|Charlotte with the beer bottle Christmas tree at Chodovar brewery.|
Our Czech adventure started with a mammoth 16 hour bus journey from Copenhagen to Prague, broken up by a ferry crossing over to Rostock in German and an hour between buses in Berlin. It was a long day but by now we are used to long journeys and the buses were comfortable enough. The Czech bus even had wi-fi and this seemed to be common throughout the Czech Republic, there was free wi-fi everywhere! Even some run down old local buses have it, nevermind seatbelts, free wi-fi is a basic human right here it seems!
It was refreshing to go out to eat and have a few beers without eye watering bills or just blindly handing over the credit card (even the locals appear to do this in Denmark as even the local bakery will take cards). Being around a pound a pint (and a good pint at that - Pilsner Urquell have a monopoly in most places) is 20% of the price in Denmark, but we often find Prague especially a hit-or-miss culinary experience probably due to the transient nature of most customers (ie. tourists). Prague is a beautiful city but we have never been anywhere so completely geared up for tourists. This meant there was a bit of strange atmosphere during in January when there aren't many tourists around, but the restaurants are all still open and touting for business in the hope of enticing the stragglers such as ourselves in. We have been to Prague just before Christmas before when there was a lot more going on, and this time it was more of stopping off point on the way to elsewhere, but we had a comfortable hostel so decided to take things easy and enjoy the cheap beer and stayed for 3 nights.
We took in the sights (Charles Bridge, Old Town Square and Astronomical Clock) and wandered the pleasant old town streets. The culinary highlight of the trip was breakfast in a Polish Cafe (Cafe Pavlac), scrambled eggs and bacon really hit the spot! We also went up the TV tower, which we had never done before, on a clear day with beautiful views of the city. The tower itself is a little strange, it was recently decorated with giant babies crawling up it by a local sculptor. We had a good evening at a bar which had lots of different beers from various Czech microbrewers (Matuska Black Rocket probably the highlight - an awesome hoppy black IPA I had previously tried at The Tap in Sheffield).
Next up was our trip to the beer spa at Chodovar Plana, via Pilsen for a quick pint between buses (unfortunately I couldn't persuade Charlotte to tour the Pilsner Urquell brewery again!). The town itself had very little to it but we were here for the beer. The brewery runs a hotel, beer spa and 2 restaurants. The spa and brewery go hand in hand rather than just being a gimmick, there is a natural mineral water spring with supposed health giving benefits which the beer is brewed from which gives it a fairly strong mineral aftertaste (Charlotte wasn't really a fan!). We had checked in for 2 nights to enjoy the various offerings only to discover that the main restaurant was shut and the brewery tours weren't running. So we had a lot of time on on hands, and were a little bit gutted as the brewery was the sole reason we were visiting. But the beer spa experience was awesome and certainly a unique experience. Its important to note though that it wasn't actual beer we bathed in (I would think alcohol wouldn't do much for your skin!) but rather the hot wort (the combination of water, malt and hops at the stage before fermentation). So for 20 minutes we bathed in the murky hot wort while supping a cool glass of beer, then another 20 minutes in a darkened room wrapped in a blanket to sweat it out and dry off (and of course another beer). Pretty cool experience and we felt relaxed and reinvigorated afterwards.
Our final stop in Czech Republic was Cesky Krumlov, a lovely old city on the banks of a river. It is said to be like Prague in miniature, and the old town itself can be walked from one side to the other in about 10 minutes. The 'new town' is quite separate so it has a charming almost fairytale atmosphere and we stayed in a great little hostel called Krumlov House which had a hippy vibe and olde world feel due to the wooden interiors. As we arrived it was snowing quite heavily and this was really the first properly wintry weather we had experienced on the trip so far. As you can imagine the place looked even more magical when we woke up in the morning to a good covering of snow. We spent our time doing some walking, up to the castle and beyond. The great thing is that the town is quite isolated so within 15 minutes you out in the countryside. The hostel was quiet to the point that 1 night we even had it to ourselves (literally as the staff don't work at night!) so we made the most of it and watched a classic Czech film called Pelisky, about 2 families at Christmas in Soviet times and the various disfunctional relationships around them they have to put up with. I even managed to watch the Simpsons Movie for the millionth time, which was a nice home comfort!
Cesky Krumlov is definitely on the list to come back to one day in summer, such a beautiful place with beautiful surrounds and lots of outdoor activities including rafting on the river as well as hiking. Our next stop was Poland to go snowboarding so we took the bus to Prague via Ceske Budovice (unfortunately the Budvar brewery was closed that day so we didn't make a stop!) before taking an overnight train to Krakow.