Ratatouille is not only filling cinemas –it has started off a craze among Czech kids for pet rats! Wondering what the underworld looks like? The town of Jihlava organizes pre-Christmas tours of Hell. And, two adventurous Czechs travel far from their homeland to lay a sun-dial on the bed of the Red Sea. Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

Photo: CTK
Sailor and deep sea diver Josef Dvorsky and watch-and-clock expert Petr Weiss – traveled far from their homeland together to lay a sun-dial on the bed of the Red Sea. The sun-dial was designed specially for this purpose and made in the Czech Republic before embarking – on the Princess – for the Egyptian island Sijul Kabir. It was laid in the centre of a beautiful coral reef where the rays of the sun can easily reach it – on the first day of the eleventh month at 11 hours, 11 minutes GMT. “The underwater world gives you a sense of timelessness and eternity and it seemed like a good idea to place a sun-dial on the sea-bed,” Dvorak told reporters, saying he and Weiss had fulfilled an old dream and would return to the spot regularly to see how the sun-dial survived the passage of time.” It already has its guardians –the lagoon where it lies is regularly visited by leopard sharks and may become even more popular now that man has given the inhabitants of the sea the gift of time.

All it took was one movie– similarly as in France, Britain and Germany – Ratatouille has started off a craze among Czech kids for pet rats. The film about a rat named Remy who dreams of becoming a great chef in a five-star restaurant is currently the third most popular movie in the Czech Republic and has sparked a huge interest in rats. Pet shop owners have trouble meeting demand – and many a child has been promised a rat for Christmas. The craze has left many pet shop owners shaking their heads and advising buyers to think twice about whether they are prepared to devote time to a rat.
Apparently a rat in the family is quite a commitment. Animal experts say you should devote one to two hours a day to their needs and if you give them good care they will act very much like pet dogs – following you around and coming to your side when you call them by name. The downside is they are frequently ill and live an average two years which means you shouldn’t become emotionally dependent on them. There are rats with beige, grey, pearly and even blue fur – and wait for it – even “Dumbo ears” – tailored to popular movies. One feels a bit sorry for the poor mites. The craze is sure to pass – but right now it is at its height with Mr. and Miss Rat beauty contests creating a lot of excitement.

St. Nicolas asks if they have been good in the past year – and while the angel is benevolent the devil wags a finger and threatens to carry them off to hell if they have been bad. Many kids are terrified and psychologists are now questioning the wisdom of putting small children through such an ordeal. But it seems that this is a tradition that won’t go away. In fact the town of Jihlava takes it further and every year a Jihlava company organizes a grand Tour of Hell –located in a maze of underground corridors and caves. Czechs are not a nation of believers but good and evil – heaven and hell are at the core of many Czech fairy tales. As a result Czech kids have a fair idea of how a devil spends his time: when he is not putting more coal on the fire to boil sinners in a cauldron – he’s playing Black Jack with the other devils – or is sent by the Chief Devil in search of souls among the living. Children meet the Devil in person – almost as soon as they can toddle – a fact that shocks many foreigners who visit the country. It is a Czech tradition that on the eve of St. Nicolas’ Day (Dec.6) children are visited by a magic trio – the good St. Nicolas flanked by an angel and a devil.

In order to take the edge off – the tour guide is an angel - taking round small groups of visitors every half hour. They get to see the cauldrons, the souls of sinners who are atoning for their sins in the scorching flames, the Great Book of Sins and the Scales on which people’s sins are weighed. And of course they see the devil’s apprentices playing card games. At the end of the tour St Nicolas himself shows up to lead the visitors out of Hell. Well, as they say there’s no accounting for taste - I guess it is like watching horror movies. We like to get scared out of our wits –as long as we know it is not for real! (By the way, the tour of Hell in Jihlava opens on November 30th and only lasts until St Nicolas day December 6th – so if you want a peek into the cauldron –don’t miss it.)

Roasted goose with cabbage and dumplings,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
The townspeople of Liberec are looking through dog-eared family recipe books in preparation for a gastronomical competition that is to last for six months. The idea came from the town’s mayor who arranged it with the owner of the Ambiente Restaurant in Liberec. Every one of the town’s 50.000 inhabitants has been invited to join in. For a start all they need to do is put together a three-course menu and sent it by post to the town hall or just drop it into one of the special boxes set up for this purpose around town. The mayor is hoping that this event will bring the townspeople closer and enforce their sense of belonging. A team of experts will pick nine semi-finalists who will then prepare their masterpiece and compete for the title of Supreme Chef. The best family recipes will be published in a Liberec cookbook expected to come out next summer.

Russian visitors to the Czech Republic will now be able to buy a guidebook to Czech beer written by Igor Korcagin, a Russian entrepreneur whose love of the golden brew has led him to publish an encyclopedia of Czech beer and now this practical guidebook. The guidebook takes readers from one brewery to another, explaining the finer details of brewing and the vast variety of brews on the market –light, dark, with a cap or without, bitter or sweet with a taste of fruit or honey, filtered and unfiltered. The book introduces the country’s most famous pubs and even contains a linguistic crash course to help visitors order a beer and a number of local pub specialties in near fluent Czech. Although the Russians are a nation of vodka lovers, the guidebook to Czech beer is selling like hot cakes and its author is now organizing beer tours to the Czech Republic. Although he is willing to share his know-how Korcagin says his own drinking days are numbered – he is soon getting married.