Czech Republic – Pilsner Urquell Brewery Tour

After visiting Český Krumlov it was time to head to Pilsen for a tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in the city of Pilsen. Before we take a look at the brewery lets take a look at the beautiful city of Pilsen.

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The brewery was founded in 1839 by local Czech and German speaking citizens in the city and for the first two years was brewed in the homes of the locals. There was major inconsistencies in the beer so it was decided to build the Burgess Brewery in 1842, which is where the current brewery stands today. Currently the brewery produces almost 10 million hectoliters of beer per year. It was the first brewery in the world to produce pale lager, branded as Pilsner Urquell since 1898, which can be roughly translated from Czech to English as “the original source at Pilsen”. The beer was trademarked in 1898. The brewery was sold to the Japanese company Asahi in March 2017.

During the tour they took us to the original water tower, the bottling factory, the old brewery, the new brewery, and the original underground cellar network. We even were able to sample some of the original unfiltered and unpasteurized beer that is still brewed and stored in kegs in the underground cellar. The flavor profile is quite distinct compared to the regular filtered version.

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Czech Republic – Kutná Hora & Český Krumlov

After visiting Prague it was time to move on to my next destinations; Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov. First stop was Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora was first founded in 1142 with the settlement of Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. In 1260 German miners flicked to the area to begin mining for silver in the surrounding mountain region. There was great economic prosperity from the 13th thru 16th centuries and the city competed with Prague economically, politically and culturally.

In 1420, Emperor Sigismund made the city the base For his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars, which lead to the Battle of Kutná Hora. Kutná Hora was taken by Jan Zizka, but was burned by imperial troops in 1422 to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taborites. Zizka still the reigns of the city nonetheless and it emerged to new prosperity.

Kutná Hora was eventually passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. In 1546 the most prosperous of the mines was flooded. Eventually the plague, 30 years war, and a fire did the city in. The city became impoverished and the mines were eventually abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. When I was here I visited the Church of Saint James (which was under construction), and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

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After visiting Kutná Hora is was time to drive further along to my next stop, Český Krumlov, where I would be staying for the next two days.
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Český Krumlov started in 1240 when a settlement rose around a castle by the Vitkovci family, descendants of the Witiko of Prčice. The family died off in 1302 And Kind Wenceslaus II ceded the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. Peter 1 of Rosenberg, the Lord Chamberlain of King John of Bohemia, resided here and had the upper castle erected. Most of the people living below the castle were German-speaking at the time and migrated from Austria and Bavaria.

The Rosenbergs encouraged trade and crafts within the town wall, and when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle. William of Rosenberg, High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style during the time.

In 1602 Williams brother Peter Vok of Rosenberg sold Cesky Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rufolf II, who then gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. After the Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Český Krumlov to the noble House of Eggenberg. From 1719 to 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Scwarzenberg.

After Word War I the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared part of German-Austria. The Czechoslovak army occupied the region by 1918, and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. in 1938 it was claimed by the Nazi Germans. After World War II the German speaking population was expelled and the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.

Under the communist ruling of Czechoslovakia the town fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 much of the town has been restored. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The town was severely damaged in a great flood in 2002, but has since been repaired.

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Luxembourg

Today I had to wake up fairly early to catch a 5:00am train to Luxembourg via Brussels, and Arlon. In Brussels I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee at the train station before switching trains. I arrived in Luxembourg at 10:00am and dropped off my bag at the hotel I was staying at; Empire Hotel, which was conveniently located right across from the train station. I then proceeded to walk into the old city, with a quick stop for another sandwich at the supermarket.

First stop was Luxemburgo-Passerelle, a gorgeous viaduct spanning 290 metres long and is 45 metres above the valley below. The viaduct has a total of 24 arches, and is also known as the “Old Bridge”. The viaduct was finished in 1861 to connect the city center with Luxembourg’s new railways station (the one I just arrived on). The railway station was built away from the city center so it wouldn’t detract from the defensive capabilities of the city’s fortress.

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I then proceeded to walk down a narrow road to the valley floor below. In the valley you can see some incredible views of the old town above, as well as Neumünster Abbey. Neumünster Abbey was built in 1688 after the previous two abbey’s were destroyed by fire. After the French Revolution it served as a police station, prison, and as a barracks. Since 1997 it has been home to the European Institute of Cultural Routes.

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Next stop was a lot of stairs to climb back out of the valley and to explore the beautiful views of Neumünster Abbey, and the surrounding valley below, as well as walk through Casemates du Bock,  the site of a former fortified castle from 963 AD that has an intricate maze of casemates underneath of it that were used the shelter soldiers, workshops, kitchens, bakeries, etc. The original fortress was destroyed in 1875 after the declaration of neutrality in 1867. The casemates proved to be impossible to destroy, so they were left. 17 km of the original 23 km still remain.

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I then continued to walk around Old Luxembourg overlooking the valley below as well as stopping at Cathedral Notre-Dame, and the Monument of Remembrance. The Monument of Remembrance, a 21 metre tall granite obelisk with a gilded bronze statue representing Nike (Goddess of Victory) was dedicated to the thousands of Luxembourgers who volunteered their service in the armed forces of the Allied Powers during both World Wars and the Korean War.

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It was then time to head back for a nap as I was getting tired.  I ended up napping from 3:00pm to almost 5:00pm.

I ended up grabbing a salad from the supermarket for dinner and chatting on the phone for a few hours before getting ready for bed. Be sure to check back tomorrow when I visit Prague, Czech Republic!

