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Beer baths, bears and bespoke cocktails in the Beskydy mountains.

Beer baths, bears and bespoke cocktails in the Beskydy mountains.

Jul 27th, 2014, 10:23 AM
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Beer baths, bears and bespoke cocktails in the Beskydy mountains.

Just got back from a long weekend in the east of the Czech Republic with fellow Fodorite Wellidontknow/Stilldontknow/Weegie (who in the interests of brevity will henceforth be referred to as Tommy).

I’d not been to the Czech Republic before, and like most people imagined that if I did it would probably be to visit Prague. However new and largely unexplored areas of the country are opening up as tourist destinations and when the chance arose for us to visit the Beskydy mountains and the towns and villages in the foothills around Ostrava, we jumped at it.

Tommy drove down from Glasgow on a Thursday in July (there are connecting flights from both Glasgow City and Edinburgh to Stansted if you prefer), and we had a quick lunch of club sandwiches and kettle chips before grabbing a taxi from my house to the terminal. (I had also done strawberries with balsamic vinegar as pud but forgot all about them in my pre-flight nerves and/or eagerness to demonstrate all the apps on my new telly - sorry hon!)

It’s actually the first time I’ve flown since the liquid restrictions and battery charging business were introduced so there was some minor faffing in the terminal to rearrange things for inspection, and a (very thorough!) pat down after my shoes set off the detector, then quickly through to the departure lounge to wait. We flew with Ryanair who have just started flights to Ostrava from the UK for £19.99 one way, three times a week and at surprisingly sociable hours (late afternoon and early evening). The flight time is just under two hours. They also go to Brno and Prague so the eastern region can easily be combined for multicentre trips if you have a bit longer to explore than we did.

The flight itself was quite a pleasant surprise - Ryanair may have started as a small budget airline some 19 years ago, but they have the whole process down to a fine art, from the easy to navigate web booking system to the military-like efficiency with which they turn their flights around. We had one carry-on each plus a smaller bag each (new rules permit you can have a handbag/laptop case as well) so Tommy had his laptop and I had a camera bag. The 10kg allowance sounds a bit mean but you can pack a surprising amount and still be within the limit. In addition to what I was actually wearing on the day I had two pairs of jeans, one pair of capris, 2 t-shirts and 4 smarter sleeveless tops, lightweight rain jacket, plus socks, underwear, sandals, toiletries in travel sizes, Kindle, shaver, assorted chargers, tin of painkillers – and was still more than 4lb under the limit.

The plane was a modern Boeing 737-800 with comfortable non-reclining seats (ha ha space stealers!), left on time, flew clear skies without incident, pleasant smiley staff, and landed 10 minutes early. Ostrava airport was sleepy and quiet, easy to transit with relatively few flights from elsewhere other than connections to Prague and a few charters. I loved the old 60s communist era neon sign on the roof, making me feel pleasingly international and abroad. Abandon any preconceptions you may have about the standards of facilities or services though, because our experience of the eastern Czech Republic was very much of a 21st century state.

Our trip was arranged using Travellersczech.com and the not insignificant advantage of doing this was that (in addition to the local expertise in picking the best hotels and pensions in an area unfamiliar to most non-Czechs) we also had a private transfer from the airport. A 30-40 minute quiet and relaxing drive in leather-seated air-conditioned comfort and we were at our first destination, Hotel Celadenka, in Celadna, up in the pine-clad mountains.

Tommy had thoughtfully pre-ordered some food as the restaurant was just closing as we got there, so room service bought up pan-fried chicken on herby mash and two enormous and very delicious mojitos as we got settled in. The hotel was newly refurbished and we had a really nice mini suite/apartment with bedroom, separate seating area and modern bathroom, all finished in blonde wood. The bedroom was divided from the seating area with a rotating wooden screen that featured a large flatscreen tv. There was endless wardrobe space, a full length mirror, foliage themed tiling in the spotless bathroom and a very comfortable bed with good quality bedding. This being a spa hotel (they call it ‘wellness’ in the Czech Republic) there were also robes, spa slippers and piles of thick white towels. We made a half-hearted attempt at unpacking, then gave up and went to bed.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 10:43 AM
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Oops - meant to say - this will be in four or five installements with links and pictures at the end.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 11:01 AM
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Friday.

