As is the case with most cities getting in and out of a city can sometimes be complicated so we decided to catch a train from Prague to Melnik, about thirty five kilometres to the north.
Many country stations have no built up platforms so some man/woman handling is required. I’m glad we are not travelling with full-sized bikes.
At stations like Melnik platform movements can be a little precarious as there are no pedestrian overhead walkways or tunnels under or over the lines.
When I crossed, I stopped on the line for a photograph and the station attendant shouted for me to keep moving and get off the line as there was a train waiting to leave.
Melnik is where the Vltava River (the Moldau in German), which passes through Prague and the Elbe (Czech Republic’s largest river) converge. The town sits high overlooking the convergence point and from our reading it sounded like a good place to start our cycling journey down the Elbe.
The road between the vineyard and the trees lining the Elbe River (foreground) is closed to traffic and is a dedicated cycleway.
During our stay in Melnik many cyclists passed through and some stayed. Riding along the Elbe is a very popular outing.
From our observations riders such as this group are only intent in getting from A to B in the shortest possible time. They hang together like a swarm of bees and zoom by like swarms do in Miniscule, the French animated cartoon television series.
To date we have not seen any accidents and it’s not because of the colourful designer gear riders wear, it’s simply because everyone is super aware and cautious. You never assume there is not another cyclist about to pass you.
Many hotel owners looking for the custom of the cyclists place this sign on the front of their establishments. I don’t think they give discounts to bike riders, all you get is a secure place to store your bike. When we first arrived in Melnik we thought one day in the area would be long enough but as soon as we went out exploring we knew it was going to take longer than one day to see the area. We ended up staying three days.
Our first out of town expedition was to ride to the Horin Canal Lock. The lock was built in 1905 and it is still operational. A number of barges and small leisure craft passed through the lock whilst we were there.
Barges and small boats exit and enter through the arches. The difference in upstream and downstream water level was around four metres.
One extensive set of locks I know of is the Caen Hill Locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal near Devizes England. There are twenty-nine locks there and they have a rise (or fall depends which way you are going) of 72 metres in 3.2 kilometres, a gradient of 1:44.
Note: On the preceding sketches I called the enclosures within the lock ‘bays’. This is incorrect as they are officially known as ‘pounds’.
The church on high is the church of St Peter & Paul and is classified as Renaissance with a Baroque onion-dome cupola.
On the way back from the lock we rode into the village of Horin and there we found an unusual cemetery. The building in the middle of the cemetery was historically dramatic. It spoke volumes but unfortunately I was unable to interpret what it was saying. Was it a church or a family tomb? Why was it so neglected and, most of all, what was inside?
One of the things that impressed me in the cemetery were the intricate cast iron grave memorials. Having been involved with foundry work I know how much time and skill was required to produce such pieces.
Silver frost is a hard-wearing enamel paint which was a common paint used during the 1950/60s in Sydney. If my mother could get her hands on a tin she would ‘tart up’ (paint) everything such as taps, pipes protruding from walls, metal fences and metal pot plant containers.
A poor substitute for a cast iron crucifixion scene, Jesus was cut from sheet metal. The nails through his hands were modern day tech screws with aluminium checker plate square washers.
By now you have probably had enough of the symbols of death but there is one feature of Melnik that you have to see and that’s the charnel house of the Church of St Peter and Paul. In the charnel-house are stored the bones of between 10 000 and 12 000 persons of mixed sex and ages. Many died of the plague.
The plague or Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of between 75 and 200 million people. It reached its peak in the years 1346-53.
The green colour on the onion dome is caused by the weathering of copper. The oxide called Verdigris is a natural patina and was used extensively as a paint pigment. The pigment was made by hanging copper plates over hot vinegar in a sealed container until a crust formed on the plates. In the 18th century it was manufactured in household cellars where copper plates were placed in pots filled with distilled wine. Verdigris is a very effective fungicide and an everyday example is shown in the following photograph.
The chalk inscription, + C + M + B. 2014 is a blessing and it can stand for either Chrictus Mansionem Benedicat which means Christ bless this house, or Caspar: Melchior: Balthazar which were the names of the three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Since before the Middle Ages Catholics would bless their houses by inscribing the initials of the three wise men with blessed chalk. Over the backdoor of our house carved into the lintel is KMB and I have been told that if we ever move on we should take it with us. How we managed to get the KMB on our door is a story for another time.
Not all buildings in the Melnik region are in a good a state of repair, the Horin Castle is an example. The owner of the above castle has a number of such buildings to his name and it is not possible to maintain them all so they lie in state.
The next post will tell tales about our experiences of riding from Melnik to Decin. We hope you stay with us as we meander down the bike path to yet another unexplored destination.
THE BEST ADVENTURE YOU WILL
EVER HAVE IS THE ONE YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE NEXT.