I was last in Prague about four years ago. On my last visit (which was also a very brief one), it had been one of many blurred stops as I’d tried to cram in as many cities as possible in a month long Interrail ticket.
I was really struggling to remember anything about the Czech capital, but as I explored the town the sights became familiar. The family I was Couchsurfing with lived in Prague 6, only a 15 minute walk from the castle. So, I started my day walking there and then headed down into town.
The castle complex is really amazing, no wonder it draws so many tourists. The place was swarming with visitors, even this far out of season. Gone are the days of politely asking someone to take a photo of you next to a monument. Here everyone’s walking around staring into the end of their selfie-stick.
There was a particularly entertaining gaggle of Greek kids decorated head-to-toe in their national flag. Wasn’t really sure for what purpose….
The following day I set off for Benesov, accompanied by my host from Prague. He thought it would be a good opportunity to squeeze in some training for his upcoming challenge this summer – ‘The Transcontinental Race’ – a crazy bicycle race from Flanders, Belgium to Istanbul, Turkey. I asked him how quickly he was expecting to complete the distance, expecting the answer to be a number of weeks, but his reply was about 10 days! He was aiming to travel over 300km everyday, more than 3 times what I average. Suddenly my ‘big trip’ seemed pathetic in comparison.
Somehow we found a good pace to Benesov, despite my slowness up the hills with my heavy bike. It was annoying not to have my last gear working since Dresden – but I could still handle the climbs.
Benesov was a small but nice town. My host told me they have a drum ‘n’ bass festival there in summer, but it was hard to imagine thousands of ravers ‘getting down’ in the former army barracks of such a quiet town. The next day I joined the Greenways Prague-Vienna route to follow onward.
On the way to Tabor I climbed over 1,000m for the first time. I was rewarded with really stunning scenery accompanied by spring sunshine.
Tabor was another lovely town. I stopped to wander around the main square and to visit the impressive church. I set off early the next morning, looking forward to an easy day in good weather. That was not to be! After 3km I hit a branch on the road. I hadn’t been paying enough attention to dodge it and it rammed into my rear wheel which slammed to a halt. I didn’t need to look back to know what had happened. My newly fixed derailleur hanger had bent into the wheel’s spokes again. Shit. I didn’t have the energy to deal with another disaster like this. I began to walk back into town, but had to unscrew the whole mechanism just to turn the wheel.
Lucky for me that I hadn’t gotten very far. My wonderful host from the previous night came to my rescue, picking me up in his car and taking me to a nearby bike shop. There the owner looked at the damage with a concerned face. The news wasn’t good. The derailleur was broken so I’d have to splash out and buy another just a week after I’d got the new one. But that was the least of my concerns – he told me that if he bent the hanger back into position again (now the third time) there was a good chance it would snap. I didn’t have a choice, so asked him just to do his best. He asked me to return at 1pm, and I spent the few hours in uncomfortable purgatory – unsure if I’d be able to continue my bike ride any further.
When I did go back to the shop the news was good, and the bike was ride-able. I could even get into the last gear again! He told me to be careful, but I didn’t need telling. One more knock to that hanger will probably mean game over now. So fingers crossed….
I was happy to have all my gears as I continued higher up the mountains, at one point I could see a ski slope not so far away. But when the trees moved aside I saw the real big boys in the distance – the Alps. They stuck out sharply in the distance, dwarfing my own climb. Did I say I was cycling in mountains? Scrap that, these are small hills in comparison. Thank God I’m not going anywhere near them!
I stopped in the small town Straz Nad Nezarkou the next evening. A charming place where I stayed in a gorgeous house next door to the church.
I was excited to catch the solar eclipse the next morning – but that turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the trip so far. I couldn’t see a thing and I ended up blinded by the sunlight all day. I did find the first signs of the Eurovelo 13 ‘Iron Curtain’ trail which was exciting – I’m planning on loosely following it towards Turkey.
I stopped in a tiny village called Mutisov, 3km outside the Slavonice. My host was organising a small international travel film festival in the local town. I was invited as special guest! After the films we hosted a brief Q&A session where I answered a few questions about my bike ride, and why I chose to travel like this. Was a slightly embarrassing experience, but one I was glad to be part of.
We headed to the pub afterwards before we cycled back to the village. I’d had quite a few drinks by this point, but was fine to cycle. As we pedalled down the country road back towards Mutisov a car passed, temporarily blinding me in its wake. In those few seconds my front wheel suddenly moved into thin air and I felt ground beneath me disappear. Blinded in the dark, I’d been unable to see the line marking the side of the road and cycled straight off it and into a ditch. I landed on my back but was luckily unscathed. I did feel like an idiot though, cycling drunk without a helmet. Fortunately I was fine, and it was a good thing the borrowed bike was fine – I’m not sure my hanger would have survived a bash like that.
Set off feeling pretty hungover the next day, but the sun was shining and I soon stopped feeling sorry for myself. For this section I was accompanied by bomb shelters/bunkers all over the place around me, standing out in the fields.
The other regular road-side feature in Czech Republic are the Christian crosses everywhere. I pass dozens of them everyday, and they all vary hugely – from elaborate gold statues to Gothic tombstones. Czech Republic apparently has one of the highest percentages of atheists – but you wouldn’t have thought it.
I cycled passed the green-belt national park, along the Austrian border, towards Znojmo. I passed a couple of incredible cliff-top castles, which are still everywhere here.
Znojmo is a really nice town – the views from the castle over the river are amazing.
The section towards the Austrian border was pretty boring. There was a headwind to deal with and there wasn’t even a proper sign to mark the entry into the new country. I did stumble across a ruined castle in Jaroslavice though, which made for a couple of great photos.
As I cycled down small paths to avoid the main road I was constantly scaring hares away from their perches on the fields. I saw over 50 in one day.
I’ve enjoyed my 10 days cycling in Czech Republic. The country is a little more ‘different’ than the West Europe countries I’ve cycled in – but in a good way. Everyone I’ve met has been lovely, the landscapes have been amazing and everything is noticeably cheaper. I’ve never drank so much in my life, but maybe that shows how much fun I was having (and how cheap a pint is).
As I cycled into Austria the villages changed immediately. Everything felt a little more like it had in Germany. In Czech the houses were more rugged, but had a historical charm. There were always people out and about working on something – from building fences to chopping wood. The villages in Austria are like the German ones – everything is neatly symmetrical, cleanly painted, the gardens are perfectly kept and decorated with shrubs and ornaments.
The countryside was nicer on this side of the border, and after one big hill to climb I was into the village of Niederleis – my first stop in the country.
The next day I headed into Vienna. It was excited to be reaching the city as I’d never been there before. Vienna felt like my big ‘halfway across Europe’ stop. I was ready to recharge before pushing south and east.