We were up reasonably early as Tommy had a business meeting, so after quick showers, we headed straight down to the restaurant for breakfast. The room was light, airy and modern, again very much in keeping with the forest theme, walls clad in wood bricks, green low-hanging pendant lights, freshly cut flowers on all the tables, and doors opening onto a sunny terrace where you could opt to eat under umbrellas for shade. The meal started with a generous platter of ham, salami, cheeses and red peppers (it’s quite common for bell peppers or pickles to accompany Czech breakfasts), a basket with a variety of breads, jam, local honey, unsalted butter, plus tea and coffee. Tommy’s espresso was freshly ground, my tea came with honey and milk for sweetening. The platters are bought to everyone immediately you sit down and whilst you are working your way through them, waitstaff take orders for any hot items you might fancy. We had delicious scrambled eggs with herbs for our second course, fruit juices and a bit of a chat about the day’s plans – me to go off and explore the area while Tommy worked – then us to meet up for spa pampering later in the afternoon.

I started by walking round the resort, which had a number of cabins on stilts with terraces and balconies (perfect for families), an outdoor pool and plunge pool, children’s play area with swings, and hard courts. In a separate building from the main hotel there was a small spa with hydrotherapy area and treatment rooms. The whole setting was very tranquil – a clearing in the forest with a steep escarpment of trees behind. For those familiar with The Shining, it reminded me of a more modern, luxurious (and ghost-free!) Overlook.

I left the hotel complex and headed left along the mountain road on foot – traffic was extremely light so I felt perfectly safe doing this. An alternative would have been bike hire (the hotel offered this option) and indeed many of the local hotels do so, there are even bus services with bike racks so you can ride to the top and just do the easy bit cycling back downhill if you are a lazy git like me. I passed horse riders, pedestrians and people on mini scooters as I walked.

The road followed a fast mountain stream and I saw birds, swooping low over the water, a bit like swallows but with red tipped tails, endless butterflies and variety of plants and flowers unfamiliar to me. The whole area had a somewhat lower alpine feel, with wooden cabins and houses set high on the steep slopes and plenty of wildflowers. Children were playing in the shallower areas of the river bed, or walking in organised groups with kiddy sized rucksacks. The air was clear and refreshing, the temperatures warm and pleasant (usually they are in the mid 20s this time of year, but were somewhat hotter for most of our trip, closer to 30). A couple of times lorries passed carrying huge logs, no doubt thundering off to Ikea to be turned into Grunt tables (or whatever they’re currently making).

Back at the hotel I met up with Tommy for lunch – we opted for a lightish snack of bruschetta, followed by a crème brulee for him and a chocolate torte for me (ok not that light!). We booked ourselves into the spa, and to our surprise were offered the whole facility to ourselves if we were prepared to wait 45 minutes, so took this option rather than share, and chilled out in our hotel room, unpacking a bit more and charging devices (nb the modern European adaptors don’t always fit, but many hotels seem to carry adaptors they can lend you if this is the case). A brief power cut caused by workmen drilling indiscriminately delayed our spa session a little, but it was worth the wait because the facilities were lovely – a hot tub that we had to ourselves for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening, a sauna, a steam room, and hydrotherapy and treatment rooms for organised pummelling and massage if you so desired. A really nice feature of the spa was an outdoor terrace with loungers, situated over a steep drop with a bubbling brook below and fabulous views up into the wooded hills. We decamped here in our robes after cooking in the hot tub for an hour or so and just chatted and dozed well into the evening, birdsong and trickling water the only sounds.

Rumbly tummies finally forced us into action and after a change of clothes and hair dry in the hotel room, we headed down to the restaurant for dinner on the terrace. Tommy had freshwater fish (perch and bream were offered) on the most fabulously creamy barley-based risotto, and I had salmon with a dark mustard glaze and a potato soufflé. I honestly cannot remember whether we had puds again or not, but I am quite greedy so we very probably did. 

