Loving Czech, Pilsners and Otherwise

Czech seemed like a great destination that morning in Vienna. I had a coffee with Nina, my host there in Austria, made up a sign and hit the sidewalk. Walk I did, no stranger to that, through the city streets, over a bridge trying various pullouts attempting to hitch a ride, at last getting a short ride from a woman who left me with an ice tea and some chicken to chew on. I was off to a good start.

A polish guy gave me a ride next, "New York!", he kept shouting when I told him where I was from. He had a brother from there and even called him thinking maybe we knew each other. I talked to the guy, it was some wild hour over there, but we were in fact from the same neighborhood in Astoria Queens.

My third and final ride came from a trucker who took me over the rolling hills and just into the city I was aiming for, Brno. I walked the rest of the way into the downtown, I had the address of a couchsurfer who was going to put me up for a couple days before heading to Prague. I first took Turkish money and made it become Czech money, then headed up to the apartment.

I rang the buzzer and was greeted by a pretty girl who lived there, along with a guy from Denmark who was visiting. Victor arrived a bit later, he was the guy I'd been in touch with, but he was gone almost as quickly and I didn't see too much more of him. The third housemate arrived just a bit later, Yan, it wasn't long after that the call for beer was too loud to ignore.

We wandered and I listened as Yan played tour guide a bit, eventually we landed at a very cool bar. We sat at a table that had a beer tap in the middle and we were able to pour our own drinks while the computer kept track of how much we'd poured. Better yet, there was a huge screen on the wall showing a leader board of all the tables in the bar, other such bars in the city, and our city (Brno) compared to these bars in Prague and other parts of the country. Genius.

Eventually we wound up rounding out the night sipping beers outside the casino before heading back to the house and falling over into the dream world.

The next day could have been any day if not for the beer. I awoke to buzz saws, I was basically in a closet, a big one anyhow, just full of pillows and a couch, or something of the sort, I was awake. To the kitchen I wandered, this was the focal point. Coffee occurred, so did chess with the guy from Denmark.

Time to escape came, into the streets, into the solo wander I’d become accustomed to. This solo wander of a city of new had long become my standard, I was at home with the wander, comfortable, perhaps too comfortable. Always interesting none the less, the language barrier is particularly interesting when alone, mostly because it makes things similar, there’s only the vibe to go off, body language and faces wandering, words become tones and sometimes this bleeds into normal conversation. I’ve found myself having great conversations without interpreting words, in English even, just gathering a sense and, if I’m truly on to it, blasting out the vibe myself which most certainly translates to words people understand unless they’re truly as crazy as I sometimes seem I must be, because I won’t even remember the words, just the vibe.

I found myself a bottle of beer, once again appreciating the freedom that seemed prevalent throughout Europe that didn’t exist in the bulk of my home country, cracking open a beer on the street and sipping at leisure as the wander continued.

A brewery caught my eye, a glass went down as the mind wandered. I then found myself in an aisle of a grocery store staring at the pilsner selection of beers. When it comes to beer, the pilsner style is one I typically ignore with pure intuition, but Czech is where it all started, the air ran through me flipping my mindset. Suddenly bottles were in my hand and all they wanted were coins were exchange. Funny how someone trades delicious beer for a several pieces of metal.

I carted them back to the apartment, the guy from Denmark called for chess and coffee, I obliged. I popped open a Budweiser, the original now, the one that America copied. Funny that, they copied the name and flipped the slogan from “Beer of Kings” to “King of Beers”, except instead of properly stealing the recipe, they used rice and spent all their money for advertisements and to create in bulk with world renowned consistency, truly, truly consistent watery beer.

Anyhow, on to legit beer, Yan returned, a fire starter in his own right, and lead me and Denmark to a local brewery where we enjoyed a glass or two of the fine stuff. Then back to the apartment. Some Germans arrived. All three of these roommates were on the couchsurfing website and constantly had guests coming through. With new ones arriving, another bottle run was necessary, then back to the apartment for a charged round the table conversation of hazed out drunken passion with true points and laughs and everything anyone who’s picked up a pint glass knows well.

The morning came, unavoidable, chess and coffee, now the norm (how fast norms became established), lurking into the morning that I knew was a road morning, a road day, a day I had to get moving to the next spot while saying goodbye to people who may never give a hello again. That or seen again only to be the strongest of relationships, I could never tell and had long stopped trying.

