In the Footsteps of Charles IV

At the weekend I went walking In the Footsteps of Charles IV. Yes, the Charles IV of Holy Roman Emperor fame, Charlie-Boy. C-Bomb Number 4. No? Basically, I was apparently walking in the footsteps of a 14th century Czech king.

In the Footsteps of Charles IV is an organised public walk outside of Prague to Karlstejn that’s put on every year for anyone who wants to do it. The full route is 50 kilometres but it’s possible to do 10, 15, 20 kilometres or whatever you can be bothered to do. As a group of occasional walkers and hardcore gulash eaters, we did 15 kilometres.

By some miracle of human perseverance I pulled myself out of my comfortable, under-used bed at 8am and with my flatmate met a gaggle of similarly hungover looking people at Prague’s Main Station. From there we took a short train journey out of Prague to some random, ramshackle place called Černošice where we would start our walk. After an almost uninterrupted five months of bleak weather that made going out into the Czech countryside less appealing than a weekend in Chernobyl, this weekend was the first tempting chance leave the urban sprawl of Prague and get in touch with mother nature. Or something.

The Czechs love the outdoors and, one thing I’ve learned from my students is that they are always out in the nature (as the endearingly incorrect Czechism goes). Inevitably out on the walk we met hundreds of families, dog-walkers and couples sampling the beautiful spring sunshine and we even passed a women’s football game. Possibly the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long while.

The walk was pleasant as the route snaked through Czech villages that were pretty and Czech villages that were under construction, past colourful meadows and through forests, ending at Karlstejn Castle – a touristy but charming little town which sits under an imposing Gothic castle. To be honest, the scenery was charming but not spectacular and the pace and elevation were never quite taxing enough yet it was just the ticket to brush off the winter cobwebs and dissipating hangover.

Somehow, for the second time this month, I managed to finish the day with a bright red forehead and a rosy neck, so at this rate, the year’s going to be filled with peeling skin and a head permanently coloured like a tomato. Interestingly enough, with a forest continually to the right of me and open space to the left of me, it was only my right which turned red and so I ended up with a ridiculous kind of football strip of skin.

Probably the highlight of the day was the finish where we received a diploma to mark the momentous occasion of finished a 15 kilometre walk in the mammoth time of five hours (thanks to much sitting and eating) – on green card with my name written in felt tip pen. I felt as happy as a small child and now it’s up on my wall just next to my Nobel Peace Prize and Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

6 Reviews from the Febiofest Film Festival

Febiofest is a medium-sized film festival that takes place in Prague every March and showcases many independent films and snapshots of World Cinema. I can’t give a review of the whole thing because I wasn’t at a lot of it – it was the first warm week for six months and my pasty legs were not going to miss that – but I did see some worthy (and a few dodgy) movies that would be great to catch if they make an appearance at a film festival or even cinema near you.

Play (Denmark, Finland, Sweden)

What’s it about?

This low-budget Swedish effort is a dramatisation of the complex strategies used by one set of real-life bullies in the Gothenburg area over a three year period. What made these bullies so special were the intricate psychological games that they played that seemed way beyond their years. They were played the bad cop/good cop routines, amongst other tactics, and got the goods without the use of violence.

Worth hunting down?

It certainly is. The film is much more interesting and important than the premise may suggest. Watching these subtle, psychological games unfold really keep you glued to your seat and there’s always a feeling of tension that makes you squirm. The characters – much different to the usual clichéd Hollywood types – are all excellent and acted with subtlety and believability by a young cast and Ruben Östlund keeps the viewer detached with plenty of shots taken from a distance. The only downside to this admirable movie is the slightly ridiculous climax.

Rating: 8/10

Full review

As If I Am Not There (Ireland)

What’s it about?

