As we’ve mentioned before on our blog, traveling successfully as a couple (read: not killing each other) occasionally requires time apart. Whether it’s a short walk in the morning by yourself or an entire day exploring something only you have an interest in, making time for yourself as an individual goes a long way to maintaining a modicum of patience and sanity.
So, with Calli in need of some clothes shopping, I decided to take a daytrip to Plzen. Located just 90km from Prague, it is the fourth largest city in the Czech Republic and is known the world round as the place where Pilsner beer was invented by what is now the Pilsner Urquell Brewery.
9:00 – A short ride on the metro has left me just enough time to buy my ticket, grab a drink and a snack, and help a lost fellow traveler before hopping on the (surprisingly) empty train heading to Munich (interestingly named the “Franz Kafka”). Costs – Ticket 100 CZK; Drink/snack 30 CZK
10:50 – I catch a quick glance of the Brewery as the train pulls into Plzen’s main station. Just a short walk later I am walking through the famous Brewery Gate (the one on the logo on every bottle or can they make) and into the brewery grounds. I confirm the 12:45 start time and buy my ticket. Costs:
190 80 CZK (the girl at the counter – who turns out to be my guide too – tells me I look “close enough” to a student and gives me the discount!)
11:00 – With my stomach growling I follow the well-signed path to the old town and wander around the massive St. Batholemew’s Cathedral, through the bustling Christmas in the main square, and eventually find a small Chinese place that looks packed to have a bite. Costs: 80 CZK for a meal so big that I almost don’t finish it – that’s a rarity – and a drink)
12:15 – After checking out the football field (FC Viktoria Plzen – a team we saw play all the way back in Madrid), I arrive back at the brewery grounds and have a quick poke around the shop – scoping out the perfect memento in the process. I make a mental note and head to the start of the tour.
1:00 – After a brief delay because the tour group ahead of us has been taking too long, we are given an intro to Pilsner Urquell and the history of Pilsner beer. We hop into a bus, yes a bus – that’s how big the brewery is, and a short ride drops us off at the modern state-of-the-art bottling facility.
1:15 – I am absolutely blown away with how fast they produce the beer – they can make 120 000 bottles, 41 000 cans, 12 000 plastic bottles, and a crap-ton of kegs every hour! The bottling machinery is fascinating.
1:30 Another bus ride has led me to the largest elevator in Czech Republic. So large that I didn’t realize we were standing in it until it started moving…apparently I wasn’t the only one! I am now in the “old” brewery. It hasn’t been functional since their last update, but it has since been converted to a movie theater and interactive display.
1:40 A movie plays on a screen while we circle “Jurassic Park” style on a rotating platform. I am pretty familiar with the brewing process in general, but the movie is cool nonetheless. After it finishes I follow as we meander through the interactive portion of the “old brewery” – here you can taste the barley, malted barley, water, hops, etc. that go into the brewing process.
1:50 We enter the “new” brewery and learn about the brewing process – since the Czech Republic has Purity Laws similar to Germany (that means beer can only have malt, yeast, hops, and water – no Rogue Chipotle Ale or the like) , I find it amazing the different range of flavours Czech lagers display!
2:10 A short walk has led us to the real reason to come on the tour – the underground cellars and the beer tasting. This part of the brewery is a remnant from the earliest days of Pilsner Urquell when the beer was stored in barrels in the ingeniously designed cellar. Carved out of the rock under the brewery by hand, the cellars are just for show these days – well, almost. They still divert a small amount of their delicious beer to age in these barrels and to grace the grateful lips of patrons that visit the brewery – eager patrons like me!
2:15 Our delightful guide pours me a big glass of frothy, unfiltered, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell (this is the only place where you can get it!). I am intrigued to find that some of the people on the tour don’t like beer – I am curious as to why they came on a “brewery” tour, but those thoughts are pushed from my mind when I taste the beer. I finish my glass and watch some of the other people.
2:30 My guide, standing beside me, states “Well, I am going to have another” and asks if I want another. “Sure” I reply. Myself and another two guys that are traveling on our own make our way past the oblivious group and back into the cellars. Our guide teaches us how to pour from the tapped barrel, and we enjoy one (read: two) more glasses. Fully satisfied that I got my money’s worth, we exit the cellars and the tour is over.
2:40 With a few minutes left before I need to make my way back to the station, I dart into the gift shop and buy myself a Christmas present – a beautiful beer stein. Cost: 180 CZ
3:00 I make it back to the station with minutes to spare and find my train home – with just enough time in between to grab a (well-deserved) snack. Costs: Ticket – 100 CZK; Snack – 30 CZK
All in all, I would rank this as one of my most enjoyable experiences traveling without Calli. The day was smooth and relaxing, and I couldn’t wait to walk in the door and tell here every detail about what I did.
Total Costs: 600 CZK (or around $30)…not bad for a fun daytrip!
Do you travel with a significant other? Do you take time apart every once in a while, or do you have another way of resetting yourself and finding time for yourself while you’re on the road? What is your favorite brewery? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments!