91 – Czech Republic

As with Poland, the Czech Republic was a new experience for me and I was slightly wary. We arrived on a warm day with soft clouds hanging over the hills as we pedalled towards Liberec. Following the main road in, it suddenly became motorway, leaving us stuck on a side road. This wasn’t ideal. Following instructions from some German cyclists, we found our way to the river and arrived in Liberec to pouring rain and a mundane looking town. I found Tourist Information and Janyis found a vegetarian restaurant so, after an argument in which I was in the wrong, we settled down to some outstandingly cheap, nutritrious and filling food.

We camped in Liberec and headed south towards Prague. The climb out of the city was beautiful with green fields, forests, peaceful backroads and pretty little random villages making the perfect backdrop to two cyclists puffing and panting their way through it all, dripping sweat on the scenery. Progress was poor but pleasant. We stopped too much, talked too much and pedalled too little. The weather had finally improved and we were very pleased to welcome the sun back to our journey.

We spent the night in Mlada Boleslav on a site with some noisy Czech guys who drank, sang and shouted till midnight and then disappeared. I’d contemplated going out to have a rant, but my cowardice put me straight.

I’m not a great fan of hype and Prague has had plenty, so I was fairly indifferent about the trip there. But, what a beautiful place. A cycle lane guided us gently towards the Old Town and, once there, every side road, every alleyway, square and building within it reached out with colour and style. The tandem was photographed by one tourist after another, the Czech Ice Hockey team had won the world championship, (hence the singing at the campsite) and the whole city was buzzing. The sun shone before a thunder storm and then again afterwards. We sat and drank coffee and watched the world go by in that lazy way that only the tourist can enjoy.

The ride south out of Prague was as gentle as the ride in. We shared the river route with countless cyclists and rollerbladers and meandered our way towards a campsite for the night. A thunderstorm with malteser sized hailstones came and went but left a relentless downpour as a souvenir of its passing. We arrived at the site soaking and the owners wouldn’t allow us to sleep in the tent, giving us a huge chalet instead at no extra cost.

The next day we caught the ferry over the river and continued south towards the Austrian border. The road climbed and fell and then did the same again, and again…, and again. But there is a reward. The Czech Republic is embroidered with forests, rivers and hills. The side roads are narrow and thread their way through this green, blue and textured landscape. It has to be my favourite country so far on this tour. When we drifted onto the main roads, we discovered where the traffic was hiding and this wasn’t pleasant. But, it was easier than Poland and options to avoid the mainstream are plenty.

A night in Tabor and then back out on a scenic route towards Ceske Krumlov. We chose the backroads which meant we also chose the hills. We both prefer climbing to depression and the main roads are very depressing. Ceske Krumlov was a surprise – one of those places you just know is going to be beautiful as soon as you come through the town gates. The whole place is built on the tourist wallet, but not one of those cheap synthetic wallets from Poundland, this one is handmade from the best fairly traded fabric with classic design and stuffed full of whichever currency is driving the world’s economy at the time. (I’ve totally overstretched that metaphor, but I’m sure you get the picture – it was a nice place.) So, once again, we did the tourist trail and took all the pictures you’ll see on Flickr if you search for Ceske Krumlov.

We camped on a cheap and cheerful site by the river and rode the last 20 odd miles out of the Czech Republic in bright sunshine on a flat and typically pretty river route. Our final stop to lose the last of our Czech Krone was a little border village full of houses turned into night clubs and sex joints. A wierd parting shot from a beautiful country that treated us well and exercised our legs at the same time. I wasn’t sad to leave Czech, but I could have stayed longer. A highly recommended country.

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