Our entire plan for our visit to Pilsen could be summed up as “Get to Pilsen. Take the Pilsner Urquell Tour. See what else town has to offer.” We had a nagging suspicion we might be hard pressed for entertainment, figuring a number of places may be closed for Easter. As opposed to back home in the States, where more and more businesses are open on holidays, they shut down for everything over here from Good Friday to Easter Monday. (I didn’t even know Easter Monday was a thing.)
Sunlight fading after the tour, we wandered the streets looking for a place to stop for a drink and maybe a snack. Since I’d left my trusty guidebook at home, I had difficulty discerning whether businesses were open or closed, partially because most doorways and sills had a thick layer of dust that would normally suggest the door hadn’t been used in some time. Finally sticking my head down the hallway for a place called Comix Excelent Urban pub, I realized it opened into what was actually a pleasant courtyard and there was more to it than meets the eye from the street.
We noticed three options for how to order your pilsner there: Hladinka, Šnyt, and Mlíko. If you, like me, jumped to the same conclusion I did, don’t worry. Mlíko does not involve combining milk and beer in any way (although it is likened to a milkshake texture). After I confirmed they weren’t trying to sneak dairy products in my beer, I ordered one to find out for myself what the weirdness was all about. They only open the tap partway in order to generate a lot of air, so if you drink it quickly, it’s thick and foamy. If you sip it slower, the foam eventually settles into regular ole beer.. The Šnyt is halfway between a regular pour and a full foam Mlíko. Both are cheaper than the regular pour since you’re getting less beer, essentially offered as a lighter, less expensive option. It was fun to try, and it paired really well with an order of their house made potato chips. I can also recommend a glass of the Grüner Veltliner wine.
The next day, Easter proper, we set about looking for ways to entertain ourselves until our train later that evening. Many shops and businesses were indeed closed, however just walking around the city was entertaining to view all of the wonderful architectural details. We were amused by one building featuring some strange creatures whose webbed ears appeared to be holding up the balcony. One of the most striking buildings we saw though was the Great Synagogue, which we learned is one of the largest synagogues in Europe.
From there we meandered back to the main square we’d passed the day before. Much to my delight, the square had been transformed overnight into an Easter market and fair. Wooden huts sprang up for people to sell their wares which we happily perused and sampled. A giant herby potato pancake called a bramborak had potential, but the one we were served was saturated with oil, so we just ate around the edges and moved on. Our replacement selection was the much more pleasing trdelník. I watched in anticipation as the lady behind the counter wrapped dough around barrels roughly the size of a large hair brush and loaded them into something reminiscient of a gyro spit. The barrel rotated near a little flame, slowly toasting the thin layer of dough into a lighter, cylinder type of donut. The cylinder was slid off into a bowl or bag of sugar to coat it inside and out. I took a picture of the process but there are no pictures of the trdelník because we devoured it. No regrets.
Also for sale were plenty of non-food items, including handmade wooden toys, and an array of brightly painted eggs. They were no Faberge quality, but I was charmed and picked up a few. But I kept noticing vendors selling the most curious things. A number of them had braided branches with colored ribbons at the end, somewhere between a wand and a whip. People were buying them up like hotcakes, so I had to know what they were.
A Google search led to a surprising answer. They are called pomlázka. What are they for? Well… whacking young ladies’ backsides. Boys and young men go from house to house on Easter Monday with pomlázkas and use the braided rods to tap girls across the rear. The articles I found suggested the Czech women enjoyed participating and that it only seems slightly horrific to foreigners not familiar with the tradition, said to bring them beauty and fertility. I asked a waitress to tell me about it, and she laughed and described it as a happy tradition to bring the women good health. Mystery solved. Sort of.