The winner of the Vizovice Contest in Eating Fruit Dumplings, photo: CTK

Can a towing vehicle weighing ten tons be placed on just ten glasses of beer? How many fruit dumplings can one eat without being sick - and why is it a good idea to obtain a nail from a house that was burnt down in a fire? To find out - tune in to this week's Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

One of the most bizarre auctions in the country's history took place in the town of Zahradky near Ceska Lipa over the past weekend. People bid for soot-covered and rusty old nails - with the price of one nail climbing to one thousand three hundred crowns. Of course, you could get thousands of nails for that price -but in this case people were bidding in a charity auction, contributing funds towards the restoration of the town's baroque castle which was seriously damaged by fire some time ago. The town's mayor Mrs. Milena Brozova -came up with the idea that the nails which survived the blaze should be collected and sold at an auction. In this and other ways the town hall has already collected over 250 thousand crowns in donations. "I'm delighted to be able to help in this way", said one of the local women, carrying off her burnt trophy, not only is it good to be able to make a contribution but there's a saying that if you own a nail from a house that burnt down, your own dwelling will stay safe from fire."

Probably the most common Czech name is Novak - the Czech version of Newman. But in some towns and villages an altogether different family name holds the fore. The town of Sobotka near Jicin, annually holds get-togethers of all the Sobotkas far and wide. Anyone of that name is welcome to register with the Sobotka Club. The town sent out over 400 invitations to Sobotkas in the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and even Rio de Janeiro where a few years ago a certain Mr. Freddy Sobotka of Czech descent hosted the former president Vaclav Havel. The current finance minister is also called Sobotka, but he failed to show up, citing work commitments. Two hundred Sobotkas came though and expanded the already considerable Sobotka family - taking pride in the exhibition of glassmaker Karel Sobotka and photographer Jakub Sobotka whose work was on display for the occasion. The Sobotka's from Poland expressed the wish to set up a twinning partnership programme to spread the Sobotka fame far and wide. The only unhappy person there must be the local postman who daily lugs around a heavy postbag of mail most of which is addressed to Mrs or Mrs Sobotka in Sobotka.

The winner of the Vizovice Contest in Eating Fruit Dumplings,  photo: CTK
A quick look at this week's record-breakers: a thirty one year old Czech won this year's Vizovice Contest in Eating Fruit Dumplings. Kamil Hamersky consumed an awesome 191 plum dumplings within the space of an hour -winning 20,000 crowns in the process. Hamersky is unemployed so he killed two birds with one stone: had a really substantial meal for free and made more in an hour than the average Czech makes in one month. Altogether the ten finalists consumed 1,369 dumplings - feast for over 100 people under normal circumstances.

The 36th Vizovice festival of records and contests had another attraction enthusiasts who prefer a bit of meat to fruit dumplings produced the biggest ever sausage made in the Czech Republic -it was 87 metres long and weighed 60 kilograms. I say was because after being properly admired -it was promptly consumed by visitors to the festival.

Meanwhile, in the town of Trebic, Jan Benda wowed the crowds when he balanced a towing vehicle weighing 10 tons on ten glasses of beer. Now, that will surely feature in the book of world records!

Do you get the feeling that it is always your luggage that ends up at the other end of the globe when you travel. Well, it's not just your luggage. Lots of things go astray - including a dispatch of Russian Orthodox prayer books originally intended for Russian and Ukrainian prisoners in the Czech Republic.

The books were lovingly packed by Father Joachim in Moscow, but instead of being delivered to the Olomouc jailhouse they ended up in a village school in Romania. The prayer books covered some 10,000 kilometres going through Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and eventually ended up in Romania. Why they were not intercepted in the Czech Republic is not clear -but the Czech prison service is now negotiating to have them returned. The report does not say to what use they are being put in the Romanian village school of St. Helena, but Russian prisoners in the Czech Republic are certainly sending up prayers to get their prayer books soon.

Country-life holidays are becoming increasingly popular among Czechs with an urban lifestyle -who in past years automatically headed for a seaside resort. Most Czechs have country cottages where they spend the summer, but for those who don't there are now many farms, especially eco-farms, which offer accommodation during the summer months. At first their clients came predominantly from abroad - Holland, Germany, Denmark and Spain. Now Czechs have caught on and there is interest on the home market as well. City kids especially love being among cats, dogs, horses and other farm animals and many farms offer horse riding lessons as well. Others provide lessons in basic handcrafts such as pottery, basket-weaving or crocheting. There's the possibility of swimming, fishing and cycling, but if you want to try and milk a goat, the farmhand will be happy to show you how. It's called agro-tourism and this back to nature holiday trend is especially popular in Austria, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

Fried carp with potato salad | Photo: Barbora Němcová,  Radio Prague International
Many Czech towns and villages are taking pride in their roots and traditions and making sure that the young generation knows what their forefathers did. The town of Roznov pod Radhostem was once famous for its fisheries. Last weekend it held a two day event called Pisces. Over 2,000 visitors were treated to numerous fish specialities -including the town's famous fish soup and grilled fish out in the open. They saw a demonstration of how fishing nets were made and repaired in the old days and admired different kinds of rods, flies and baits. And -last but not least- visitors were encouraged to "catch their own fish" which a chef then prepared for them out in the open. Amazingly, most people did - which you can either attribute to beginners' luck or the fact that the organizers had tipped a vast amount of fish into the pond prior to the event.

And finally, the hot dry summer has brought us some "unseasonable sights" - although the calendar says it is still summer - Nature is more than four weeks ahead -and many trees and plants look more like it is autumn. Trees are turning yellow and red, autumn fruits are ripe and most farmers have finished harvesting a month early. We've seen summer fruit ripen in the late spring and autumn fruit in the summer - a sight which has many Czechs wondering what the winter will be like - and whether Europe will in future retain its four seasons as we know them. The hot dry summer has also brought about some other changes in Nature such as the unexpected over-breeding of hornets. Fire brigades say they get at least three calls a day from people asking them to eliminate hornets' nests in the vicinity. What with that and the heightened risk of fires -it has been a long and hard summer for firemen -but others are more than happy with the change.

The sale of ventilators soared over the summer months and many Czechs have decided to invest in air-conditioning systems. Sales are reported to have doubles. Beer and soft-drinks producers are delighted with their profit margins and public swimming pool owners have extended their working hours to allow Czechs a dip in the pool both before and after work-hours. In some towns and villages, water -a commodity of which there was more than enough during last year's floods - is now scarce.