Saturday
October
11th
2008
5:34 am

Little Brother’s Visit, Day 5: Plzen

Plzeň

It had pretty much always been a given that Little Brother and I would visit Plzeň, primarily so that LB could check out the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Admittedly, after LB discovered Budvar Super Strong, we were toying with České Budějovice to visit the Budvar brewery instead, but Plzeň is only an hour away, while České Budějovice is three hours, so…

We arrived in Plzeň at just about noon and promptly proceeded to get lost looking for the tourist information office. Turns out the tourist information office at the train station is tucked in the back under the stairs going up to the train platforms.

After getting our maps at tourist information, we headed for the historic center of town to take in the sights. There was the West Bohemian Museum:

And there’s the cathedral of St. Bartholomew, which boasts the tallest tower in the Czech Republic:

I believe that this is the entrance to the old Franciscan monastery:

The Renaissance city hall:

And the Marian plague column

LB admiring the buildings:

And taking in the sights in the main square:

According to our little guide brochure, the Big Synagogue is the third largest synagogue in the world and also serves as a concert and exhibition hall:

The Old Synagogue, down the street and around the corner, is hard to find, tucked in an alleyway as it is. It has fallen into disrepair but is being restored. Alongside the synagogue is the Monument to the Disappeared:

A cobblestone marked with the name and date of birth remembers each of the Jewish citizens who “disappeared” during the War:

It appears that they go through periodically and refresh the names and birthdates, since the writing on the stones in some sections of this rock garden appear fresh, while others are virtually illegible:

The Josef Kajetán Tyl Theater is another of the highlighted sights:

And there’s a pretty little park, Smetanovy sady, that runs down from the back of the theater:

"Daddy" Spejbl and his son Hurvinek were the creation of a Plzeň theater professor named Skupa and are here as reminders of Plzeň’s puppeteering tradition:

The Brewery

All this was largely by way of killing time before the 2:15 English tour of the brewery of course.

When we got to the visitor information center for the brewery, we found that, in addition to the fee for the tour, there’s an additional charge if you want to take pictures. That seems very odd to me. I could understand not allowing pictures at all, if they were concerned about industrial espionage, say (though that seems pretty implausible). But allowing picture-taking only on payment of a fee (I think it was 150 CZK) seems pretty stingy. On the other hand, some people (including LB) were willing to pay it, so I guess it makes good business sense for them. The following pictures were taken by LB, since I declined to pay for the privilege of taking pictures.

The complex is a large one. Not only is Pilsner Urquell brewed and bottled there, but it shares its bottling facilities with several other beers owned by the same parent company. We were taken to see the facility where the bottles are filled (there are separate facilities for filling kegs and cans). We also got to see where the beer is brewed, in their vast copper vats:

While the beer is aged these days in stainless steel silos, once upon a time, it was aged in wooden kegs, and they still keep these to show the tourists:


They do in fact still age some of their beer this way, but it’s strictly for consumption by visitors taking the tour!

LB also liked their railway car:

And their old delivery truck:

Absinth

The daughter of a friend had told LB, most emphatically in fact, that he had to try absinth while he was here. I tried to discourage him: Czech absinth is little more that grain alcohol with green food coloring, I told him. But after dinner that night, we saw absinth on the drink menu, and he insisted on trying it.

The waiter appeared with a pack of matches and two glasses: one glass with the shot of absinth and the other with a couple of envelopes of sugar (one white sugar, the other brown) and a spoon. We looked at this ensemble for a minute (I know the French way of serving absinthe, with the slotted spoon, sugar cube and water, but I’ve never paid any mind to the Czech approach), and called the waiter back. He emptied the packet of white sugar into the spoon, set the absinth on fire, and held the spoon over the flaming absinth to caramelize the sugar. Needless to say, we attracted a great deal of interest from the neighboring diners. We also got a couple of other waiters appearing at our table to watch the show. After a few minutes, he emptied the sugar into the absinth, covered the glass with a coaster to extinguish the flame, and urged LB to drink up. Of course, after having been filled with flaming absinth, the glass was too hot to the touch, so LB poured the absinth into the other glass. After a tentative sip, which didn’t appear to be much to his liking, he tossed the whole thing back, which prompted a coughing fit. A glass of water and 20 minutes later, though, and he was good as new.

I had a very nice sipping rum instead. No coughing fit; no need for a glass of water.

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