The House and Vietnam

OK, OK, so I am the world’s slowest blogger!  But here’s the next instalment…

Sunrise…

I went to let our dog Rosie out around 6:30 one morning and went straight back inside to get my camera.  This is the view that greeted me at our front door – it reminded me why we moved here…

Dawn over 'our' lake...

Dawn from our front garden…

Serendipity!

The House…

We had tradesmen working on the house as early as the end of January.  They were installing the electrical cabling, recuperation unit and plumbing (but not heating).  Now the builders have started again in earnest and most of the plastering and roof insulation is finished.   They are also starting to install the exterior insulation.

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20 cm thick external insulation – because it gets COLD here in winter…

All the utilities are connected and our sewage processing plant is installed with a humongous soak away. We will have the windows installed next week, so then it will really start to look like a house rather than a building site.  We are still hoping to move into the house by November – time will tell.

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A soak away you could fit our caravan in!

 

 

 

 

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Sewage processing plant.. It’s supposed to be for 5 people but it looks so small, I hope it can cope with me!

 

 

We are so glad that we were dissuaded from renovating the old house by our building engineers.  They knew what would almost certainly lay underneath the surface.  I will talk about ‘Czech building’ in a later blog, but suffice to say we would have not had much left if we had renovated the old house and almost certainly a lot more expense.  To prove a point about a square metre of ceiling in our old house fell on Miluska last week.  The actual ceiling is solid but has a ‘skim’ of about 2cm of strong mortar mix.  One of the pieces (after hitting the floor) was about 4kg.  So goodness knows how heavy it was when it hit Miluska.  Luckily she only suffered a few grazes and bruises – even luckier was that it was not Danny underneath when it fell!  I also had to repair an electric cable in a fusebox to our water heater as it had burnt out with a rather dramatic bang accompanied with the appropriate amount of smoke.  My repair was a real botch job (by English standards) as the cable was so brittle, but probably standard for the Czech Republic (sorry guys).  We have had a persistent damp problem in our bathroom ceiling caused by a roof leak and a fairly new damp problem on our bedroom wall adjoining the bathroom.  I have tried many fixes to the roof leak and eventually installed an ‘internal gutter’ to catch the drops and take them through a hole I have cut in the wall.  The bedroom wall damp turned out to be a broken bath waste pipe which is buried in concrete and has now saturated the solid floor.  The solution?  Install a new waste pipe which goes directly outside through a hole in a 50 cm thick wall to drain away in the garden.  It seems crazy to attempt any proper fixes for these problems with the house completion so close.  I am thinking that I could now present a new DIY programme on TV called Mr Bodgit!

The sooner we get out of this house the happier (and safer) we will be!

Vietnam…

Well, a month in Vietnam was a real adventure.  In honesty I really didn’t know the couple I travelled with (Honza and Lenka) that well before we went, but from the moment I met Honza I knew we would ‘get on’, and Lenka is just lovely.

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A selfie of all three in a shop mirror…

During the holiday we spent many nights sharing a room and I can honestly say that we never had a cross word.  I enjoyed their company immensely – thank you both.  Indeed I can’t remember laughing much so for a long time at some of their stories.

We travelled the entire length of Vietnam, from Cần Thơ (35oC) and its floating market in the Mekong Delta…

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Each boat has the item they are selling tied to a long pole, so everyone can see what they are selling. Don’t ask me how this boat is still afloat!

…to the mountain town of Sa Pa (5oC) on the Chinese border in the north.

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They said SaPa has four seasons every day. Spring in the morning, Summer in the afternoon, Autumn in the evening and Winter at night…

We were also lucky enough (good planning by Honza) to be in the vibrant city of Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) for the Vietnamese New Year (Tet).

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Tet (Vietnamese New Year) celebrations everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City…

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Amazing fireworks at midnight…

Amongst the places we visited were: The quiet seaside resort  of Mũi Né;

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Dawn fishing…

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Mũi Né fishing fleet…

…the lovely mountain town of Đà Lạt;

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Đà Lạt’s ‘interesting’ station concourse…

…the vibrant and beautiful seaside town of Nha Trang;

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View at dawn from Nha Trang beach…

…the beautiful historic town of Hội An;

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Hoi An – probably my favourite city in Vietnam…

…the old historic capital of Huế with the Emperor’s Citadel; the amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hạ Long Bay

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Hạ Long Bay – An amazing piece of nature… Photos can’t really do it justice. Well, not mine anyway…

…and the interesting capital of Hanoi.

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Hanoi – old and new…

Of course there were markets everywhere with interesting sights, sounds and smells!

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There were prettier markets than this one, but it shows the reality more. Note the boy on his smartphone…

Dogs are very popular…

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… and they love dressing them up in clothes…

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… others are not so lucky…

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Buddhism is the main religion in Vietnam and is a big part of people’s lives with temples everywhere, including shrines in most shops and restaurants.

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Buddhist temple in Da Lat.. We must have visited about two temples every day…

The people were always friendly and seemed to love having their picture taken.

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Lovely ethic minority lady in SaPa. She is probably around 60 years old…

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Pwease you take picture me?

