Monthly Archives: March 2012

Czeching out Czechland: five less obvious day trips from Prague

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All together now - "Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaytripper!"

Hurray for the recent sunshine!

Sunshine plus spring plus a desire to escape Prague (or at least explore its edges) can only mean one thing: it’s daytrip time.

If you have been here in Czechland for a while, you’ve probably done the obvious choices. Karlštejn? Check (if you’ll excuse the pun). Křivoklát? Yes, it’s another castle and you may remember that I’ve been there too.

Now I’ve nothing against castles but there are only so many tours of long corridors lined with the heads of dead animals I can take.So in an attempt to help out those of you who’d like to explore Bohemia but a) don’t have a car b) are a bit sick of chateaux c) want an adventure but one that doesn’t involve wandering too far beyond Prague.

Yes, Pruhonice has a chateau but we're here to eat our sandwiches in the park

1. Count Arnošt’s Country Park: Pruhonice

It’s Saturday morning around 11am. Two English ladies are sedately strolling around the grounds of Pruhonice Park.

Czechman was sceptical about our ability to locate Pruhonice without male assistance. Despite the fact that getting there requires nothing more complicated than getting on metro line C to Opatov then a 15 minute bus ride. “Just don’t call me and tell me you’ve both ended up in Kladno,” I’m told by Pan Skeptik as I head off in the morning.

Czechman is also unimpressed with our start time. You see Czechs would have already arrived at their day trip destination ready for action while my English companion and I were still at home buttering our sandwiches.

“We’re having a picnic instead of going somewhere for lunch! We’re economising!” I declare as I fill up yet another pitta bread with a mansized portion of leftover roast chicken and salad.

Again, Czechman is underwhelmed. “So that means you were planning to spend thirty minutes actually in the park then leave to head off to a restaurant?”

“Umm, possibly.”

Wrong answer. And apparently taking a picnic blanket to sit on is deeply un-Czech also. It suggests you are not truly at one in nature.

Anyway, Pruhonice is so close to Prague that it is practically a suburb of the city but the UNESCO protected park has such impressive, well-kept, spacious grounds it’s easy to lose the crowds and feel like you’ve left the city well behind. This is perfect spoilt and western English lady terrain: beautiful trees, lakes and general greenery with well-maintained paths and not too many hills to climb up. Founded by Count Arnošt Emanuel Silva-Tarouca in 1885, Pruhonice Park is still fit for royalty and boasts eighty hectares of greenery to get lost in. Well worth the 50kc entrance fee.

We didn’t get lost. But we did stop for coffee. I think Count Arnost would approve of such indulgence.

2. The Girly Option: Glass and Jewellery Museum, Jablonec nad Nisou

Perhaps you’d like a daytrip destination which is indisputably beyond Prague’s city limits but which is a) weatherproof b) doesn’t involve castles c) has a girly theme.

Jablonec nad Nisou isn’t famous for much. When I told Czechman of my plan to head there with the Czech Wives’ Club he taught me this phrase: “tam dávají lišky dobrou noc” which roughly translates as “it’s the arse end of nowhere”.

However, it does have a glass and jewellery museum which makes it the perfect destination if you’re female and you want to be sure you’ll actually feel tempted to buy something more than a postcard in the shop. It received EU money at some point which means that unlike many museums in Czech small towns, it is bright and modern and the exhibits are well displayed with explanations in English.

Getting there from Prague involves stopping at Liberec, which has a pretty square and is worth taking in, especially since it has more to offer in the way of lunch options. Assuming you didn’t bring your own sandwiches of course.

3. “So what’s a skanzen?” Přerov nad Labem

One of the things I love about life in Czechland is the way you end up being exposed to new things. For example, it was not one of my ambitions in life to visit an open air museum of folk architecture. Perhaps the whole thing might sound slightlz sexier if I use its Czech name – skanzen.

The Wikipedia definition of a skanzen says something about  it giving a spatial, temporal, social and natural context to folk culture. More simply put, it is a sort of reconstruction of the way a village used to be back in ye olden days. You get to wander around the collection of cottages and outhouses, some of which are original and some of which are reconstructions, and go inside to peer at mannequins doing rustic poses around the fireside or baking bread or some other activity countryfolk once did.

