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Czech firemen sing a Christmas carol while wreaking revenge on a variety of fire-causing domestic appliances. Happy Christmas!
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Prague architecture is great on entrances.
Two more pics here..... )
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I was fascinated by this 1917 annual I discovered at my mother-in-law's house. It is a mixture of Catholic religious instruction, idealised 'factual' articles about the war and fervently pro-empire patriotic short stories, some of them with an anti-semitic element. There must have been a whole industry churning out this sort of stuff. I wonder how many Czechs at that time were loyalists who really bought into it. This picture shows cowardly Russians being beaten in Poland.

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Witches' Night falls on 30th April and is still enthusiastically celebrated by the inhabitants of my wife's native village. It's a sort of combination of the British bonfire night and May Day festivals; driving out the winter with a big fire and raising the May pole ready for the next day. Pole raising is an all-male macho and plainly phallic affair, as is pole guarding, which they then have to do for three nights. Men from neighbouring villages will mount 'raids' and try and cut down each other's poles before the three days are up.
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The centre of Prague is well-known and features a great deal in postcards, normally with blue skies and empty streets. I thought I'd present you with some more realistic views, with rain and crowds of tourists. Still pretty though. This is the famed astrological clock. Little wooden automatons come out of it every hour.


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I have returned from the Czech Republic, leaving wife and baby behind for a further two weeks. I felt deliciously guilty listening to some Czech parents on the plane wrestling with their disaffected toddler while I lounged and watched some unnamed German city slide by beneath. Toddlers just don't understand seatbelts. I'm pleased to be back in our little English flat with all its modern conveniences; telephone, drinkable water, internet, TV with more than one channel. The isolation was driving me mad. It was a bit tense there too. The in-laws are always nice to me but seem unable to discuss anything with my wife without put-downs and self-pity bubbling to the surface. Loud jeering seems to be their normal mode of communication. It's grim, though the children do provide comic relief. I should have taken more books. I wish I'd had a laptop. I did have the camera however, and used it a lot.

I spent a great deal of time pushing the baby around my mother-in-law's village. The blossom was somewhat spectacular. I took most of these pictures within the same half hour one day.

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Off to the Czech Republic tomorrow. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I wish I could wriggle out of it somehow. I am not excited by the prospect of being surrounded by the in-laws for days and days, in a beautiful but tiny village, without our own car, internet or land phone, reduced to being the semi-mute idiot in the corner, struggling to understand their complex language as they shout it at each other. I'm not relaxed, either, by the thought of spending two weeks fighting the weeds, mice, fleas and filth at my father-in-law's house, which has likely stood untouched since he went into the nursing home last year.

Bah! Oh well. I married a penniless au pair. I knew what I was getting into. She is worth it :)
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I sympathise with this article in the Guardian today which argues that the Department of Health shouldn't be getting involved in the regulation of  what are essentially faith-based (but won't admit it) alternative therapies.

In my experience this blurring of quackery and real medicine has gone even further on the continent than here in Britain, probably helped by expensive state-backed insurance systems. Back in 1993 I was working as an English teacher in a state school in a small Czech town when contracted a bad cold. Here in England nobody would really give a damn. My female colleagues on the hospital ward would probably joke that I'd contracted 'man flu' (a term which implies that males can't tolerate a common cold and therefore inflate it into influenza). Not so in the Czech Republic. They were horrified that I had even turned up at work and risked infecting the whole institution. I was sent straight to the state hospital, which was conveniently located across the street. They sent one of my pupils with me to translate. There two nurses and a doctor took blood tests (why?) and were very nice to me. I was flattered by all the attention. Then they prescribed me some pills. French-made homeopathic remedies. What an anti climax. Sugar pills! Pretend drugs! I couldn't believe they'd wasted so much of their and my time.

Looking back on the experience I realise now that the state hospital I attended had probably just been privatised and I was being treated under some generous insurance scheme my school had set up for their short-term foreign teachers. Might explain all the attention I got, all those man hours, and those expensive imported imaginary medicines which were supposed to cure a common cold where centuries of scientific research had failed. Good business.
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(the cover shows Bezděz castle)

I was so pleased to find this in an antiquarian bookshop yesterday. A little expensive for me (£30) but I couldn’t resist. This copy appears to date from 1908 but the British author explains that he first visited Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) in 1873. It was published by the Religious Tract Society and has a strong protestant bias; lingering much on the history and relics of Hussite Protestantism, which was and still is a small minority religion in the country and, arguably, not particularly representative of Czech culture. This aside, however, there are many fascinating details. The author is an enthusiast of medieval castles and romantic landscapes, and describes these in detail in the manner of a travel diary. More relevant to the country’s post-war history of ethnic cleansing, he describes the changing mix of Czechs and Germans as he travels deeper into the regions; coming across some areas in which the villages are alternately wholly Czech or wholly German. He also furnishes us with more prosaic details, which I find most interesting, of the cost of hiring horses and drivers, the interior décor of inns, differing styles of folk dress and, of course, the food (which is exactly as my mother-in-law still cooks it: fried pork and potatoes).

