Vienna to Brno CZECH REPUBLIC #2



Day 3 August 2019.

Another day on the road. Even though Bev and I were riding together there were periods when we were separated by a few kilometres and during this time I became lost in my own thoughts. As the kilometres slipped away I thought about places we had been and places we intended to visit and my musings took me to the idea of what would happen if we simply just kept going and became cycling vagabonds. Dreams.

The well-signposted Iron Curtain Trail into pumpkin land.

A Styrian pumpkin field between Altichtenwarth and the Austrian/Czech border

Styrian pumpkins are grown in Austria for the oil that is extracted from their seeds. Alternatively, the seeds can be eaten raw or toasted. They are named after the Styrian region of Austria where a mutation occurred in the late 1800s.

Styrian pumpkin harvest. It seems gathering the pumpkin seeds is women’s work! Image credit: CooksInfo Food Encyclopaedia.

Few people eat pumpkin in Europe, except Germany where it is becoming popular. In days gone by in Europe pumpkins were considered to be cattle food and only the poor ate them. In Australia pumpkins are consumed in quantity and are usually eaten with potatoes. Sometimes pumpkin was eaten as a dessert in the form of pumpkin pie and nearby where we live there is a pumpkin festival where participants are encouraged to bring their largest pumpkin for appraisal.

The path to the Czech border meandered through farmlands and on a couple of occasions we had the odd hill to push up. No complaints though as I thought it a privilege to be here and have the knowhow to undertake such a tour. It is said ‘work is the pleasure of man’ and I say ‘being able to go bike touring is the pleasure of man’!

Midmorning and 81 kilometres from Vienna we crossed into the Czech Republic and joined the Iron Curtain Trail.

Crossing the border into the Czech Republic, eighty-one kilometres from Vienna.

The country either side of the Iron Curtain Trail was known as the ‘death strip’. It is now known as the European Green Belt and runs through twenty-four countries. There are of course gaps in the vegetation but for most parts it is vegetated. There are organized tours along the belt with an emphasis on bird watching, botany and activities associated with the era when the Iron Curtain divided Europe. The European Green Belt links woodlands, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries together and is a corridor providing habitat for endangered species.

Wildlife along the way.

A shooter’s hide on ploughed farmland.

The shooters’ hide on the horizon is used by marksmen/women as a vantage point to shoot wild boar and other animals intent on eating farmers’ crops. During the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic it was illegal to own a firearm and during the communist regime only those faithful to the party owned guns. These days gun ownership is more liberal even though the EU, of which the Czech Republic is a member, is attempting to reduce the number of guns in the country. From my observations, owning a gun is socially acceptable. At the front of some houses there are signs suggesting the premises is protected by a gun.

A sign outside a house in Brno.

POZOR translates as: ‘ATTENTION’ and MAJITEL OBJEKTU POUZIVA: the owner uses a .357 magnum to protect his property. With reference to firearms, a magnum is a gun that uses cartridges with a larger charge than a usual cartridge.

The Iron Curtain was 12 500km long and since the fences and walls have come down much of the country either side of the old Iron Curtain has a wilderness feel about it. The following photograph shows an overgrown path.

Bev giving way to local wildlife.

Two fellow travellers along the Iron Curtain Trail.

At some point along the bike path we must have taken a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the railway line. Even though advertisements across the line offered coffee we decided to take another route to join the proper bike path through the village.

The sign invites the bike rider to come on over for coffee but we thought it better to go around.

Going around part of the not so picturesque trail.

Breclav on the Thaya River was our first stop and even though it does not offer the charm of other towns we have visited, there is a castle, which travellers visit. Castles in the Czech Republic are not with merlons and moats like the Norman castles in England, they are more of a lavish chateau. The manor house/chateau/castle in Breclav is a marriage of Baroque and the classical neo-Gothic style. The chateau had its beginnings back in the 11th century and sometime after it was refashioned as a border castle. It is said the surrounding landscape is designed with English romantic principles.

Breclav from above. Breclav Castle is in the left foreground. Image credit: A poster along the way.

The Breclav Castle is in a mild state of disrepair, particularly the interior, and therefore only the tower is open to the public.

The courtyard of the Breclav Castle.

The tower was added in the 19th century and the addition and the way it is finished gives the impression the place is in ruin.

The cantilever verandah of the castle.

The veranda posts impressed me as they were made from wood and making them would have been an act of a master craftsman. Every time I look at a veranda post I think of these posts. Only two of the original posts remain.

The rear of Breclav Castle. There is a great deal of work needed by the authorities to return the building to its former glory.

An artist’s impression of the restored Breclav Chateau.

The local Breclav authorities are now in the process of restoring the chateau to its earlier grandeur. Before leaving Breclav and moving on towards Lednice and Valtice we took lunch at a café that catered for cyclists; even the entrance gate had cyclist connotations.

The entrance gate made from bike bits.

A travelling bicycle repairman’s car boot at the café.

At the rear of the café was this interesting machine, what it was for I am not knowing. Any guesses?

