Why did I decide to retire and move to live in North Bohemia?

My home in Stará Oleška as it looks today © Ricky Yates

This is a question, sometimes with slight variations, that I’ve been asked time and again this past year. So as this is my four hundredth blog post 🙂 🙂 🙂 , I thought I would put into written form, the answers I’ve been giving to all those who have enquired. I’ve broken the question down into two parts, with four reasons under each heading. If you have further questions, please leave them in a comment and I promise to respond.

Why did I decide to retire?

1. Because I could

On 26th February 2017, I celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday. Although, because of increasing longevity and consequent increased costs, both the Church of England and the British government are raising the age of retirement for younger people, these changes have had very little effect on me. I remained entitled to retire at age sixty-five and claim both my Church and state pensions.

When I left the UK and moved to Prague in September 2008, I knew that in the previous financial year, I had completed paying sufficient National Insurance contributions, to be entitled to receive the minimum state pension at age sixty-five. Continuing working past my sixty-fifth birthday in the Czech Republic, was not going to increase my UK state pension 🙂 I did work on for two more months, retiring on 30th April 2017, but all that did was to slightly increase my Church of England pension.

2. It is what I always envisaged

When I was offered and accepted the position as Anglican Chaplain in Prague, I always envisaged being in post for the following eight and a half years and then retiring. My predecessor as Chaplain, John Philpott, had done exactly the same, except that when appointed, he was one year older than me and therefore served for seven and a half years before retiring at age sixty-five. As I pointed out to the Prague congregation at my final Annual Church Meeting on 9th April, compared to many other European Anglican Chaplaincies, Prague had enjoyed a long period of stability with only two chaplains in nearly seventeen years.

3. Repeating myself

Over my final two or three years at St Clement’s, Prague, I increasingly felt I was saying the same things over and over again in my preaching. Because of the relatively high turnover of congregational membership, with people only being in Prague for relatively short periods of time, this might not seem to be a problem. But I felt sorry for the long-standing members of the congregation who might well have heard me say something at least once too often 😉

4. My health

In August 2015, I had a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in my lung, which nearly killed me. As a consequence, I have to permanently take the blood-thinning drug Warfarin, (aka ‘rat poison’), and wear a compression stocking on the lower half of my left leg.

The cause of my pulmonary embolism was a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that formed in my left calf, then escaped from there and travelled to my lung. Despite wearing a compression stocking, I continue to have problems with my left calf and foot. Sometimes they become swollen with areas of bleeding through the skin, which in turn is difficult to stop, because of taking Warfarin 🙁 Currently the calf and skin are as good as can be expected but I had a serious flare up this summer, not helped by being stuck in cattle class for two hours on a Wizz Air flight to the UK.

Why did I retire to North Bohemia and not back in the UK?

1. Affordability

In simple terms, I can afford to retire here in North Bohemia and live fairly comfortably, but in no way could I do so in the UK.

For the nearly twenty-eight years I was in full-time ordained ministry, I was always housed as part of my job. But I do not own a house in the UK and with the absurd price of property, there is no way I could now afford to buy one. The Church of England does have various schemes to help retired clergy with housing. But they would all eat into my pension giving me much less income to live on.

In contrast, using just over half the lump sum from my Church pension, I have been able to purchase outright, my new home in Stará Oleška, and still have funds left over to make improvements to it – five new uPVC double-glazed window units were fitted last week 🙂 Major work to completely refit the kitchen, is due to commence on 8th January 2018.

2. Frauenkirche, Dresden

Although I have retired from full-time ministry, as I have previously explained, I have been granted Permission to Officiate (PTO) by my bishop, in order that I may continue as the Coordinator of Anglican worship in Dresden. This currently means officiating at the monthly English-language Anglican service of Evening Prayer, hosted by the Frauenkirche, but will hopefully lead to a second monthly service, starting in the new year.

Stará Oleška is only a twelve kilometre drive from the main railway station in Decín from where it is just forty-five minutes by train to Dresden. Therefore by living here, I can now return home following the evening service, rather than staying overnight and returning on Monday as I was doing whilst living Prague. To answer the question as to why I didn’t then choose to set up home in Germany, the answer is simple – cost! Housing, and so many other things, are considerably cheaper on this side of the border, as explained in this recent post.

