Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Capital of Culture, Capital of Beer

Plzen, or Pilsen, as you may know, is the town where I live. And last week the news were great for this town of 170.000 people: Plzen has won the contest to become European Capital of Culture in 2015. The title is to be shared with the Belgian town of Mons. Congratulations to the team behind this success: they defeated the excellent candidature of Ostrava and this was no easy task as the North Eastern town has worked hard to rebuilt itself from it's mining past into a fun place. But Plzen's passion and the effort put into creating it's future, paid off.

Ever since I first came to Plzen I felt the town prepare itself for the big party that took place on Thursday last week, the day the winner was announced. All year long there were cultural activities such as several national and international film festivals, the international festival of folklore (with a decade of history behind it), historical festivities, open air theater and so on.


Plzen had projects that go beyond this candidature as it prides itself in being a place for good food, good music, quality entertainment, a stage for modern and classical. It's all about bon vivre a la Czech.

The plans for the following year include a new museum and cultural center in an old Brewery, exhibitions, and more activities. Besides being the capital of beer, Plzen is also a fun town to leave in. And it's not afraid of controversies: the Techmania museum will host David Cerny's very peculiar art work on the European Union: Entropa.

There are a lot of things to look forward to in the next period, so come have a beer in the big square in Plzen, or have a goulash for lunch at one of the big Hospoda or Czech style restaurants. You can enjoy a  concert in the Sinagogue or see the new additions of the Zoo. There is really something for everyone in this town.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Wine Country

We've spent this week in the Czeh Republic's wine country, Moravia. I know, I know, Czechs and beer and all that, but Moravians, well they love wine. This is for another story, because this weekend reminded me of another one, in a place generally acknoledged as the Wine Country: France. And more specifically Colmar, the Alsatian Wine Capital. Or is the Wine capital of Alsace, or the Capital of Alsatian wine? Oh I'm confused, but you get the point, right?

About Colmar. It's the 3rd largest city in Alsace and trust me, you'll love it. Timber framed houses with flowers at their windows, cobble-stoned streets and the canals of little Venice are enough to make you want to spend a day here. You'll find plenty of things to do. When we were there there was a cheese market and some festivities. Also worth mentioning is the quaint Christmas market that takes place in the streets of down town Colmar: it's one of the best in the Region.

But wait, there's more. Colmar is the home town of a certain Mr Bartholdi, of the Statue of Liberty fame. In fact, when you enter the town you are greeted by his famous statue. The town remembers it's famous offspring with a Museum and several dedicated landmarks.

One of my favorite places in Colmar is La maison des têtes an ancient guild house that bears the heads of five important figures in the town's history. I especially like the interior court yard with trompe l'oeil decorations and chairs under the vine.

Once you've taken a stroll on the nice pedestrian streets admiring the gingerbread houses and of course after you've taken a boat ride on the canals, you must, I repeat, you must go to visit the nearby vineyards. Alsace is the home to some of the best wines in France. They are still mostly unknown so it can be a chance for you to impress your friends with some special wines. Check here for a list of wines from the region. There are some special ones such as the late harvest wines, very sweet and perfumed, a real delight.

In July we went to visit the Stentz family in Wettolsheim, close to Colmar, on the wine route. Oh yes, the names of places here will make you forget you are in France. The vineyard region is just so beautiful with hills on all sides and pretty villages nested between the endless rows of grapevines. You can walk around the villages or take a bike ride in the hills, or you can attend the wine festivals, you'll get to meet lots of interesting people, and taste the delicious wines and cheeses of the region.

The Stentz, as most of the Vignerons Independants, independant winemakers, have a family business that stretches back a few generations. You can imagine the passion and knowledge they put in their wines. Madame Stentz took us inside, showed us the wines we were going to taste and explained a little bit about each one with a vivid passion in her eyes that made me wonder about what it was like to be a winemaker's wife. Here the bottles are arranged in order to give a better tasting experience. The ones in front are the special collections of late harvest and Grand Cru, the best of the best.

We also visited the cellar where they make and preserve the wine. You can see the way the technology evolved, yet the process stayed pretty much the same.Three generations at work here, making the best wines.

We left from Madame Stentz's with some of our favorite bottles, some Gewurztraminer and some Pinot, a bottle of the most surprisingly sweet Riesling and continued our evening in Alsace, in another town with ginger bread houses and colorful window panes.

This past weekend we visited the wine region of the Czech republic, around the town of Mikulov, close to the Austrian border. But this is a story for next time. I have to make a parallel between these two regions because I find there are quite interesting links between the two: people's passion, the love for wine, especially white and the troublesome history, it goes to show that good wine is not just a story of palate. Good wine is all about the heart you put into it.
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