Riding on after Breclav we passed through a UNESCO area with forests dotted with frivolous temples, hunting lodges and monuments. The follies related to the palaces of Lednice and Valtice when the Liechtenstein family owned the country thereabouts. Both Lednice and Valtice castles were confiscated by the government in 1945.

The Lednice Chateau dates from 1846 to 1858 when Prince Alois ll was on the throne. Alois was a man of show and he thought that the chateau was not suitable for entertaining European aristocracy so he had Lednice rebuilt into a summer palace. The grounds of the chateau are superbly maintained and even though I am not a lover of formal gardens I did enjoy the wander.

Castle Lednice, not a bad place to live.

The barrel-vaulted roof on the right is a glasshouse. Louvres protect the glass and it would, I think, be a high-maintenance structure, especially in view of the extremes of temperatures experienced in Europe.

The lavish entrance (non-operational) to the glasshouse; nothing was done by half measures.

From Castle Lednice we rode into the town and there we were confronted by a kestrel. The kestrel was on the arm of a delightful young lass, Maryke, who was promoting a nearby open-air zoo.

Maryke with the kestrel.

One curious thing about the kestrel is that this species is able to detect the urine trails around rodent burrows so they hover over the entrance and when a rodent appears the bird falls from the sky and takes its meal. The ability to visually detect urine trails is associated with the bird’s ability to maximise various ultraviolet frequencies. Humans do not have this ability as they do not have receptors to see the same frequency of ultraviolet that the kestrel does. In Australia the kestrel was called the Nankeen kestrel, however some years ago Nankeen was dropped from its name. The word Nankeen was associated with the colour of a cloth produced in the Chinese town of Nankeen, the colour of the cloth was the same as the colour of the bird.

The devices on the legs of the kestrel are for radio tracking the bird in the event of it reverting to the wild.

Whilst on matters of nature I found it interesting that within the forest grounds of Lednice Castle a lot of credence was given to the longicorn beetle with emphasis on the protection of the species.

The path through the oak forest.

Forestry experts carefully manage the common oaks on the flood plain between Breclav and Lednice. Management of the forests includes leaving dead trees where they fall as the rotting wood provides food for insects that in turn provide food for birds. One of the insects that I am familiar with is the longicorn beetle and throughout the forest there were a number of information boards pointing out that the beetle was a protected species.

In the region where we live we experienced the driest year on record in 2019 and many trees died on our property as a result. When clearing the dead trees I noticed that the Australian longicorn beetle had attacked many of them. They had ringbarked the trees just under the bark and being in a weakened state the trees were not able to survive the drought. The longicorn beetle is therefore not my favourite insect.

The European longhorn /longicorn beetle and larvae.

The longicorn is also known as longhorn and is a family of beetles with over 35 000 species. Most species are characterized by extremely long antennae that are sometimes longer than the beetle’s body.

European longicorn beetle attack on an oak in the Lednice forest.

The beetle munches its way through the cambium layer just under the bark. It’s interesting to note that as the larvae matures the width of their tunnel widens. Some would say the longhorn is a sculptor of nature. I have on occasions put the longhorn sculptor’s work on display by painting the tunnels and creating a static piece of art.

An oak log from the local forests.

The way to go.

Down for the count.

Bev had a lightweight coat tied around her waist and when she stopped to alight it became hooked around the back of the seat and down she came; fortunately, no damage done.

A hunting lodge (weekender) in the Lednice/Valtice forests.

Cycling is a very popular activity in the Czech Republic.

At day’s end we found ourselves on the steps of Hostelu Valtice. It was not an upmarket place. I think it may have been an old barracks in days gone by. The receptionist knew not a word of English and we not a word of Czech so it was hard going attempting to understand what was being said and how much we had to pay.

Entrance gate to Hostelu Valtice.

The entrance to Hostelu Valtice

The price list for the hostel Valtice.

The room in which we slept had no personality at all, it was bare and the beds were hard. I would avoid giving it a star rating, however you get what you pay for and it was a case of ‘any port in a storm’.

Day 4   Valtice to Vranovice.

The night at the hostel taught me one thing. It would have been better to have slept in our tent in the camping area attached to the hostel because by the time we took the panniers off our bikes and carted them up to the first floor and then carried the bikes down to the basement and do it in reverse in the morning it would have been easier to sleep in our tent with our gear close at hand.

The first stop of the day was at Valtice Castle and what a lavish affair it was, imposing and perfectly restored.

A couple of Herculean statues guard the entrance to Valtice castle.

The Herculean statues in the forecourt had a claw covering their genitals. I have never seen such efforts to protect a statue’s sexuality. It was either not appropriate to show off one’s credentials or maybe the sculptor knew the first thing to be broken in times of conflict was the male genitalia and having a claw over it protected it from damage.

The mysterious claw.

On occasions when I look at such a building, I wonder about those who lived there. How did they think, what did they talk about and how did they dress? In the case of Valtice residents, I found a poster depicting the dress habit of those who lived in the castle. The following photograph shows the style of dress.

A well dressed dashing couple.

This couple were obviously well off as the attire would have been expensive and to get dressed would have required the help of servants. It was a complicated affair presenting oneself in appropriate attire. For ladies, there were voluminous petticoats and corsets and for men, stockings, tights and elaborately embroidered jackets.