This was shown as part of Febiofest’s Balkans section and it certainly wasn’t the first to be based on the Bosnian War of the Nineties. It was the first actually made by an Irish Director but I’m not sure if you get any points for that though. As If Am Not There is a harrowing tale of a modern schoolteacher who lived through the horrific brutality of the war after she was transported to a woman’s labour camp and sexually abused by the soldiers stationed there. It’s an unflinching tale of abuse and the struggle to live through it by any means.

Worth hunting down?

Juanita Wilson does very well to give us a balanced character to follow (excellently played by Natasa Petrovic), the right amount of horrific on-screen violence whilst not not showing so much that it ends up desensitising the viewer, and an engaging plot and substance to go with the message. Not an easy movie to watch but well worth it and an excellent alternative to Angelina Jolie’s publicity snowball Land of Blood and Honey.

Rating: 8/10

Full review

Up There (UK)

What’s it about?

Zam Salim’s film follows Martin (Gorman) who walks the earth in the afterlife after being knocked down and killed. He works as a carer, welcoming the newly deceased, and after being paired with the talkative Rash (Hamdouchi) he loses one of his charges. The pair then face a race against time to get the runner back before a big meeting that could decide Martin’s future.

Worth hunting down?

I loved this movie because it’s such a good demonstration to the world of British humour. Up There is deliciously dead-pan, sarcastic and dark, which is what the British are at their funniest. Droll humour, slapstick and the little touches – like the males using their invisibility to follow their instincts and the characters not being able to touch anything – sit comfortably side by side with a surprising amount of dramatic and poignant moments. Try to see it, if you can.

Rating: 8/10

Full review

Wuthering Heights (UK)

What’s it about?

Wuthering Heights – or Wuthering Heights Part One as it should be known – is based on a little bit of the novel by Emily Bronte. Heathcliff (Howson) is a ‘gypsy’ boy found and the streets and taken to live with the Earnshaw family in the bleak Yorkshire countryside. He falls in love with his adopted sister Cathy (Beer and Scodelario) and spends the first half pining for her before running away and then coming back years later to make trouble.

Worth hunting down?

Replacing the original gypsy character for a black man was, I suppose, an attempt to make this period piece more relevant but watching this in Prague – not the most tolerant place for the gypsy population – they actually succeeded in distancing the audience a little. At least they avoided avalanches of popcorn being aimed at the screen. One more thing that really put me off were the accents. I’m from Yorkshire – where this is set and the Bronte sisters lived – and it offended my ears. Without the visuals this could have been from a council estate anywhere in Leeds or the Jeremy Kyle show for that matter. Just my snobby opinion, that’s all. Not terrible but there are better Bronte adaptations to watch.

Rating: 5/10

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Taiwan)

What’s it about?

When the Chinese conceded Taiwan to Japan at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Japanese set about conquering the island and subjugating the tribal people. They did this with relative ease but many of the tribes were never fully dominated and in 1930 they rose up in one final, bloody rebellion.  Warriors of the Rainbow is a blow-by-blow account of the Seediq Bale clan’s heroic fight against the vastly superior numbers and technology of the Japanese occupiers and the consequent fightback.

Worth hunting down?

Warriors of the Rainbow is a fast-paced, fun war film that excellently combines the aspects of modern warfare with the traditional kind. The battle scenes are expertly done and this certainly wouldn’t look out of place in Hollywood. Te-Sheng Wei does manage to keep the Hollywood-style romanticisation of the tribes to a minimum though as we are shown the flaws and positive sides of both cultures. The problem is that it’s just too long and the final battle scene, which should be the stunning climax of the story, begins to drag as every single character seems to die in the most heroic and lengthy way possible.

Rating: 7/10

Full review

If the Seed Doesn’t Die (Serbia, Austria, Romania)

What’s it about?

If the Seed Doesn’t Die is a Balkan road movie featuring two very different journeys by fathers searching for their kids. The story of a Romanian father’s daughter who is sold into prostitution in Kosovo is told in parallel to the (comparatively) lighter tale of a Serbian father trying the find the body of a son killed in a car crash in Romania. The narrative is punctuated atmospherically throughout by a 200-year-old legend of a boat slowly being moved across great distances to a village in Romania which reminded me a lot of the style of Herzog’s early films, particularly Nosferatu.

