|On Wednesday we went on our first trip that the ISC (Internation Student Center) arranged for us this week as part of orientation week. We basically just signed up for which ones we wanted to go to. I will be going to Karlovy Vary on Friday and Kutna Hora on Saturday. There was also a skiing trip in the mountains (not the Alps!) planned, but I decided I could ski at home.
Anyway...about 40 of us students loaded up on a bus which drove about two hours to the town of Plzen, home to the third largest brewery in the world, Pilsner Urquell. Back in the mid 1800s, a group of small brewers joined together and developed Pilsner Urquell, the first light golden lager of its kind. It is the beer that most of our American beers, like Budweiser, Miller, & Coors were made to imitate. Since they are similar beers, they taste a lot alike, but Pilsner is definately the best & smoothest out of the bunch. We first saw the huge copper & stainless steel vats that are used in the modern production of the beer, and then we went down into the cellars, where wide passageways (they had to roll large barrels/kegs down these) seem to go everywhere. Down here is where they still produce some of the beer the old traditional way, to make sure that they still have the right taste in the beer that they mass-produce. We saw huge wooden barrels with beer fermenting in them...I think the barrels were 8,000 Liters...alot of beer! The beer goes through two different fermentation processes before it is filtered, and the whole place smelled like yeast. It actually kind of smelled like bread. The place was really cold, too. When we got to the end of the tour we got to sample some of the beer made the traditional way. It was before the final filtration & pasteurization, so it was kind of cloudy instead of being clear, and it was really good!
After the tour we had lunch at the brewery restaurant. I had a very traditional Czech meal of pork, dumplings, & saurkraut which was pretty good. I don't like saurkraut at home, but over here it's way better. Not so sour and bitter. I sat with some French students, and one of them started asking me what I thought about the Iraqi war! How do you talk about that with a Frenchman??!!??! Actually we heard that we shouldn't talk about it with Europeans, but I disagree. I've talked to a guys from Finland, Holland, & now France about it, and they're usually pretty open to ideas. Of course they all strongly disagree with the war & with Bush, but we all agree that nobody knows all the facts or know what the real solution is. I just try to not be too gung-ho about being a patriotic American because I can tell that they do have resentment towards our government.
After lunch we loaded up and drove about a half hour to Svihov, a very small town, to see Svihov castle. It was built in the 15th & 16th century and was a pretty strong fortress in its day. Some of it has fallen down, but most of it is still original. It was called a water castle, because it was built beside a small river that supplied water for its moat. It was freezing inside, I can't imagine people living there! It was pretty neat, although I don't have anything to compare it to since it's the first castle I've ever been to. The weapons and armor room was pretty neat, although I don't know how much of it was real or not. The suits of armor were a little bit too "fairy-tale" I thought. I thought chain mail was used a little more. For a little more info on the castle and a good picture, you can visit http://fmv.vse.cz/cz/castles/svihov.htm. The countryside from there to Prague is really hilly and forested, almost like small foothills.
Note about the pictures: Pivo is cheaper than water here!