Weather: COLD! Ugh.
Listening to: A Day to Remember
Well this past weekend I got out of Prague! Not that there’s anything wrong with Prague but I’ve been a little frustrated with staying in the same place all the time. I chose Prague because it’s located pretty centrally, so I should be able to visit other countries relatively easily… but I’ve just been busy, or plans have fallen apart, or whatever. Anyways, the CEA planned a trip to Plzeň/Pilsen for later this semester, but the train tickets were cheap (200czk/$10 round trip) and it’s fun to go places with different groups of people, so when my non-CEA friends said they were planning on going, I tagged along.
Pilsen is an hour and a half away from Prague, and it’s still in the ‘Bohemia’ section of the country (the east is ‘Moravia!’ The more you know!) so it’s culturally similar. It is a lot less touristy- even though the Pilsner Urquell brewery, which makes some 80% of the Czech Republic’s beer, is there. Oh yeah, this entry’s title? “Beer and Pilsen.” Don’t worry, I didn’t go on some kind of beer-drinking binge (it still smells awful to me!) but the brewery/factory was actually really, really cool.
Well anyways, we got off the train in Pilsen (here’s the train station ) and walked around the main square for a while [2.] There was some time to kill before the next English tour of the brewery so we walked around aimlessly for a while. Actually, no, we went to a cute little cafe where we were able to order mostly in Czech (Plus five language points for me!) and I got this fabulous breakfast/coffee combo for 50czk/$2.50. You can barely get coffee for that much in the US or Prague !
We followed Marek’s trusty guidebook to the third largest synagogue in the world (ok, Wikipedia is saying “second largest in Europe,” after Budapest, but the guidebook said Jerusalem, Budapest, Pilsen) Unfortunately it was under construction [4.] Wiki says it’s still used for worship, but there are only about 70 Jewish people in Pilsen now. We also found a cool theater  and followed a random corridor  down to an underground church [7.]
After rambling for an hour or so, we walked down a riverbank for a while, in the general direction of the brewery. It wasn’t too cold, but I was still glad to see the chimneys of the brewery across the river [8.] Here’s what the fancy building looked like from a closer perspective [9.] Inside the visitor center (yes, there’s a visitor center, the factory/brewery is basically Disneyland for adults, or so my friends kept saying) we made friends with a slightly creepy plastic man.  We were supposed to be laughing at his joke? Or something? But I ended up just sort of staring at whatever he’s supposed to be holding. He was part of a display on Pilsner beer.
So the tour started and I took a picture of my friend Kelsey in front of giant barrels that used to be used for storing beer while it develops or whatever[11.] Then it was all aboard the Pilsner bus (no, I’m not kidding ) and off to the bottling/canning factory. As soon as we got off the bus we could smell it- not beer, exactly, but something yeasty and warm. It smelled better than beer, actually! The factory is where they recycle the bottles, so all these [13, don’t mind the reflection of my shoes, we were behind glass] were sterilized and then checked via laser (!!!) to make sure they weren’t cracked or defective. In the middle of this picture  you can see some broken glass on the floor- the laser-bottle-checker-thingy just sort of discards the bottles it doesn’t like. Most of the time they made it into a trash can, but not all the time, evidently. But don’t worry, it’s not a health hazard for the workers: this whole floor (two bottling lines that each finish 60,000 bottles an hour and a canning line) only employs 23 people at a given time, they mostly just check the machines and sweep up after them. Here’s another shot of the factory [15.] I took some video, because it was just so cool how the bottles were being sorted, but even combined it was about 10 seconds so not really worth publishing. Maybe sometime I’ll put together a longer video of short clips like the silver mine and this bottling plant. We made our way out of the bottling place and passed a forklift full of bottlecaps. Crazy [16.]
Back on the Pilsner bus! It was time to watch a movie on how beer is made, how Pilsner is different from other kinds of beer (spoiler: it’s the water quality) and into a museum where we saw the old-fashioned way of doing it  and the modern way [18.] Spoiler: the only thing that has really changed is the quantity of beer being made at any given time. Then it was time to go underground, where the temperature is a stable but chilly 7 degrees Celsius all year round [19.] It also smelled yeasty and kind of bitter, but not in a bad way. This is where the beer sits while it ferments, and where the yeast grows? Or something? See, enormous open barrels of yeast [20.] Then, my camera’s battery was about to die, so I quickly snapped a picture of these rows and rows and rows of maturing beer in barrels, but it was at a bad angle  so you can’t really see.
Then was the part of the tour that everyone else was most excited about, the tasting. A brewmaster tapped one of the giant barrels and started pouring into cups for everyone on the tour. Apparently, drinking it straight from the barrel is a big deal because it’s unfiltered, so you get the real taste of the hops or something? I took a tiny sip and it was extremely bitter, so I gave my cup to my friends. (See, it is a good idea to bring a non-drinker to a brewery! More ‘free’ samples for you!) 2/3 thought it was bitter, but still pretty good, and the last loved it, saying beer in bars just tasted bland compared to this.
Well, I feel like a beer reporter now. Even though I probably used the wrong terminology, I’m trying, guys!
Anyways, that was the end of the tour, so we had a little picnic lunch in the park, walked around some more, and headed back to the train station. All in all, even if you don’t drink, I recommend visiting Plzeň and touring the Pilsner brewery/factory. It was a very pretty town and a nice day trip away from the hustle and bustle of Prague.