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Homeless Tours of Prague Take a different view of the Golden City published 18.03.

2013 | comments (12) | log in to post comments Written by: Lisette Allen

Been in town for a while? Think youve seen it all? Step outside your expat comfort zone and sign up for a walking tour of the city with a difference Golden spires, cobbled streets, baroque cherubs, and of course the Castle. Prague is undeniably pretty and the best way to explore is on foot. But tag along with a typical walking tour and all youll do is tick off the main sites. However, there is an alternative way to see the so-called Golden City through the eyes of those forced to survive on its streets. Thanks to Pragulic, the award-winning brainchild of three postgraduate students at Charles University, there are now walking tours led by the homeless offering a unique opportunity to explore Pragues grittier side. Each of their five guides takes the curious on a different route incorporating former squats, sheltered housing, and hidden corners of the city as well as the more obvious landmarks. Thanks to a team of volunteer translators, the scheme is accessible to nonCzech speakers and is proving popular with tourists. Half the 200 CZK ticket price goes directly to the tour leader a helping hand, certainly, but not a handout. On a chilly February evening, I find myself in Sherwood not a forest, but the nickname of the notoriously dodgy area outside Hlavn ndra waiting for our guide.

The first thing which strikes me about Jan is just how ordinary he looks. Theres nothing about his appearance that says tramp the long hair simply suggests that hes spent too long listening to rock music and the roll ups that he likes the taste of unfiltered tobacco. The tour is called From the Bottom to the Top, which does indeed describe the route he takes us from the central train station to the vantage point on Letn where a gigantic statue of Stalin once stood overlooking the city. The title also refers to the journey of Jans life from hitting rock bottom thanks to a gambling addiction to a new beginning or, as Oscar Wilde might have put it, from the gutter to the stars. According to official estimates, over 4,000 people live on the citys streets. Another disturbing statistic which Jan shares is that there essentially two groups of homeless people: those who go without a place to live for a month or two then manage to return to conventional society, and those who cannot or choose not to and usually end up homeless for life. Change is essential, Jan tells us. I have many homeless friends who are unwilling or unable to make the transition from living on the streets to ordinary life. Twice a week I meet someone I know who remains on the streets. When I lose motivation I see him, gather all my strength and try to go on. Pragulics slogan is Nebojte se poznvat Prahu jinak dont be afraid to get to know Prague differently. Jan takes us to the social centre Nadje (rather aptly the word for hope) where he once came to get soup and clean clothes. Hidden under a flyover, its a spot thats easy to overlook unless youre location scouting for a gritty docudrama. Its at this point in the tour that Jan shares some practical advice for those unsure how to help those they see sleeping rough. Give stravenky, he advises. With the meal vouchers you know they can only buy food, not booze. Later in the tour, we walk across echv most, a bridge I travel over on the way to work almost every day. I never fail to look out of the window and take in the view across the river. However, Ive never noticed the boat Hermes at the foot of the steps leading up to Letn which serves as a hostel for the homeless. Although the doors dont open until 18:30, the queue for one of the 250 beds begins hours earlier. Those who dont manage to secure a bed or who cant find the 20 CZK fee sleep under the bridge.

Katarina Chalupkov, Ondej Klgl, and Tereza Jurekov - students behind PragulicKatarina Chalupkov, Ondej Klgl, and Tereza Jurekov - students behind Pragulic

Despite the cold, the dozen or so of us whove gathered on a Wednesday evening to hear Jans story listen with real concentration and interest. Tonight, the group is mostly Czechs in their twenties: friends and acquaintances who found out about the initiative through Facebook. The tour is also accessible to foreign tourists thanks to a team of volunteer translators. Once weve successfully climbed up the steps which lead up to the metronome on Letn, I get chatting to some of the other participants. One of the most enthusiastic participants, Luk Policar, believes that the tour has the power to challenge the stereotypes which surround the most disadvantaged in society: Its a great project very inspiring. I think it should be compulsory for every school age child in the Czech Republic. I asked Tereza Jurekov, one of the co-organisers, what she thought expats could gain from attending the tour. Foreigners in Prague often stay separated from local life. They live in Vinohrady and meet other expats, but I believe that lot of them would like to explore local life as well, Tereza observes. Now they have a chance to discover the city with a real expert. They