The lavish complicated dress attire began to come to an end during World War 1. With the start of the war clothes became more practical and both high society males and females were able to dress themselves and save on expenditure. However in some cases, ladies’ maids and valets were kept on until the 1920s and 1930s. Having maids and valets at hand showed one’s status and wealth. This practice finally came to an end when World War 2 commenced and servants left their employers and joined the armed forces.

The bike path deteriorated as we approached Brno. In many parts there were bogs to negotiate, deep ruts to avoid and potholes, not so deep that one would disappear into them but deep enough if misjudged that could cause a serious fall.

A low-speed portion of the Iron Curtain Trail.

Just out of Valtice we came across The Gateway to Freedom memorial. The memorial is to acknowledge the fifty-three lives lost nearby when attempting to escape the Czech Republic to Austria during the Cold War that raged between 1948 and 1989. It was a sombre moment of reflection for us as never having lived in a totalitarian state made us think about how lucky we have been.

The memorial comprised fifty-three vertical iron beams, each bearing the name of victims who died along the stretch of the border during the Cold War. Many innovative methods of escape were used, some successful, others not.

The Gate to Freedom Memorial on the Iron Curtain trail.

Along the way there were a number of information signboards describing escapee attempts to cross from east to west. Methods employed included claustrophobic roof-rack boxes, hot air balloons, crawling through drain pipes, tunnelling and those who thought they could use brute force and drive through reinforced steel barriers. The following photographs show some of the methods employed. The images are from information boards.

A hot air balloon was one way of escaping the east and not to be left behind was the bike.

The rooftop box on a trusty Volkswagon Kombi was a way of escaping.

Along with a suitcase, an escapee on the rooftop box of the Kombi.

A low-impact attempt.

A high-impact attempt to crash through the border barrier. The boom gate obviously did its job.

The communist dictatorship came to an end following the ‘Velvet Revolution’. The Velvet Revolution, or ‘Gentle Revolution’, was a bloodless non-violent overthrow of the communist government and included students and older dissidents.

A portion of the Iron Curtain barrier.

From the Freedom Way Memorial, we rode north towards Lake Mlynsky and stopped along the way for lunch at a café that specialized in catering for cyclists.

The distinctive feature of the café was the innovative and inexpensive furniture made from wooden pallets.

An excellent use for recycling pallets at the café at Brod nad Dygi.

The not-so-ergonomically designed seats at the café.

We pressed on into lake country with the aim of staying in a camping area on the edge of a lake, but when we arrived at the gate there were at least twenty cars with caravans waiting to check in. I understand that in populated areas security is required but security guards directing traffic at camping sites does not sit easily with me. Without discussing our options, we both silently agreed to move on and find a less crowded place.

Arriving in the village of Vranovice there seemed to be no obvious signs for accommodation. The only shop open sold ice-cream so we enquired if they knew anywhere we could sleep. Earlier we were told that the only guesthouse was fully booked. The ice-cream man consulted a slip of paper and to our surprise said, ‘I could let you have an apartment for one night’. An apartment? The apartment was very acceptable and with dinner and breakfast thrown in it cost only 58 Euros ($94).

Bev enquiring about a room at the ice-cream shop in Vranovice.

The apartment was located in the modern Veritas Ubytovani-Stravovani.
Ubytovani-Stravovani translates as Accommodation-Boarding.

A loudspeaker in the village of Vranovice

On a pole outside the establishment was a loudspeaker on a pole blaring away, apparently the announcements related to community news. Loudspeakers on poles are a legacy of a communist past. There is a detailed explanation by Frank Z Bures on the Quora web page about these speakers.

‘Speakers were installed in late 40’s, early 50’s as a tool for civil defence in case of WW3. The idea was that because radio stations would have been obliterated the local public address system would be used to control the populace. Transmissions would be used to announce the emergency, to order people into shelters, to announce the end of attack and so on.

During the socialist era they were also used in villages to organize workers for daily work on collective farms. Announcements started at around 6 am each day. The PA systems would also play some highly distorted brass band patriotic socialist tunes followed by announcements like “comrades A, B and C will attend pigs, comrades D, E, F and G will milk the cows and comrades … will go and attend turnips in the field” etc, etc.

There was another PA system in operation called “radio via wire”. Each office, school, hospital room or any other public place had a speaker box that would play an official program of the Czechoslovak Radio. The wires were connected to the operation centre of the local Communist Party committee. In case of emergency (military, political etc.), the committee could interrupt regular programming and use this system to make announcements and give orders.

 Note: These kinds of public PA systems controlled by the Party originated in the USSR in the 30’s. There were very few families that actually owned a radio in the USSR and most of the territory was not covered by radio broadcast anyway. Therefore, propaganda broadcasts over radio would reach only a fraction of inhabitants. Hence, specifically built local PA systems were useful for both purposes: propaganda and civil defence. And they had huge advantage over radio: one could not turn them off!’

The end of another post has arrived. If you wish to leave a comment please do so. The next post will take us to Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic.





About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey#6 2019 Wandering in Europe. Bookmark the permalink.

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