"Strč prst skrz krk"
August 01st – August 19th 2007 || Czech Republic
We had spent our last night in Germany next to the river Elbe in the little town of Krippen in the Saxon Switzerland and - as so often before – on a soccer field. By now, we can do the early morning routine of packing our stuff with eyes closed: packing the sleeping bags and the tent, stuffing everything into our pack bags. But today, there was another challenge: we had to fiddle our passports out of the depths of our bags.
With these at hand, we cycled the last kilometres to the Czech border. But instead of border formalities we only found a disappointing unspectacular sign saying "Ceska republika". So we entered the first foreign country of our journey through the backdoor so to speak. And as this is not just any border crossing for us but if all goes well it means that we are leaving Germany for quite a long time, we both thought of the things lying ahead. But none of us wanted to turn back - until we reached the first mountains ;-), but we will write about this later.
...hello Czech Republic. Czech Republic? Don't go there!
We had met some other cyclists and campers on our way who had made only bad experiences travelling the Czech Republic: the people would be unkind, the supplies difficult because there are only a few towns along the route in which we could refill our water bottles and it would be almost impossible to communicate with the Czech people even though almost everyone would be able to speak German (at least the older ones learned it in school) but would refuse to do so with travellers. Well, that sounded most inviting… Anyway, we decided to try our luck and make our own experiences instead. Since we carry small phrase books with us, we learned "Good day" and "Thank you" which can never be wrong and happily continued our cycling trip. We spent the first night in the Czech republic on a playground and had almost no contact to the locals since we were going along the Elbe-cycle path and only met few people.
This changed on the second day. First, we refilled our supplies in a supermarket which was easy-going. But when sunset came closer, we were searching for a place to sleep which was quite difficult to find. We finally found a small piece of grass next to the Elbe. While we were discussing where to put the tent, two elderly ladies whom we had greeted with "Dobri den" ("Good afternoon") before, joined us. Despite of our limited vocabulary they were able to convince us that this would be no good place to rest because there would be dubious people around after dark. We understood (more from their gestures than from what they were saying) that we should follow them to their own ground. There, we were made welcome by a German-speaking neighbour who even supplied us with cucumbers and tomatoes fresh from his garden.
Tent and Breakfast
This should be our last day of cycling next to the river Elbe which we followed more than 700 km upstream. The route was flat until we reached Melnik where the church hill offers a splendid view of the confluence of Moldova, Moldova channel and Elbe.
Change of rivers: from now on, the Moldova was our companion. To celebrate this new acquaintance, we made camp on the banks of the river for a few days: on a campsite close to Veltrusy, 30 kilometres north of Prague. We enjoyed the advantages of a campground, first of all the kitchen and the sanitary facilities and – believe it or not – had a few days of sunshine so that we were able to watch fishermen, herons and passing ships.
Like on almost any campground in the world, we were of course surrounded by caravans with suspicously cheese-yellow license plates: the Dutch have discovered Czechia, too. In the evenings we were spectators of quite a peculiar competition: who will have the largest campfire today? This meant, that you could watch families sending their children into the forest to collect some firewood each afternoon. When this was not sufficient anymore to win the contest, they started to make small trips to the neighbouring woods to rip these off, now by car. These valuable supplies were well guarded during the whole day before they were finally burned in the evening. Almost incredible that there is anything inflammable left in the surrounding area…
Over rough and smooth to Prague
In order not to have our little wooden bench removed from under our bums, we decided to continue to Prague on the Moldova cycling path. That there is something called "cycle path" and that it is signposted, does not necessarily mean that it is suitable for heavily loaded bicycles like ours. The path was leading us away from the traffic and directly to the Moldova what was most welcome. But after a short distance, the path was shrinking to a narrow trail with troublesome shrubs on both sides. That was not sufficient for us and our bulky bicycles, and so we were getting entangled in the bushes steadily. Together with big, sharp-edged stones and crossing tree roots, this made us stumble and almost fall all the time.
But his was still the good part of the path. It got worse, when there were no more bushes on the right side preventing us from falling into the river, which was flowig 5 metres below. If we had known that this was only the beginning of the chaotic stretch and not its end as expected, we would surely have turned around immediately, but so we thought: "Hang on! Only a few more metres and we will be through this." These "only a few metres" added up to 5 kilometres and sometimes it even got worse: the path was broken away and the earth skidded into the river, so that we had to dismount and push the bike. Push? How, if there is not enough space for a bike and a cyclist next to each other? Yes, like handling a donkey: one pulls from the front, the other pushes from behind.