Back upstairs to bed – windows wide open to help keep us cool.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 11:31 AM
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Saturday

We had a repeat of the previous day’s breakfast but this time our scrambled eggs had onion to perk them up a bit and Tommy opted for a cappuccino as it was more generously sized than the previous days espresso. Then upstairs to pack because after two nights we were moving on! Check out was swift and easy and our car service arrived to take us to our next destination, Ostrava.

Our next hotel – Best Western – was situated on the city outskirts and full to the brim for the Colours festival taking place that weekend. (More on this later). The receptionist very kindly let us check in several hours early so we didn’t have to leave our bags and wander about in the scorching midday sun.

Rooms were generously sized and well equipped. The décor was distinctly 70s but very well maintained, lots of interesting artwork in the communal areas, and a nice café/bar on the first floor with glass counters of patisserie and an outdoor terrace.

We took the tram into the city centre, purchasing tickets from the little yellow machines situated close by. As we’d arrived with notes only and the machines seemed to cater solely for coins we were forced very much against our will to purchase ice creams to get our hands on some change. Tragic eh. Chocolate for Tommy, vanilla for me, a race to eat them before they melted in the noon day sunshine.

There were no route maps at the stops, nor had we managed to find one in the hotel – however, navigating was not too tricky as the names of all the stops on a particular route were listed with the number of the route above it, so providing you knew a street close to your final destination all you had to do was hop on a tram with the right number.

The tickets we purchased were the type where you buy a finite amount of time e.g. 30 mins, 1 hr, which starts when you validate the ticket on board, but there was also the option to buy day passes for unlimited travel if you preferred. Trams seemed to arrive every 10 mins or so even in the outskirts – a mix of pleasingly 50s styled older cars and modern carriages with digital display boards and oral stop announcements.

We got off near Stoldoni street and after a brief walk around the older part of town to take some photos, headed for a bar that Tommy had visited on a previous trip – Modra Mys (The Blue Mouse) which I had begged him to take me to ever since I’d first heard about it.

We seated ourselves right at the bar opposite a mirrored wall, shelves stocked with both international brands and Czech specialities. You could choose from an extensive menu of classics, drinks with a modern twist, or simply get the bartender, Daniel, to conjure you up something from scratch. He’d ask whether you fancied a long or short drink, something sweet, fresh, sharp or sour, or get you to name a favourite ingredient or flavour and simply get to work.

We had an Old Gentleman – aged Jack Daniels impregnated with flamed pine wood, smoke trapped in the glass beneath playing cards, a napalm-like concoction of aniseed based spirits and liqueurs with a flaming shot of absinthe dropped into it just before serving, a sparkling version of a cosmopolitan, an Oasis Twist – vanilla, chocolate liqueur and the local herb-based spirit, Becherovka, which came served in a mouse-shaped jug full of ice that you topped up yourself from a mini cocktail shaker, strawberry and chocolates served on the side, the chocolate flamed slightly just to get it melting, and a Toto Loco which involved rum and triple sec and a hundred other things that I just could not keep track of. Non-alcoholic drinks were stellar too, such as the plum juice and amaretto syrup frappe.

Numerous freebie titbits were plied upon us throughout the afternoon – strawberry puree and vodka mouse-shaped ice cubes with cocktail stick tails, iced water, and bowls of salty biscuits and cheese straws to nibble from. Daniel even made his own bitters – an assortment of foil-covered bottles in the fridge rummaged through every time we placed an order – and many of the herbs and fruits were from his own garden, a basket of tiny apricots bought in as we sat and drank, then handed out for us to sample.

I so loved the theatre of this place, watching Daniel take his time over the preparation of each and every cocktail, such great attention to detail being paid. The icing on the cake was a playlist of very decent blues in the background. More than once we debated whether to bother visiting the Colours Festival at all or simply stay put for the rest of the day! And when we did eventually tear ourselves away after what must have been a good three hours solid cocktail guzzling, the bill was still only around £26.

