Today's topics include: Oil deposits in the CR, Charles University was founded 655 years ago, Prague's parks, Czechs on sick leave. Quotes from: John Miller, Maria Aldridge, Kwame Asante, Karl Johanson

We start in Texas. Now, I don't know how pleased with our answer John Miller from Houston, Texas in the US will be, whether our answer will help him. He asks:

"I wonder whether you could help me with a bet I have on with one of my friends, who claims there are oil fields in the Czech Republic. I say there aren't any and that the country relies on imports of oil and oil products. Which one of us is right?"

I would not say we have any oil fields in the sense as they are known in your part of the world, but we do have oil wells and those cover 1.5 percent of the country's consumption.

The oil deposits are located in South Moravia, and a new one has just recently been discovered in the outskirts of the city of Breclav. Every find is the result of much research and probing, it's by far not just a question of drilling and the oil gushing out. It took two years before the Breclav deposits were found.

It's an expensive process, but the owners of the wells say it's well worth it. Still, some ten companies have permission to look for oil and work the wells, but only two companies are actually doing so.

Probably the main problem is that according to Czech law, only the surface of the area owned by a company or individual is their property, anything found under the surface is the property of the state, which has to approve any mining or similar activities. In cases such as the newly discovered oil deposits near Breclav, the company will also need the approval of the local citizens.

And their feelings are mixed. On one side there's fear of negative impact on the environment, on the other side visions of the financial profits the project would bring the city. Because all deposits are state property, it takes five percent of all the profits. Three quarters of that sum gained by the state is handed over to the towns and villages on whose territory the wells are located, and that's quite an important source of income for them.

And it's estimated that the deposits will last at least 20 more years - so it's a difficult problem for the locals to solve.

And, I'm afraid, John, you're going to have a difficult problem in resolving that bet with your friend - oil fields as such, no, oil deposits and individual wells, yes. So - let us know how you solved the question.

We move on to other questions, this time into a bit of history. Maria Aldridge e-mails this question:

"I know that Prague's Charles University one of the oldest in Europe. Just when was it founded and what was its role at that time? What did they teach there and what were the conditions for the students and the lecturers?"

On April 7th it was just 655 years since Charles University was founded. It was an important part of Emperor Charles IV's plans to make Prague one of the most important cultural centers in Europe.

It had four faculties - the artistic faculty which included the teaching of grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, geometry and music. Quite a combination in a single faculty. Of course the student could choose just one of those subjects.

The other three faculties were dedicated to theology, medicine and law.

At first the university did not have a building of its own, and lectures were held in churches and cloisters. The first building of its own it received after a couple of years' time was used for housing 12 lecturers from the artistic faculty. The first lecture halls were set up in yet another building the University received from Charles' successor, Vaclav, or Wenceslas IV. This, too housed some of the lecturers, but it also had the institution's first lecture halls, plus baths, an armoury and the University prison.

I suggest we come back to contemporary life, and that includes the spring which we're experiencing at long last after what seemed an endless winter. And Kwame Asante from Nigeria asks a question closely connected with the newly arrived Spring:

"Where do people in Prague go when the weather gets hot - are there many parks where they can rest in the shade? I know you're not used to the kind of heat we have here, in tropical Africa."

Yes, Prague does have numerous parts, and I've read somewhere it's one of the greenest cities in Europe.

That may be true of some parts of town, but I don't think that people living in the numerous housing estates built around the city before 1989 would agree. The drab pre-fabricated buildings most often stand on empty, basically uncultivated ground with grass growing on it and you'd have to look real hard to find some area where trees have been planted.

But in Prague's biggest housing estate, the Southern Town that is to change soon, or what the people in charge claim will be soon. The plans call for a huge park about a kilometer long, to be planted there. It's to have various kinds of trees and bushes, but mainly plane trees, that will offer a welcome shade in the summer. It's also going to include play grounds, an amphitheater for concerts and other cultural events. It's going to make a lot of difference to the people living there.

Until March the project was available to the public for discussion. All suggestions are now being evaluated and as soon as that is finished, they'll have to start negotiations with the owners of the plots concerned, because you cannot start building a park on somebody's private property. Now that, of course, is going to be a lengthy process. Optimistic predictions see the beginning of the actual planting and landscaping in four years' time.

But to come back to existing parks and public gardens, those are pretty well taken care of and most of the damage caused by last year's floods is being taken care of. It's not so simple, because many of those parks are really old and need a lot of care.

Actually the first parks were originally around the palaces of the nobility, and in later years they were gradually opened to the public. The first public park actually set up as such was Chotkovy sady, in 1833.

Chotkovy sady is the park the tram goes through if you take it up the hill to the Prague castle. It's named after Count Karel Chotek who came up with the idea and actually pushed it through.