Ever heard of Pilsner beer? How about Budweiser? Unless you have been living under or rock, the answer is likely yes. Our journey into the heart of Czech beer country led us to the birthplace of Pilsner and the home of the original Budweiser beer. As beer lovers, it was a lot of fun to tour the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery (a.k.a. Pilsner Urquell) in Plzeň and check out the Budweiser Budvar facility in the town of České Budějovice; that being said, our vote for best beer in the world remains with American craft brewers. Sorry Czech Republic, but the creativity and variety of beer in the States is simply amazing.
While the Czech Republic was not the beer mecca we had envisioned, our route was still filled with many other delights: among them, the pork knee and Czech hockey. A knee may not sound very appetizing, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Mike became nearly obsessed with trying this traditional Czech dish after watching an episode of No Reservations; when he finally got his fill in Plzeň…well, you might just say he was in “hog heaven.”
In most of Europe, and the world for that matter, football (soccer) is the king of sports. Not the case in the Czech Republic. Hockey reigns supreme. By pure chance, our visit to the country coincided with the playoffs of their pro hockey league; so, we decided to check out a game in České Budějovice. What a time. Football may not be the Czech sport of choice, but the fans are no less enthusiastic: drums, horns, flares, and all.
The Beer Route through Plzeň and České Budějovice was great, but the real gem of our trip to southern Bohemia had nothing to do with beer at all, it was a small town called Český Krumlov. For many it is just a day trip from České Budějovice, but we made a long weekend out of it. Learning from the many expats that we met during our visit, we took to calling it “The Krumlov,” and we must say that we think it is one of the most photogenic places in Europe.
In addition to its looks, The Krumlov captivates you with its charm and slow-paced way of life. Just as the Vltava River delicately bends and curves around the old town, locals and tourists alike seem to walk a step slower than in the rest of the Czech Republic. Stores close at 6pm during the week, before noon on Saturday, and are closed on Sundays. At dusk, your senses come alive as a haze fills the sky from wood fired stoves; you can smell the evening setting in as fires warm the quaint village homes.
During the day, the town seems torn between two worlds. Many streets are lined with gift shops and tour groups are common, but turn the right corner and it feels like you have traveled back in time to medieval Europe. The castle moat is still guarded in the same way it has been for centuries. Forget the armed guards, try live bears!
It seems that as we let go of planning and set itineraries, we stumble upon more hidden travel destinations. At first, traveling in this style had us both a bit on edge, but with each passing day, we are beginning to appreciate the true sense of freedom that it brings.