Tag Archives: rainy afternoons

Secret Prague: the University Botanical Gardens

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Summer has finally arrived here in Prague which means it’s hot, hot, hot. I’m not complaining.  It’s just that while I may be fortunate enough to live in an apartment with a view of Prague Castle, don’t imagine that it’s a penthouse: there’s no rooftop garden with a pool or even a balcony.  In those long gaps between lessons, if I want some fresh air and sunshine, this is the place to go.

There are lots of pretty things to look at.

I like the fact that there is a statue with its head missing and a fountain with no water in it: everything here seems a little bit rough around the edges, a little bit lawless, just like Czechland itself.

If it’s raining you can go and have a look in the greenhouses for just 50kc.  They have a huge lily pond there and an impressive collection of cactuses.

See the flowers?  They’re lilac.  That’s all I know about them really.  And there are fish in that pond too: huge orange ones.

All in all, it’s a good place to go with a book if you want to spend an afternoon in peace and quiet and sunshine.  But shh… don’t tell anyone.  It’s a secret.  The 18 tram will take you there – it’s one stop from Karlovo Namesti.


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A weekend with the (Bohemian) Village People

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I have just spent a weekend with the Village People.

Not the 70’s pop group responsible for wave-your-hands-in-the-air disco classics like YMCA you understand. The Village People is my nickname for Czechman’s family.

It’s one of those jokes that’s only really funny when you tell it to other native speakers. Like when I christened my previous employer ‘Bell-End School of Languages’ and received only a mystified look from Czechman when I couldn’t stop giggling at my own comic brilliance.

It’s sad when you have to resort to laughing at your own jokes. And don’t ask me to explain ‘bell-end’ – one of my subscribers is a man of the cloth. He might be offended.

Going to the village means being spoilt. Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s a list of items we brought home with us:

two jars of homemade marmelade
one large jar of cooked pumpkin chunks
organic goat’s cheese from the nearby goat farm
two giant homemade kolaches
two portions of chicken in red pepper sauce complete with homemade dumplings
two portions of potato and mushroom soup (homemade obviously)
a brand new cake tin (I mentioned that I wanted to make a cake for Czechman’s birthday)
twenty eggs laid by Babička Jedná’s hens – and therefore organic of course
four rohliky (white bread rolls) “because we already have bread and otherwise what will you eat this evening?”

What would we eat indeed.

The Village People ask for little in return for all this five star treatment except our presence. They are patient with my rubbish (but improving) Czech. When I bring a little ringbinder with copies of the articles I’ve recently had published, they ask lots of questions and try to understand the headlines and say I am ‘šikovna’.

This is becoming one of my favourite Czech words. It roughly translates as ‘skilful’ or perhaps ‘talented’ but you don’t have to do a great deal to gain this accolade. Czechman’s infant niece is described as ‘šikovná’ because she can roll onto her belly despite the fact she can’t manage to get back up again and starts bawling. Czechman has failed to bake the pernik (a sort of gingerbread) his Mum showed him how to make but according to her he is still ‘šikovný’ because he managed to buy some from the shop instead. I am also ‘šikovná’ because I can speak Czech (badly), French (well, I could at least) ‘and you also speak English!’

Czechman claims I am an arsekisser. He even taught me the word in Czech for this but now I’ve forgotten it.

It’s true of course. I bring a scarf I am knitting for his Lord Czechness – it’s very long – and receive crochet lessons. Czechman’s mum and I discuss the merits of knitting baby clothes versus adult garments (quicker to finish, more economical) and she is amused (or bemused) that I used to knit on the Tube in London, much to Czechman’s chagrin and dismay. I say how pleased I was that Czechman’s little niece wore the cardigan I made her to her citizenship ceremony. Apparently, they didn’t have anything else equally ‘nobl’. In contrast, I think the things I knit for my English nephew get shoved in a drawer somewhere.

It was a lovely weekend. Ordinary but lovely. My favourite memory is sitting on a bench next to Babička Jedná in her garden in the sunshine while Czechman was sprawled out on the lawn having fed the chickens freshly cut grass. I made Babička laugh by saying what a pale Angličanka I was. I don’t think that’s likely to change soon, given the fact it’s done nothing but rain ever since we got back to Prague. At least if the floods make their way here from Moravia and we’re trapped at home, we’ll have plenty to eat.

