Monthly Archives: November 2012

5 reasons I’m looking forward to winter in Czechland

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Recently I was fortunate enough to be whisked away for a romantic weekend by Czechman to a top-secret location in the Jizera mountains.

We even stayed in a hotel with a wellness as we say in Czechlish: I believe the correct term is spa. All very spoilt and western (in a modest way of course) which means I loved it.

Anyway, I got to go in a whirlpool – sorry jacuzzi – and to try out a Finnish sauna and of course, to do a lot of walking in the nature – I mean, the countryside.

Do we actually say ‘in the nature’ in English? Sounds wrong but I can no longer tell with certainty.

Whether it was in the nature, countryside or mountains, a good deal of exercise was required to burn off the calories incurred by indulging ourselves at the zabijacka or pig killing. No porcines were dispatched with in front of us, but on Saturday evening every imaginable bit of the poor unfortunate squealer was served up for dinner at a kind of feast.

There was goulash, black and white sausages, strange savoury mashed up bits of inside you serve on bread, tlačenka (bits of meat suspended in fat) and that personal favorite of mine, prdelačka – aka arse soup. Making our way through a sample of that was a workout in itself.

Anyway, while on our mountainside wanderings, we came across the ski lift I have obligingly included in the photo above. Those huge red metal pulleys look odd without the snow; they seem marooned with no purpose. Which brings me to my first point.

5 Reasons I’m Looking Forward to Winter in Czechland This Year

1. Learning to ski.

Maybe.  I’ve done a spot of cross-country skiing but I’ve never even attempted downhill. Remember my fear of falling over in icy conditions in Prague? I’m afraid that any attempt to master skiing as an adult will inevitably involve a lot of ending up on my backside – or even breaking my neck. Czechman is keen for me to embrace this leisure activity. I’m less enthusiastic. He’s trying to bribe me with wellness hotels and švarak (mulled wine). I’m currently resisting but may give in simply because I’m sure my efforts would make an excellent blog post.

2. Drinking svařák on Old Town Square

I don’t care if it’s touristy or tacky. I’m partial to a bit of mulled wine on Old Town Square while admiring the enormous Christmas tree. It’s guaranteed to get me in the festive mood – but do watch out for rogue Segways.

3. Eating/making vánoční cukroví aka Christmas Biscuits

The English have mince pies; the Czechs have vánoční cukroví aka Christmas biscuits. They come in all shapes and sizes: there’s the wasps’ nests (tastier than they sound), vanilla crescents (vanilkové rohlíčky), bears’ paws (medvedi tlapicvky), mini-gingerbread thingys (perníčky), coconut balls (apparently the easiest to prepare): the list really is endless.

According to that great cultural authority Ona Dnes, it’s already a bit late to be preparing vánoční cukroví. Apparently, if I want to be in the running for Czech Super Wife of the Year 2012, I ought to have started baking about a week ago.

Oops.  Don’t tell Czechman’s mum.

4. Snow

I am looking forward to the snow.

Let me get this straight. I’m not looking forward to traipsing around outside in the horrible grey slush which will invade Prague once the snow has come and then begun to melt. I’m not looking forward to gingerly traversing pavements in hiking boots while trying to avoid patches of black ice. Nor am I looking forward to dodging killer icicles as the thaw sets in.

I am looking forward to being ensconced in a cosy cafe/restaurant/my living room drinking something warm (tea, mulled wine) while watching the snow fall from the window. It’s pretty and soothing  just as long as you don’t actually have to go anywhere in it.

5. Carp for Christmas Dinner

 Actually, this last one is a lie.

I’ve done Czech Christmas. I don’t object to it in principle. It’s just for me, a bit of fried fish and potato salad isn’t really all that festive. Sorry.

My sister is preparing for a long weekend in Czechland as we speak to explore the Christmas markets. Expect some kind of   amusing post all about the joys of trdelnik – shock news! it’s not actually Czech! – and the array of tourist tat on sale in those oh so cute little wooden huts very soon.

Oh, and they’ll be a few words about my (not-so) secret identity too…

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A Giant Alien Ray Gun and Some Camels: Commuting in Prague

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That giant alien ray gun: Zizkov TV Tower

commute

1. travel to and from one’s daily work, usually in a city, especially by car or train

2. change (a judicial sentence etc) to another less severe.

According to Joe Moran’s wonderfully entertaining piece of pop-sociology, Queuing for Beginners, the bored commuter has become a symbol of the drudgery of daily life.  If, like me, you have braved the perils of London’s public transport system with its frequent hiccups and full-scale breakdowns, you’ll understand why.

Scientific studies have shown that the humble commuter undergoes more stress than a fighter pilot despite being in no imminent danger – only the wrath of an irate boss should they turn up late. The reason? Unlike the fighter pilot, the urban traveller has no control over what happens to him.  He is powerless.

Now I live in Prague, my journey to work has ceased to be a chore and has instead become one of the minor highlights of my day.  For a start, it’s much shorter. As I’ve said before, Prague is far more compact city than London: there’s none of that “I must allow an hour to get anywhere, even if it’s ten minutes down the road as the crow flies” or “Whipps Cross? No problem. I’ll just get a bus, train, hop on the DLR then flag down a camel.”

My last post may have had a (metaphorical) elephant in it but I was joking about the camel. However, I did spot four camels grazing on the outskirts of Letna from the window of the tram the other day.

No, Ms Girlova hasn’t been dropping acid. They belong to the circus.

