Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hrady a Zamky, Czech Castles and Big old Houses

Here in the good old Czech Republic, there are a plethora of Castles and other Stately Homes that are open to the public.  Visiting them can bring advantages. When it’s too hot outside, the big thick walls provide an escape from oppressive heat. The same when it’s raining I suppose, unless you’re visiting a ruin.
There are 2 ways to look at a Castle, one’s from the outside, these buildings always seem to have wonderful settings, probably why they built them where they did.  Let’s face it, if you were a mediaeval war lord with a huge gang on horseback, you just found somewhere nice and built a big castle. You didn’t have to evict anybody, just employed them as serfs. Pernstejn is my favourite, great setting, all funny little corridors and strange shaped rooms inside. Also they sell good beer and the usual food and sausages outside in the restaurant.
It’s the later built Zamky I have a slight problem with. But, don’t think I’m going to tell you which ones I didn’t like. I couldn’t handle the backlash of how dare you’s and accusations of being an uncultured yob.  I will tell you however that my last visit to an unnamed Zamek did not bode well for me at all, in fact I was nearly on my knees by the end.
From the outside it looked ok, a bit big maybe.  We bought tickets and waited 5 minutes for our guide. To her credit she wore the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen and all the males in the party followed closely as she led us up the wide staircase, closely followed by their respective partners trying to thump their menfolk on the arm.
What followed was all downhill from there. I’d been given the 1954 English typescript for the tour. I took time to notice that it was nicely yellowed, the b’s were at a jaunty angle and the s’s were a bit up in the air.  I read the whole thing in the first big square room, so I knew all about the place and didn’t have to listen to the memorised monologue, given in a high pitch gatling gun monotone.
The whole place was full of big square rooms, through some double doors, leading to another big square room. There was the blue room, the pink room, the Chinese room, the green bedroom without a bed, the stripey room and so on. I didn’t get near the miniskirt again, the other male visitors had long forgotten their partners and jostled for pole position in each square room. By the time we got to the stuffed animals oblong shaped room, I’d taken to looking out of the dusty windows. It seemed like hours, I blinked in the daylight and freedom again.
Dagmar came to the rescue again, taking me to the restaurant and filling me full of beer and a vepro, knedlo, zelo lunch.  As she was driving me home, I was dreaming about long legs and gattling guns. All in all not a bad day, almost as good as watching snooker on Sky sports.

In the UK, it’s done a bit different. We visited Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s zamek. We could wander about at our own pace, they had volunteers positioned in some of the rooms. They were from the local villages around and usually OAP’s. and they answered questions. This confused my Mum, she wandered into a bedroom and saw this old lady sitting in a chair.
Mum started asking her if she was ok and if her family knew where she was.
Time for a sharp exit!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Is Hypochondria Infectious?

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather since Dagmar’s Aunt and her husband visited us yesterday afternoon, but sometimes a hangover is worth it.   
Auntie Blanka is one of those people who’s never been young and carefree. She’s a troubled soul who, according to herself, in mock optimism, is just very lucky to be alive. She’s had every known ailment plus a few bewildering unknowns to boot. It’s like the old joke, she’s now been diagnosed with Hypochondria, (Not that too! we all exclaim in horror).

Actually she has and she came along to tell Dagmar just how her ridiculous Doctor just doesn’t understand her special symptoms and the Psychiatrist she’s been referred to, can’t possibly be a real Doctor as he believes in 19th Century mumbo jumbo and unproved theories AND actually her herbalist is the only one who knows far more AND if only her husband would listen more AND try to be more understanding AND realise that he actually has a very ill wife. 