The village zámek (castle or stately home)

Feeding goats at the goat farm. 'Kozí' (goat) has a cheeky double meaning in Czech...


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Czech Summer Rain Explained

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podskali 002

Here is a picture of the view from my window. If you look really closely you can just make out the tiny silhouette of Prague Castle on the horizon. It’s hard to make out because of all the cloud. That’s because it’s raining.

It’s been doing that a lot here recently.  Not just ordinary rain, but torrential downpours with thunder so ear-poppingly loud it made me wonder if a grenade had gone off outside.  We have plenty of weather in England too – sometimes our entire summer consists of two or three sunny days in August – but nothing quite like this.

In England cold and rain go together like fish and chips or milk in tea. (Yes, there should be milk in tea and no, I shouldn’t have to ask for it.  Sugar is an optional addition to a nice cup of tea.  Milk isn’t).  In fact, this crazy Prague summer time weather means a baking, oppressive heat which lasts most of the day punctuated by a swift opening of the heavens around five or six in the evening.  The water buckets down cats and dogs. There’s none of that fine spray we call drizzle or the few scattered drops that might be described by the forecasters as a light shower: it’s like monsoon season wandered north.

This is macho, no-nonsense precipitation; its mission is to soak you to the skin. If you forget to take an umbrella, there’s no hope for you.  Your best plan of action is to dive into the nearest pub and drown your sorrows until the storm passes.   Don’t bother asking for a mineral water unless you want to get a very dirty look from the waiter and have the others around you assume you got lost on your way to an AA meeting.

I want to go out now but it’s still raining.

july prague pics 023


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Low-cost flights through Czech cinema, Part I

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island and roztyly pics 014

I arrived back in Prague to be greeted by thunderstorms. The English couple next to me were dismayed. ‘We’ve never been anywhere on holiday where it was raining when we landed,’ the woman told me. Hopefully the gin and tonic she’d treated herself too during the flight took the edge off the disappointment.

Anyway, since I got back there has been a distinct lack of sunshine. Everyone knows that one of the nicest ways to while away a rainy afternoon is to curl up on the sofa in front of a film. Now for those expats amongst you who are curious to find out more about this strange Czechland in which we find ourselves, I have compiled a short list of DVDs which will not only entertain but which will help you discover a little more about Czech culture without really trying too hard. Having watched a couple of old Czech movies will give you more to talk about during those sometimes awkward encounters with the indigenous population.

As I am conscious of the fact that we live in cash-strapped times – every time you open an English-speaking newspaper it’s all blah, blah, doom, credit crunch, blah, blah, doom – all the DVDs I’ve chosen can be purchased for the bargain price of 50 crowns from the newsagents outside Roztyly metro (line C, the red one). Here’s a picture, just in case you get lost:

island and roztyly pics 013

So here, in no particular order, are my three ‘Beat the Credit Crunch’ Czech cinema picks:

1) Head waiter, run! (Vrchní, prchni) 


Now I realise that the English translation of the title may lack a certain punch but bear with me here, please. You want humour. You want to see lovely shots of Prague, especially Zizkov (one of the best words in the Czech language in my opinion), before the Revolution. You want to be introduced to that Czech campfire classic, ‘Severni vitr’. You also want to see hot Czech babes performing in their own wet T-shirt competition in the shower.   God only knows what kind of traffic that last sentence is going to attract…

This film follows the adventures (or should I say misadventures) of a twice-divorced bookseller who is addicted to womanising and struggling to find the resources to support the army of children he has fathered.   A case of mistaken identity leads him to hit upon a cunning plan to boost his income: posing as a waiter in the bars and cafes of Prague, taking the customers’ cash and then making a sharp exit.  As you would expect, these leads to all kinds of comic hi-jinx.  And of course, it also has Zdenek Sverak (Godfather of Czech cinema who wrote and starred in Oscar winning ‘Kolya’, directed by his son, Jan) putting in a star turn as a rather irritating nosey neighbour.  He also gets to wear a great bobble hat.

