Hvar-d not to Love

It’s a bit pointless having a travel blog when you don’t travel that much, and even more pointless if, when you do travel, you forget to blog about it. In July, Madla and I went to Croatia, and it has taken me until September to write about it – Better late than never I suppose.

Hvar

We went to Hvar, an island off the Dalmatian coast. I had been there at least a couple of times before this trip. It’s a beautiful medieval Mediterranean town, with a pretty town square, a castle on the hill behind and generally attractive and unspoiled surroundings. As an added attraction there are some easily accessible islands a very short distance off the coast.

In fact, there are enough little islands that it’s literally possible to go to a different one every day of the week. This was one of the main reasons I chose Hvar as a destination for myself and a three-year-old. A different beach every day keeps boredom at bay.

But an awful lot has changed in the five years since my last visit……

I probably should have guessed that something was up when I was planning our trip. Accommodation prices on the web seemed to be much more expensive than I remembered. I know that the world has ‘discovered’ Croatia and that it had lost some of its charm as a budget destination, but some of the prices I was seeing really were eye-watering. Of course, what I didn’t realise at that point was that in the last five years, Hvar has transformed itself from a pretty seaside town into a playground for celebrities and the super rich.

Yes, it seems that Hvar is now the destination of choice for Steven Spielburg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Prince Harry, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and lots of other more anonymous, but even richer people. We were expecting Butlins, but we got Monaco instead.

Restaurant prices were prohibitive, and even buying ice creams at the beach sometimes required me to recite the famous holiday mantra under my breath: ‘we’re on holiday, so the money doesn’t matter’

Having said that, I can’t help but recommend the ‘new’ Hvar. We had an absolutely wonderful time! The town now has the sort of understated elegance that only comes from the presence of large quantities of money. Everything is spotless, everything looks beautiful, and everything works perfectly.

Our days began with a walk along the waterfront to admire the day’s offering of super-yachts, some of which were remarkable due to their massive size, others due to their frankly weird designs.

We smiled with delight at the obvious inadequacy and frustration felt by the owner of gigantic super-yacht A, when even bigger mammoth floating palace B was moored in the next berth, and to add insult to injury, blocked out all their sunshine.

After our morning inspection, we’d stop at the supermarket, buy a picnic lunch. One spin-off benefit of being surrounded by billionaires is a brilliantly stocked supermarket. In most parts of Prague it’s not easy to find Parmesan in the supermarket. In Hvar, you can choose from four different kinds.

Having stocked up the picnic basket, we would then select our destination for the day. The water taxis were the one thing that was surprisingly cheap (typically 30 – 50 kn there and back – and Madla, being a very small person, was free). There is something marvelous about motoring across crystal clear turquoise water under brilliant sunshine that’s hard to beat. For Madla, the daily boat trip was an absolute highlight too. Close up views of the hulls of the massive French Cruise ships that towered over us were an added bonus. Then,we’d get to our destination, explore, find a nice spot, swim, relax eat, swim, go for a walk, swim, and so on.

Our favourite island was Stipanska.  Some of the islands have nice sandy beaches, ideal for sand castles.  Stipanska doesn’t.  In fact it doesn’t really have a beach at all, just smooth rock shelves that angle down towards the sea.  What it does have, that made it destination number one in Madla’s book is a concrete diving platform.  She spent literally hours jumping into the water, swimming around to the stairs, climbing out, and starting the cycle again.  End result; a very happy but very tired little girl.

So in summary;  Hvar is wonderful and – provided your accommodation includes cooking facilities and a fridge – still an excellent choice for non-billionaires.

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Czech Names are Cute

Mr Little MoleOne of the things I like about living here is experiencing the people, their culture and their way of life.

A lot is similar to what I am used to from New Zealand, but at the same time, a lot is different. One example is names.

In New Zealand, people name their children whatever they feel like. If you want to call your son or daughter, Peaches, Apple, Moon Unit or whatever, then that’s fine. There are some rules, but they are reactive rather than proactive. For example the papers here reported the case of a couple in New Zealand who wanted to call their child “4Real”, on the basis that when they saw the ultrasound, they realised that he was ‘for real’. The authorities refused to allow them to register this name, so they decided to go for their second choice “Superman” which was apparently OK! I feel a bit sorry for Superman Smith. He’s probably going to be a weedy looking kid, and will undoubtedly have a tough time at school

In this country it’s a bit different. Here, you basically have the choice of any name so long as it on the list of names which have name days. (I say basically, because there are some exceptions for foreigners etc. However, few Czech parents would deviate from the list, even if they could, because this would mean that their child wouldn’t have a name day on which to celebrate their “second birthday”).

In practice this means that parents have about 350 names from which to choose. In reality the choice is even smaller, as from the 350, you immediately eliminate half the names (wrong sex), plus another 75 or so (archaic, old fashioned, or just plain weird – Adolf for example is not such a popular choice).

That leaves you with a real choice of about 100 names. If you are interested, you can find the complete list of names here

For many Czechs the choice is even easier, as they simply use their parent’s name. This leads to many problems. For example one friend here is called Jana (Jane), but her older sister, her mother, her grandmother, her father’s sister and her other grandmother are all called Eva (Eve). It makes for confusing family gatherings. They are referred to as Old Eva, Young Eva (she’s 50), Little Eva, and Big Eva (nice for her self esteem). I can’t remember what the other Eva is called – Thin Eva?

