29-11-2003

How do foreigners view the Czech Republic? What's so special about the Lostice nativity scene and why would no one have a golden carp for their Christmas dinner? Find out more in this week's Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

PraguePrague How do foreign visitors view the Czech Republic? A friendly, hospitable country, with great beer, great architecture and great looking girls. The General Marketing agency recently conducted a survey in which it asked foreigners what first came to mind in connection with the Czech Republic. The answer was Prague, great architecture, excellent beer, great hockey, Vaclav Havel, and terrific girls. Forty percent of tourists reportedly visit the Czech Republic at the recommendation of friends. American, British, French and Spanish visitors usually head straight for Prague, Russian visitors prefer to spend a recuperative fortnight at one of the country's wellness spas and health resorts - in particular Karlovy Vary where a great number of Russians own villas. The Austrians and the Germans love to shop in Prague and spend the New Year at Czech mountain resorts. The Brits love to hold stag parties in town, raving about the beer and the girls. The biggest spenders are the Japanese, the Spaniards and the Russians. Annually foreign visitors spend over a hundred million crowns in the Czech Republic. And finally, what are tourists most dissatisfied with? According to the mentioned survey it is: street money vendors, bored waiters and sloppy service in some restaurants, dual prices and a lack of water closets in various parts of town.

More and more Czechs are opting to spend Christmas in a warm climate, happy to swap the traditional Christmas tree for a palm tree on the beach. The country's s biggest travel agencies say the number of clients who are leaving for some sea and sun over the Christmas holidays has risen by a full third. The most popular destinations this year are the Canary Islands, Hawaii, Egypt and Thailand.

Fisheries across the country are busy getting the nation's traditional Christmas dinner on the market - tons of carp. Now, home bred carp are a silvery grey- brownish colour so you can imagine fishermen's surprise when they recently pulled out a net in which a big fat golden carp was writhing in a sea of greys and browns. There was allegedly a good humoured skirmish over who would get to throw the fish back into the lake. The story of the golden fish which will fulfil three wishes if you spare its life is a classic in the Czech Republic.

However the story of this particular fish is somewhat different. This was a Japanese decorative gold carp which someone dumped into the lake from a home aquarium. By all accounts its chances of survival in a freezing Czech lake in wintertime were almost nil but this Japanese carp proved the experts wrong. It is thriving, fat and much bigger than it should be. And -its taste of freedom is not likely to be cut short - because who would eat a carp that might just make their dreams come true....

Eating and drinking contests are immensely popular in this country -in spite of repeated doctors' warnings regarding the possible health hazards. One of the most dangerous is the popular contest in consuming the most vodka in a given time limit. This year's contest held traditionally in Moravia had only four contestants - ten others backed out of it at the last moment after hearing about the fate of the winner of a Vodka drinking contest in Russia -just a few day s ago- the winner dropped dead of alcohol poisoning after drinking a litre and a half of vodka. In Moravia two of the contestants came close to suffering a similar fate and were rushed to hospital after drinking close to a litre of vodka each. The price which made them risk their lives was a ten litre barrel of plum brandy and ten thousand crowns.

Traditional Christmas fairs are appearing in towns and cities across the Czech Republic. They sell hot wine and roast chestnuts, gingerbread, wood-carved and glass-blown decorations, wax candles and nativity scenes. Nativity scenes can be found in most Czech homes at this time of year -but the most precious are not available on the market. They are handed down from generation to generation and are highly prized. Jaroslav Benes from Lostice boasts one of the best -a nativity scene that has attracted widespread interest. A wood-carver -Benes not only produced his own nativity scene he filled it with real people, carving wooden miniatures of his family, friends and people from his home town - like the local postmistress, schoolteacher, butcher and so on. People ring his doorbell everyday of the week begging to be allowed a peek or asking to be included.

Few people are aware of this but the beer mat is 100 years old this year. The brightly coloured little piece of cardboard that you put under your beer glass originated in Germany and mass production begun in 1903 at the Otto Katz factory. Today Otto Katz produces 40 percent of the world's beer mats and they have become an important part of the beer culture. They come in a vast variety of shapes and sizes - and an extremely popular collector's item.

The beer mat originally served a completely different purpose though -rather than going under your beer glass it was a practical cover for beer jugs and mugs that were left standing unattended to prevent flies dropping in.

Karlovy Vary, photo: Barbora KmentováKarlovy Vary, photo: Barbora Kmentová The police in Karlovy Vary may breathe a sigh of relief. They have hunted down the thief who stole the jewels of a Saudi Arabian princess from one of the town's luxury hotels. The twenty six year old Princess Fahdah Fahed returned from her spa treatment one day to find some of her priceless belongings stolen - diamond encrusted watches, rings and necklaces as well as her laptop containing bank account numbers and the addresses and mobile phone numbers of her family and friends.

It took the police two months top find the thief - a foreigner who had stolen jewellery in the Czech Republic before and had been expelled from the country and banned entry for a period of ten years. The man reportedly entered the Czech Republic under a false British passport.

The bad news is that by the time the police captured the thief he had managed to sell all of the princess' belongings on the black market. As for the princess - it is not clear what spa treatment she underwent at the renowned west Bohemian spa resort - but whatever it was the miraculous waters of Karlovy Vary must indeed work wonders. She refused to cut short her stay after this unfortunate experience and left highly satisfied saying she would be delighted to return.

29-11-2003