Friday, 27 June 2008

In praise of wild strawberries

I used to dream about this while living and working in London: a sun-drenched forest clearing, absolutely still with not a breeze, no sound except the low hum of insects and bursts of birdsong, and everything totally drenched with the sweet smell of fresh forest grass, moss, and mulch - with the high 'note' of wild strawberries. And here it is. Can any taste compare to a handful of these tiny berries that positively explode with fragrance as you bite into them?
The old lady that used to live at the Lake house before we took it over left some garden strawberry plants in old wooden tubs for beds. They, too, are cropping now, and I am most grateful for that. But (at least as far as I am concerned) nothing, nothing can compete with the feast for the senses that is the gift of the forest.

Monday, 23 June 2008

replacing roof timbers on Forest House

In response to Thud's concerns about the old timbers - sadly, we've discovered a fungal infection that was in the very main large timbers which were so far hidden within the outside walls. To change these timbers, practically all of the roof will have to be dismantled anyway, which takes us to deeper waters officially (see below), and also the cost of re-fitting, i.e. mixing the old with the new, would have been prohibitive, unfortunately. In fact my project engineer has always been concerned about the original timbers because their sizes were not really up to carrying the weight of the new tiles, insulation and a lot of snow, but up till the latest discovery we were going to put up with it because I loved them. Now it's all got to be up to specs anyway, because we needed to have a new planning permission (you don't need one for replacing covering, but once you dismantle the timber structure it gets more complicated bureaucracy-wise). But the old timbers that are sound will not be thrown away - they'll be put to good use within the house and used to repair the barn roof later.
Now we had to wait for the planning permission. It was granted, so the new start is the last week in July.
Meanwhile I am keeping my spirits up by enjoying the hot Summer days doing up the garden, picking wild strawberries in the woods, and watching nature rather than the poor wounded house with gaping holes. And soon I'll be off to the UK again.
Sorry I have not replied earlier - I was back in Britain, earning money for the reconstruction :-)

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The Five-petalled Rose festival - part 2

The daytime fun is on the blog below. At night, the party cheerfully goes on into small hours. And while the music, the dancing, the eating and drinking continue as before, the highlight is a torch-lit parade, followed by fabulous, generous fireworks. I tried to take some photos of the parade, but the streets were so crowded it's hard to see much of it :-) Still, here is a taster for what it's worth. Much better to be here and experience it all first hand!(the C.Krumlov infocentre has this page with lots of photos of the festival if you are interested)

The Five-petalled Rose festival - part 1

This weekend, as it's done for years, Cesky Krumlov is host to its biggest party of the year. Thousands of people descend, and for three days they feast, play and make merry. The occasion celebrates the town's historic roots, and its past aristocratic rulers, the Rozmberk family. So the locals as well as the visitors dress up in period costumes, and the town theatre organises historic-themed entertainment that takes place in several venues, but mostly at the Town Square where various ensembles show off period dance, music, swordsplay, clowning etc etc, much of it interactive - and the most interactive bit is a huge costumed parade through the town's cobbled streets, complete with drummers, horses, carriages, 'aristocrats', peasants, musicians, and even beggars. Then there are markets, pigs roasting on spits in the streets, and the inevitable sausages and beer. And mead - the fermented honey nectar passed down through the generations of local brewers.
The mood is fabulous - and despite the enormous number of crowded visitors, there seems to be no stress, no litter, no drunkenness, at least not until the early morning hours, and even then just fun and benign - something our current English visitors have been commenting on with genuine puzzlement. 'Maybe they don't put chemicals in their beer', they said, shaking heads. But I think that it's because everyone comes here to enjoy themselves, the sun is shining, there's plenty of food and entertainment to find wherever you go, and if you get tired, you can always go and take a swim in the river like the locals do.
This is the eight's Rose festival for us, and it is always the highlight of the year. We are having a fabulous time, and recommend it heartily to anyone who hasn't yet been. Next year Krumlov will celebrate its 700 years' anniversary, so it should be an even bigger event

Sunday, 15 June 2008

There's tourists and tourists...

This is the time when Cesky Krumlov fills up, sometimes to bursting point. All the little pavement and riverside cafes are busy, with tempting smells of freshly roasted coffee and cakes wafting in the air, the narrow streets echo with a multitude of languages, the river becomes a true canoeists' and rafters' highway, and the riverbanks become one long beach. And if its always true that living in Krumlov feels like being permanently on holiday, it is doubly true in the high season. Because as one goes about on everyday business the pace is slow, as the visitors don't rush about but stroll, looking at the town with wide-eyed wonder that reminds one every time how lucky one is to be at home here, and the joyful shrieks of the canoeists as they negotiate the weirs with their rapids below can't but bring joy to everyone that hears them.
At night, Krumlov becomes one big party, with restaurants spilling onto the pavements, and with well-dressed foreign tourists that admire the lit up scenery mingling with beach-clad Czech youngsters that stroll about in search of a cheap pint, and music is oozing out of bars into late hours.
All this is simply great.
If only....
Of course, everything good has its shadow, and here it comes in the shape of multinational company tourism. The normal flow of strolling visitors gets completely blocked here and there (and everywhere) by tightly-packed mass of confused and stressed herds desperately following their guides, trying to work out where the heck they actually are - having so far managed to tick off a whole string of towns from Paris to Prague and are on their way to Venice or wherever, each stop for a couple of hours and the rest of the time spent like sardines in some coach or another. They come from all corners of the world, but many groups are from the Far East, who tend to walk about with cameras to their eyes, not actually looking at the reality but recording images of it. A lot wear breathing masks in fear of catching some imaginary Czech disease, so all you see of them is a mask and the artificial eye: very weird when 50 or 60 of these apparitions are slowly coming towards you en masse.
Who organises these tours, and what benefit do they bring to the people they so bus around, or indeed to the towns which they visit? Certainly no benefit to the town, or even to the countries their buses criss-cross. Most such tour operators are never local, but some big-business chain. And so the guides, the drivers, the buses, the hotels they stay at, even some of the restaurants they use, usually belong to the chain - meaning the local restaurants, hotels or pensions don't get any business from them, and the schedule of 2 hours per town visited doesn't allow the groups time to even spend anything in the local shops. They only 'spend pennies' in the municipal toilets, leave litter, and clog up the town for the visitors who genuinely came for holidays. And their buses clog up the roads.
Just as well we don't have groups of masked wonders hiring fleets of rafts and canoes. Yet! So hurray for going down the river :-)

Thursday, 5 June 2008

wildflower heaven

This is the time of the year when everything, but everything, seems to be blooming. The meadows, in particular, are completely orgiastic in their displays of flowers, like some psychedelic carpets where so many different species compete for the bees' and butterflies' attention. I tried to count the different varieties but gave up after 163... it was getting dark by then. But the most dominant, on most of the meadows, were oxeye daisies, harebells and ragged robins, but also different pinks, comfrey and borage, cornflower, vetch, different trefoils and clovers, salvias and woundworts, parsleys, meadowsweet and chervils, chickory, tansy, yarrow and meadow buttercup. And in wetter places there are still huge clamps of forget-me-nots, marsh marigolds, celandines, dropwort, corn mint, well, and so many flowers I simply can't name, including a wonderful deep purple orchid-like jewel. Spending a whole afternoon among these amazing displays, wading waist high in the lushness of it all, is like a trip of sorts - after a while your mind gets quite overwhelmed with the beauty and the generosity of it all. I was musing what would happen if business bigwigs and politicians were compelled to spend whole days in places like this. Would their priorities and values not be challenged?