Honza and I were curiosities as we were very tall, and bald! Lenka was a curiosity as she is beautiful, but more importantly blond!  Ladies and girls would come up and stroke her hair in admiration – totally uninvited.

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The lovely and very blond Lenka…

I could probably write several blogs on Vietnam, but will try and give you a flavour of the country in this one blog.

Vietnam is really not what you would expect from a single party socialist state.  In the past, Vietnam has been occupied by China, Japan, France and America.  Despite this and in spite of the terrible loss of life on both sides during the Vietnam War there was a general acceptance to all nationalities visiting their country.  Ho Chi Minh, who led the communist fight against occupation and for independence and is revered by most Vietnamese and appears on every bank note.  He is affectionately referred to as ‘Uncle Ho’ and you see his photo and statues everywhere.

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In 1986 Vietnam underwent economic reforms.  Private ownership was encouraged in industries, commerce and agriculture.  Vietnam is now one of the world’s fastest growing economies.  Vietnam is now a single party socialist state with leaders described as “keen capitalist communists”.  Walking down a single brightly decorated street, you will see extreme poverty and slums, dilapidated colonial buildings in a French style, and then an ultra modern hotel costing $200 upwards a night next door to a BMW dealership. But there is still a lot of poverty in rural areas and cities, with some of the population living on under 1 $US per day.

 

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Amazing hotel – full of Russian oligarchs…

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Hanoi slum – yes, someone really lives here…

We needed to travel light, but this was difficult as we had a variety of climates to face.  But after much heart searching and cutting back our backpacks averaged around 9 kilos each – although I had an additional 3kg of camera equipment.

It seems that everyone is selling something and there is always a ‘money angle’ to every conversation.  In my naivety, I thought it was rather nice that we were often greeted by ‘Where you from?”  It quickly became apparent that this was not a sincere interest in which country you hailed from, but the answer was used for a quick assessment of how rich you were and therefore what price they could charge for what they were selling!  Regardless of this, virtually everyone seemed amiable and helpful, despite extreme poverty in some places.

Bargaining is essential and you rarely see anything priced.  You quickly get to know what an acceptable price was and what was a rip-off.  Train tickets, meals and tourist attractions often have separate prices for tourists and Vietnamese nationals and sometimes separate entrances!

I don’t think that anywhere we ate would pass European health standards and generally Vietnam is very dirty.

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The ‘restaurant’ car on a 14 hour journey by train…

I just don’t think the locals see it!  Having said that we carefully chose places to eat that were popular with tourists or locals and some of the street food was truly amazing.

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Honza is looking rather surprised and he has just swallowed a large mouthful of fiery chilli condiment…

I once had two pancakes (well a cross between a pancake and an omelette) filled with tiny fresh flash friend squid, with a piquant sauce and fresh fragrant leaves for 20,000 dong or 60p (or $1) – truly delicious!  Probably 10,000 dong to a Vietnamese!

Rice noodle soup is staple fare with beef and chicken noodle soup available practically everywhere.  It is very tasty and there are variations on a theme but trust me, after a month you won’t want to see another noodle for a long time!

I could write so much more, but I will just say “Put Vietnam on your places to visit list – you won’t be disappointed!”

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A gratuitous picture – just because I wanted to…

Hopefully it won’t be so long until I blog again…

Posted in Buying a foreign property, Cần Thơ, Czech Republic, dog clothes, Eating dog, Hạ Long Bay, Hội An, Ho Chi Minh, House Building, Huế, Nha Trang, Sa Pa, Saigon, Vietnam, Đà Lạt | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Build, Guy Fakes Night & So Much More…

The Build…

The build is progressing very well.  The main shell is complete along with roof and roof windows.

The house ready for winter...

The house ready for winter…

The shell will then be left over winter to ‘dry and settle(?!)’.  We are on schedule and on budget, so that’s a great start.

Our house in the hamlet...

Our house in the hamlet…

But this year will see a lot of the expensive stuff happening (heating, plumbing, electricity etc.) so we will see if we can still keep on budget.  We are still very happy with the builders and roofers we have chosen and everyone is surprised if not shocked to see how quickly we have progressed.  I still keep a daily record and you can take a further look at progress here.

I have now cut and chopped about 10 cu metres of wood and we hopefully have enough to see us through the worst of the winter.  Miluska’s Dad helped me cut the remaining beams from the barn into 1 metre lengths and stack them, so we are all set for a couple more winters, as we will use much less wood once we are in the new house in Autumn – fingers crossed.  I also had another little helper…

Like father like son...

Like father like son…

Snowflake…

Our lovely little cat Snowflake disappeared a few months ago.  We really don’t know what happened to her as the road traffic here is minimal, but gone she has.  After a couple of mice were spotted in our larder, we got two tabby tom kittens who have been named Bill and Ben.  One is slightly bigger than the other, so we have Little Bill and Big Ben :-).