will not only see interesting and unknown places but they will better understand the local culture and way of life. We are also trying to bring different people together. So you never know whether you end up in the pub at the end of the tour chatting with others. Those interested in booking a homeless tour with an English speaking translator should contact the organisers via their website for more details. Photos: Pragulic Adultery, Czech Style Rates of infidelity and attitudes to extramarital relationships published 17.04.2013 | comments (1) | log in to post comments Written by: Ryan Scott

Is the Czech Republic a nation of cheats? It seems like a very strong generalization, but it is one which Ive heard offered by a number of foreigners living here. Seemingly, by Anglo-American standards, Czech people are more accepting of extramarital affairs. But casual observations are not hard evidence. Affairs of State Judging by popular reactions to the infidelity or supposed infidelity of public figures, the Czech electorate doesnt seem too bothered by the sex lives of politicians. I suppose it could be argued that there are other things for the people to worry about.

Even if that is the case, the affairs of Topolnek and Paroubek havent significantly discredited them in the eyes of the public or the media. The former president Vclav Klaus was photographed leaving a hotel with a young woman, and while the photos were certainly fodder for the tabloids, it didnt seem to damage his approval rating. Apart from allegedly accepting bribes, David Rath lived openly with his wife and lover. The late Vclav Havel was also known to have had affairs, and his first wife Olga also had an extramarital relationship. These facts have done little to tarnish their popular image. Does that tolerance for the affairs of public figures extend to peoples personal lives?

Romn pro eny (2004) The Broad Picture Dr. Petr Weiss is one of the Czech Republics leading sexologists. Trained as a clinical psychologist, he now works in the Sexology Institute at the General Faculty Hospital in Prague 2. Since 1993, a survey has been conducted into the sexual behavior and opinions of Czech men and women every five years. The most recent one was from 2008, and it surveyed 2000 men and women. Infidelity was one of the topics covered, and the results tend to

confirm the overall picture of tolerance regarding infidelity. Of the women surveyed: 28% were single; 48% were married and hadnt committed adultery and, 24% were married and had admitted to being unfaithful. For the Czech men from the sample: 34% were single; 30% were married and hadnt committed adultery and, 33% were married and admitted to cheating. If we disregard the single people, it means that about half the married men and a third of the married women admitted to some form of infidelity. The type of infidelity men and women engage in is slightly different. The men surveyed showed more of a tendency to have casual affairs 62% of those who admitted to being unfaithful admitted this. For women it was 44%. Women showed a higher tendency to have affairs with acquaintances 38% admitted this was the case, while among men the rate was 15%. When it came to engaging both in casual liaisons and with acquaintances, the numbers were quite similar: 18% of women and 25% of men.

Nestyda (2008) Tolerance

In all areas to do with sex, Czechs are very tolerant, Dr. Weiss said. This evaluation is further reflected in national opinions about infidelity. From the same group surveyed about rates of infidelity, the following opinions were founds. Women 38% consider it morally unacceptable; 41% dont condemn but dont pursue extramarital relationships and, 21% consider it natural. Men 21% consider it morally unacceptable; 38% dont condemn but dont pursue extramarital relationships and, 41% think its natural. By way of explanation, Dr Weiss said, Liberalism and tolerance in the area of sexual issues for the Czech population is explained, above all, by the fact that Czechs as a nation are very atheistic. Religion is identified by sexologists as one of the main restrictive factors in attitudes to sex. With a large majority not subscribing to any faith, it stands to reason that attitudes toward sex, including infidelity, are less conservative. That tolerance can even extend to advice for women who are seeing married men. The web-magazine Femina.cz ranan article (in Czech) in 2010 offering some quite coolheaded advice to a woman who is in such a relationship. The article opens by saying, The most sensible rule is: dont take a man with a ring, but then goes on to say the readers have to admit to the reality: good sense and love dont go together. The editor of the website, Petra Martikov, explained that the article was published because of experiences of readers, editors and friends. We try to publish articles, which our readers have experience with. In some way it concerns them, and they dont have anyone to open up to, Martikov said. At the time of publication, the article was popular, though it might be too much to see it as representative. The article did appear on the first page of a search of mimomanelsk vztah (extramarital relations). Similar topics tend to appear with less candor in mainstream English language magazines.