We caught the tram to Dolni Vitkovice – an old industrial area of derelict mines, blast furnaces and ironworks, where the Colours of Ostrava festival was being held over four days. The festival features music, film, poetry and performance set across multiple stages against a spectacular backdrop of chimneys, metalwork and abandoned foundries. We both commented that the site was so spectacular we would have happily visited even if no festival was on – an absolute photographers dream in terms of decaying superstructures silhouetted against the cobalt sky.

We wandered from stage to stage enjoying a variety of music, from John Grant’s electro-indie rock, and The Finally’s Jesus and Mary Chain-esque numbers, to folk and chill out. Numerous food stalls going way beyond the standard hot dogs and burgers tempted us with huge grilled steaks, bbq fish, pork knuckles and blackened corn on the cob. Since we were planning to eat later on we had just a small snack of potato pancakes (fried to order), and wandered through the pop-up wine bar situated in a cool cellar like-building where a folk band played to happy boozy punters.

We resisted the temporary tattoo parlour and hookah pipe tent, preferring to wander, take pictures and admire the art and graffiti. Tommy had a pint of the local beer (Radegast) and we bought water to carry round with us until it was time to leave for a late nightcap and snack of buffalo wings back in the city centre.

Home to our hotel by taxi this time and asleep in minutes.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 12:12 PM
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Good report. I almost feel like I was there.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 12:17 PM
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Funny that
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Jul 27th, 2014, 12:56 PM
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me too. and i wasn't!

the czech republic has been on my to do again list ever since we went to Prague at Christmas a few years ago so I'm very interested in your trip. i like the idea of the car service too!
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Jul 27th, 2014, 01:03 PM
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Following along too - so interesting and different....
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Jul 27th, 2014, 01:07 PM
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Thank you both - I have another three days worth of troughing and exploring to go, plus photos to add.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 01:25 PM
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Looking forward to future installments and the photos, whole area is new to me.
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Jul 27th, 2014, 01:46 PM
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It was completely new to me too Cathinjoetown, and a bit of a revelation. More to follow soon
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Jul 28th, 2014, 09:41 AM
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Sunday.

Breakfast at the Best Western was a buffet affair, with the usual meats and cheeses, plus yoghurts, cereals and fruit-based breads and cakes. Tommy had peach juice, thick and syrupy, poured from large glass jugs, I had coffee dispensed from a self-service machine and lots of creamy milk. I have a feeling semi-skimmed does not exist in the Czech Republic!

We checked out and departed for our next port of call, a small pension in the Frydlant district – an area situated between Ostrava and the Beskydy mountains. On arrival we went straight out to the garden where we were served elderflower cordial (made from elderflowers picked in the grounds) in individual jugs with lots of mint and clinky ice. The pension were doing a grill instead of the normal menu, and we decided we’d eat in the evening and just have a fairly chilled afternoon after our festival and cocktail exertions of the day before. I squeezed in a coffee and a slice of Marlenka cake – made with nuts and honey – tried and failed to persuade Tommy to play mini golf and settled instead for a leisurely walk up the hillside to admire the views of the mountains in the distance. Everyone seemed to have an inflatable pool in their garden (which I coveted), an apple orchard (more coveting), and a big barky dog (think I'll stick with cats). Bees hummed busily in the afternoon heat and we admired the views through the shimmering heat.

On our return, exhausted by a whole 20 minutes of exercise we thought it wise to chill out in our accommodation for a couple of hours before dinner – not one of the pension rooms, but an entire mini chalet-come-hunting lodge situated in the grounds. Comfy leather chairs were placed either side of a vast stone fireplace, and the walls adorned with a variety of skulls (not stuffed heads, interestingly, so I like to think the beasties were hunted for meat rather than sport and decoration). Up vertiginous stairs was the bedroom area with an en-suite and a balcony with glorious views out over the distant mountains. Nice touch - the keyring even had a mini painting of the lodge on its fob.

