My husband’s family owns a cottage (chata) on the banks of the Sázava between the towns of Pikovice and Davle, the later known for its bridge, which appeared in the 1969 film The Bridge at Remagen, and popular butcher shop.
The cottage was built by my husband’s grandfather Láďa in 1953, cobbled together from salvaged timber and other building scraps.
Gutted by the floods of 2002, it was recently renovated and now has indoor plumbing and a bedroom loft from which the night trains going to and from the Chlomek station can be seen and heard.
This summer we will miss, due to travel outside of the country, the entire cottage season, something I’m a little put out about as I’ve grown nostalgic for my husband’s nostalgia and truly enjoy waking up among the gentle activity of the chalupáři.
But that doesn’t mean you have to. For anyone renting or visiting a Czech chata this summer here are the rules, as I see them, for making the most of the summer cottage experience:
1. When you go to the cottage it is imperative that the minute you arrive you inhale deeply and remark on “how much fresher the air here is than in Prague.”
2. Whatever you do, do not get caught relaxing! While it may seem like the whole point of going to the cottage is to unwind, start weeding or tongues will wag.
3. Uncertain of how to occupy your time? Begin by moving one pile of lawn detritus from one side of the garden to the other. Reload and repeat. All day long.
4. Bring earplugs. Before the morning mists begin rolling off the Sázava our neighbor Viktor is out cutting his grass with military precision and a racket that competes only with the maddeningly persistent beep of our other neighbor Karel’s fishing pole alarm. (Why isn’t he fishing? He’s too busy moving sticks from one side of his garden to the other).
5. Intermittent, but not too frequent, engagement over the hedgerows and fences is key to neighborly relations. Make sure to belt out Dobrý den! and Na shledanou! (as you would when entering a or exiting a shop in Prague), all the way up and down the country lane.
6. Pants are optional – Crocs, důchodky, and other pseudo-footwear are not. The first time I met our 70-something neighbor Vera she was wearing sheer panties and flip-flops. Once shocked by the tribe of naked kids streaking by our garden, I’m now resigned to the fact that our little nudists currently lead that pack.
7. Watch out for ticks, swans, nutria, garden snakes, and pesky patches of nettles (kopřiva) which will inevitably attack your bare legs as you stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night.
8. Cottage cuisine is a mix of fire-roasted sausages (buřty, špekáčky), Májka pate spread, cherry cake (bublanina) made in the Remoska plus a flood of cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, and preserves shared among the cottage community.
9. Don’t feel guilty about drinking beer as a thirst quencher (the water is probably tainted anyway).
10. Prepare yourself to turn in early, between 8 and 9 pm: while the heat is unbearable on the top floor of the cottage the windows can only be opened when the lights, even the dimmest of reading lamps, are off (because, mosquitoes).
11. Anyone with an aversion to lace curtains, wood panelling, antler-themed decor, and a certain summer-camp spirit, complete with the occaional campfire sing-a-long, should probably stick to the city.