Lets start this part of the journey with a story … I will tell it to you (mostly) as it was told to me. It is about a man called Cech. This man was a wanderer in search of the most beautiful and fruitful land in which he could settle and call his own. He walked and walked and looked and looked and came to the Mountain called Rip … And from the top of this mountain he could see far into the distance and he said “this land that I see is the most beautiful land and I will stay”…. and so the land was called Czech.
On leaving Prague I cycled along the River Vlatava out of the city, following the signs but bearing in mind discussions that PJ and I had regarding issues with the route … And so the first issue I come across is the very one we have discussed . The cycle route doesnt exactly end but rather sends you through a train tunnel … by which I mean it sends you alongside the train tracks, no path, no lights just big rock gravel. At this point i encounter an amused local, a big man who speaks no English, laughs good naturedly at the folly of tourists and their laden bikes, explains the situation in Czech and pantomine (that word is the same and I recognise it as he chuckles it to himself …. I half expected to hear the word ‘palaver’!) and points out the other train bridge over the river.
Again with this bridge there is no path just evidence of other bikes scooting across as fast as they can before the next train arrives. The big man and I spend a few minutes making TOOT TOOT train noises and act out pulling a bike out of the way of the aforementioned locomotive to ensure I understand the situation … He appeared happy I had understood so we wave goodbye and I stop by the tracks for a moment to listen for oncoming, heavy traffic and pull Tilly up onto the gantry alongside the tracks and push her quick smart across the river … It as beautiful day and the view is wonderful but I don’t stop until I reach the other side.
The route continues along the other side of the river and the road is not too busy so I am very happy with the route until I find that I am again unable to follow the river as a result of there being a rather large dam blocking the route. Im not keen on taking a potentially off road route at this point and so head up and through the hills. Since Prague I have been promising myself some hills because the majority of the journey so far has felt relatively low and sometimes, in the case of the Netherlands, totally flat.
Its totally glorious to be in the hills and countryside on a beautiful early summer day and its still my birthday!! In moments like this I can easily forget where I have been or what I have been doing and feel as if I could have always just been cycling.
As the sun sinks lower on the 1st day of my 40th year I cycle into a village and see a grassy parking area near some houses. Fantastic opportunity I think so I go to the nearest house and hearing voices stumble over my Czech for … Tent … Bicycle …. Please and am rewarded with a wonderful invitation from 15 year old Krystina (who speaks amazing English) and her Grandmother, Vera, along with Veras son, George and his son Philip.
Vera creates a wonderful dinner (including story telling) which she tops off with mint liquor – 2 glasses because you have 2 legs and if you only have one glass you will walk wonky! We toast my birthday and then Krystina and I spend some time star gazing in the garden since it was a fantastically clear night. I am happy I am able to show her some constellations she doesn’t know .. most notably Orion … I hope she can still find him.
The next morning Krystina takes time teaching me some useful Czech phrases and laughing at my dreadful pronunciation! When it is time to leave Vera has made me a packed lunch and wishes me good luck that i return home safe and well and hugs me tightly. Krystina and I take selfies on her phone for her Instagram page and hug goodbye.
I felt so sad to be leaving this family, they had welcomed me in so warmly and given me an unforgettable birthday.
About an hour later I meet a group of 3 cycle tourists from Austria heading for Icelend … They are 6 days in and have come from Linz …where i am headed. Im so excited to see friendly cycle tourists that I stop and make them, out of courtesy, stop too. Unfortunate for them as they are heading uphill … Nevermind! We exchange trip plans and best wishes and then continue in our opposing directions. Its so lovely to see others doing their trips and looking so totally stoked to be doing it!
As I continue I discover that the river cycle route does not very often follow the river and as on other routes I keep losing the signage and so I make it up as I go along, winding through beautiful countryside up many hills sometime crossing the river. In the afternoon I am looking out over the river … with another couple who are also admiring the view and am given the opportunity to tell them, in my best Czech thanks to my lessons with Krystina earlier, that I am English. The woman bursts out laughing and I worry I have committed a dreadful faux pas …. But no, the accent is so bad she has momentarily lost composure. We talk briefly of my plans and she tells me I am crazy and that its too dangerous for me to cycle alone and then she and her partner head off in their car still amused but shaking their heads as they go.
As I continue on the day becomes very hot and humid …. then I start to see black clouds on the horizon. When the storm breaks over me I am near a handy bus shelter so I sit there quietly have a snack… part of Veras wonderful packed lunch … and contemplate the day. Only to be joined 10 minutes later by 2 female mountain bikes who also need shelter. We stand around and chat and as the rain has lessened they head off home, about 4km away. I remain there until sure the rain really has stopped. Finally convinced I leave the bus shelter and cycle on observing the continued development of more black clouds in the distance.