The one at Přerov nad Labem is a decent example and all you need to do to get there is hop on a bus from Smichov. I thought it was charming and fun. But then again, I do have a bit of a thing about mannequins.

4. Where the Labe and the Vltava meet: Mělník

Confluence isn’t a word I get to drop into everyday conversation much but as Mělník  is located where the River Labe and the Vltava meet I can slip it into this sentence.

Mělník has all the elements required for the perfect Girl in Czechland daytrip. It’s easily accessible from Prague. It has a photogenic main square. There’s a Renaissance chateau – yawn – but wait! They make their own wine! And they have decent cakes on sale in the cukrana!

Also for the morbid among you or for those who haven’t yet made it to the bone church at Kutna Hora, there’s an ossuary. If walking around a cellar filled with human remains wasn’t creepy enough, during my last visit a recording of gothic organ music played in the background. Spooky.

Melnik: pretty, easy to get to from Prague and there's a confluence. What more do you want?

5. The Chapel and the bramboráčky: Mnišek pod Brdy

So we come now to recommendation number five – Mnišek pod Brdy – which I visited in one of the final sunny days of  the autumn.

The town itself is easy on the eye but head up the hill behind it and you’ll find the Mary Magdalene chapel, a hermitage and a former monastery turned museum.  Just behind where the monks once observed holy orders, there’s a mountain chalet style hut serving bramboráčky: the perfect high calorie reward for having made it up the steep incline.

Here it is! The highlight of my Mnisek trip - the source of the tasty bramboračky

I’d be very interested to hear your own quirky day trip ideas and also about your own experiences in any of these destinations. Happy tripping!









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Why I like living in the Czech Republic or my Prague-ivesary

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Back in Britain, 2012 is full of big events and anniversaries: the Olympics, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This month is special for me because it marks my third year in Czechland. Let’s call it my Prague-iversary.

I didn’t come here with particularly high hopes. I just hoped that I would find life here tolerable. I didn’t expect to like it here more than being back home. But I do.

Now this is something which surprises most Czechs. And their surprise surprises me  – if that isn’t too many surprises to handle in two consecutive sentences. Why is it exactly that Czech people find it so hard to believe that an English lady like me could manage to be happy living in their country?

I’m not the only expat who experiences this reaction from Czechs on a regular basis. Can it still be that people believe life in the shiny West must be superior? Or is it simply a lack of first hand experience of the reality of living  in a hyper urban city like London? Yes, there are endless possibilities in terms of culture and nightlife but there are downsides too. Like the fact that it takes you an hour on public transport to get anyway out of the immediate vicinity of your neighbourhood. Like the expense – even bearing in mind the higher salaries.

I don’t want this to turn into a London bashing post because I did enjoy my time there. So I’ll move on.

Moving abroad for love is a risky business. I have been fortunate to find friends, a job and to have a supportive partner – who is a native – to help me jump through any nasty administrative hoops. And of course, then there are my new Czech family. There are lots of things to like here. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll mention a few of them.

I appreciate the fact that Czechs don’t sugarcoat things for you – even if it does take some getting used to. I think both the English and the Czechs have a dark sense of humour and relish irony. I like the fact that Prague feels like it is built on a human scale. I like staring out of the window during my tramride to work in the morning and noticing all the little sculptures on the front of a building or an unintentionally retro shop front or the view across the river to Prague Castle and then feeling smug about the fact I’m not commuting to work on the Tube. I like the nice cafes. I like belonging somewhere.

It isn’t just the older generation who find it hard to believe I could enjoy life here. Most of Czechman’s friends are shocked too. So what exactly is the problem? Readers, I want to hear your explanations.

Three years ago, this blog began with a post on meat and the tempting aroma of rohlik v parku wafting across Namesti Miru. I found myself there again during the recent sunny spell admiring this statue.

She looks how I feel. Hopeful. Full of vitality. Chasing possibilities.

Hurray for Spring! Viva Czechland!


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In Praise of Czech Cuisine: 5 reasons to love dining in Czechland

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There's meat. There's dumplings. That's it. Czech food - not for the fainthearted.

I am a food terrorist – or so Czechman claims. He has begged me to stop serving up meaty stews cooked in my shiny new slow cooker and big slabs of cake baked from recipes given to me by his mum. I thought this was all required as part of my Czech wife training. Apparently not. Sometimes, it seems, even a hard-working Czechman with a healthy appetite would rather come home to a humble rohlík.

