After a great scrambled egg breakfast at our Penzion, we set off for what we knew would be a long day – and it was. On the positive, the roads were deserted (we barely saw a car), the countryside remained pretty with more forest and fewer fields and, although it was grey all day, the rain held off. We also hit a new downhill speed record topping 40 mph! On the negative, there were still lots of hills, the villages which look so attractive from far away tend to be run down and devoid of life when you reach them and worst of all we couldn’t find anywhere to have lunch. We did stop at a few lovely towns with their cobbled main squares surrounded by colorful buildings but between 12.30 and 3, we came across nothing and so had to survive on our usual healthy diet of sweets, biscuits and bananas. For most of the day we were cycling along the border with Austria and we came across a number of truly incredible castles. They were built in the 10th century to defend the Czech border and they are spectacular. We arrived shortly before 6 at our Penzion in Znojmo to be greeted by the most inhospitable receptionist you could imagine. He was standing in the street in grubby jeans and it wasn’t clear initially that he even worked there. Although he didn’t speak a word of English, his menacing intentions were clear – you bikers are not welcome here. We tried to explain that we had a reservation but he was having none of it. Eventually and reluctantly he made a call on his mobile which he passed to me and miraculously the person at the other end spoke English and then instructed the grubby receptionist to show us in. Even more amazingly once through the unimposing, ordinary entrance, the Penzion itself was modern, clean and our room was huge and fabulous. Totally wield experience! Znojmo itself (apart from having an impossible name) also has a castle which we visited before a much needed pasta dinner in the town.
We spent an enjoyable morning visiting the beautiful City of Prague. The steps up to the Castle looked long and steep for our weary legs but after some debate we decided to tackle them and were pleased that we had. They really are a magnificent and enormous set of buildings. By noon, we had made the transition from normal human beings into helmeted bikers and we set off to find our way out of the city. Garmi was as usual invaluable in navigating us through the endless grim suburbs that sprawl for about 10 miles south of Prague. However, with the traffic lights and traffic it took an age. Finally we emerged into the countryside, where we spied a strawberry farm. It was too good an opportunity to miss and we bought and immediately devoured the sweetest, freshest strawberries imaginable. It was undoubtedly the highlight of our day. The strawberry farmer took a photo of us – whether because we had so overpaid that he wanted to remember these crazy bikers – we will never know, as our Czech and his English were limited to about 4 words each. Shortly thereafter we found that the road we wanted to take had been closed for roadworks and there was no way round (and no signs telling us what to do), so we wasted a good few miles retracing our steps and finding an alternative route. Very frustrating and grump levels were starting to rise. We had been told by the Tourist office in Prague (where we had unsuccessfully tried to buy some maps) that the route we wanted, called the Czech Greenways was very well signposted….sadly, not true. There were occasional rare sightings of a sign but usually on a straight stretch of road with no decisions to make. Get to a junction however and there was no chance. Luckily Garmi behaved impeccably today and guided us slowly southwards.
The countryside is beautiful. Rolling hills (so far not unbearably steep), big lakes, fields of crops and flowers and small albeit run down, agricultural villages. We arrived in the unremarkable town of Sedlcany at 18:30 and checked into the equally unremarkable only hotel in town. We quickly discovered that was the only place where we were likely to get any dinner. So the 2 of us ate alone in the non smoking part of the unremarkable restaurant (whilst one other small group of local diners did the same in the smoking section) and made the most of a surprisingly good meal (or were we just very hungry?).
The rain had stopped and it was a bright sunny day. As we wended our way out of Dresden, we had to avoid a big marathon event which was setting off from the city centre. If you live in Dresden, or in any of the towns along its bank, the quite understandable thing to do on a Sunday is to take a stroll or enjoy a bike ride. So the beautiful path was heaving with life and we had to dodge our way around families with push chairs, kids on bicycles and tourists on bike trips. The scenery and the houses along the bank were spectacular and despite the many hazards we made great progress stopping at the scenic town of Pirna for a quick snack.
One of the strange things about the Elbe is that there are practically no bridges across it. Another odd thing (or perhaps money making wheeze) is that occasionally the cycle path will simply come to an end…with a signpost saying that it continues on the other side. Cunningly there are little boat ferries which for 2 euro take bikers across. So we duly made the crossing over and then back as the path jumped from side to side of the river.
Once again we struck lucky with lunch at a stylish (but slow) bio restaurant in Schmilka, just on the German border. We had been looking forward to getting out our passports and being interrogated at the Czech border but in the event it was a massive anti-climax being just an old pole with a sign on it. Strangely, once into Czech the scenery changed instantly. Gone were the pretty houses and villages which had been lining the river for our last 40 miles. Instead, just the natural beauty of the river itself. Gone also were all the other people. The town of Bad Schandau seems to be the point at which all the German tourists turn back and we were suddenly and spookily alone.
The first town we reached after about 10 miles made us feel no better about Czech. Frankly it would make Slough look like a pretty village. The grim and graffitied buildings had the air of a run down Soviet era industrial zone. We couldn’t get out fast enough. We realised we still had many miles to our destination and to pass the time we started learning some Czech words starting with ‘hello’ (debreeden – think Deborah Meaden). We tried this out on every one we met along the way usually getting blank and grumpy looks in return. Toby won the game getting 5 positive acknowledgements to my 2.
On and on we pedalled as the river wound and turned. At about 4.30 with 25 miles still to go we realised that we would have to abandon the river and take a much more direct route (just 11 miles) but one which would go over the mountains (well, very big hills) around which the Elbe wound it’s way. So, at the town of Velke Brezno we left the flat river path for the extraordinarily steep cross country route to Litomerice. The extreme pain of going up and up for what felt like an eternity was only partly relieved by the exhilaration of a high speed descent, peaking at just over 37 miles per hour. At 6.30pm, after 68 tough miles we finally arrived.
The hotel room felt like a film set from the 1960s with a big lamp (that didn’t work), 3 black plastic armchairs, an old fashioned TV and 3 tiny beds. The town is very attractive (a big cobbled square, a huge church and a museum) and we were directed to a fabulous cellar restaurant where we ate a delicious meal of slow cooked lamb.