Photo: CTK

The severe winter is almost over and it is getting just a bit too warm here for polar explorer Miroslav Jakes. Would you venture a guess as to what the Czechs' favourite meal is? And, it's carnival time in the Czech Republic! Find out more in Magazine with Daniela Lazarova.

The first child to be put into a baby box installed last June at a Prague clinic to help protect unwanted babies from being abandoned in the cold or murdered in secret is little Sonia. She was born four weeks ago - together with her twin - to a single mother who decided she couldn't handle the financial burden of two babies. Sonia was the less lucky - the twin the mother picked to give away. Unaware of the procedure the mother attached her birth certificate to Sonia's blanket. On the one hand this could complicate her adoption, on the other Sonia now stands a chance of going home to her mother and twin sister. Her plight has evoked a wave of solidarity and people have been calling with offers of help saying they are ready to help support the mother financially if she takes Sonia back and keeps the twin sisters together.

Milos Zeman  (second from the left) and the Tatra lomousine,  photo: CTK
The very last of the Tatra 700 limousines made in the Koprivnice car plant which was used by the former prime minister Milos Zeman is not going to end up on the scrap heap. Several private collectors made a bid for it, but the final decision is that it will grace the collection of the technical museum in Prague, as the only one of its kind. The former prime minister himself attended the ceremony to see that his old limo was well housed and happy.

Young people from Prague gathered on the Old Town Square last week to set a new world record in the bizarre discipline of popping balloons. The aim was to break a record set by Hong Kong students the previous year: 2,477 balloons popped within ten seconds at a football stadium. Not easy to beat but the Czech team did it - popping 3,158 balloons in ten seconds.

Dog owners in Prague are gradually accepting the fact that their pet must have a chip or tattoo with the respective information that would help to locate its owners. Some 60 thousand dogs in the Czech capital now meet this requirement. 85 thousand dogs are officially registered in Prague by the police believe their number to be much higher.

How do Czechs rate in terms of foreign language skills? According to the results of a special Eurobarometer study we are below the European average -16th place on the ladder. 61 percent of Czechs speak at least one foreign language. 29% take pride in speaking two foreign languages more or less fluently, while only 10 percent of Czechs are able to put 3 foreign languages on their CV. So if you visit this country how do you best make yourself understood? If you guessed English - guess again. It's actually German which tops the list. You should find that 28 percent of those who speak a foreign language speak German, 24 percent speak English, 21 percent speak Russian and a mere four percent speak French. So can this average result be attributed to four decades of closed borders? One might be inclined to think so - but in that case why do Slovaks appear to excel at foreign languages? Slovaks, with whom Czechs spent close to 73 years in a common state and who developed in exactly the same conditions until the Czechoslovak federation broke up in 1993. According to the Eurobarometer study a full 97 percent of Slovaks speak at least one foreign language. This discrepancy is unfortunately not due to the Slovaks' exceptional language skills. The foreign language they all put down was Czech. Funnily enough, no Czech even thought to enter Slovak. Czechs apparently still do not consider Slovak to be a foreign language. Well, either they need to change their attitude or start learning fast. The EU objective is for all EU citizens to speak at least two languages in addition to their mother tongue.

Photo: CTK
Carnivals are taking place across the Czech Republic marking the beginning of Lent, the 40 day period of fasting and soul-searching that precedes Easter. Now although you wouldn't find many Czechs who actually fast or engage in soul-searching they wouldn't miss an opportunity to eat, drink and make merry. Towns and villages, as well as individual Prague districts, organize carnival processions and parties out in the open with live bands, pork feasts and barrels of beer and plum brandy to keep people warm.

Would you venture a guess as to what the Czechs' favourite meal is? An opinion poll conducted recently showed that most Czechs' idea of a perfect Sunday lunch would be ham rolls with horse-radish cream for starters, followed by beef broth. The main dish would be a schnitzel -or pork chop fried in breadcrumbs - with potatoes and beer and for dessert - a piece of rich cake and coffee- all in all a meal amounting to some five thousand kilojoules. To burn those calories you'd need to shovel earth for three hours or watch TV for 13. No prizes for guessing which of the two activities most Czechs pick!

Miroslav Jakes, one of the most experienced Czech polar explorers, is setting off on another polar expedition. He wants to visit the settlement of Eskimos who live furthest up north - in Siorapaluk which is some 1,200 km from the North Pole. From there he will head to the North Pole itself, visiting the Russian polar station Barneo. Although he has been to the North Pole five times, Jakes says this time will be different. He is going at a time when the Polar nights are long and the day lasts for just a few hours. He'll be moving in minus forty degree temperatures through territory with a high incidence of polar bears. His sled will be packed with essentials but there's one thing that -although not strictly an essential - he never leaves behind: his guitar. It helps him survive and he say's it has become a trademark. "For the Eskimos I'm the man with the guitar who turns up now and then" Jakes says.