The whole leg had taken about 2 hours which was much longer than expected and so we were late for our appointment with Filip, with whom we were supposed to stay in Prague. Nevertheless, he waited for us patiently and welcomed us with the words "Hi, I am Filip. Here are the keys to my flat. This is your room, here is the bathroom and that is the kitchen. Here are 200 Czech crowns in case you do not have money left to buy some food. I have to leave now, see you tomorrow!" So we brought all our belongings into our room and went for a walk (Filip lives in walking distance to the Hradschin, the Prague castle, a nice quarter which you can easily explore on foot) and crept into our sleeping bags early. In the morning, Filip woke us with the question "I am going to the bakery, do you want something?" Yes, we wanted and afterwards enjoyed breakfast with our host who already gave us some advise what to do in Prague.
We only got to know Filip a few days before via e-mail and sms because we are members of an internet community called hospitality club. We will write about this and similar organisations more detailed in another article. For now you only need to know, that these are internet portals where you register and then offer to host members from all over the world – or be their guests, in most cases for free.
After breakfast, we dutifully started with the obligatory sight-seeing program: Prague castle, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square, town house with astronomical clock etc.. Another advantage of the hospitality club is that you can get some advise from insiders who know their city – like this fountain: two naked men are facing each other in a small water basin. This is not that extraordinary, but you can send them an sms and they will pee the message shortly after this. If you are around, too: the fountain is situated in front of the Kafka museum, close to the most narrow street in the world (as the inhabitants of Prague claim).
Over the hills
From Prague, we went southwards which meant that the first mountains (o.k., most of you would probably call them hills, but for Silke, these were definitely mountains) lay ahead of us. Everything started quite harmlessly: we drew some money in a bank in a small village called Davle and Michael had a look at the map and said "We have to cross this bridge here and continue on the other side.". O.k., uphill to the bridge, as usual. Oops, that one is quite high! And contrary to other bridges, the road does not go down from the middle of the river to the other bank but continues to rise. Well, it will go downhill behind the bridge then. No, not at all. O.k., after that bend, then. No, it always went uphill for the whole day. After the level roads along Elbe and Moldova, this was something different: every single village seemed to sit on its own hill. In effect, this is quite nice to look at, but on a cycling trip with 45 kgs luggage on each bike and 30 degrees Celsius, you are not really in the mood to marvel at the beautiful scenery. Additionally, it was exactly as one does not wish: most of the time the road went uphill behind a curve without warning and the downhill stretches were covered with cobblestone, railroad crossings, narrow curves or you had to give way to other traffic so that we could not just roll down neither. We did not make more than 20 kilometres on this day, but fell into our sleeping bags totally exhausted (one more than the other) and were "looking forward" to the next day…
Nevertheless, we celebrated the 1,000th kilometre on the following day, the 15th August. Slowly, we both got used to the hilly roads and enjoyed the almost tourist-free area. It seemed as if there were more tourists on the Charles bridge on a sunny day than in the whole rural Czech republic together.
On we went towards the Austrian border which lies in approximately 1.000 metres. On our way, we had a look at the small town Cesky Krumlov with its beautiful old town which is dominated by a castle. The village lies directly on the Moldova river and we enjoyed our ice-cream while watching the more or less successful tries of some canoeists to pass some small cataracts.
We always found a quiet grassy spot to sleep on, even if some of them did not proove to be as quiet as they seemed to be at first sight… One evening we spotted a piece of green seemingly at the end of a village: first we realized that the brook which seemed to stop all traffic turned out to be only a small trickle which lots of car-drivers had to cross to reach their home. Then the wind changed direction and suddenly we found ourselves right under the entry lane to Prague airport and last but not least a relatively frequented railwayline (well hidden at first behind some high shrubs) led virtually through our backyard. When we packed our stuff in the morning, a neighbouring house owner paid us a visit and started chatting in fluent German.
Czech Republic? Anytime again!
Well, so much for "the Czechs are totally unfriendly and even if they are able to speak German, they will not do so": these travellers must really have had bad luck or maybe they should have tried to use a few Czech words first - this seems to be an excellent door opener. Anyway we found the Czech people very kind and helpful and were often invited to have a cup of coffee when we asked for the way as soon as they heard that we were German. And if someone did not speak German or English, another passer-by was asked to translate immediately and everything was discussed together then. We have definitely enjoyed our time in Czechia.
Nevertheless we were continuing to Austria where we wanted to spend a few days in Linz and Vienna. We doped ourselves with some Coca Cola and Fanta ("Spezi") shortly before the border and went uphill to Austria...
What are Silke and Michael doing at a petrol station???
Are they craving for ice-cream?? Have they spotted these fancy gloves or do they want to stock their supplies of antifreeze for the winter in the Carpathian mountains?
Far from it! They want to refuel of course, what else?
Namely 0.6 litres as we could not afford more. O.k., we really could not squeeze more than this into our fuel bottle which, connected to our multi fuel stove, supplies us with a warm meal every now and then.
Which sandals do you like best :-)?
Hier steht mal wieder ein völlig unsinniger Satz, der nur dazu da ist, den Content-Bereich künstlich zu vergrößern, damit die Tabellen alles schön in die Mitte rücken können - so, ich denke, das sollte reichen.