Topics discussed: Czech schools, Czech nuclear programme, Radio Prague history, bombing of Prague during World War II, Czech economic situation, Czechs and eating out. Listeners quoted: Masanori Misu, Sanusi Isah Bankaba, Hidemitsu Miyuki, Linda Parker.

Masanori Misu, from Tokyo, Japan, writes: "In Japan, the school year, which is from April through March, is divided into three terms. On July 18, the first term ended... The summer holidays last, in most regions, until August 31. In the Czech Republic, in what month does the school year start? How long are summer holidays for students?"

This is a very topical question. The school year in the Czech Republic lasts for ten months, from September till June, so students enjoy two months of summer holidays in July and August, the hottest and sunniest months here in Central Europe.

However, this year, the school year WILL NOT start on September 1st, because teachers will be on strike to support their wage demands, along with other civil servants. Not all schools will remain closed though; only about half of them will ultimately support the strike.

Isn't it sad for first graders, that they will be denied the unique experience?

The Education Minister Petra Buzkova tried to persuade the trade unions to make an exception for first graders going to school for the very first time, but you know, money matters more here, even if it is the homeland of the teacher of teachers, Jan Amos Comenius. Speaking of which, Vlad, do you still remember your first day at school?

I do, I do, and I must confess, I didn't like the place at all. And you?

I don't remember my first day but I do remember throwing myself in a mud puddle once on purpose so that I would have to miss my morning class. And, no, wiseguys, it wasn't at university, think it might have been grade two.

OK, let's move on, and we have here a letter from Sanusi Isah Bankaba from Algeria. Amazing, he put 7 different questions to us, but since we have to leave some space for other listeners, too, so let's just pick three. First of all, he asks whether the Czech Republic has nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons and if yes, where they are located.

The Czech Republic has two nuclear power stations, one at Dukovany in South Moravia, and a second, newer plant at Temelin, near the Austrian border. Temelin - launched in October 2000 - has caused friction with Austria, which is a non-nuclear country. The Czech Republic has no nuclear weapons - or none that we know of!

Second question is: When was Radio Prague established and how many languages it broadcast in?

Radio Prague was established in 1936, as the international service of Czechoslovak Radio. It was launched largely to counter hostile propaganda from Nazi Germany. Short-wave international stations had been increasingly popular throughout Europe ever since Britain launched the BBC World Service in 1932. We now broadcast in six languages - English, German, Czech, Spanish, French and Russian.

And finally, Sanusi asks whether Prague was seriously bombarded by Germans during WWII.

Prague was bombed during the war, but curiously enough, mostly by the Allies, not the Germans. Mostly industrial areas were hit, although a large synagogue was totally destroyed and is now a secondary school. However the most famous casualty of the war - part of the famous Old Town Hall on the Old Town Square - was destroyed by German shelling.

Sanusi also writes that his dream is to visit the Czech Republic, but that this dream will probably never come true due to the economic situation in his country.

Well, maybe if he takes part in our annual essay competition next year, he could have a chance to win a free trip to the Czech Republic. So, keep listening and writing!

Speaking about economic matters, our regular listener Hidemitsu Miyuki from Hiroshima, Japan, asks us a number of questions. One is whether the Czech economy is doing well or if we are in a recession.

We are currently in the growing phase of the business cycle. The economy has been growing for about three years now, and given the business cycle here takes around eight years, we can expect a slowdown pretty soon, also because we have strong trade bounds with Western Europe, especially Germany, which has not been doing particularly well. Otherwise, we have unemployment of around 10 percent, the inflation rate hovers around zero.

Now, we have a question here from Linda Parker in Surrey, Great Britain. Linda says she and her friend spent some time with a Czech family last summer and she noticed that there was a lot of home cooking and not a great deal of eating out, unless it was an occasion. And Linda asks: Was all that home cooking for our benefit or do most Czech women cook hot meals for their families during the week?

Well, Linda - although the family probably made a special effort to cook food you'd enjoy - the hot meals were not entirely for your benefit. Because many Czechs have a light lunch or eat canteen food during the day, they treat the evening meal as the "big meal" of the day. Sometimes they'll eat out - though eating out very often is probably still too great a burden for the average family budget - so most Czech women make hot dinners for their families. In a recent survey on the subject, 94 % of those polled said they had their evening meal at home, with 53 % of Czech women cooking a hot meal every single day of the week. Yum yum yum. 21 % of Czechs eat out several times a month, and three quarters of those polled said they eat out several times a year. Mind you, all this does not include business dinners and lunches, of course. Having said that, going out to eat is becoming more enjoyable than ever in Prague due to the vast number of foreign cuisine restaurants that have sprung up all over the city. There is a large abundance of Italian restaurants, though Mexican, Chinese and other Asian establishments enjoy increased popularity too.