Krska v nesnzch (2006) Influence of the Past Reading the works of Milan Kundera, Ivan Klma, and Josef kvoreck can give the impression that infidelity was a part of the former regime. The film Loves of a Blonde by Milo Forman and the scene from the popular Ecce home Homolka suggest a more permissive attitude toward affairs. However, the broader picture is hard to come by. We dont have a comparison of what happened during communism because no surveys were done about sexual behavior. While no studies of the infidelity in the era exist, Weiss offered a speculative answer. The widespread ownership of cottages, combined with drinking, and the fact the state lets people get on with their lives in a relatively free way, would allow for extramarital affairs. Its possible, as part of this flight from reality, that sex including non-marital sex served as a [way of letting off steam], who werent able to [do so] in other areas, he said. The comment certainly puts the cottage tradition in a new light. Enoughs enough

Tolerance regarding infidelity doesnt necessarily equate to open acceptance, especially where ones spouse is concerned. While Czech people may not judge their political leaders on their indiscretions and the majority doesnt regard infidelity as immoral, it is still a cause of divorce. According to 2012 figures (in Czech), 28,100 marriages ended in the Czech Republic during the year. Infidelity was the most often concrete reason for 1,072 men and 697 women. However, irreconcilable differences represented 89% of cases. I would advise discretion with infidelityeven in the case of [a] so-called open marriage, because the one who tells his/her partner that they have been unfaithful, so they can have a good feeling of being honestshifts the burden of doubts and uncertainties [onto his partner]. No infidelity can benefit a marriage, Dr. Weiss said. Global Comparisons I started by mentioning the article was motivated by a perception that infidelity was more tolerated in the Czech Republic. This doesnt mean the rates are so low in the English speaking world. An article from The New York Times shows that infidelity rates in the US are growing. While those surveyed show rates about half that of the Czech population, it isnt exactly marginal behavior. Or maybe Czechs are just more honest.

Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments A gruesome collection of pain-inducing paraphernalia published 09.04.2013 | comments (1) | log in to post comments Written by: Lisette Allen

The Break Knee, Iron Maiden and the Catalan Garotte: is this gruesome collection of pain-inducing paraphernalia educational, entertaining or just a tourist rip-off? Tucked away in the shopping arcade next to Charles Bridge, The Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments tries to lure in passing tourists by offering the chance to peer at its collection of yep, you guessed it instruments of medieval torture. If youre curious about the gruesome and bizarre ways that those in power once extracted information from alleged wrongdoers, this is the right place to come. The museums three floors are packed with all kinds of macabre paraphernalia. Just in case the exact workings of any object wasnt obvious enough merely from staring at it, detailed explanations accompany each exhibit; all the info is available in eight languages so no-one misses out on the fun. Theres the Virgin of Nuremberg better known as the Iron Maiden a sort of sarcophagus lined with strategically placed spikes that would pierce the poor person locked inside while avoiding their vital organs. The result? A long, excruciatingly painful death. That infamous aid to prising out declarations of guilt the Rack is also on display. In case you werent paying attention in history class, the Rack is a large table on which the supposed malefactor was made to lie until they were stretched apart. Some ended up ten inches taller. If that wasnt enough to make you spill your guts (no pun intended), the

