Category Archives: Czech Republic

Oh Vienna

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A WORD ABOUT ROAD SIGNS

In Portugal the road signs were fairly familiar: they were just applied in surprising ways. Don’t graze your cattle on the motorway, was a good example.

In the Czech Republic and Slovakia they were the old-fashioned kind, with more detail than in the UK. The trains still showed great clouds of steam and the bicycles were practically perfect. The men depicted were always natty gents in suits, sporting trilbies, and holding skipping children by the hand. The girls had huge bows in their hair and the boys wore those girly coats that only the Royal family still favour.

In Austria, the flashing signs on the pelican crossing depicted two people holding hands, with a heart between them. Even Steve thought that was cute.

But in Poland the signs changed again. The first one I noticed was the cow – he was made out of rectangles, as if an impatient person had cut him out of black paper and stuck him down. I imagined the justification:-

‘What your problem? You can see is cow, is good enough. Now I go home.’

After a while I noticed that all the illustrations were angular, apart from the round, football-shaped heads which floated – dismembered – above pointy-footed bodies. There was also a crazily-smiling, pig-tailed girl, wielding a head-sized lollipop in the manner of a hatchet. She appeared near zebra crossings and was really quite freaky.

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BUT BACK TO AUSTRIA

After Barry let us down on our Helpx placement we had some time free for ourselves. We decided to go and see Vienna, as I’ve never been and it’s, well, Vienna.

So we fetched up at a suburb just north of the city, called Klosterneuberg. It’s on the Danube and has a spectacular monastery overlooking the campsite. We went for a quick walk around and it was beautiful. The tiles on the roof formed a pattern that turned into pure, sparkling, silver in the setting sun.

Inside, the various sections were all decorated to the nines, with different colour schemes in each room, and every vaulted facet beautifully painted.

It was just as well that the monastery was so nice, because then we found a café to have a late lunch in. OK, I know it was Sunday, but after Czechia it was still a bit of a shock. I think we were charged about 600 euros for a tiny slice of French bread with some sort of vinegary egg on it. Oh, the horror.

Back at the campsite bar that evening, we met our next-caravan-neighbour, Rudi. We’d hoped to have a meal there (as we were too tired to cook) but had arrived too late. Rudi kept insisting he had food, he would cook for us, no trouble. But we couldn’t be bothered even with that, so instead we had cake, and wine, and a nice chat.

We invited him for dinner the next night (he bought beer, wine and schnapps – good man) and we talked about volunteering. Apparently, he has done A LOT of fund-raising, and almost single-handedly paid for a school in Tibet (principally because he fancied the blonde who was volunteering there. I’m not judging).

He got a bit over-happy on the schnapps, started talking only to me, and told Steve to watch out because – and I quote – I was dangerous. It seems I have a mysterious allure, but I’ve noticed it only works on blokes over seventy.

The next day we went to look at Vienna. I nearly killed Steve by encouraging him to climb the 343 steps up the bell tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once up there, we saw a guy wandering along the ridge of the incredibly pitched roof, doing some repair work. Don’t care if he had a rope around him – still an idiot. Also saw a cute couple of pigeons doing some family planning.

The view of the city is certainly impressive. I think everyone here lives in an amazing building, even the dustmen, because every house is stunning.

Sadly, we’d arrived in Vienna too late to see the snow-coloured, dancing, Lipizzaner horses, which had gone to the country for the summer. But we did see lots of carriage horses, so that was nice.

We passed a church that had beautiful choral music wafting out. An American choir was on tour with a famous-and-important-composer, so we sat in on the rehearsal. Afterwards, I told the famous-and-important-composer how much I’d enjoyed it and he kissed my hand. Honestly, I am catnip to these old guys.

HUNTING FOR WOOL

When my CFS makes things difficult I do needlepoint tapestries, and I’d nearly finished my second one when I ran out of a particular blue wool. So Steve Googled wool shops for me, and we set off to spend at least a euro. And found nothing. Nada. Nil. Plenty of weird crocheted things and frankly terrifying lace objects, but no blue wool. Back at the campsite we were told, ‘Go to Muller, they have everything’, and they were not wrong.

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Muller is a big warehouse that mostly stocks fabric and thread, lace, ribbons and buttons. Also, a million other things that I can’t imagine anybody wanting to have. They had shelves full of the kind of thing that doesn’t even sell in a charity shop, and you only consider buying – as a joke present – for someone you hate (or is that just me?). They had a real of tan-coloured yarn that a mouse had eaten into, and it was still for sale!

There were whole walls of buttons – mostly brown, it must be said – and aisles of ribbons. It covered two floors, spilled out onto the street (for which read dirt-road car park), and surrounded some steps, open to the air, on one side.

