Prague. Time to make our journey into Czech Republic and quickly the state of the roads were a bit worse for wear. But thats ok it was only 2 and half hour drive and we will be in one of the most respected cities of Europe. We approach our campsite that is close to town set up and make our way downtown on the local tram. As I’ve mention many times before the age of the town is one thing you notice straight away and we knew Prague would be old. Well as old as things get this place was ancient ! To put into perspective of how this town was left alone in the war, Hitler loved this town so much that he ordered this place not to be bombed. So basically everything is as it was. This town had real character and the styles of this town are stunning, so many narrow roads and cobbled streets and they go on forever. First thing was first we headed towards the Charles bridge, this bridge was quite something let alone with the heaving amount of tourist walking both directions you can see this is a popular attraction. This bridge was constructed in 1357 to replace the existing bridge that got taken down by a flood, this bridge is adorned with sculptures the whole way down 30 to be exact these were done in the 17th-19th century by well known Czech sculpters. Heading over the bridge we are on our way to the the Prague Castle this was the residence of the Bohemian sovereigns and presidents for the past thousand years this dated from the 9th – 10th century. Dandy streets wind tightly on old cobbled streets winding higher up into the castle the feel of all the old houses is incredible and preserved so well. Once atop this masterpiece there is an amazing panoramic veiw of Prague and you couldn’t ask for better weather, it has been snowing alot lately so was a welcomed change. At the heart of this castle The church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Vysehrad was established by the first Czech king Vratislav in the 1070s. This church was quite stunning and would not be able to describe what it was like to do it justice, so I will let the photo’s do it justice.
From here we made our way down into the city centre, this city had such a romamtic feel about it and it’s still astonishing how old everything is. Not a new building in sight the whole time we walked around! Heading into the square there is this clock called the The Astronomical clock on old town hall was crafted by the clockmaker Milkulas from Kaden with the assistance of Jan Sindal a professor at Charles university. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working. At the other end of the square there is the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn this was completed in the 16 century.
Feeling pretty hungry it was time for a beer …. And maybe some food, but beer takes priority! So we popped into a pub well known in Prague called U medvidků beer was had and good times all round. Next destination was a local pub where we endeavered to try some local Czech food. So we ordered a typical dish that consist of roast duck, bread and potato dumplings, red and green cabbage with some gravy. Mate what a cracker meal that was also to wash it down with some nice black Czech beer it just couldn’t get much better. Good times had by all and time to walk around the main part of the city at nightime with the lighting effect. Beautiful to say the least. A walk back to our tram stop that was our day in Prague and could easily do more of the town. Fascinating to say the least this place had a night life feel to it aswell. I would say alot of stag do’s are done here.
All set rearing to go, Plzen our next destination the place where Pilsner made its name and Pilsner Urquell has a reputation for a good solid triple mashed beer. More on that in a few moments….. So cruizing along the highway and it is an hour journey to Plzen, we arrive and start climbing some steep roads, this one in particular seemed to feel more of a task for our green machine. She’s had it easy since Harz mountains and even Mosselle valley this one was testing her good and proper. Well as we came down the other side something is not quite right, a little smokey at the back is it the camper? Or have we just driven past something smokey. One thing you notice is Czech Rpublic is its dirty and the cars all look dirty, no need to clean them as they just get dirty again quick fast. So it wouldn’t be unusual to smell smoke or any other pollutants, well approaching the main traffic lights something is just not right. No where to pull over and I turn down the next street and approach another set of lights. Lights out for the green machine, this time it’s thick plumes of smoke with a harsh smell enimating from the back. Shit…. What has just happened? Alot of things were going through my mind let alone Karens, how bad is this and we are in a country where we don’t even speak a little Czech. After one hour and a half at the front of the traffic lights with our hi-viz on, warning triangle out just watching traffic go by whilst eating chocolate sat on the back with the boot up. Welcome to bloody Plzen, wicked. Tow truck arrives and not a word of English, it’s not that I expect him to speak English I guess its that helpless feeling that you need help and someone conversing with you in a language you understand is calming in itself. After 10 minutes it was on the back of the truck and one thing we could make out of the tow truck driver was “clicker kaput”…..
So three of us perched in the front of the tow truck on our way to the nearest garage. As we approach a small town we turn into what was supposed to or even resemble a garage looked like an abandoned mini factory. This place looked rough as, not something you want to see or feel when all you want is a place that looks professional and looked the part to do the job. Well trying to communicate to us in Czech if it never occured to them we don’t speak or even understand Czech the only word we could make out was “clicker caput” geez cheers mate so what now replace the engine? So after 2 hours of listening to Czech and liason with our insurance company on what is going on and what we are entitled to do, we were no better in knowing what was going on. So finally we are given a car and stay at a hotel near central Plzen. 4 star and somewhere to crash and regroup, potentially find out what is really happening to the green machine.
Rise and shine it’s Saturday and Plzen awaits us for some beer tasting eerrr sightseeing, yip thats it though it must be said if your not already aware that Plzen is the home of Pilsner. I’m quite a fan of the taste pilsner offers and the way it’s made does explain why. But first I will mention a little of the town itself with a square in the middle the main church of this town called the St Bartholomew’ Cathedral had a wander around town and admired the old architecture then soon enough we are in a pub! Ah sweet nector Masters Black pilsner this stuff rocks. Some food and onwards to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery.
