Česká Republika (Czech Republic or Czechia)
Saturday August 20 we left Dinkelsbuhl (Bavaria Germany) at about 10.00am to drive the 280km to Pilsen (Plzeň) in the Czech Republic. We took the main A6 autobahn past Nuremburg (got to 160km/hr uphill in our Citroen Cactus) and reached the Czech border at about 12.30 where we stopped to buy our Vignette which is the Czech Motorway toll windscreen sticker (about NZ$18 for 10 days). It was then only 30 minutes on the Czech E50 motorway to the Hotel Purkmistr on the outskirts of Plzeň. We chose this hotel as it has an excellent restaurant with a good reputation, brews some of its own beers, and also has the standard Pilsener beers.
Mid afternoon, we drove into central Plzeň and wandered around the city. Nice enough city; rather quiet and with some very nice buildings.
We then went to the Beer Museum, which I guess is sort of compulsory when here. An interesting museum with not only the history of beer making, but a lot of information on Czech Brewing since the late 1800's. Apparently the beer was really bad in the 1800's and there was a bit of a revolt by drinkers, which resulted in many breweries closing and the formation of 6 or so major brewers of which 2 remain today.
The Museum has an amazing miniature beer brewing machine..it works and it can do 30 litres a day. Took a brewery engineer 2 years to make.
During the communist days, the 2 main breweries Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus were lumped together in the same state-owned organisation but operated independently. When privatisation was implemented the state firms running all the breweries in a region were sold off as single units and both companies ended up with the same ownership. Today, SABMiller is the current owner; a blend of South Africa, USA and the UK, and the 2 breweries are just part of a global brewing giant. The 2 breweries were right next to each other and the two sites have been merged. So today there is only one industrial-strength brewery in Plzeň and about 99% of pubs sell only Pilsner Urquell or Gambrinus.
If you are desperate for choice, there is apparently a second brewery called Minipivovar U Rytíře Lochoty, which is a brewpub founded in 2001 although its beer is only sold at its single location! But..then again I've read that might not necessarily be true. Our hotel is just outside the city boundary and it does brew its own beer, so I'm not sure how that fits into the story.
The drink drive limit is zero in CZ, so no driving the rental car after a beer; pity as we got 2 vouchers for free beer from the museum.
The Czechs have the highest per capita beer consumption in the world; 142 litres per person. Australia is at 74 litres and NZ is at 62 litres,
So I need to drink 3 litres this week to keep the Czechs on top, plus about 2 litres for Heather as she definitely wont drink 3. I think its doable, as I already had 1.3 litres tonight!
Sunday 21 August we drove from Pilsen (Plzeň) to České Budějovice and then on to Český Krumlov, about 150km.
Českě Budějovice has been known for the beer brewed there since the 13th century. The largest brewery is "Pivovar Budějovický Budvar" (Budweiser Budvar Brewery) which has legal rights to market its "Budweiser" beer in Europe. The American "Budweiser" lager was originally brewed as an imitation of the Czech beer. The Americans have made offers to buy the Czech brewing company to secure global rights to the "Budweiser" name, but the Czech government has refused to sell out as a matter of national pride. Very well done! The city has a very beautiful main square,(Přemysl Otakar II Square) with a central fountain. The buildings all have archways which reach around the perimeter of the square.
I climbed up the 225 stairs of the 16th Century "Black Tower" which gave some great views of the square and surrounding countryside. (about NZ$1,50 entry..which you pay a man at the top of the climb..a very good idea as it's then free if you find it too difficult!)
It was then about a 30 min drive further south to Český Krumlov,which is a UNESCO world heritage town on the Vltava River. Its a major tourist town, with beautiful Baroque architecture, a Castle above the winding Vltava River,and narrow cobblestone streets. (Only spoiled by vast numbers of Chinese tourists,nearly all with extended selfie sticks, and diligently following the flag bearing tour leader.)
Monday 22 August; first up we visited the castle and the Castle Gardens.
We had hoped to avoid the tourist groups and were mostly successful. We did see a group of about 15 Chinese tourists having a big argument with 4 taxi drivers over how to fit them and all their luggage in 4 cars....3 of the taxis left and the 4th taxi driver was telling the others their luggage & them definitely wouldn't fit in one car while they tried to wedge more in...after many loud words he dragged out all the bags, dumped them all on the street, and drove off. Excellent work; very impressive..
The original Gothic castle was founded by the Lords of Krumlov prior to 1250. When the Lords of Krumlov died out in 1302, their relatives the Rosenbergs inherited the castle and the family had their seat there up till 1602 when the Krumlov castle and estates were sold to the Viennese Emperor Rudolf the Second. The castle was then passed to the Eggenbergs, a family from Upper Austria. As the Eggenbers died out without successors in 1719,the Schwarzenbergs inherited Krumlov castle and estates. It became the property of the Czechoslovak State in 1950 and is still owned by the Czech Government.
The Gardens are very nice..Baroque design over 10 hectares, colourful and beautifully maintained. (and are complete with a set of special selfie stairs for Chinese tour groups!)
Late morning we drove about 25km north east to see two small villages (Holasovice and Zabori) that I'd read about in a brochure at our hotel. The drive out was very nice; farm land with grains and hay and several small settlements.
Holasovice is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the unique architecture in the village, called "Folk Baroque" with Austrian and German influence. The village was settled by Czech and German peoples over many years and the ethnic makeup remained mainly German up to the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 and until remaining ethnic Germans were expelled at the end of World War II. It's a very attractive and colourful small village and well worth the drive out to walk about...and to have a lunch of Czech Goulash and Dumplings in the small pub restaurant Jihosceska Hospoda.
