BIKE-HITCHING FROM MELNIK IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC TO DRESDEN IN GERMANY.
This posting is dedicated to our Swiss friend Erika, lover of bikes, books and muesli. Erika rides her bike to work in the morning (she is a librarian) and comes home at lunch time and eats muesli.
The ride today for most parts was along a sealed, well formed bike path on the edge of the river. The only deviation away from the river was just prior to Roudnice nad Labem. The deviation was to our benefit as we passed through a forest/red pine plantation. It has been difficult to find out the botanical name for the species as the locals I spoke with only used common names.
We farewelled Melnik early and with blue sky overhead headed off into unknown territory. Up until today we have been in the saddle off and on for almost three months and there has not been a morning when we have not enjoyed the inital glide into the day.
Our first off-the-track exploration was to have a look at Dolni Belkovice castle. Castles here are not like medieval castles with parapets and fortified towers but more like chateaux or what the English would call abbeys or estate houses.
In the above photograph, note: the steps have collapsed, decorations and possible coats of arms have gone from each impost (where the arch and the door jambs meet) and there are bullet holes in the wall.
Many of the castles including Dolni Belkovice are in a poor state of repair and there are a number reasons: castles during the communist era (1948-1989) were considered symbols of the wealthy and therefore neglected and, prior to that, during the WW2 occupation (1939-1945) they were subject to abuse. In more recent years financial difficulties have meant owners do not have the money to effect maintenance or repairs so they sit and maybe wait for a rich local or foreign buyer to appear.
Riding was great today with wheatfields on our left and the Elbe on our right. The quality of the cereal crops growing on the alluvial flats suggests the flats are very fertile and that is no doubt due to the fact the Elbe floods out frequently depositing valuable nutrients on the land.
The maximum height recorded on this marker was part way up the buildings in the distance and was in 1843. The marker base was about five metres above river water level.
Please don’t think I am exercising power over nature by standing on this stump. I stand there simply to indicate the size of the tree that once was. Oak used to be the most important tree for the Slavic tribes but in the 19th century a Czech poet glorified the Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) also called the Small-leaved Linden or Little-leaved Linden. Tilia species are a native to much of Europe.
Along the track was a tea house and the owner was only too happy to make us a cup of tea. We could have made our own but the locals are so friendly it behoves us to give them custom. All along the bike tracks in the Czech Republic enterprising business people have set up refreshment stops for cyclists and accommodation houses have placed signs along the cycle ways expounding the cycle friendly virtues of their establishments.
The owners of the ice-cream shop on the bike path here almost threw themselves in front of us to get us to stop and buy an ice-cream.
The most imposing building in Roudnice is the Church of the Nativity of Virgin Mary and as soon as I set eyes on it I thought ‘I kinda like this place’ and I think it was because the church had a battered and weathered look.
Part way along the outer wall at ground level in the above photograph was a nook and flowing from the nook was a spring. The water from the spring was heavily laden with iron and if I’m guessing right the iron-coloured water might relate to: ‘Roudnice nad Labem is one of the oldest Czech towns, the original name Rudnik was given to it because of the red coloured water spring in the area……….’. (quote from Wikipedia).
Over lunch we decided to catch the train to Decin in light of us having ridden thirty plus kilometres in the morning and it was still another 50 km to Decin, our next overnight stay. I mentioned when we originally bought our bikes in Zurich that we were going to go ‘bike hitching’ and getting on the train today was doing just that.
It is worth noting how this young lady traveller with her bike is catered for on Czech trains. There is plenty of space for the bike and even a little seat for her. I am going to look very closely at provisions for cyclists on trains in Sydney when I get home.
24TH JUNE 2014 REST and RECREATION DECIN.
The best thing about travelling as we are is we do not have to move on everyday, especially if something catches our eye and yesterday on the way into Decin something did catch our eye. On top of a high cliff overlooking the town was a small but imposing tower which we thought if we went up would enable us to get a good view of the area. With this in mind we decided to stay more than one night.
There were two ways to the tower, one by climbing up the cliff face using rock climbing gear or by following a forest track. We chose the latter.
