Plzen and pilsner

Trip Start Aug 24, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Friday, October 26, 2012

It's still October but the forecast is for snow in Cesky Krumlov in the next couple of days. Unfortunately we are moving on to Plzen today, although we do hear that there is a still a chance of snow there as well. Our bus for Plzen left at 915am, so we were up relatively early so we could be at breakfast on the dot of 8am, stuff ourselves and still make it to the bus-stop down the road on time.

Plzen is a town of 175,000 (yes, thats fairly small by European standards) and is home to the original pilsner beer. It's a little of the tourist trail uness beer is your thing, like Chris. We battled our way through the rain to find our hostel, getting a little lost but it turns out we were going in the right direction anyway. Our hostel is not the best! First there was no one there when we turned up - early admittedly, but every other hostel allows you to leave your luggage behind until the room is ready. The sign on the door said to go next door and ask at the pizza place. But they had no idea what we were talking about! Finally someone with a cellphone rung the hostel and finally someone turned up! We had booked a double room, but we ended up in a room with 2 sets of bunk beds. Not quite what we had asked for. The place is dark and dusty, cracked tiling in the toilets (which are in the kitchen area) and no working toaster/jug. There werent many other options in Plzen when Chris had been hunting for a place, so we took it.

At least the hostel wasnt far from town! We headed in via the universal Golden Arches for some warm-up food. The main square is called namesti republikly (Square of the Republic) and has been there since the 13th century. It is fully cobblestoned, surrounded by pretty coloured houses and the Chuch of St Bartholomew sits in the middle. Looking a little out of place are some modern fountains, one in each corner. I'm not sure what the significance of the gold-coloured fountains is, they look like giant taps.

Just off the square is the brewery museum. We didnt go for the museum though, we went for  the tour of the underground cellars of Plzen. As you know, Plzen is the home of the original pilsner beer. Where better to brew, store and sell this beer than in your cellar, where it would be kept cool all year round. Some of the cellars are 3 levels deep. It reminded us of the tour we took in Rome, of the catacombs where the Christians are buried. Although in Plzen there were no underground burials, its quite similar in terms of the labyrinth of passageways - many of the cellars were linked. They must have had locks and doors to stop the neighbour stealing their moonshine. The whole area is dug with wells. Some of the walls have collapsed so it is possible to stand in one room, look at the water 1m below and up at street level 2 above and then through to the next cellar straight across. Its meant to be the local water which gives pilsner beer (the original) its quality. We had an audio guide as we were on a Czech speaking tour. The audio guide told us which streets we were under at certain times, at one time we were underneath the main square 100m away! We had to wear helmets and werent allowed to take photos, but we snuck off a couple of cheeky shots.

As part of the tour, a free beer was included at the Na Parkenau pub, attached to the brewery museum. Every table seemed to be reserved for some reason, so we parked ourselves at a couple of bar stools and had our free beer.

Plzen has a great English tradition here: Tesco's. We decided to pop in there and get some things to cook our own dinner - as usual it was cheap. Also turns out they were having a massive clothing sale with 30% off everything! Finally found Chris some gloves ($2) and I bought a new coat ($50). I really really wanted the red coat but it doesnt go with any of the limited clothing selection that I currently own so I went with the blue colour. I would have bought both colours but Chris told me I couldn't possibly pack them both in my backpack, and I have to admit that he is right.

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