Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The people of Slovakia are to be commended for looking to the future (145Cong.Rec.H4213)

Heading into Slovakia from Olomouc, we needed to obtain another toll-road vignette sticker, but this time, we were prepared. Still, due to our stop in Stramberk, we arrived at Kosice after dark. As we checked in at the restaurant part of our guesthouse, Villa Regia, diners' meals looked pretty tempting.

But because we knew we would get breakfast there the next two days, we crossed the small square to Golem Brewery (top left), where we had big glasses of beer and large plates of food with lots of locals (top right). There were so many locals at Pokhoi that we couldn't find a seat (middle left), but we opted to stay and stand in order to try some of its craft-beer offerings, including Matuska Brewery's Raptor IPA. As we headed home, we noticed that, once again, the downtown Christmas market was already being deconstructed, but lights lingered in the central pedestrian mall, including near St. Elizabeth's Cathedral (middle right). The next morning, we discovered that the farmers market right outside our accommodations was fully operational, albeit sparsely attended (bottom).
 
 
We selected Kosice as a place to stay mostly due to its proximity to Spissky Castle, which emerged above the clouds as we approached (top left). After hiking to the fortress from the nearby town of Spissky Podhradie, we realized we could've driven almost to the main gate (top right). Given the views on the way up and down, our route was infinitely more rewarding (middle). Less rewarding was the walled city of Levoca, which is included among a set of structures, along with the castle, recognized collectively as a UNESCO World Heritage site (bottom left). Sadly, the town was lacking appeal, mostly because it was devoid of people; perhaps they were scared off by the "cage of shame," a wrought-iron reminder of medieval punishment (bottom right).
We found plenty of convivial charm upon our return to Kosice. At Dobre Casy, we were able to sample some beer from Chomout, the brewery we were shut out of two days before (top left). While there, I talked TJ into trying steak tartar, which he loved, then he talked me into some bargain-basement beers at U Kamaratov, which I loved (top right). At Barrique TJ continued on the craft-beer track, while I diverted to Slovakian wine, known for its balance of quaffability and affordability (middle). We soaked all of it up at Haluskaren, where I finally got the chance to order Slovakia's national dish, bryndzove halusky (bottom left). The dish was filling, but not so much that I would forgo the full breakfast spread at our guesthouse the next morning (bottom right).

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Reporting on alleged corruption in the locality of Olomouc (147Cong.Rec.S13143)

The one metaphorical and literal detour on our road trip occurred as we departed Dresden and headed toward the Czech Republic. At a rest stop right before the border, we noticed drivers lining up to buy vignette stickers that allow you use toll roads. We stopped to buy one, but we had used up all our euros, and the kiosk didn't accept credit cards. We decided to take our chances and cross into Moravia, where we got off at the first exit to seek out said vignette. We stopped at three gas stations, to no avail, so we ended up circling back to Germany, where we got euros out of an ATM and returned to the original rest-stop kiosk.

This entire process set us back a good two hours, so the uncorrupted charm of Olomouc was a welcome sight indeed. After we checked into Hotel Flora, we headed straight to the nearby old center, home of the Holy Trinity Column, a UNESCO World Heritage site (top left). Just like in Dresden, the Christmas market had just concluded, so plenty of lights were still strung near the Town Hall, which features a unique Astronomical Clock (top right). Due to our debacle, we skipped lunch, so we way over-ordered at Hanacka Hospoda, whose hearty fare was clearly popular among the many manly male diners (bottom left). Despite our meat-packed meal, we managed to find room for some liquid dessert right around the corner at Bernard Bar (bottom right).
Olomouc's quaintness didn't require a huge time commitment to explore, so for the day, we took off to visit some nearby towns. We started with Zlin, a planned shoe-factory town whose brick modernism seemed even more drearily functional in the day's rain (top left). The baroque stylings of the Archbishop's Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site, began to clear the fog (top right). But the nearby central square of Kromeriz did the best job of chasing away the gray (middle), especially within the cozy, cave-like confines of Cerny Orel Brewery (bottom left). Particularly invigorating was the fact that the restaurant's set menu came with a chance to serve yourself from a communal bowl of kapustinica (bottom right).
 
