Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine

Happier New Year

As the Scary One never tires of reminding me I went away a dozen times last year which I, of course, didn’t have the courage to correct her on…

It was nearer 14! 2020 though was a quieter affair for some reason.

Voyage of the Jim Treadee

That said, it’s always about the quality, not the quantity. Hell, who am I kidding? It’s always about the quality and the quantity!

I made some new friends and hooked up with some old ones…

On the King Charles Bridge in Prague

And that’s before I made the biggest journey and commitment of them all by returning (for good, I’ve been told!) to my homeland, Scotland.

I make sure that I contact all those dream-makers at the end of every year who have hosted me over the course of the previous 12 months.

Fur Elise: My Travel partner Elise

And this year has been no exception.

And this year I add those who have tried to get me away but something has got in the way.

While my heart, and any help I can ever give, I give to those for whom 2020 saw them lose their jobs or business.

Bohemia. Beer and Beethoven

Na Zdravi: In Prague

This time I was let off the leash in one of my favourite cities and given a monastic brewery to sup in and a Hoptown.

But heck, my pal Katarína knows how I roll.

And she’d arranged a walk through Bohemian Switzerland which is the Czech Republic which is Narnia.

In the frame: In Zatec

Confused? Well this is the centre of Europe, battleground and playground for the continent’s great powers.

And where the Great and Good came to compose and repose.

Czech mate: Well, she is Slovakian but Katarina is my Czech Tourism pal

We stayed in the Beethoven Spa, where Beethoven himself had a room, and where they have his hearing horns and his death mask.

There was a nuclear bunker, an opera and much else.

This one is Fur Elise (no really, that is her name), my travel partner… I do hope you got to Russia.

Stastnejsi novy rok.

Bergamo Stay Strong

Bergamo life: Una ciocolatta di calda dens in Bergamo

And because I’m a journalist, and a contrarian, I rush for trouble where others run away from it.

So that when images of Bergamo in lockdown, here in Western Europe, shot onto our screens I vowed I would get out there.

Which I did in the Autumn when I saw a city, and its citizens, blending in with the changing of the seasons and nature’s ways.

Bergamo stay steong

Nature had not been kind to the Berganaschi with the Northern European city Covid’s European epicentre in March.

But here they were back out in the piazzas, looking beautiful and cool, even behind their masks.

Fun of the Funiculare

Well they all speak with their hands anyway (parlano con le mani).

And they have much to tell us about their city.

About their favourite sons Papa Giovanni XXIII who gave his name to the hospital we were all transported to in March.

And composer Gaetano Donizetti who is ubiquitous in the city which throws an annual operatic festival to him.

A poplar choice

As ubiquitous as Italian hero and freedom fighter Guiseppe Garibaldi who on his Expedition of the 1,000, his march on Rome, drew heavily from Bergamo.

Which has given the city the moniker, La Citta dei Mille (the city of the thousand). My kinda people.

 Anno nuovo piu felice.

 

 

Countries, Deals, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, UK

Hop springs eternal in the Czech Republic

They know all about masks in Prague with every Communist schoolchild back in the day put through a daily drill of fixing on a gas one.

And woe betide anyone who didn’t do it quickly enough.

Today’s masks in these COVID days are cloth and less restrictive.

And the revellers at the long table on the King Charles Bridge at its grand reopening in July are lowering them onto their chins.

I know the management

To help them gulp down their Urquell Pilsner beer.

No country on Earth, not even Scotland, drinks as much proportionately as the Czech Republic (official).

And they even bathe in the stuff… close by in the Original Beer Spa.

Beer is everywhere in Czechland.

Monky business

Ya dumpling

Plain-clothes monks produce it and clink glasses on a night out up the hill in Prague’s Castle area.

The superannuated refresh with Pilsner after taking the waters and the treatments in the spa town of Teplice.

And the burghers of Hoptown, Zatec, notch up how many they’ve drunk on their beer mats.

In the Hope Museum next to the Beer Astronomical Clock which is better than the more visited one in Prague.

Here a skeletal figure next to the dials, and Satan himself, mock the teetotal.

They hold a Hop Festival too here in Zatec, eery year where among the competitions is a biggest belly contest.

I’m here to work on mine.

Just as soon as I get out this nuclear bunker.

Have I got nukes for you?

That’s all outside, we’re safe

Radoslav had warned us to stick together as we made our way through the myriad dark, dark passageways five stories down in the bowels of Parukarka Hill in Prague.

Where the only company is mannequins in protective suits and gas masks and the ghosts of Communist past.

Here is where 5,000 Czechs would have come to see out the end of days.

Let’s hope that they had plenty supply of Urquell then to wash down all that tinned meat.

The Czechs would, I believe, have prevailed. They are a durable lot, toughened by a lifetime of being fought over by the ‘Great Powers.’

But they’ve always had a Pilsner to pull them through.

I’m only here for the beer

Something I cobbled together

Beer is at the heart of the Czech story, believed to be the oldest in the world, dating back to 993BC at Brevnov Monastery.

For 250 years in fact only monks were allowed to brew beer.

Which you can only imagine they gave up reluctantly.

They certainly haven’t lost the habit judging by the fun they’re having.

At the Strahov Monastery Brewery close to my opening night billet.

You’d be hard pushed though to recognise them as monks as there is barely a tonsure between them.

In the corner, two British girls on a hen night ply a local with shots and for advice on which bar to go to next and there is no shortage of options.

I am happy where I am though, with my waiter guiding me through the beer menu.

As I sup down my beer onion soup and beer goulash with dumplings.

Mild, followed by dark and finished with IPA, is the answer. But I’m not finished there as I’m given a tour of the brewery with samples at every stop.