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Tidiness was not a priority.

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Nor was service. But it was incredibly cheap, and I found a good match for my wool in a massive bin that I had to dive down. Sorted.

ARTY STUFF

We went to the Wien Museum to see the Klimts, and were promptly distracted by a fascinating exhibition showing the history of the city as depicted by maps and relief models.

Then it was on to the Hundertwasser Museum and house. Hundertwasser was an architect who believed that the curves and undulations in nature produced a more natural way to live. So none of the floors are flat. Even in the café.

He also wanted every building to have a ‘tree tenant’, so they are built into the structures and given priority over other things. But it’s his sense of joyous, abundant colour that really did it for me. And, although none of his paintings are quite my style, the effect of seeing so many works of rich exuberance was food for my soul.

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The museum also housed an exhibition by celebrated photographer, Edward Burtynsky, on the subject of water in all its glorious forms. Marvellous, dramatic, thoughtful, inspiring. Good day out, that was.

P.S.

I know this post is both out of date and rather short, but I am struggling to find good WiFi in my particular part of Poland. Will tell you all about the festival in Trencin, teaching English through Angloville, finding Dory, and the now famous ‘Food Revolution’ as soon as I can. In the meantime, take care, love to all, and thanks for reading. xxxxx

The Five-Petaled Rose

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We were all set to move on to our first Helpx placement (assisting Barry in setting up his Music and Art Centre), when Barry bailed. Why? Because our van is too big. Had we told him about the size of Georgie? Only a gazillion times. Numerous emails had contained sentences like:-

‘Our motorhome is ten metres long. That’s ten whole metres. Read it again to make sure you’ve got this – ten metres.’

‘Yes, I understand and it’s no problem.’

‘That means we need room to turn, and no low bridges, or 3.5 ton limits. And did we mention it’s ten metres long?’

‘Yes, absolutely fine. No problem.’

And so the day before we are due to set off, Barry says:-

‘Your van is too big. Sorry. Gotta cancel.’ Flake.

So we stayed another few days in Chvalsiny, while we decided how to fill our time before our next placement at the beginning of July.

MEDIEVAL CESKY

And how fortuitous was that, because we caught the opening night of the Five-Petaled Rose Celebrations in Cesky Krumlov! This takes place every year and is a three day festival in honour of the Rosenbergs, the five-petaled rose being their insignia. Lots of medieval costumes, and parades, and jousting, and hog-roasts, and people selling huge amounts of weaponry, and mad gothic music. And belly dancing, no idea why, but who cares.

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The Rosenbergs arrive

 

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The tiny town was full of seriously over-excited Chinese tourists having their photo taken with Czechs in frocks.

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The town square held the main stage and, when we arrived, a series of dances were being performed by the ladies of the local Exotic and Oriental Dance School. So, lots of belly dancing, and lots of other dances that used props like beautiful fringed shawls or swords balanced upon heads, but as far as I could see were basically variations of belly dancing.

Then a procession led by the Rosenbergs arrived to much fanfare and cheering. All the nobles were presented to the knobs, as kids squirmed in linen shirts and velvet dresses, and dogs tried hard to look regal whilst sniffing each other’s bottoms.

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There were definately some people that gave the impression they dressed like this all the time.

There were workshops for all things medieval; leatherwork, pottery, authentic food and medicine making, glass-work, etc., and of course the blacksmith – who showed us the best way to light a fag with a coal.

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The market had an abundance of armour and weapons on sale. Ranks of long-bows and crossbows, tons of hatchets, scimitars and swords, and a rather fetching brass bra.

Towards dusk, we wandered off to another stage set in a park. Arcus, a group described as playing Gothic music, came on and spent a fairly painful-sounding ten minutes tuning up two bagpipes and a couple of stringed things, one of which was played like a guitar, the other with a bow. Not a clue what they were, and also fairly doubtful that I was going to like Gothic music, or anything with too many bagpipes, but curiosity and beer kept me in my seat. They also had long leather skirty-trousers, which was a bit worrying.

But they were brilliant. And maybe it was the incessant quaffing I’d already done or just the mood of the festival, but once those drums started I didn’t give a toss that the tuning up had been largely unsuccessful. I just loved it.

And I wasn’t alone: the kids all started dancing, and whirling, and doing cartwheels in front of the stage. Then some of the mums joined in with their kids (in that way that says, ‘I can get away with dancing like crap because I’m dancing with a four year old and I’m lowering myself to that level. I’ve got moves, oh yes, just not doing them today’).

