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I have to admit that when I came to the Czech Republic for the first time, I had no clue about the great beer here. It was just assumed that Germany had the finest brew by virtue of Oktoberfest. Germany was in fact my first stop towards me eventually  settling down in Europe and naturally I was looking forward to my first beer in a pub there. I fell in with a group and ordered what they were having. We got the beer, did the customary zum Wohl, I took my first healthy swig and…what the hell? It had a strange taste and even worse aftertaste. The group informed me that it was Hefeweizbier, meaning made out of wheat. Wheat? Where was I, Kansas? The group told me that if I didn’t want breaded beer for the next round, I should order Pils. And just what grain are we talking about here? Not to worry, they said, Pils is a generic term for any beer besides the wheat stuff. I have to say, though, that Hefeweizbier grew on me and came to be my beer of choice until I moved to the Czech Republic.

   As it seems so obvious today, the word Pils comes from Pilsen, the city in western Bohemia that first produced the lagers that are the standard today. I had my first Pilsner in Prague and that was it. No more wheat. My only reservation was all the foam, which has more suds than a kid’s bath. But I found out that’s the way the Czechs like and expect it and you couldn’t meet a single one of them whose biggest complaint about their trip to America was the lack of foam in the beer. They were absolutely stunned. In a Czech pub, you order a beer on tap and wait 15 minutes for 60% of the foam to settle into something drinkable. In America, the damn thing is ready in 10 seconds. Too soft-drink like.

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The Czech Republic is often described as being in the heart of Europe, which sounds nice, but what it also means is that this is a landlocked country with not an ocean or seaside in sight for hundreds of kilometers. That always gave me the impression that going abroad in search of a week or two on the beach was a big deal here, and it is when you consider the million or so people who drive to Croatia and the Adriatic Sea this time of the year. Some time back I met my friend Pavel and asked him if he and his family were going to Croatia that year. We were standing below the weir on the river close to where we live. He looked at the beer garden next door, then to the mountains just off in the distance, and said he didn’t see any reason to when they had all this around them. He then put his head under the waterfall before going up to the garden and downing a few beers.

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  Posted Sunday, June 25, 2017 at 10:21am by Darren Baker

No class distinction

June is music festival time, like Glastonbury UK, which always attracts politicians keen to look cool among the younger crowd even if it means more wallowing in the mud. The event in Frydek-Mistek CZ is called Sweetsen and since the city is celebrating 750 years, the bosses came up with a gimmick to highlight the status of this twin city. They erected the stage on the Silesian side of the river Ostravice for people to watch the acts from the Moravian side. Being across a whole river, it was kind of hard to see anything, so they wisely erected TV screens as well. Judging by the lines at the vendors, the crowd was enormous, hungry and thirsty, but unlike Glastonbury, nothing to show by way of class distinction, at least not from this one view from a nearby car park. 

About our author, Darren Baker (1961- ), his career path is almost as unlikely as Simon’s own! He was born in California and spent his formative years in South Carolina, before joining the U.S. Navy. His first book was based on his years in the submarine fleet. He later attended the University of Connecticut, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in modern and classical languages (a double Russian and German major with a minor in classical Greek). A backpacking tour of Eastern Europe in 1991 led him to settle permanently in the Czech Republic.

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Fifty days and nobody’s counting

This is the time of year folks gather in gardens and along riverbanks in North Moravia for a special feast. It’s meant to mark Pentacost, the coming of the Holy Ghost 50 days after Easter, and the food is “Vayecheena”, literally scrambled eggs, which as every Beatles pundit knows was the working title of “Yesterday”. Easter is about hollowing out eggs and decorating the shells, Pentacost frying them up over an open fire. Whip up a dozen or so, add salt, bacon and chives, stir until the mixture reaches an agreeable texture, then consume on bread sliced from a fresh loaf. It’s supposed to be today, but a storm is lashing about outside. Sensing it would come to this, we did our fry-up last week when the day was gorgeous. Since the religious significance has gone out of the occasion, nobody counts the days anyway. 

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About our author, Darren Baker (1961- ), his career path is almost as unlikely as Simon’s own! He was born in California and spent his formative years in South Carolina, before joining the U.S. Navy. His first book was based on his years in the submarine fleet. He later attended the University of Connecticut, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in modern and classical languages (a double Russian and German major with a minor in classical Greek). A backpacking tour of Eastern Europe in 1991 led him to settle permanently in the Czech Republic.

