Thursday 7 April 2011


It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death after a short illness of Salamander (Hannah Kodicek). Hannah was at the very centre of the Cesky Krumlov ex-pat community and she will be sorely missed. I am sure regular readers of this blog will miss her wonderful posts about Czech nature and customs and the reconstruction of her properties at Olsina and Cesky Krumlov.

The photograph is of wild violets which cover the bank above Hannah's lakeside house and used to give her so much joy.

I will not be continuing this blog in the light of Hannah's death. But if you wish to continue following our experiences of ex-pat life in the Cesky Krumlov, please visit

Saturday 1 January 2011

Christmas at Forest House

Inspired by Salamander's landscapes in the post below, I thought to take a few pictures closer up, to show the fragile beauty of snow in miniature.

Friday 31 December 2010

Winter peace

One of the reasons why I love living here is the utter peace one experiences whenever getting out of town - you don't need to go far to find vast swathes of nature where you won't meet a soul, indeed where you won't see a house or any other overt signs of human habitation.

So you can wander quietly for hours just enjoying the signs of animal life, and when you get up to the higher levels, there are vistas to die for - as we are surrounded by mountains everywhere you look.
And when the bright Winter sun gets low and begins to set, it offers spectacular beauty that reminds of old religious paintings - you kind of expect an angel or two to descend, instead of the white trails of the high-flying passing aeroplanes.

 And then, being Winter, there is Silence: the snow buffers any sound, and the windless stillness adds to the magic of it all.

Well, the photos can't quite show it, but here are a few to share at least a pale reflection of the real experience.

Friday 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

Every year on the 23rd December, the Krumlov residents organize themselves to perform a Nativity at the main Square. I have blogged about them before, but this year - joy! - Pushkin and I have been asked to join in, which we took to be a real privilege as it means we are now accepted by the townsfolk as one of their own.

So instead of watching from the crowd, this time we borrowed costumes from the theatre, rehearsed yesterday, and had a whale of a time being part of this ritual occasion - both irreverent and solemn.

As I said in my previous blogs, what is so wonderful about this 'show' is that it is totally non commercial,  rehearsed but still spontaneous, and there is not a Santa in sight because people here love their traditions. 

And it is humbling to see how everyone - both the performers and the huge crowd in the square know all the words and melodies of their many many carols, and how generations join together to celebrate their Christmas as a community.

I couldn't take many photos today for obvious reasons, and I regret not having had the opportunity to show you some of the more 'Czech' solutions to missing props or cast, such as a dog with a sheep's skin fastened on its back to represent the shepherds' sheep, or a horse with silly felt humps to stand in for one of the King's camels - but here are just a few pictures to bring you closer to the fun. The Nativity, just as the St Nicholas Eve party, are true highlights for me here - I enjoy these even more than the traditional Summer Festival of the Five petalled rose, which is great but a little more organized. And, as usual, my very favourite characters here are the angels of all different shapes and sizes. Hallelujah :-)

Wishing all our blog readers a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year!

Sunday 5 December 2010

St Nicholas comes to Cesky Krumlov

 It's the Eve of St Nicholas: traditionally the night when this proto-Santa comes to town - not just to Cesky Krumlov but to every town, indeed into every household with children. I wrote two long blogs with many photos about this occassion last year, so this time I shall be brief - still, I couldn't help popping to the Town Square to witness this joyful, old-fashioned party, enjoyed by all the locals.
Despite the freezing cold (-8C) the families all crunched here through the snow with their well-wrapped children because, well, because it just wouldn't do to miss St Nicholas' arrival.
 And so each year the Town square comes alive with music and market stalls selling hot grog, mulled wine, mead, beer and of course sausages, and the hundreds of assembled children's faces range from eager anticipation to dread - because St Nicholas comes not alone, but accompanied by an angel and a devil. The Czech idea of devils is one of patronage: a devil is seen as something inferior to humans, basically a stupid, laughable being who has been stripped of all power by the Czechs' irreverent attitude to it. Nevertheless, as an aid to parenting, the devil has its use: as in 'wait till St Nicholas comes, the devil will show you'.... but as the children grow, they begin to love the silly devils and they dress up as them as eagerly as their parents do. When you walk about the square, you will find many more devils than angels - the angel being the preferred costume for beer-bellied dads, mostly.
The underlying reason for St Nicholas' retinue is sound: the devil and the angel represent the two sides of human nature to which St Nicholas acts as a mediator, a balance. He understands that we all have our darker side and so in dishing out his presents, he usually gives a piece of coal as well. No-one's perfect.

