Living in a flat in the Czech Republic

The block of flats in which we live © Ricky Yates

The block of flats in which we live © Ricky Yates

Nearly eight years ago, Sybille and I moved from the North Oxfordshire countryside to Prague, and from a four-bedroomed detached Rectory with several downstairs rooms, to a three-bedroomed flat with a sitting room and a minute kitchen. Not only did this mean us undertaking a massive and therapeutic downsizing exercise, it also means we now have close neighbours – several of them!

Our flat is on the second floor at the end of the block. It is identifiable by the orange coloured bedspread which was drying on a clothes rack on our main balcony, when this photograph was taken. Because we are on the end of the block, we only physically abut one other flat, (to the right of our main balcony in the photo), with one shared wall and a frosted glass panel that divides our respective balconies.

When we first moved into our new home, this small neighbouring flat was owned and occupied by a Czech young lady called Lucie. We soon discovered that Lucie was a singer as we frequently heard her practising her scales 🙁 The other notable thing about Lucie was that in warm, sunny, summer weather, she enjoyed being out on her balcony wearing a pink bikini 🙂

About two years ago, Lucie sold the flat to a young couple, Zuzana and Filip. They made some alterations to the flat – we heard the banging and hammering 🙁 But what we didn’t initially realise was that a year ago, Zuzana and Filip moved out and started renting out their flat through Airbnb. We only discovered this in early September 2015, when Sybille overheard three young men speaking in German on the neighbouring balcony. She asked, in German, through the glass, who they were and what they were doing there. They were from Konstanz and Airbnb guests.

You can learn all about this ‘fully equipped studio’ here. The webpage contains some delightful Czenglish including offering ‘one double bad’. This is obviously either a sizeable German bath or a large amount of trouble! There are a series of seven photographs and the second one is of the balcony, looking towards our main balcony. Sybille’s green watering can is clearly visible through the glass 🙂

So far, our various Airbnb neighbours haven’t caused us too many problems. A few months back, three Australian young ladies were making quite a racket at 22.30 on Saturday night. I buzzed the door bell and pointedly remarked that, ‘Some of us have to work tomorrow!’ More recently, a group of young Spanish males got quite a surprise when being told to be quieter by Sybille, in her fluent Spanish!

Long-standing readers of my blog will know that we discovered who lived in the flat immediately above us, when in December 2010, we experienced Christmas Carp induced flooding. Follow the link if you do not know the story. Ever since that event, we have always referred to the owner of the flat directly above us, as ‘Mr Water Engineer’ 😉

Two or three years ago, a lady appeared on the scene and moved in. Initially we referred to her as ‘Mr Water Engineer’s girlfriend’. We would often see her out running, obviously keen to be fit and keep slim. But then in her quest for fitness, she bought herself an exercise bike. And unlike most other purchasers of exercise bikes, she actually uses it – regularly!

In both the sitting room, where Sybille has her desk, and in the bedroom which I use as my office, we regularly hear ‘de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da’, as she peddles away. So the lady is now known as ‘Mrs Hamster Wheel’, because that is what it exactly sounds like 🙁 As her bike riding sessions usually last for between one-and-a-half and two hours, we regularly use their commencement as an excuse to head to one of our nearby bar-restaurants 🙂

For legal and other reasons, I shall refrain from any comments regarding the couple and their daughter, who live in the flat immediately below us. But recently, there have been some interesting changes in flat below that – the one situated on the ground floor.

The ground floor flat, two storeys below ours, has a garden. Because it is on the end of the block, the garden extends on three sides, though the section at the rear is very narrow. Back in 2008, when we moved in above, this ground floor flat was owned and occupied by a couple and their child. A couple of years later, a second child was born.

They also had a lively Jack Russell terrier who enjoyed running around the garden and barking at anyone who passed by. The dogs name was Gazpacho – quite why he should be named after a cold Spanish soup, we never discovered. He was colloquially known as ‘Gazpi’ and we always referred to his owners as ‘Mr & Mrs Gazpi’.

Late last year, Mr & Mrs Gazpi moved out and put the flat up for sale. As we discovered, by checking the sale particulars online, the flat is only about two-thirds the size of ours, because it loses space to the entrance lobby of the block.

Earlier this year, the new owner moved in. She is a lady who I think is in her late forties, though I do recognise that judging a lady’s age is entering into seriously dangerous territory 😉 As she has two different surnames on her mail box, I presume that she is a recent divorcee who is reverting to her maiden surname, but realises that mail may still come addressed to her in her married name. Also on the mail box, is the name of her teenage son who has the male form of one of her surnames.

