August 25, 2004

Karlovy Vary

We drove to Plzeň on Sunday the 22nd. Plzeň's German name is Pilsen. This is the town where the first Pilsner or Pils beer was brewed in the mid 1800's. It is the home of the Pilsner Urquell brewery. We stopped in Plzeň to see its main square and to visit the brewery. It is a large brewery that produces about 150 million liters or more than a million barrels of beer each year. The tour was OK. There were several short films to be seen as we trod through mostly the old maturation tunnels running ten kilometers under the brewery and city. Thing is that they really don't use them any more, except for the few dozen vats of beer that they still brew in wooden vats for comparison to the modern day stainless steel vats that were just installed twelve years ago. It was a small glass of this that they provided a taste of during the tour. After the tour there was no tasting room. So, despite the $5 tour fee, there was no beer drinking. They have a restaurant where the beer cost the same as anywhere else in the Czech Republic, about $1 for a pint. The Czechs often seem to lack the ability to understand how one creates good-will about a product or a service experience. In this case it was the beer, in others it has been the wine, and almost daily we have to face this problem in the restaurants. And be aware that I am not talking about prices, because most of these things are inexpensive, it is really about the presentation or the package.

Press HERE to see a slideshow from the Czech Republic.

PilsnerUrquell Brewery
Wooden Beer Vat

We were also in Plzeň to view the main square. It did not disappoint with its beauty. This one of the outstanding things about the Czech Republic: everywhere - beautiful old cities. Not that the rest of Europe does not have its share of beautiful old cities, because it does. But here in the Czech Republic it seems to be ubiquitous.
From Plzeň we drove north to Karlovy Vary. This turns out to be a huge spa town with thousands of tourists from all over the world, but especially from Russia and the Middle East. It may be the most beautiful of all the Czech cities. Its center lay in a narrow river valley with buildings rising along the adjacent slopes. The city is primarily made up of 19th century buildings. The public spaces along the river are fabulous. People have been coming here for more than 300 years to take the waters. The tourists walk around with odd-looking porcelain cups taking the hot water that spews from one of the dozens of wells found on the streets. The mineral laden water is said to bring good health. You can find all the typical spa services in the town: health clinics, massages parlors, hair salons, etc. The health angle is so prevalent that I saw a hotel called the Sanatorium. The information office was closed. So, we started to look for a pension to stay in. They cost twice what they do most places in the Czech Republic, in other words, they start at $60 a night this time of the year. We drove out of the center and up one of the hills and found a place to stay, A.Dalia privat, in a private home for $44 a night. We may have done better, but we did not have the time to look under every rock to save a few dollars. The family is very nice and the breakfast was included. Their son, Thomas, is eight years old, plays golf, and speaks English fluently - as does his father.

Karlovy Vary River
Geyser in Karlovy Vary
River in Center
Typical Buildings

Old Buildings in Cheb

Monday was not the best of days. It seemed like we were going and going but we did not get anywhere. Betty probably enjoyed it more than me. We spent a lot of time in stores that sell crystal and porcelain. Betty got her hair done. While she did that I checked on trains to Germany and the cost. We will visit my friends in Wuppertal. I vaguely recall that the fare last year was high, but now it seems insanely high at $150 each. It is cheaper to fly - which we may well do. When I returned to the salon, she still had another 40 minutes to go. I decided to get a beard trim; I really needed it. We stopped by a internet shop to check on airfares to Germany. We spent way to long there. We also tried to research the possibility of a one-way car rental to Wuppertal, but were unsuccessful in getting a quote. I hope the $110 airline ticket that I found does not disappear. By the time we got out of there it was too late to do much more. We tried the waters and did some more window shopping. We had pizza before returning to our rooms for the night.

It rained a lot on Tuesday. We have seen very little rain on our travels, so I guess we are due. We started trying to figure out how to get to Wuppertal without spending an arm and a leg. EasyJet will start service between Prague and Dortmund next Wednesday, so I booked on them for $47 each; quite the bargain considering what is available. We went to the Moser glass factory. This factory produces some of the most expensive glass pieces in the world with some stems costing more than $400. Only the richest people in the world buy this glass, from the richest capitalists to royalty to movie stars and more. We saw their museum and found out that tours were done for the day and then we drove through some area of the town we had not seen. We decided to visit some small towns nearby. The castle at Loket was from the 13th century. Then we went to Cheb, whose German name is Eger. The city was so beautiful. Some of the buildings seemed to be from the 14th century. We stopped for dinner in a pub housed in a building from 1460's.

Loket's Castle

There was a Canadian couple in for a wedding at the table this morning (Wednesday). We suggested they join us as we planned to return to the Moser factory for a tour later in the morning. Jim and Lise Nicholson were lovely people from Edmonton. They enjoyed the tour as much as we did. I noted that the reject rate from the blowing room was much less than the 90% rate that we had heard. Less than a fifth of the pieces were sent to the scrap heap. Then Betty and Lise went to a crystal store in the city to get some less expensive glass pieces. We seemed to really click with this couple. They love traveling as much as we do.
By the early afternoon we were headed to the northwest in search of another castle.

The Moser Glass Factory Blowing Room

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Quality Control

Posted by bill at August 25, 2004 07:10 PM