The front of the book has a map of Bohemia with the German or Germanised place names which were then commonly used. You can see Votice (the nearest town to my wife's village) there as ‘Wotitz’. This makes the book somewhat challenging as all these place names were changed to their Czech versions after 1918. I’m going to have to translate them before I can be sure exactly which towns and castles the author is describing.

Here is the map and a few extracts. My wife found the first paragraph quite entertaining.

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A little antiquarian mystery for those of my readers who are so inclined. This structure is in the cemetery opposite the Franciscan monastery in Votice, Czech Republic. It was built in the 18th century and is supposed to be a replica of the edicule (a small building inside the main one, which protects the holy spot, like a kind of giant jewellery box) inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, based on exact measurements taken by monks who visited the original. Now take a look at the original below. They're really not very alike, are they? I've thunk up some rival theories as to why this should be.............

  1. The monks were damned liars, had never visited the original in Jerusalem at all but based their replica on second-hand measurements and bad pictures instead.
  2. The monks were not liars, but the structure of the edicule has changed a great deal since the 18th century, seeing the removal of the porch and old tower, and building of a new tower and parapet.
Answers on a postcard, please.

UPDATE: Ah! I found this on Wikipedia: "The Franciscan friars renovated it further in 1555, as it had been neglected despite increased numbers of pilgrims. A fire severely damaged the structure again in 1808, causing the dome of the Rotonda to collapse and smashing the Edicule's exterior decoration. The Rotunda and the Edicule's exterior were rebuilt in 18091810 by architect Komminos of Mytilene in the then current Ottoman Baroque style. The fire did not reach the interior of the Edicule, and the marble decoration of the Tomb dates mainly to the 1555 restoration. The current dome dates from 1870."

So, does this mean that the Votice edicule is actually an accurate 3D 'photograph' of the original in its pre-1808 form? I find that rather spine-tingling.


13/10/07 22:11
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Despite the miraculously car-free countryside it seems that no visit I make to the Czech Republic is complete without witnessing, or being involved in, a spectacular vehicle collision of some sort. I snapped this one today as we were driving to the airport. I think the two guys standing there were in that squashed car. Now, how on earth did they get they get it into that posture? There's no sharp bend and there was no ice. Were they trying some 'trick driving' on two wheels?

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Interesting to hear about the Czech Republic from a different perspective. Today a man was telling me about the 5 years he spent travelling around Poland and Czechoslovakia, mostly on foot. This wasn't  low-budget tourism, but as a prisoner of war of Nazi Germany. They started him off in a coal mine in Sosnowiec, in southern Poland, and then he and his fellow prisoners were moved slowly south and west, presumably away from the advancing Soviet threat, working in various mines and cement factories. At one point they were marched, over a period of three months in winter, across the entire width of the present-day Czech Republic, through Olomouc and Prague and then out the other side to Nuremberg. Quite a scenic journey in different circumstances. He has fond memories of the generosity of the local Czechs and Poles. At one point some locals threw loaves of bread to them over a fence and their German guards responded by setting dogs on them as they scrambled to pick them up. They ended up in a camp near Munich, from which he and his friend escaped just as the German army started crumble. They found themselves adrift in a country defeated but not yet properly occupied. The American author Kurt Vonnegut described being in a very similar situation as a freed POW. Like Vonnegut and his friends they commandeered a vehicle with some other POWs and started to drive west. The little car could hardly carry them and some of the many American soldiers driving past them in the opposite direction eventually took pity and gave them a big luxurious captured German army Mercedes staff car, which was modified with American markings to avoid being strafed. This got them to Frankfurt, and from there the Canadian airforce gave them a lift to Paris just in time for VE day.

I think after that any sort of 'normal' holiday would just lack adventure somehow
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Here are some photos of the small town of Votice, which is near my wife's native village. I thought they would give an impression of how interesting the Czech Republic is, even outside the tourist honey pots like Prague. This first picture shows the 17th century St Wenceslas (Vaclav) church and the 'old chateau' brewery.
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One of the 19th century buildings at the Prince Rudolf and Princess Stephanie hospital in Benešov u Prahy, Czech Republic; last year before it was restored and last week after they had just finished it. I've spent a lot of time visiting my sick in-laws at this place. It is interesting to see what hospitals are like in other countries and compare them with the British one I work in. I'll put a few more photos under a cut after these ones......

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I blame
this brewery:
Founded by Archduke Ferdinand himself about 15 years before he was assassinated. Really wonderful beer. They even do a 'polotmavé' (half-dark) one called 'sedm kulí' (seven bullets), which you can see here, because that's how many times Ferdinand and his wife were shot in Sarajevo. Nice.

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