3. ‘Location, location, location’

‘The three most important things to consider when buying a property are location, location, and location’. A quick check on the internet reveals that no one can be sure who first said this but it is a mantra that is often repeated. As well as proximity to Dresden, I love the surrounding environment of the CHKO Labské Pískovce, the landscape protected area in which Stará Oleška is situated. As I have already explained and illustrated in this post and this post, it offers wonderful opportunities for walks out in ‘the nature’ as English-speaking Czech people often say.

4. Xenophobia in the UK

Besides cost, the other main reason for not retiring back in the UK is the rise of xenophobia, at times bordering on racism, which is now being freely voiced in parts of British society as a result of David Cameron’s ill-thought out EU referendum. Each time I visit the UK, the more I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I visit in order to spend time with my two adult children, their spouses and my two grandchildren. But even if I could afford to do so, I’m not at all sure that at the present time, I would want to make the UK my home once again.

Not that the Czech Republic doesn’t also have a vocal right-wing, recently winning electoral support by voicing anti-refugee, anti-Islam, anti-Roma propaganda. It is a politics of fear, bearing mind that very few refugees have come here, there are extremely few Muslims, and the country has had no experience at all of so-called Islamic terrorism.

However, as an ‘immigrant’ myself, I have been made very welcome in the community where I have now chosen to live in my retirement, smiling and waving helping to overcome the language barrier.

18 comments to Why did I decide to retire and move to live in North Bohemia?

  • Pauleen Bang

    Thank you for this Ricky. I, too, am shocked by the xenophobia in the UK – I have even been told to “go back where you came from” when speaking Danish to a friend during a stay in London.
    I think you made the right decision (as I did, to stay in Denmark after retirement) but I am still worried about the effects of Brexit.
    Keep your blog posts coming, they are wonderful.
    All the best
    Pauleen

    • Ricky

      Hello Pauleen – Sadly, xenophobia is alive & well in the UK and I’m very sorry to hear of your direct experience of it.

      I certainly believe that I’ve made the right decision to retire and stay living in the Czech Republic, as I outline in this post. But I share your concerns about Brexit, not least because of what it has done already to the value of Sterling in which nearly all my pension is paid. And if Brexit actually happens, heaven knows what will happen to the CZK-GBP exchange rate 🙁

      I’m pleased to know you’re enjoying the blog & thank you for once again taking the trouble to leave a comment.

  • Had to click over to this post, even though I was pretty sure I knew the reasons 😉 How has it been with communicating with your neighbors and fellow villagers in Stará Oleška so far? I’m sure it must be interesting for them to have a foreigner living next to them.
    I did not expect such a nice standard of living over here in the C.R. nor anticipate I would stay so long because a “nicer life” can sometimes be made here vs. the US or UK where the costs are so high these days…

    • Ricky

      Hi Cynthia – Thanks for once more visiting and commenting. We are slowly getting there communicating with my neighbours and fellow villagers though I’m frustrated by not having yet found a one-to-one Czech teacher, despite advertising in a couple of places. There are a small number of younger people with some English, slowly coming out of the woodwork. Often they understand because of being taught English in school. But most are very reluctant to try to speak in English because they haven’t travelled very far & had cause to use their English.

      I think it is interesting for most villagers to have a foreigner who has chosen to live in their village. They are used to German/Dutch/Belgian/Danish visitors coming in the summer with their caravans and tents, but not a native English-speaker who is permanently resident. I think I’m seen as the friendly foreigner and in the past couple of weeks, I’m increasingly being greeted with ‘Ahoj’ rather than ‘Dobrý den’ 🙂

      As long as you have a reasonable income, you can enjoy a very nice standard of living here. Of all the former Warsaw Pact countries, the CR has the highest GDP and the economy has done very well in recent years. Certainly I think you can have a more pleasant life & lifestyle than in either the UK or the USA.

      • Hooray for more ‘ahoj’s lately! I hope you have some luck with your search for a Czech teacher! It is harder than I thought finding someone who teaches Czech language to foreigners.

        • Ricky

          Hooray indeed! I have always believed that as a foreigner, you should wait until the Czech person moves to the informal. So this has been very encouraging. I think two recent things have helped. I ordered my new uPVC double-glazed windows through a man in the village who, with a colleague, came & fitted them. I’ve also just started helping a 12 yr old young lady with her English for a couple of hours each week & declined any payment, rather wanting to earn some goodwill. Bearing in mind how everybody is related to each other, word gets around 🙂

          Yes – finding someone to teach Czech in Prague is easy – but not when you live in smaller towns & villages, well-away from the capital.

