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If you have read the latest posts on Easter or Witch Burning, you will know that Czechs have some interesting and unique traditions that are deeply rooted and intertwined through various moments in history.  When I was growing up in Prague, I remember going to Letná with my grandparents for the massive Labor Day parades that every good citizen, of then communist Czechoslovakia, proudly attended and waved flowers and flags around.  The procession was elaborate with military shows and lots of flowers.  It was the combination of worker’s unity and welcoming the Spring at the same time.

Labor day actually originated in the US on May 1st in 1886 when workers called a strike with which they demanded a daily 8 hour shift as opposed to the long hours they worked.  Today, Labor Day is celebrated in 142 countries on May 1st or the first Monday in May.  Interestingly, the US now celebrates Labor Day on the 1st Monday each September.

Today, May 1st in the Czech Republic represents Love and the welcoming of Spring more than anything else.  As with Easter, celebrating Love on May 1st has its roots deep within Pagan traditions.  It all started many centuries ago in Western Europe when the Celts celebrated Spring and presented symbolic offerings to the Gods of Sun and Fertility.  The tradition that is carried out in the Czech Republic is much more romantic these days.  A kiss under a fruitful tree originally intended to ensure the couple’s fertility.  Today, a woman should be kissed under a blossoming cherry tree, so that she is beautiful and attractive all year long.   Obviously this tradition must not have been around too long, since kissing in public in the 19th century would have been unthinkable.

But many believe the beginning of the 19th century is when the kissing tradition started to take its shape and form, as this is when a famous Czech Romantic writer, Karel Hynek Mácha, lived and worked.  One of his famous poems he wrote is called Máj (May) and is about a tragic tale of two lovers.  Some of the verses go like this:


It was late evening, on the first of May,
The eve of May was the time of love.
The turtle-dove´s voice called to love,
Where rich and sweet pinewoods lay.

Although the clear connection of Mácha and May 1st – the Lover’s holiday - is not officially documented, this is the connection lovers in Prague make.  So if you are in Prague on May 1st, the thing to do is go to Petřín and visit the statue of Karel Hynek Mácha and find a blossoming [cherry] tree to kiss your loved one so that you don’t shrivel up this year [if you are a woman].

A few choice restaurants and bars in Prague

April 27th, 2011 | Posted by jodiehop in Food and Restaurants | Guiri Guest - (Comments Off)

Jodie is one of the Guiri Guide founders. Moving away from the UK five years ago, she travels regularly and is currently living in Paris. Fore more, click here. Having visited Prague recently for business, here are some restaurant and bar picks:

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I love Czech food, especially in the winter. Slow roasted meat – particularly ham – with stewed cabbage and dumplings is the main speciality. If you eat this at lunchtime, be prepared for a good nap afterwards!

Lokal: has been crafted to look like a replica of a typical bar/canteen during the socialist era. The menus are in Czech and friends ordered for me: Paprika chicken and rice which was delicious. All food is typically Czech and seemed pretty good. Although I am not a beer connoisseur, I thought it was good and relied on the judgement of the locals. Lokal appeared to be a bit of a media hangout too with a few of the countries well know journalists there.

Lehka Hlava (Clear Head): as a real carnivore it’s rare that I go to vegetarian restaurants but I was taken there by some friends who live in Prague and I understand why they love it. There’s a vast selection of foods with asian and middle eastern twists. We had the mixed main course as a starter between three, in order to try everything, which was superb. Try one of their speciality teas too. Menus come in Czech and English which was a huge relief.

Radost was also recommended to me but I didn’t get a chance to go.

U Stare Studny wine bar is a must do if you are on the castle side of the town. It is a real gem of a find and I LOVED it. My date for the evening was an 80 year old showing me the delights of Moravian wine (the whites are fantastic, sweet and crisp at the same time). Set in a cellar, it is cosy with friendly staff..

For more suggestions, take a look at The Prague Spoon which looks like an excellent guide.

The Burning of Witches in Prague

April 26th, 2011 | Posted by Klaraz in Entertainment | Klara | What's Happening Prague - (Comments Off)

So now Easter has passed, the whipping has ended, and now we are ready to burn some witches!  No, we’re not a violent country at all… Another pagan tradition is The Burning of the Witches Night (Čarodějnice).  Every  year, on April 30th, Czechs gather around bonfires across the country  in order to give a final farewell to the long winter.  This is one of many of this country’s colorful traditions.

