Thursday, 17 December 2009

Riverside house progress

I haven't been blogging about the progress down at the Riverside much, because so much of our energy and most of our finances were this year devoted to the (so much bigger and complex) Lake house reconstruction. But we did slowly get on at the riverside, too. Here, the basic structure and layout was given - due to the fact that the house's historic walls cannot be tampered with (and who would want to). So the task was to try and respect what there is and replace unsuitable late 20th century reconstructions with more natural materials. The only changes to the actual building were our discovery and renovation of the historic ceiling in the 1st floor sitting room, two copies of other wooden ceilings that were beyond repair (- the original of one of them was carefully removed and placed in the archive of the local museum) and the removal of 50cm of solid concrete from the ground floor which was making the whole ground floor damp, encouraging water to spread up into the walls, and generally making it hard for the house to 'breathe'. I also decided to swap bathroom and kitchen over - but that only involved taking down some plasterboard partitions; most of the other work is also cosmetic - getting rid of the 70's layer of horrible floor tiles that, again, were choking the house, and replacing them with reclaimed floor-bricks set in lime-based bed, taking down any cement render where there was any, and again rendering in lime-sand mixture, and painting the walls with lime, too. This of course only in places where the old render and decorative finishes were beyond saving. I originally hoped to use clay plaster in some of the rooms, but the budget didn't allow it - however the properties of the lime render and finish are as healthy for the house as the clay would have been, so I am not too worried. We threw away most of the modern doors and sourced historic ones where possible. We lined the old chimney, making it suitable later (when there's money) for wood-fired stoves in the 1st floor sitting room and kitchen, and an open fireplace on the ground floor. The last addition was a new central heating boiler - I managed to beg lovely old radiators from a demolition site - not quite 'historic' but so much more friendly aesthetically than the usual suspects. That's about it for now: we shall be moving into the first floor very soon, having prepared the ground floor and the attic for the later stages of the opus :-)
It's been lovely so far, and although hard work, just being in such close contact with the soul of such an old old house is a privilege and a gift: every time I touch its stone walls or scrape tiny bits of new plaster off the layers of paint underneath it, I feel how brief our human time-span is compared with the work of human hands. So being one of those who are passing through this building, I am trying to do minimal damage, so as to leave it healthy for the generations that will come after us.
(For the history of this house and the steps in our reconstruction of it, see previous posts under 'riverside house' label)

Friday, 11 December 2009

yet more Christmas biscuits

The blog has many recipes for traditional Czech biscuits - for more, click on the label in the index on the left.

The biscuits below are truly scrumptious, and don't take too long to prepare:

Honey sunflower cookies

250g plain flour
150g butter
250g runny honey (genuine bees' honey)
50g icing sugar
pinch salt
2teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 egg
half a teaspoon freshly grated ginger
grated lemon rind


100g butter
200gsunflower seeds
125g honey
2 desertspoons sugar
Knead together the ingredients by hand.

Roll out the pastry, cut out circles, put a spoonful of filling on each of the pastry circle.
Bake pastry and filling together.

Best to keep all the ingredients at room temperature - if cold, could curdle.

And just for fun, have a look at the next photo: would you believe all these biscuits are actually not edible, but croche'd ??? They are made by a local woman: just shows how people here still take their Christmas seriously, and how they are prepared to devote time and energy to prepare for it :-)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

More Christmas biscuits

I am amazed at the number of visitors who are currently pouring onto our blog, from all over the world, and all in search of recipes for Czech Christmas biscuits! That query far outranks any other. By miles.
So I thought I'd add a few more, and send them into the aether. (For those who might have landed on this page from the search engine, there are quite a few other recipes in the blog, from last December - search label Christmas biscuits).

Wasps' nests

these biscuits (see arrow) need two essentials: round dry sponge biscuits, and small metal, plastic or wooden forms - both are easily obtained in the Czech republic, but you may need to improvise to create your own version:


200g ground dried sponge biscuits, 100g ground nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, whatever), 150g crystal sugar, 70g butter, 1 egg. 2 table spoons cocoa, 2 table spoons rum

Mix all together into thick paste and leave to rest. Then dust the forms with sugar and fill them with the paste. Make hollows in the paste and fill them with cream filling. Seal the filled 'nest' with a sponge biscuit. When the biscuit is nicely set and won't pull off easily, turn the nests over.


