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…

33 Comments

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33 Responses to 5 reasons I’m looking forward to winter in Czechland

  1. Annie Bartoň via Facebook

    Agreed! Although I do recommend learning to ski :-)

  2. I’m really not sure about skiiing… I think God meant me to stay upright!

  3. I do quite agree with you. Apart from skiing, these are also highlights of my holidays…

  4. The buttwarmers in some of the tram seats are nice too.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Eurobubba,

      Those buttwarming tram seats are fantastic! I’m grateful for the way public transport here is always so toasty but it does mean that if you’re wearing many layers to defend yourself from the cold you can end up sweating uncomfortably… It’s tough getting the balance right!

      GIC

  5. Nope, we don’t say “in the nature” – but I agree, I am left wondering sometimes.

    Have you come across the slogan for Vincentka mineral water “Health from the deep of the nature”? Indeed, have you come across Vincentka itself which tastes like the month-old water from the goldfish bowl, but really does all sorts of good things for your insides and vocal cords?

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Amanita,

      Czechman keeps buying me Vincentka and promising me of its health-giving properties! Haven’t noticed any radical transformations on that front yet but I’ll keep you posted :)

      GIC

  6. Ajtacka

    Agreed, we don’t say it. At least not before spending time in CR! I never quite know what to say instead though. About cukrovniky – my Czech mother-in-law starts every year on 1 December, so you’re not necessarily as late as you think!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ajtacka,

      Arrgh – that means I need to start baking today! How will I find the time when I have to hoover the red carpet in preparation for my sister’s visit?

      GIC

  7. Hi GIC,
    Most enjoyable post as always.

    Like you, I am not a fan of the word ‘Wellness’ but it is increasingly becoming ubiquitous in the Czech Republic, Germany & Austria. And I can certainly assure you that first language English-speakers do not say ‘In the nature’. It is Czenglish!

    After the rebuke that Richard & I received from you regarding our comments about the sights we see on escalators when using the Prague Metro, I will refrain from commenting on what you might be required, or not required to wear, when using the jacuzzi & sauna in the hotel ‘Wellness Centre’. However, I hope you enjoyed the ‘spoilt western’ experience :-)

    With regard to skiing, my German wife did ski when she was younger but fortunately has had no desire to resume doing so since we first properly met nearly eight years ago. So unlike your good self, I’m under no pressure to learn to ski now.

    I concur entirely regarding your comments about rogue Segways. Beware also of taxi drivers in the city centre, driving and talking on their mobile phones at the same time. One nearly flattened me as I walked across a zebra crossing last week.

    As for the snow, I do remember your post from over three years ago, expressing your fear as to how you would survive the Prague winter. Hopefully by now, Czechman is no longer suggesting you should paint over the hole in your boot :-)

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ricky,

      Like your good self, I’m pretty sensitive to all the malapropisms that Czechlish confronts us with. However, perhaps also like yourself, I’m sure having now been here for some time I’m developing a touch of word blindness and no doubt on occasion am allowing the odd Czechism to slip into my own speech. For example, a few weeks ago, another English Girl in Czechland spent some time debating whether ‘concrete example’ is too Czech-sounding and I ought to say ‘specific example’ instead.

      Anyway, it seems from the other comments readers love debating these kinds of nuances so I’ll have to rustle up another post specifically on common Czech crimes against English!

      You’ll be glad to hear that Czechman has allowed me to purchase a new pair of boots to replace the holey (not holy ;)) ones: the Czechs’ thrift is a trait I admire on the whole but like all good things it can be taken too far…

      GIC

  8. Janica

    don’t do the carp! it is a znouzectnost!
    I made a musaka last year for the Christmas Eve with lot of success… innovate…

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Janica,

      A big thumbs up to your efforts at Christmas dinner innovation! Moussaka sounds super-tasty – I love Greek food – if I weren’t going to be in England I’d invite myself over to your place :)

      GIC

      • Caycee

        Another Czech gave me the brilliant idea this year to switch the fried carp for a fried chicken řizek, just ask his mother in advance for the switch.

        Good luck!

      • girlinczechland

        Hello Caycee,

        Rizek! Nooooooooo! Think I’d rather have the carp…

        A Spoilt and Western GIC

  9. richardinprague

    Thanks for the posting, Czechgirl. I agree with the others – “In the nature” wasn’t used when I was last in the UK, and actually when I hear it I think is sounds like being in my “birthday suit” (as my mother would have said!). I almost always get my students to change the expression to “in the country” or “in the countryside”.

    Wellness hotels – love them! We sometimes slip across the border into Austria where we stay at a lovely wellness hotel on the edge of some vinyards. Their jacuzzi is outside, and last year we were enjoying the experience of sitting in hot bubbling water, whilst being snowed upon :-) Lovely!

    Snow – I’m like a child when it snows. In about an hour’s time we are going to the Christmas Markets in a couple of the small towns in Saxony. It has been snowing, and it’s minus 6 outside our chalupa so I suppose we will be sliding across the mountains (Krusne hory) in the car. “Kinderspunsch” for me, whilst my wife, her daughter and mother in law swig away at the Gluhwein (Svarak). Ach jo. At least I will enjoy some hot chocolate.
    TTFN – Richard
    +?