Thankfully, it’s all downhill home to the Golden Key Hotel were I will sleep in a triple bed under a wooden ceiling with a sauna in the morning.

And wash it all down…

Roll over Beethoven

My hosts probably feel that they can’t trust me in Prague’s Beer Spa and that I’d drink all the suds.

So they take me next instead to the spa town of Lazne Teplice which is the last word in massage, saunas, bathing pools and medical practices.

But don’t just take my word for it.

Well do, but the luminaries of yore came here to take the waters.

Among them Beethoven who also sought a cure for his failing hearing…

And this is where he stayed

And you can see the horns displayed in the glass cabinets in the Hotel Beethoven corridor.

While you can also ask to be taken to the room where he stayed, although we didn’t get in.

He may very well still be in there and just not have heard the knocking.

Beethoven, the 200th anniversary of who’s birth it is this year, was clearly well looked after in Teplice.

Masked man… old Ludwig

And he would certainly have feasted on the town’s speciality chocolate cake in the titular cafe.

All of which I’ve been told I must work off next, as the Czechs themselves do, in Bohemian Switzerland.

Cerny statues

So, that’s where baby’s gone

No, I’ve not taken a wrong turning although I’ve not been myself since that first night in Prague.

Bohemian Switzerland is the park named for the two Swiss climbers who came here in the 19th century and were reminded of their own homeland.

It truly is an enchanted land and got the official stamp of approval.

Bohemian Switzerland… in Czechland

When the makers of The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe used an arch in the park and set Aslan there.

The Czech Republic is full of surprises and I spend my last night back in Prague which too has many still to reveal.

Two iron figures outside the Franz Kafka Museum, whose waists revolve and who shoot out water onto a map of the Czech Republic.

Hangin’ about: A Cerny statue

It is the work of experimental sculptor of David Cerrny and it is believed to represent what the European Union has don to their land.

The Czechs are wonderfully irreverent to their leaders.

Walk around Prague and you’ll see Cerny’s mark everywhere.

Babies in the tower

A man holding an umbrella hanging from a building a Communist Brabant car on leg and Babies Climbing a TV Tower.

You can get up close and personal to the babies in the tower cafe.

But be careful looking out the window because these weans have no nappies on.

Cerny’s statues blend seamlessly with the Medieval ions, King Charles IV, the nation’s patriarch chief among them.

St John and St Jimmy

Tourists though are urged toward the statue of St John of Nepomuk, who fell out with King Wenceslas, and, no, not the Good One.

This Wencesclas ordered Archbishop John to be thrown off the bridge when he refused to divulge Weneslas’s wife’s confession.

It’s good luck to touch his statue and make a wish and that wish will be lifted up to the heavens.

Me? I think St John of Nepomuk might just have drunk too many Urquells and fallen off the bridge that way.

Where to stay

Ooh missus! Teplice Spa

Hotel Golden Key: The Castle area of Prague from €70. Reception will help you out with maps and directions for the sprawling and tiring Castle area Also that yourself to a spa and the relaxation room. See Asten Hotels.

Stay in Teplice Spa: Beethoven hotel: Price per person per night in off peak season is €87 – including room, treatment. daily entrance to Thermalium pool and enjoy the water features, sprays, cold baths and spas. Lots of Beethoven features dotted around the walls and you can even see the room where he stayed. And full board.

Enjoy your trip

Trip to Bohemian Switzerland and see the arch from the film of CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. – €120.

Where to eat

Strahov Monastery Brewery in the Prague Castle area. When in Prague do like the Czechs and eat goulash with dumplings, of course. Go for a starter too – onion soup  with an infusion of beer. Heck. go the full three course and dig into the apple strudel.

Flights

With Ryanair – to Prague if purchased way in advance from €40-€120.

Important websites

Spa Teplice, Zatec brewery, Bohemian Switzerland, Hotel Golden Key in Prague, Mlynec restaurant  Ginger & Fred  State Opera

 

Countries, Culture, Europe

Rainy Days And Songdays – Beethoven

Rainy Days And Songdays goes all classical this week.

With a nod to Ludwig Van Beethoven on the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Not growing up in a musical family we had limited exposure to Classical music with one accidental exception.

The Jewel

Fur Elise would play out a couple of times a week from my Mum and Dad’s bedroom.

Not because my Dad was a secret fan of Ludwig but because it was the music on my Mum’s jewellery box.

All of which allowed me to look all sophisticated.

When I drew my Travel companion Elise’s attention to the synergy of our staying in a hotel, the Beethoven Spa https://www.lazneteplice.cz/ in February.

I dare say The Great Man’s name proliferates on hotels, bars and cafes all over Central Europe.

Ring of truth

But our Hotel Beethoven in Lazne Teplice in the then Austro-Hungarian Empire but now Czech Republic has a ring of authenticity.

Because Ludwig actually stayed here and the good people of the Spa and medical town even helped him.

With that delicate problem of his… his hearing!

The Hotel Beethoven boasts a gallery of Beethoven artefacts on its walls on the way to its baths and saunas.

Including pictures of a number of ear horns and creepily the life mask he had made here.

Chocolate heaven

If you ask too you can be taken to the ornate door of the room where he stayed.

And I dare say you can work on a price with them.

And then there’s the Cafe Beethoven where they play his music (obvs) and you can sit at the piano and pretend to be him.

Did I mention they have a glass cabinet of home baking with a carousel of the most calorific chocolate cakes?

Go the full hog, you’re on holiday after all, and pair it with a Hot Chocolate.

Ludwig’s birthday coming in December means that there are possibilities that some of the events planned in his name may go ahead.

Check out www.czechtourism.com and Hope springs eternal.

And for where we are with Beethoven 2020, see https://www.bthvn2020.de/en/.