torturer applied a red hot poker to force you to cooperate. Some objects need little explanation. The Break Knee breaks knees. The Interrogation Seat is a chair covered in spikes in which the victim was forced to sit in naked until they fessed up or expired. No need to read the blurb to figure out how that could inflict agonizing pain. The same goes for the Staircase of Stretching, the Racks equally deadly cousin. Other practices have innocent names which belie their grisly purpose. The Spanish Tickle Torture sounds like it might be rather fun until you realize that it actually involves having your flesh reduced to tatters by a giant fork. Another disturbing form of dispatching lawbreakers, the Catalan Garrotte, is also a brainchild of the Spaniards. The lucky individual sits in a specially designed chair with their hands behind their back while the executioner screws an iron wedge into their skull. Nice. Not all forms of torture were designed to exsanguinate. Anyones who ever craved a bit of peace and quiet will sympathize with the inventor of the Noisemakers Fife. A metal collar with a special vice attached into which the fingers of the accused were locked, this device was used to punish bad musicians whose poor quality piping had offended the ears of a noble. Other exhibits designed to subject the victim to public scorn rather than physical pain. The striking iron masks in the shapes of monsters or pigs were worn by women accused of slander or witchcraft: the Germanic equivalent of the Scolds Bridle used in medieval England to curb the tongues of garrulous shrews. While none of these practices seem particularly appealing, the worst form of death wasnt being barbecued on the Gridirion or even impalement on a giant pole, but being turned upside down and then sawn in half. According to the explanatory material, this was the nastiest way to meet your end. I guess well just have to take their word for it.

After Ive spent an hour taking in all the bloodcurdling goriness, Im left feeling positively queasy. I suppose thats proof the exhibits worked their macabre magic on me. Is my upset tummy a thumbs up for the Museum of Medieval Torture then? That depends on whether you believe you should leave educated or merely entertained. Dont get me wrong as attractions targeting tourists go, this one is hardly the trashiest. However, dont come here expecting to see anything which challenges the popular stereotype of the Middle Ages as barbaric and backward. Of course, Im glad that my chances of being broken into bits on a giant wheel are far slimmer these days. However, before we all get too smug about how far modern man has progressed, lets not forget that we still practice forms of torture pioneered by medievals water boarding anyone? Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments Kiovnick nmst 194/1, Prague 1 Open daily 10:00 20:00 (no website) Wine Tourism in the Czech Republic There's more than Mikulov when it comes to Moravian wine trips published 11.09.2012 | comments (0) | log in to post comments Written by: Lisette Allen

Rightly revered for its beer, the Czech Republics status as a producer of top class wines is often overlooked. Autumn is the ideal time of year to explore the vineyards and wine cellars of Southern Moravia, the countrys primary viticulture region. Time your trip to coincide with the grape harvest, and you can join the locals as they sample the first bouquet in vast quantities in their wine caves. Wind your way through the countryside on two wheels or four and savour the unique flavour of Czech wine but do remember that the countrys drunk driving laws are some of the strictest in Europe! Where to go The vast majority of Czech wines are produced in Moravia along the Austrian border: 96% of the Czech Republics registered vineyards are located there. Bohemian wine does exist too, though: the areas surrounding Mlnk, Litomice, and even Most produce modest amounts. The most obvious destination for the would-be Moravian wine tourist has to be Mikulov. The town is picture postcard perfect enough to merit a visit in its own right but also rather conveniently happens to be slap bang in the middle of the countrys main wine producing region. Having hiked up the hill to the fairytale chateau which dominates the

skyline, and wandered around the winding streets below, you can reward yourself by sampling the local vno.

Vinn sklepy, aka wine cellars, are where the tasting action is at. Theres certainly no shortage of these, but youll need to book if you want to do a degustation where you sample a range of varieties and lets face it, who wouldnt? Many wine cellars require a minimum of ten people in a group to make a reservation. Volak Winery is one place which will arrange tastings for smaller groups. Znojmo, the self-styled pearl of Moravia, is famous amongst Czechs for its gherkins: theres even a festival in honour of the humble pickled cucumber. They also produce some outstanding wines. Head to Nov aldorf, a hamlet on the outskirts of town, where youll find dozens of local vintners waiting to welcome you to their sklpky. The vibe here is laidback: during our recent visit on a Saturday afternoon we sat outside with a bottle of Neubursk, a medium dry white which set us back a very reasonable 120 CZK, and snacked on a plate of home cured ham, bread, and of course, those gherkins.