Christmas Card 2013 - Danny with Little Bill and Big Ben

Christmas Card 2013 – Danny with Little Bill and Big Ben

Guy Fawkes Night…

We introduced friends and neighbours to the mysteries and delights of Guy Fawkes night this year.  Home made coleslaw and barbecued burgers, hot dogs, baked potatoes and a selection of fillings were on the menu along with mulled wine and a selection of desserts.  We got a couple of humongous fireworks – each with 25 ‘shots’, which were topped up with a similar large firework from a friend and some other fireworks and sparklers.

Guy Fawkes night fireworks...

Guy Fawkes night fireworks…

It seemed like chaos to Miluska and I on the night, but everyone said what a great time they had – so we were pleased.  Our good friends and neighbours made us a Guy

Guido Fawkes - Czech stylee...

Guido Fawkes – Czech stylee…

and another Czech friend really went to town.  He is an anaesthesiologist at a local hospital and on a particularly quiet night shift (ahem), he made some Guy Fawkes masks and some hands out of plaster of paris.

Serious work for a night shift...

Serious work for a night shift…

These were made using an ‘anonymous’ mask and surgical gloves as moulds.  He also turned up with his face painted as Mr Fawkes and wearing a kilt!

Crazy doctor and girlfriend - my travelling companions to Vietnam - more about that later...

Crazy doctor and girlfriend – my travelling companions to Vietnam – more about that later…

Which one is guy? BTW the one on the right is not wearing a mask...

Which one is Guido? BTW the one on the right is not wearing a mask…

I wonder what Guido would have thought had he been in our little hamlet in the Czech Republic that evening?  Before I lit the bonfire, I gave everyone a brief history lesson and sang the national anthem accompanied by the same friend on his harmonica!  No, I wasn’t drunk…

Danny’s 3rd Birthday…

Danny has had his 3rd birthday in November and we all had a great time and a little party with some neighbours.

Birthday party with friends...

Birthday party with friends…

Time has gone so quickly and it’s difficult to believe he is already three.  He has now started kindergarten.  He is very sociable and when we visited the kindergarten, he was straight in to play with the other children and when we said we were leaving he said “Byee!” and then cried when we took him home.

Danny's first day at kinder garten...

Danny’s first day at kindergarten…

However, kindergarten was not quite such a breeze in reality.   He is OK there but he speaks more English than Czech and will take a little while to build up his Czech communication skills.

Cherry Pip Pooh…

I forgot to mention in my last blog that the summer saw our 10m cherry tree fruiting.  It is a beautiful tree, admired by the whole village and was absolutely smothered in cherries.

Our cherry tree...  A great source of vitamins courtesy of a distillery...

Our cherry tree… A great source of vitamins courtesy of a distillery…

We took a wicker shopping basketful to every house in the village.  Picked more for neighbours to preserve, asked friends to come around for picking parties and ate them until our skin developed a faint pink hue.

Rosie's Dad helps with the cherry picking - or is he after the cat?

Good heavens! A tree climbing, cherry picking dog (Rosie’s Dad) – or is he after the cat?

We couldn’t figure out why Rosie our dog lost her appetite until we found some of her pooh which consisted mainly of cherry pips!  I reckon she was eating at least half a kilo of cherries every day!  A rough calculation showed that we picked at least 60 kilos of cherries and there were at least the same amount left on the tree.  Next year we will take a load to a (totally legal) small distillery and they will make us some cherry slivovice at around 50% a.b.v…  It seems like a great way to get your five-a-day eh?  STOP PRESS:  About 20kg of windfall apples have now gone to the distillery and I’ll let you know what the end product is like – if I am still standing.

What’s so good about the Czech Republic…?

I wanted to write a blog (or maybe several) on things that I find different, strange or humorous living here.  I then realised that if I did that you would wonder why on earth we moved here.  So I thought that before I wrote about this, it would be best to tell you what we like so much first…

This is a difficult one.  I could tell you about the beautiful countryside, mountains an hour’s drive away (skiing in winter – alright so it’s not the Alps, but it’s still good skiing), the lower cost of living etc.  I could tell you about the beautiful women and incredibly cheap beer.  I could also say that we could never afford a half an acre plot, in a national park designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty overlooking a 50 acre lake, and then build a four bedroomed house with an art studio in the UK.  But I’m guessing you probably already knew all of this.  So I decided to tell you about some of our experiences with the most important aspect of living here – the community and people.

There is a big difference between the ‘city folk’ and the ‘village folk’.  I think the city folk tend look down on the villagers as being very unsophisticated.  Disclaimer: Our experience is of our own hamlet and associated village.  This may not be representative and other peoples experiences may go down as well as up 🙂

We have around 6 to 8 family events in the village each year, which are invariably accompanied by food and drink.  BBQ’d chicken, pork, kebabs plus lots of great Czech beer at around 60-70p for half a litre (just under a pint).  There are bonfires where you can grill hot dogs, whole lamb BBQs, goulash cooking (and eating) competitions.

Witch burning event - hot dogs for all...

Witch burning event – hot dogs for all…

There are fancy dress events (for adults and children), devils, angels, St Nicholas, witches and candlelit walks with monster.  The emphasis is very much on the family with organised games for children with little prizes and treats.