  • Heather Garnett

    So glad to know you are happy with your retirement plans and are making contacts with other residents in the community. We can fully understand the reasons for your decisions, particularly cost of housing and cost of living in CZ. Your home looks most attractive. I enjoy reading your blogs and following your scenic walks. Please can you email me your Postal address for my records. Warmest good wishes. Heather and Fred.

    • Ricky

      Hello Heather,
      Thank you for visiting & commenting here once again. Glad to know you enjoy my posts and follow my scenic walks.

      The house does look very attractive on the outside, especially since I’ve brought some order to the surrounding garden. There is still much to do on the inside but the kitchen refit, due to start on 8th January 2018, will make a considerable difference.

      My postal address has been emailed, as requested.

  • Martin Borýsek

    Dear Ricky,

    thank you for the lovely post and may you have a happy retirement in what is surely one of the most romantic corners of the Bohemian countryside.

    I just wanted to add a little bit of hopeful angle to your remark about rising xenophobia here in the UK.

    I certainly agree that especially immediately before and after the Brexit referendum quite a lot of noise was made and the front pages of Daily Mail, Daily Express and the like were even less pleasant to look upon than they usually are (thankfully, I rarely see much more of these papers).

    But speaking from personal experience, during my eight years in Cambridge and York I have never had the slightest feeling that I would be unwelcome here, before the vote or after. All the people with whom I ever came into contact were always very polite and friendly and never treated me the worse for having a distinctly “eastern” accent – which brings me to a tongue-in-cheek remark that the greatest “wrong” I suffered here was the persistent refusal of the Brits to understand the difference between Central and Eastern Europe 🙂

    But then again, I understand that Cambridge is not England (and that England is not the UK) and that the academic bubble in which I spend most of the time tends to see things differently – sometimes in quite funny ways, but regarding the presence of foreigners, tolerance and openness are the norm.

    Nevertheless, the UK continues to be a nice, if idiosyncratic (sometimes delightfully so) place to live for me and my family. And yes, quite an expensive one, but that is the wicked way of the world.

    With best wishes to you and your wife,

    Martin

    • Ricky

      Dear Martin,

      Thank you for your best wishes and for your long and thoughtful comment.

      I am extremely pleased to hear that you have not yourself, experienced xenophobia in the UK. But the answer almost certainly lies in your own comments, particularly regarding living in what you call the ‘academic bubble’. Most UK academics realise the value of overseas students & teaching staff. If Brexit does happen, universities will sadly bear a heavy cost, both academically & financially.

      I sympathise with you over the Central & Eastern Europe question. How much further east is Vienna than Prague? And is Vienna in Eastern Europe? I’m surprised you didn’t also mention frequent suggestions that you come from a country that hasn’t existed for nearly 25 years 😉 I was recently sent best wishes for my new home in Czechoslovakia 🙁

      With my best wishes to you, your wife, & baby (whose gender I unfortunately cannot remember)

      Ricky

  • Martin Borýsek

    You are absolutely right about the “Czechoslovak issue”. I have thought quite a lot about it, especially since even young people born years after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia often use the name.

    “Why should that be so?” I asked myself and I think I have a tentative answer: From what I know, geography is not the most preferred subject in British school system (and I often noticed surprising/amusing gaps in the local residents’ geographical knowledge), but history is given much more attention, especially when it concerns Britain. And since Munich crisis is surely one of the critical events leading to the Second World War and since Czechoslovakia figures prominently in it (if sadly in a rather tragic role), I dare guess that the name Czechoslovakia has a better chance to stick in the students’ conscience that the Czech Republic does.

    My apologies for another lengthy comment and for “abducting” the debate off topic, but I thought you may be interested in my reasoning.

    PS: it is a lively curious boy called Ferdinand, which, as my doctoral supervisor remarked, is “a very Austro-Hungarian name” 🙂

    • Ricky

      Thank you Martin, for your ‘tentative answer’ as to why so many British people still say ‘Czechoslovakia’, nearly 25 years after the country ceased to exist. Personally, I’m not sure that British people have better historical knowledge than geographical knowledge – I often experience people with major gaps in both! I say that as someone whose first degree is in geography but who also studied history up to university level. However, you are quite right in saying that the fate of Czechoslovakia was a key fact in the outbreak of WW2 and an important part of twentieth century European history.