  10. Mike Williams via Facebook

    My contribution to my family’s down-hill skiing is driving them there and waiting in the warm friendly pub reading, talking and drinking Svarak (mulled-wine/Gluhwein) :-)

  11. FWIW, I don’t think a phrase like “out in nature” (or maybe “surrounded by nature”?) would sound wrong to an American, but we’d most likely just say “outdoors” or even “in the great outdoors”.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello again Eurobubba,

      I think “in the great outdoors” is what Czechs mean when they talk about enjoying “being in the nature” but being a small country (as they’re always reminding us) perhaps they would find it hard to describe their own outdoors as being great (in size I mean, not quality!)? Just a thought…

      GIC

  12. Or of course, “in the wilderness, where the hand of man had never set foot”!

  13. Mike Williams Your version sounds perfect – think I might join you!

  14. Skotka na Moravě

    I’ve been following your blog for a month or so after one of my students recommended it. Love your posts and your take on life here in the Czech Republic. It’s not as bad as some Czechs like to make out!

    I too find it tricky to correct “the nature” as I’ve become quite used to hearing it! In particular when they talk about a certain place having “nice nature”. Is “nice countryside” better? Like you, sometimes I just don’t know any more!

    I enjoyed the last post on Czechisms so I vote yes for another one, though I have to admit I don’t correct my students on “notebook”! Have you had anyone telling you they feel “very fine”? Or that they spent the weekend “isolating” their roof? Not to mention men saying they need a “special dress” for the annual spring ball!

    Once again, really love the blog! I have so many moments where I think, “exactly!” I think you really capture Czech life well. Keep it up, I’ve got you bookmarked!

  15. Michael

    GIC,

    The first time I strapped boards to my feet to slide downhill the powers that be seriously considered changing the name of the sport from “skiing” to “falling.” If you take up this past time be prepared for a sore bum. LOVE the vanilkové rohlíčky. My wife just made a second batch…the first one seems to have disappeared (and reappeared around my waistline). Yep, the fried carp and potato salad is not what I call festive…but it makes the wife happy…for her, it’s not christmas unless there is fish and potato salad on the table…she makes chicken snitzel too. But we have a nice traditional Christmas meal the next day so it’s ok.

  16. Sarka

    Hi GIC,

    here is something spa-related:
    http://www.gusto-blog.blogspot.cz/2012/11/going-hog-wild-in-karlstejn.html
    on a blog which I read regularly too.

  17. Markéta

    I just love your articles about Czech life – it sometimes reminds me how funny can normal parts of life be. It´s strange that you can´t ski, I thought in England are better circumstances for skiing than in CR?
    For a carp – it´s not so traditional, we have been eating them since 20. century. More traditional is Kuba – meal from mushrooms and grains.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Marketa,
      I’m not sure why you think there might be more opportunities for skiing in England: we’re somewhat lacking in both snow and mountains! Skiiing is a pastime for the better off in England whereas here in the Czech Republic it’s for everyone – which means there’s no escape for me! I’d much rather stay indoors with a nice cup of tea and/or hot wine…

      GIC

  18. Miles

    I am not entirely sure about the origin of fried fish and potato salad for Vánoce dinner (being a Czech, I’m not really fond of the word “Christmas” being used to describe a pre-Christian holiday *grin*), but it is a relatively recent invention. The introduction of “obalování ve strouhance”, or covering stuff in breadcrumbs and frying, into the Czech and Austrian cuisine, is popularly attributed to general Radetzky – which would put it in the 19th century. Feel free to ignore it altogether, nobody’s gonna sneer at you.

    If you want something different and more traditional, you might want to try a carp in black sauce, or “kapr na černo”. Black sauce is sour-and-sweet, prune-based (containing both whole prunes and prune jam known as “povidla”), with whole or chopped almonds and raisins; special kind of hard gingerbread is used as a thickener. Surprisingly enough, it works well with fish, but it can also be eaten with rabbit, lean roast pork, beef, duck or turkey.
    One more traditional way to prepare a holiday carp is poaching, or “na modro” (simmered in sour water or wine with vegetables to make the skin turn blue, then served warm with potatoes and butter, or as a cold dish, often in aspic), but for some reason, I never got to try that one.

    Another funny medieval holiday meal is “Černý Kuba” (Black Jack?), which is essentially boiled and baked barley grits with forest mushrooms and lard/butter, liberally spiced with garlic and marjoram. It’s actually tastier than it sounds.

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Miles,

      I feel a bit bad replying to your comment first as there are a whole backlog of them that I’ve failed to respond to promptly but I just had to respond immediately to the *very* exciting news that there’s actually a tasty alternative to fried carp that doesn’t involve breadcrumbs! This kapr na cerno sounds *delicious*! I have to ask Czechman’s mum about the possibility of her serving it up in future years! My level of excitment really does warrant this overzealous use of exclamation marks!

      As for Kuba, I’ve had it as part of my Czech Christmas experience – and it passed the GIC taste test. I think we say barley groats not grits but perhaps others will correct me…

      GIC

  19. As an English guy with a Slovakian wife living in Prague I empathised with your last comment about Carp for Christmas dinner. I tried it once and spent so long picking out the bones that I decided the next year I would cook all my Slovak side of the family traditional Christmas Turkey. I spent 6 hours doing it all but happily they loved it..even the pigs in blankets! …. Great blog btw!

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Iain,

      On my return to the UK for Christmas last year, my London based friends informed me that they had found carp on offer at their local Morrisons! Apparently the supermarket was trying to cash in on the the Polish pound. I agree though: carp tastes okay but it is a bit bony…

      GIC

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