2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp sugar, vanilla sugar to taste, 1 egg yolk, rum

Chocolate nut baskets


300g flour, 150-200g butter, 100g icing sugar, 1 whole egg, 1 yolk, 1/2pack raising agent.


150g digestive or other biscuits, ground, 200g nuts, 1 vanilla sugar, 2 tsps rum or brandy, 300ml milk


Chocolate icing, nuts

1/ Mix together all the pastry ingredients, work into pastry and leave in fridge till the next day. 2/ Mix together filling ingredients apart from milk. Then boil the milk and add the rest of the ingredients, boiling for a little while to form thick paste. 3/ Fill suitable small baking forms with the pastry and bake till golden. 4/ Fill cooled pastry baskets with the filling, and decorate.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Olsina Lake Autumn

I need to always take a walk by the lake to remind myself why I torment myself with the reconstruction of the Lake house :-) Autumn is now so glorious - after a short 'Winter' spell when a little snow fell and we all thought 'this is it' the days have been mild (around 20C) and completely still - not a breeze.
Which means that mornings are cold, there is frost on the ground, and mist sits motionless on the surface of the lake - only to lift with the sunshine, revealing the water surface with not a ripple, like a mirror.
One can sit on the little beach for hours because the place is SO quiet and SO motionless that time seems to disappear altogether...

Meanwhile the roof is almost finished - we are re-using the old tiles, not only because it's cheaper but mainly because I couldn't bear the thought of something spanking new on the old house - it still feels a bit weird with new gutters etc, but it will age soon, I am sure. The garden is still a tip no matter how hard I keep cleaning and tidying after the builders, and works are progressing too slowly for my liking - the facade needs doing sorely, and so does the outhouse, and the new gable end needs its studio window - but the budget is spent so this is almost it for the moment. A final tidy, away with plastic sheeting, and that'll have to do for now. But at least I know when the snows come in all seriousness, the house will be snug and safe.

Monday, 9 November 2009

new windows and facade forest house

Sorry about the huge delay in informing you all about the progress on the Forest house. As you can see the facade is complete (save for a final coat of paint) and new windows have been fitted, leaving the front door and two more windows to be done. Many repairs have been carried out inside, including repair to the original ceilings that, thank goodness, didn't fall down after all the various disasters with the roof etc. The mains electrics have all been changed - new trench for upgraded feeder cables, new meter and board etc. The rendering around windows still needs to be finished, and wooden ledges installed. The furniture is still temporary, what's left over from the previous owners, but cozy enough for the time being. As you can also see, the roof unfortunately still isn't complete (lack of money) so it'll have to wait till the Spring or Summer. But now it has all been prepared and covered with sheeting for the Winter - by myself as I didn't trust the roofers. Well that's that for the time being, no more building work till the Spring. But I hope to let you know how the house is feeling at around Christmas time as I should be spending some time there.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Wild mushroom harvest

Winter is coming, and the forest is slowly getting ready for a good rest - nevertheless passionate mushroom-hunters were still able to pop out for a basketful well until a week or so ago. Now you can still get blewits, honey fungus and the odd late chanterell, especially the 'brown', yellow-stemmed variety, and the few other late species. But I just had to share with you the photos from my trip a couple of weeks ago when the array of fungi was still quite spectacular. What to do with such a harvest? Well, some mushrooms get dried, some pickled, some eaten there and then. The Czechs have hundreds of ways to cook their beloved fruit-of-the-woods, but to me I always prefer not to use the mushrooms as an ingredient in another dish: there is nothing better than to savour the taste of each one as it comes, just with a little bit of olive oil and butter, black pepper and a pinch of salt. Yum.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

secret well

Deep in a forest - you have to trek a good couple of kilometres uphill from the nearest road - lies, completely hidden, this little spring. No path leads to it. And hardly anyone knows about it - I've lived here 9 years now and no-one mentioned it until a wonderful female friend took me there, with her little daughter. 'I'll show you something truly out of this world', she said. And it was. Someone, long time ago, took the trouble to build a stone-home for this clear spring, perhaps because they thought it healing. And perhaps it is. And then, - I guess in the 19th century judging by its style - someone took the trouble to carve a figure in deep thought and reverence, to gaze into its source. And someone, now, took the trouble to bring a string of beads to adorn the statue, and left a couple of mugs for passers-by who are in on the secret.
We sat in equal reverence, gazing into the water so clear that you could hardly see it. And we drank - to our health.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