Worth Hunting Down?

Sinisa Dragin’s dramedy is at its best when it’s being ridiculous with very amusing scenes coming thick and fast early on. The Serbia-to-Romania strand offers some very memorable characters and crazy, funny scenes whereas the father trying to find his daughter is more about the dark side to the region.  If the Seed Doesn’t Die is a little too inconsistent as we are treated to a comedy drama for most of the film only for it to get very heavy towards the end and unfortunately these are two aspects which sit uncomfortably next to each other.

Rating: 7/10

The Prague Half Marathon – Destroying Pavel Nedved

Left hand side in the blue and black - that's me

Ever since waddling through my chubby teenage years, running has been my thing. With poor portion control and a love of everything savoury, it’s also going to be only way of avoiding heart-disease and obesity until my knees inevitably give way in my late-Twenties. Over the last nine years I’ve competed in half marathons in Newcastle, Glasgow, Prague (in 2008) and Leeds and slowly trundled through a full one in Pisa and now I proudly have a trophy cabinet (box under the bed) full of medals. Yes, these medals are all for merely taking part but that’s the best sporting achievement I’m ever likely to obtain.

The Prague Half Marathon on Saturday was my first decent-sized run of a busy running season and it crept up on me and arrived a few weeks too soon. A life-shortening weekend in Wroclaw coupled with a disproportionate cheese-to-everything-else diet and a couple of weeks of icy conditions not suited to running, left me in a perilous position only a month or so before the run. I did my best to get myself in shape but I felt like I left it too late so I had to dig into my arsenal for my two main weapons. First, was pride, I had to beat a friend who had recently excelled in his first half marathon and the second was my classic Yorkshire cheapness – I was not going to spend €50 on a race and not get a PB.

On the greyest day outside of a Soviet-era soap opera, 11,000 people took to the streets of Prague to do one of the most attractive urban runs in Europe. The first five kilometres alongside the river was a giant mess of people and so I had to use my third and final attribute – my pigmy size – to pick my way through. Afterwards, the congestion eased and everybody spread out and I could run at my own pace as I tried to put my foot down to alleviate constant feeling of self-doubt (an annoying lack of clocks) and a bladder that felt like it was going to explode from the start. I traditionally try to sprint the last two kilometres and this time it nearly killed me, especially as the organisers tantilisingly count down every one hundred metres with a kilometre to go.

In the end, I finished with a really pleasing PB of 1 hour 30 minutes, 30 minutes behind the clichéd group of front-running Kenyans but a whole 17 minutes quicker than Czech football legend Pavel Nedved. Always said he was over-rated.

Little amusing things always happen in a run that help you get through with an occasional smile punctuating the almost ever-present grimace/sex face. Like at one point, the course loops round so you double back on yourself and run past people a fair way behind you. Here, I met the 11,000th-place runner loping along very slowly being followed a few feet behind by an ambulance crawling along presumably waiting to scoop her expired body up off the pavement. It was like watching a zebra caught in the eyeline of a waiting lion.

Other delights include a woman I passed twice, who I can only guess spent the entire race singing the Rocky theme tune (not Survivor, but you know, the other one) over and over again…on her own to no-one in-particular.  There was world’s laziest spectator who was not only sitting down but using wooden clappers to take the effort out of slapping two hands together. Oh and there was my Mum who failed to respond to the shout of “MUM!” both times I passed her. That embarrassing moment when you know everyone has seen you fail and you just have to pretend you weren’t waving but scratching your head and sprint away from the scene of the crime.

In two weeks it’s the Pardubice Wine Half Marathon – not entirely sure what that consists of but I’m looking forward to a mid-point tipple of wine and cheeseboard. Then in June it’s the Gorlitz Marathon which I am not looking forward to at all.