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.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Prague Transport Buses

By High Contrast (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons.

As a visitor to Prague you probably won't need to use many buses, as they mostly operate in the outskirts of the city. But if you do, they operate much as the trams do. You validate your ticket, which you have already bought, as soon as you get on the bus (if you haven't validated it earlier in your trip). You don't buy the ticket from the driver with one exception.

The main buslines tourists will use are:

Number 100 which runs from the end of the B (yellow) metro line at Zličín to the airport. Exit the Metro Station and you will find yourself in a bus station, turn right and follow the path round to a series of bus stops. The Number 100 runs from one halfway up the rank.You have to buy a special ticket for 16 Czk for luggage over 25x45x70cm (ie hold luggage not hand luggage). A one-day or three-day season ticket includes one item of hold luggage.

Number 119 which runs from the Nasrazi Veleslavin Metro Station  to the airport. Follow the signs to the airport bus from the metro concourse. The extra charge for large luggage applies.

The AE (Airport Express) bus is the exception to the rule about not buying the ticket from the driver. The ticket costs 60 Czk, but luggage is free. It runs from the Main Train Station (Hlavní nádraží) to the airport. Follow signs to the bus station which is upstairs from the platforms. It runs every 30 minutes.

Number 112 runs from Nádraží Holešovice Metro station (line C) to the Zoo and Troja Palace.

You can see some lovely old Prague buses at the Prague Public Transport Museum in Prague-Střešovice.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Mr Bata's Amazing Lifts



My husband writes and gives talks about the history of buildings. His English Buildings Blog has just won the AMARA award for best architecture blog for the second year in a row. But despite the English focus of the blog Phil's interest is international and I love organizing trips to the many architectural gems of the Czech Republic for him. One such gem is Zlin.

Zlin is an amazing city for anyone interested in the history of modern architecture. It is hard to credit, when you see the city's functionalist buildings, that it was mostly built in the first four decades of the 20th century, it looks so modern. Zlin is/was very much the corporate town of the Bata Shoe Factory. Tomas Bata and his successor Jan Bata, the company's owners, commissioned not only factory buildings, but office blocks, workers' housing, schools, hospital and other community buildings.


At the heart of the city is the office building Number 12, the earliest skyscraper in Central Europe. You can take the paternoster lift to the cafe at the top and get a bird's-eye view of the city. A paternoster lift does not stop at each floor for passengers, instead alarmingly you have to step in as it moves past. There used to be a lot of these lifts in Central Europe, but now for health and safety reasons only a few remain.



There is another old lift in the building - on the corner of the skyscraper, but you are not allowed in. This was Jan Bata's personal lift and it was also his office, allowing him to go to whichever floor he wished and supervise his employees there. The office can be viewed now as part of the ground floor exhibition area. Technically it is remarkable. It is not simply a large lift with a desk and chair in it, but a fully functioning office with telephone, basin with hot and cold running water, air-conditioning, alarm system, automatic fire detector and door lock control.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Don't you just love Czech graphics!





I found this bag for the disposing of dog poo (it comes with a cardboard scoop inside) hanging on a post in Vimperk. Of course I had to have a copy for my dog-owning sister. The graphic's humour  is so very Czech.

As an added bonus on the reverse of the bag are instructions and this the company's logo:



Tuesday, 4 October 2016

About Czech Hotels

For my business I stayed in hotels around the Czech Republic and I put customers into hotels. And I tried to stay in the hotels before recommending them to my customers (it was a hard job but someone had to do it). The reason I did this is that the standard of Czech hotels tends to vary and it is not always clear without visiting and indeed staying in them which are good and which not. I have learned a lot over the years and I thought I would pass some of that experience on to you.

Star-rating
The star-rating you see on websites can be misleading. There is a formal Czech body classifying hotels, but most Czech hotels have not chosen to go that route. The star-listing you see most of the time is the one the hotel has chosen for itself. I often find that a 4* hotel is closer to a 3* one in my reckoning but sometimes the reverse is the case. So look carefully at the facilities and the photographs on the hotel's website before booking.

Old or New
Many Czech hotels and pensions are in old buildings, which were designed for a different age. That is one of their charms - you might find yourself sleeping in a room with carved beams, an arched ceiling or pillars. You might eat your breakfast in a vaulted cellar. But with this antiquity comes a price. These hotels were not designed for modern conveniences, such as air-conditioning or under-floor heating. What is more, the buildings may be subject to planning controls that limit structural changes. The absence of air-conditioning is a frequent complaint on hotel review sites, usually from Americans as we Europeans regard air-con as an exception. If you want all mod-cons stay in a modern hotel. But if you do so, check where the hotel is in relation to the historic town centre.

