Ceske Budejovice (10th February 2017)
This was the most spontaneous trip I've ever done. A mere two days before going, I messaged a Brazilian girl I had only met once 3 months earlier and asked her about her travel plans. She had posted several pictures in different countries on Facebook and I wondered if she would be going anywhere else soon. She replied saying that her final trip before she left Europe was to Ceske Budejovice, the biggest town in the South Bohemian region of Czechia. I hadn't needed to go to work for the past 2 days and so I thought, why not another day? It was a Friday and I am an Erasmus student after all! The city was 3 and a half hours away by coach and Vanessa had told me she planned to roam around with just a paper map. This was exactly my kind of adventure and so I booked the tickets the next day and got an early night.
It's very important to make the most of your daylight hours during the winter to avoid turning into an icicle when the sun goes down. Vanessa had booked at 7.15 am bus- torture for late risers like me. I was glad she had planned the trip because I would have taken a later coach and wasted those precious hours. We reached at quarter to 11 am and were glad to find that the central bus station was attached to a mall. Sometimes, bus stations are out in the open with no source of food anywhere nearby. This is terrible when you are hungry and tired at the end of your day of sightseeing and all you want to do it curl up in the warm coach and drink some hot chocolate. We bought some sandwiches from Tesco for breakfast and started our long, arduous journey to the city centre. We were there in 5 minutes. The main square was huge for a town that small! The houses lining the square boasted all the colours of the rainbow and in the middle stood a frozen fountain. It's quite uncommon to see a running fountain during the winter season and this was a perfect example of why. The water ran only around the outer edge of the circular fountain; the rest of the water was frozen, some in mid-splash, forming long icicles.
While wandering around Ceske Budejovice, we came across the river Vlatva. It was frozen and I was in awe. I'd never seen an entire river succumb to the Arctic temperatures. I took a few silly pictures and we crossed the bridge. We soon found ourselves at the edge of the city. This was when we noticed a red sign hanging over a pub entrance advertising Budweiser Budovar. We had noticed several of these signs around the city and I’d wondered if it were possible that this small Czech city was the birthplace of the world-famous Budweiser beer. Vanessa found a Budweiser museum on the map and we excitedly decided to suss it out. We had arrived just in time to look around the exhibitions before the English tour of the factory started- yes, the museum was located at the site of the factory! The museum was great fun; we began inside a giant model of a brewing tank and proceeded inside a fake elevator that made it seem like we were dropping 300 m into the Earth, where they pumped fresh water back to surface to use in the fermentation process. Each room had a projector which played a movie in several languages. I learned that Budweiser Budovar was the original Budweiser and that an American had patented the name before the Czechs could. The American Budeweiser is a completely different (not as good) beer than the Budovar counterpart. If you want to try Budweiser Budovar in America, it’s sold under a different name.
The factory tour was amazing for the meagre price of £2! There were only four of us in the English speaking group; almost nobody compared to the couple dozen in the German speaking group. Figures, of course the Germans would come to a beer factory. This meant that when it came to trying fresh, unfiltered beer straight out of the tank, we had the luxury of drinking as many cups as we wanted. I also tasted the different types of malt used for making different types of beer; roasted malt for dark beer, normal malt for regular beer etc. Vanessa warned me not to try the hops (they give beer its bitter taste) and so I avoided the green flowers. After seeing the brewery, we were taken to a huge warehouse where the last steps of the production line were done. This was where the bottles were recycled, labelled and packaged into crates. The mess on the floor was shocking; broken glass was strewn everywhere and the frothy liquid from these bottles flowed all over the floor. The factory workers seemed unfazed by the hazardous conditions of the floor and concentrated on unblocking the machines when bottles fell out of place, a situation that occurred every few minutes. It chaos in here was in stark contrast with the calmness of the brewery.
Outside the factory stood walls and walls of crates filled with Budovar bottles. Special blue crates were used only for shipment to Australia. There was a map near the reception which showed the distribution of the bottles worldwide. Only a few countries remained untouched. Overall, the factory tour was very enjoyable and Vanessa said it was a hundred times better than the Starobrno (beer from Brno) tour and on the same level as the Pilsner Urquell (beer from Pilsen) tour. After the tour, we headed back to the main square and shared a pizza for lunch. I told Vanessa I’d never tried dark beer before (it’s not the same as strong beer guys!) and she recommended I get a dark Budovar as a souvenir. We happily walked back to the bus station, a little light-headed, and got on our 5 pm coach back to Brno. This spontaneous trip was a day very well spent indeed!