25 January 2017

My Czech Family Vacation, Part I: Plzen and Poland

Great grandfather's house in Karizek
When my brothers picked me up at the Prague airport, there was no time for dilly-dallying. We were already an hour late due to my flight delay in Amsterdam. Nobody was blaming me, but there were plans and schedules to keep. So we made a quick stop at our hotel. I dropped off my luggage. (I was too early to actually check in.) Then the rest of the family loaded into the van and we were off. (If you need some background about the people on this trip, read my Prologue post, click here.)

Our immediate destination was a little town called Karizek, located about 22 miles west of Plzen. That was the town where my great grandfather Josef Krikava lived until the 1870s when he emigrated to the USA. The house where he lived - No. 2 Karizek - is still there. In fact it's still inhabited by members of the family that bought it from Josef. My Mom and Dad had found it many years ago while doing genealogical research. I had never seen it, but I think all of my siblings had seen it on some of their previous trips to the Czech Republic. In fact, they all had been there on this trip before I arrived. But Mom wanted a photo of all of us in front of the house. So that was our mission, and "Mission Accomplished!"

By the time we got done with the photo, it was time to find a place to have lunch. Not far from Karizek (population 45) is the town of Kariz (population 648). My brother Jim told me that Karizek means "little Kariz." A suburb I guess.

We found a cafe called Restaurace U KroftuWhen our family entered the restaurant, we were welcomed by a staff member who was pleased to have an opportunity to practice his English. It was good. But my brother Jim speaks fluent Czech and my Dad's Czech is pretty good. So we got along just fine. Soon I had a mug of cold Czech beer in front of me and a plate of some kind of Czech comfort food. I think it was a beef patty in the middle of a plate of gravy, topped with some sour cream and with a row of hearty bread dumplings along side. This wasn't the best meal I had during my week in the Czech Republic. But it was good and it certainly was very typical of the Czech cuisine that's served in little bars and cafes outside of the major cities.
My 'welcome to Czech' lunch in Kariz

After lunch, we made one more stop, in the town of Beroun. It had a very pretty town square and though it was getting late in the afternoon, there was a market in the square and some of the vendors were still selling. We shopped for a little while and then drove back to our hotel.

In previous blog posts, I've emphasized that when my wife and I travel, we usually prefer to stay in the central city. But for this trip, my family chose a hotel in a Prague suburb of Nebusice. It's the suburb where my brother lives, and we used it as a base for our day trips into the countryside. 

The hotel is Dolce VillaIt is convenient to the Prague airport. I found it to be comfortable and the price was very reasonable. Many of the other guests were English speakers, and Jim told me that the Nebusice suburb has a lot of expats living there. So the hotel gets business from visiting friends and relatives. Consequently, the staff at the hotel, including the restaurant, is used to English guests and I had no trouble being understood. The breakfast each morning was very good with a nice variety of choices on the buffet.

For dinner that night, we ate at a nearby restaurant called Restaurace JeneralkaThe food was good. The décor was fairly plain. But the staff was friendly, and it was nice place to relax after a day of travel. I had goulash with potato pancakes. I would have rated it higher. But over the next week, I ate at several authentic Czech restaurants, and I came to realize that while my meal at Jeneralka was good, it wasn't really any better than the meals I got at many of the other cafes I ate at during my trip.
Shopping for Polish pottery

Our itinerary for the next day was pretty ambitious. The plan was to drive north across the border into Poland, to a town called Boleslawiec, which is known for its many shops selling painted pottery. Getting there, however, turned out to be quite an adventure. It's supposed to be about 2.5 hours from Prague. But along the way, we discovered that a major bridge was closed and we took a very circuitous detour that actually took us into Germany before crossing the border into Poland at the town of Gorlitz. It ended up taking us about 3.5 hours to get there. 

Fortunately, our GPS system was accurate. But along the way, we drove on some pretty rustic roads and through some very tiny, but quaint, towns. I'm just glad we didn't have any car trouble. 

Shopping in Boleslawiec was fun. We visited several shops and all of us bought beautiful pottery to bring home and use. After a long drive and serious shopping, we all were ready for some lunch. A friendly shopkeeper pointed us toward Piramida, a short distance away. What a great recommendation!

As we entered, we were greeted warmly and seated at a nice table. The host spoke good English, which was fortunate since none of us speak any Polish. The menu offers much variety and lots of tempting choices (and a few odd ball choices, like crocodile steak?!?) To start, Joan and I split a plate of herring with sour cream and onions. These were not wimpy little herring cutlets, like you see in America. No, these were whole fillets, and so delicious. 

As my Mom perused the extensive menu, she was disappointed to note that they didn't have pierogi. "Ah, but madame," our server said with a smile. "It's not on the menu, but we will prepare some for American guests shopping in our town." What a line! My brother and I split a plate of pierogi. They were served with a side plate of salads - carrots, shredded cabbage, cucumbers. It was an excellent meal. I would recommend Piramida to anyone who ventures to Boleslawiec.
Joan and I shared a plate of herring in Poland

For the drive back to Prague, since we knew about the closed bridge, we were able to choose a better route. It still took a long time to get back. At one point, we were driving through a mountain pass and it started to snow. 

When we got back, we all were exhausted. We had dinner that night in the hotel. I had a light meal of fried goat cheese on a salad of lentils and couscous with greens and tomatoes. It was very good. 

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