Carrying a bulging backpack, an ill-advised surplus duffel bag, and an awkwardly weighted and shaped boxed bicycle through Victoria Station en route to Gatwick, I could only think of how much harder this would be in the relatively unknown quantity of Prague.
Needless to say, I took a taxi and I wasn’t fleeced… by too much.
Prague is a real nice city. A ten minute walk takes you 20 because you have to stop and stare. And it’s cheap, which is great.
I’m sure I only really saw the more touristy sort of places, but they were still pretty cool.
A pub that would otherwise have been a quiet local joint, was quirked up with three live pumas in the back section and a foot bridge that went across the top of the pub. Also, they sold great beers. The couple of times I went, it was kind of quiet. One can’t help but feel this would not be the case if the pub were in Sydney or Melbourne.
Someone told me Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nation. Not sure it’s true, but their beers are good; their breakfasts – not so. Yoghurt, then thin slices of ham and cheese on bread, maybe jam.
Also, cannot make coffee. Some exceptions, but largely a write-off.
I went to a recital in the Smetana Hall at Prague’s Municipal House. It was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I recorded the beginning, but there was a softly spoken German man sitting next to me and it put me on edge. So I stopped.
So Prague was good: 7/10 – would recommend.
Then started the star-crossed cycle tour.
Turns out, the start of the Greenways route to Vienna is way out west in Prague and the trail immediately bares almost due east. I.e. I had to ride 15km west of the centre of the city in order to promptly ride straight back east again.
Essentially, I have found, the main challenge is not getting lost. In fact, I was only just recently lost in rural Austria, but only slightly lost. More to come on that.
I started out missing the first major turnoff and ended up wasting about an hour trying to leave Prague. I tried to listen to Moab is my Washpot read by Stephen Fry, but found it distracting.
When I eventually got on course, the scenery was nice. I found myself riding through quite undeveloped and deep forest while still in the suburbs of Prague.
And outside Prague, it’s pretty damn well what you’d expect from European countryside. It was either forests, farms, rolling hills, rolling hills with forests or rolling hills with farms.
By the way, hill’s stink. They really do. The single speed gearing probably isn’t helping, but I don’t intend on changing it.
So on the first day I ended up only getting about 55km into the route itself, but probably rode about 75ks getting lost and doubling back.
I ended up staying the night in a town called Tynec nad Sazavou, and it was very strange. It’s a big tourist town in the summer, but summer’s almost gone, so it had the ghost town feel to it.
In fact, I was the only person staying in the biggest hotel in the town.
Czech’s love pizza, but their pizza generally stinks. I had two slices that night and the rest went in the bin.
The next morning I took the first available opportunity to take a wrong turn.
I was heading to the old town of Tabor and, unlike the day before, I didn’t turn back, but used map reading skillz to find the trail again.
It was quite lucky I did, because I met two other tourers on the detour. They were a couple of Basque guys. They were each carrying 50kgs of equipment because their budget was 6 euros a day and they had to spend that on food. They were both avid cyclists.
They were on their way to Linz in Austria, then Innsbruck on their way to Neuschwanstein Castle. After that, they were heading home via Switzerland, southern France, then over the freaking Pyrenees back to Basque country. And they had been cycling for two and a half months already. Bezerk.
Anyway, it was pretty hilly, but a lot easier to ride with other people.
We arrived in Tabor in the early afternoon, took some lunch and a couple of beers, then we parted ways.
That night, I decided to abandon Vienna and go due south, like the Basques, to Linz. It sits on the Danube, and thus lies on my route toward Germany and eventually Paris. It cuts about 400km off the whole trip and, while I miss out on Vienna, I think my body will appreciate the extra rest days afforded by the change, not to mention my budget, which is yet to experience the full force of the euro.
So I headed south from Tabor to the small city of Ceske Budejovice.
It was hands down, the most pleasant ride of my life. Except I crashed out once. The brakes were assembled slightly out of place, so I can’t jam on the breaks; I can only ease on them, and with the extra weight of the cycling gear, the inertia can override any attempt to decelerate, besides dragging your foot on the ground.
Anyway, at the bottom of a long, winding, steep descent, there was a T-junction. The brakes barely slowed me down at all, so I picked the biggest bush and went for it. All good. Except I think they were nettles or something else itchy.
Ceske Budejovice, like most Czech towns, is fairly old.
I found a place that makes great coffee. They roast their own beans. That’s my empty cup on the counter.
It’s also the home of beer in the Czech Republic and, as mentioned before, the Czechs loooooove beer.
In fact, the CR is one of the only jurisdictions where the US beer Budeweiser doesn’t own the trademark to the name. This is because the American beer was originally an imitation of the Czech version of Budeweiser, but the US firm outgrew it in popularity. The Czech government has indicated it will never sell the licence to the brand as a matter of national pride.
The next day’s cycle to the border town of Dolni Dvoriste was horrific. I went via the old town of Cesky Kurlov, which has an elderly UNESCO listed castle perched on top of a cliff. It has become something of a touristy reenactment town, but it was still pretty wicked.
The ride itself seemed to be mainly up and down steep hills, so my legs were shot by the time I got to the Austrian border. I didn’t like the look of Dolni Dvoriste, it being mainly small casinos and large brothels, so I continued over the border to Austria, followed the cycle path and got lost as soon as I possibly could.
Having realised that I was lost, I stopped at a largish rural hotel/beer hall, and promptly ordered a schnitzel. It was much like the schnitzel’s you get elsewhere – boring. Cranberry jam stuff that came with it was quite nice though.
I slept about 11 hours.
On the first morning of Austria’s Autumn for 2013, it was raining, but by the time I finished my Austrian breakfast (which was much the same as Czech breakfast) it was merely overcast.
I made decent time on the way south to Linz, mainly due to help from an odd Austrian man the night before.
In the middle of explaining where I was on the map in front of us, he stopped speaking his broken English to eat the toasted sandwich that had been delivered to him. He didn’t speak a single word while eating it.
Back to the future: I abandoned backwater cycle routes and stuck to the main road to Linz. This, to my relief, was about as flat as you could ask for and on phenomenally paved roads. The odd car whooshed past, but you get used to it.
Well, let’s just say, one thing came to another, and I ended up cycling in the breakdown lane of the autobahn, which I thought was pretty safe and sensible, given the amount of space there was and the general encouragement from Europeans for all things velo.
At first I thought the horns were offering encouragement, but someone must have snitched because an Austrian policeman pulled over in front of me and explained that I wasn’t allowed to do what I was doing.
He told me to pay a fine of 35 euros, but I only had 9 euro and Czech krona and he couldn’t give me change to the 1000 krona note I had, which was roughly 100 krona too much for the fine. He wasn’t allowed to keep the excess amount, so he let me off on the basis that the names of our two countries were not dissimilar.
When he returned my passports, he said “Your documents”, in a curt German accent. Hogan’s Heroes eat your heart out.
After receiving a police escort to the nearest exit of the autobahn, the ride was literally all downhill from there. I cruised into Linz just after midday and booked accommodation for a few days.
I’m taking a couple of rest days in Linz to fix up the bike, do some laundry, and wait until my legs no longer feel like lasagne.