Washed and changed we headed back to the pension gardens for dinner, which consisted of pretty much one of everything from the grill menu – trout, pork, chicken, Mediterranean veg and corn on the cob, all seasoned and barbequed to perfection, and accompanied by fresh bread and cold drinks. A leisurely couple of hours were spent chatting, eating and oohing and aahing at everyone else’s dinner going by with the waiters. I even managed to squeeze in some sort of cheesecake with a chocolately sauce and Tommy thoughtfully nabbed two forkfuls to stop me feeling uber guilty at having two puds in one day.

Watched the remake of Robocop back at the chalet, scaled the stairs to mount bedtime and had an earlyish night.
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Jul 28th, 2014, 09:58 AM
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Monday.

We had breakfast in the main pension – here the standard bread and cheese was supplemented with home-made jams, and Tommy had a huge plate of fried eggs and ham which looked delicious. I also had a choice of teas for the first time so plumped for Assam – one of my favourites.

We packed and checked out and were picked up by a friend of Tommy’s, Radek, who drove us on to our next destination, the hilltop town of Stramberk. Going via a rather circuitaneous route through the hills, we were able to fully appreciate the countryside, visiting many small villages, passing old farm buildings with displays of rusting agricultural equipment re-invented as chalet parks and hotels, with fast flowing brooks fed by the steep hills behind them. A stop at a larger spa town allowed us to walk down to the river for cool drinks in a waterside café. I am sorry but I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the town – however I do clearly remember that Radek and I had huge iced coffees piled high with whipped cream, with Tommy trying a glass of the local cola, which is smoother and less sweet than most western European and American brands. He also tried the local alcohol-free beer and was very impressed. I had a sip and was surprised at how authentically beery it did actually taste.

Radek was just old enough to recall the communist era and regaled us with tales of waiting lists for tvs and cars. Some of the older generation miss those years, he said, and some of the companies who made every day products like the colas we had tried had either vanished or down-sized considerably, where you might have expected capitalism to benefit them. On the approach road to Stramberk we passed through a small village with very brightly red tiled rooves. Radek explained that many of the rooves were 80 years old and that a local tiler had had a recipe for making tiles that stayed clean and new-looking for a lifetime, but had taken the secret to his grave and now no-one knew how to make them.

We drove into Stramberk – a beautiful old town with cobbles everywhere, narrow streets, and cabins and houses clinging to the forested hillsides. A Rapunzel-like tower stood on the very top of the hill. A fountain tricked in the centre of a square and everywhere sandals and flip flops slapped on the cobbles. Radek helped us unload our luggage then bade us goodbye as we headed for our next hotel, hidden in a peaceful corner of the square handily shornhorned between bars and cafes.

Upon checking in we were immediately welcomed with a warm honey-based boozy drink that Tommy said reminded him of mead. The receptionist took us up to our room on the top floor, basically a suite that ran the entire length of the hotel, a huge bed under sloping ceilings, a sitting area with flatscreen tv, and a bathroom with a Victorian roll top bath and freestanding taps. Oh and air conditioning!

After another half-arsed attempt at unpacking we had a quick wander round the main square taking pictures of the church, tower, museum and invitating side streets leading further up the hill, stopping just outside the square at a wine cellar and trying a glass of the local white. The weather was a bit drizzly and overcast for the first time in the trip, plus we had a spa programme booked for 5:00pm, so resolved to come back next day and explore in a bit more detail.

Back at the hotel the first part of our spa experience was a visit to the salt caves under the building. This was a large cellar area which had been coated in salt, the entire ceiling a sea of white lumps and bumps with occasional salty stalagtites, the floor several inches deep in loose salt. The main lights were put out and you sat in deckchairs relaxing and supposedly having impurities drawn out of your skin. Tiny coloured led lights in the roof and walls gave a fairy-tale grotto-like atmosphere and surprisingly it was actually quite relaxing – Tommy even managed to fall asleep.

