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Czech News in English » Columnists » Half-n-half » Skiing, sledding, svařák and sleigh bells

Skiing, sledding, svařák and sleigh bells

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Although I had hoped for good, snowy weather for our post New Year’s trip with my parents to the Krkonoše mountains, we left Prague in rain and +5 C temperature. As we headed north for our first stop at my Czech in-laws home, we passed several carloads of equally optimistic winter enthusiasts with skis and sleds strapped to roof racks. Colder weather was predicted for the upcoming weekend.

My mother loved that we had a traditional wooden runner-sled, similar to the type she fondly remembered from her childhood, and she was excited to take the kids sledding as soon as we found snow. Our chances of finding fresh snow seemed more plausible with each roped-down car of winter gear that we passed. Having grown up in the Jizerské Mountains, Radek learned to ski and ice skate at an early age, and he had similar aspirations for our children.

After spending one night in Radek’s hometown, drinking toasts of meruňkovice, a traditional apricot-flavored liqueur, with my extended Czech family, we awoke to the delightful surprise of a winter wonderland. Five centimeters of new snow had fallen during the night. The kids hurriedly dressed in their winter gear and ran out into the pristine landscape to throw snowballs.

We packed up and drove east from the Jizerské Mountains to the taller Krkonoše mountain range, passing a steady stream of cars, many with German and Polish license plates, heading home. I was grateful that we’d waited till the day after New Year’s to book our vacation.

Typically, Radek and I plan only day trips to the mountains, but as a treat this time we planned to stay at the popular Špindlerův Mlýn, a year-round tourist destination and site of international winter sports competitions. Špindlerův Mlýn was initially a mining settlement in the 16th century. Over time it grew in popularity as a tourist destination due to its natural beauty and accessibility to outdoor activities year-round.

Compared to other Czech ski resorts, hotels, restaurants, lift tickets and ski lessons at Špindlerův Mlýn are priced a bit higher; however, the selection is broad and for a holiday weekend it is worth the splurge. Radek had booked rooms in a moderately-priced newly renovated hotel in the heart of the historic downtown. It had easy walking access to shops and restaurants, as well as the ski slopes.

As soon as we’d unloaded our gear, mom and I took the kids out to the nearest hill for sledding. However, even with snow steadily falling, there wasn’t enough of a base to slide very fast. So the children, more interested in playing in the snow than on it, soon gave up sledding for making snowballs. Later we explored the village, taking a break for a svařák (mulled wine) and a hot chocolate and watched downhill skiers coasting home. Walking in the other direction down to the fast-flowing Elbe river, we saw horse-drawn carriages waiting to take tourists along the river and into the woods, which made me think of a song we had sung as children in school. As the horses trotted down the path, their sleigh bells jangled crisp and clear on the winter air. My parents loved how picturesque and serene the setting was, and inwardly I was so thankful at our good fortune to have arrived during a snowfall. By nightfall the snow was so thick, that the white flakes maintained their shape even after falling on our coat and mittens.

Near the entrance to the pizzeria we had decided to go to for dinner, there was a full-sized wooden carving of the figure of Krakonoš, an old man with a flowing beard, wintery cloak and a wooden staff. With her preschool wisdom of Czech folklore, Anna told us that Krakonoš is a good god who guards the Krkonoše Mountains. Needless to say, my mom was impressed and made Anna pose for a picture with this renowned regional symbol.

Krakonoš was in high form that first weekend of 2010. The mountains were charmed and peaceful, and I was thankful for the chance to share this bit of magic with my children, husband and my parents.

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