Facilities
Czech hotels and pensions in the major cities usually come with en-suite facilities - often in the form of a shower. But in the less touristy areas and in the cheaper accommodation it is worth checking before booking. Sound-proofing in Czech hotels can vary. So it is a good idea not to go for the room with the picturesque view across the town square, unless you are happy to hear people enjoying themselves at night. Increasingly Czech hotels provide free WiFi for their guests. However, the thick walls of some of the older buildings can interfere with reception. If this is important to you, it is worth saying so when booking, as some rooms will have better reception than others.

For British guests it is worth pointing out that there are often no tea-making facilities in the room. If having a cuppa before you go to bed matters, bring a kettle. Even where there is a kettle and packets of tea or coffee, check whether you will be charged for consumption of a packet. I was really shocked by this the first time I saw it and now I check. By the way, the tea provided will not be as strong as we Brits are used to: bring your own or use two bags if you prefer a strong cup. You may need to buy some milk as that is not always provided. You can nearly always drink the tap water, unless told not to.

Czech beds
The beds in Czech hotels are usually quite hard; which is something that I like. It is common practice for a double bed to have two single mattresses rather than one double one. Not all Czech hotel receptionists understand the difference between a double and a twin room, so it is better to ask specifically for a room with two beds rather than for a twin.

Breakfast
Most Czech hotel bookings are for bed and breakfast. Breakfast is usually a continental buffet one, although often you will have the choice of scrambled eggs, sausages and even bacon. Some but not all hotels have restaurants. Apartment hotels do not include breakfast in the price, as you have the facility to make it in your apartment, although you may find that they also offer a breakfast for an additional fee.

When you arrive
When you arrive at a Czech hotel you will be asked to show your passport, which may be photocopied or the details entered into a form. This is because Czech hotels are legally required to get this information.

Enjoy your stay.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

What are the Roots of the Golem Legend?


The Golem legend, although it refers to the real historical figure Rabbi Loew, didn’t really appear until the 19th century. It seems to draw on or at least play to two separate traditions - the Jewish golem tradition and the Slavic folk story of the clay child. In the latter a childless couple make a child out of clay which, like the gingerbread man, outgrows its creators and becomes a destructive force. This last story is of course a universal myth - human beings losing control of the being they have created. It appears in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and can be read as a warning against hubris.


But the story is more than that: as Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, the golem myth “is based on a faith almost as old as the human species namely, that dead matter is not really dead but can be brought to life. I am not exaggerating when I say that the golem story appears less obsolete today than it seemed one hundred years ago. What are the computers and robots of our time if not golems?”


The Golem is born of mud and to mud he is returned - earth to earth, ashes to ashes. But the Golem can rise again.


The most famous book about the Prague Golem is that by Gustav Meyrink. Meyrink deserves an entire post on this blog dedicated to his extraordinary life and works and he will get it some day. Here let us just look at Meyrink's portrayal of the Golem. Although his book is titled The Golem, the Golem is not the central character. He is an elusive figure appearing every thirty-three years in the Jewish ghetto, terrifying those who meet him. He is in some ways the embodiment of the Jewish community’s collective suffering, coming to life in a room without a door. But he is also the reflection of the individual he meets. When the central character meets the Golem, he finds with horror that the creature has his own face. 

If Meyrink wrote the definitive novel, then in 1920 Paul Wegener created the definitive movie: The Golem, how he came into the world.  It is an amazing production and still powerful after all these decades. See image above. 


It seems to me that one of the most important reasons for our ongoing fascination with the Prague Golem is that he does indeed reflect deep aspects in our psyche. As I said in my earlier posts, we are all golems. When we look in the Golem's face we see our own, stripped of intellect and language, containing a natural and unnatural power, driven by the need to protect but at the same time capable of extreme acts of destruction. He is in Jungian terms a Shadow. In the story of the Prague Golem, he is presumably Rabbi Loew’s Shadow. 

When a woman looks at the Golem, she sees more. He is male to her female, the elemental man made of mud combined with the elements of fire, water and air, supremely strong and, let us remember, sexual (in the legend it is his love for a woman that proves his downfall). Or is that just me fantasizing?

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