91 – Czech Republic

Back in Germany after dipping our toes in Poland, we took an absolutely beautiful forest route along the river to Zittau. Another area with its own unique architecture and huge monasteries all embedded in breathtaking beech forests. Leaving Zittau the next morning, I found myself on a three way road junction where the borders of the three countries meet. Its extraordinary the difference a political line drawn on a map can make and I watched one near miss after another as cultures clashed from behind the wheel.

We entered Czech Republic with some reservation but warmed to the place as we climbed through more beech forests towards Liberice. The weather was still worsening when I found a vegetarian restaurant and persuaded Chris that we were due a treat and a chance to get in out of heavy rain. The meal was incredible and with cake, coffees and cold drinks our bill was about £7 in total. When we emerged we could not believe our eyes – perfect blue skies and sun – finally!

Hearing about the floods in Poland made us relieved to have got out but in Czech we were less happy to hear that Slovakia is also under water. Maybe at our pace, it will have dried out by the time we get there. The sunshine and showers and much warmer temperatures put a real spring in our pedals and gave us the chance to really enjoy the cycling, particularly with such a stunning backdrop. Luckily I enjoy climbing as there was plenty to be done as we headed north to south. There were also lots of cycle routes, many on quiet roads with good surfaces but we stuck to the road map on the whole after finding ourselves off road pushing Florence through mud and undergrowth – we haven’t really got the set up for off roading.

Some parts of the cities and villages of Czech Rep. are straight out of a fairy tale and I suppose Prague epitomises this . Every image I’d ever seen was exactly the same in real life, with no eyesores to spoil the view for the tourists. Luckilky we didn’t encounter any stags or hens but the main square was awaiting the arrival of the ice hockey team, who’d won the world championship the evening before. We’d been hearing celebrating each night as television sets in bars drew good crowds of avid fans. The mood was joyous and I really enjoyed an afternoon of people watching and generally being a tourist. Despite a cloud burst of biblical proportions we finally had to get the factor 40 out as I started to burn – hallelujah! I had been concerned after discovering I’d shed all the skin between my toes that I may end up web-footed.

Another huge thunder storm with hail stones over 1cm in diametre caught us as we followed the river out of town between huge, forested rock faces. Another Zabakuck greeted us as the campsite owners insisted we stayed inside and gave us a huge log cabin for the night.

I could wax lyrical for ever about the beautiful cycling in Czech, the less manicured apprach to land management means a pallet of blues and mauves as the spring flowers colour the verges and meadows. Huge pink swathes of ragged robin are edged with lupin, harebells and forget-me-nots and the skylarks’ and swallows’ aerial displays make me glad I don’t have to watch the road ahead.

Not doing any research may have been the cause of our Polish experience, but I still prefer this approach when you find surprises like Csesky Krumlov. Clearly everyone else knew about this little fairytale town as it is totally set up for the tourist, but it really is enchanting and like so many Czech towns, it looks like its just waiting for Mr Disney to shout ‘action’.

After a week of fairly heavy climbing, we’ve decided to head down into Austria to the Danube and take the easy route to Bratislava. Our last village before going over the border was unlike anything else we’d encountered in Czech. We climbed up through dense forests, passed lots of canoists drifting down the river, saw a few campsites, a small steam train and then at a junction a couple of mature working ladies, one bleached, one black haired, both with huge shiny pink smiles. They looked at me as if they’d prefer the grind of their own day ahead than mine, stoking away on the back of Florence. A few more miles of forest and fields before the village, picturesque as ever, but nearly every house a brightly painted brothel. I guess everything is cheaper in Czech than Austria.

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