So we had finished up with our trip around Austria, dropped the car back with a small sigh of relief that we hadn’t crashed it and made our way up to the Czech Republic for the second last country of our Euro adventure. Although it was a relatively short stop, there was one big reason I was looking forward to the Czech Republic – beer. Nicknamed the liquid bread of the nation, the Czechs are great fans of the stuff, and rank amongst the top nations for consumption per capita (as if I hadn’t drunk enough on this trip already!). Beer wasn’t the only exciting thing about the country though, the Czech Republic promised a number of cultural gems from the UNESCO listed Cesky Krumlov to the capital Prague so read on – I promise it’s not all about the amber liquid!
We started off in Cesky Krumlov, a tiny little town in the south of the Czech Republic which consists mostly of tourists thanks to its UNESCO protected status and its location on a picturesque and placid stretch of the winding Vlavalta river. We stayed in a small place called Hostel Skippy just across the bridge from the old town, which had a terrace overlooking the river where where we could eat breakfast and watch people canoe past (and even fall out occasionally, much to our amusement). The owner is an eccentric lady who gave us loads of recommendations for what to do in town, which saw us spending the first night at Krcma v Satlavske, a BBQ restaurant in the old town where all the meat is cooked over an open fire in the middle of the restaurant.
I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a lot from food in the Czech Republic, particularly in a town with a rep for being as touristy as this one. But this place completely blew my expectations out of the water with really cheap, really well prepared food. Ollie ordered an entire pork knee for about $15 which was absolutely enormous and covered in delicious crackling which broke open to reveal enough tender meat to feed about 4 people! We also had some beef ribs that were tender and falling off the bone, along with fried camembert and cranberry; bratwurst; and a pork belly entree which was the only thing that wasn’t perfect as it was a bit tough. Along with 4 beers, the whole meal cost us about $60 (including a generous tip) and we didn’t get anywhere close to finishing it. Definitely one of the best meals on the entire trip, although the meat sweats afterwards weren’t as pleasant!
The next day we had hoped to go rafting down the river, but the weather was unfortunately a little rainy and quite chilly. So instead, we spent the day exploring the town in depth – going up to the top of the castle, taking a walking tour, visiting the brewery at the monastery, walking along the river and eating crepes. The town is so beautiful, it’s easy for time to fly by as you walk around its cobblestoned streets.
That night we had dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, another recommendation from the hostel owner. Vegetarian wasn’t what I would have predicted to be eating here, in the heart of the meat-potatoes-cabbage part of the world so I was a bit unsure, but Laibon was another stand out meal. To start with the guy running the place, David, was super friendly and casual, and the location on the river was fabulous. But even if this hadn’t been the case, the quality of food spoke for itself to make this a second stand out meal in as many days. Also, I think it was just really great to take a break from meat after the meat-sweat inducing meal of the night before!
The next day we were off to Ceske Budejovice, which is about 25km north-east of Cesky Krumlov. If I could give you one piece of advice about Ceske Budejovice, it would probably be not to go. Just kidding (kind of) – there is a couple of things that are sort of worth stopping for. It is home to the original Budvar Brewery, and the tour of that was interesting (mostly the part where we saw the working part of the brewery where the bottling was taking place), but other than that and the old town square didn’t find much else to do in this town with an industrial feel – at least we were spending less than 24 hours here!
So then we were on our train to Prague; excited for the big city and all the excitement it would bring with it. We stayed in an apartment in Letna, which is a trendy part of town just on the other side of the river above the old town, right next to a massive park overlooking the city centre. We wandered around the park on our first night there, stopping for a few beers at the beer garden as the sun set on our first night in Prague.
The next morning, we joined up to a free walking tour with Prague Extravaganza, which is run by local Czech guides. We had a great guide from Prague, David, who walked our small group around the old town, Jewish quarter, Mala Strana and Castle District for about 4.5 hours (while I ate a cronut and made a complete mess of myself!)
After that, we stopped at some pop up food stalls at the castle, and chowed down on some klobasa (sausage) and spätzle looking out over the town (and almost getting blown away!).
Once we were fed and watered Ollie went home to rest while I set off an adventure across town to get some icecream, check out a pub recommended by our guide – U Slovanske Lipy – with some cool beers on tap and the TV tower with its weird art installation consisting of babies crawling up the side of the tower! I also made it up the hill in the park above the pub to catch the last of the sunset, and then took a rather perilous walk home in the dark crossing under some bridges that didn’t seem like the safest spaces in the world – the tram would have been safer in hindsight!
The next day we got up pretty late, still feeling tired from the last week where we hadn’t stayed in one spot more than one or two days. We wandered back into the centre, had a healthy breakfast consisting of a burger and fries and set off to visit a Steve Mc Curry exhibition, which was spread over two floors of the historic town hall and well worth the 140 crowns we paid. After that we made our way to the top of the clock tower, to watch the crowds below scurry around like ants and gather in their masses to watch the overhyped hourly chime and treasure display above the astronomical clock.
Then it was time for Ollie’s favourite activity – going to see a football (soccer) game! The stadium was tiny – a capacity of about 8000 but with only 2046 fans attending on the night. It was a cool stadium though, high up on a hill where we could see the sunset set over the rest of Prague. The home team, Dukla Prague dominated over the bottom of the table opposition, Banik Ostrava – although I have to say the Ostrava fan base made much more noise than than the Dukla fans! They were seated in their own caged off section, and were almost outnumbered by riot police at the end of the game so I gather that they have a bit of a rep as there were no police on the home team side.
The next day we decided to chill out a little, and revisited the TV tower to play the mini golf I had spotted there a few days ago. For a couple of dollars we grabbed some clubs and a couple of balls and made our way around the 18 hole course twice – Ollie kicking my butt both times of course. One day I’ll beat him at something sports related! After that we wandered around the streets and then spent a little too long at a great bar called Pivo a Parek, where there was some great craft beers on tap, particularly two IPA’s that I really enjoyed and bought bottles of to take home (which we are now currently having to transport to Germany! Oops). By the time we got home from there I was pretty merry, but it was late here wasn’t much time to do anything expect pack and get some sleep before getting up for our train in the morning.
So that was the Czech Republic! A short stop with lots of pleasant surprises, beautiful cities and great food. Next stop Germany to meet up with some friends from home and celebrate birthdays in Berlin, see the soccer game to end all soccer games at the legendary Dortmund stadium and partake in the ultimate beer festival – Oktoberfest!