If you would like to comment or anything else you have seen on our blog, head over to our Facebook page or message us on twitter

We love hearing from you!

Plus keep in mind that traveling with Zen will earn you reduced business class fares for added comfort. Be sure to inquire in advance and don’t forget to sign-up for our newsletter today; it’s your personal gateway to all of our offers and tips. Plus, you’ll find some great ideas for your next adventures!

 

Alas, there were none of the traditional chlebiček at the birthday party, rather more manageable bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. The slice of smoked salmon on garlic-spiced sour cream became a special favorite throughout the evening. There was also salmon for dinner, but it was gone by the time I walked up with my plate. A word to the wise about dining in the Czech Republic: Just because something is on the menu doesn’t mean it’s there, and huffing and puffing with the staff will get you nowhere. There was still goulash and bread or steak with fried potatoes, followed by Panna Cotta for dessert, but the real treat was a red wine from Portugal, Eirados 2012. It’s dry, smooth, balanced, with a hint of jam in the finish. As for the man of the hour, he’s been a yachtsman all his life and his crew came up with a dazzling gift, a puppet replica of the captain that spent most of the party hanging off a window next to a picture of a tonsured monk holding a cherub. You can see for yourself it’s not the wine talking here.

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Going to a birthday party tonight, and in this country, that means lots of “chlebiček”, an open-faced sandwich that usually consists of potato salad on white bread, topped with slices of ham, salami, hard-boiled egg, pepper, and pickle. My first go at it was at this eatery in Prague. I had never handled a sandwich without two pieces of bread to keep everything in place and my first bite sent the egg disc rolling onto the floor, where it continued rolling until it landed at the feet of another customer. He was placing his order and the whole time I nervously waited for him to turn and squash the egg. He missed it and so did everybody else in the time it took me to finish the rest of the sandwich. I even lingered a minute or two afterwards, you know, cleaning up, making sure I had everything, but the egg survived every sole that came its way. It was at another birthday party that I had my second go at it, and this time I pinned the egg on top with my index finger as I laid into it. Now I’m a professional. No need to do that tonight, at least not until the wine kicks in.

About our author, Darren Baker (1961- ), his career path is almost as unlikely as Simon’s own! He was born in California and spent his formative years in South Carolina, before joining the U.S. Navy. His first book was based on his years in the submarine fleet. He later attended the University of Connecticut, where he graduated magna cum laude with a degree in modern and classical languages (a double Russian and German major with a minor in classical Greek). A backpacking tour of Eastern Europe in 1991 led him to settle permanently in the Czech Republic.

If you would like to comment or anything else you have seen on our blog, head over to our Facebook page or message us on twitter

We love hearing from you!

Plus keep in mind that traveling with Zen will earn you reduced business class fares for added comfort. Be sure to inquire in advance and don’t forget to sign-up for our newsletter today; it’s your personal gateway to all of our offers and tips. Plus, you’ll find some great ideas for your next adventures!

 

  Posted Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 9:31am by Darren Baker

Holiday menu

May 8th is a holiday in this country, supposedly to mark the end of World War II, and looking for a place to dine out, I came across this special menu item: Green asparagus in butter with poached egg and Parmesan, price 178 crowns. That’s about seven bucks. For asparagus? A glass of Moravian white wine is recommended to go with it, described as “light, semi-dry, with a combination of fruitiness and minerals in the aroma, accompanied by fresh acidity and a full yet tangy flavor.” That sounds like it could be worth the two bucks for it.

In the end, I opted for a food fair, offering various types of cheeses, chocolates, and nibbles to try. Nothing filling if you’re hungry, not unless you keep coming back until they get wise to you. There were also stands with traditional foods like a burger, although I’m not sure about that weird one in the picture. Is that watercress in it? Czech snacks are always popular at events like these, nothing more so than the spicy potato pancake smothered in sour cream. It can only be eaten with a beer in hand, preferably with a lot of foam on top. Altogether, it will run you about the price of that glass of “wine”.                                     

                                                                  Ran out of lettuce, had to use watercress              

                                                                     

  

                                             

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