Friday, 1 January 2010

First Reflections of Prague

I arrived home from Prague yesterday afternoon, having enjoyed a fantastic four days of sight-seeing, and of course beer sampling in the Czech capital. Much of course has changed over the past 25 years since my first, and only, visit back in 1984 and back then it would have been almost impossible to believe that such changes could occur.

I intend to write a full description of my time in Prague on my other blog, Paul's Beer Travels, but for now here's a brief summing up of some of the best, and not so best things I found.

Best Dark Beer: Bernard Specialni cerny lezac, 5.1% - an absolutely stunning, chocolately dark lager, that I enjoyed on a couple of occasions in the Kyvadlo (Pendulum) restaurant in Prague's New Town.

Best Pale Beer: Pivovarsky dum Svetly lezak 4.0% - a stunning, unfiltered pale lager, enjoyed in the brew-pub of the same name, again in Prague's New Town.

Best Pub: U Cerneho Vola (The Black Bull) - a real basic, stand-up-to-drink, unspoilt local's pub in the shadow of Prague Castle, complete with bare-brick floors, a high, heavily beamed oak ceiling, and two noisy, smoke-filled rooms packed wih people sat on simple wooden benches, all enjoying each other's company plus the pub's excellent beer (Kozel), dispensed from a font on a free-standing bar-counter by a surly, apron-clad barman. I couldn't understand a word of what was being said, but loved every minute of it, and to think I nearly gave up on trying to find this classic pub having walked straight past it twice! Pure heaven on earth, and sited in one of the loveliest, and possibly most desiable parts of Prague in which to live.

Cheapest Beer: - the 12 degree pale and the 10 degree dark beer from Kozel, in the U Cerneho Vola pub above. At just Kc 26.5 per half litre, less than a pound a pint, I was thinking life doesn't get much better than this, given the classic, unspoilt Czech pub I was drinking it in!

Dearest Beer: St Thomas 14 degree dark lager from the Matuska Broumy micro-brewery housed in the former U Svateho Tomase beer hall, just across from the Charles Bridge. This legendary drinking establishment is now part of a very plush and upmarket hotel complex called The Augustinian. All very nice, but a real shame as I had fond memories of drinking in this beer hall on my previous visit to Prague. As for the beer, nice enough, but at Kc 55 for a 33cl glass, it is not somewhere the locals go to drink!

Most Nostalgic Moment:
Drinking in the legendary U Fleku brewpub where I'd enjoyed a good evening's eating and drinking on the CAMRA Travel/Cedock organised trip to Pilsen and Prague, back in 1984. Although the beer is now on the dear side at Kc 59 for a 40cl glass, it is still a world-classic dark lager. On top of this you never quite know who you'll be sitting next to in this rambling old pub.

Best View of Prague: Forget the classic views of the Charles Bridge and up towards the Castle. After walking up Petrin Hill (which felt like the north face of the Eiger!), and then along to the small micro-brewery at Strahov Monastery - Klasterni pivovar Strahov, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the Castle District, crowned by the Gothic towers of St Vitus's cathedral, with the Vltava River shimmering far below. This vista was worth every step of the steep ascent up from Mala Strana, as was the St Norbert beer in the aforementioned micro-brewery!

Strangest/Most Surreal Sight:
Seen in an Old Town bookshop window; a book about Neville Chamberlain, the hapless British Prime Minister who disgracefully sold the Czechs out to Hitler in 1938 by allowing him to annexe the so-called Sudetenland instead of having the balls to stand up to the Nazi dictator's bullying tactics. Chamberlain even had the cheek to dismiss the whole shameful episode as "A quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing". An incredibly crass and stupid statement from someone who was responsible for the largest, and most far-flung empire the world had ever known!

First Beer in Prague: Arriving on a freezing cold Sunday, just after Christmas and being too early to check into my hotel, I took refuge in Bredovsky Dvur, a modernish pub not far from Wenclesas Square, serving excellent, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell from cellar tanks. The roast pork lunch I enjoyed there was also very good too.

Last Beer in Prague: On my final evening, on a day when I'd probably drank more than enough, I made my way through the rain to U Medvidku (At the Little Bears), where I enjoyed a glass of Oldgott Barrique 5.2%, a half-dark amber lager, brewed on a small plant somewhere in this rambling, 500 year old pub, famed for its Budvar beer. The perfect end to a perfect winter's break.

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