a day out at a glass workshop

This is an outing that's been on my 'must try' list for ages - so at last, a friend and I went to one of the local 'open studio' events, choosing a glass workshop near the Hluboka castle a few kilometres from Ceske Budejovice.
The studio makes all kinds of glass objects, from intricate beads to vases and glasses, to wonderful sculptures. But today we were treated to a brilliant 'performance' by an extraordinarily skilled glass blower. There in front of our eyes came to life birds, shells, and other fabulous creations, seemingly by a flick of a hand, a small touch of a tool, a little puff of breath. I've seen the work of glass artists on film before but nothing compares to the real thing, complete with the heat from the furnace and the scent of the fire.

Czech republic is renowned for its glass, a tradition going back centuries - but most of the well known glass comes from North Bohemia. Not so well known is the fact that Sumava, in the South, also has a rich tradition in glass-making. Here they made what is known as 'forest glass' for example: green-tinged, bubbly stuff, intricately decorated, mostly made during the renaissance and baroque periods (bot perhaps more on the history at some other time).

At lunchtime the owners prepared a veritable feast - you can see on the photo a rusty kind of object which is in fact an outdoor spit-oven: in it was a whole lamb, and there were masses of side dishes and sweet delicacies to go with it. And beer on tap, of course :-)

And then the visitors were able to have a go too. What a treat! Of course this was a special day, but I found out that one can book a whole day for a small group where you can have a go at making glass objects by various methods, and come back the next day to collect the results of your effort - so I am sure I'll be back again: this is a kind of activity that could get addictive....

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Airport Ceske Budejovice - news

The long awaited International airport at Ceske Budejovice is now officially going ahead with its proposed widening of services, starting in the year 2012. Although not good news regarding green issues, it's perceived as a godsend to the businesses and international travellers from (and to) this region. Ceske Budejovice is not well connected to Prague (although the distance is only around 150 km, it takes 2 and half hours by mostly non-motorway road, and 2 and half by train) and so air-tourists to the region usually come via Linz airport which is nearer - this is especially true for the Brits and the Spanish, who all use the Ryanair services.
And so our own town, Cesky Krumlov, is full of the topic today: the new airport is 15-20 minutes from here. Up till now it only accommodated small planes, but now it will be able to serve planes such as Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. The airport will serve 300,000 passengers a year to start with, and half the money for the essential new terminal and all the other associated buildings and equipment is coming from the EU.

What will this mean for our small, cosy British 'colony' here? Will Ryanair or their like be jumping in to bring a similar wave of British second-home seekers that seems to have sprung up around practically all the cheap European destinations? Might the Brits go for the pretty farmhouses before the prices rocket, might they want a piece of Cesky Krumlov, or seek out the romantic huts in the woods? Well, perhaps not: with the current crisis it could just mean a huge influx of beer-lovers going for boozy stag-nights at Ceske Budejovice's huge Budvar brewery :-)

We'll have to see: whatever happens, the airport is here to come - and stay.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

works in progress - Lake house

It's been a long time since I wrote about our Lake house works - it's been a busy period and still is. Progress is slow, the two upstairs floors are still a complete mess, but it's at least getting to the point where the ground floor is beginning to function - the kitchen is almost there, the sitting room - apart from the floor which I still hope to restore despite of all my builders' advice to rip it up and replace, as it is really in very poor condition - is feeling quite cosy,
even with its provisional old bits of furniture, and, joy of joys, the bathroom is warm and we don't have to use the outside loo any more :-) There still a lot of decorating to be done and much detail to be tidied up, but after all the months of rubble and mess, it's lovely to be able to make tea and wash up and curl up and feel that the house is beginning to feel like a house at last.... even if the outside still looks so terribly sorry for itself - poor old house!
Well, now the roof covering is off - of course as Fate would have it, the weather turned nasty just as the joiners arrived to work on replacing rotten timbers etc, and raising one of the gable ends. Water is getting into the house despite the plastic covering sheets... now it's even starting to snow, so I need lots of crossed fingers to see us through this moment.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Nicholas Treadwell Gallery: a hidden jewel