On the left is detailed the routes and the different colours probably indicate the degree of difficulty for each climb. On the right are instructions on how to attach carabiners and other climbing aids. VSTUP NA VLASTNI NEBEZPECI means ‘enter at your own risk’.
The climber wears a harness to which a carabiner is attached which in turn clicks onto the wire rope pinned to the rock face. Steadily the climber moves upwards until the top is reached. The pins are only where there are no natural handholds such as on the quarried face at the start of the climb.
The unpainted stones protruding from the wall are probably for decoration only. Stonemasons in England in earlier days did leave an occasional stone protruding but in a defined sequence, which was, in fact, their signature.
And what would those earthly pleasures be: maybe a bowl of muesli. I have included this photograh for our muesli-eating friends in Switzerland, especially Erika who will eat muesli at ‘the drop of a hat’ (anytime).
When I took this simple snap of Sissi I wondered who Sissi was and answering that question has led me on an intriguing path of discovery.
Sissi was the nickname given to Princess Elisabeth, daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph (1808-1888) and Princess Ludovika (1808-1898) of Bavaria. From all reports Sissi was a carefree, fun-loving child and in latter years she gained the respect and admiration of all Bavarians. Maybe because of this respect the creators of the delicious muesli in the photograph decided to call their product ‘Sissi’.
Another reason might be that in 1955 an Austrian-made film was released relating to the life of Sissi and it was viewed by between 20 and 25 million people. It was considered to be one of the most successful German speaking movies ever made and this might be the reason for calling the muesli ‘Sissi’, the creators were simply cashing in on the popularity of the name.
Another discovery in Decin was a wonderful secondhand book shop. I wish I could read Czech as there were many titles relating to the republic’s history. It was frustrating looking at pictures in the books and not being able to read the captions.
In the 1970s Bev and I lived on an estate in Berkshire England and in the library of the manor house were thousands of leather-bound classics. I had the wish to read my way through them but of course it never happened. I commented to the owner of the estate about all the wonderful books in her library and she told me she often dreamed about books: one dream she described was a voice calling ‘BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS’ and when she woke the family cat was in the process of vomiting on her chest!
The cash register is sitting on two different height tables and to get the register level books were used as packing. A pity if someone wanted to buy the packing piece!
That’s the story for Decin, the plan of action for tomorrow is yet to be decided as severe thunderstorms are predicted and there is no point subjecting ourselves to unnecessary discomfort by riding in the rain. If it’s fine tomorrow morning we ride, if not we will travel by train.
CYCLING ALONG THE ELBE TO GERMANY.
If we could stop the advance of time and freeze our lives, now would be a good time as no longer do we have the responsibility of children, nor have we elderly parents to care for and our station in life is relatively secure: we are free to travel to places on our Bucket List.
The weather forecast for today was for ‘big thunderstorms’ so we thought last night we would leave the decision whether to ride until this morning. The sky was heavy but it was not raining so we decided to ride and even though the predicted thunderstorm did catch us later in the day, just the same, it was a great ride through a very scenic gorge.
In the foyer of the hotel this morning we were approached by a Chinese gentleman from Shanghai. He was promoting Chinese manufactured lights. Representative David was very interested in our bikes and our travels and he took an iphone photograph and sent it to his daughter suggesting they buy two and go travelling when he returned to China.
The ride today from Decin to Bad Schandau was as good as our previous ride from Melnik to Roudnice but this time there was little agricultural activity as the river passed through a narrow sandstone gorge, part of the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. The concept of a Bohemain Switzerland developed in the 18th century as an extension of Saxon Switzerland in Germany. The name was inspired by two Swiss artists Adrian Zingg (1734-1816) and Anton Graff (1736-1813) who were reminded of their homeland by the geography of the area.
Over the past week and during the next week or so we have been and will be following three major rivers, the Vltava which passes through Prague, the Elbe which flows through Dresden then we will turn east and follow the Oder which flows into the Baltic Sea.
To avoid confusion I have prepared a map showing where the rivers rise and discharge into the Baltic.
