With a month left in the Czech Republic, I finally got a student of mine to show me some proper Czech parts of their countryside at the weekend. After speaking in our last lesson about my desire to see some more of the Czech Republic before I go back to the UK, he invited my girlfriend and I to the Orlik Reservoir, an hour south of Prague on the River Vltava, a place he seems to have a love for which borders on the sexual.
Calling Zdenek a ‘student’ sound ridiculous to me as it conjures up the idea of him being below me in the ladder of life but he is in fact a successful civil engineer with a seemingly perfect Czech life and English which is arguably better than mine. Actually, hanging around with a student outside of class is a bit weird when it comes to error correction and ‘teacher talking time’. When you hear something that is blatantly wrong or something that sounds stupid, but you get what they mean, do you correct them in real life? I let a few mistakes fly but then I just couldn’t control myself when he repeatedly said he was ‘building a tent’. Luckily, he also had a fluent friend with him who had spent years in South Africa and every time Zdenek made an error – like calling the shore of the lake a peninsular – this guy would mumble ‘fucking hell’ to himself before laughing and walking away. Not how I’d learned to do it on my TEFL course but his way worked by shaming Zdenek into correction.
Zdenek was right as the Orlik Reservoir is a beautiful area of pristine water, thick forests and a quiet, calm atmosphere. Without a ring of surrounding mountains, it is a little more subtle in its beauty than, say, Lake Garda or Lake Bled, but there’s still plenty of tranquil natural splendour to soak up and activities to do.
We stayed at the Podskalni campsite where Zdenek was like a celebrity. He knew everyone there and even had familiar banter with the lady who sold us ice cream. As soon as we got there we grabbed a beer and jumped in the lake for a refreshing early evening dip whilst Maeve put the tent up (she is the man in the relationship). The second drinking stop was with two classic old guys, one of whom introduced himself as “Miroslav – there is no English equivalent”, and two minutes later they were generously sharing their Scotch whisky with us. Then we were joined by a group of Zdenek’s friends and accordingly the night took a turn for worse as one of the group began to ply us with Czech rum – not one of the Czech’s best achievements – with a simple form of peer pressure that my sheep-like character has let me get into many messy situations over the years.
Pretty worse for wear, we ended up at The White House, a kind of a social club in the middle of the woods which we’d been warned was awful. And awful it certainly was as, on a Saturday night, there were only three people there – one faceplanted on his table, and one receiving and one giving a blowjob in the corner.
The next day was a struggle but probably the most pleasant debilitating hangover I’ve had for a while. We spent the whole day swimming in the lake, sitting on the gravel beaches getting sunburnt, and stealing Zdenek’s dog so we could take it for walks (the most placid dog in the world which nevertheless decided to take a dump right next to a sunbathing couple). All-in-all, it was a really nice day.
The week before that we had a very enjoyable trip to Czech Raj – or ‘Czech Paradise’ – half way between Prague and the Polish border. It’s one of those places that I’d heard of but never really looked into. So, like a participant on a blind date with low expectations, I followed the group organiser (‘group’ being a grand term for four people and ‘organiser’ meaning the person who printed out the train timetable) first to the town of Jičin and then an uninspiring two kilometre walk – except for photo opportunities to rival the classic Windows desktop picture – to the start of a part of the area called Skalní Město.
This is probably why I was massively impressed when we suddenly came upon hundreds of sets of sandstone towers jutting up all over the place. Good old interactive fun as you can clamber up and down these stone structures, explore dank caves and ignore the safety barriers to your heart’s content. Also, very good for pinecone wars, ridiculous photos and getting lost.
Post-walk, we stopped in Jičin – apparently one of the Czech Republic’s most desirable places to live – for a couple of cheap beers. The same things always seem to happen when we take a trip outside of Prague and step away from the tourist crowds. The pubs and squares always empty at about 5pm never to fill up again, the trains we need to get home finish very early and we ask ourselves the same question – “I wonder if they need any English teachers here”. I love living in Prague but the crowds can get to you sometimes, especially when you need to be somewhere and a row of people stretch out across the pavement in a fighter squad formation. But these places are always to the other extreme and I could find them quickly getting pretty boring – a bit like teaching in Saudi Arabia except with more alcohol to numb the pain. Also, I’ve found myself getting used to the crowds and enjoying the constant hubbub of life on the streets.