Saturday, 31 May 2008

to the Lake house on horseback

It's a 50+km round trip Krumlov- Olsina, but my goodness, was it worth it. The beauty of riding in this country is that you can go anywhere, no-one hassles you about 'private' this and that.
No fences, no gates, no 'keep to the bridleway' lark, just sheer open country to enjoy for the riders and the horses both.
And such a relaxed and friendly stable; wild gallops over the vast meadows, nothing like the boring trekking you get as tourists in the UK, I'm afraid to say.
Riding home tired, watching the sunset from the horseback is another wonder. I just HAD to share it with you.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Forest house 4 and the bees

The latest on the recon- struction of the house - a bit of a setback due to fungal infestation in the roof timbers which was hidden up till now. As a precaution I have decided, with regret, to have the whole frame renewed.
Additional news, we have a colony of visiting bees who used to come and drink from an old metal drum which cracked during the Winter, so in the Spring I put in a replacement drinking vessel, a clay 'bird bath' filled with a few rocks to stop any of them slipping on the glaze and drowning. They have now adopted it wholesale, and it's now like Brighton on a good Summer's day.
Here's a few photos.

storks for good luck

Exciting to the Krumlov population - a couple of storks have decided to build a nest on the chimney of the ex-brewery which is now the town's largest art gallery (The Egon Shiele Centre). The Czechs hold their storks in some reverence, and always consider themselves extremely lucky if their house/village/town is blessed by such an event. And of course they hope the storks will be returning to their nest for years, even generations.
South Bohemia is a haven for storks, there are lots and lots of these lovely birds coming back every season, but most of them are in the lower regions with ponds and marshes, around Budejovice or Trebon, for example.
But the higher-altitude, hillier, Krumlov also used to have its storks, so I am told by old locals,
in fact they used to live on the very chimney the new pair has chosen for its home now. But many years have passed in between, hence the excitement about the possible good omen.
(I shall try to take some better pics - I am just too excited to wait till I've managed that, so here is what I got so far)

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

the taste of honey

The whole country- side was golden yellow with humble dandelions like huge, thick, sunny carpets in the last few weeks. While gardeners might hate is as a weed, when seen en mass like that it is a truly fabulous sight to behold. So to celebrate it, here is a recipe that elevates the dandelion to a nectar fit for the gods :-)
Pick your dandelions on a sunny day, around midday when they are at their most open. Put dandelion heads (as many as you feel like collecting) in a container with unpeeled lemon slices and cover with boiling water. Stir and leave covered for 24 hrs or so. Strain and squeeze the result through muslin, add brown sugar to taste, and bring to boil. Immediately turn the heat down and simmer as gently as you may for up to 1/2 hr. Pour into sterilised bottles.
As you can see, I am not giving you quantities - you can make the syrup as thick or thin as you wish. In any form, it is a healthy, indeed healing, nectar, smelling of honey and pollen, in fact it smells like the meadow you picked it at, always reminding you of the sunny day you gathered the flowers.
And for those who like their tipple a little fermented,
Soak the dandelion heads so there are 1/3 dandelions to 2/3 water, with sliced lemon and a generous helping of sugar to help the fermentation process, and leave for around three days in a covered container. When the mixture begins to slightly fizz, pass it through muslin (don't boil your concoction) and bottle it in plastic bottles with the lid not entirely tightly screwed on. Leave in a dark cool(ish) place for about three weeks. Then drink, or screw the bottle tops tightly and place in the fridge for later use.
Enjoy :-)
(By the way this 'champagne' recipe works equally well with elderflowers)

Monday, 19 May 2008

'When Winter asks what you did in Summer.."

One could be forgiven for thinking the Czechs are indeed the most obsessive nation under the Sun. Not only do they obsess about their beer and their mushrooms, but walk through any village, or indeed any small town, and you'll see piles and piles of chopped wood - and hear chainsaws and hand-choppers as you go. It seems that during Summer, houses get a second layer of outside walls as (more or less) neatly stacked firewood gets piled ever higher. Listen in to conversations and inevitably you overhear information about where the cheapest/best/free source of wood might be. It has ever been thus - the Czechs, whilst pretty clued up on the latest ecological thinking, basically aren't keen on paying to the multinationals for their heating. And indeed why should they, when they've always had their forests on the doorstep.
The other day I went to a hobby/gardening fair at Ceske Budejovice and guess where most of the queues were? By the latest wood-fired central heating boilers, and by the wood-fired cooking stoves. It was a hot day, in high 20Cs, but it is the high season for stacking up for the Winter. So the wood-clad houses look very cosy, and the layers of wood will provide not just heating in the Winter, but extra insulation too.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Forest House reconstruction3