I don’t have to venture underground for my commute but I love the metro tunnels with their metallic tiles that seem to belong in a science-fiction film. Before you get down to the platform, those endless escalators have to be negotiated. They do offer male passengers certain delights which have not escaped the attention of  a certain Ricky and Richard – see the comments on my last post to discover what I mean…

I travel by tram. As many Czechs still operate on Austro-Hungarian time and are at their desks (or company-sponsored English lessons) by 7:30am, I usually get a seat. Now I can stare out of the window and watch Prague strobe past the glass. Man cannot live on architecture alone but I delight in those pretty little details – a couple of svelte caryatids or a gilt decorative swirl –  at eight in the morning.

My tram ride takes me along the river. On the other side I can see a tiny stone General Zizkov sitting on his horse; he looks like he belongs on a girl’s charm bracelet. Then there’s the TV Tower, a giant alien ray gun left behind by fleeing UFOs where vineyards once were.  Soon afterwards there’s the Art Wall where a few months ago they had giant photos of men hanging themselves or perhaps they were being hung? It was a bit too provocatively disturbing for first thing in the morning.

We fly across the Vltava. There’s that king of the Castles looking picture-postcard perfect as always. I’m doing what all commuters do: daydreaming of escape, worrying about work, wasting energy reflecting on unsolvable difficulties but as I look about of the window, I feel soothed.

As a one-time Londoner now living in Prague, my journey to work is a daily reminder that my sentence has been commuted to a less harsh one.

This last sentence doesn’t communicate anything except my desire to end with a stylistic flourish.

A couple of male carytids holding up a balcony

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10 Tiny Slices of Girl In Czechland

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This elephant is not Communism: he's a very obvious fact no-one wants to discuss in case it makes others feel uncomfortable. Wait a minute...

After my previous Very Serious Post About the C word, I’ve decided to regale you all with something a little more lighthearted.

Cue one of those list posts that allegedly herald the death of  journalism. (A thought – can’t I manage to write anything without dousing it in irony?)

Are you ready for ten bite-sized slices of Girl In Czechland? The answer can only be ano!

1. Say it with flowers – or should that be cacti?

We all know there are plenty of pubs in Czechland. Is it just me or are there an inordinate amount of florists too? Is that because of the market for modest bouquets created by all those name days?

And why exactly does that florists near Vodičkova have so many cacti in the window? Are the Czechs spiky enough already without seeking any extra assistance from the plant kingdom?

2. Do you speak Czechlish at home too?

Every couple has their own language but international partnerships are practically guaranteed to generate their own vocabulary – a sort of bastardised form of both languages. In our household, for example, we’re quite fond of having a restík followed perhaps by a snakiček.

3. Tram ride musings

During my tram ride to work yesterday I found myself wondering: “Do people stare more here or is it just my imagination?”

I’ve come to no firm conclusion on this except that my imagination tends towards the overactive.

4. The (rather smelly) elephant in the room

The body odour issues, however, are definitely not in my imagination. In fact, that potent, stomach churning B.O stench that too often offends my nostils is the rather smelly elephant in the room* – or rather on the tram. What’s going on? It’s not even summer anymore! I think I’d rather hold my nose than bring that particular issue on the blog anytime soon even if Czechman complains about it too.

Erm, hang on a minute…

5. Some Profound Thoughts about the Blogosphere

I’ve decided  that blogging is about collecting ephemera – the flotsam and jetsom of the ordinary – and preserving it for posterity.

Whether posterity actually wants it or not is another matter.

6. Clean your teeth with The Bartered Bride

As you know, Czechman and I have quarreled over my love of kitsch homeware items. There’s a mug in the window of a nearby bric-a-brac store adorned with scenes from Prodaná nevesta – Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. I’m severely tempted to splash out on it to keep our toothbrushes in but fear it will end up smashed to pieces by the Taste Police.

Here it is in all its, erm, glory. That Bartered Bride mug.

7. Shabby chic forever

I wonder if it’s really worth buying Mlada Fronta Dnes if all I’m going to do is look at the pictures in the Doma (aka Home) magazine? Still, it is a tiny step towards integration. And anyway, even flicking through the photos can give you a valuable insight into Czech culture. Or not.

This week’s feature on a certain Petra Pikkelová’s fancy-looking chalupa left me wondering – how many Czechs actually bother to buy anything new for their cottages and weekend houses? Isn’t that the dumping ground for a family’s tatty furniture and slightly less modern electrical appliances?

The poshest chalupa in Czechland?

 

Jane Seymour

8. Jane Seymour is Švejk

I stumbled across this scrawled sentence fragment in my notebook the other day: “Jane Seymour is Švejk”.

What on earth could I have meant by this?  What could Henry VIII’s supposedly meek and mild third wife have in common with that wily Czech anti-hero Švejk?

For those of you less obsessed with Tudor history than myself, Jane Seymour is often seen as a pliant doormat in contrast to the feisty but doomed Anne Boleyn. What if Jane Seymour’s submissiveness was all an act designed to manipulate her way to the throne? What if that milksop Jane was really švejking it?

This comparison makes sense in my world. Sort of.

And here's that wily Czech anti-hero Švejk. The similarity is obvious, no?

9. Bring On The Winter

Call me perverse but I’m actually looking forward to winter. Mulled wine on Old Town Square. Those yummy little Christmas biscuits. Proper weather.  Watching the snow fall – from the window of a spoilt and western coffee serving establishment naturally. I might even try downhill skiing. Killer icicles?  Bring it on!

10. Never Blog About What You Had For Lunch

For lunch today, Anglo-French-Czech fusion food: francouzské brambory topped with grated Cheddar cheese. Most agreeable.

 

 

A panoramic shot of Old Town Square where I'll soon be sipping mulled wine in the snow

*”Elephant in the room” is an idiom which refers to an obvious truth which being ignored or remains unexpressed. As far as I am aware, live elephants are not currently permitted on Prague’s public transport system.

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