Our pumpkin...

Our pumpkin…

But it never feels ‘organised’ with a very relaxed informal atmosphere.

Mikulas (St Nicholas Day) event in the local pub hall.

Mikulas (St Nicholas Day) event in the local pub hall.

There are village school ‘performances’ which are attended by many more people than just parents.  Everyone seems to take an interest in what the children are doing and learning.  There are also adult (in the tamest sense of the word) events such as winter balls that stop around 4 o’clock in the morning.  On top of this we have events and informal evenings organised by neighbours and friends, many accompanied by music and songs as everyone here seems very musically talented.

When making hay (yes, you really do have to work hard at making it!) we would go out to turn the hay over only to see that a neighbour has seen us and come out to the bottom of our 100m back garden to help.  Often they are finished and heading home before we really have the chance to say “thank you” properly apart from a friendly wave.

We had a problem with some damp in our bathroom ceiling and we happened to mentioned it to a neighbour.  He was round within 10 minutes to take a look.  He was up on a ladder like a rat up a drain pipe and in no time at all had the tiles off and was sorting the problem.  We needed another short downpipe and so he was off again back home to fetch a ‘spare’ which he happened to have.  In less than an hour we had the tiles replaced and a fix for the problem.

We had a blockage in the kitchen sink drainage.  Again a neighbour was round to help (he was actually off work with a few stitches in his hand as a result of a nasty cut at work) and we started to move the flagstones so we could dig up the drain to see what the problem was.  I stupidly lifted a flagstone and turned and… Owwwww!  I pulled a muscle in my back.  This left me pretty incapacitated, but the neighbour was unperturbed and carried on digging a 1 metre deep hole, discovering the problem and rectifying it.  This involved bringing round three trailer loads of shingle (which he just happened to have spare) and pouring them in the hole as a soak away.

Another day we were installing an electric pump to pump water from the lake to water the garden.  I’m not sure if it’s allowed by everyone here does it…  The piping was already there from the previous owner, but there seemed to be a break in the pipe between the pump and the lake which is about 30m away.  To cut a long story short, when new telephone cables were installed down the lane the piping to the lake had been dug up.  It involved digging a trench nearly a metre deep for around 10 metres to identify the problem and install new plastic piping.  In the end we had around 6 helpers and around 3 hours later the problem was fixed.  Admittedly at least two of the ‘helpers’ were of the “Oooh you don’t want to do that!” variety…

I could go on, but I am sure you get the jist.  We may be lucky where we live, I have never experienced community spirit, and neighbourly friendship as I have here.

Vietnam

I am writing this quickly now as 1) I feel guilty at not writing a blog for so long and 2) that I am leaving for Vietnam for a month tomorrow.  The anaesthesiologist I mentioned earlier asked Miluska and I if we would like to join him and his partner on a trip to Vietnam.  I really decided that this was totally impractical and expensive, but Miluska persuaded me that I should go on my own.  It’s a photographic and holiday dream come true for me.  We hope to trek length of the country from the Mekong delta to Sa Pa and border mountains in the north.  I hope to have a lot of pictures to share with you on my return.  So I am leaving a frozen lake and temperatures of -8 oC and heading to around 26 oC!

I will keep you posted on how it went as soon as I get back…  Honest Guv!

Posted in Buying a foreign property, Czech Republic, House Building | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Emergency Rations – Oh, & The Build Has Started!…

We have a dire situation in the Czech Republic!  I am down to my last Cadbury’s Creme Egg, only a couple of Fry’s Chocolate Creams and all my Rich Tea biscuits are long gone!  Marmite supplies are also low, although a friend’s visit recently brought some sage and onion stuffing.  Breakfast tea reserves are holding up well but Earl Grey is in short supply.  Seriously though, although there are a few things I miss, but there are many substitutes available.  I used to miss English biscuits, but have since found a good supply in Tesco.  I also noticed that Tesco had Branston pickle!  Cooked slabs of bacon can be eaten cold or sliced and fried for great English bacon substitute, but I do miss English sausages though. Many neighbours keep chickens so we have more organic eggs than you could shake a stick at!  I can get all sorts of Indian spices and condiments, which I thought would be really difficult.  Lidl recently had an ‘English week’ which gave me an opportunity to buy some English goodies.  My son Rob came to visit with his fiancé recently and I got ‘re-stocked’ with a few items including mincemeat for Christmas.

I should apologise again for my lack of blogging – I don’t know where the time has gone. We had a busy summer…

Visiting a local outdoor museum

Visiting a local outdoor museum

Danny pretending to be a rabbit.

Danny pretending to be a rabbit.

A fair in the beautiful town of Stramberk.

A fair in the beautiful town of Stramberk.

Hay making - I know... what a bumpkin!

Hay making – I know… what a bumpkin!

My yummy mummy...

My yummy mummy…

Forced child labour.Forced child labour.

A BBQ with my son Karen and his fiancée Karen - Czech stylee...

A BBQ with my son Karen and his fiancée Karen – Czech stylee…

I sometimes wonder how I used to find the time to go to work!  Thanks to Jim and Stuey for prompting me and asking me how things are going.