And then, oh joy, some of the velvet-clad, Anne Boleyn-bonneted ladies, (who clearly attended that dancing school), started twirling their hands and hips, and doing something vaguely belly dancer-ish, but with total abandon. Heads were flung back, arms shot up flamenco-style, and skirts were twirled until we saw the tops of their popsox. You had to be there, I tell you. Little boys got up on stage to show off their moves (or wave to their mums), encouraged by that tall hairy chap in the photo above. One little jerkin-clad moppet was so unspeakably cool that they got him to introduce their next song, and gave him and his mate free CD’s.

This all led nicely up to the torch-lit procession back through town, before the serious drinking got under way to the fire-eating and twirling show (with draped python???). We just had a brilliant time.

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BUT ALL GOOD THINGS…

We’ve loved Cesky but it was time to move on, so the next day we drove to Vienna as we’ve never been, and everyone says it’s beautiful. We crossed the border into Austria, and the first thing I saw was a doe, a deer, a female deer (stop it Bev, you are not Julie Andrews). But I did.

And now I have to go because, as ever, the WiFi is too slow. I will tell you what happened next very soon. XXXXX thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

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CHVALSINY

(Pronunciation: make the sound of someone clearing a hefty wedge of phlegm from your throat, whilst simultaneously being punched in the gut. Followed by val-sheeny.)

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We are at a lovely campsite just on the edge of the village. It has been run for the last 20 years by a Dutch couple, Jan and Arns (spelling? not a clue here). Naturally, it’s full of Dutch people, which is fine as many of them speak passable English and are generally very laid back.

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The village is typically southern Czech – a couple of pubs that serve good beer and cheap homemade food, a couple of shops (one of which is always a Coop), a massive and pretty church, and a couple of technicolour schools. They like the colour orange here (as an exterior paint colour), closely followed by yellow or lime green, and the schools are particularly colourful.

So are most new houses and flats – often painted in colour-blocked designs of orange (of course), yellow, pale pink, raspberry pink, lime, mauve, and terracotta. You really can’t miss them and they are not very nice, but I’ll give them an A+ for effort.

At the campsite we are surrounded by forested hills and open meadows, so we went for a walk in the woods. We saw a fox-sized, fox-coloured animal dart across the meadow, and disappear fox like, into the woods. Steve said, ‘I wonder what that was?‘ I mean, seriously?

We both heard the hammering of a Woodpecker, then the sound of chirping coming from a tree nearby. A Woodpecker’s nest, with hungry babies. We skirted away quickly, so as not to freak out the mum into deserting the nest. I was also delighted to see mounds of purple Lupins growing wild beneath the Pines, Silver Birches and Lime trees.

 

We passed the obligatory shrine, and then stumbled upon a couple of old railway carriages on the edge of the woods – and they hummed, loudly. One was being used as a massive bee-hive, the other as a shed by a lovely fellow called Jiri.

(pronunciation: Yeer-Zhee, and Czech for George).

My dad used to keep bees, so I know to walk slowly and keep the buggers out of your hair, because otherwise they will get stuck there and panic. Jiri invited us into his shed to see how he strained the honey and offered us some if we brought him a jam jar.

We walked back through the meadows, which were spectacular (like the ones you see in films that can’t possibly be real, only better). So many drifts of wildflowers in so many varieties. Butterflies, birds, weird and wonderful little striped bug things, and others that had bright orange arses and a tendency to hover around you like tiny drones. It was magical.

Steve took a jam jar up to the woods and then rolled back down the hill over two hours later. Jiri had produced, first, a beer, and then his home-brewed Rowanberry liqueur. 52% proof. Not a typo – genuinely, 52%! They had quite a few shots, enabling Steve to happily sit there with bees all over him, while a fully-outfitted Jiri went into the main carriage and pulled out racks of bee-cloaked honeycomb to show him the Queens in action. This is the pair of them after a few bevys.

Cesky Krumlov

(pronunciation: pretty much how it looks, except the C is a ch and the Krum is a kroom)

10km down the road from us is the medieval town and Unesco World Heritage Sight of Cesky Krumlov. Arns leads a guided walk there every Monday evening, so we went along to get the lowdown from a local. It started with us all congregating in a pub and having a beer, which is a very good start in my books. And it certainly is a lovely little place.

It nestles in the lee of a vast castle, built around 1250 by the powerful Rosenberg family who owned…everywhere, according to Arns, for about three centuries. The main gates are still guarded by two bears that prowl around a pit that extends under the bridge into the castle. A remnant of earlier times. But it is the gloriously decorated castle tower that dominates the landscape.

