Sunday, 29 September 2013

Czech Republic – Karlstejn Castle’s belly dancers

September 29

Hello everyone!

Prague is the biggest and most well-known city of the Czech Republic. As good as it is, I’ve been told there are many other beautiful locations in this modestly-sized country that are worth my time and Czech crowns. The first excursion out of the capital was to a nearby castle in a village called Karlstejn.

Karlstejn’s picturesque castle is located a 45 minute train ride to the southwest of Prague’s centre. It isn’t possible to see the 14th Century masterpiece from the rudimentary train station, however. Bring your hiking boots.

We happened to visit during Karlstejn’s weekend wine festival. As mentioned before, this is the time of year when the special Czech wine known locally as Burčák is harvested and sold nationwide. This final weekend of September, amongst a stunning background of leaves beginning to turn the colours of fire, was chosen as Karlstejn’s harvesting time.

The result of this was simply that small glasses of pale red and yellowy-white wine were available at every turn. Having drank a reasonable amount the evening before, I wasn’t in the mood to sample any of them, but plenty of others more than made up for my abstinence.

Instead, we resorted to hiking up, down and around the castle. The guided tour required to enter the most inner chambers of the castle itself seemed extortionate when part of me wanted to be under a duvet, so we didn’t see much of the structure’s interior. What we did see in the courtyard, however, was a belly dancer and a man playing with knives. I haven’t been here long, but I’m not convinced that these activities were commonplace during Karlstejn’s heyday. Or ever in the Czech Republic. The girl must have been frozen as well, so a commendable effort on her part.

Karlstejn’s landmark sits high atop a mound, overlooking a forest of light evergreens and changing deciduous trees. Prague is a lot greener than other places I’ve lived, but it was still nice to get away from the relative hustle and bustle and listen to the nearby stream gently gliding along over smooth pebbles.

So in sum, a nice is not overly spectacular Gothic castle that makes for a pleasant day trip from Prague. Even if castles and history aren’t your thing, you can at least go for the burčák or the belly dancers!

Love you all


Monday, 23 September 2013

Czech Republic – Flying hot dogs and flopping Dalmatians

September 22

Hello everyone!

The city of Prague is dissected into two parts by the Vltava River, a murky mass of gushing water easily crossed by numerous bridges. The most famous of these is the Charles Bridge, but I’ll probably walk along that enough times to talk in detail about it at a later date. What we witnessed to celebrate our first month of living in the Czech Republic, however, took place on the river itself. Well, more like in the river…

You may have heard of Red Bull, makers of the disgusting energy drink sold cheaply at student nights to keep them partying until long after the last kebab shop has closed. They’re a world-renowned brand these days and, living up to their slogan of giving you ‘wings’, they support and sponsor a variety of extreme sport events. One of their main initiatives has been to create international competitions about one of man’s greatest desires: to build a machine and fly in it.

This has been a desire of the human race for hundreds of years. From Da Vinci’s design of the helicopter to all of those who perished by jumping off a cliff and sticking their arms out, the world has longed to fly. Perhaps in honour of the achievement of the Wright brothers, who succeeded where so many others had failed in December 1903, the Austrian sugary-drink company have recently been organising events around the world known as ‘Flug-tag’. In a nutshell, build your own aircraft and fly it for as long as possible. It could even be a nutshell. What’s more, many people will come out and watch your ‘aircraft’ attempt to fly.

You get some machines that look vaguely like planes, but it is evident that some do it for fun rather than flight. Some of the vehicles included a goldfish…

…a hot dog…

…Buzz Lightyear…

…and a Dalmatian.

This event has been taking around the world, and was in Prague this given Sunday. Crowds swelled on the banks of the river to get a glimpse of geniuses at work. The only ones they saw, however, actually belonged to Red Bull. Five men jumped out of a plane high above us, before individually landing on the small take-off platform with a minimum of fuss.

