Thursday, 13 July 2017

Walking the Bear Trail


I have been meaning to blog about walking the oldest nature trail in the Czech Republic for some time now. I actually walked the trail a year ago, but never got round to blog about it. 
The Bear Trail (Medvedi Stezka) gets its name from a stone three quarters of the way along the trail, which marks where the last brown bear in the country was shot in the 19th century. Now the only bear you will come across is on the signsposts and information boards for the trail, which feature a bear on a yellow and black background. 


Set in the spectacular scenery of the Sumava National Park. the trail links the two former lumberjack settlements of Ovesna and Cerny Kriz, both are on the train line from Cesky Krumlov. Although the trail is only 8.7 miles long, you should allow a day for the walk, as you will need to coincide your walk with the train timetable and you will want to stop for a drink and food at Jezerni Vrch.

Cow Head Rock

The first section of the walk between Ovesna and Jezerni is probably the most spectacular, as you climb the forested slopes of Mt Pernik - the trail rises from 736m above sea level to 1037m before dropping down to Jezerni. Walking in the forest can be a bit tedious, but not so on the Bear Trail, because all the way up are a number of rock formations with descriptive names: including Pernikova Skala (Gingerbread Rocks), Goticky Portal (Gothic door), Hrib (Mushroom), Obri Kostky (Giant's Dice), Draci tlama (Dragon's Mouth) and Soutezka lapku (The Highwaymen's Gorge). In places the forest parts to afford spectacular views across the river valley to the ancient forested hill of Boubin.




At Jezerni Vrch you will find the Schwarzenberg Wood Canal and places to eat and drink. After refreshments you continue along the trail past the Bear Stone and on to Cerny Kriz and the train back home.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Saints Cyril and Methodius


The Czechs have two bank holidays back to back in early July (5th and 6th), which always catch me out.I roll up to a shop or bank only to realise my mistake. The two dates are both related to three holy men in Czech history. The latter is Jan Hus's day and I have blogged about it already here. The former is dedicated to the founding fathers of Czech and Slavic christianity: St Cyril and St Methodius.

1150 years ago the two "apostles to the Slavs" arrived in the empire of Great Moravia. The Empire was large and powerful extending as far as that of Charlemagne.

The two brothers had attended the University of Constantinople and were considered the best scholars in Christendom and they brought that scholarship to bear in their missionary work.. Their contribution to Czech and more widely Slavic Christianity and culture cannot be overstated. They invented a Slavic alphabet Glagolitic, which formed the basis for Cyrillic, in order to translate the Bible into the local language. They also put into writing the Slavic Civil Code.

For this anniversary there are a number of celebrations taking place in the country, culminating in annual national pilgrimage to the Monastery of St Cyril and St Methodius at Velehrad (above). The basilica is an extremely impressive Baroque church, but if you want to get an idea of the early churches of the Slavs go to the archaeological site of Mikulcice, where you can see the foundations of twelve churches from a thousand years ago.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Horice Na Sumava Passion Play


Before we had even bought our Czech home, we attended a performance of the Passion Play at the small town of Horice Na Sumave. This year I was invited to see it again by a neighbour who is taking part in the chorus.

When we arrived at the open-air theatre on the outskirts of town an hour before curtain up (not that there was a curtain) there was already a lot of people sitting at tables drinking beer and tucking into chips and mayonnaise. As it was the first night, this was very much a performance by and for the locals. There was a group of Austrians. whose town also has a passion play and who were made very welcome. 


The Passion Play is staged in a specially landscaped amphitheatre. The audience sits on the flat undercover, but the performers must risk the elements. The show starts at 8.30pm, so as the play proceeds towards the crucifixion the night takes over. Torches gutter and from the wooded hills come the calls of wild animals. It all makes for a very special experience and even though the play is in Czech I was very much engaged in the show.



Passion plays have been performed at Horice Na Sumave since 1816. The Horice Passion was so famous that in 1897 it was the subject of one of the earliest films, made by Klaw and Erlanger and distributed by Edison's Company. The Passion then went on for hours and was performed in a huge theatre complex on the site of the current theatre.

The original theatre complex

So what happened? Why isn't the Horice Passion as well known as Obergammergau? What happened was first the Second War and the displacement of the German population and therefore the play's performers from the area. The new Czech population tried to revive the plays and apparently the 1946 and 1947 performances (now in Czech) were a great success. But the arrival of the Communists in power ensured that this expression of communal religion was suppressed. The theatre was demolished and it seemed that the Horice Passion was silenced.


