Friday, 25 April 2008

Forest house reconstruction 2

Today we took delivery of materials for the new gable ends. While they were being unloaded one of the workmen was busy taking off the thick rendering on the front wall - I was not sure whether it might do damage to the walls because I didn't know what was underneath and had a vision of the whole wall coming down with this 1930's cement nightmare. But I was pleasantly surprised the rendering was coming off easily and exposing a much older, beautiful stone wall. So now the question is whether to render it again or whether to somehow keep the original stones uncovered. But we'll see.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Forest house reconstruction 1

For those who wish to follow the progress at the Forest house, the first lot of the builders have moved in
on Monday 21st, and the demolition of the gable ends is in full swing. Scary! The brickies are to start the rebuilding and reinforcing works, but there is no sign of the roofers, who neither turned up nor bothered to ring to say so.

The carpenter who was to have delivered all the new windows for the upper floor,
has told me that he is delayed by 'two to three weeks'.

A good start - watch this space; seems builders are the same the world over...

Sunday, 20 April 2008

How to get here

After the poetry of the last post, I thought I might add some pragmatic advice on how to get to Cesky Krumlov. Well let's start by how not to get here - don't come on a day-trip from Prague, you will only have time to realise that you should stay for longer! This is a beautiful time with so much to see and do, including gently sitting by the river drinking a beer and watching the world go by.

If you are coming from the UK you can fly to Prague with a low-cost airline from most British airports or you fly with Ryanair from Stansted to Linz just over the border in Austria. Then you can either rent a car and drive here. Alternatively you can catch a train from Prague changing at Ceske Budejovice train station on to the little train shown above. This little train winds its way through the Blansky Les area of outstanding beauty and around the foot of the Klet mountain. It is slow but a wonderful introduction to Cesky Krumlov. The train also makes a great way to explore the surrounding countryside as after Krumlov it proceeds to Lake Lipno and the Sumava National Park. Cesky Krumlov's station is on a hill above Krumlov and the walk down into the old town takes about 20 minutes, alternatively there are usually taxis waiting at the station. There are also buses to Cesky Krumlov from Prague.

For a website giving details of public transport tables for the Czech Republic, check out the idos website

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Treasure revealed

(...continuing from blog below)
I spent the whole morning washing the muddy 'treasure', out in the Spring sunshine. It was an odd feeling, handling the pieces of domesticity that were so assiduously hidden; pieces that ages ago, in this very place, someone actually used daily. A mouth that's now no longer in this world cupped its lips over these dainty porcelain rims, a hand used to wash them the way I do now... funny; I never felt this way before when buying, say, a mug in a junk shop. Or even when moving house! It's something about the way this ancestor must have valued those few pathetic, mis-matched possessions, probably all the family ever had - why else would (s)he have buried them 3ft deep? Did they have to leave in a hurry? Did they hope to come back? Did they think they'd never have the means to buy another cup or saucer?
And I reflect with a slight shiver of guilt how I think nothing of picking up a mug at Tesco's for a few pence. It's only a few generations back (there was a lonely 1 Austro-Hungarian crown coin in the teapot, from 1883) but how our lives have changed. Now I revel in the romance of having no running water or a loo here, but for this family it was no romance, just daily life. Come Summer, come hard Winter.
Anyway - I know this sounds sentimental, but my feelings were all too real out there by the water pump: I promised the ones that never returned to claim their belongings, to look after them, and to make the house come to life not just for those that come after us, but also in these ancestors' honour.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Treasure in the pantry

Well, Pushkin is no longer the only treasure-finder among us! Having no finance to renovate the Lake house properly, we are doing bits and pieces, clearing the house and the attic, burning rotten hay and wood from the cowsheds, and so on. Well, when I say 'we' the labour is mainly performed by a local young man who by now has become as one of the family. So today when I came to join him there, he was as delighted as a child: I found a treasure!, he announced.
No, don't get too excited, no barrels of gold here - but still, what a feeling to have found something hidden, something that some hundred years ago was worth so much to the person who lived there, as to dig a hole deep enough to cover it, so it remained undiscovered until now.
It's a small room at the back of the house, perhaps it used to be a pantry. The floor there was earthen, but quite damp and bulging in places, and causing the damp to go up the stone walls. So we thought we should dig it up so as to put some draining shingle there. When our friend started to pick-axe it, he realised he was bringing up bits of old porcelain - so he stopped and looked properly. What he unearthed was the rotten remnants of a wooden box, in which there were large metal cooking-pots, each of which held porcelain and glass pieces, some earthenware and some cutlery.
Alas the biggest pieces that must have lain on the top died under the pick-axe. The rest - well, I am no expert but it seems to me that nothing will be of much monetary value, there is no 'set' of crockery, just odd cups and plates, and jugs and so on. But who cares about the monetary value: like Pushkin, I aim to wash it all and later when the house is renovated, give the treasure a prime space on the kitchen shelf, so that the value that the old occupant of the house obviously afforded his few belongings, will be dignified.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Czech cuisine?

Well, this family cooks like it's cooked for generations. Their kitchen at the Mill near Cesky Krumlov has no electric stoves or kettles, or any other modern gadgets; no gas either, just an old-fashioned, traditional, wood-fired, ceramic-tiled stove that dominates the room and serves to heat the house, bake bread and cook meals, and a drying rack over it for clothes and herbs of all sorts. In fact these kind of stoves even have, at the back of them, at a shoulder height, a platform with fleeces where you can stretch out and rest or sleep if you fancy being really warm and cosy. In the old days, even this sleeping shelf had its function - old people would be put there to ease their last, arthritic, years, or newborn babies, who needed to be away from drafts. Aga eat your heart out!
I took one of my English visitor friends there for tea and he immediately started to photograph the place (this photo is one of his), in fact everyone who goes there is swept away by the genuine warmth of the family who live here and their way of life that refuses Ikea because 'this kitchen works much better, doesn't it?' Indeed it does. And the food cooked there, using their own herbs and the milk form their own goats, tastes so much nicer than anything cooked on electricity or gas. Once a week the family have a bread-baking day, which is just fabulous. The dough rises in straw baskets, then the risen loaves are put on a wooden shovel with a hugely long handle - about 2 meters long because it needs to reach far into the oven. About twelve loaves fit in, together with sweet dough and poppyseed pastries to fill the smaller spaces in between. And when it is all baked, it tastes so good one just stuffs oneself, it's impossible to stop eating this heavenly, crunchy gift with its soft, fragrant and yieldy inside.
So it makes sense that all around us here in the countryside, people who live or are newly acquiring older country buildings, have started to come back to the idea of such stoves now: for their better tasting food, and also for the economy and ecology of use. And the stove-makers' business is booming. But maybe the Czechs just won't let go off their fairy-tales they are so famous for: just think how many feature such stoves. The lazy John who refuses to get off his warm place behind the stove (and then becomes King for his trouble:-) ) the old women who brew their magic potions on them, even the German/Czech story of Hansel and Grethel features a stove with a large enough oven to fit the Witch in...