Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Bohemian Rhapsody (2014)

The beer trail continues

By mid-morning on Friday, following a pleasant train journey from Pilsen, we were already installed in new accommodation (the Clarion Congress Hotel) at our latest destination, České Budějovice. That tends to be a bit of a mouthful for English speakers, so I'm going to use the city's German name instead: Budweis, home of the original Budweiser beer. Nowadays the largest city in South Bohemia, Budweis was founded in 1265. It was a German-speaking enclave until 1880 and remained the home of a significant minority population of ethnic Germans until the post-World War II expulsions from Czechoslovakia.

As we rapidly discovered, Budweis isn't just a beer town: the city has a charming and beautiful old town area. After quickly settling into the compact dimensions of our latest room, we set out towards the old town in the increasingly strong sunshine. It was clear that this was turning into a gorgeously clear and warm spring day.

We quickly found Přemysl Otakar II Square, main focal point of the historic district and one of the largest squares in the country. Not surprisingly, it is home to many of the city's attractions, perhaps the greatest of which is the Town Hall. This three-tower Baroque building is decorated with statues dedicated to justice, courage, wisdom and caution, as well as symbols of both Budweis itself and Bohemia in general. In the immediate vicinity, the impressive Samson's Fountain and the elegant Vcela Palace were easy to locate. Just off the diagonally opposite corner of the square, we could see the upper parts of both the cathedral and the Black Tower, but we decided to leave these for later in the day, continuing our stroll in a westerly direction towards Piaristic Square and the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary with its now-closed monastery, dating from the very beginnings of the city itself.

We encountered a small branch of the Malše river near the Hotel Budweis and followed it to where the main flow of that river empties into the Vltava. Following the Malše upriver to Dr Stejskala Bridge and beyond allowed us to observe some wonderful reflections caused by the colourful buildings in the waters below.

Conscious that the next part of the day's itinerary was going to be dictated by the once-a-day 2pm tour at the city's historic brewery, we realised that it was time for a spot of lunch and had some simple but tasty enough offerings from a local café on the main square.

A short bus ride then brought us to the Budweiser Budvar (or Budějovický Budvar) brewery, home of the original Budweiser beer and not to be confused with the famous American brand of the same name. As we waited for the tour's scheduled start time in the company's bright and modern reception area, it soon became clear that the visit was going to be on a much smaller scale than the similar tour that we'd taken in Pilsen. I enjoyed the experience and found it interesting to compare and contrast this company's story with the one from the previous day. What I did find very odd indeed, however, was the fact that at 2pm on a Friday afternoon, the production lines were completely silent as nearly all the staff had already disappeared for the weekend!

LEFT: Visiting the Budweiser Budvar brewery

Tour and all-important tastings both completed, we made our way back to the historic district in pleasant afternoon sunshine. Our second walk in this area satisfied the dual aims of having a closer look at the cathedral and Black Tower, and attempting to spot possible dinner venues.

Following a well-earned rest back at base, evening activities involved an attractive wine bar on the edge of the old town and a popular pizza restaurant near the centre of the historic district.

After all that, we wondered how we were meant to sleep in our grossly overheated room at the Clarion Congress, but we went to bed still believing that the next day would revolve around making a day trip to our final destination, in accordance with the original plan. As we shall see, however, plans are not necessarily set in stone ...

Friday 07 Mar

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