Next we were taken for a beer bath. Here, we were invited to relax in huge wooden tubs filled with steaming hot water and extracts from the beer brewing process. At a table beside each tub was a freshly pulled glass of beer to drink. Whilst you soaked you were free to top up the water in the normal manner or operate a huge stand pipe situated above your head for a complete drenching. After 20 minutes or so, wrapped in towelling robes, we were taken to the relaxation room to dry off. The relaxation room consisted of a row of loungers covered in soft blankets, tables at their sides with another pint of beer drawn ready to drink. Birdcages and lush plants provided the décor. The best part of all however was the view. The relaxation room must have been right at the back of the hotel and spa, facing away from the main square because it looked out over the steep lush valley and hills and immediately bought to mind an Indian hill station. I got told off for continually getting up and taking pictures, or just going to the window and admiring the view (‘just sit down and relax woman!’). It was a wonderful retreat and we would happily have stayed quite a bit longer.

A word about the beer baths – these are a common attraction in this area and Tommy had had one before. He says that it’s worth shopping around because there are a variety of packages. You can find options where there is a beer barrel actually beside your bath and you can drink freely, no limit on how many pints. There are also baths with massages afterwards using beer oils and extracts, wine based versions of the baths using grape extracts, and finally relaxation rooms with oxygen feeds. My skin felt amazing after our salt and soak and I would definitely do it again if I were back.

We headed downstairs for dinner at around 8:00ish – a four course affair which was part of our package. First a pate with an apricot-based relish and crusty bread, then a fabulous soup of potato, wild mushrooms, bacon and what I think was probably truffle oil, then a huge portion of duck breast served with tart raspberries and crushed baked potatoes, and finally a small portion of boozy ice cream served in a cocktail glass. The food was delicious but a bit rushed. Tommy pointed out that the dining room was pretty empty (it being a Monday night) so they probably had very little to do in the kitchen other than cater to us, hence the grand prix-like speed at which our dishes appeared. Two decent coffees to round off, then back to our room.
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Jul 28th, 2014, 10:31 AM
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What a wonderful trip report, thank you! I went to the CR for the first time last September and went to the Chodovar Beer Spa near Mariánské Lázně. It was wonderful but the soaking tubs were zinc not wooden and we didn't have the wonderful view that you describe.
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Jul 28th, 2014, 10:40 AM
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I think I would have preferred the wine baths from a guzzling point of view, but the beer extracts were fabulous for your skin.
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Jul 28th, 2014, 11:08 AM
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I know what you mean RM!
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Jul 28th, 2014, 12:19 PM
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I must make sure that my DH doesn't hear about the beer baths, RM - he'd be off and probably never come back!

what a great TR. I'm really enjoying learning about a part of europe that e know little about. How did you manage with the language?
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Jul 28th, 2014, 12:30 PM
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Hi Ann.

In all the hotels, restaurants and bars there was always someone that spoke English. We had little to no trouble checking in or out, getting wifi passwords, getting taxis booked, or ordering food. We encountered relatively few people who spoke no English at all - the woman that was running the spa in our first hotel didn't, but it was fine because she was able to point to the lockers, hand us towels etc without the need for a long conversation. Also, the ice cream seller, however we just read what we wanted off the big sign (opting for the easiest to pronounce flavours and sizes ). Tommy did actually have a few words of Czech and was able to order beer, wine etc, or request the bill, say please, thank you and so on. I didn't even try as everything comes out French when I do it.

The beer spas are a bloke dream it has to be said.
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Jul 28th, 2014, 12:44 PM
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Actually, we did have one woman who struggled a bit on the very first night. We had trouble getting her to understand we had pre-ordered food. That said, Tommy just thinks she was being a bit awkward - same woman had us walking miles along corridors and up multiple flights of stairs with our cases, yet When we left our room for breakfast on the first morning we noticed a lift right opposite our apartment door!

Everyone else was beyond lovely though.
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Jul 28th, 2014, 10:25 PM
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We love beer baths. Every time we are in Czech Republic, we have one. Plus the beer ain't too shabby either.
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