But the spirit of the Passion was and is strong. No sooner had Communism been overthrown, but the Passion play began to be revived. A society was set up and in 1993 the Passion was once more performed on the hillside above Horice Na Sumave. As I sat in the gloom last night, watching Christ on the cross being raising above the theatre, it did not matter that this was an amateur production, that the Pharisees appeared to be wearing lampshades or that the acting was sometimes a bit wooden. The passion behind the Passion won through and the commitment of those taking part gave the play an authenticity that a professional production would lack.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Back At Last



At last I have made it back to the Czech Republic! The last 12 months have been, as the Queen would say, an “annus horribilis”. First there was Brexit, which threw my whole future in this country into doubt and is still not much clearer. Then in the Autumn my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the prostate and my mother with Alzheimers. Of course as they were both in the UK I wanted to be there for them. And then to cap it all I had a minor heart attack at the end of November and another scare in May a few weeks after Dad's death.

Is this the end of my Czech Adventures? No. I still love this country and I have many friends here. I just cannot commit myself to being here the way I used to be. Family comes first. How long this situation will last, I do not know. My Czech friend Hannah used to say that the way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. He certainly will have had a good laugh at me. Twice I got so far as to buy the plane tickets to come back here, only to have to cancel them. So I am not making plans any more. I will just enjoy the time I have here.

Is this the end of this blog? Far from it. Already I have enough subjects for posts to last me for years: places I have visited, sights I have seen, observations I have made, to say nothing of what may happen in the future. The only issue, as has been the case over the last year, is the other demands on my time. They have eased at least for the moment, so here's hoping!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Masopust Masks - A Traditional Manufacturer


Over the last seven days Masopust (Carnival) celebrations have been taking place across the Czech Republic. An important element of Czech carnival as it is in other countries is the wearing of masks. Some will have been home-made, some will be cheap plastic masks from China, but some will have been purchased from the traditional mask manufacturer PVO, which is based in Zakupy in the north of the country. PVO is the last surviving company in Europe to make traditional papier-mache masks by hand. 

Scraps of paper impregnated with starch glue are pressed into moulds in a series of layers and then allowed to dry. The masks are then handpainted. The workshop is lined with shelves for the 2500 original moulds used by the company. In addition to masks the company also makes giant heads. 


You can buy masks from the company's e-store: http://www.karnevalove-zbozi-masky.cz/ 
Or you can commission a unique mask or head. The masks are remarkably good value, starting at about £3.50. Better still why not visit the company museum, you might even get a chance to paint your own mask! The address is E.H.Muzeum Nám.Svobody 247 471 23 Zákupy. 


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

PFs - New Year Cards


About a year ago I blogged about my new hobby of collecting Czech exlibris and other small prints. Well, the collection has grown a lot since then.



In addition to exlibris (bookplates), a significant part of the collection are PF's or "pifees" as the Czechs call them. Pifees are New Year greetings cards. The PF stands for Pour Feliciter. As you can see the term is French, which was spoken at high levels of Czech society at the start of the 19th century, when Count Karl Chotek of Chotkow and Wognin is said to started the fashion for the PF abbreviation. 


The cards were often commissioned from the artist by the family and sent to friends. As you can see many are signed by the artist and were by their very nature limited editions. One of the joys of PFs is the way they reflect not only the artist but the interests and characters of the commissioners.


Not all PFs are/were commissioned. Some are designed and sent by the family. My first experience of PFs were when I received them from my Czech friend, Hannah. At the time I took them to be home-made Christmas cards. But now I understand them to be another sign of Hannah's Czech roots. 



Note the artists featured above are in order: Antonova, Vaculka, Kaspar, Stech and Mezl. The more sharp-sighted among you will have noticed that Mezl's Pf is a print of Cesky Krumlov.

Friday, 20 January 2017

More on Winter in the Czech Republic


Yesterday we woke to bright sunshine, sparkling snow and frost flowers on the exterior window pane. This is the type of winter weather that first helped me fall in love with this country. Bitterly cold but divinely beautiful, so beautiful that it stirs the soul.

Today the weather was even more beautiful. The temperatures had fallen further and so every surface was covered with hoar frost. The trees were iced with white crystals. When we came to drive the car into Ceske Budejovice, we found it covered with crystals like snowflakes growing out of the paintwork. As you can see from the photo above they were nearly at right angles to the car's surface. I grabbed the camera and snapped. This picture does not show the brilliance of the crystals as they are semi-transparent and have taken on the colour of the car's metallic paint.

As we drove off, the temperature guage was indicating a temperature of -17 degrees at 10 am. Goodness knows at what temperature in the night the crystals had formed, but it would have been very low indeed.

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