Great Synagogue – Plzen Beer Museum – Tower of St. Bartholomew – Drive to Prague – Old Town Prague – Private beer tasting – Prague pub crawl
After another terrible hotel breakfast of cheese, bread and cereal, we walked toward the main square of Plzen via the Great Synagogue, which is an impressive structure. It is the largest synagogue in Czech and the second largest in Europe. After a peak inside, we headed to the Beer Museum which is near the Pilsner-Urquell brewery and focuses on the creation of pilsner lager and its effects on beer and the town of Plzen. While the museum itself might have been a little lifeless, we ended up next to a private group who had paid for a guide in English, so we conveniently got to follow close by and listen to the informative commentary. Hopefully no one noticed us eavesdropping, but it’s not our fault for understanding English.
After we sampled our free Pilsner Urqell that came with the museum ticket, we walked over to the main square to climb the tower of St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral. While a decent ways up, the skyline of Plzen isn’t all that exciting. Plzen in general wasn’t all that exciting to us, it has some nice areas but feels a bit run down outside of the main square. We loaded up on pastries and some local snacks and decided to drive for Prague that afternoon, a little over an hour north.
Other than lots of bad Czech music on the radio, the drive to Prague was uneventful and we arrived around 1:00pm and dropped off our bags at the Hotel Hastal (not a hostel, pronounced haz-STALL). It was now time to drop off our rental car since Prague is extremely easy to walk about. This proved more challenging than expected, since we had to drive through Old Town which is loaded with locals and tourists who have the right of way at every corner. When you would stop to let a few people cross, thirty more would follow. It took five minutes just to get through one light. We wondered why anyone would attempt to drive here and looked forward to being pedestrians again. With a few more challenges we managed to fill up the gas tank, return the car in one piece and walk back to our hotel through Republic Square.
Side note: From what we have gathered of the Czech language, words that are adjectives or describing their origin end up with the letter “y” at the end. For example, Budweiser beer served in Budejovice becomes Budejovisky. So on a map, the main plaza is called Republiky Square. But somehow this rule also ended up being applied to lots of Czech to English translations, making for some pretty funny looking signs including: Salaty (salad), steaky, deserty, drinky, and bagety. Sometimes the “y” denotes a plural, but it is still hard not to laugh.
Our hotel had some brochures for local tours, and we found a beer tasting at 5pm being led next door so we signed up and walked over. In a small courtyard with an even smaller bar, we met Andre who was Czech, spoke wonderful English and loved beer. Since no one else had signed up for the tasting, we enjoyed seven beers and a private lesson in Czech beer tasting and Prague breweries. Also because Andre was the first Czech who we could really talk to, we asked him loads of other questions we had about the country. We took up about two hours of his time, so we let him get ready before the bar’s pub crawl that evening, which he encouraged us to join. With the promise of lots of travelers to talk to and free alcohol for an hour, we signed up, of course!
We learned that the bar was owned by a tour company who payed and accepted volunteer guides to do all kinds of guided tours and beer tastings in English and Spanish. We chatted with another guide named Paul who worked with the company, originally from New York, and he walked us to his favorite pizza place in Prague while giving us all kinds of advice and interesting information. He was a teacher and also a master sommelier, go figure, so we also chatted Czech wine. We parted ways and enjoyed some terrific Italian style pizza before heading back to the bar to meet up with our pub crawl.
This pub crawl takes place in Prague every night. And we learned later that it’s not even the only one in Prague. Ours was on a Thursday and it was still packed by the time we started at 9. As promised, the bar was open for free beer and vodka for one hour and we had a chance to meet some other Americans, Scottish and Englishmen, and of course Australians. It was fantastic to finally have some human contact besides each other, although I think we were among the oldest there and definitely the only married couple. The pub crawl guides took us to three bar/clubs throughout the night (you pay in advance for your admission) ending at a five story dance club, the largest in Europe. It stays open until 5am, but we petered out around 1:30 and made the walk back to our hotel, spirits lifted to finally not be alone in our travels.