While in Prague Abbey and I decided that we would like to spend some time exploring other parts of Czechia. Our first stop was in Plzen (Pilsen) with the main goal being to see that world famous Pilsen Urquell brewery there. One of the things about visiting Europe that interested me the most was the opportunity to see the rich and historic beer culture. So visiting the city where pilsner was invented was something I had to do while there. Luckily for me, Abbey was on board with the idea as well. So we booked our train reservations and headed west to Pilsen.
The train ride was short and we were in Pilsen in less than two hours. As soon as we exited the train I could smell the barley from brewery, a smell that instantly reminded me of homebrewing. We got in a little after noon and grabbed some curry and soup from just about the only vegetarian restaurant in town. We couldn’t check into out AirBnB until 3pm so after lunch we spent some time at a cafe planning our one and only full day in Pilsen. AirBnBs were surprisingly expensive, so we weren’t able to get a great location. So after the cafe we got on a tram that took us close to our AirBnB for check in. Fortunately the public transit system was very good in Pilsen and it didn’t take us long to get there from the city center.
Aside from the brewery, we didn’t have much planned in Pilsen, so we decided to cook dinner and stay in for our first night. The next morning we went on a run and then got ready to head back into town. Our first stop of the day was the Brewery Museum. This was an interesting museum that basically highlighted the history of brewing in the Pilsen region dating back to the Middle Ages. Brewing has long been a part of the culture in Pilsen, so there was a lot fo information to convey leading up to modern day pilsner. I wasn’t expecting much from the museum, but it ended up being quite informative and detailed.
Following the museum we took a guided tour of Pilsen’s underground tunnels. The tunnels run underneath the entire city, but we were only able to walk a small section of them. We were made to wear hardhats on the tour because at points the ceilings were very low and it could be difficult to walk without having to crouch. The hour long tour was fascinating and a great look into the history of Pilsen from a different perspective. The tour was ran by the same people who dot he brewery museum because the tunnels related to beer making. Apparently it used to be forbidden to drink after sundown, so people would flock to the tunnels to brew and drink without being seen.
After the Pilsen underground tour completed we walked over to the Pilsner Urquell brewery to get ready for our tour. We arrived a little early and waited for others to show up. The time for our tour to start was approaching and no one else was there yet. We started to become concerned that we might be in the wrong place, but eventually our guide showed up. It turns out we were the only ones that booked the English tour for that time slot, so we would be getting a private tour.
I was a little bit nervous about this at first because I thought it might be awkward or strange for the tour guide. However, as the tour went on I realized how great it was to be the only ones because we didn’t have to worry about missing any information and we could ask whatever questions we wanted whenever we wanted. All other brewery tours I had been on were of craft breweries so it was very interesting to see how different large scale production was. By far the best part of the tour was being able to go to the cellars and drink unfiltered and unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell directly from the cask. The tour is the only place in the world you can have Pilsner Urquell like that.
The next morning we woke up extremely early to catch a train out of Pilsen. We were unfortunately unable to get a direct train to Cesky Krumlov and had to catch a connecting train in Prague. Although because both train rides were short, the backtracking didn’t bother us. We arrived in Cesky Krumlov in the early afternoon and our first observation was how small the train station was. We were used to large main stations with 10 or more tracks, but Cesky Krumlov only had two tracks, one heading north and one heading south. We descended down a steep road from the station to reach the heart of the town and our AirBnB location. Our walk gave us a magnificent view of the beautiful city with snowy mountains in the background. Although we could tell it was a small town, we could also tell that it was the most picturesque place we had been so far (rural Iceland may have a claim to this title as well).
In about fifteen minutes walking from the train station we reached our AirBnB. It was the most unique apartment we had stayed at thus far. We actually had to enter a stand alone restaurant and ask for the key from (presumably) the manager. We then walked to the second floor of the restaurant and past dining tables to a door in the back of the room. Through that door was our small, but extremely cute flat. At this point, I was already in love with the city.
Our AirBnB wasn’t located in Old Town, but all you had to do was cross a bridge next to the restaurant and then walk under an archway of the city castle to access the heart of the city. We made our way into Old Town immediately after checking in to grab some lunch. However, we didn’t explore the city much our first day because the entire next day was enough for that given the size of Cesky Krumlov. Instead we returned to our AirBnB after lunch and did some travel planning. We did venture out again that evening to find dinner. The streets were almost completely empty then (most visitors are only there on a day trip from Prague), and most everything was closed due to it being the offseason. However, we were lucky enough to find a small Italian restaurant that was open to satisfy us for the night.
The next day we headed back into Old Town without any specific plan for the day. More things were open during the day (and the crowds were much worse) and we were able to find a delicious creperie for breakfast. After breakfast we wandered Old Town for a while, and we were able to walk the entire area in under 15 minutes. Even though it was tiny, it was surreal walking the picturesque streets of Cesky Krumlov. Every street you walk down looks like its right out of a fairy tale.
We briefly went inside the tall chapel and then found a park that had a nice overlook of the rest of the city to admire. We eventually made our way over to the castle district and explored the castle grounds for a while. For a small fee we were able to climb the castle tower where at the top we were greeted with absolutely stunning views of city and surrounding landscape. One down side of visiting in the winter is that most other attractions were closed, so we spent most of the rest of the day in and out of cafes and restaurants in the Old Town district before retiring to our AirBnB for the evening. However, the business closures did not make our trip any less memorable! The next morning we ascended the hill that led us back to the train station and made our way out of Czechia, thus ending our Bohemian adventure.
Pilsen and Cesky Krumlov were two of the smaller towns that we have visited. We didn’t spend very long in either city, just enough to get what we came for – beer and beautiful views.
Over the years Kevin has dragged me to countless brewery tours. It got to the point where I put my foot down and refused to go to any more tours unless the brewery had something special to offer. When he brought up visiting Pilsner Urquell, I couldn’t deny that touring the brewery where pilsner beer originated was something special. Like Kevin, I was anxious when we discovered we would be the only two on a tour of the brewery. However, we quickly realized the three of us (Kevin, myself, and our guide) got along well, so it wasn’t awkward at all thankfully! Being the only two on the tour meant we could talk about more than just beer (something I was thankful for!) and we learned that our guide was Czech, but that she often spent months at a time in other cities in Europe working. Her jobs all fell under the tourism industry due to her love of meeting new people and seeing new cities. Despite not being optimistic going into the tour, I left feeling well-educated and entertained.
Cesky Krumlov was one of those cities that we saw pictures of and changed our course just so we could take in the views in person. We arrived after a fresh snow and the views did not disappoint. It was a bit disappointing that a lot of shops and restaurants were closed, but we were still able to have a lovely time. We mostly just walked around, chatted with locals, and marveled in how a city could look so much like a fairytale.
You may be able to tell by now that our original route hasn’t been followed at all. We said in the beginning that our map was just a rough sketch and it’s absolutely proving true. We have some strict dates to follow due to meeting friends, the Wales Coast hike, and getting back to the United States for a wedding, but other than that, we’re able to go wherever we want (within reason). It’s been nice to point out pictures of a city, check to make sure the city has things to do, and book train reservations and just go. The freedom that this year allows has been great.