Beer and wine are only two of the multitude of things that I love about the Czech Republic. But while there are no days devoted to “Amazing Czech Officemates” or “Little Old Ladies who Smile at Me on Morning Trams,” I am happy to note that there are wine festivals in the Czech Republic. Lots of them.
On Saturday, September 11, I went to Mikulov for the Pálava Vine Harvest with Nadine Tan, a fellow Filipina, and discovered four new loves: Burčák, braided cheese, Trdelník and David Koller.
Nadine had arrived the day before from the city of Ostrava, where she’s interning with AIESEC as well. After a rather eventful night due to a Medieval-themed restaurant called Středověká Krčma, in which bar fights and whippings are a norm, we eventually went back to my apartment to rest before what promised to be a very busy day.
On Saturday, we had two different transportation options to go to Mikulov, which is about an hour or so away from Brno: train or bus. We picked the bus because the schedule seemed more flexible, but it’s interesting to note that during the festival period, the national Czech railway actually creates an irregular train called the Mikulovský expres to accommodate Festival-goers.
We arrived in Mikulov before the predicted time, and after glancing around the bus to see when the other people were exiting, Nadine and I got off and found ourselves lost. With no clue where we were, we decided to just follow the strangers around us, and sheeptrail them to where we assumed the festival would be.
Well, after a light walk up a hill, we found it.
How could I adequately describe it? The town itself was lovely, with quaint buildings dappled in sunlight. The place pulsed with people of all ages, simply wanting to revel and enjoy their culture. As Nadine and I pushed past the crowds to make our way to the town center, we saw arrays of pastries and spices, toys and trinkets. And most importantly, the Burčák.
Burčák, according to my Czech colleagues, is new wine. According to the internet, it’s “partially fermented wine.” Whatever the appropriate translation is, all I know is that it tastes like the sweetest ambrosia—but like any ambrosia, it packs quite a punch in terms of alcoholic content, perhaps containing 5-8%. It may not seem like a lot, but if you’re chugging it like the juice it tastes like, it can cause quite a loopy feeling. I paced myself, however, and didn’t give in to the temptation to let myself go like this fella over here:
Almost immediately after we had arrived, there was a commotion, and some people parted the crowd. The procession for King Venceslas IV, who had been imprisoned and then liberated from Mikulov Castle, had come in.
After watching the ceremony, which had knights and maidens, as well as a jolly looking Bacchus accompanying the king, we walked around, and visited the gardens of the Mikulov Castle, where we would later watch a performance of what appeared to be a reenactment of a Czech legend or story. On the way there, we passed stalls selling things as random as barking-dog toys that looked like they were from China, to great samples of Czech craftsmanship.
We also went back to the center and watched traditional Czech musicians play and Czech dancers perform. What delighted me most of all was that when traditional songs were played, the crowd would sing along happily—with none of the reserved attitude that the internet had warned me about before coming to the Czech Republic. With the sun lightly overlooking us and an easy breeze in the air, it was exquisite to just sit down and soak up the atmosphere. I also recognized some Czech adaptations of some songs I knew, like “Oh! Susanna,” an American song I had learned as a kid, which surprised the heck outta me when I heard it.
Eventually, we met up with other friends who had arrived by car, Ray, Antonio, Angie, and Helena. We walked around some more, trying this deliciously salty braided cheese that can be bought plain or smoked. Anyone know the name of this food?
We also discovered what seemed like a wine tasting convention in one of the buildings. Antonio and Ray paid for 10 stickers, and they were allowed to trade these stickers for samplings of wine. Some wines were worth more stickers than others—which led to a debate about quantity over quality.
After, we went in search for noodles we saw some folks eating. While the noodles were a disappointment, my dessert afterwards, Trdelník, was pure tongue-asm. Trdelník is a hollow pastry that is baked as you watch. It is wrapped around a metal rolling pin, and then heated. You could choose the flavor you wanted yours to be rolled in—mine was covered in both cinnamon and vanilla. When you eat it, it’s still warm from the heat, fragrant, and oh-so-soft since the dough is still fresh.
The night concluded with Nadine and I making our way to the Amphitheater of the town, the surroundings of which were framed by what looked like a mini-carnival. There were rides and bouncy castles, and more stalls serving a variety of food and drinks.
That’s how I got introduced to David Koller’s music.
The Ampitheatre was packed with people, but that wasn’t the big surprise. What was astonishing was that the love for his music transcended age. I saw children, teenagers, adults and older people jumping around and hugging each other for the love of this guy. A particularly excited group of friends in front of me even started kissing each other when the songs hit a sweet spot for them.
Here’s a video taken from my phone during the performance:
Regrettably, we couldn’t stay until the end of his act because we had a bus to catch. Nadine and I ended up literally running downhill to the bus stop, a feat that took around 15 minutes. Laughing and somewhat exhausted, our bus cut through the night and took us back to Brno.