Jewels of Bohemia September 2016 part 5
Our instructions from Milan were to have our luggage in front of our doors by 7:30 and be ready to leave this lovely village at 8:30. Paul and I appear to be one of the last of our group to go through the breakfast buffet and the food in many of the buffet bowls is nearly gone. The dining room is packed with tourists but Milan must have been given heads up on the crowd this morning because the tables along one wall have been reserved for our group. The staff is doing their best to replenish the food so Paul and I don’t go hungry, although as much as we have been eating it wouldn’t have hurt us to do without a meal!
The sky is overcast this morning and it is chilly as we leave The Old Inn Hotel to walk to the bus. I drink in the atmosphere of this enchanted city as we make our way to the bus and know that I will never forget Cesky Krumlov.
Our first stop today is at the Budweiser Budvar Brewery in Ceske Budejovice. We are met in the lobby by a young woman who will guide us through the brewery. The unusual thing is that our guide has her kindergarten age daughter along too. Our guide begins by telling us some history of the plant which was founded in 1895 but beer was brewed in Ceske Budejovice back in the 13th century. The U.S. brewer took the name Budweiser in 1876 because the brand was known for top quality beer. There has been a huge brouhaha between these two companies over the rights to use the name Budweiser on their product causing them to end up in court at various times. In the lobby where the young woman is talking to us there is a large sign where it asks would you rather drink the beer of kings or the king of beers. I guess the feud continues :).
Our guide takes us outside and we walk by stacks of empty plastic beer crates that tower above our heads. We stop at a small plot of ground where some hops are growing which allows us to see what the plant and the grain look like. We also stop and look at the water holding tanks that are filled with the companies own spring water. The young lady escorts us into a building where we climb a few flights of stairs to a balcony and in the room below are several large copper stills. After we learn a little about the process taking place in this room we cross over to another building that is the bottling facility on one end and a recycling plant on the other end.
The first impression I have of the plant is that it is quite noisy and a big place. There are hardly any people working down here, most of the work is done by robots. Our guide confirms that the largest percentages of people employed at the company are in management and sales. Watching lines of green bottles snake down the conveyor belts is almost hypnotic. The machines that the recycled bottles pass through at lightning speed are detecting cracks or chips and the flawed bottles are kicked into tub sitting to the side of the machines, no humans could ever detect flaws at that speed! There are huge stainless steel vats that wash and remove labels from the recycled bottles. Gee, humans are pretty much obsolete in this plant.
We now make our way to where the beer is being fermented and are given a sample of beer to try. It is a bit early in the morning for me so I take one sip to be polite. We also are shown the different malt that is used to make different types of beer. I must comment on how well-behaved our guides little girl was throughout the entire tour. I’m not sure she ever said anything! When our tour is over we return to the lobby where several of us look through the gift shop. I pass on buying anything but I think several bottle openers will be coming back to the States. I think it is while we are walking back to the bus that Paul quips that this OAT tour should be called “Brewers of Bohemia” instead of “Jewels of Bohemia “because of all the varieties of beers we have sampled and now the tour of the Budweiser Budvar plant. I thought that was darn funny. This seems a good place to mention that the people of the Czech Republic lead the world in beer consumption per capita!
Our next stop is at the 12th century village of Trebon. Trebon’s claim to fame is the carp that are raised in numerous lakes/ponds that surround the village. Carp is the traditional dish for Czech’s on Christmas Eve and Trebon provides most of the fish for this traditional meal. Waessik drops us off by one of the fish ponds, which I would call a lake, and we walk the length of the dam. It is a popular place for bikers, walkers and we even meet a “train” that is carrying tourists. Hey, there is a nuthatch, one of my favorite birds, walking down the trunk of a tree head first. I spot another one of the comical birds in the next tree. As we near a dock, in addition to the mallards swimming nearby the concrete structure hoping for some bread crumbs, there are numerous carp that can be seen too.
Milan stops at a map that shows the village, ponds and the surrounding landscape. He explains how the water levels in the ponds are lowered so the carp can be netted and harvested. The natural marshes and wetlands can hold all the water that is released from the ponds although they only do one pond at a time. I can’t fathom the amount of water that would have to be drained to get the fish out! I didn’t ask or more likely didn’t hear how the ponds are filled back up though; surely they can’t depend on run off from rains!
The route Milan takes us on passes by a portion of the old town fortification; there is a small roundish house that looks as though the seven dwarfs should start marching through the door on their way to work. We continue to a beautiful park that lies next to a sprawling white building. We are to eat lunch in a restaurant that lies underneath the building and guess what we are having for lunch? We make our way into the cellar like room where we are all seated at a long table.
Paul can’t have the carp due to his allergy to fish, and Mr. B declines the carp too. Well, the taste isn’t bad but I can’t deal with the tiny bones I find in my fish so I’m afraid I leave it on my plate. The side dishes were generous portions so there still was plenty to eat. I think several people, due to the bones, left the fish uneaten. I think we all felt bad about that.
When we have finished our meal, we follow Milan into the center of the village where lovely pastel colored houses line the street. Milan stops and with a grin opens his magic bag and pulls out a box. I believe Milan said that this food item he is about to share with us was one of his favorite treats that his dad would buy for him when he was growing up. Milan then offers us one of the large round cookies. This thing is huge and is made of two super thin wafers with a cinnamon/sugar filling in the middle. This treat is called a spa wafer perhaps because Trebon is also known as a spa town. Not the beer spa we saw in Prague but a health spa famous for the peat moss that is supposed to cure a variety of ailments. I must add that the spa wafer was very tasty and many of our group went back to the store to buy a box of them to take home. Paul went back to buy a single wafer to eat on the spot.
