The clouds have gathered on Saturday morning and just about every weather report I can find isn’t promising. Breakfast at the Hotel Central is somewhat chaotic – the buffet is good but the seating arrangements less so.
I walk through a building site on the first floor to find what looks like a large conference room set out for a wedding reception. Each large table is set for between four and six people, with posh chairs and tablecloths. But hotels don’t generally cater for groups of six people who actually know each other. Which means the indignity of actually sharing a table with someone else – or more precisely, inviting a German couple to sit with me.
It turns out they’re with a a group of friends who couldn’t find a table big enough to accommodate them all. (Maybe the hotel knows its market after all), and they come of Plzen every year for a dancing event. And while I hardly speak any German, I can manage the phrase Strictly Come Dancing and the name Oti Mabuse. Much hilarity follows as the event they’re attending isn’t a dance competition at all, but more of a big social event. Laugh? They almost did.
The Easter Market in Namesti Republiki has been joined today by something far more practical – a farmer’s market. It’s a simple affair but attracts a steady mix of locals and visitors alike – though it’s not exactly busy.
I’d come to Plzen knowing that its most famous product is beer. Pilsner Urquell, dates back to 1842. There are tours of the original brewery on offer, but of more interest is a trip below the streets.
The Underground History Tour starts from the brewery building – yet throughout the one hour event, beer is hardly ever mentioned. Instead, our guide – who is conducting his first ever tour in English – leads our group through a series of tunnels, outlying key moments if Plzen’s history. Along the route are a displays and artefacts collected by historians over the years. It’s informative and good value for €8, which includes a voucher for a free beer either on site or at a number of nearby restaurants.
The rain is still pouring when we emerge back at the surface, so there’s only one thing for it – find somewhere dry to kill a couple of hours. And what better place than a bar? well, when in Plzen.
Comedy names for bars don’t usually do it for me. In my book, a pun or a joke usually masks the fact that the product isn’t all that good. However, I will make an exception for the one I found this afternoon. Lots of lovely craft beers, some simple snacks to soak it up and a bright, comfortable place in which to do it.
In the early evening the Easter Market is in what can only be described as a state of wetness. More rain. And today we don’t even have the privilege of the 1980s cover guy, Instead, a Czech metal act Eligiei. A scan of social media suggests that he may be slightly famous – it’s hard to tell with the “crowd” of about 35 people waching him. I’d been entertained by his whole set from the comfort of my hotel room, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
Now here’s a riddle. When is a pub not a pub? When it’s called The Pub. I’d read some good reviews about this place where you can book a table and pour from your own beer tap. It sounded ideal, but the booking system seemed to show that most of the tables with said taps were already taken. So I decided to book a table without a tap. All was fine, at least as far as the beer went. But the food was a different matter. I ordered a burger, which took nearly an hour to arrive. When it did, it wasn’t the actual burger I had ordered.
The waitress was apologetic and returned with what might have been the correct burger 15 minutes later. With cold fries. I suspect the original order had been… reconstructed in the kitchen while the fries lay unmatched to one side. It was a same, because all of the other customers seemed happy with their food. And in the end I got the food for free. It was the least they could do, and I had some admiration for the poor overworked waitress.
Thankfully not every venue is disappointing. My final bar in Plzen is VS Klub Pivonca, just off the main square. Accessed via a dodgy looking door and a corridor, I descend into a cellar bar serving fine, cheap beer and many spirits. The crowd is relatively young (everyone is relatively young compared to me) but the staff are extremely friendly.
It’s been a fascinating time discovering a place that isn’t exactly off the beaten track but perhaps less we’ll known to many tourists. Plzen is a vibrant city with what feels like a laid back but positive attitude. Almost everywhere I’ve been I’ve had a friendly welcome – even where language has been a barrier.
It also marks the end of my Eastern European adventure. Tomorrow, I head West through Bavaria. I imagine that beer mar be involved.