The Velk Pavlovice wine region describes itself as the beating heart of Moravian red. Follow in the footsteps of the Knights Templar and take a trip to the underground wine cellars beneath the fortress in ejkovice, which date from the 13th century. Rather unusually, they even produce sparkling wines and also have an organic range. Alternatively, head for Slovcko, the most easterly Moravian wine producing area, where Riesling, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris grape varieties all excel. In Uhersk Hradit, check out the Maatice area where most of the wine cellars are to be found, including some dating back to the eighteenth century. One way to explore the region and keep up your stamina levels required for all the drinking youll be doing is to cycle. The main Moravian wine trail meanders from Znojmo to Uhersk Hradit, but of course youre under no obligation to cover it all: check out some of the suggested routes at Cycling Southern Moravia or The Friends of Czech Greenways websites.

The most popular varieties The vast majority of Czech wine is white: apparently the higher lime content in the soil and the warm climate lend themselves better to cultivating a Pinot Gris than a Beaujolais. The most popular varieties include Grner Veltliner (Veltlnsk zelen), Rhine Riesling (Ryzlink rnsk), Pinot Blanc (Rulandsk bl), and Mller Thurgau. There are decent reds too: try Pinot Noir (Rulandsk modr) if its something velvety and full-bodied youre after, Lemberger (Frankovka) if you want a tipple with a fruity bouquet of overripe cherries, or for something lighter, road test a Portugiser Blauer (Modr Portugal). Theres also burk, or partially fermented young wine, a slightly sweet alcoholic beverage made from must which sounds like what it is a mush of grapes and their juices. Nicknamed mlko starc (old mans milk), it comes in both red and white just like its fully fermented big brother. Watch out: it tastes like a soft drink but the 5 8% alcohol content can sneak up on you.

Vinobran the wine harvest festivals Every year, the successful harvesting of another grape crop provides the perfect excuse for collective celebration. During the vinobran, or wine harvest festival, towns and villages across Southern Moravia burst into life with street performances of all kinds and, of course, the sampling of the latest crop in copious amounts. This years Plavsk vinobran in Mikulov took place from 7th 9th September. Znojmo welcomes visitors for its historical vintage festival, including a medieval style torch lit procession through the town, fireworks and a brass band, next weekend: 14th 15th September. A crash course in Czech for wine lovers such - dry polosuch semi-dry polosladk semi-sweet sladk - sweet Vno bez pvodu table wine. The lowest category of wine and cannot bear a vintage, grape variety or any indication of its geographical origin. Zemsk vno country wine. This is still table wine, but its one step up from the truly nasty stuff. It can bear the name of the wine region, vintage and grape variety from which

it was produced. Jakostn vno s pvlastkem Quality wine with special attributes. This is what it reassuringly states on the bottles I brought home from my recent trip to Moravia. The wine can only be produced from a maximum of three different varieties of grapes and the quality must be assured by the State Agricultural & Food Inspectorate SZPI. Within this category, there are also: Ledov vno Ice wine. A super sweet (and expensive) dessert wine produced from grapes frozen on the vine. Slmov vno Straw wine/raisin wine. Wine made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their juices. Straw wines are typically very sweet and of the finest quality; the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lector supposedly sipped a glass while dining on the liver of one of his victims! (Note: the film version turned this into a Chianti.) Do say: Nejsem Prak, jsem cizinec a tady na Morav se mi stran lb. Im not from Prague, Im a foreigner, and I really love it here in Moravia. Dont say: Jsem tady,abych pil pivo. Im only here for the beer. Do you have any tips for making the most of Moravian wine country youd like to share? Know of any great vinn sklepy or wine harvest festivals weve missed? Let us know in the comments section!