The origin of this festival is not clear but there is a theory that it descended from Belatne, a traditional holiday still celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  In the Middle Ages, people believed that the evil spirits were stronger than normal on this night, so they performed rites and customs in order to ward off witches and weaken their power.  The Czechs believed that burning great fires, the flames would reach the witches down from the sky.

This custom survived the period of communism when it was tolerated by the regime.  These days it is more of a celebration and an opportunity to get together with family and friends. The bonfires are built a few days before and usually are up on a hill.

Today, kids make witches from straw to throw in the fire at the end of the night.  People are also known to throw their old brooms into the fire.   Another tradition, probably a fertility rite, involves young couples jumping over the bonfires together over the dying flames, while single men leave freshly cut branches on the doorstep of the woman they love.

Ladronka Event Flyer

There are many places you can attend this colorful tradition.  Here are some of the bigger locations:

Kampa Park – The children’s program begins at 19:00 with a costumed parade from Malostranské náměstí to the park.  The bonfire begins at 20:00.

Ladronka – By far one of the biggest celebrations, and you can find many family-friendly activities there.   The celebration starts at 15:00 and features a Miss Čarodějnice contest, theater performance, a fire show, and live music.  The bonfire will start at 18:30.  You can check out this video from the 2009 event.

Petřín Hill – This is more unofficial but people gather for bonfires on this hill overlooking Prague.

No reason to skip out on this event this year, so get your witch costume ready for the upcoming festivities.  Czechs will always find a reason to party!

PS:  Don’t worry, the fire department across the country is very alert on this day.

 

We have just discovered Gogobot.com. In their mission statement they say We believe the best advice comes from people you trust – people like you. we agree. Take a look at the information for Prague: www.gogobot.com/prague Follow GuiriGuide advice on gogobot!

National Indoor Championships April 2011 (Prague)

Volleyball has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old and it has always been my crutch when moving to a new place or a new phase in my life.  This was especially true when we first came to the US and I desperately wanted to be a normal teenager (normal was out of the question due to the fact that I was a tall lanky girl with a thick Easter European accent and very uncool clothes).   Luckily, those years of embarrassing adaptation are now a complete blur and I can only thank my passion for sports, volleyball in particular, that I actually survived without much damage done.  On top of that, volleyball also helped my sister and I get a full athletic scholarship to a prestigious University, that my parents could never afford, which opened many doors for me down the road.

When I moved back to Prague, other than getting my Master’s degree, one of the first things I looked for was where to play volleyball.  Before leaving the US, I actually got into beach volleyball and didn’t even think it was an option here in Prague.  But I was wrong, and since my arrival here, many sand courts opened up all around Prague and the level of play pleasantly surprised me.

One day I decided to go to this “beach club” that I found on the internet to see what my options were.  I didn’t know anyone and if you have ever been a part of an organized sport, you would know that people don’t really welcome you with open arms because they have no clue what level you play and if you are even any good.  That was the first hurdle, the second was the fact that Czechs in general aren’t the warmest people or all that excited to let you into their territory at first.  So again, like an insecure teenager I had to prove myself all over again through my volleyball skills.  I started out playing at a lower level until proving myself worthy to play at the highest level this country has to offer.  Five years later and I am officially a part of the volleyball community, I have made many good friends and I have played some very good volleyball.

National Indoor Championships March 2011 (Prague), Kolocova - Slukova, 2nd place

The biggest difference I see between beach volleyball in Czech and the States is the fact that Czechs are very enthusiastic and just about everyone has a coach they pay to get better.  No matter what level they play, they schedule in at least a couple of hours 1-2x per week with a highly qualified coach (current professional players, ex-players, etc.).  In addition to all of this, beach volleyball is played year round here in Prague.  Once the summer is over and the first freeze comes in, most of the courts around Prague are covered with “air bubbles”, that you can most often see tennis courts under, and beach volleyball continues.  Czechs also take mixed doubles very seriously (1guy + 1girl = team) and even have national championships each summer and have a regular winter league competition.

Overall the beach volleyball community is good, and once you get to know more people, it’s a very relaxed and friendly environment.  If you want play some beach volleyball in Prague, check out the main clubs/courts here:

Following are two Czech women’s teams that are fighting for the Summer Olympics in London and teams that you will run into once in a while in the Winter League at Pankrác, when they are not training in warmer climate.  You can also see them in the A Series Tournaments this summer on the Czech circuit:

Other links:

  • (World Volleyball Federation) FIVB
  • (European Volleyball Federation) CEV
  • (Czech Volleyball Federation) CVF

The World Tour is coming to Prague in May! (Men’s play)  Stay tuned….

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