A Few Things I Never Thought I would Own:

  • A 15” Stihl chainsaw – an absolute essential in a Czech village – honestly!
  • Two sheep – kept by a friend in his field along with 9 other sheep.  They are soon to meet their demise and be butchered (by me) and enter our freezer.  Lamb is rarely seen in the butchers here and is very expensive – being organic just makes it even better. STOP PRESS – One sheep was killed and butchered today and we are very happy with all the meat in our freezer!
  • A gloss painted kitchen worktop (?!) – It has turned out to be a cheap and practical compromise in a house we will demolish in a year and really doesn’t look half bad.
  • An 24” crowbar – You can’t imagine how useful this has been in the barn demolition and generally around our property.  Most of my work seems to be destructive at the moment…

So what about the house?  The job of choosing a builder has been long and protracted.  It has not made any easier by delays in receiving the full plans from our building engineers – nice guys though they are.  Initially we chose four builders and contacted them to ask if they would like to tender for the work and they all said that they would.  I won’t go into all of the details but try and summarise…

The first thing I should say is that it seems that email doesn’t seem to be an accepted means of business communication in the Czech Republic, which delayed things no end.  It seems that you have to email and then phone them to say you have sent an email…  We sent out all the plans to the builders and gave them a deadline for a quote for the foundations and a longer deadline for a quote for the rest of the build to completion.  The first deadline passed and no quotes.  Miluska called them all and….

Builder 1:  “We are nearly finished.” Sure enough a few days later a quote came through, which on examination excluded labour charges.  When approached about this they sucked their teeth and said “Hmmmm labour charges – it’s always difficult to quote for labour, so we will just charge labour as we go along…” Builder 1 dismissed for a duck.

Builder 2:  “It sounded like you wanted to build very quickly (there was nothing in our email to suggest this) and we didn’t think we could do it quickly so we haven’t quoted.”  We assured them that we would still like a quote, but nothing more was heard from this builder.  Builder 2 dismissed.

Builder 3:  “Sorry, we haven’t got an A3 printer.  Can you send prints of the plans please?  We did and received a very expensive quote.  Builder 3 dismissed.

Builder 4:  “We are still working on it.”  We didn’t hear anything for a couple of months and then they called to see if we were still interested.  We met them and they were actually very professional (apart from the lack of contact) and it seems the norm to only quote when you need work(?!).  He provided a slightly high quote, but was now in the running.

During this hiatus, a young lady who I have English conversation with, said that her Dad had used the same builder for around eight years.  He now won’t use anyone else.  I think that this ladies Dad is a very shrewd and successful businessman and we trusted his opinion.  We were invited to their home to view some of his work and meet him.  Petr (Peter) was very personable and modest, but very professional.  He invited us to take a look at the house he was currently building in a nearby town.  The house was enormous and quite amazing.  It had a garden house bigger than most people’s houses.  The three car garage had an Italian tiled floor and was fitted with a plasma TV and surround sound system.  A heated pool, and even a helipad!! It had a budget of just over £1m!  The quality of workmanship was also amazing – I really couldn’t find fault.  I was sold on this builder, but he was very busy and I wasn’t sure if we could afford him.  Miluska was also sold on him… perhaps partially because he was around 36, muscular build, very handsome and has the most striking light grey eyes I have ever seen.  Miluska still insists that it is for his building skills (ahem).  Eventually a very competitive quote came through and he said he could start at the beginning on September.  We accepted his quote.

So in a very roundabout way I have managed to tell you that WE HAVE STARTED BUILDING!!!  Miluska also has her ‘eye candy’ for the next year or so…

We are now nine days into the build and they have the foundations laid and have started the foundation insulation.

Digging the foundations.  A 75cm 'raft foundation', because of the sandy soil.

Digging the foundations. A 75cm ‘raft foundation’, because of the sandy soil.

Working hard!

Working hard!

Pouring the concrete.

Pouring the concrete.

Insulating the 'slab'.

Insulating the ‘slab’.

Our house will not be a passive house but will be very energy efficient.  I will tell you more about this later, but even the foundations have 4” of insulation.  There are also 8” of insulation under our floors and 8” of insulation outside the already energy efficient building blocks…  I am keeping a photographic record of the build so you can take a look at progress here at any time.

The builders are working extremely hard and we are incredibly pleased with their work so far.  They are really taking care to get things ‘just so’.  Long may it stay that way.

Well that’s about it – I promise to write again soon.

Posted in Builders, Buying a foreign property, Chritsmas, Czech Republic, House Building | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Anyone For Fishing?

Well I didn’t think I would be writing again so soon, but an unexpected event made it unavoidable.  As you know, we live right next to a large lake – about 36 acres…  Well actually it’s a ‘Rybnik’ or ‘Fish Pond’.  Rather large to be a pond I know, but it’s man made and is used to ‘farm’ carp.  It has a flow of water through it from the beautiful Orlice River which runs about 30m the other side of the Rybnik.  We had been told by a neighbour that the lake is drained every three years to collect the carp as it takes them this long to grow big enough to eat.

