Beer in Bohemia 

The people in the Czech Republic consume the more beer per head than anyone else in the world, and the country has topped the per capita beer drinking table for 23 consecutive years! In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Czechs drank 142.4 litres per person, which is the equivalent of 250 pints – one every 35 hours! Read more here.

During our visit there, it was our duty, therefore, to contribute to national statistics and the delicious beers absolutely helped! We found that in Germany, there were fewer varieties of beer (weiss, dunkel, helles), all were light (around 5% ABV) and it was mostly about the quantity of beer (in liters!) consumed; read about the fun we had here! Almost all beer in the Czech Republic tasted like craft beer, with varied tastes, strengths, and we couldn’t get enough!

While all the beer we tasted was very good, according to us, the top 5 beers/breweries to try in the Czech Republic are:

Pilsner Urquell in Plzeň. Their traditional Pilsner, a blond lager, is very good, as are their darker, stronger beers- we tried Master (18°) which was yum!

Konrad and Hermann microbreweries. Our trip was perfectly timed to coincide with the Czech beer festival in Prague, a very lucky coincidence! As a result, we got to try a number of smaller microbreweries that might not have been possible otherwise. Konrad and Hermann were two that we only found at the festival and would definitely recommend both.

Kozel. More mainstream than the ones mentioned above, we found at least 4-5 different varieties of beer made by them and the few we tasted were delicious!

Bohemia regent. Also more mainstream, we got to try one of their craft brews, Lady vanilla, at the festival. It tasted like a very good cream ale, with a hint of lime, and now we really regret not having brought home any bottles!

Eggenberg brewery in Český Krumlov. Another famous brewery, this one truly deserves its good reputation! The restaurant has a nice ‘beer hall’ feel, their beers are really delicious and the food is tasty too! What more could one ask for?!

Na zdraví!!

Oktoberfest!! And 48 hours in Munich, Germany 

Experiencing Oktoberfest had been on the to-do list for many years, considering how much we liked beer, how could we not attend the festival solely dedicated to it! Finally everything fell into place and in Sept. 2015, K, conveniently, had a work trip planned in Germany and Norwegian airlines had a great ticket to Oslo, so we gathered the troops and made it happen!

The extremely affordable Oakland-Oslo ticket, allowed 24 hours to explore Oslo, an added benefit.

Day 1 was spent exploring Munich and its sights, Marienplatz, the Deutsches museum, BMW museum and Olympic village, ending with dinner at the Viktualenmarket2.jpg
We warmed up for the next day with a few beers and kaiserschmarrn (a delicious dessert of caramelized pancake) at a local pub Nihar found and loved. He might’ve over-indulged just a little- the next day didn’t begin as well for him!1.jpg

The next day, we explored the Englischer Garten and soaked in some sunshine before an afternoon/evening of debauchery!

Finally, it was time! The train to Theresienwiese transported us to what felt like a city unto itself. Large beer tents, fair rides and games, food stalls and more people than would’ve been imagined. Needless to say, we were delighted! The evening saw us in the tents of Hacker Pschorr,  Spaten and Paulaner. Since we had no reservations anywhere, finding a table was often a challenge but we did get to know a few interesting people in the process, our and their friendliness, no doubt, fueled by all the beer.

With all the joy-rides and games stalls beckoning, a few of the braver souls rode the roller-coaster and claimed that they loved each of the 4 loops it took them on! Emma and Teja also shot targets and won a rose each.

The fest really ended for us, with an extremely satisfying meal from McDonald’s- probably the best we’ve ever had there!


While the next morning was not much fun, it was a great experience and highly recommended, if you’d like an evening of beer, music and some drunken singing along, lots of people, a roller-coaster ride and some more beer!

2 days in Prague, Czech Republic 

With nothing about the Czech Republic in our trusty ‘Western Europe’ Lonely Planet, Prague was one of the cities we were least prepared for!  A few things we learnt right away, and are good to keep in mind, include:

1. Currency: The Czech Repubic has its own currency, the Czech koruna. In May 2017, 24CZK = 1CHF, 23.5CZK = 1USD, 26CZK = 1EUR. A lot of transactions are cash only, so it is good to have some local money. Places do take Euros, but often offer a poor exchange rate, so avoid it as far as possible. The worst rate is at the border to buy the Vignette to enter the country- if possible definitely try to buy it in CZK!

2. Language: Czech sounded like, and probably is, a fairly difficult language. Most people do speak at least some English and German, so it isn’t too difficult to get around with no knowledge of the language. They do appreciate the effort though- ahoj (pronounced ahoy) is hello and goodbye, dike (pronounced dee-kay) is the slang for thank you, dobrý den (pronounced doe-bree-den) is good day, and prosím (pronounced pro-seem) is please.