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Belgium – Bruges

Today I travelled to the wonderful cute city of Bruges. Before we dive into that lets recap my evening from the night before… The power went out at around 11pm last night and I wasn’t sure if it was just my room, or the entire building. I was on the 5th floor, which oddly didn’t have elevator service so I had to walk down a narrow and winding staircase to the 4th floor. Unfortunately there was no emergency light and my phone wasn’t bright enough so I fell down an entire flight of stairs and messed up my shoulder. I made my way down to reception to conclude that the entire block was without power. The power eventually came back on a few hours later.

I woke up at 4:30am in immense pain and ended up talking with some friends until it was time to check out and take the train to Bruges. I ended up checking out at roughly 7:00am and walked about 1km to the nearby Brussels North train station. I purchased a ticket for roughly $20 CDN to Bruges. The train ride took about 1.25 hours and I got to enjoy the beautiful view of the countryside.

Upon arrival in Bruges it was slightly raining, but a very fine misty rain. I started to walk towards the old town center where I was greeted with a ton of amazing architecture. My first stop was St. Salvator’s Cathedral; a beautiful church originally built in the 10th century, but destroyed by a fire in 1116 and rebuilt in 1127. It has undergone numerous renovations since.

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The next stop was Church of Our Lady Bruges, a gothic style church built in 1280 with various additions made since.

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After that I decided it was time for some breakfast so I stopped in at The Old Chocolate House and had a butter and sugar waffle adjourned by a decadent white chocolate mocha with lemongrass, ginger, and various other spices. It tasted like a garden in a cup.

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After fuelling up it was time to continue exploring the city. I visited “Markt” the town square, which houses Bruges City Hall, Basicilia of the Holy Blood, and the famous Belfry Medieval Bell Tower. I ended up coming back to that later on to climb to the top, but more on that later on.

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It was roughly noon at this point in time and I was starting to get sleepy, so I made my way to my hotel; Hotel NH Brugge, which is a superb 5 star hotel which I received for free on an Agoda.com voucher for stays in previous Agoda properties. The cost of this hotel is roughly $300 CDN/night. I decided to nap for a few hours before continuing on my adventures.

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I decided to venture back to the Belfry Medieval Bell Tower to climb the nearly 400 stairs to the top. The cost was €12 ($17.50 CDN). The views at the top were absolutely stunning!

After climbing Belfry I walked across the street and picked up some chocolate bars and some boxed chocolates from Godiva to bring home to my friends.

I then walked across town to look at the old windmills along the banks of the river, with a quick stop at a grocery store to get some food.

On the way back I took a few beautiful pictures of the autumn colours along the banks of the canals.

Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer thatn that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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Valley Of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills Hikes

Yesterday I completed two hikes in Jasper National Park; Valley of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills. I started my day off early at 6:30am by waking up and making a nutritious breakfast omelet and coffee before setting off on a 5 hour drive towards Jasper.

First stop was Valley of 5 Lakes, a short 4.5km hike with a mere 154 metres of elevation gain. The hike was amazing; it started through a moderate density forest and opened up into a meadow before going back into a forest with a view of five beautiful turquoise and emerald coloured lakes. The hike took roughly an hour to complete and was completely worth the visit.

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It was nearly lunch so it was time to head into Jasper. I stopped at my favorite place; Jasper Brewing Company and had a cheddar burger with poutine, and a pint of their Rockhopper IPA, which is super tasty.

After lunch I drove to Maligne Lake, where I started on the trailhead to Bald Hills. It was a light misty rain when I started the hike, but over the course of the hike it started to rain more and more. About 1/3 of the way through the hike I met a wonderful woman named Susan, and her husband Steve. They had one of their daughters, and daughters friend with them. We spent the rest of the hike together, which made for a nice time. One of the kids made a hilarious comment when we were talking about religion. She said “Is a Protestant also a prostitute; we all burst out laughing! By the end of the hike we were all soaked. The hike was 13.2km with 701 metres of elevation gain; I definitely felt it in my quads towards the end.

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After the hike I drove back into Jasper to fill up my Lexus with fuel, and get some coffee from Tim Horton’s before heading back to Calgary. I finally made it home around 10:30pm.

Lake Annette & Read’s Tower Hikes

Today I completed two hikes; Lake Annette & Read’s Tower. I woke up at 4:00am and had some eggs, brisket, and cheese for breakfast with some coffee and then set off at around 4:30am. I had to fill up with fuel on my way out of the city, but thankfully gas is only 95 cents/litre at the moment so it only cost me $23 for a partial fill.

My first stop was Lake Annette, which is near Lake Louise. The drive took about 2.25 hours. I arrived at 6:45am and got started on my hike. Lake Annette is rated as a moderate hike with 377 metres of elevation gain over 11.3km of distance. The hike took me just over 2 hours to complete. The hike spends the majority of the time in the woods, with a few spots of alpine meadows. I was the only one on the trail for the majority of the hike, except towards the end when I was nearly back at my car.

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The next hike was Read’s Tower, which is in the Spray Lakes area near Canmore. The drive from Lake Louise took about 1.5 hours. There was only 3 other cars in the parking lot, so I knew the trail would be quiet. I made it about 2/3 of the way up the 6.8km trail with 855 metres of elevation gain before throwing in the towel. My shoes were not giving me any grip what so ever and I fell over a few times. It’s time for new hiking shoes since my tread is almost completely gone.

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