Prague – Plzen

When planning this trip, I wanted to visit at least one location that wouldn’t be an obvious choice. Plzen is around 85 kilometres south west of Prague. If you’re from the UK, the chances are you’ve not heard of it, but it has a number of attractions, not least the Pilsner Urqell brewery.

It’s also extremely easy to reach by train from Prague. Two services per hour will take you there, no reservations are required and travel time is less than two hours. At least that was the theory.

The Ceske Drahy service was waiting at the platform well ahead of its scheduled departure time. But then came an announcement of a twenty minute delay “due to a technical fault on the line”, which covers just about every eventuality. Twenty minutes became thirty, and once we did depart there were frequent stops in the middle of nowhere.

But I wasn’t in a hurry so it didn’t matter. In fact, the slow journey game me a chance to see the gradual contrast from urban to rural. The suburbs of Prague give way to smaller towns and villages, and a large nature reserve with miles of woods running along the Berounka River. Although much of the view is obscured by driving rain.

My arrival in Plzen was memorable for three reasons. First, the station was rammed on a Friday afternoon. I’d clearly hit the main commuter time as hundreds of people crowded through the booking hall, partly sealed off for major construction works. Then there was the contrast between the woman in the official ticket office – who firstly told me that she could sell me a tram ticket, seemingly producing a book of said tickets, before ushering me away with a gruff “no” – and the charming girl in the nearby tourism office, who informed me I could just tap my bank card and pay on the tram.

What followed next was a scene from the Benny Hill Show. I successfully boarded the tram, reached for my wallet to pay for a ticket and was immediately rocked into the lap of an elderly woman as the tram rounded a corner. I barely had the chance to begin apologising when my suitcase wheeled itself across the tram floor and threw my phone into the air as we rounded another corner. The woman’s grand daughter stood up and offered me a seat. But by the time I’d worked out what was happening we’d reached the main square in Plzen, my destination.

But what a destination. The Hotel Central certainly loived up to its name in terms of its location. Right on Namesti Republiki it had an air of faded glory. My first impressions were “basic”. However, appearances can be deceptive. The shower cubicle may have been tiny, but it produced water at the approximate velocity of a Formula One car. Suitably freshened up, the immediate environs outside were very promising.

What you can’t see here is the main Square behind the church, which was hosting another Easter Market. It wasn’t quite as grand as the one in Prague, but it did have the same offer of sausages, booze and sweets. There was also a guy performing various hits of the 1980s. Perhaps he’ll be back tomorrow.

Beyond the direct centre, Plzen threw up a number of architectural surprises, inlcuding a synagogue and an impressive theatre. And the buildings didn’t have to be special to stand out.

I’ve a whole day to explore Plzen, and already Ithink I’m going to like it.


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