Only a short ferry-hop across the Lipno Lake lies a pretty, small town of Aigen - just over the Austrian border. And if Cesky Krumlov is a supposed centre of art and artists in the South of Bohemia, its close Austrian neighbour might beat it hands down in being more bohemian still, in a truly wonderful, outrageous fashion.
This is because it became the home of a British gallerist, Nicholas Treadwell, who moved his famous British gallery here, of all places - into the back of beyond, where he bought the historic Aigen courthouse and town jail, painted it all pink, inside and outside, and voila!, filled it with his collection of paintings and sculptures in what he calls a 'superhumanist' style. His large, fabulous collection ranges from meticulously over-realistic humans, usually in a state of some surprise or torment, to funny, joky, super-colourful views of life as his artists would see it - mostly again with a thorn in the joke somewhere.
Nicholas Treadwell himself is a charismatic man who clearly loves his life in art, and the artists he represents. Besides art, he indulges in theatre and plays music, an iconoclastic figure who proudly puts on his advertising leaflets a quote from a Guardian critic:
'Nicholas Treadwell has done for fine art, what McDonald has done for haute cuisine'.

If you have a few days in Cesky Krumlov, do take a trip there: it only takes half an hour or so. You drive to the Lipno lake and take a delightful ferry ride, and then on through a deep dark forest (empty of humans or dwellings, as this used to be the 'no-man's land' of the ex-Iron Curtain), descending into Aigen which in itself is worth a trip for its Austrian chocolate-box pretty-ness. How apt for the bad taste which Treadwell so loves :-)

When we got there, we were greeted by the man himself, dressed and coiffured in pink, and although there were only three of us, we were given a 2-hr tour with so much information, detail and anecdotes, that it felt like a huge privilege, a true 'insider' view that you simply don't get anywhere else. Certainly not at the immensely boring and stuck-up, grant-fat Egon Shiele centre gallery in Cesky Krumlov!
More on Nicholas Treadwell and his gallery here: take a look.

Monday, 29 June 2009

look what Fate brought us

In the absence of any great progress with either of the houses, and no conclusive news about our local government's Flood defences cock-ups, I thought I might as well breathe a bit of fresh air into the blog, and share our delight in the new addition to our household.

Potok, I, and a builder were driving through a forest miles from any human habitation when something small and furry crossed the tarmac, making us screech to a halt. The macho builder immediately opened his door and ran to get it. And this is it: a tiny baby kitten, which I of course couldn't leave there - it was looking pathetic, it was shaking and I suppose it wouldn't have survived for much longer. Someone must have dumped it there as I don't see how it could have wandered off so far, let alone not have been eaten by the martens or foxes or one of the many birds of prey that live here.

Well, life is pretty complicated this year for us, and even such a small addition adds a lot to it nevertheless. Luckily the kitten is a survivor: she quickly learned how to lap up kitten milk from a saucer, soon understood about the dirt box, and already by the second day she was playing around with everything and anything. But we worried about our resident 3year old cat: would he accept this little intruder?

Wasn't easy at first! When he came in during the night as he always does, just before dawn, he found the kitten sleeping on our bed - well, HIS bed as far as he was concerned. After some low growling, he left, disgusted. But a few days later they were friends - due to the kitten's persistence in initiating the friendship. Well, now there's a lot of hide and seek, chases and rough play going around now (so much so that I sometimes wonder how the kitten survives), but as you can see, the older one is probably quite pleased to have his little friend - even though he still prefers to be out and about most of the time.The rest of the time, then, the kitten takes up MY time - it's hard to get anything done with this small being needing so much play and attention. Even now she's curled up on my lap as I write. But at least, for the moment now, I don't have to leap about playing games with her, like I am asked to do at any time when she is not sleeping.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Five Petalled Rose festival

This year Krumlov celebrates 700 years since its first documented mention as 'town'. So the yearly festival was extra special this June, though the weather wasn't as kind to it as is usual at around the Summer solstice.
I've written two exhaustive posts about the festival last year, see
Krumlov - British Expats: The Five-petalled Rose
so rather than repeating myself, this time I shall just post a few pics from the market which you can (obviously) see by clicking onto them.