Back in Olomouc, we sampled two more breweries -- and struck out with a third. We took a bus out to the suburban Chomout Brewery, but it was closed, presumably because of the holidays. Perhaps because of its namesake, St. Wenceslas Brewery was still holding strong to the Christmas spirit (left). There, we snacked on some appetizers that made use of the city's famous stinky cheese, tvaruzky. Unfortunately, we did not get to try the establishment's beer spa, which is exactly what it sounds like: soaking in a hot tub full of brew. We waited quite a while to try to the lager at Moritz Brewery because it took some time to fill mugs from the old-fashioned, barely-dripping taps (right). 
As we set off for Slovakia the next day, we made one more stop in the Czech Republic, in the postcard-perfect village of Stramberk (top). Sage frolicked in the fresh snow as we climbed up to the 13th-century castle (middle left). As we scaled the steps down to the central square (middle right), we stopped at a small shop to buy some Stramberk Ears. The local Mestsky Brewery was kind enough to let Sage join us inside as we had some post-hike refreshments (bottom left). A gate, however, prevented dog and man from entering the cellars, which is home to another beer spa (bottom right). 
 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Dresden was considered to be a safe, "open" city (133Cong.Rec.)

On Christmas Day, we left Krakow and headed to Dresden, in the Saxony region of Germany. Considering the country is quite secular, we figured there would be a better chance of places being open on the holiday. Besides having to check in by machine at B&B Hotel, we were right. There were plenty of people drinking and dining at Brauhaus Watzke (top left). TJ and I enjoyed hearty meals of meat and potatoes, with lard spread and bread on the side (top right). Much to our surprise, when we headed into more central Neustadt, we found fewer people, including at craft-beer bar Zapfanstalt (bottom left). We even managed to snag stools at Lebowski Bar, a small 20-seater or so, of which the Dude would approve (bottom right). 
The first time I ever knew of the existence of Dresden was when I read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five in high school. When I found that the site was a short ways from our hotel, I requested that we walk the dog there. The complex where the author was imprisoned and beaten during World War II now is home to a convention center, but a cow statue indicates the site's previous incarnation (left). Only a small sign across from the statue explains the events that took place there (right). 
Across from the complex is a large park that annually becomes parking for the city's renown Christmas Market. The festival officially shut down on Christmas Eve, but some gluhwein stands were still holding out (top left). The main square near Frauenkirche was full of similar shacks that were shuttered for the season (top right). As a result, the streets were much less crowded, so we could more easily see the sites in Altstadt, which sadly was delisted as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the construction of a new bridge. Despite their degraded status, we still marveled at the Royal Residence (bottom left) and the Fürstenzug, a mural along the residence's stables that shows the ruling lineage riding as a "procession of princes" (bottom right).
 
 
We crossed a footbridge (not the UNESCO deal-breaker), so we could check out Kunsthof Passage in the daylight. The series of sidewalks behind the street-facing facades is a haven for artists, including some who have extended their work to the hidden backs of buildings (top left and right). A restaurant within the passage has its own artistic point of view; Lila Sosse (Lilac Sauce) serves most of its food in preserve jars (bottom left). Among our chosen containers was a deliciously cheesy spaetzle (bottom right). 
After lunch, we rode a bus to a suburb above the Elbe River (top left), where we could board the Standseilbahn funicular for a ride down to the river valley (top right). The Blue Wonder Bridge across the river provided an excellent venue to spy Albrechtsburg Palace (middle). But we had our eye on the winter gardens; we stopped at one on each side of the span. We sipped drinks at the Körnergarten as we watched the sun go down (bottom left). As the early-evening chill set in, we warmed ourselves by a bonfire with another steaming mug at the SchillerGarten (bottom right). 
After an adventurous train ride to nowhere, we returned to the northern bank of the river for dinner at Brauhaus am Waldenschlösse (top left), a brewery located in what was once a hunting lodge for the royal family (top right). Afterward, we had a nightcap at Bautzner Tor, a cozy, house-like pub designed in a more egalitarian style with the commoner in mind (bottom).