Exploring Pilsen: The Brewery Museum, The Underground Tour and European Capital of Culture

While in Pilsen, there were a couple of other places that we wanted to visit: the brewery museum and the underground tour.  I did some research before we went and noted that if you purchases tickets for multiple tours on the same day, you would get a 25% discount.  Always looking for a good value, this is what we ended up doing.  I thought three tours in one day would be too much but as it turns out, it wasn't. 

After we finished up at the Pilsner Urquell brewery, we made out way over to the underground tour.  This time of year, the only English tour is at 12:40.  Tours are also offered in Czech, German and Russian.  If you are planning a visit, check out their website for the most current tour schedule.  The whole idea of the tour is to take you under Pilsen.  Years ago, cellars were constructed to hold food.  Since they were naturally cooler, and refrigeration didn't really exist in the 1400s, they needed a way to keep foods fresh for longer.  Over the years, the cellars eventually expanded with tunnels between them.  In some cases, they even served as the first version of a speakeasy.  Hundreds of years ago, the town did not allow people to be out in the streets after dark.  And if you chose to be out, it was pretty dangerous.  So when night fell, which can be pretty early during winter in Europe,  but people wanted to continue drinking, they would gather in the tunnels and cellars.  They then had to find their way back to their homes though a labyrinth of mismatched tunnels, some so low you have to crouch to walk though.  I wonder what the success rate of making it home was.  Or how many people just gave up all together and drank until the sun came up again.

The tunnels and cellars were also a place where the towns inhabitants gathered in times of war.  Combined with the food already being stored down there, there were a number of wells that provided water.  This meant that they could, and sometimes did, spend literally months underground.  These tunnels were especially important during the 30 Years War.

Today, the tour starts in once of the ice rooms.  These rooms were always higher than the rest of the tunnels and stored ice harvested during the winter and was meant to keep the cellars cooler in the summer.  We then continued down through a series of tunnels, some just barely wide enough and tall enough for a person to fit though, into a cellar about 20 feet wide by 30 feet long.  This first cellar was from the 14th century and used to belong to a house.  Today, all entrances from private houses and most businesses have been sealed off to prevent the homeless from taking up shelter in them.  I can only imagine after 700 years what the walls in this room have witnessed.

The tour then continued though more tunnels.  Up.  Down.  Slight left at this bend.  Sharp right here.  It was a maze.  Thankfully we had a guide and there were signs posted indicating the tour route.  It would have been far too easy to get lost forever down here.  I wonder over the years, how many have.  We also passed by a number of wells, all with water still in them.  Some were deeper than others, some were open to the streets above,  most were not, but all were a life line for those that used these tunnels on a regular basis.  

Excavations and exploration of the tunnels is still taking place and since they were heavily used during the middle ages, especially during war, a lot of everyday artifacts have been discovered.  From leather shoes to metal tools to ceramic tableware, even a horse's skull, all these artifacts give archaeologists today an idea of how people lived.  There were a number of these items on display though the tour.  And the best part?  At the conclusion of the tour, the guide hands you a voucher for a glass of Pilsner Urquell.  Score!

At this point, it was mid-afternoon and we were starving.  On the verge of hangry.  Near the brewery museum and the entrance to the underground tour is a small restaurant serving traditional Czech food.  Which is very similar to traditional German food, we discovered. We each had a bowl of the goulash (delicious!) and a beer (or two),.  I ordered a traditional sausage with horseradish while Aaron tried to be all healthy and ordered a salad.  When they brought it out though, we immediately noticed something off about it.  There was no lettuce.  It was tomatoes, onions, and lots and lots of cucumbers with a chicken breast on top.  For those that don't know, Aaron can't stand cucumbers.  He thinks they're slimy.  So while I was enjoying my sausage, he got to pick through the mass of cucumbers on his plate.  #wifeoftheyear  I did feel a little bad, so I saved some of my sausage for him :)

After lunch, we headed to the Brewery Museum.  From the reviews on trip advisor, I was expecting a little more.  Sure, they had some interesting bits of information, and some cool old machinery used in breweries, but in all honesty, it was kind of lame.  Not sure I would spend the money to go back again.  But the best part was the free beer voucher we received.  So, let's just recap this for a minute.  Beer at Pilsner Urquell?  Check.  Beer at the underground tour?  Check.  Beer at the museum?  Check.  Beer at lunch? Check.  By roughly about 3 in the afternoon, we had consumed approximately a liter and a half of beer.  Hey, when in Czech!

This was also the point when we realized we needed a nap.  So, off to the hotel to take a nap.

This year, Pilsen was chosen by the European Union as one of their European Capital of Culture cities.  And this weekend were the opening ceremonies.  There was so much going on.  We didn't see much of it in our beer induced haze from all of our tours, but we did catch the main ceremony in the evening.  It was held in the town square, in front of St. Bartholomew's. Some highlights include a swiss tight rope walker, a 30 foot tall puppet, acrobats with bikes on trampolines and the ringing of the new bells for St. Bartholomew's.  The old bells were melted down during World War 2, and the church has been silent for over 80 years.  There was also a video showing what I assume to be the history of Pilsen.  I don't know for sure though since I don't speak Czech.  This video also showed the liberation of Pilsen by American and Soviet forces during WW2.   It was a result these opening ceremonies that there was a slaughtered pig in the background of the picture for Wednesday's (click here to read it).  For a better write up on what this all means, go here.   I was pretty much unaware of all of this, what it means, and what was going on, before we went. But the ceremony was pretty cool nonetheless - click here to read a news article about the ceremony and see some video.  They even had American flags!  #Merica.  On Sunday, before we left town, we popped into the visitor's center where we noticed they celebrate Liberation Day, when the town was liberated by American troops during World War II.  It's in May and you can bet we want to go back for that!

And that was the weekend.  Looking back, there was a lot of beer involved, and not all of it consumed.  I swear, we aren't alcoholics.  Just trying to blend in with the locals :)

If you have any questions about visiting Pilsen, let us know.  We will do out best to answer them.

- Meghan -