There's a moment in every one of our better journeys when Rich and I have the sensation of stepping off the well-lit path into the unknown. During next summer's train trip through Central and Eastern Europe, I suspect that moment will come when we arrive in the Czech Republic. We'll be traveling without reservations, just a Eurail pass and an iPad full of information about possible destinations, one of which is Prague.
Browsing through articles about Prague, I kept reading about a traditional local libation known as becherovka, which is said to taste like Christmas, being heavily laced with anis and cinnamon. And apparently it packs a wallop like New Year’s Eve. “I got so drunk I forgot where my bedroom was and fell asleep next to the dog,” blogger Katka Lapelosa recalls. Yikes. I hate nights like that.
So when we get to Prague, I’ll most likely be sticking to beer and wine, especially after reading recent horror stories about black market becherovka, absinthe and other spirits being spiked with methanol. This resulted in deaths, hideous injuries and a temporary ban on the sale of all hard liquor, sending a shockwave through the nation that has the world’s second-highest rate of hard-liquor consumption (Moldova holds the top spot). The ban has now been eased to allow the sale of spirits manufactured before January 1, 2012, so it is once again possible to drink enough bechrovka to wind up sleeping with the dog. But I think I’ll give it a miss anyway.
The Czech Republic has the highest consumption of beer in the world (take that, Moldova!) with citizens downing an impressive 161 liters per person per year. With Prague’s beer halls offering pints for the equivalent of under $1, it’s considerably cheaper than bottled water. You can’t afford not to overindulge.
Beer drinking enjoys a long and prosperous history in the region. Monks were brewing it back in 993 AD, and in 1785 Adolphus Busch gave the world Budweiser Bürgerbräu, or Budweiser Bier, in the city of Budweis – or as the Czechs prefer to spell it, Budějovice.
Czech wine isn’t such a worldwide phenomena, but it enjoys a robust local reputation, thanks to the tireless efforts of the man we now know as “Good King Wenceslas.” This noble monarch is credited with launching the region’s wine industry back in the 9th century. No wonder they made him a saint and wrote a Christmas carol about his kindness! And as if that wasn’t enough honor for one man, they also made him the patron saint of sausages. Prague’s Wenceslas Square is filled day and night, with – as the blogger from Czech Please puts it – “crowds of people gathering around sausage stands and paying homage at these altars of indigestion.”
So much to look forward to! Can’t wait to make your acquaintance, Prague!
Header photo by Jitka Erbenová
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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