St Nicholas visits not only large gatherings such as this one - the real St Nicholas Eve happens in the home: dad, uncle or a total stranger (there are many groups of St Nicholases, devils and angels roaming the streets on this night, whom you can hire for a shot of slivowitz) dress as the saint, sundry relatives as the retinue, and the ritual visit involves much ringing of small bells, rattling of chains, and the child or children having to admit to all their good and bad deeds, then to sing a song or recite a poem, upon which they get their reward. There are no big presents - the commerce hasn't yet caught up here. It's the ritual that counts.

And when the children have gone to bed, the grown-up party begins. Why waste a good disguise? So the sundry Nicholases, devils and angels of all descriptions get out into the night streets and aim for the warm pubs. This is the bit I love the best - the bizarre spectacle of the Nicholases loosening their beards as well as their dignity, the devils taking liberties with the opposite sex (all allowed with a tolerant smile), the angels knocking back big jars of beer with earthly abandon. And of course there's music.

And so I am off now, outside again, to join the party - good night.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

First snow at Krumlov

 It's always so joyful to watch the first snow gently cover the familiar outlines of the town. And after some gloomy November days, to welcome back the blue sky that inevitably comes with the snow.
 I especially love the way the snow outlines so sharply every textural detail, the branches, the rough bits of rocks, even adding white hats to all the town statues.

The difference between here and the snow in England that I remember is that as there is so little or no wind in this country, the snow stays on the trees, even on the thinnest of branches, making a beautiful black and white contrast against the blue of the sky. Lovely.

Now I shall get my walking skis out now and go for a walk in the forest - to celebrate this gift from the heavens :-)

Sunday 28 November 2010


Looking at the Statscounter, I realize that the time has come when hundreds of our readers search for Christmas biscuits and pastries again. So I thought to put more recipes up. If you haven't seen my posts from previous years, do have a look, there are many more delicious traditional Czech Christmas pastries and cookies recipes. Bon apetit! 

 Each of these recipes makes a fairly large quantity of biscuits – use half the ingredients if a smaller quantity is required. 

Please note all these biscuits will need to be stored for a period of time in cool temperatures (5-10C) to allow for the flavours and texture to develop fully 


INGREDIENTS 4 eggs, 6 yolks, 500g caster sugar, 550g flour, 2 tablespoons ground ginger

In a mixer or a mixing bowl, beat the whole eggs, the yolks and the sugar till fluffy. Fold in flour and ginger.
Put the mixture onto a lightly floured board and work gently into a smooth pastry. Roll out gently to about a 5mm thick – do not use much pressure or the resulting biscuits will go hard. Cut out flower (or other) shapes. Put these onto a greased baking tray, or a tray lined with baking paper. Leave to stand for several hours, or overnight.
Put your tray into a fairly hot oven, to allow the biscuits to quickly rise – but then turn the temperature down so they don't turn brown – they should be golden colour.
When totally cooled, brush them over with egg white, and (optional) use the egg white to stick a small piece of candied ginger on the top.
Store in paper shoe box or similar for 3 weeks or longer in a cool place.

for the pastry:
400g flour, 170g icing sugar, 150g unsalted butter, 2 eggs, 4-5 tablespoons soured cream, 2 sachets vanilla sugar, pinch of salt (optional)
for the topping:
160g hazelnuts - ground, 80g marzipan, 4 level tablespoons icing sugar, 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Mix all the pastry ingredients together to a smooth consistency, form a ball and leave it in the fridge for an hour or so.
Shred or grate the marzipan, and mix it with the yolks. Add sugar, juice and nuts.
Roll the pastry to 4-5 mm thickness, cut out star shapes, place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper, and brush with egg white. Spoon a small heap of the topping on each star. Optionally, place a whole hazelnut on top.
Bake at around 180C for 15 minutes, leave to cool and store in an airtight container in a cool place for two to three weeks.