The Old Town itself is circled by a loop of the River Vltava. This means that on a sunny day you can sit in almost any pub, with a beer and a schnitzel in front of you, watching boat-loads of people scream their way over the weirs and then fall in the water – right in front of you. Good times.

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The Old Town is incredibly pretty, with many of the buildings being decorated either with paint, or with repeating tile patterns scraped into the stonework.

It was also the home of Egon Schiele’s mum, so there’s a nice museum with some of his work. For my birthday, we climbed up the castle tower for a view over the town.

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Sadly, ever since his stroke, Steve has had problems with balance and vertigo. And when we got to the top, he had a bit of a wobbly moment (well, a really huge one, actually), so we went back down.

But it was my birthday, so we went back up again. Aren’t I a cow?

THE WATER PUMP

(pronunciation: heap of shit)

Yesterday, we drove to the nearest caravan and camping shop to buy a new water pump, as the old one didn’t like its leak being ‘fixed’ by Steve, and decided to die instead.

Yesterday, we drove to the only caravan and camping shop in the Czech Republic.

And it was 150km away.

But Steve has installed the new one – and it makes a noise like an Apollo rocket lifting off, and the loo now flushes with a certain reluctance.

Grown-up problems. Sigh.

HELPX

Next week we are moving on to a place near Nepomuk (don’t ask, just Google it) to do some volunteering. Steve’s sister, Roxy, introduced us to Helpx, which is where people who need help with projects give you board and lodging in exchange for your muscle power. In this neck of the woods, that is mostly on organic farmsteads or other eco communities.

But we are going to meet Barry (yes, I know), who is setting up an Arts and Music Centre with the aim of using them to bridge cultural boundaries and language barriers. Steve is going to be installing a basic kitchen and I will be doing some decorating.

After that, we will be spending a couple of weeks helping groups in a ‘language immersion’ program improve their English.

Just by speaking to them.

Which I can SO do.

Talk about playing to ones strengths.

 

 

What do you mean, you’ve got no brakes?

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There are things one never wants to hear when travelling with a vehicle like Georgie; I’m stuck, I left the sewerage tap open, and I’ve lost your car keys again (last time we found them sandwiched between two frying pans) are hot favourites. But ‘I’ve got no brakes’? I’VE GOT NO BRAKES’?!? WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!?

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We spend our last day in Holland doing a couple of the local sights. The campsite, at Valkenburg, is built over an old marl-stone mine, which has escape tunnels up to the ruined castle at the foot of the hill. So we take a guided tour around the mine, and have an English translation to fill us in on what the guy is saying. A helpful thing to hear, at this point, would be take a torch with you, or you won’t be able to read it.

There are the usual dinosaur jaws that have been dug up. Do we see them? Of course not – they are in a museum. What we do see is the artist’s imagining of the dinosaur, carved into the rock. Is is any good? Is it even remotely accurate? Hell, no.

But the paintings – wow! When, in 1853, the railroad came, so did the tourists and they wanted to explore the mines. To make it more attractive illustrations telling the story of a love triangle, that ended badly, were painted along the route. The walls were first coated with charcoal, then the artists rubbed it away until the details stood out. They are still perfect and absolutely beautiful.

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Eventually, the guide sees me struggling to read my translation, points his torch in my direction, and starts to tell me what he can in English. For instance, every year they hold a massive Christmas Market down in the mines, and it is said to be when old Reginald (the loser in the love-triangle, driven to murder and fratricide by jealousy – see pic of dead bride, above) puts in an appearance. A lot of people claim to have seen him, ‘but first you must have a lot of wine,’ says the guide, tapping his nose.

The tour finishes at the castle, which you can wander around at leisure before exiting through a very nice, balconied cafe. They’ve got this sussed.

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24 HOURS EARLIER

Before we left England I’d worked out a basic plan for our travels. I knew we would be likely to deviate (note the word and it’s meaning, Steve, it is not synonymous with totally ignore), and it would be dependant on, among other things, the political situations in the countries we were considering.

But I have found that if my husband is given too much choice, his blue-sky brain comes up with so many options it’s really difficult to pin him down. So instead of crossing straight over Germany to Vienna – as planned – I am now being asked to consider going to Prague, and then maybe up to Warsaw? Or did I want to go to Vienna first, and then around into Salzburg to do the Sound-of-music tour? Or Vienna first and then up to Prague? Or what about the Czech Republic, which isn’t even on our list and about which we know nothing?

So we choose the Czech Republic, of course.

We set off, leaving only a six foot long gauge in the road, and head to the motorway. Once there we find lots of roadworks, with new lane markings in bright yellow tape. I assume they are tape – rather than paint – because they have a tendency to veer off the road, up and across the grass verges, and then wibble back onto the road again. They also zig-zag outrageously, or just break off and curl around mid-lane.