We follow Milan through a portion of pretty Trebon on our way to the bus and we just enjoy the atmosphere of the village. Our next visit takes place in Jindrichuv Hradec, it is “only” a 13th century town so it is a century younger than Trebon. After disembarking from the bus, Milan leads us on a route that gives us a wonderful view of the gigantic Castle that sits near the edge of a pond. It is a beautiful setting although if the sun would have been shining the scene would have been stunning.
We walk on to the Castle museum which is famous for housing the largest working mechanical Nativity scene in the world. Although the biblical nativity scene is part of the sprawling set, there is a whole village depicting village life, (of Bethlehem I assume), with tiny people going about their daily routine. There are all kinds of different scenes such as musicians playing instruments, shepherds herding sheep, blacksmiths at work and much more. Many of these tiny figures move as they go about their work. The man who built this intricate nativity scene was Tomas Kryza who spent decades completing his project.
When the Nativity show is over we explore some other parts of the museum including a portion of the museum that is dedicated to Ema Destinova. Those of you who are opera aficionados might recognize the famous opera singer of the early 1900’s. This woman preformed at many of the biggest opera houses in the world including the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. I am not an opera fan and had no idea who she was but after looking through the rooms filled with her personal items, I did conclude that her taste in furniture was certainly unique.
We also visit the Gobelin Museum which is near the Castle Museum to see the tapestry collection. We first visit a woman who is busy repairing an old, worn tapestry. What tedious work though I suppose very fulfilling once you have finished the project. The woman answers a few questions from some of our group and then we move on to look through the very old tapestries on display. Since I have no photos of these works of art I assume that photos weren’t allowed which makes sense because I know many of the beautiful tapestries were on loan to the museum and very valuable.
On our way to the bus we stroll through part of the Old Town with more eye-pleasing houses/buildings lining the square. I do love these town squares which invite people to sit down, relax and enjoy themselves. Our last stop of the day is Slavonice where we will spend two nights in this off the beaten path village. When we arrive in Slavonice, Waessik again drops us off on a main street since the bus won’t fit down the narrow street leading to the hotel. We are greeted by the owner/manager of the Dum U Ruze hotel and each of us are escorted to our rooms one at a time by Pavel the manager or by the young woman who is assisting him. Our group fills all the rooms of this charming hotel so of course, there are no other guests.
We are given time to settle in our rooms before we are to meet in the lobby at a set time. Paul and I have a nice room the only drawback being that there is only one window and I must stand on my tiptoes to see the view of the town square. One oddity, and our room in Cesky Krumlov was this way too, is that the toilet is by itself so you must walk a few steps down the hall to the shower room to wash your hands.
Once we are assembled on the ground floor, Milan tells us we are in for a treat and then lets the manager take over. Pavel takes us beneath the hotel into the 12th century wine cellar carved into the rugged rock. Pavel talks about the wine that is stored here, I think some of the oldest dated back to the 1950’s, then tells us a story about a wine pilferer that was using the tunnels that run under the town to sneak into the cellar and steal some of the most valuable wine. This was brought to a stop by installing some heavy-duty doors to block off the tunnel access. We then sample three kinds of white wine from the cellar. I am not a white wine person and I do not care for dry wine at all and these three wines fit both categories. One of the wines makes me involuntarily grimace and I happen to be looking at one of the sisters at that moment. Ms. L has the same expression on her face and it makes us both laugh. Most people in our group appreciate and like the wine so I know that in the wine connoisseur world these were quality wines.
We trudge back up the stairs, taking care here and there to duck our heads to avoid a low hanging rock. It is time for dinner and Milan has another surprise for us in that we will be entertained during dinner by a local band. The group called, Band Slavonice, is composed of four men, two playing guitars, one playing a bongo drum and one playing the violin. They are quite good and play a variety of songs including “Oh Susannah” and Country Roads by John Denver which we sing along with them on the chorus. They also play Czech music plus the violin player brings forth his inner Al Jolson on two songs where he sings solo, including the “Oh Yeah” while vigorously shaking his head at the same time, at the end of one of the songs. I loved it! We are sitting at the table nearest to the musicians and I become fascinated watching the finger and bow work of the violinist. Not having a single drop of musical talent, I can do nothing but admire and enjoy these four guys who are so talented.
Band Slavonice takes a break and Milan asks us to play a game involving questions about the members of the band. The winners will win a signed cd from Band Slavonice. The questions I remember are, guess the age of each man, how many children do they have, and what is their profession. Paul sits back and lets Jennifer, Ms. J, and me come up with our answers. The three of us begin to get silly about the professions of the group and soon we are laughing so hard that I have tears running down my face. Fortunately, we come to our senses in the end and not wanting to offend anyone, we give typical answers, dentist, teacher, farmer, and hmm, I can’t remember the other one. The three sisters end up winning the contest, they were very close or right on the ages of the men and may have had one profession right too. We losers end up buying a cd from the group which they willingly sign for us. It was great fun but our evening isn’t over yet as Milan asks if any of us want to participate in making our dessert. No one is shy in our group so several come forward and volunteer to help the chef in preparing the dish, including Jennifer. We don’t have to wait for it to bake as the dessert magically appears shortly after the volunteers have completed preparing the dessert. The tasty dish was a fine finish to an interesting and varied day.
Next blog, exploring Slavonice and the surrounding area