“Ahoj” and Welcome to Praha. Devastated by two World Wars and 50 years of communist rule, this sleepy giant is once again awake and kicking. And I’m pleased to report Prague is back!
Army business brought Rachel and I to Germany’s Vilseck US Health Clinic. And, as it lies right on the Germany/Czech border and yours truly’s birthday was eminent, we thought why not make a run over the border to the Czech Republic’s Golden City capital. There was an international beer festival going and, though, I had been before, Rachel had not. Yep, you had me at beer.
Cresting the Bavarian hills and seeing the flowing hills of the Czech Republic laid out in the distance in front of us, it’s amazing that such a serene area could have been host to so much violence over the years. Their 30 Year War alone killed eight times all of the American killed in all wars …ever (8 million vs 1.2 million). But such has been life in this European powder keg over the decades. No longer Czechoslovakia since 1992 (much still to the surprise of many Americans), this country is experiencing a rebirth. And nowhere is that clearer than the vibrant capitol of Prague.
Such a fun city. It’s a perfect 3 day get away. Easily walkable, beautiful vistas, and an easily managed subway system (with treacherous tall escalators, however). Prague has a lot going for it these days, not least of which is cheap living, and a very cool, Bohemian subculture. Hell, Prague invented the Bohemian vibe as this area was the original Bohemia. They are the importer of high-end crystal and Polish Pottery into Germany. And, they are, apparently, the stag-party capitol of Europe. If you see a 10 person Mariachi band go by (or much worse), or walk into a pub filled with Catholic priests, don’t be shocked. Those are guys dressed up for a Bachelor party. Apparently themes are important.
And as beautiful are the views from Prague’s Charles Bridge are during the day (albeit odd all the same), when the sun goes down in Prague, this scenic old world city center gives life to a whole other atmosphere. One that tends to be very, uhm, stag-party centric. The endless, turning & twisting alleyways provide many an avenue to get lost for a few hours. And whether your poison is the scandalous strip clubs, or chasing the green fairy that is Absynth, you’ll find it in grand variety along these roads. Regardless of where Rachel and I were, we could here echoes of groups laughing coming down every street. Not being always able to determine where it was coming from just added to the allure of it all.
And for the happily married birthday boy, there is still plenty less “stag” activities to keep one entertained. Prague has embraced an underground world of black light theaters for the last 50 years. And apart from scant nudity from time to time, there is nothing sinister about them. In fact, they are very well thought of, and many productions in these theaters often receive strong international critical praise. And, I must say, they are pretty fascinating. Kind of a combination of a magic show (as they reveal various black light-based visual illusions) and musical theater. The show Rachel and I saw was a theme and variation on the idea of Alice in Wonderland, the later years. Seeing Alice literally start flying around the stage (thanks to the black-veiled invisible stage crew ) as well as the surreal glow-in-the dark effects of her environment combined for a very surreal few hours of entertainment.
The sun back up, and all of Prague’s debauchery brushed back into the shadows, Rachel and I were able to take advantage of Rachel’s all-time favorite vacation activities …walking tours. And as Rachel’s favorite tour company (Sandeman Tours, check ‘em out) had an office in Prague, awalkin’ we went. From a fascinating guided tour through Prague’s 14th century Jewish synagogue district to the world’s scariest looking cemetery (as the cemetery filled up, they piled up 2 more feet of dirt and buried more on top of them: eight times over, always re-raising the old tombstones to the new ground level), plus treks to its world famous Astronomical Clock. And who knew that the Czech practically cornered the market in Defenestration (throwing people out of windows).
And no history in Prague would be complete without a sampling of its world famous beer. While Germany tops the world in Beer consumed, and the Bavarians drink the most total beer of anyone (thanks in large part to the 2 million gallons they put away in the 16 day Oktoberfest), it is the Czech that drink the most beer per-capita than anyone. On average, every man women and, yes, child, average 2 pints of beer every day of the year. Beer here is *literally* cheaper than water. No wonder tossing people of out windows seems to make so much sense to them.
And did you know Prague is home to Budweiser? Well yes, and no. I’m talking about the original 1785 Budweiser (pronounced “bud-viser” here), not the world famous Anheuser-Busch Budweiser of 1876.
But, well, I kinda am. You see the US Budweiser actually *does* come from the Prague one. Its based on the same formula, and it was the members of the same family that took the recipe to the States and tail-gate parties everywhere. Relatives of those guys still maintained their own copyright on the formula here locally, but do to legal mumbo-jumbo aren’t allowed to market it outside of Czech using the same name. But, yes there is a town of Budweis in Czech that inspired the beer. There is also a town of Pilsen, which was home to the first Pilsner. See, I told you Czech takes beer very seriously.
Lagers not your thing. Well check out the annual Czech International Beer Festival and really experience the best in European beer crafting. Even Rachel liked the beer there, well kinda. Buy hey, I got a free beer from a bunch of monks (see previous comment about stag party themes). Great thing about this year’s convention was that it shared fairground space with a …tattoo convention. Planning fail, …LOL. I’m sure many a monk and catholic priest woke up with some unfamiliar, and very permanent ink.
To really see just how seriously Czechs take their beer, one need only drive down the road an hour from Prague to the city of Chodova Plana “the beer wellness land.” As a surprise to Rachel I had actually booked our second, and final, night in Czech in this small neighboring town. Like many of the “cure” Spa towns of Europe (see side blog on European Spa towns), this whole area was about relaxing the mind, body and soul, …but with a twist. You see the city of Chadova Plana is also home to the world famous Chadovar brewery. So they’ve combined a normal spa town with a beer theme. The ultimate his and hers vacation.
For starters, your room comes packed with beer. And not the case of alumina cans kind, the high end, bottles with corks kind. Yah, that kind of beer. The spa packaged started off with a nice cold Chodavar beer (of course), and then a 20 minute deep tissue massage. Just enough to invigorate muscles and increase the blood circulation to the skin so you could properly enjoy stage two: a 100 gallon beer hot tub. Yes, an entire tub filled with 102 degree beer. And you swim around in it.
And, as Rachel and I had a couples package, they actually set up a bathtub big enough for both of us to float around in at the same time. Crazyiness aside, the type of beer blend and additional hops added are supposed to be amazing for your pores and hair. I must admit, floating around the oversized old-world copper tub (making hair afros and sailor hats on our heads with the beer foam) I did feel very vibrant and rejuvenated.
A Birthday soaking in a 200 gallon tub of 102 degree beer. Yah, life is good.
After this, we were ushered off to the “quiet room” where they provided us another cold beer, and then wrapped us tightly in giant, hot, wet towels and turned off the light. Yah, I felt like I was back in the womb. I practically started sucking my thumb. After 20 minutes (or four hours, not sure which), they came in and woke us up with, yes, another cold beer.
Funny thing was, while they let us wash our hands, we were supposed to let the rest of the beer cure into our skin overnight. Of course this is what we were able to infer because, oh, did I fail to mention that no one in the town spoke English? Too funny. After this we dressed, and were ushered into some underground beer caves for a world class dinner. This place just kept getting better and better.
Oh, and the best part? It was amazingly inexpensive. A full day spa package, including hotel room was only 70 euros each. And the 5 course meal with dessert and all the beer you could handle, was …$34. Yes, thirty four American dollars. If you ever come visit Rachel and I in Germany, this place is worth a weekend. Check ‘em out at Chodovar.com.
Well, all this talk of beer, beer and beer has me feeling parched.
Until next time my friends, stay thirsty.