2 cups milk, 6 tablespoons honey, 4-5 tablespoons melted butter, 200g caster sugar, 2 eggs.
600g flour, 2 sachets raising powder, 100g ground hazelnuts, 100g ground almonds, 100g ground walnuts, 100g sweet candied fruit (raisins or sultanas, orange and lemon peel, or similar mix), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves., largish pinch of ground star-anise, 2 tablespoons cocoa, grated lemon rind to taste.
Icing: 300g icing sugar, 2 egg whites, 2 teaspoons lemon juice or rum. 
In a pan, gently melt butter, stir in milk, honey and sugar. When cooled down, mix in the eggs.
Put all the dry ingredients onto a floured board, mix through and add the honey-milk mix. Work into a pastry, adding more flour if too sticky.
Form a ball, cover in cling wrap, and leave in the fridge for a minimum of three hours – or overnight.
Next, roll the pastry to about 5mm thick, and cut out shapes. Place your shapes onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake in low to medium oven – check that the honey isn't caramelising or the biscuits will turn bitter.
When cooled, before removing biscuits from the tray, pour a thin layer of sugar icing over the upper part of the biscuits.
Leave in a tissue-paper lined paper box, in a cool place for two to three weeks.

300g flour, 150g icing sugar, 150g ground hazelnuts, 150g butter, 150g grated bitter chocolate, 2 eggs, 1tbsp orange peel, large pinch cinnamon.
Filling: cranberry or apricot jam – or Nutella
Topping: melted chocolate
Mix sugar and eggs, add the flour, nuts, and butter. Add lemon rind and cinnamon, turn onto a floured board and work into a smooth pastry while adding the chocolate flakes. Form a ball, wrap it in cling-film and leave in the fringe for an hour or so.
Roll the pastry out quite thin – 3mm, and cut out heart shapes. Place these onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and bake in a moderate oven (170C approx) for about 10-15 minutes.
When cool, spread half of the hearts with the jam or nutella, put the other hearts on top like sandwich, and pour on melted chocolate.
These biscuits need to be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for a week.

400g skinned ground almonds, 160g icing sugar, 80g melted white chocolate, 40g powdered milk, 2 egg-whites, 4-5 drops of almond essence, icing.
Mix the sugar with the egg-whites, add almonds, powdered milk, melted chocolate and almond essence. Put the mixture between two greaseproof paper sheets or foil, and roll to about 3mm thick.
Gently peel off the top paper and cut shapes from the rolled-out pastry. Leave these to dry for at least three hours.
When dry, use your imagination in decorating – white icing with coloured balls, or just plain roasted almond flakes...

300g ground almonds, 200g ground walnuts, 160g icing sugar, 150g ground butter biscuits, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 6 tablespoons brandy or rum, optional pinch cinnamon.
Icing: melted dark chocolate, half a date for each biscuit
In a mixing bowl mix all the pastry ingredients. Roll out between two sheets of greaseproof paper or foil., to about 3mm thick.
Gently peel off the top paper, cut out diamond shapes and leave them to dry out till the next day.
Decorate with a date covered with melted dark chocolate.
Leave in an airtight container for a week or so.
500g dates, 200g marzipan, 80g cooking chocolate, tablespoon butter.
Cut each date lengthwise, remove stone and replace with a piece of marzipan. Dip into melted chocolate and leave on a wire-mash stand to harden. Store in fridge.
500g mixed peel, 500g mixed nuts, 500g sugar (or less if peel is very sweet), 600g flour, 1/2l whipping cream
Melted dark chocolate as icing.
Chop the candied fruit and nuts and mix them with the sugar and the flour. Bring the cream to boil and remove from heat straight away. Pour the cream into the mix, and let it stand to cool.
moroccan grillage
Place small heaps of the mixture onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and bake in a cool oven (max 150C) till orange-brown. As soon as the colour changes, remove from the oven and tray while still on the paper, and leave to cool. Then pour melted chocolate on the top.