The Czech Republic
A Little Jewel
Text & Photos by Beverly Cohn
he Czech Republic is a tiny jewel of a country that you could drive
through in one day. Although Prague is the most popular destination,
the rest of the country abounds in the most charming tiny towns and
villages that are packed with historic treasures, including 2,000 castles
and chateaux in a variety of architectural styles. Hosted by friendly,
most knowledgeable guides, Macek Pavel from Czech Tourism and Jirina
Vokrouhlikova (Georgina) from Prague Europe Tours, our press trip adventures
were about to begin.
On arrival I checked into the Holiday
Inn Hotel in the Prague Congress Centre. The lobby of the hotel is nicely
done and the friendly staff was helpful in retrieving one of my missing
bags that got placed on the wrong plane during my connecting flight
from Londons Heathrow Airport.
A local grocery store a short walk from the Holiday
I decided to do a little exploring on my own before
connecting with the rest of the journalists and got some guidance from
the front desk. Just a short walk from the hotel is the Vysehrad High
Castle, the first Czech kings residence said to be full
of myths and legends. Vysehrad served as a stronghold guarding entry
into the city since the early Middle Ages.
The interior of the beautiful Basilica Minor church.
Nearby is the Slavin cemetery, the burial site of the
most prominent figures in Czech politics and culture, as well as a lovely
park with beautiful statues and one of the many churches sprinkled throughout
Traditional goulash and dumplings in a local neighborhood
I wanted my first meal to be authentic so I went into
a bakery and asked one of the customers if she could recommend a local
restaurant. She was very helpful and actually walked me to one of her
favorite restaurants where I ordered traditional goulash and dumplings.
Although not served with any particular design or flair, it was a generous
portion with the thick dumplings perfect for sopping up the abundant
amount of gravy.
It is 9:00 am and we all piled into the bus for our
first visit, which was to Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad). Driving rush hour
in Prague is about the same as any major city and many of the streets
were gridlocked. Teenagers, some of who are members of Gypsy gangs,
have tagged almost all the buildings. Contrasted by the more historic,
charming buildings, the former influence of Soviet occupation is apparent
in the architecture of some of the post World War II structures that
are cold, stark, and institutional looking.
The charming town of Karlovy Vary, the largest and
most famous of the thirty-five spa towns in the Czech Republic.
With its 12 mineral springs, the beautiful
Tepla River that runs through it, and its charming architecture,
Karlovy Vary, located in West Bohemia, is the largest and most famous
of the thirty-five spa towns. Over the centuries it has launched
new medical procedures for a variety of ailments from diabetes to
gout, becoming a Mecca for healing the rich and famous, which included
kings, aristocrats, and composers such as Mozart,
Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky.
A bit hard to swallow mineral water
with a slightly rusty aftertaste.
Following a guided walking tour through this quaint
town and a taste of the 72 degrees mineral water soaring from
a geyser, we headed to the world famous Moser Glass factory, known
as the Glass of Kings.
Moser Glass blowers creating a new piece of glass.
A giant bottle outside the entrance to Becherovka
Museum of Liqueur Factory
A tour of the factory is a must to see how these exquisite
glass products are created, from how they are blown to finished. To
become a master craftsman, you must attend the Glass and Ceramic School
for three years and then serve as an apprentice for two years. A very
liberal work environment, employees are allowed four lite beers per
shift so all appear to be enjoying their work.
If you want to wash down the somewhat lingering taste
of the mineral water, head over to the Becherovka Museum of Liqueur
Factory for a sampling of Jan Bechers liqueurs. Made from herbal
bitters and flavored with aniseed, cinnamon, and approximately 32 other
herbs, only two people actually know the recipes. Served ice cold, these
liqueurs are often used as a digestive aid.
Lunch was in nearby Loket, a small, charming town crowned
with a picturesque city center where Casino Royale was shot.
The Cisar Ferdinand restaurant offered a hearty traditional Czech meal
consisting of chicken, pork, bacon, Camembert cheese, and mashed potatoes,
preceded by a peach stuffed with chicken salad as an appetizer. (Broskeev).
Of particular interest is the Loket Castle that
is more than 800 years old and is among the oldest stone castles in
the Czech Republic.
The beautiful Hotel Imperial Spa & Health Club,
fully restored to his former splendor.
After visiting the Grand Hotel Imperial, whose guest
list since it opened its doors in 1912, included the Rothchilds, the
Russian Grand Duke Paul, and from Hollywood, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary
Pickford, we overnighted in the Hotel Resort Sanssousi whose apt tag
lines are Gardens of Health and A time without
cares. Historically, the spa tourism business collapsed following
both world wars and in 1948 all mineral resources and spa facilities
were nationalized and the hotel became a state sanatorium with its own
baineological facility. In 1992, after a complete remodel, the hotel
was returned to its former appearance and glamour.
The display in the beer capital of the world.
This happy group of journalists and travel agents from
all over the world piled back on the bus at 8:30 am for a quick look
at the Castle and Chateau in Becov, home of The Shrine of St. Maurus,
a significant Romanesque monument discovered in 1985. We then headed
to Pizen, The City of Beer, in West Bohemia.
An employee pours glasses of unfiltered beer for
Home of the world famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery, we
visited the old and the new brew houses and the cellars where we tasted
unfiltered beer right out of the barrel. Brewed for the first time in
1842, it takes five weeks to make beer. The museum is located in the
original, medieval brewing house and is said to be the oldest of its
kind in the world. In the early days of home brewing, the king authorized
the custom of placing a wreath on your front door if you were brewing
beer. The factory has the largest elevator in the Czech Republic that
holds up to 72 people. Its like a good size room that moves. Oh
yes. The Czechs are purported to be among the biggest consumers of beer
in the world.
The largest synagogue in the Czech Republic
Now the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic, Pizen,
founded in 1295 by King Wenceslaus II, is also home to the biggest synagogue
in the Czech Republic. Built in 1893 by a Christian architect, this
Moorish-Romanesque synagogue is the second largest in Europe and third
largest in the world, a testament to the former Jewish population. Before
the war, there were 120,000 Jewish people in the Czech Republic, with
only 5,000 remaining today, and just 30 in this town. Many of the synagogues,
due to the small Jewish population, have become museums for which you
have to pay an entry fee. Also of historical significance is the Gothic
St. Bartholomew Cathedral in which the beautiful Madonna of Pilsner
adorns the main altar.
Following an enjoyable lunch at Na Spilce, a charming
restaurant which was formerly a fermentation cellar called spilka,
we took a guided tour of Pizen and then off we went to the historic
town of Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO site in South Bohemia. With its quaint,
narrow, winding streets, and a historical city center framed by a towering
castle and chateau sitting above the Vltava river, the town is considered
to be the most well preserved example of the medieval era. During that
period, the castle was home of the most powerful Czech nobles, The Rosenbergs,
Lord of the Rose.
Journalists and travel agents from all over the
world gathered for this night of merriment.
Our hosts planned a most extraordinary surprise for
us which turned out to be was a Renaissance dinner at the Hotel Ruze.
Much to our delight, each of us got to select a period costume and then
dined on authentic food which some of us ate with our hands. While youre
in this town, do check out the charming Krumlov Mill, a thematic restaurant
overlooking the picturesque Vltava river.
This ends Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2 for further
adventures in the Czech Republic, including exploring magical Prague
and a fun day at the Prague Culinary Institute.
Ahoj. Hello and goodbye