As for the home-made contraptions…they didn’t make it very far. Once they had done their silly song and dance to warm up the crowd, they would then push their machine along the platform until it toppled miserably into the murky deep below. The funniest was the attempt by the hot dog, which split on impact and left the sausage floating away from the saturated bun whilst its creators jumped into the river to rescue it.

Don’t be deceived by the weather in the pictures. Prague is getting chillier by the day, and landing in that water would not be a reward.

Red Bull hosts many of these events in cities around the world during the year. If one happens to turn up in your neighbourhood, it’s well worth a visit for an hour or so. It certainly transformed Prague’s major river for a weekend!


Love you all


Monday, 16 September 2013

Czech Republic - Cups for tennis and bottles for wine

August 20-September 15

Hello everyone!

Ahoy from Prague! I live in the Czech Republic now, by the way. Back in Europe, though technically a tiny part of Kazakhstan is apparently classed as ‘European’. Prague, the capital city of this country steeped in history but almost as young as my previous country of residence, will be my home for the next two years.

There won’t be nearly as many blogs as there were from the Far East and the Middle of Nowhere. There are many reasons for this, ranging from an increased workload to the fact that I’ve been – indeed briefly lived – here before, in 2008. However, any opportunities to experience new things in a new Bohemian life will be grasped whenever possible.

The first few weeks have been incredibly busy. Finding a flat actually proved easier than expected, with a balcony that will surely be soaked in sun if the clouds ever decide to disappear. Settling into an existing school, so very different from last time, and learning about all of the rules and regulations has not been easy, but Hannah and I are slowly but surely getting the hang of it. Working and settling has taken up much of our time thus far.

Strangely, our fourth weekend of living in Prague was actually the first one in which we had two days off and a sense of freedom. This is due to moving house, flying home for my brother’s wedding and having to work a family picnic in school on one of the Saturdays. Our first full weekend was thus an opportunity to become more acquainted with our new home and sample some local highlights. Excluding beer gardens, of course; sitting in them happens fairly regularly!

From what we have seen so far, Czechs enjoy their sport. One of the more popular sports is tennis, partly because they have players that are rather good. Britain have Andy Murray; the Czechs have Tomas Berdych, amongst others. The Czech team are reigning champions in tennis’ equivalent of the World Cup, known as the Davis Cup. They were in the semi-finals against Argentina, and playing in the o2 Arena.

No, not that one. Apparently there is one in Prague as well. We went to watch the doubles match on the Saturday. With a Czech win qualifying them for the final in November, the anticipation in and around the stadium was palpable. To try and win the tie with a day to spare, the Czechs brought their big guns onto court, meaning we got to watch the veteran Radek Stepanek and the world number 6…Tomas Berdych. All 196cm of him.

We had actually watched the Czech Republic play tennis before in Kazakhstan, so were aware of the partisan and cacophonic support. Drummers, trumpeters and deep voices that would possibly be out of place in a Welsh choir all joined together in loud harmony to cheer on the home team. What we hadn’t witnessed before was the large Czech flag that they unfurl across part of the main stand when they win a set.

We saw this three times, as the Czechs romped to an easy victory over the hapless Argentines to set up a final against Serbia. I was happy about this, partly because of the unsportsmanlike behaviour of their travelling support chanting during points to put the players off. Unfortunately we have since learnt that the final will be held in Belgrade, but we will certainly be supporting the Czechs when it happens.

It was unfortunate that the day we spent in an indoor tennis arena was one of glorious sunshine, yet the following day which we spent outside was drab, wet and fairly miserable. We headed to the Troja district for a wine festival. The wine is actually grown on the hill we were situated on, overlooking the city to the south. The recommended wine, served in a classy plastic bottle, had a sharp taste that reminded me of Old Rosie cider. The colours were also slightly off-putting, but they helped to wash down the large sausages that will inevitably become a mainstay of my diet here.

Hectic. Non-stop. Chaotic. Immense fun. That is how I would sum up the first few weeks of the latest chapter in my international teaching life. There are sure to be more adventures as we settle in, with plenty more sporting and drinking events to savour.

Love you all