You probably knew this, but Carp is a bit of a delicacy here and is eaten in most households for Christmas dinner.  Straight from the pond the meat is very ‘muddy’ but the fish are held in clean water for a few months which makes it lose this muddy taste.  It’s quite a fatty fish with lots of hard bones, which makes it virtually impossible to fillet.  It’s usually portioned, covered in breadcrumbs, fried and eaten with potato salad.  It’s quite a tradition for the fish to be bought live at Christmas and stored in the bath for a few days.  The children then play with the fish until ‘nasty Daddy’ comes along and kills it for Christmas dinner.  Anyway, I digress…

We had also been told that the baby carp had only gone into the lake last year so we weren’t expecting the lake to be emptied for another two years.  I had noticed that the level of the lake had dropped a few days ago when I took some photos of some interesting ice formations on the edge of the lake.

Ice layers 10cm above the water...

Ice layers 10cm above the water…

But this morning we woke up to see that the lake was empty!  We could also see activity in the far corner which looked like a lot of men in the lake beating the water with sticks.  Discounting some ancient water ceremony, we realised that they were herding the fish into the far corner.

The lake is empty and who are those blokes?

The lake is empty and who are those blokes?

I donned my clothes as quickly as possible, grabbed my camera bag and made my way straight there.  I was there in about 10 minutes, but by this time the fish were already in a massive net surrounded by boats.

Reel them in!

Reel them in!

The men had a number of large containers filled with water set out on the side of the lake.  They also had a small crane with a net and a couple of lorries with water tanks on the back.

Some of the fishermen were in the water and struggling with their catch.

It's about 1 degree Celsius.  Brrrrrr.

It’s about 1 degree Celsius. Brrrrrr.

But slowly they managed to get all the fish bunched up in one area between the boats.

My guess is that there's about 5 tonnes of fish in there...

My guess is that there’s about 5 tonnes of fish in there…

Some of the men then started to fish the smaller ones on the top of the thrashing moil.

Catching the tiddlers...

Catching the tiddlers…

Sorting them by size and type into the large water containers.  I am no expert, but there only seemed to be carp, with the odd pike.

Sorting the fish...

Sorting the fish…

Once the top layer of ‘tiddlers’ was removed the big crane net was brought into play and started scooping the fish out in earnest.

Every one a winner!

Every one a winner!

They were then dropped into a sorting ‘bin’.

Next!

Next!

The fish were then sorted and the ones (presumably) that they wanted for eating were weighed into 50kg batches.  They were then lifted up and slid into aerated water tanks in one of the lorries.

Down the slide...

Down the slide…

I stayed a photographed and videoed for about an hour.  They were only using the big net for about 30 minutes while I was there and in that time they sorted out 500kg of ‘eaters’!  They were still sorting and weighing two hours later, so that’s a serious amount of carp they had!

I think the men must have arrived around 07:00.  They started taking the fish out around 08:30 and were still taking a few fish out at 11:30.  The main group of men left around 15:00 and as I write at 17:00 there are still a few men there clearing up.  Bearing in mind that the temperature is only just above zero and for quite a while the men were in the water up to their chests and some worked sorting the fish with no gloves – that was a really hard days work!  I am very glad that I just watched and wrote about it rather than taking part.

I thought some of you may find this interesting, so wanted to write straight away.  You can see some more pictures and three short videos here.

TTFN.

Posted in Buying a foreign property, Carp, Czech Republic, Fish, Fishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Is Here!

Sincere apologies in not keeping up my blog for so long.  No real excuse – we’ll put it down to the cold.  Spring seems to be here as the snow is gone and temperatures are up above zero at the moment.  We also have quite a few snowdrops, but I’m not fooled as we could still have quite a bit of snow.

Danny is really maturing and loves our daily walks in the forest.

Danny in his new hat

Danny in his new hat

We are out walking Rosie for around two hours each day and every walk seems to be an adventure for him.

IMG_9727_DxO

Snow, mud, puddles, lakes, waterfalls, bridges, trains, lorries with cranes loading massive logs, tall hunting stations to climb, not to mention throwing sticks for Rosie… I am amazed at how far he walks with a few piggy backs and it works up a great appetite for lunch.

Yours truly and Danny

Yours truly and Danny

A few days ago we were granted permission to build!  A cause for great celebration.  Our building engineers are really great and knew of a totally legal loophole that allowed us get permission quickly.  Permission to renovate/rebuild is granted much quicker than permission for a new build, which can take over 12 months…  So even though we are demolishing the barn and building new, we can class it as a ‘rebuild’ as it is the same size and in the same position.  Many thanks to Gades Solutions!  We will put the plans out to tender to around 5 building companies we have chosen next week and hope to start building ASAP.  We have chosen smaller companies and will visit previous customers as well as considering price.  Building seems to be quite a slow process over here and many people and companies think that it’s much better to build the shell of a house and then let it ‘ripen’ over a winter before completing it.  I could be wrong, but I think this stems from a time when building materials were much poorer.  Other European countries with harsh winters (Scandinavian countries as well as Germany) do not seem to adopt this attitude and there seems to be no scientific reason – just anecdotal evidence.  Some companies are saying that they could complete the build within 5 months, but I am bracing myself for another winter in this old house.

