OK, I promise I won’t turn this in to a photo blog! My brief two nights in Prague were pretty full. I rolled into the city around sundown with no idea on where to stay (this is a recurring theme, for better or worse). I eventually find Sir Toby’s Hostel in Praha 7 with a good price and atmosphere – good for me. As I was locking up my bike, a couple approached me: they looked…oddly similar. Sven [blog] and Kathrin [blog] are experienced bike tourers traveling roughly the same route as I was! They both arrived at this hostel the same day because Sven’s bike got stolen from a (relatively) secure hotel in Prague! Also, Kathrin’s saddle was stolen in Dresden. Like total pro’s, they are taking it in stride and decided to go south to Woof – work as farmhands on a small farm – for a while. We cooked dinner together: Sven and Kathrin made a delicious pasta with tomato sauce and I made a mushroom souffle kind of thing. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to talk more (I wish we stayed together a bit more!) as they’re super cool people – hopefully we’ll meet up in Istanbul in a while.
Vagrants eyeing my bags – Prague
I was a tourist in the city for a full day – and it’s exhausting. People flow like a brisk river through the old city in Prague and is overwhelming for me. I decided to take my bike into the city (unloaded) which was a mistake – I know now I need to spend at least three days in a city I plan to explore. Not only is public transit very good in most European cities, but I just want to get off the saddle for a little while. At least I got to see the main attractions, though it was difficult to enjoy Prague and I felt a little frustrated. With about a week to meet my grandparents in Vienna, I decide to travel back up to the hills in North Bohemia and work my way over to North Moravia. I hook up on warmshowers.org with Radomir in Šumperk and start my ride. I knew it was going to be hilly!
Legal (?) campsite on the other side of the railroad tracks. Bike up against the bank to avoid detection…
Awesome sunset in my wooded campsite
So hilly. It wouldn’t be as bad if all the small Czech villages weren’t situated in a massive valley! Every few kilometers, there’s a steep, often switchback descent to a city – I love feeling the breeze on my face on these. It’s hard to focus on the descent, though – you can usually see the windy, switchback road OUT of the city! Finally at the top of the switchbacks: sweaty, probably sunburned, but in high spirits after the endorphins kick in, the sign for the city exit lies at the top of the hill. Repeat for a dozen cities per day.
Czech county (?) road. Perfect for cycling.
After busting my butt across the hills, I make it to Šumperk and Radomir greets me out the window of the fourth floor in his apartment complex. I meet his girlfriend, Beata, and after washing my clothes in their bathtub, we set off on a small hike in the woods. We arrive at a large rock with a great view of the surrounding area. Šumperk is very well situated geographically – surrounded by mountains and near the manifold of two or three separate river streams from the hills/mountains to the North. A beautiful larger city (~30k population) the city has a lot to offer. We got diner at a local pub and all had the beef tripe bread bowl soup – amazing! I needed to press on – Radomir suggested Olomouc to the South and caves across the hills to the South West.
I ride ahead to Olomouc the next day, a short 40km trip. I was feeling a bit sick (something I haven’t shaken yet!) and when I arrived around 2pm I decided to stay the evening. There’s only one hostel in town – The Poet’s Corner Hostel. Believe me, it was amazing! I met one of the owners, Ian, who was also a bike tourer! He showed me the good sights around town – easily walkable as the city is smaller. The city is very dense with attractions yet light with people. It’s been one of my favorite cities on the trip! I went up a large tower to get a view of the city, toured churches, walked through old city wall fortifications, and went to a large park which was having an open-air Russian punk concert. Turns out I don’t really like Russian punk. I get a Czech classic – a potato pancake. It was actually more grease than potato by weight! Not my finest hour, but my body yearned for calories.
Double helix in Olomouc
Bomb shelter to protect the communists from the capitalists
I woke up early and rode to the West to make it to the small city of Sloup to see the caves Radomir spoke of. The plan was to scope these out for future cave-diving use with the crew back in LA. There’s hundreds of caves from two or three systems in the area, but only five caves open to the public. Asking the tour guides about cave diving was difficult – they didn’t know a whole lot outside ‘roll the tape’, plus the language barrier wasn’t helping. At least the area was very nice and reasonably populated, which will make diving logistics easier for my return.
Waterfall – in the Sloup-Šošůvka cave
Damn I love the Czech Republic – even this super industrial building has a bier garden.
After touring my first cave, I rode to the nearest city – Blansko. It was getting dark and I didn’t have a place to stay (recurring theme, remember!). After going to the information map and finding a hostel (YES!), my spirits were high and I rode on. I arrive at the hostel only to find it has been converted to an apartment complex. No luck, and by this time it’s pretty dark. I decide to stay at a hotel – something I don’t enjoy doing because it’s expensive and very much out of my character. I find the cheapest one through the free internet near the information booth. The rooms are above a smoky bar which doesn’t look like it’s closing anytime soon. I find someone who speaks a meager amount of English, motioning if I can get a room and a place to lock my bike up. He shakes his head – no rooms available. Arrgggh!
I look at my GPS – gotta find a forest to camp, right now. No such luck – the forest is all on embankments with houses poking out. I decide to put plan C into action – begging for a place to stay. I ring the buzzer of a house in the middle of the city which looks like it has a garden. A man sticks his head out the window (I guess this is common in CZ). I explain slowly in English that I’m traveling from Sweden to …. he closes the window. A moment later, another large man – someone who you wouldn’t get into an argument with at a bar – opens the main door. I explain slowly in English that I’m traveling from Sweden to … and out comes a boy about 13 years old. I ask if he speaks English – Yes – success! I explain slowly in English that I’m traveling from Sweden to Azerbaijan and I would like to set up my tent in their yard for the night. He asks his father (?) and immediately says “no problem”. The don’t-mess-with-me-man-in-a-sleeveless-shirt-and-short-shorts shows me the way to a small plot where I can set up my tent. The boy offers me use of the shower which I gladly take. I set up my tent in record time and fall asleep.
Golden Czech fields
Wine cellars built into the bank!
The next morning I wake up early and get on the road, attempting to hit to the border of the Czech Republic and Austria that day. I ride…and ride….and ride. One hundred and ten kilometers in to the hilly journey, I’m getting tired and making mistakes. I realize I don’t have a whole lot left in me – luckily I made good progress and Vienna is in reach for tomorrow.
Last Czech evening for a while
The ride to Vienna was terrible. Traffic and no shoulder on a busy highway. There’s not too many other options, unfortunately, and I needed to get in to Vienna in the afternoon.
Pigging out on licorice in Vienna before the Grandparents get back to their hotel room
Here they are! Wonderful that I have such adventurous grandparents.