Çeské Budêjovice (Chess-key Buddah-yo-veetsee)
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We visited Çeské Budêjovice in the Czech Republic twice. The first was as the main destination on a "guy's trip" for three guys from the office where I worked. Sort of like a Beer Pilgrimage to the ancestral home of the real Budweiser. The second trip was a pass-through after spending most of our time in Cesky Krumlov.....
Three of us from the MITRE Stuttgart office (Al, Jerry, and myself) went on a beer pilgrimage to the home of Budvar beer, the European Budweiser; Çeské Budêjovice (also know as Budvar, or Budweis in German), in the Czech Republic. This part of the Czech Republic (Bohemia) was settled mostly by Germans, and their settlement was even encouraged by the Bohemian queen, in the late 1800's. On Thursday evening we boarded an overnight train in Stuttgart; destination: Praha (Prague), Czech Republic. It's not Czechoslovakia anymore. Czechoslovakia split into two countries in 1993; The Czech Republic, and Slovakia, in what has become known as the Velvet Revolution for it's peaceful enactment.
We three shared our sleeping compartment with two young men from Czech Republic, leaving one berth empty, which was fortunate, because Al Moyer is so tall he kept hitting his head on the bunk above. So we folded up the unused bunk and that gave him enough headroom. Although the train was bound for Praha, we got off in Plzen (Pilsen) at 4:30 in the morning, to wait for a connecting train to our destination, Çeské Budêjovice. It was a good thing that we were awake when the train stopped in Plzen; we had to wake the conductor-ette to recover our tickets and get off. Apparently we were in a car where everyone else was going through to Praha (2 more hours) and she thought we were, as well. Our scheduled train to Ceské Budéjovice was for 6:20 AM, but it never showed up on the display board or at the station, so we convinced ourselves to take the 6:40 AM train listed to Çeské Budêjovice. It turns out that we suspected that our 6:20 AM train was canceled because of repair work on the tracks, which we encountered later.
The Friday morning 6:40 AM train was a very slow train (it stopped at every village; in some cases you had to look hard for the village - there was no station, only a crossroad leading to a village a couple of miles away), and the 9:30 AM appointment we had for a brewery tour was missed. We found out later that ALL trains had to stop about 20 miles from Çeské Budêjovice and the passengers were bussed the rest of the way. We found this out by abandoning the slow train and hopping a fast train, only to have the fast train stop ten minutes later, with everyone boarding busses that waited for our original slow train to arrive before continuing for the remainder of the trip.
We arrived in Çeské Budêjovice around 10:00 AM, and headed for our hotel, the Zvon (Swan), right on the town square. It is an excellent hotel, recently renovated and easily up to western standards, with amazingly low prices (990 Krowns for a single room, about $35, including breakfast). We called the brewery from the hotel and found out that the person we were to meet with was occupied until 12 noon, so we decided to unpack and settle in for a few minutes, then take a taxi to the brewery, and try to meet up with him there.
After waiting an hour at the main gate of the brewery, we succumbed to our hunger (no breakfast) and left to eat lunch in the brewery restaurant around the corner in the same building. While we were there we were informed that the person we were scheduled to meet with was no longer available, so we were offered a personalized (though somewhat simplified) tour by the man at the gate (whose name was Sika, I think). We had a great tour, including the bottling area and the cellars, and I captured it all on video. Sika spoke German, and had visited the States for two months a while back, so we had lots to chat about while we walked.
After the tour, we walked back to the hotel (~3 miles) from the brewery, and roamed around the enormous market square for an hour or so before heading out to eat. Our roaming included two stops at the Budvar gift shop they run downtown (away from the brewery) to buy glasses, mugs, and other "souvenirs."
[ADDENDUM: Budvar is now imported to the United States under a different name - Czechvar! The Czechvar web site has (or used to have) a hilarious explanation of the copyright fights they've been having with the giant conglomerate with a similar name, but the bottom line is - it's finally HERE in the USA!!]
Public transportation is used extensively in the Czech Republic; you see few cars parked on the streets. The ones you do see are old; the nicer ones are housed in locked garages. The advice given in the tourist literature is to park only in guarded parking garages, and the nicer hotels seem to have "safe" garages for their guests. Otherwise the car might be stolen and moved further east to where there are fewer cars and a big demand.
Around dinnertime, we were "adopted" by a local guy named John, who was in his mid-fifties, claimed to have learned English from listening to the radio (shades of the old United Nations joke!) and enjoyed the chance to practice with visitors, but all three of us agreed afterwards that he was probably a lower echelon "operative" in the old communist regime and was either still trying to scoop info (old habits die hard), or was looking for free beer and maybe a meal. He got the latter, because he was so entertaining.
We ate at the other Budvar brewery restaurant, Masne Kramy, built in an old enclosed meat market near the town square. John joined us (after only a tiny bit of coaxing) so there were four of us for dinner. We each had two half-liters of beer (Budvar, of course), dinner (Svickova [Zvitch-ko-vah] - sliced beef, braised in the oven and served in a cream sauce with a garnish of cranberries and a dollop of whipped cream - exquisite), dessert (Palatschinken, peach crepes with sour cream and sauce - wonderful), and coffee, and the bill came to 480 Krowns, about $15!! Not for each, TOTAL!!! And it was so very good!!!
We spent Saturday in Cesky Krumlov, a medieval village about 30 km south of Çeské Budêjovice. The bus ride back was as uneventful as the one in the morning, and we found another restaurant to eat at in Çeské Budêjovice, which was not as good as the first one, but not bad. At this restaurant I tried to buy the half liter Budvar mug that I was served my beer in. I asked the waiter how much it would cost to buy the mug, and he made a face and finally said 130 Krowns. I knew the same mug was in the brewery gift shop for 117 Krowns, so I said thanks but no thanks, it was too expensive. After he finished taking our dessert order, he then asked if I wanted to buy the mug for 100 Krowns, which I agreed to. He took the mug away to wash it, and came back with the mug, deckles, pads of paper, napkins, and a deckle holder, all to go with the mug! These folks may be new to capitalism, but they catch on quick!!
On Sunday, after an earlier breakfast in the same style as the previous day's, we headed out for one last walking tour before beginning our journey home. We tried to find the famous Horse-Drawn Railroad station, but all we found was a little non-descript building that looked historical. On our way, though, we did find the Koh-i-noor factory, where all the great pencils and drafting supplies are made. To our surprise, we found out that their headquarters are in Çeské Budêjovice.
We finished our tour with a walk along the river by a Boy Scout and Girl Scout jamboree of sorts, and then to the Black Tower near the market square. After checking out of the hotel, we schlepped our bags (now bursting with "souvenirs") to the train station to catch the 10:00 AM train back to Plzen.
Our trip back to Plzen was nowhere near as adventurous as the trip out, but it was again via slow train, so we didn't get into Plzen until around 1:30 PM. The scenery on the way was spectacular, with alternating woods and "carp ponds" left over from medieval times.
On arriving at Plzen, Jerry and I stuffed our things into lockers and made a dash (of sorts) to the Pilsner Urquell brewery, a few hundred yards from the train station (Al chose to stay behind). We bought more mugs and glasses, and posters, and postcards, and then we scurried back to the train station in time to collect our bags and dash for the train to Nürnberg. In Nürnberg we caught another train for Stuttgart, and arrived home around 9:00 PM.