We went on a tour in the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, and mate this was awesome. Beer is beer and I’ll be honest I get the jist of how its made etc etc. Been to a few so will this just be another much the same, hell no this one was well worth it! As we got a little history from our tour guide this brewery first started making this brew commercially in 1842 each period there will be what is called a brew master, what a title! What does being a brew master entail well, your responsibility is to adhere and keep strict controls to produce the best Pilsner for consumption. So far there have been 230 Brew masters and each one is given a contract to continue the tradition. I want to sign up it sounds so god dam important! An iconic archway that was built in 1842 recognizable at the foot of the brewery is very much the focal point upon entry to this fantastic brewery. As you walk up this road there’s the old brick chimney that are instantly recognizable and then the old water tower that was used to store the water that washed the bottles, this tower was the lighthouse beacon that signalled here is Pilsner Urquell built in 1905 – 1907, they no longer use this as it has become alot more sterilized industry. What also remains is an old kart that was pulled along by horses used to deliver barrels of Pilsner Urquell to the town residents pubs,this tradition is still upheld to this day once every two weeks. So anyway Pilsner is made up of water, hops, barley the water is purified from a 100 metre well that is more pure than the water that is available for the residents of Plzen. Beer takes priority I guess! Now to distinguish Pilsner and what makes it uniquely different from other beers, the main proccess of an already long list of what they have to do is called a triple mache. In this brewery there are still old copper kettles that are used to boil the mixture of water, barley and hops. 1/3rd is seperated to be boiled in a seperate kettle at a minimum of 700°c then put back with remainimg mixture, this happens over a period of three times. This process is what gives the unique flavour of Pilsner Urquell beer along with their other processes. Now off for a little walk down underground and this is as old as the brewery, no artificial cooling or anything so underground is logical and the way they kept things cold is pretty impressive. There would be a pit probably 25 by 25 and this would be for the mountain of ice! up top there’s a little hole where it all comes from. A team of men horse and kart would be out seeking for ice from frozen lakes to cut and load onto horse karts and bring back to the brewery. They now use ammonia to chill the beer. This whole underground system would stretch for about 12 miles and would be home to barrels and barrels of Pilsner, it would be so easy to get lost in here. And why not….. Time to try a brewed Pilsner from the barrels themselves poured directly from it, this was pure gold. Even had Karens share, perfect! This brewery is the only place in the world they brew this magical mix and on total will mass produce from this site today a staggering 120,000 bottles an hour. The tour was coming to an end and came out wanting to be a brew master! Have to say by far one of the most interesting brewery tours I have taken.
Now back to the green machine. Just to give you an idea what is wrong with the current engine basically the air coolant popped off from where it should be attached, therefore the engine had overheated and cooked the rubber seals around the pistons. Theres no saying what damage was caused from this as getting into the engine and repairing monetary wise your better off replacing the engine. The bolt in the crank shaft had also snapped. As it turns out the engine we are buying is a brand new engine with a guarantee of 1 year and 12,000 km. This being purchased from a reputable VW specialist who build these engines. So back to reality and its time for information and get things moving with the poorly green machine, overall the insurance company AA have been somewhat mixed. Dealing with different operators for one doesn’t help and no such thing as email documentation to keep on file. Well in for a cracker of a day to be told that the engine needs replacing, unbelievable and many words under the sun I could use right now that wouldn’t be appropriate to use with certain readers. Well it turned out that the Czech AA service had found us an engine…. Brilliant lets find out more and see what we can do so we can get going again! Well the AA UK don’t know anything about this engine and told us promptly to ask the mechanics for info on this engine. So 15 minutes later we are at the mechanics and they don’t know diddy squat, if you thought tempers were searing at this point your not half wrong. Well another call to the insurance and 3 operaters later and some of which are the supervisors all have no bloody idea what is going on. Must be an hour and half past and we trudge back to the hotel no better off, lets give the insurance one last call. Well guess bloody what? ……. The Czech AA had sold the engine before even giving us the chance to contemplate using it. Wow professional! So I’m seething at this point and Karen just helpless we sat there thinking we needed to do this shit oursleves. Find an engine and mechanics and sort this out. Well we found an engine (ourselves !) and finally had a VW specialist to do this for us at a really good price, the engine is in London but insurance agreed to a point to have this freighted here. This whole time I will note that AA would like us to be towed back to London we did not however want to do this as we are travelling around Europe for 9 months continous and have 3 break down policy offers of up to £2,000 each time. Well nearly a week passed and it only just occured to the insurance that we have to go back to London to be able to top up our £2,000 allowance to reset otherwise if we fix it here in Europe we will not get anymore assistance for the rest of the year. What? you heard right we had just wasted our time for that whole week and now sit in the airport writing this ordeal. So deflated, lack of enthusiasm and hatred for who you think would look to help you out as best they can turn out to be so incompetent. By this stage with the help of Karens dad we were assured that going back to London is the right choice. The green machine to be towed by AA and have engine built to then be assembled by our original mechanic in London. We will have to start again and drive through France to Stuggart Germany in 3 weeks time. Wicked! So upon all this drama me and Karen decided to do an evening of drinks and tenpin bowling at an old brewery, 3 lanes to be exact and provided the tonic for some loosening up and aggressive bowling oh and more beer. Meanwhile lets not mope around and lets do a week or so in scotland try some top notch wiskey and beautiful scenery while this all sorts itself out! And there you have it the wonderful journey of Plzen Cezch Republic this will go down as some memory and learning curve for the rest of our lives. And already noted by Ian, in my lifetime whenever I have a pilsner will sure bring back memories of the home town and bring a wry smile of what we went through. I suppose you just look back and have a laugh, what else do you do? If you want something done right do it yourself! That concludes our time in the Cezch Republic.