When this lot finally catch me they are more determined and as it is late in the day I decide to set up camp. The rain hammers down for about an hour or so and in the 10 minutes it has taken to get the tent up and bags stowed and bike sorted I am soaked through. I need an actual water proof … Why did i send the NorthFace jacket back. Eventually the rain stops and I get to cook outside and enjoy a beautiful sunset accompanied by the noise of frogs enjoying the cool fresh evening. The noise of frogs chorusing has followed me through many countries and has become part of the soundtrack for the trip.
The following day I am heading for Ceska Budovicho (where the original Budweiser beer came from) and then Ceska Krumlov, which I have been told is very beautiful.
The cycling carried on across similarly beautiful countryside for the day before I reached Ceska Budovicho. I have to confess I was not much taken with the town and decided to keep riding into the evening … I am so glad I did as I meandered through narrow lanes in the evening low light enjoying some wonderful sights.
As it turned dark I stopped at Pension Diana which had a bicycle sign on it and used my spectacularly bad Czech again … Tent … Bicycle … Please … And was rewarded with total bafflement and no sign of a place to camp. A minute later a van turned up complete with Czech guy, the awesome Filip, and lots of high spec bikes. It turns out this pension is used by a cycle tour company and they were arriving for a company ‘meeting’. So camping arrangements were completed for me, in what turns out to be the pub garden. I get to have a cold beer (amazing and 30p) and have a good chat with Filip and his friends in the evening. I recount to them some of my days travelling and when mentioning the lady laughing at my Czech the same thing occurs … Turns out the English have a ‘cute’ accent that sounds ridiculous when paired with the Czech language!!!! Its great talking with Filip about wild camping, something I really enjoy but can still feel nervous about, and he inspires me to do more.
The following day I reach Ceska Krumlov at about lunchtime, after a glorious cycle through pine woodland and across sprawling hillsides. The town is as beautiful as had been promised in fact more so and I am captivated by it. Even the blocks of flats on the outskirts of the town look great in their summer colours and surrounded by the rapeseed. The yellow fields everywhere are beautiful to see but the pollen building up on Tilly and I is staggering.
Ceska Krumlov is a UNESCO world heritage site with narrow winding streets and very picturesque town square. Of course its bustling with tourists, like me, but it seems to be a particular magnet for groups of Japanese tourists one of whom takes pictures of the fully loaded and resting Tilly, leaning on a wall. Whilst having lunch 2 German cycle tourers zoom past me and stop to take pictures of the outside of the town … I head over and ask them if they would like me to mind the bikes so they can look around the town. They are in far too much of a hurry for that and they look very dubious about me heading for Linz as well. Its taken us 2 days , they say, and has a 1km climb between the Austrian and Czech boarders …. Are you sure you can manage this hangs unspoken in the air! Have a good trip I say and head back to the positivity of Tillys and my own company!
Following this brief stop I head back out on the roads away from the town and yes up hill into and still mostly following the river. As I leave the area surrounding Ceska Krumlov I see 3 multi coloured, Lycra clad cyclists whooping their way down hill on the opposite side of the road. It turns out to be one of the men and 2 of the women from the cycle touring company at the pension last night. One of the treasured photos that I did not take is of these 3 hanging out of the side of their bikes and calling out good wishes for a safe trip in a downhill, adrenaline fueled, excited way as they whizz past!
As the day continues I pass children playing in the river and follow a relatively quiet road along its winding way by the river.
I eventually come to the main road and am brought back to a reality different to the picturesque, quiet one I have been cycling in … by the sight of a woman in the highest heeled crystal shoes and lowest cut top possible. That she is not selling fruit is evident and it looks like she lives and works in the grubby caravan parked in the lay-by at the junction. I am reminded of the multitude of different life experiences of people all occuring simultaneously at any given time. Mine is not the universal experience despite it feeling like that when I have just mine to consider. One of the dangers of isolation and being insular.
I cycle along the main road for a few miles and decide to take a side route to find a camp spot for the night. The side road takes me higher into the hills and the views are wonderful.
Initially all of the potential spots I see are either taken up by other more permanent residents, ones I have no intention of disturbing… Or have electric fencing and beware of the bull signs. Neither of which are conducive to a restful night.
However as I continue I find a field that is open and has neither of the previous concerns and so I set up camp, get a good nights sleep despite the competative bellowing of what I think are 2 wild stags, one of whom comes near to the tent in the night so i get up and unzip the tent causing the animal to nimbly skip off across the valley bellowing as he goes…
In the morning I am rewarded by the most beautiful sunrise, dewy grasses and misty valleys. I am thinking that Cech was right, this really is the most beautiful land…
I am sad to be leaving the Czech Republic since I am heading immediately for the boarder with Austria and will be following the Donau again from Linz but this time to Budapest.