Another complicating factor is that Czechs don’t normally have middle names (and if they do, they don’t use them). This makes the telephone directory almost completely useless. Say for example you are looking for Jan Novak in the telephone (the Czech equivalent of John Smith – except much more common), you just get an endless list of “Novak, J.”. Unless you know his address, you are out of luck, and even then a lot of patience is required!

But the best thing is the medieval feel that Czech surnames have. Many, (but not all) surnames actually mean something – and some of the things they mean are very cute!

If you are telling a story about your friends, it might begin with “One day Old Jane Hedgehog was walking to town with her daughter, Young Jane Hedgehog, As they walked they talked about their friend Big Jane Rooster and The problems she had been having with her boyfriend Old John Alarm Clock. At the market they saw Mrs Jane Black Beard (the thin one), who was with her daughter Little Jane Pussycat. They met with Fat John Raspberry and His son Small John Raspberry.

You get the idea.

Anyway. It’s all good fun, especially as we go through the exercise of choosing a name for the newest member of our family

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Light fittings

A light fiting

When people sell houses in the Czech Republic, they sell them without light fittings.

I can’t really understand this practice (it’s the opposite in New Zealand). Sure, if you have some chandelier you are especially fond of, then by all means you should take it with you when you move. But everything?!

In our house, (I’ve just walked around and counted) we have 43 light fittings, and that’s not including the two flats.

Actually, it’s not really correct to say that we have 43 light fittings. Now, after six months or so we have quite a few nice light fittings, but still a lot of bare wires sticking out of ceilings and walls.

We’re working on it. . .

 

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I’ve chosen my castle

Seeburg Castle

We had a long weekend here last weekend, thanks partly to St Cyril and St Methodius, who came to Moravia to propagate the Christian faith in 863, and who, as a result, gave us the day off on Thursday.

Special thanks also to Jan Hus, who thoughtfully arranged to be burnt at the stake the following day in 1415 giving us the Friday off.

Despite a not too promising weather forecast, we decided to take advantage of the weekend to go camping in the very west of the Czech Republic, to the area around Frantiskovy Lasne, where I hadn’t previously been. We had a really nice weekend. Nothing too special or amazing to report really, but it was great to sit by the side of the beautiful lake where we camped, and to walk though the forest and across summer meadows, stumbling on the occasional castle.

We found one castle that I particularly like. I have decided that if the Czech Monarchy is ever restored, and I am made an Earl or a Duke or whatever, then this is the one I’d like. Seeburg Castle http://www.seeberg.cz/cz_hrad_seeberg.htm. It’s very old, beautifully restored, and not too big, so there would be plenty of room for visitors, but not too much wasted space.

We visited on 07/07/07, which – as has been widely reported – was a very popular day for weddings. So popular in fact that there seemed to be one happening every 30 minutes (and we arrived at nine in the morning!). While it would easy to remember one’s wedding anniversary, paying twice the going rate for flowers, and finding it impossible to book a reception venue seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

Interestingly, a lot of the castles in the region are no longer in ruins. Perhaps because the area is so close to the German border a lot of them seem to be being bought by foreigners who are restoring them. In fact everything in this area, including isolated villages in the middle of nowhere, seems to be tidier, better preserved and maintained than most of the Czech Republic

So all in all a nice weekend.

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Americas Cup Fever

Team New Zealand

We’re (or perhaps more accurately, I’m) getting really excited about the America’s Cup here. In case you don’t know, the Kiwis are in the final and as of today both us and the Swiss have one point each in a best of nine contest.

The only problem is that it’s quite difficult to follow the races here. We don’t have satellite, but Markéta’s father does, and yesterday we found the race live (on channel 488).

If I didn’t have to work I’d be glued to the screen as it looks like it’s going to be very close. Maybe as the week progresses, I’ll start to find that I am “regrettably unable to be in Prague today”

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Zurich part three

Markéta can’t believe that there are so many bikes in Zurich. I can’t believe that so many of them are not locked.
Help yourself!

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Arsehole and Retard

Goldfish
We have been redesigning our garden at home. Having finished about half, we have moved to the area near the barbecue which was previously covered with easy maintenance, but incredibly ugly, concrete tiles.

The other half is now pretty much finished and is full of pretty flowers and Marketa’s herbs (I don’t really understand why we need five different varieties of basil though). It’s already a great place to sit, and once the flowers and herbs mature and the grass finishes growing, will be fantastic.

So far the other half has a new garden border (which we made from one of the old beams from the mill), a few interesting rocks and a fish pond. It still looks pretty arid and we still need to add more soil, some plants and maybe a bit more grass.

But we did decide to buy a couple of fish for the pond, and they are already settling in very nicely and have grown a lot since they arrived.

The fishpond is located outside our neighbours window. They have two teenage sons who like to spend their time (irrespective of weather) playing computer games. Part of the “magic” of this is that very often I learn useful new Czech vocabulary though the window; especially “ty vole” (you arsehole) and “debil” (retard).

So that’s what we named the two fish.

At least they’ll never feel lonely.

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