To the park we went, then to meet Yan during his lunch break. He showed us a great food spot and we chowed. Mushrooms came up then, perhaps the psychedelic seed had been planted then or earlier, either way, he alerted me of a stash in his closet and instructed me to take a particular portion that would be suitable for me and another that I should take on the road.

Back at his apartment I easily found his stash and took my share, ,wrapped them up in my pack, pack on back, and I was out the door after a Denmark and German goodbye to the the others around.

I walked out of the main part of town, a city really, but manageable and the highway wasn’t far. I saw another hitchhiker right away aiming at the same direction as me, towards Prague, but luckily across the street was another entrance in the same direction for that side of traffic. I walked over there and the very first car pulled over for me.

Driving was a German girl, in the passenger seat was her Mexican boyfriend, I hopped in the back as the first hitchhiker they’d ever picked up, talking travel and mirroring inspiration all the way to Prague. Well, past Prague by a pinch, we overshot it by the time I could make my exit.

I was able to get internet where they did drop me, a McDonalds of course, and got a message from Massimo (a friend of friend living in Prague who could host me) saying he’d be at a particular restaurant for a meeting in a few hours, so I had my mission.

I crossed several lanes of traffic with skills afforded to me by god knows what, experience hitchhiking, pacman, basketball, tetris and who knows what. I then lucked out with a fast ride. It didn't need much, the guy who picked me up was dying to travel and had just learned English. We cruised a few exits getting excited and I was on my own again.

I walked a little ways, over a bridge was all where I quickly eyeballed the restaurant with time to spare. So I kept n wandering, hell I was in Prague. I found a giant square with a massive stone building, calling it a church would be an understatement.

After some more exploring I headed back to the spot and soon met up with Massimo. The meeting was couch surfing related, a dozen or so people talking about a big event they were having fairly soon. I sat patiently, made easy with a Czech beer, until they were satisfied in their strategy.

Afterwards there were several of us who headed to a bar across town. It was an interesting complex of a bar, several floors and little rooms tucked away, all made with scraps as one big art piece really, some rooms with mirrors and people doing cocaine, others smoking up and just about everyone else drinking, laughing and chowing down. A long ride home and I passed out easily at Massimo’s place.

I walked into the city center the next day, spotting a place called the beer museum and stopping in right away. It was really just a bar, but it showcased beers from all over the country to I sampled several for a while talking with the bartender and others who came in.

I continued my wander afterwards, admiring the architecture, people watching and trying different foods. I spotted a casino and noticed a poker tournament on the schedule, so I came back later to join. I didn’t fare well, bled out slowly and was knocked out before being able to place. Luckily they offered all the players free fish and as much beer as we could drink while there, so I’d been taking advantage of that and was now full of pilsner.

The bridges lit up and were amazing come night. Around that point I began the trip back to Massimo’s, but got on the wrong tram and eventually had to hop out and try to walk my way back home. I twisted through streets and dirt paths making sense of my map. I saw a park on the map that I could cut through and headed for it.

What I didn’t realize was that this park was much more a nature preserve with all sorts of terrain. Rain started to fall and then turned into a torrential downpour.

I was completely disoriented, deep in the woods, alongside small cliffs, soaking and the only light I could see was when a bolt of lightning lit things up. I hiked for ages hoping to come back to a sign, a road, anything as I splashed around.

Finally I found a dirt road winding and it lead me to regular streets once more where I was able to orient myself and arrive at Massimo’s late and drenched. I dried off and easily fell asleep.

The next day was another good day of exploring, along with another stop to the beer museum. I walked all over the city, just following my nose and seeing where my feet would take me, relaxing in parks or grabbing a beer whenever the opportunity arose.

By night I headed to a bar where Massimo and dozens more Couch Surfers were meeting up. I chatted with locals and people from all over the planet, as is common for these types of meetings, then eventually headed back to Massimo’s along with another girl he was hosting. We talked into the night, he was extremely friendly and generous and all was pretty comfortable.

It was time to get some good rest again, in the morning I’d be aiming for Berlin and had a hell of a couple days ahead of me once I’d get there, always good times.

August 21, 2011 to August 25, 2011