We had a very short day today and so woke up a leisurely 15 minutes later than normal. After our breakfast of bread and jam which we are becoming very accustomed to now, we set off, direction Slovenia. Crossing into another country is always exciting and so we hurriedly cycled to the border. We found a path only for pedestrians and cyclists to cross and were greeted by a big Slovenia sign. We spent the next 15 minutes putting on the self timer on my camera and trying to capture mid air jumping shots. We were very excited indeed to be in Slovenia. After jumping about like happy little children, we were back on our way. We followed the river for a while before making our way southward to Maribor – the second biggest city in Slovenia. After 35 miles of cycling, we arrived and were pleasantly surprised by the lovely city centre. We went straight onto trip advisor to see what the main attractions were, and the number one thing to do here is to go to an ice cream shop. We felt compelled to try the no.1 activity; and we were not disappointed. An enormous ice cream for only 1€!! It was so good in fact that we went back a couple of hours later to have another. We are even planning our breakfast there. After watching a beautiful sunset over Maribor, we slowly wandered back to the hotel where Sasha enjoyed the luxury of a double bed.
We said goodbye to Hartberg and continued South. Our morning was fairly flat and so we did a quick 20 miles before stopping for a break. The bicycle path had been so well signposted up until now, however, they quickly faded away and Garmy came to the rescue correcting our route many times. Temperatures hit 30 degrees today and our first tan lines emerged. We also had some very fast descents reaching a new top speed of 45mph. Overall we had a very pleasant day and arrived in a tiny town 15km above the Slovenian border at around 17pm. We were the only people staying at the small chalet-like hotel and enjoyed a not-so-delicious microwaved pizza for dinner. Tomorrow – Slovenia !!!
We left our lavish Thai accommodation early in the morning and bought croissants from a local bakery for breakfast. Assuming our day would not be too long, neither too difficult, we took things easy. However, shortly after leaving Wiener Neustadt we realised we were very wrong. A day of hills followed.
Spirits quickly turned from good to grumpy, hills quickly turned into mountains, sun turned to rain and roads turned to rocky path. We stopped for lunch mid way up the hill and the view was beautiful. The lunch of stale bread and ham was less so, however we were feeling happier. The path didn’t have a single car, the scenery was picturesque and so a part from the never ending steep hill that lay before us, there was not much to complain about. We found the cycle path early on in the day and followed it all the way to our destination – Hartberg ( a small town in southern Austria, famous for precisely nothing). The path was generally very well signposted, however, it did throw us off a few times leading us into private gardens and flowerbeds. We enjoyed a quiet dinner and wienerschnitzel in the town centre and mentally prepared ourselves for the next hilly hilly day.
After the best 9 days cycling with dad from Berlin to Vienna, the time had come for him to leave. The time we had spent together had been truly special, however, it was time for part two of the cycle trip with my friend Sasha. I had two days to explore Vienna before he did arrive and so I spent my time visiting the city and more importantly cleaning the bikes and making sure they were in perfect shape for the next 1000 kilometres. Sasha managed to lose himself on the way to the hotel however we did end up together in the end and ambled around the city for a couple of hours eventually finding a very cheap 6€ pizza for dinner. We slowly cycled around Vienna the next morning squeezing the most we could out of the beautiful city before turning on garmi and heading south. The ride was extremely easy and flat, and after just over 40 miles we arrived at our destination. The hotel was a little less luxurious than it had been with dad. We were staying above a cheap, unattractive Thai restaurant in a cheap, unattractive town. On the plus side, the hot water was working and the beds had mattresses so we were happy.
We left Znojmo after another altercation with the Penzion which would accept either cash or credit card (but not a combination of the two). As I wanted to get rid of my remaining Czech Kroner and pay the balance on credit card, we were set for a stand – off. Leaving Czech was a bizarre experience. The road near the border was lined for a few miles with casinos and “gentleman’s” clubs. Are these illegal in Austria and they have to cross the border for a flutter and other entertainment? Who knows? The border crossing itself was another massive disappointment with the tiniest sign to tell us we were entering Austria.
Having cycled all the way across Czech over the past few days, we expected something a bit more significant to mark our departure from the country.
The cycling day was perhaps our least fun of the trip. The rain which we had avoided so far came lashing down in the afternoon and we were soaked and frozen. There were more (and steeper) hills than we were expecting and for the rest of the time we were going through fairly ugly towns like Hollabrun where we stopped for a sandwich lunch. We finally arrived in Vienna – my final destination after 500 miles, but for Toby just a resting point before continuing his journey on Monday with Sacha (who will pick up my bike here). We have been through 3 countries and 3 capital cities ; have visited 5 castles ; reached a peak speed of 40 mph; climbed countless hills – and amazingly have not had a single puncture. We have tomorrow together to see the sights of Vienna, but as it was our last night we went to a fabulous restaurant (called 1070) to mark the end of our journey together. It has been a very special time and whilst looking forward to coming home, it will also be very sad to part and to draw a close on what has been a very special experience.
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.
The countryside today looked pretty similar to yesterday – indeed at times we felt that we must be going round in circles as the fields, hills, lakes and villages all started to look exactly the same. The only difference was that the hills kept getting steeper and longer. In a desperate bid to shave a few miles off our journey we took a detour down a little path which became a forest track which then somehow ended up in the middle of a long section of roadworks . We had to bump our way down an unsurfaced road to get back on course. Later in the day we foolishly ignored a road works sign only to find the road completely closed due to a bridge being rebuilt. Turning back would have added 2 miles to our journey so we decided to go through the barriers and wade across the stream getting thoroughly wet and muddy in the process. Toby thought it was hilarious ; I was a little less amused. We stopped for a much needed lunch in the attractive town square of Tabor and then continued our hilly journey on to Jindrichuv Hadrec. It is a town dominated by a massive 11th century castle. We expected it to be closed but the gates were open and although no one was there, we went in and quite alone wondered around the spectacular castle grounds. It was magnificent albeit a tiny bit spooky. Sadly we don’t have time in the morning to take a look at the interior which must be stunning. A good dinner at our sweet Penzion was a pleasant way to end an exhausting day. The main reason that we are doing this ride is because we want to and because in some strange masochistic way, we are enjoying it. But there is another reason and that is to raise money for Uthando (the incredible charity we spent time with in Cape Town). So if you would like to make a contribution to a really worthwhile charity please visit http://www.justgiving.com/toby-fox2. Thank you.
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?).
Today our task was to get to Prague which was just 50 miles away. We spent the first few hours making very fast progress, sticking to the roads. Without the cycle paths which are everywhere in Germany, it wasn’t much fun with an endless stream of trucks and Skodas whizzing past us. In the unattractive town of Kralupy we picked up the river path but unlike the smooth concrete we had grown used to, the path was bumpy, cracked and from time to time became a mud track. Progress was slow and we were getting increasingly grumpy – especially Toby. We hadn’t planned to stop for lunch but by about 2.30, sugar levels were low and we came across a little town with a deserted cafe. To our surprise a thick goulash with bread was produced within a couple of minutes of us arriving and we wolfed it down happily. Spirits were somewhat restored by the meal and by a surprisingly well surfaced path for the final few miles into Prague. We cycled past the Zoo from which the most extraordinary sounds (of a lion giving birth or eating a tourist?) were emerging – and finally into Prague itself. A truly beautiful city but not one to navigate by bike. A dangerous cocktail of cobbled streets, tram lines and lots of traffic and people. We found our hotel and spent the rest of the day enjoying the busy and beautiful city.
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.