(written by Dave)
Greetings from a relaxed day in Budweis. It was a rainy, drizzly morning so we picked a good one not to ride. As this is our first stop in the Czech Republic, we had a few chores to sort out. We got the mobile phone SIM and got some cash. The SIM was as easy as Austria with no ID required – slightly more expensive but the hardest part was waiting in the queue for the one English speaking store worker.
First impressions of CZ seem to indicate fewer English speaking folks. In Austria, people were almost insulted when asked if “English was ok” at the start of an interaction. Here, only one of four store workers spoke English and his English was not great (better than our Czech of course, so we were thankful). But it’s not just the phone shop. Everywhere we go, English has been harder to come by so far.
The resent history of Czechoslovakia being a communist-ruled, east favoring state may have contributed to the lack of English but the Czechs were early in trying to move “west”. As far back as 1968, the increasing dissatisfaction the communist regime lead to reform attempts and contributed to what is known as the Prague Spring of 1968. This lead to an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries in 1968, with these troops remaining in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. As a side note, we learned earlier that Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia, and not part of Czechoslovakia. For some reason, my western brain thought that that Slovenia and Slovakia were pretty close in terms of distance and politics. Apparently only their names are similar as they actually don’t even share a border. All good things to know next time you are watching Jeopardy.
Back to this “er”thing. As Nancy mentioned last night, we are in the home of Budweiser Beer. It turns out that the Czechs have been brewing beer for a long time. The first brewery in the country is known to have started in 1118. The two cities most associated with Czech beer, Plzeň and České Budějovice (Pilsen and Budweis in German), had breweries in the 13th century. Both of these cities named their respected beers after their towns, adding “er” on the end. Er does not mean beer, but some people today think of Pilsner and Budweiser only in terms of beer.
There didn’t seem to be much of a fight over the name Pilsner but the name Budweiser became an early battleground in US vs EU trademark disputes. The good folks of Anheuser-Busch first marketed Budweiser in 1876 (having great Super Bowl ads even back then – I am told). In 1895, the US and Czech brewers started going at each other and in 1907 they agreed that Anheuser-Busch could market its beer as Budweiser only in North America, while the Czech brewers had the rights to the European markets. Over time the attraction of chasing bigger global markets lead to Anheuser-Busch moving into Europe with it’s beer under the name Bud and the for them to actually import the Czech Budvar into the US and call it Czechvar. It’s probably all owned by Monsanto now anyway so it probably doesn’t matter that much anymore.
Just a little more on the town of Budweis. The Czech name is actually České Budějovice but in German, this translates to Bohmisch Budweis, often shortened to Budweis. The town was founded in 1265 on an island in the Vltava River. It was laid out in a grid with a massive town square. This square still exists today with many of the building surrounding it being more than 500 years old. Many of the square surrounding building have featured in photos today and yesterday. Our pension is just off the square is first found mentioned in documents dated from 1492. I’m pretty sure that our room has been remodeled a few times in the intervening 500 odd years – we have lights, running water and satellite TV, but it is quite likely that some of beams and the bricks in the basement breakfast room are original. We don’t know if any famous folks who have slept in our room but it is kind of weird to think of how many people would have crossed the threshold over the years – if the walls could talk.
We were both pretty tired after yesterday’s effort and today’s rest was good. Both of us managed a nap this afternoon, even with the noise coming from our open window. Our room fronts the street which is overall pretty quiet except for the cobblestones. Like many cities in Europe, Budweis has kept the original road surfaces. Narrow cobble cover roads, lined with 3 and 4 story brick/stucco fronted buildings make for quite a racket when a car passes. For some reason, last night and today, neither of us heard anything while sleeping. Like I said, we were tired.
Tomorrow we are planning on heading north. We have two days ride to reach Prague, our next big destination. We are trying to line up a warmshowers host there. The route is very straight forward in a car but we are now trying to work out which if any cycle paths we might follow. Tourist information had some great maps covering the cycle routes north and yesterday’s ride was nice and quiet, but the cycle paths added over 25% to the total distance, not to mention some hard climbing. We’ll probably mix in some paths and some minor roads. We can’t be wandering all over the countryside again if we hope to make it in two days to Prague.