Raven, photo: Accipiter, CC BY 3.0 Unported

A bizarre new fashion has come to the Czech Republic - people are getting themselves ravens as house pets. The attractions of shopping abroad: Germans come to the Czech Republic, while Czechs head for Poland. And, how small is the smallest present in the world? Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Julie Braunova is living proof of the fact that grandmothers don't need to consign themselves to a rocking chair with a bag of knitting. At 88 Julia became the oldest woman in the Czech Republic to do a parachute jump. She jumped a tandem jump from a height of 3,700 metres and says the experience was breathtaking! "I told the instructor to cuddle up and hold me tight - cause I was paying a lot of money for this" Julie says. She keeps in shape by riding a bike in the summer and skiing in the winter months. "Going uphill is getting a bit difficult - but I can still keep pace with my sons", she boasts.

How small is the smallest present in the world? Radka Krivankova knows - because she wrapped it. The gift is a three millimetre sized Australian opal, fitted snugly in a box 3x4 millimetres big. That little gem was wrapped in gift paper, tied with a string and decorated with a miniature fan and feather. The entire gift can perch easily on a child's nail and you need a magnifying glass to admire it in all its beauty. Radka is a professional gift wrapper and it took her three hours to wrap the gift - using tweezers and a magnifying glass. I had to take plenty of breaks because you need to hold your breath while you do it - she explains.

Of course, having set this particular record she also wanted to see what it was like to wrap a huge present - and gift wrapped a truck on the Pelhrimov town square. Wrapping a truck took a bit longer - a full thirteen hours before she was satisfied with it. For the eight metre long truck, she used up 130 metres of wrapping paper and 50 metres of ribbon. Asked about the most bizarre object her firm had been asked to gift wrap she said: a piece of raw meat.

Malls and supermarkets in the western border regions are doing excellent business on the weekends with hundreds of German customers making shopping trips to the Czech Republic. There are two main reasons for this: the price of goods and favourable opening hours. In neighbouring Germany most shops close at mid day on Saturday while here in the Czech Republic - where trade unions are still fairly weak and where the shopping fever is still strong - you can literally shop till you drop on weekends. There are now efforts to ban night sales and have shops close on state holidays - but sales lobbies are strong and it may be a long while yet before Czechs are unable to shop on weekends. While many Germans cross over to the Czech Republic for their weekend shopping sprees - Czechs and Slovaks make weekend shopping trips to Polish markets. The exchange rate is favourable and the price of goods much cheaper - so Czechs load up their cars with everything from flowers to baby carriages. And Polish salespeople are more than happy to provide whatever goods happen to be in demand - putting up price tags in Czech crowns and hawking their wares in Czech.

The sale of organic food products in the Czech Republic rose by 17 percent last year, with a 180 million crown turnover. However sales of organic food still make up less than ten percent of all food sales in the country and Czech organic farms are currently searching for new outlets on foreign markets. The main interest is in organic fruits and vegetables, dairy products and poultry, but many Czechs still buy the cheaper standard brands -putting quantity above quality.

Every tenth visitor to the Czech capital comes for a few nights of heavy drinking and some fun with the girls. While over 6 million tourists come to see the sights every year - 700 thousand visitors come in search of alcohol and night clubs. British stag parties are notorious in this respect. The locals don't particularly like this trend but, unlike other European capitals, Prague seems unable to deal with it. And indeed politicians are divided over whether they want to deal with it or not. The minister for regional development says Prague must do something to rid itself of the drink-and-sex-tourism label. "Cheap girls and cheap beer is not the image we want to project," he says. However some Prague officials disagree - arguing that beer tourists bring in money just like the others - and that Prague shouldn't make distinctions between "desirable" and "undesirable" tourists.

Citizens living in the centre of Prague have written a petition complaining about the hoards of drunk tourists who disturb their sleep at nights and are demanding that the authorities put more policemen in the streets to maintain law and order and push out prostitutes from the city centre. The Prague deputy mayor Rudolf Blazek says that while he sympathises with the locals Prague simply does not have enough officers to patrol the streets at night - and that they have very little means of forcing prostitutes out of the city centre. So for the present time, people living in the city centre can console themselves with just one thing: the forecast that in about 5 years time the capitals of the Baltic Republics will become what Prague is today - and what Paris and Amsterdam were in the past - a magnet for drink-and-sex tourists.

Raven, photo: Accipiter, CC BY 3.0 Unported
A rather bizarre new fashion has come to the Czech Republic - an increasing number of people are getting themselves ravens as house pets. Ravens which have starred in many Czech horror stories as harbingers of death and misfortune - are said to be highly intelligent birds. Great at parroting words and even whole sentences, they can easily imitate the sound of a ringing phone, whistling or coughing. These birds - which cost around 8 thousand crowns -can also be used as watchdogs and trained to attack strangers - but ornithologists are not happy with the trend. Ravens live to be a hundred years or so and getting one is a big responsibility says ornithologist Pavel Krizek. Many people get one because it is fashionable and they get tired of it a few years later and just throw it out of the house thinking that it can take care of itself. But ravens bred in captivity are unable to survive in the wild and can even attack human beings. Ornithologists have been called to six or seven cases where that's happened. In one case a raven attacked a group of pre-school children scaring them to death. Ornithologists say it was its way of requesting food from humans -because it was used to getting it -rather than finding it. So do keep that aspect in mind if you feel tempted to get a raven as a house pet. And if that's not warning enough, then maybe the information that these birds love to hide car keys and throw out the contents of waste baskets in your home will do the trick.