I have kept myself amused by designing the layout of our kitchen and utility room.  We now have some 3D models which look great – it’s a shame they won’t be realised for so long.

We had our very good friend Kevin out to stay recently and had a really great time with him.  It was rather cosy in our two warm rooms, but it says quite a lot for our relationship, that it never felt cramped.  He also helped me sort out and take a load of scrap metal to a metal merchant, pruned two very old apple trees and cut about 4m3 of wood…  So it was a sort of a working holiday – thanks Kevin…

While Kevin was here the village celebrated ‘Masopust’ or ‘meat fasting’.  It is a celebration of the start of lent.  Before the start of lent people traditionally ate their fill and huge dinner parties were held. Then, the forty days long Lent followed and they ate mostly lentils, baked potatoes, eggs, cheese, and boiled semolina.  Now it’s a ceremonial procession with costumes and masks going through the village with music.

The front of the Masopust procession

The front of the Masopust procession

The Masopust ‘principal’ or leader is officially given ‘control’ of the village for the day by the mayor in a little ceremony and control is handed back to the mayor in the evening.

The Masopust Principal and family

The Masopust Principal and family

Regular stops are made at houses and many people offer the procession beer, spirits, tea, coffee, cakes, chocolate and other food.

An injection or two for the 'Principal'!

An injection or two for the ‘Principal’!

There was even man dressed as a communist era policeman stopping cars, sucking his teeth at the ‘poor condition’ of the car (even brand new ‘S Class’ Mercedes…) until a suitable donation (towards the annual fireman’s ball) is paid.

Thank you sir we won't have to impound your car now!

Thank you sir we won’t have to impound your car now!

It’s all very good hearted and overjoyed by everyone.

Fun is the name of the game...

Fun is the name of the game…

It’s quite a marathon though, starting around 09:00 and finishing around 16:00.

An unlikely wedding couple

An unlikely wedding couple!

Many participants are pretty inebriated by this time, but still manage to reconvene later in the evening for further celebrations.

The Masopust band in full swing

The Masopust band in full swing

I was invited to be official photographer this year and you can see more photos here.

So what about my Czech?

What can I say.  I have been living with Miluska and visiting the Czech Republic for around 13 years and still can’t hold a good conversation.  I can order food and a beer (very important), pass the time of day and generally be polite, but that’s as far as it goes.  I understand conversations pretty well but can’t really enter into them.

Czech is a Slavic language that dates back to the 11th century.  It belongs to the “synthetic” language group, which means that unlike English and other “analytical” languages, different grammatical aspects are expressed in one word by changing the structure of that word – adding an ending or prefix, modifying the core of the word, etc.  In analytical languages such as English, the same is achieved by using separate auxiliary verbs, pronouns or adjectives while the actual word remains unchanged.  In Czech, one word is often sufficient to express what English can only achieve by using multiple words.  So learning eight cases for some words and then masculine, masculine inanimate, feminine and neuter forms of each of the eight cases is a bit of a nightmare.  For anyone looking to learn Czech (ROFL…) www.locallingo.com is really useful as is this Englishman’s YouTube channel.  It’s really good to see Czech being taught from an Englishman’s perspective, who had all the same problems as me.

I do find the language incredibly difficult despite having Miluska and a really good Czech teacher.  But I am making progress and am starting to join in conversations in a very limited way.  The problem with knowing a little Czech is that it results in conversations like this:

(Me -In my best Czech)…  “Good morning, do you have any butter?”

(Shop assistant – In ‘real’ Czech)…  “Gobble-de-gooski, blah de blah de blahski.”

(Me)… “I’m sorry could you say that again more slowly”

(Assistant)…  “G-o-b-b-l-e-d-e-g-o-o-s-k-i, b-l-a-h d-e b-l-a-h d-e b-l-a-h-s-k-i….”

(Me)… “Thank you, I think Flora will be fine.”

It is interesting that there is a formal way of addressing people that you don’t know well.  This formal conversation, with different words and endings will continue even with neighbours until they ‘invite’ you to use the informal speech.  I am assured that with most elderly neighbours this will never happen.  Even “hello” is different for an elderly neighbour and a younger neighbour who we are friends with.  It is so easy for me to use the informal term to the wrong neighbour and this is REALLY bad form!

Hey, ho, give it another 13 years and I might be fluent…

On a personal note – I had a blood test following my course of antibiotics for my Borreliosis.  It was good news in that although my white blood cells had markers to show that they had fought the Borreliosis, there were no signs that my immune system was still fighting it.  In short, I seem to have been cured.  I have to have another test in six months, but hopefully that will be clear as well.

Posted in Borreliosis, Czech Language, Czech Republic, House Building, House reconstruction, Learning Czech, Masopust | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Imagine no possessions” (John Lennon) – Some Christmas Thoughts…

Firstly, let me hope that you had a lovely Christmas and wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!  We had a meeting with our building engineers and approved the detailed plans which were submitted for planning permission about a week before Christmas.  We have had temperatures down to -14oC  at night and 20cm of snow at times.  Despite this cold weather we have all really enjoyed lovely walks in the forest and sledging in the snow.