The Czech Republic’s cuisine has been largely overlooked by the rest of the world. It’s an acquired taste like olives or dark chocolate. That said, I have a personal theory that Czech food (or at least some of its signature dishes) could take over the world. Look at trendy London restaurant St John, pioneer of so-called “nose to tail eating” featuring dishes like pigs’ ears, ducks’ hearts and even squirrel. With its focus on rib-sticking slow cooked meat served up with stomach lining unctuous sauces and dumplings, Czech cuisine really could become the ultimate retro-moderno comfort food.

Perhaps. Anyway, here are my five reasons to love eating in Czechland.

1. It’s hearty fare (or man food)

“Hearty fare”. It’s the ultimate food writing cliche but no better description exists. Czech cuisine is not metrosexual: it’s man food. There’s nothing more comforting on a cold winter’s day than svičkova (beef fillet served in a creamy juniper berry sauce), goulash or that Czech classic, vepřo knedlo zelo, (pork, cabbage and dumplings) all washed down with a beer. Unlike we in England, who have happily ditched beef stew for chicken tandoori, one way that Czechs have hung onto their national identity is through their cuisine. Czechs don’t just eat their national dishes for Sunday lunch or the odd indulgent cooked breakfast but for lunch every day, rain or shine. I still find it difficult to understand how anyone could really enjoy goulash and dumplings when it’s 35 degrees but hey, I drink tea on scorching hot days.

2.The humble knedlík – Dumplings

Faced with your first plate of Czech food, there may be several things which will puzzle you. Firstly, where are the vegetables? Secondly, what are the strange circles of dough next to the meat? Let me introduce you to the knedlík. There are two main kinds – flour or potato. My understanding is that you should get a small piece on your fork along with a bit of meat and some sauce and then swallow.

Like dumplings from other lands, knedlíky are versatile. They can be sweet as well as savoury: if you don’t fancy the heavy meat options then you can indulge in dumplings filled with blueberries or plums as a main course. Naughty but nice. They can be filled: I keep fantasing about a lunch I had a week before I ended up in hospital: dumplings stuffed with smoked pork, sweet cabbage and fried onions and washed down with beer. No chance of repeating that experience for a while. Curses on the food police!

3. Winnie the Pooh was right! Bring back elevenses! The svačina

I first thought that the Czech word svačina meant sandwich but it turns out that the correct translation is something more like elevenses – a snack eaten mid-morning. Unfortunately the word has fallen out of use since the era of Winnie the Pooh, who used to enjoy lashings of honey as his treat of choice but I’m all in favour of bringing the concept back. Especially as it seems you can have a svačina break mid-afternoon as well as mid-morning or so I’m told.

Arse soup anyone?4. Soups, soups, soups

The Czechs love their soups. It’s usually served with every main meal – and in Czechland, most people have this at lunchtime – so Czechman informs me it’s wrong to call it a starter. It’s just soup.

Bramboračka, čočková, česneková: they’re all pretty tasty. Some though are only for the brave. Like prdelačka.

Translation? Arse soup, the main ingredient of which is blood sausage. I got my first (and last) taste of it when Czechman and I stayed in a small pension in the mountains where there was only one option on the menu. “Don’t tell me exactly what’s in it until I’ve finished eating it,” I told him.

5. Let me eat cake – or koláčes!

How can anyone complain about a country where it is completely acceptable to eat cake for breakfast? I think the koláč – a pastry (not a cake, strictly speaking – the best translation for cake is dort) usually covered with a sweet topping of poppy seeds – is ripe for export. A marketing opportunity is clearly being missed. With some skillful branding, the kolac could be as popular a breakfast time treat as the croissant or the pain au chocolat! This is the answer to the alleged downturn in the Czech economy! Inform Nečas immediately!

All this talk about food has left me feeling hungry. I’m off to check on the pork and apple casserole I have in the slow cooker.

P.S  Not content with Twitter, I’ve set up a Facebook fan page for Girl In Czechland. You can go and ‘like’ me over there (or not) by clicking on this link. And before I forget, a big thank you to those of you who have bought me a coffee. My caffeine addiction knows no bounds, so feel free to treat me to a caffeine fix if you haven’t already. Alternatively, just leave me an interesting comment: they always make my day.


