what temperature in the night the crystals had formed, but it would have been very low indeed.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Community Winter Spirit


I apologize for the absence of posts over the last two months. Unfortunately I had a heart attack in mid-November and until now have not felt up to posting. In addition I was in England when it happened and was only given the all-clear by the doctor to fly back to the Czech Republic a fortnight ago. Anyway I am back now, accompanied by my husband who insists (rightly) on carrying all the firelogs into the house, as well as stopping me from trying to walk uphill.

One of the great things about living in a Czech village is the support I get from my neighbours. So when it became clear that I could not get back until January, I was able to email my neighbour and ask her to start the car and recharge the battery.  This is in part due to having such lovely neighbours and in part due to the fact that we need to help each other, especially in a winter like this.

As I have said before, the village is on the top of a hill in the foothills of the Sumava Mountains. In the winter we get some serious snow and temperatures to match. The road to the village has a long uphill drag, at the bottom of which is a blind 90-degree bend under a railway. Being a minor road to a minor village the only snow clearance is by a man on a tractor with a snow plough attachment who clears the top layer of recent snow but leaves the layer of compacted snow/ice beneath.

My friend Hannah used to claim that Czechs laugh at winter snow, indeed that they enjoy driving on it. Not if they live in our village, they don't! The secret to getting up the hill is to build up enough speed to get you to the village and pray that you don't meet someone coming in the other direction. If you stop on the hill, you probably won't be able to get going again and will have to roll back again until you can get traction (sometimes all the way to the bottom of the hill).

Once in the village you have the backup of your fellow villagers to help with your car. In the last week I have been both the recipient and giver of such aid. My car failed to start a few days ago and I was loaned a neighbour's battery charger. And then today the local postwoman knocked on my door. The wheels of her van, despite being equipped with snow chains, were spinning on the compacted snow. I came out with a snow shovel.

As I write it is snowing, as it has been for four days. We are snug in our house and have no plans to risk the hill. I had laid down a store of winter foodstuffs during the summer, which we are now using, and the logs are piled up against the outside wall ready for Phil to carry them upstairs. And of course if I run out of food or logs, I can rely on my neighbours to help out, as they can rely on me.

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