Beautiful light across a frozen forest lake

Beautiful light across a frozen forest lake

Silence in the frozen forest...

Silence in the frozen forest…

Village friends on a forest walk.

Village friends on a forest walk.

I’m afraid I’m going to get all philosophical with you in this blog…

I truly believe that events in life are sent to teach us a lesson.  Like most people we surrounded ourselves with possessions without hardly a thought.  Sadly in the modern world it’s very easy to become materialistic and start to value possessions more than what is truly important.  I sincerely hope we never reached this stage, but I think this attitude can creep up on any of us without us realising it.

This summer we spent 3 months living in a caravan with about 5% of our possessions available to us and  I can honestly say we have not enjoyed a summer more.  We are now living in two warm rooms, one freezing study and one cold bathroom with an infra-red wall heater J.  We probably have 25% of our possessions available to us and Miluska and I have just had a very simple Christmas with Danny, friends and family in the Czech Republic.  I have sorely missed my son Rob and my brother Philip in America, but we have been in contact with them and we are still having a wonderful time.  It will be lovely when I unpack our 50” plasma, my hi-fi, all my kitchen utensils, books etc.  But do you know?  I now realise just how unimportant they are.  I am sure I sort of knew this in the UK, but still didn’t value the important things enough.

Health and the people around you are the really important things in life – along with a few basic comforts.  I am so grateful that our venture to the Czech Republic has made me really understand this!

I promise to ‘lighten up’ in the next blog and will try and make you laugh…

Posted in Chritsmas, Health, Possessions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Its Raining Cats and Dogs

I have never owned a cat but once owned a very faithful mutt called Peggy whose Mum was a Bearded Collie … Dad unknown.  I really love dogs and was very sad when shortly before we left for the Czech Republic, Miluska’s parents German Shepherd Don died. Miluska and I had talked about getting a dog when we were settled here in our new house. Miluska being totally practical suggested that getting a dog as soon as possible may be a good idea so that it chews the house we will demolish rather than the new one.  She also suggested that it might be a good idea to get a cat as a ‘mouser’ as we would be living in such a rural area.  Anyway, these were conversations that we had in England before we left.

Pretty much as soon as we arrived a neighbour asked if we would like a puppy.  I have to say I wasn’t very keen on the idea as I really wanted to choose a breed myself.  Then Miluska told me “You won’t believe this, but the Mum is called Peggy and the Dad is called Don…”  Fate or what?  Peggy is a Beagle cross and Dad a Border Collie cross – so we waited patiently for Peggy’s pups to arrive.

Meanwhile, we had Miluska’s sister and boyfriend to stay.  Whilst walking down a lane with them just past the lake, we suddenly heard a faint mewing.  Looking in the grass between the road and hedgerow we found a lovely white and tabby kitten.  She could have been no more than eight weeks old if that.  It was pretty obvious that she had been abandoned and she seemed happy to be carried home and settled down very nicely.

Snowflake

Snowflake

Peggy then had her pups – all bitches – and we chose the only one that looked like Dad.  I’m really not sure why.

Danny with Rosie's puppies

Danny with Rosie’s puppies

So within a very short time we went from a family of three to a family of five!  Snowflake is the most affectionate cat I have encountered despite being left to her own devices.

Danny is enjoying the cuddle - not so sure about snowflake

Danny is enjoying the cuddle – not so sure about snowflake

Rosie is a very good dog apart from taking herself for walks.

Danny and Rosie in the garden

Danny and Rosie in the garden

In her defence she is only 50m from her Mum and sister and 75m from her Dad and the temptation to visit them must be great.  I tried turning our courtyard fence into Stalag 13, by adding wooden overhangs – all to no avail.  She is getting better though and I like to think that the desire to please her master is slowly becoming greater than the call to her doggy relatives.

Getting back to the present – the detailed house plans are in the final stages.  I have never been involved in the production of plans for a house, but believe me they are really detailed!  The aim is still to submit them early next week and get them approved by the Spring.  We will also have to choose our builder through the winter.  Everyone here (including Miluska) thinks I am optimistic in thinking we can get the house built by next winter.  The building engineer is on my side – but he is a born optimist as well…  It could be that Czech bureaucracy and ‘manyana’ attitude will prevail.  I really do hope not.

I finished my antibiotics for the Borreliosis a few days ago and I have to say that the 40 days went really quickly.  I will have another blood test in two weeks – fingers crossed!

We now regularly have up t -5oC at night and currently have around 15cm of snow on the ground.  The snow really looks beautiful on the surrounding countryside, especially when the sun is shining.  Danny has a new sledge and is loving every minute outside, but I have a feeling that at least Miluska and I will be glad when the snow is gone in Spring…

Posted in Borreliosis, Buying a foreign property, House Building, Lyme Borreliosis, Lyme Disease, Pets | Tagged , , | Leave a comment