Tag Archives: Bears

Angloville 2: My LOVELY wife

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(I’ve covered most of how Angloville runs in my previous blog, but as each one is different, here are the highlights.)

Although we totally failed to walk to Poland in my last Angloville (distracted, as we were, by cheap booze and haribo), we finally make it to southern Poland and it is beautiful. Loads of steep-roofed, four-storey houses covered in intricate patterns of timber and stone. I’m fairly certain that everyone has a cow in their front garden or, failing that, at least a couple of sheep. At dusk we see perfectly normal people wandering up the street carrying huge buckets and milking stools.

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As we drive to the hotel we pass a traditional wedding party, with everyone riding in beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriages, and wearing national costumes.

The cavalcade is led by two men on horseback, singing loudly in rich, tenor harmonies. They are followed by a six-piece band in a covered wagon: the musicians try desperately to keep their violins and cellos from bashing together, as the horses sway along the road.

Next are the happy couple in a white open-topped carriage pulled by four smart, white, horses bedecked with roses, ribbons and brasses. Although they smile and wave, both the bride and groom are terribly busy on their mobile phones.

Then come the wedding guests. The males sport camel-coloured, heavily embroidered suits, with trousers that split at the ankles and spread over their shoes, all topped off with black, round-brimmed hats and loose-sleeved shirts. The females have brilliantly flowered skirts, with matching shawls, and lace-up bodices.

The whole thing is joyously colourful and exceedingly relaxed. We stand and watch as the horses gently wander up the hill, and the strains of some unfamiliar folk song drifts back to us.

ANGLOVILLE 2

Now, the co-ordinator needs a mention here – not just because he was brilliant at his job – but because he looked just like Ryan Gosling with a bit of Ryan Reynolds thrown in.

And his name was Ryan. I’m not even joking.

On the first day he took care to warn us about ‘The Game’ – the Polish participant’s habit of getting the native speakers as drunk as possible. We were allowed to miss a session if we were genuinely ill, but not if we’d played ‘The Game’. Fair do’s. Realised now that the Voluptuous One from the last Angloville had been giving that a good shot, just before she confronted Steve’s nipples.

THE FOOD – BETTER THAN LAST TIME?

Oh hell, yes, what a change! Each meal was an all-you-can-eat buffet with loads of choice, including two or three salads with every meal (even at breakfast). As we had a high percentage of vegetarians and vegans on the course, it was such a relief. The coffee was awful, which proves you can’t have everything, but I was one happy bunny.

ONE TO ONE’S

We had a much larger group, so it was harder to get to know everyone the way we had on our first experience, but they were just as lovely and hard-working.

Had a very interesting session with a lady who told me about a massive crush she’d developed on a much younger man (and what came of it), and another with a mother of three young children, who described them as ‘sweet little energy vampires’. Pretty good grasp of English, that.

I still had my work cut out for me though, especially with one chap. He was middle-aged, and quite tough looking. Not someone you’d think to mess with. Most of the week he was seen wandering around the hotel spa in a bathrobe, and the general consensus was that this was a cheap holiday for him and he wasn’t that bothered about learning English. My one to one with him was nearly over in ten minutes.

‘I answer all questions, what you want, is done.’

‘No, we still have forty minutes, so let’s just talk, ok?’

Shit. What are we going to talk about? But I persevered, and we discovered that if you look at his house on Google maps, you can see one of his hunting dogs. So, that was useful.

After each session, Ryan would give us a small form to fill in detailing what the participants strengths and weaknesses are, and what we think they need to work on. I looked at the paper for ages, and in the end I wrote:

Honestly, no idea. Think I may have spent an hour with a very charming ex-gangster.

OUR MENTEES

I met up with Steve later and told him about the lovely girl I was going to be mentoring: young, sweet, enthusiastic and funny, with some great pictures of a sky-diving day that she could build her presentation around. I asked who he’d been allocated?

‘The Gangster. And all he wants to talk about is what he kills when he goes hunting, and I keep telling him he can’t because of the vegetarians, so he buggers off to the spa.’ Nearly snorted my tea out of my nose.

THE LOCATION

We are perched on the top of a hill with a wonderful view of the mountains. At the end of the road is a beautiful church, a sweet little chapel, and a stunning cemetery. The church is famous for being linked to a major one in Prague and is a place of pilgrimage. The Sunday we were there it was absolutely packed, with people lining the grounds and path outside, all standing silently (even the children) to hear the service taking place inside.

The whole place was a forest of honey-coloured wood, each surface carved by hand. And the little chapel, with its separate bell-tower, was the same – even the lampshades were made from slats of fan-shaped wood.

But the cemetery – wow. They really like plastic flowers here, plus enough candle-lit lanterns to light a small city. Sounds tacky and it actually was, I suppose, but it was also joyous and celebratory and how I’d like my grave to look, (though a plastic Bambi and a hip-swivelling Hawaiian dancer better find its way in there too. Just saying.)

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PRESENTATIONS

We had some brilliant presentations that showed just how hard everyone had worked. My girl got us all laughing with her sky-diving story, and she looked so delighted: I was really proud of her. Last up was the Gangster, and none of us knew quite what to expect.

‘I am successful businessman but for weekends I go to my house in forest. I take my dogs – here is picture of my dogs. I take my children. I take my gun. And I take my LOVELY wife.’

He proceeded to describe looking for animals in the forest – to photograph them. This was Steve’s intervention, I knew. Each time he mentioned his wife as an afterthought, but with great emphasis. By the third time, he simply had to cup his hand around his ear and look expectantly at the audience who all chimed in unison, ‘my LOVELY wife’.

By the end of the story, he’d been confronted by a bear, saved his dogs, chased away the bear, ‘See, here is picture of bear from CCTV camera‘. Big gasp, not kidding, genuinely impressive. ‘And final, here is picture of my family. Here are dogs. Here are children. Here is car. Here is house. Oh, and here is….?’

‘MY LOVELY WIFE!’ we all yelled. Well done Gangster. Well done Steve.

THE AFTER PARTY

Well, we all played ‘The Game’ a bit. There was a lot of dancing. One lithe young lady was a hula-hooping yoga teacher, who’s sinuous moves looked almost impossible. One chap was a fantastic break-dancer. Another refused to take Steve’s reluctance to dance seriously, scooped him up in his arms, carried him to the dance floor, and plonked him down in the middle. It was a good night. Maybe a bit too good for some people as the next day, at the certificate ceremony, some of them could only lie on the floor clutching their heads and looking weepy and green.

And that was it. Another Angloville. Another country. Another wonderful set of people and experiences. We still had a van full of Dory and a shed-load of laundry, but it was time to move on.

In my next blog I’ll tell you the Dory story, and how we ended up in Slovakia again.

 

 

 

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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.