This is the ninth in a series of blog posts about our recent epic trip to Germany and the Czech Republic in search of food, castles, and of course beer. My travel companions included my wife Sarajo (Sj for short), as well as Jim and Lori Stroner. Jim is a seasoned beer geek (and part owner of Tin Whisker’s Brewing in St. Paul) as well as a great photographer. He did most of the organizational work for the trip, so he gets extra kudos! Our hero’s journey continues now with day 9…
Czech It Before You Wreck It
Our first morning in the Czech Republic dawned way too early. Jim and I were up before the roosters (and goats) to get morning shots of Hrad Loket. After we had finally given up on a good sunrise shot we met the ladies in the hotel for our breakfast.
At the suggestion of the very nice goat people from the previous day (long story detailed in day 8…) we decided to add the spa town of Karlovy Vary to our itinerary today. We drove there via (fittingly) roads that were little more than cicuitous goat paths, resulting yet more near bladder emptying episodes.
Arriving alive (shockingly!) we found a paid parking spot at the enormous Hotel Pupp and moved on to check out the town. Interestingly, the town is based around several thermal mineral springs and for centuries has been touted at a curative and convalescent site for people from around the world. As a result, this small town nestled in the hills of the Czech Republic is home to a plethora of spas, fancy hotels, touristy attractions, and really expensive designer fashion stores. Historic buildings rub arms with newer construction and plenty of department stores. I imagine lots of rich folk and celebrities visit this town. We are not such people, but still enjoyed the vibe!
Walking past places laden with Gucci, Swarovsky Crystals, perfumes, shiny jewelry, and shady tourist junk, we found the town to be an exercise in contrasts. A shallow river ran right through the town, filled with trout and lazy ducks. Several fountains and spigots throughout the town released mineral water for passersby to partake of. These ranged from hot to cool in temperature and many smelled of brimstone and iron. These spots were sometimes fanciful fountains striped with mineral discolorations; other times simple metal spigots with little fanfare. Special cups with built in straw attachment (supposedly to avoid discoloring your teeth by drinking the waters) were sold all over town in many incarnations from ceramic to crystal. People would fill these up and drink, others would use water bottles and canteens, still others would take a little hobo-bath in the flowing waters. This was a strange and surreal type of thing, but fun to observe. Yes I tried one of them and the bitter metallic warm water was not much to my liking. I’ll stick to pivo (beer) to heal my ills!
Not far from the hotel we took the Diana Funicular (strange name for a cable tram and not that “fun” for one afraid of heights) up the side of the hill at about a 45 degree angle. This little tram has been dropping tourists up on top of the hillside for over 100 years, which didn’t actually help my fear of heights much at all. Atop the hill is an observation tower that we climbed and then fought with crowds of Italians and Russians for views of the city and hills below. Again, why do I keep ending up in towers on this trip? Still the view was spectacular.
Also up top was a restaurant that wasn’t open yet, a butterfly house, and an (evil) petting zoo. These guys know how to bring in the tourists!
We had foolishly bought a one-way ticket up the hill…thinking it would be a quick walk back down. Not so much, at least by the epic roundabout forest trail we ended up taking! Miles later, after sliding down between runnels in the earth, loose scree and leaflitter cascading down with us, we arrived back down on even ground. Mountain goat action as you like it!
From here we wandered the town, checking out the beauty of this little gem. We had oplatsky (giant wafer cookies as big as your head but light as a feather) and wandered into an Italian street market with seemingly endless samples of cured meats and cheeses. Between that and the number of pizza places in town, they must have a large Italian clientelle at Karlovy Vary.
For a late lunch we settled on the cellar location of Karl IV Brewery. In this large and spacious (and blessedly cool) restaurant we had some great venison and some not so great beers. The light colored lager had so much diacetyl that you could smell it from across the table: Butter Bomb! The dark ale had a lot of butter as well, but you could talk yourself into this being toffee flavor. They also had a strange special herbal beer that I kind of liked…but I was the only one. Still a fun place to stop, but I’d pass on the beers.
We wandered back to the car after this, barely making it back before it started to rain on us. And time for the windy death-roads again! This time wet and dark! Why did I not pack enough spare underwear???
Our next destination was another spa town, but less touristy compared to the last, and more spread out. We stayed at the Hotel Villa Regent up the hill from the city proper and this was a very nice spot to spend the night, though we had a hard time parking our SUV in their tight parking spots!
From here we wandered the city and found ourselves in the central city square, home of the singing fountain. Along the way we found a lot of Art Neuvo ironwork on buildings and railings, but the doors and knobs were overall less ornate than Germany. It was still overcast and threatening more rain, but at least this kept the hot sun down for while.
Eventually we tired of cool old buildings and more oplatsky and went looking for another brewery. This was Rodinny Pivovar Kronl (pivovar means brewery) and was quite long walk from the city center, away from the touristy parts of town and more where the locals live. We got into the small brewery just as the heavens broke open with a huge crash of rain, flooding all the folks drinking out on the small patio. The inside went from empty to full in minutes! The bartender spoke almost no English and we had a bit of a hard time communicating, but made it work! This was a new brewery, we think open a few months. They did not have a real kitchen, but it looked like you could buy sausages and grill them yourself outside on a small charcoal grill (that was now filling rapidly with rainwater). The beers here were actually pretty good and very refreshing after our long walk in the humid heat. They had a strong lager that had a good hop bitterness and just a hint of diacetyl. They also had our second IPA that we found on the trip and this was actually pretty well done if not a little harsh on the finish. We stayed a little longer than expected until the rain slacked off, enjoying our steamy little haven from the elements.
By the time we got back to the central area of town it was getting dark and our options for open restaurants was dwindling. We ended up at little pizza place and sat on their patio with some large and tasty pizzas and a few more pivos.
And off to bed!
Breweries visited: 19
Bierkellers visited: 7
Cities visited: 17
Brewery Museums: 2
Torture Museums: 1
Really high places that Eric is terrified of: 4
Mileage walked today: 10.9