Dagmar was translating the difficult bits for me and I was practising my dead pan face although my mouth was desperate to disobey and let out  a big smirk. I managed to escape to the kitchen and knocked back a quick Slivovice, only to be followed by Dagmar who did the same.
We did a double entry back into the living room in time for episode 2, which was something about brain to eye connections, I suggested an infection of the optic fibres, which got a nod of approval. Back to the kitchen quickly with dirty plates and another snifter.
The concluding episode was about retributions and how Grandmother never believed she was ill, forcing her to school when she was in great pain, and her husband, (the expressionless man looking at the floor), didn’t want to listen to her ordeals when he was driving round Europe in his truck and her  2 ungrateful children who live in Australia and Alaska and how Alaska is bad for your back and her grandson didn’t want to speak Czech, how could he ever understand the pain of his Grandmother.
Anyway they left and Dagmar still looked a bit stressed, so we had yet another Slivovice, home made is always the best. The dark shadow of Auntie Blanka soon passed, to be replaced with giggles about her demanding her Doctor does a scan to check her optic fibre cables.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How to drive like a Czech , guest poster

Here's a funny article written by a friend of mine last year.

Whether you drive a car or even chance your luck as a pedestrian, you might have noticed way out here that our Czech friends drive in an ever so slightly different manner than we do.
Ours is not to reason why, but to fit in nicely and keep a low profile, as we are the Johnny Foreigners here, so driving like a local will bring you lots of praise from your families, friends and of course other road users.
Before you set off:
Make sure that your exhaust pipe is trailing the ground.
Essential also; check that one of your headlights doesn’t work and the other is constantly on full beam.
Make sure your windows are nice and dirty (steamed up is ok too). Never ever scrape ice of your windows in the winter.
Take a quick look to ensure that you have at least 4 weeks of mud on your number plates. If they’re clean, just take them off and leave them at home.
No really, just take a look around if you don’t believe me.
So we’re almost ready to set off, but before we do, hitch up that rusty old trailer, without electrics.
Speed: well I should tell you now that speed limits are of no consequence whatsoever, just don’t look at them, they’re irrelevant. There are 2 types of driving speeds that are favoured here; breakneck and snails pace (with a very smoky exhaust).
Traffic lights; they do the same colours here as anywhere, but never ever jump the lights, our friendly Police wait at junctions throughout town, watching for that old trick.
When approaching a green light, stop, it’ll probably turn red very soon and people behind will thank you for your caution and foresight When waiting for the lights to turn green, take your time and when they do change, wait until they are just about to turn to amber again, then you can go, you don’t want to be followed, do you..
Road direction signs: there aren’t any.
If it looks like a direction sign, it’s probably something similar, but in the wrong place.
Just take it for granted that all foreigners here get completely lost, Czechs never ever lose their way. When they’re travelling through unknown and signpostless towns, they use telepathy and mindlink with locals to navigate them through unhindered. It’s quite a hard skill to learn, but I’m attending a course next week, and it’s a darn sight cheaper than Satnav.
Indicators; you may think you’re an expert with these, but here in Czech Republic, they have an entirely different purpose, of which I’m completely unsure.
However, I’ve been observing closely and can give you a few pointers.
When turning left or right, give no more than 10 centimetres warning before you start turning, better still, wait until you’ve turned and then indicate. A good tip is, ensure that your indicator bulbs are of very low wattage and blink very quickly (standard on older Skoda’s)
Don’t forget that when you are driving round a gentle curve on the road, let the drivers behind know, by indicating which way the curve is going, they will copy this sign and pass it back. This is best practiced on a busy day with long queues, everyone will start indicating without actually knowing why.
4 way flashers. These are used for double parking on a busy street, it’s amazing, they will render your vehicle completely invisible to the Police, you can park just about anywhere. Try it sometime!
Overtaking; admittedly a strange one this. Here in Czech republic, when you overtake you must indicate left to pass a vehicle and then indicate right, this is to let other road users know that you do not intend to continue the remainder of your journey on the wrong side of the road.
But forget about all that nonsense, just do as the locals do here and indicate right and then move out to the left and pass the pesky vehicle in front.
But beware about overtaking, it’s an unpopular activity. Don’t be surprised if you overtake a Czech travelling very slowly, he then follows you at breakneck speed all the way home.
Being overtaken. If you want to be part of the local scene, just don’t allow it (see above). When you see a car behind wishing to overtake, wait until he’s alongside, drop a gear and put the foot down until you are at a blind curve, better still, until cars are approaching on the other side.
Don’t worry, it’s perfectly legal and everyone does it.
Driving up and down hills. Czechs are caring people and they know that cars get tired driving up hills. Best advice is to be kind to your car and slow down going up that nasty steep hill. A good indication of kindness is when you have a queue of about 9 cars behind, don’t worry, they’re all taking your lead. When you get to the top, it’s pedal to metal, to stop those wicked evil perverted overtakers.
Trams: I’ve just discovered the secret of tram traffic lights, with those funny dots and little lines, They’re in BRAILLE! Yes, you’ve guessed it, all Tram drivers are completely blind. Luckily they are on tracks.
The D1. That wonderfully safe road, with a minimum speed of 300kph. More interesting is the rustic crazy paving laid all the way to just 3km short of Prague.
When on the D1, you’ve probably noticed that the in-crowd never use the Service Stations, they advise us to just stop on the hard shoulder, you can pee and expose yourself to all the passers-by, much more fun.
Lastly however, if you do really need to fill up, make sure that you leave your car at the pump when paying for petrol, buying all those little necessities in the shop, having a nice long lunch and picking a few mushrooms in the adjoining forest. Czechs just love queuing and we have to keep the natives happy, don’t we.