In response to Thud's question re my post of 25th April, as to whether these kind of stone/rubble walls were always rendered (and most Czech buildings are indeed rendered), I asked a friendly local builder who specialises in historic buildings to enlighten us as to why. In brief, this is what he said:
Apart from the obvious climatic reasons (hard winters, hot Summers) the rendering serves as both an aesthetic and a strenghtening layer. The oldest ordinary houses (as opposed to forts and castles etc) were made of locally collected stones from fields etc, which were packed, together with mud/clay into rows of wooden shuttering - similar to the ones used now for concrete. The shuttering would be removed after the layer has hardened, and moved up so another layer could be formed, and so on. Given the width of these walls (over a meter thick) the packing method produced durable walls that lasted for centuries. People with more means, or with easy access to quarried or found stone that chipped into more or less regular blocks would use these in ways similar to the English dry-stone walling, in that the blocks would form the outer skins of the wall, which would be then filled with loose stones - except here, too, clay would be used. Very thin layers between the blocks, and as filler for the rubble in between. Both these sorts of walls would then be painted with thin clay render, leaving the stone structure quite visible, only in later centuries thicker render took over as covering, using lime as well.
It was fascinating to listen to this knowledgeable man who was clearly aching to tell me all he knew. We decided that we'll find time to go and photograph the houses in the area with the view of writing about different techniques for the blog. Or start another blog altogether.
Meanwhile, shuttering came off at the Forest house from the new concrete 'collar' with armature which will hold the old walls from pulling apart, and help to hold the roof structure. Hmm: concrete... doesn't sit so well with the old techniques in principle. Feels like a nasty tooth filling. But it seems necessary, as the house was so full of cracks and the walls were bulging so badly. We'll see. Maybe better to fill the tooth than to have it pulled?

Saturday, 3 May 2008

first mushrooms at Lake House

What joy - found my first Morel of this year, at the Lake House at Olsina. The most wonderful thing about living in a climate zone with very defined seasons is that as one season-based pleasure ends, another begins. And so my passion for skiing is now well compensated by the passion I share with all Czechs - mushroom foraging, or hunting, as some prefer to call it. The main season for this is high Summer and Autumn, but even now as nature only begins to unfurl into blossom and leaf, already there are a few mushroom gems to look for - a rare find, but all the more exciting for it.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Krumlov garden

Having posted a 'no-context' view of our apple tree yesterday, I can't resist showing you the garden itself, now that the tree is at its most glorious - with no further comment :-)

Thursday, 1 May 2008

May Day - the celebration of love

Just like the English with their ' of golden daffodils..', the Czechs will all happily recite their 'Byl prvni maj, byl lasky cas...' (It was the 1st of May, the time for love), a ubiquitous icon-poem by Karel Hynek Macha, a romantic poet who (how else) died of consumption at the tender age of 26, in 1836. And today all through the country, the young (and the old) will be kissing under apple trees in blossom, so as to keep their love and youthful spirit alive, and everywhere there are Maypoles and dancing and general merriment. The merriment will end up in much liquid form of entertainment tonight, but hey, that's all part of the magical 'spirit' of the day.
The Czech Maypoles and their customs differ slightly to the British ones, so here's a brief description:
First of all, the 'positive' May Day is preceeded by a 'negative' Witch Day (in the Germanic culture this is the famous Walpurgisnight. This night, the witches are supposedly at the peak of their powers, so all around the countryside fires are lit to keep them away (or to burn them, but perhaps that's a much later Christian interpretation) The pagan rituals of this night included jumping through the fire in complex geometrical patterns, and people also believed that they can find treasures on this day (but only if carrying a specially prepared candle, and a piece of fern for protection).
But back to the Maypole. Here, groups of young men set out at night to find the tallest thin tree. They take it, peel the bark, leaving only the green tip, and carry it back to their village. There they decorate it with ribbons, scarves, and so on, and erect it at dawn, usually at the village green. There will be dancing under the pole, but the biggest dance won't happen until the first May Sunday. Today the young men will also be making smaller, personal Maypoles - usually a young birch, decorated with ribbons - which they'll plant at the house of their beloved as a sign of their love, amounting to their asking for the hand of their beloved.
Here in Cesky Krumlov, the town is full of tourists who have arrived to a big May Day party. The Maypole has been erected at the Brewery gardens, bands are playing, there are some displays of folk dancing and so on. Well, much of the music is nothing to do with the traditional folk kind - since last night, globalised pop is blaring all over the place. But hey, this is a festival of Youth, after all :-) and time moves on, despite traditions. As long as the kissing remains - of which there is fortunately still a lot in evidence.