2) How to drown Dr Mracka or The End of Water Sprites in Bohemia (Jak utopit dr. Mracka aneb Konec vodniku v Cechach)

dr mracka

Ok, so this one doesn’t sound so catchy either in English, but please, just trust me.  Again, it’s a comedy, this time of the grown-up fairytale variety.  You could even call it a reworking of Romeo and Juliet but with a watery twist:  boy meets girl only the star-crossed lovers cannot be together as the girl is really a water sprite and he is the lawyer responsible for kicking the last clan of Bohemian water-sprites out of their damp, unsanitary home for health reasons.   Again, it has some great shots of Prague before we spoilt Westerners were all able to come on holiday here and the two romantic leads are fine examples of how good-looking you can end up being with the right Czech genes.  And I don’t think I’m spoiling it for you by letting you know there’s a happy ending…

3) The Fireman’s Ball (Hoři, má panenko)   kinoeye5_horimapan

This one doesn’t have much of a plot: some small-town fireman decide to try to organise a beauty contest at their annual dance and then fail to deal with the theft of their raffle prizes and the fire at a nearby house.  However, this film deserves an A* for how to do black comedy and you’ll be able to impress Czechs by casually dropping phrases like ‘What a shame that the brief burst of creativity that was Czech New Wave cinema was cut short by the Soviet invasion’ and ‘Ah, Forman, what a genius!’  into hospoda conversation.   I’m not sure if this will make you popular or just appear pretentious, but give it a whirl and let me know.


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Five against five: the wonders of the Czech small screen

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It’s been raining rather a lot today here in Prague and  I’m feeling quite sleepy.  This should be the perfect opportunity to flake out in front of some mid-afternoon TV.  Sadly, there is a problem.  Digital switchover day was 30th April – last Thursday – and neither myself or Czechman has made the effort to buy a digital receiver or ‘set-top box’ as they’re called here.  I’d like to pretend that’s because we regard the medium of television as being beneath us and spend our evenings reading extracts from the Collected Works of T.S Eliot to each other, but the sad fact is, we’re both just lazy.

So, what delights am I missing out on?  Well,  my observations on Czech TV will be rather superficial, due to the fact that I can’t really understand much of it.  However, the daytime schedule seems to be dominated by re-runs of old American serials dubbed into Czech: cop shows and soaps and comedies, some of which I recognise, some of which I don’t.   Even in the Czech output, there are echos of formats I recognise from my trashy viewing binges back home:  reality TV shows where some grotesquely fat person is forced to exercise and stop eating too many cakes, another one where an angry chef shouts a lot at some hapless hospoda owner about how crap the food is (this one’s imaginatively titled ‘Yes, Chef!’) and a soap opera called, wait for it, you’ll never guess – ‘The Street’.  So far, so run of the mill.  However, there is one ray of gleaming hope in the schedules and it comes in the form of ‘Five Against Five’.

‘Five against Five’ is the Czech version of the quiz show called ‘Family Fortunes’ that used to be on in Britain when I was a youngster.  There are two teams each with five people in (hence the catchy Czech title) who try to guess the most popular answers to a question posed to 100 members of the public.  Here’s an example, just in case you haven’t got the idea.  Name something that people consume a lot of in hospital (I know, I thought this was weird).  The top answer?  Blood, closely followed by tea.  Apparently the reason for this is cultural: the Czechs also believe that consuming vast quantities of some special tea-like brew when ill will restore you to optimium health.  My students tell me the stuff is vile.

Anyway, the main reason I love the show so much is that it’s the only thing on Czech TV which I can actually understand.  Some of the questions are real posers.  For example, name a quality which a good secretary needs.  Foreign languages?  IT skills?  Yes, they were all up their on the board but so was – S-E-X.  The Czechs are certainly far less politicially correct if their quiz shows are anything to go by.  Czech this one out (pun intended).  What toy doesn’t a little girl like to play with?  Soldiers?  Lego? A toy car?  One team member actually said (you can see where this is going…) – penis.  Even the normally loquacious presenter was lost for words when the contestant came out with that one.

Thanks to the fact that the answers are flashed up on the screen, I can manically flick through my dictionary in an effort to build my vocabulary and work out what the hell is going on.  This is now my idea of fun here in Czechland.  I think my next entry needs to focus on the more typical expat pastime of drinking Budvar in smoky backstreet pubs until the wee hours, followed covering the cobblestones in vomit.  Perhaps I could skip the last part.

V ateliérech zřízených v nevyužívaných výrobních halách Modřanské potrubní, a.s. se točí i po výměně moderátora Petra Novotného za Petra Lesáka a v nových kulisách.


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