Friday, September 3, 2010

It's Raining again

I thought I'd change the look of my blog to reflect the weather outside. I've got a bit of a hangover today, such is the effect of drinking loads of wonderful czech beer. When I had just got to the pub, Mum called. She still calls Dagmar my girlfriend first to see where I am, then calls me.

“Why you in the pub again, you little Tommy Tucker?”

“Hello Mum”

Poor old Mum, she’s a bit lonely these days, she’s mostly living with her boyfriend in Mayfair but she misses Kentish Town and the gossip and Gran died a while back. Now she’s waiting in a pub for Johnny to finish work, then they’re off to visit Johnny’s sister. Mum still works for Johnny, he’s a lawyer, senior partner in fact and Mum’s been a secretary there for ages. She was due to retire, but only managed 2 weeks at home.

Johnny’s family are a hoot, sort of like mine but with posh voices. This sister is a widow and lives in a really old, and I mean really old mansion in Hertfordshire. I like the place as much as Mum hates it, some of the bedrooms still have electrical sockets with round holes! All the floors creak like crazy and the whole place smells of Labrador (there’s 3), outside the only sound you hear is crows in the evening. We all went last year, Dagmar jumped at every creak and thud all night. The cooker wasn’t working so Johnny and I went out and bought fish and chips.

As for the village pub, “everybody stares” Mum reckons.

Johnny’s other sister, the oldest, is completely bonkers, she’s never been married and played violin in an orchestra for a long time. She lives in a huge flat, all dusty, in Brighton. She spends her life playing Bridge and of course still playing violin.

“Why can’t she play something we can all sing along to?” my Mum always asks “All that scratchy nonsense drives me barmy”

The In Laws and the Czech Police

Don’t you just love the in-laws? I always seem to have had a bad experience with them, first it was the wife’s parents, They were ok when I was married to the ex, terrible when I got divorced, and miraculously ok when the ex got married again, like I was responsible for the ex petting hitched or something. Well it did take the heat off a bit, they had someone new to find faults with.
I reckon I must be a coward, I never did get married again, but if you think you get it easier with a girlfriends parents, think again.

The last girlfriend in London, Mags, had terrible parents, terrible because they looked down on me from a very, almost Himalayan height and their pedestals never wobbled once! It’s not that I’m particularly common, they just had huge aspirations for their daughter and I didn’t quite cut it. The good advantage of having Mags parents so high up the scale of humanity was, they couldn’t see what us low lives were doing crawling about underneath our stones.

Now it’s completely different, Dagmar ( yeah, we’re still together!), is down to earth and her folks are ok, or so I think anyway. Yep, it’s the language problem. My Czech is coming along fine, but I have to admit, I pick and choose what to understand, especially if it’s something I don’t like the sound of. They don’t understand how I can live here and get by without being fluent, it’s even more complicated for them now that younger members of the family can speak English and they feel left out of it.

I always try to speak Czech, even if it’s laughable. My bad Czech has got me off with a few driving misdemeanours with the police.