3. Western/Central/Eastern Europe: I think instinctively one would assume that the Czech Republic is a part of Eastern Europe- it is not; Vienna, which is firmly a part of Western Europe is east of Prague! The locals say they are part of Central Europe, and definitely do not like to be called Eastern Europe.

With that out of the way, Prague is a fun and relaxed city, with cheap food, very cheap and really tasty beer and lots of interesting places to see! With 48 hours in the city, some of the key sights and things to do would include:

Old town square and the atomic clock: Steeped in history, with an interesting story at every corner, the old town square is a great place to admire the architecture (the Old Town Hall, the Church of Our Lady before Týn, the Jan Hus memorial and St. Nicholas church), people-watch and gawk at the atomic clock as it strikes the hour. The food from the stalls smells delectable, but costs at least twice of what it does elsewhere!

Stroll along Charles Bridge: One of the iconic and famous bridges of Prague, it is probably one of the busiest places in the city. Walking across can be quite a challenge, but the statues along the bridge, the vendors with their handmade trinkets and the views along the Vltava river, make it well worth the effort.

Visit Prague castle: It is the largest coherent castle complex in the world, with an area of almost 70,000 m², believed to be founded in around 880 by Prince Bořivoj of the Premyslid Dynasty. It feels like a tiny city in itself, and is worth the 3-4 hours it takes to walk around and soak it all in. No tickets are required to enter the castle grounds and gardens, so you can walk around the entire site for free, however individual sights- like the St. Vitus cathedral, Golden lane, etc, within the complex require their own tickets. It is supposedly the most visited site in Prague, so if the Charles bridge was a challenge, this is a lot busier! Tickets can be bought online and looking at the lengths of the queues, that would probably be recommended. We admired most of the structures from outside and watched the 12 noon changing of the guard- which is the bigger ceremony held once a day. Since the castle is perched up on a hill, the views of Prague from it are quite spectacular too!

Fun fact – the castle looks great lit up in the night when viewed from the city, interestingly, a large number of these lights were sponsored by the Rolling Stones! Apparently, when the band asked why the castle was dark during their visit to post war Czech Republic, they were informed by the then President that the country had no funds for frivolities. Ashamed but moved, the band sponsored the lights that stand even today!

Visit the Jewish neighborhood: Most of the Jewish neighborhoods of Prague were spared during World War II and a lot of the synagogues and buildings and in perfect condition. Horrifyingly, this was because when Hilter visited the city during the war, he fell in love with it and decided to preserve it, to be used after the war as a museum of the ‘extinct race’! The Spanish synagogue is ornate and stands at the site of probably the oldest synagogue in Prague. Confiscated properties of Czech Jewish communities were stored in the synagogue during World War II, which was handed over to Jewish Museum after the war and is now open to the public. The old-new synagogue, while small, is the oldest surviving medieval synagogue of twin-nave design and is the oldest active synagogue in Europe. Pinkas synagogue commemorates about 78,000 Czech Jewish victims of the Shoah (holocaust) and has their names on the synagogue’s inner wall. It also houses an exhibition of pictures drawn by children in the concentration camp in Theresienstadt, taught by the renowned artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

The clock in Hebrew above the old-new synagogue

 

Spanish synagogue
The Kafka statue in the garden outside the Spanish synagogue

 

Visit the second statue of Kafka: Located in the new town, getting to this statue is like traveling through a time machine, from the past to today! Located behind the modern, bustling Quadrio Shopping center, the work by David Černý’s complements his other statue entitled Metalmorphosis, installed in North Carolina.


Fred and Ginger (the Dancing House): This is a non-traditional, modern construction is a stark contrast to the ornate Gothic buildings in old town. Worth looking at just as an oddity!

Lennon wall: Once a normal wall, since the 1980s it has been filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles’ songs. In a state of constant metamorphosis (there was a can of spray paint sitting at the wall inviting wannabe artists), with a musician playing Beatles songs, it lends a very Bohemian feel to the area!

As always, food and drink was a big part of our trip. Czech food was quite delicious and cheap, and the beer was really great! Widely available and actually cheaper than water, it complemented every meal, was ubiquitous, a great way to beat the heat and so tasty! Fun fact – The Czechs are the largest consumers of beer in the world, with an average of 142.4 – 156.9 liters (based on which study you read) per person per year! Well ahead of any other contender!

So naturally we had to do our part too, consuming an average of 1 liter per head per day 🙂 Read about it here.

Read about our experiments with and experiences of Czech food here.