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One World (Jeden Svět) Human Rights Film Festival 2012: Mama Illegal

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When I was contacted and asked to be a reviewer for the One World Human Rights Film Festival, I gladly agreed. However, when the opening sequence of Mama Illegal, my chosen documentary began, I couldn’t prevent the following thought flitting across my brain.

 “Riots. Protests. A statue of Lenin and some geese.”

 “Oh God. What have I done?”

Clearly I overdosed on old episodes of Sex and the City during my recent convalescence.

I was asked to write about this particular film because I am a migrant. It feels odd to use that word to describe myself though because I’m a very privileged one. I’m a university educated, native English speaker with an EU passport. I don’t have to worry about being deported and I’m fortunate to do a job that I enjoy which has some social status attached to it – being a TEFL teacher might not carry much kudos in some circles but it beats cleaning toilets.

Compare the situation of most expats based here in Prague to that of the Moldovans featured in Mama Illegal. Once the bread basket of the Soviet Union, Moldova is now the poorest country in Europe; in rural areas the unemployment rate is 80% and the average monthly income is a mere 100 euros. The film follows the story of three village women, who head to wealthier countries like Austria or Italy where they work illegally in menial jobs to send money home. Having no valid visa means that they cannot access healthcare or travel freely; one hasn’t seen her children for six years.

I also appreciated the fact that the filmmakers followed both women for almost a decade so it was possible to see how their lives developed rather than just being shown a brief snapshot. We already know that surviving as an illegal worker must be tough; we also know these people are invisible and exploited but a documentary like this grants a human face to the otherwise faceless statistics.

 It’s fun to zone out in front of the erotic antics of Carrie Bradshaw et al sometimes, but an event like One World gives you the chance to learn more about the human rights situation in seventy-three different countries and also serves as a reminder of how fortunate and privileged we are to live in an affluent place. If you need a break from the anodyne Hollywood trash served up in the cinema these days, check out the festival’s programme.  The event kicked off a few days ago but continues until Thursday March 15th. In case you needed further persuasion, it’s worth mentioning tickets are a super reasonable 80kc. 


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Czech mums are Supermums: another weekend with The Village People

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Meet Babovka, a traditional Czech sponge cake

In Czechland, doctors often send their patients to a spa to recuperate. I opted to go to stay with the Village People (aka Czechman’s parents) instead. Why? Because I knew I would get plenty of sympathy after my recent adventures in hospital, especially from Czechman’s mum.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Czech mothers all seem to possess a surplus of caring genes. Either that or they all attend some special training camp where they learn all the skills necessary to be supermums.

Highlights of the weekend included:

–  learning how to make babovka (a traditional Czech sponge cake) with Czechman’s mum. The results were excellent but the real test is whether I can manage to make it as well without expert supervision

–  an 80’s fashion show starring Czechman and his collection of ancient tepláky (jogging bottoms) as he decided what from his teenage wardrobe should finally be thrown away

– hunting through Czechman mum’s collection of vintage knitting and crochet patterns: fascinating stuff for a craftaholic like me

– admiring Czechman’s dad at work in his království (kingdom) – the workshop at the bottom of grandma’s garden – where he has transformed the bits of wooden worktop into leaf-shaped chopping boards, including a minature one for Czechman’s niece – šikovny!

– daily trips to the grandmas to discuss important topics like the latest episode of Prostřeno! and how well the hens are laying: very well indeed as we now have thirty organic eggs in our fridge. Better get started on that babovka…

I may be wrong, but my impression is family is more important here in the Czech Republic than in England. In my early days in Czechland I’d grumble a bit about how often we are expected to put in an appearance at Czechman’s parents (once a month minimum) and the fact that my presence is required too (but they’re your parents) but now that I finally understand most of what’s going on, I really look forward to it.

You see, Czechland is home now and it’s starting to feel like his family are my family too.

“You seem really comfy here,” Czechman observed this weekend. And I am.

May I politely draw your attention to a new addition to the blog? Should you wish to help me indulge my spoilt and western coffee habit, just click on the button on the right hand menu. If you’ve enjoyed reading over the years and are feeling super generous, you can make a donation. Or alternatively just pretend I never asked.


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