The eroded lanscape of this region was formed from accumulated deposits of sand on the sea bed millions of years ago. The beds are about 600 metres thick and the variety of shapes of the rock formations are a result of chemical and physical erosion.
What flat land there is on each side of the river has been settled and not only do boats ply up and down the river but they cross as well. We did think we may have put ourselves and our bikes on a boat and travel down the river but on the day we wanted to do it we were told the tide was out and the boat wasn’t running. Of course the river here is not tidal, what my informant meant was the river was too low.
The most pleasing thing about today’s ride was it was stress-free….without complications, no detours, works in progress or headwinds to contend with.
In places on the opposite side of the river was a minor road and wherever there is a road border crossing duty free shops abound. On the bike path side there was no sign, not even a line painted across the path, to indicate we had left the Czech Republic and entered Germany. To celebrate crossing the border we boiled the ‘billy’. Over our cuppa we smelled rain and it wasn’t long after the big thunder stom that was predicted hit us. We took shelter in a disused railway station and donned our wet weather gear. With torrential rain pounding us we rode on to Bad Schandau railway station and boarded the train for Dresden.
To ‘boil the billy’ is a term we use frequently. It is also used in the UK and Ireland but not to the same extent. A billy was a large can used for transporting bouilli or bully beef on Austrailan bound ships or during exploration of the outback. It was later modified for boiling water. However there is a suggestion that the word may be associated with the Aboriginal word ‘billa’ meaning water. Regardless, even when we put the electric kettle/jug on we say: ‘I’ll put the billy on’. There is an Australian folk song about the billy and it goes thus:
I’ve humped my bluey in all the states
With my old black billy the best of mates;
For years I’ve camped and toiled and tramped
Over roads that are rough and hilly;
with my highly sensible indispensable,
Old Black Billy.
‘I’ve humped my bluey’…. To hump means to carry and a bluey (swag) is a blue grey blanket that outback wanderers (swagmen) carried.
Steve was from England and after taking early retirement he drew up his bucket list and decided to commence ticking the places off his list. One place on his list was to visit the Bohemian Switzerland National Park and when we met he was heading for some of the walking trails. We bade Steve farewell with ‘see you in OZ’.
The term Bucket List, relates to a list of places you want to visit before you die. Bucket list comes from ‘kick the bucket’ meaning to die. In days of capital punishment one method of execution was to hang offenders and once the hangman’s noose was in place the victim had to stand on a bucket and the bucket was kicked from under him. There is a film called ‘Bucket List’ and I’m betting that most people who saw the film drew up their personal list. Many of the places we have been to on this odyssey were on our list.
Before our arrival in Dresden we Googled our booked pension’s location and we were under the impression that it was set back off the road in a garden. We found a house with a garden but what we faced was a decaying tenement building. Bev was not at all enthuastic about the thought of staying there. Regardless, I had to check it out. Inside there was no reception desk so I went looking for someone to assist, found no one and I ended up in a backyard beer garden where there was a camp fire and by the look of the number of empty beer, wine and spirit bottles some very serious drinking had been done.
Returning to Bev I suggested we had better go find somewhere else to stay as not only could I not raise anybody but I didn’t like the look of the place either. Bev suggested maybe we had the street number wrong so after a ride up and down we found the correct building and we are now settled in.
Our accommodation for the next few days is not five star but as far as we are concerned it suits us fine, it’s clean and roomy. I would describe the area where we are staying as alternative because there are a lot of trendy young people about and many cafes, bars and restaurants. The eating and drinking places have an art nouveau and retro look about them.
After a day on the road and the stress of trying to find the location of our pension it was especially pleasing to ‘flop’ on the bed at days end and have a ‘blow’.
To have a ‘blow’ is an English term that is associated with going on a picnic. When motor cars became affordable in the 1920s people would go for a picnic and because few cars had hard tops (most were convertibles) the picnickers would get wind blown on the way. Going on a picnic basically meant resting, hence to have a rest is to have a ‘blow’.
The next posting we be Out and About Dresden. We hope you stay with us.