We then drove about 3km to the next village Zabori. This was also settled by Germans and with the same architecture, but hasn't made the UNESCO list yet. A very pleasant place with a small lake in the centre of the village; some houses are still being restored and others are quite dilapidated.
Tuesday 23 August. Today we had a 310 km drive to Olomouc and planned two stops at Trebon and Telc.
Třeboň is an agricultural area but has also become a tourist destination due to its architecture. It is also the home of a "David Jones" shop with a logo very similar to the Australian shop. Heather came out with a new handbag!
Telč is situated in the south-west area of the Moravia area of the Czech Republic. Because the historical centre of the city, surrounded by fish ponds and city gates, has retained its unique shape over the centuries it became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992. Colorful buildings all beautifully maintained. Well worth a couple of hours wandering about.
The 300km drive today was on excellent roads through small farming villages and towns for about 100km, and then from Telc mostly on the main D1 Motorway (it runs from Prague to Poland), which had a lot of road works and re-surfacing being done. One odd sight that we have noticed is that every town and village as several sets of loudspeakers mounted on lamp-posts. Apparently these are a hangover from the cold war and are now a part of the Czech Civil Defence system and are tested the first Wednesday of each month.
A better sight is the complete absence of any garbage or litter anywhere at all in the towns and villages. No one drops any litter, there isn't any chewing gum on the footpaths. Everyone recycles almost everything and each village has public bins for glass, plastic, plastic bags, paper etc. Beer bottles have a deposit and are always taken back to the shop or pub. Very few McDonalds, Starbucks and takeaway food places means that there isn't a lot of fast food packaging to be discarded either. Every park bench, every bus stop has one and sometimes 2 garbage bins. NZ has so much to learn. I don't think we are as clean and green as we say we are.
We arrived in Olomouc at about 3.30pm to 28 degrees; very pleasant. Olomouc is also a UNESCO World heritage site. Olomouc is equally as nice as Prague, but doesn't get many tourists because it is not so famous, and people who don't know it, or can't spell it, can't Google it and will never find out about it..or so says the local tourist office. Lets hope it doesn't become a Prague...beautiful but full of cheap junk souvenir shops.
In Olomouc, The Holy Trinity Column dominates the city center square; it is the largest group of Baroque statues within a single sculpture in Europe and is 35 metres high. There are also several Baroque fountains, including one of Julius Caesar. The Town Hall is in the main square and next to the Town Hall Tower there is an Astronomical Clock in a recess of the wall.The city is full of churches, monuments, statues and fountains; very nice to stroll.
We had dinner at Pod Limpou restuarant; an excellent place where I managed 1.3 litres of Pilsner Urquell so my 3 litres of beer task for the week is almost complete.
Wednesday 24 August we visited an Automotive Museum in Olomouc, and drove north for about 30km to visit two small towns.
The "Veterans Arena" car museum was excellent. Skoda is probably the only well known Czech car brand (now owned by Volkswagen) and I had also heard of Tatra. But there were numerous other makes such as Lauren & Klemen, Aero, Praga, Wikov, Z, and Jawa all designing and manufacturing cars from the 1920's right thru to after the end of WW2. Very impressive automotive history.
The Museum is also the home to a collection of antique telephones from the 1890's through to the 1980's which I found very interesting.
Steenberk is a town of about 14000 people about 20km north of olomouc. It has a large State castle dating from the 1200's, and an impressive Church (Church of the Annunciation) and gold topped Marian plague column which was built in 1719.
Unicov is a small town in an agricultural area with several impressive buildings. The town hall dates from the mid 14th century, and there is also a monument in the town hall square called the
Marian column in memory of plague victims. Numerous other fountains, statues and monuments are in the streets
We returned to Olomouc for a late lunch; parts of the town were cordoned off with police fire and ambulance as it appeared as if the top of a building had collapsed into the street. Not sure of the cause, but it had blocked the tram lines, and was on the TV news..
Here is a good Czech idea; serving kebabs, burgers etc out the window of the building..and they kindly put a set of stairs and small platform in place so that you can access the window. Very nice.
This evening we found an original Czech restaurant diagonally across the street from our hotel. It is rated very highly and we were not disappointed. On our last day in Czech, we now have the beer ordering etiquette sorted..order beer, remove beer mat/coaster from holder on table, place on table. Beer is delivered and always placed on beer mat coaster..NEVER EVER directly on the table.
There is one other major complication..beer comes in 4 varieties of .5 and .3l; with lots of froth, some froth,a bit of froth and very little froth! Once you have that sorted, you are good to go...
And to encourage consumption, its cheap..NZ$2.30 for 0.5 litre, NZ$1.50 for 0.3 litre.
Thursday 25th, we drove South from Olomouc for about 50km to the city of Zlin.
Zlin is the original home of Bata the shoe company, and they have a truly excellent shoe museum there. The Museum shows the history of the company and shoe making as they expanded throughout the world from 1920 onward. The founder Thomas Bat'a was an amazing man; not only an extraordinary business man, but one who believed that his employees should share the rewards of his success, but also share the risks of business. Unfortunately he was killed in a plane crash in 1932, but his stepbrother took over in his place. The Company shifted HQ to London and to Canada as WW2 and Soviet control of Czechoslovakia complicated business. The company continues..but most of the footwear is now made in China.
So that's it from the Czech Republic; 190km drive to our next stop, Katowice in Poland