24 hours in Salzburg: ♪ lets start from the very beginning! ♪  

Salzburg is a great big, small city.

One of the best ways to explore the city is by a bike tour. We took the Sound of Music bike tour from Fräulein Maria. Fun! It was a great way to see the sights and a real treat for the genuine fans of the film.

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In the evening, we tried the local beer served and delivered the way the monks originally did, at the Augustiner brewery. It was hard to find the place but once we did, large beer halls and a beer fountain greeted us. 

Also tried a pretzel from the original pretzel stand in the old town- huge but delicious!

24 hours were just about enough to explore the quaint little town and get our fill of the beautiful city of the Sound of Music!

Chasing waterfalls and more: 2 days in Baños, Ecuador

Baños de Agua Santa or Baños is the adventure capital of Ecuador. Located in the eastern Tungurahua Province, in central Ecuador, it is known as the Gateway to the Amazon. Baños de Agua Santa, Spanish for Baths of Holy Water, is named after the hot springs located around the city which have a reputation of having healing properties due to their content of various minerals.

After the first 2 days in Quito we headed to Baños to get our fill of outdoor adventure sports. And boy, we did!

The bus ride from Quito, while long and uphill, was quite scenic and we arrived in a much cooler, rainy small town, compared to the metropolis we had left behind. We stayed at the Erupcion hostel, which is on the main street, right in the centre of most of the action.


Baños, is famous for the spectacular waterfalls and hot springs within and around the city and there are open top buses that take you around, to the various waterfalls. At almost each stop, there were activities that could be done- from the tame ride across in a basket/cable car that offered spectacular views of the waterfalls, to the extreme upside down zip-line across! What was amazing was how little everything cost: a single ride on the cable car cost about $1 while the zip-line cost just $15!


We spent a few enjoyable hours chasing waterfalls- the zip line rides were awesome, the kind that would inspire songs believing that you could fly and while the cable cars looked tame, they shuddered and jerked- making it a brilliant ride!

The pièce de résistance came when at one of the stops we were told you could bungee jump off the bridge for $20! Thats been on the to-do list, and we thought it could only happen in NZ, for >$100, so this was an opportunity not to be missed! Needless to say, it was thrilling and made the day!

We ended at Pailon del Diablo, a waterfall named after the devil’s cauldron, which was as dramatic as the name made it sound.

Back in the city, we treated ourselves to jugo de caña and watching taffy being made. True to tradition, we like to find and try local brews in the cities we visit, we ended the evening with delicious beer from a local microbrewery, Stray Dog Brewery. 

Day 2 brought adventure #2- white water rafting with Geotours. While we had signed up for the whole day of rafting, the river was too rough, so we were taken on the half day course, which promised class IV and IV+ rapids. The water was cooooolllldddd but after a few minutes of intense paddling we were warmed up and had a great time!

That evening, we felt we’d earned a real treat and Ponche Suizo had just the thing- their special Ponche Suizo hit the spot!

Baños is also well known for its thermal baths and massages, though we didn’t try either.

All in all, while the town/city of Baños is nothing special in itself and can seem extremely touristy with not much to do, given its proximity to the Amazon its a great spot to get your fill of outdoor stuff- biking, hiking, white water rafting; with the occasional affordable zip-line and bridge jump thrown in!

2 days in Regensburg- there’s more to Bavaria than just Munich

Regensburg is a beautiful town in Northern Bavaria, approximately one hour from Munich. It makes for a great day trip from Munich or even spend a couple of days walking and exploring the history and beer. The medieval town is on the banks of the River Danube (or Donau as the Germans refer to it) and is known as a popular university town in Germany.

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The historic old town of Regensburg, also known as Stadtamhof, is a UNESCO heritage site. To reach it, walk  towards the Danube and cross the historic old stone bridge which was under restoration when we visited. The walk along the river is just beautiful. The old town is lined with colorful buildings and cobbled streets and also makes for a great walkimg_6875img_6882-1

Along the Danube eat at the oldest sausage stand in the world, the famous Wurstkuchl (check out their homepage). On a warm summer’s day sit outdoors, grab a beer and enjoy people watching along the river along with views of the grand church. Thank you to my colleague Agnes, that showed me this place, because it was inexpensive and great tasting.

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St. Peter Cathedral or ‘Dom’ is the bishops church and dominates the skyline with its German Gothic architecture. We didn’t get a chance to go inside the church this time but hope to do so on a future visit. Nonetheless, you cannot miss this massive structure. It is visible from most places around town and looks even better at night when it is lit up.

Folks from Regensburg are also very proud of their beer, like most of Bavaria 🙂 We had dinner at the Hofbrauhaus in Regenesburg. Definitely recommended

 

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