This lady clearly saw the potential of this flat and particularly, the garden. Although, as you can see in the photograph, the hedge around the garden is already quite mature, she has placed basket-woven fencing inside the hedge for greater privacy. She has also blocked up the bottom of the garden gate, to ensure that the third member of her family, a large, grey floppy-eared rabbit, doesn’t escape!

About two months ago, a workman arrived and started digging a large hole in the garden, directly below our balcony. It being a fairly hot day, in typical Czech fashion, he stripped down to his boxer shorts to do so! He returned over the following days to line the large hole with a cement render and then lay a thick black plastic membrane, in order to create a pond.

Timber was delivered and, after the new owner had brushed timber preservative over it several times, another couple of workmen arrived to convert the timber into decking, all around the newly created pond. Here is the end result, as viewed from our balcony, two floors above.

Michaela's new pond, as seen from our balcony © Ricky Yates

The new pond, as seen from our balcony © Ricky Yates

I have to say that the end result is very attractive. However now, on some occasions when it is warm and sunny, our new neighbour stands in her pond, or sunbathes on the decking, wearing a lacy g-string and nothing else! Whilst she has created some privacy at a ground-floor level, I am left to wonder whether she ever thought about those of us who live directly above. We do like to look out from our balcony from time to time, and frequently as we do, we are greeted with yet another ‘only in the Czech Republic‘ moment 🙂

Dealing with British bureaucracy

My current British passport © Ricky Yates

Long-standing readers of my blog will know that I have previously written numerous times about my various run-ins with Czech bureaucracy. For example, trying to exchange my UK driving licence for a Czech one, which I described as ‘a Kafkaesque experience‘. Therefore I think it is only fair that I should also write about some illogicalities of British bureaucracy that I’m currently dealing with.

As I explained in an earlier post, my UK passport expires in December 2016. Whilst because of Brexit, I am giving serious consideration of changing my nationality should I lose the right to freely reside in any EU member state, that will not happen before December. Therefore, I have had to sort out how and when I can obtain a new UK passport.

As I explained in . . . → Read More: Dealing with British bureaucracy

Living in Limbo-land

My British passport which still currently declares me to be an EU citizen © Ricky Yates

Just over two weeks ago, the UK voted by a small majority, in a non-binding referendum, to leave the European Union (EU). This result has left me, and around two million other UK citizens residing in other EU member states, living in Limbo-land, totally unsure about our future.

I have lived and worked in the Czech Republic since September 2008, on the basis of being a citizen of another EU member state. The free movement of people and labour is one of the founding principles of the EU. And as I wrote in a post earlier this year, it is my intention to retire in 2017 and live somewhere else within the EU, most likely in Spain. Now, because of the referendum, my future plans maybe completely . . . → Read More: Living in Limbo-land

Last Sunday evening in Dresden

The River Elbe in Dresden with the Frauenkirche beyond © Ricky Yates

Last Sunday evening, one week later than usual, I officiated at the English-language Anglican Service of Evening Prayer, hosted by the Frauenkirche in Dresden. At the beginning of the service, I welcomed all those attending, explained who I am, and then made three announcements.

The first was to apologise that, once more, my troublesome front crown, having managed to stay in place for the three previous months, had again become loose and then fallen out on Sunday morning. Besides making me look goofy, this also meant that speaking publicly was difficult as numerous speech sounds are made by putting your tongue to your front teeth and it is therefore somewhat difficult to be articulate, if there is a big gap 🙁

Secondly, I thanked everyone for attending, being very aware . . . → Read More: Last Sunday evening in Dresden

My April 2016 visit to the UK – ICS Chaplains Conference

Alyson Lamb and Paul Vrolijk being interviewed by Richard Bromley, ICS Mission Director © Ricky Yates

As I explained in my earlier post, I spent the second half of my time in the UK, attending the annual ICS Chaplains Conference which this year took place at Ashburnham Place Conference Centre, near Battle in East Sussex. Whilst being conveniently located for reaching Dover and my return journey to Prague, I wasn’t otherwise very enamoured with the venue.

However, as always, I enjoyed meeting and hearing from my fellow Chaplains ministering in a variety of situations across Europe, and a couple from farther afield. And for the first time, I was invited to speak myself, giving what was billed as a ‘TED talk’, about my ministry in Prague, Brno and Dresden. It was very nice to have positive feedback from several of my . . . → Read More: My April 2016 visit to the UK – ICS Chaplains Conference