Maybe this is why I encounter so many wanky-twat lorry drivers? They are perhaps suffering from lane-confusion (technical term). I meet quite a few lorry drivers these days, because they often comment to Steve about Georgie when we pull up at a truck stop. I saw one fellow stripped down to his vest, using his side mirrors to shave by. The guys from Poland often produce little stoves, protected from the wind by large cardboard boxes, on which they pile huge pans and cook collective meals. They unfold chairs from lockers underneath their rigs, and use an open bonnet as an awning.

In this habitat, they seem friendly and nice: but stick them behind the wheel and put them on the road behind me and they become wanky-twats again. They toot their horns, flash their lights, tail-gate me intimidatingly, and generally signal that they want me gone. I am a small woman in a very small car, and I can’t for the life of me work out what  I’m doing that they find so utterly objectionable: I’m keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front and DRIVING AT THE SAME SPEED AS EVERY OTHER LORRY ON THE ROAD! Oh well.

We stop for the night at Rosi’s Autohof, where I am delighted to say I found more….

SERVICE STATION SHIT ……….for real.

You can actually buy cuddly shit. Not even joking. You know the doggy-do emoji? It comes in cushion form. And you have a choice – with or without sunglasses – because, you know, apparently some shit is cooler than other shit.

And who buys this? Wanky-twats.

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AND THE NEXT DAY STARTED SO WELL

We drive across the lovely Danube. The sun is scorching down and the land around me is beautiful. Copper-coloured, onion-domed churches nestle in fairy-tale villages, and the hills are cloaked with vast and impressive forests. I drive, open-topped, past fields of rapeseed the size of Wales, the scent so strong I am close to becoming Dorothy succumbing to the enchanted poppies.

Everything is lovely. More roadworks delay us but that is ok, because the sun is shining, the hills are lovely, yar-de-yar-de-yar.

I think – get this! – I actually wonder what my next blog is going to be about because everything is perfect. Why haven’t I learnt by now?

More roadworks. More sun. More hills, lots of them, because we are now off the motorway and into the Czech Republic (which, incidentally, appears to be the dandelion capital of the world: I honestly thought it was snow on the mountains).

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Everything’s getting a bit hot now, and taking a long time. More hills, which Georgie can manage, but very slowly. And the downhill roads aren’t the least bit straight, so lots of braking – really – lots.

And it is after we climb up one of the steepest hills, and have to follow a tractor with a trailer full of logs, going at 5 miles an hour all the way down; and after we’ve finally crested the next hill and are peeling off towards the next village below us: it is after this that the walkie-talkie crackles into life and Steve says, ‘I’ve got no brakes’.

And if you’re reading this, Simon (my brother-in-law), do you remember all those emails you sent us entitled ‘Ye be doomed’? Well, I suddenly thought, ‘Oh shit, he’s right’.

(pause for dramatic tension)

But we have emergency brakes, because Georgie is a big girl, and who wants her hurtling towards you, out of control? These brakes can stop Georgie, but you can’t drive with them like you would with normal brakes (I know stuff now). And you need them because the fluid in over-used brakes can get to boiling point and lose all its viscosity (see, I really do), and won’t, well, brake.

Somehow, Steve manages to safely manoeuvre Georgie down the hill, because he is an excellent driver in a crisis, and parks her on a grass verge. Right next to a ‘no waiting’ sign.

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Leaving the brakes to cool, and hoping that they don’t warp or seize up or anything, we Google-translate a quick note for the windscreen, and head off to the campsite. Having appraised them of the situation we head back into the darkening night, hoping that the brakes are now functional. Steve checks them out and, yay – bit soft, but ok. Phew!

AND SO WE ARE NOW CAMPING AT CVALSINY, IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

We are planning to stop here for two or three weeks, so I’ve started cooking again. I make Imam Bayildi, adding feta cheese and sultanas. Then I poach some peaches in sugar syrup with white wine, vanilla, oranges and lemons. The smell is perfect heaven, so I call Steve in to have a whiff.

Oooh, bread!‘ he says. What? Are you mental? He sees the look on my face, and tries again. ‘Chicken?‘ Really, I despair.

I know that, since his heart bypass twenty years ago, he hasn’t been able to smell roses – all other flowers, just not roses. But now, it seems, that his sense of smell is getting much worse.

My Pollyanna brain perks up and says, this might be useful when we’re camping off-grid and water is a bit scarce for washing. I point out that MY sense of smell is perfectly all right.

She says, ‘oh yeah,’ and skulks back beneath my cerebellum.