We spent our last three days of Lenka’s birthday extravaganza in her home town of Plzen (birthplace of pilsner beer) at her parent’s house. Lenka’s sister Pavlina graciously gave over her room and the whole upstairs of the house for us to crash in. Her parents were immensely welcoming; her dad picked our bags up from the train station and her mom already had goulash and potato soup ready for supper, followed by two kinds of delicious homemade cake (the recipes were demanded immediately). There is an abandoned brick factory behind the Zikmund household and I think their home used to be a part of it, but they’ve done so much work to it over the years so you’d never guess. Our upstairs was bright and full of skylights, but the most interesting feature of the lot were the pigeon houses.
Pigeon apartments more like: three big sheds housing somewhere between 150-200 pigeons for Lenka’s dad’s hobby of pigeon racing. He has been buying and breeding them for years much to his wife’s displeasure. We saw the babies in their nests, teenage birds duking it out for the best perch, new birds acclimatizing in a closed cage, and of course the champions. There was a race on Saturday and it went like this: the ten fastest, brightest birds were equipped with trackers and shipped to Belgium the day before. At 8am they were released where they flew way up, got their bearings by the earth’s magnetic field, then headed straight for home at an average speed of 70kph. Around 3pm the first ones arrived and their trackers triggered as they entered the yard. Lenka’s dad said sometimes they’ll land on the chimmney in the brick yard instead while he yells furiously at them to come down within range of the detector.
Lenka’s dad took us out for beers the first night, but we were still pretty trashed from the night in Český Krumlov so we had to pack it in early. The next day we went for a tour at the Pilsner Urquell brewery, obviously a much beloved icon in the town of Plsen. The highlight of the tour was the 9km of cellars beneath the compound where they used to ferment beer in barrels. They do it aboveground now in air conditioned tanks, but back in the day it was ice blocks and wooden barrels. They still do a few barrels a month this way just for the tourists, and we had a few glasses of it which was the best beer we’d tasted since BC. It’s the same hopped malt that turns into (imo pretty tasteless) bottled Pilsner Urquell beer, but before the filtering and pasteurizing process takes all the yummy hoppiness and depth from it. We found out they also serve it in a single pub beside the Pilsner Urquell museum, but that’s it. In Czech we mainly drank Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell, and a lot of it. Not very interesting for my tastebuds so I kept being difficult and ordering mead or wine cocktails, but I could drink that unfiltered Urquell every night for the next month and be happy.
That day was Lenka’s birthday so dinner was a big party with her family and all her old friends from school. Four of us shared – you can probably guess at this point – a huge plate of meat. It included a big slab of fat back which frightened me but Colin later quoted it as the best thing he’d eaten in Czech. I should mention Lenka is a vegetarian, I don’t know how she put up with us and our carnivorous ways. I drank korma which was beer and mead combined, and better than it sounds. Then her parents took Charlie and Chelsea (who had to leave early the next morning) and Colin home, and the rest of us went out on the town. It was a special religious occasion and all of the churches in Plzen were fully open to visitors including their catacombs. We visited one where somebody was playing random notes on a gigantic organ; most visitors were young people on their way to the bars but surprisingly nobody seemed to mind. The club we went to was nothing special, we felt pretty old and the DJ played OPP (yeah you know…). It was attached to a cafe which was more our style and of course since there are no open container laws in the Czech Republic we could just take our drinks outside.
We took it easy the next day. We hadn’t stayed out late, but I think the busy week was finally taking its toll and we just needed some downtime. We did some shopping at the Tesco while Matt and Colin went for one more unfiltered beer, then we walked around some and snacked at a cafe built into the old town wall. Lenka’s mom once again outdid herself and baked us strudel and gingerbread for breakfast then an amazing dinner. She is one remarkable lady, and to our delight she speaks English very well and has a wonderful sense of humor. We ate out in their yard and followed dinner with a bottle of wine, then another, then another, then some plum vodka… Lenka’s dad obviously enjoyed entertaining us as he topped up our glasses and we celebrated the straggler pigeons returning on their long journey from Belgium.
Today Kim, Lia, Jeff, Colin and I embarked on our own journey by train. Lenka’s mom made us all fried egg sandwiches for the trip and I spent the last of my Czech crowns on exotic chocolate bars. Our train from Prague to Vienna has – get this – tables and power outlets. I’m having a pretty blissful time here sitting by the window with my laptop, developing photos and watching for the Czech-Austrian border to go by.
Ciao Czech Republic, next up: Italy!