      No need to apologise for going off topic. I raised the subject in the first place. And best wishes to Ferdinand, about whose name I have to concur with your doctoral supervisor 🙂

  • Jonathan

    Hi Ricky

    As my family lives in the York area, Martin’s comments are interesting.

    The fact that he has always felt at ease there suggests the accusations of xenophobia are very much an exaggeration confined to the dreaded world of the media. In my experience, the good people of York, academics and non-academics alike, are as welcoming to people from abroad as any other British city (although I’ve never been to Clacton-upon-Sea).

    Eastern Europe is a political, not a geographical concept, drilled into people throughout half a century of the iron curtain. The Czech Republic itself suffers from the fact that the word Prague is a more marketable brand name, so much so that lots of tourists leave Prague without even really knowing what country they’ve visited.

    It’s admittedly a bit lazy to still talk about Czechoslovakia, but I wouldn’t mind too much. Habits die hard. Older people in Spain still refer to long-gone street names from Franco’s times, but people get by – the older and more modern versions co-exist in perfect harmony.

    What the Czechs need to do is all agree on one name for their country – that would be a start:)

    • Ricky

      Hi Jonathan,

      Whilst I was pleased to read Martin’s comment that he had not himself, experienced xenophobia since the June 2016 referendum, it sadly is alive & well in the UK. See the earlier comment from my friend Pauleen. Likewise, a few months after the referendum, I flew into Luton Airport late one evening & was at the car hire desk. Being aware that the young lady on duty was not a native English-speaker, I politely enquired where she was from. ‘Lithuania’, she snapped back at me & I realised I had touched a very raw nerve just by asking.

      I agree entirely with you that those who put the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe do so because of the former iron curtain that divided the capitalist west from the communist east – a political rather than a geographical concept.

      When people say or write ‘Czechoslovakia’ with reference to the country in which I’ve resided for the past nine years, I never know whether it’s the result of ignorance, just not thinking, or as you suggest, laziness. But I do agree we need one agreed name for the country & ‘Czech Republic’ is definitely my preference.

  • Robert E. Doolittle

    Hi Ricky:
    Now I know why I read your posts. They are such fun. I am still waiting for your photos of the first snow fall. It should be beautiful in your area. If I was picking an alternate country to live in other than America, I would most likely choose Ireland. We have visited Ireland several times, and my wife is the daughter of an native born Irishman, thus allowing her an easy path to Irish citizenship. I don’t know if you have easy access to video tapes, but the is a video entitled ” Ireland’s Wild Coast”. It is outstanding. I was going to suggest you start an English class for young people, but you beat me to it.

    I believe that the media has done a good job of distorting and smearing the nature and motives of President Trump’s political support base. The people of middle America who voted for Trump are very slow to anger, but their government has abandoned them, Mrs. Clinton insulted them repeatedly calling them deplorables incapable of redemption. That is a poor way to run a campaign. I personally don’t care for Mr. Trump, but there was no way I could vote for Mrs. Clinton, and I refuse to stay home on election day. Enough of politics.

    I also am required to take a blood thinner(Pradaxa), much better than Warfarin if you can use it. Again I enjoy your posts, but please get some snow!

    • Ricky

      Hi Bob,
      I’m glad you enjoy my posts and I promise I will post some photos of the snow, once we have some! We had a dusting of snow just over two weeks ago but it rapidly turned to rain. The forecasters are saying that there is a possibility of snow, later this week.

      I’m sure Ireland would be a good place to live & you wouldn’t hopefully have a language problem 🙂 But it is a good deal more expensive than here in the Czech Republic & then there is the rain 🙁

      I made no mention of Trump but I presume your comment arose out of what I said about xenophobia & Brexit & knowing that Trump favours Brexit. All I will say in response is that, as Trump’s policy is ‘America first’, the UK is hardly going to get a wonderful trade deal – certainly nothing like as good as it currently has within the EU.

      Fortunately in recent months, my INR level has been stable and within the prescribed parameters so Warfarin is currently doing its job.

  • Robert E. Doolittle

    Ricky: You are well aware that the word rain is never used in Ireland. If one comments, while in Ireland, that it is raining, the Irish will comment “aie today is a fine soft day”. I was wondering, now that the tourist season is over, does the Restaurace where you were dining on such wonderful meals still serving them?

    • Ricky

      Restaurace U Soni is still serving wonderful meals & excellent beer! Opening hours have been reduced for Monday-Thursday to 16.00-22.00 but open longer on Fridays & weekends.

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