Pitstop in Františkovy Lázně, Czech Republic

Pitstop in Františkovy Lázně, Czech Republic

If you’ve got a few years of travel under your belt you will understand this maxim: When the travel gods take something away from you they give you something amazing in return.

I remember it happening in Europe with wife 1.0 when ,unable to find a hotel room in Bologne, Italy we put ourselves back on a train to Milan, where a wonderful taxi driver helped us find a room at midnight and restored my faith in humanity.

The next day we traveled to Lake Como and had an amazing time. We had never intended to go there.

This time around, something dear and precious was taken away from me by a quirk of fate – my prized Pilsener Urquell brewery tour. I’m not ready to talk about it fully, but I will share what happened next.

And so it was that I was waiting for a train to Cheb (the locals pronounce it with a ‘K’ sound not ‘Ch’ as in church) at the Plzeň-Jižní Předměstí train station on a somewhat balmy Sunday morning.

And it was an effort to just get to the starting line. I’m staying in the charming hamlet of Sulkov, but the major drawback as I’ve discovered is the local bus line. On weekends buses are few and far between and often packed, meaning the driver may not stop to pick you up. I wouldn’t stay here again unless I had a car, it’s just too inconvenient at times, especially on weekends.

Anyway, as fate would have it I managed to squeeze on to the 9.08 AM bus on Sunday morning, and then had to hoof it to the railway station and purchase my ticket for Cheb, which cost 156 CZK. I made it with time to spare but had to urge myself to ‘up the rating’ while walking there, no fucking way I was missing that 10:08 train.

It’s a pleasant journey from Plzen to Cheb as you travel through rural farmland and wooded forests. Small stations seem to pop up out of nowhere, which thankfully we didn’t stop at – I can’t help but think about work, wish it wasn’t so. I hate my brain sometimes, not being able to turn off unwanted thoughts.

Buddha – where are you?

We arrive at Cheb and the bus station is right next to the train station. Love that!

I track down the bus to Františkovy Lázně and eat a ham and cheese roll which I made earlier that day while waiting for the bus to arrive. Oh, and some chocolate, finishing off a bar I had started on the train.

The bus arrives on time and 22 CZK later I am in Františkovy Lázně. Another travel oddity I will share: I always get off buses too early and today is no different. I’m traveling old school folks – no announcements (in any language), no smartphone so no Google maps.

I do have some intel that Františkovy Lázně is about 5 clicks from Cheb, so I have to gauge the distance and figure it’s the first town we hit after a little highway action. Turns out I’m correct in that regard.

I don’t mind the 600m walk into town. Walking is the best way to discover things and get your bearings.

I’ve arrived at my destination, 4 hours after leaving the crib.

Is it beer o’clock yet?

Yes it is! I stumble upon Cafe Illusion History

Nice fit out. Old Cacao tins, Frank playing on the sound system and Charlie Chaplin memorabilia spread throughout. A beer garden which is full, to be expected on weekends, especially as Czech smokers are now forced outside after legislative changes were passed last year killing what was one of the last remaining smoking paradises in Europe. Smokes are still cheap here at about €3 a pack; not that I bought any.

Strange name but cold beer and decent food. What more does a man need as Sunday afternoon emerges?

As I find myself close to the German border I hear plenty of German spoken and the menus are in Czech and Deutsch! Wunderbar!

My German is suddenly useful again. Kids, I implore you to learn another language as it opens your world in ways you cannot imagine. I was lazy in High School and to fulfill the minimum requirement of 4 subjects for my HSC took English, French, German and Mathematics. I never mastered any of them but my cunning ploy paid off! Back in those days I never did more than was required.

I assume a temporary German identity – I think my name is Klaus (Codename: Fremdscham) – if only Charlize Theron was sitting across from me at the table and planning a dangerous mission where we would drink copious amounts of vodka and do the horizontal tango.

Alas, I digress.

I tuck into a big German snag served with mustard and horseradish. I know – it looks phallic. I swear that’s the way it came out. Jing Jing!

At 85 CZK it’s a bargain! The total, with two big beers comes to 150 CZK (€6)

The house pour – not half bad!

Spa towns are funny places – they usually have a fake Monte Carlo feel about them and there are guaranteed to be casinos (which you should, of course, avoid at all costs!)

I stumble across a bar/restaurant called Beethoven. The old man would approve. It serves Budweiser Budvar (The original Budweiser!)

It’s a great beer. A session beer. Surprisingly, I’ve found it difficult to find in bars in Pilsen.

Budweiser Budvar is a great beer because it has great raw materials and great brewers. They produce it in a slow and painstaking way. Its integrity is best served by its being produced in its town of origin, in a region with pride in its beer. – the late Michael Jackson aka ‘The Beer Hunter

Served in 400 ml glasses I feel like I’m drinking less. On my first visit, I sink 4 just to wet the whistle before checking in to the hotel.

I’m staying at the Praha Spa & Kur Hotel – it’s more of a wellness centre. I check in, take a shower and head for the swimming pool and spa. Spend a good 90 minutes alternating between the pool and sauna – I do enjoy a good sauna and on this occasion, I have it all to myself. Nice!

Shower and change and I hit the main drag again – back to Beethoven for round 2!

When I return for some dinner I get serious and sink 7 more while chowing down on a pizza. It comes to CZK 419 and I tip the waitress 50 crowns and slip her my hotel room number leave.

With the liter I put away when I hit town I clock in at 5.4 liters of beer for the day. (My liver is screaming!)

It’s great watching the world go by and I witness the last rays of light attempting to disappear while I pay my bill and make the arduous 5-minute journey to the sanctity of my hotel bed for the evening. (Yes alone darling!)

This has been a blowout day cost wise – probably to the tune of € 100. But by far, the best day of the trip.

That’s what holidays are all about – days like these.

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