Thursday, August 1, 2013

Czech tour, summer 2013, with Lola in the bike trailer - index

This index (in chronological order) is the same as what's in the archive on the left: might be easier to navigate.

Czech Republic - early summer tour. How do we get all this stuff over to Prague? And what kind of summer is this, anyway?
Písek. Lying low. Making the most of the floods, stuffing ourselves with home cooking
Vepice to Konopiště. A castle with a bear pit.
Which way now? South east to Blaník mountain.
Blaník to Pelhřimov: broke my frame, and visited Hell.
From Pelhřimov into 'Czech Canada'.

Which do I use, old school maps or tablet? Do any of these bloody apps work? (not yet written...)
Chariot Corsaire 2 bicycle trailer - reviewed. Not a gift. No sponsorship.

I borrowed this format from this excellent bike tour journal - was looking for an easier way to navigate around each trip.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Chariot Corsaire 2 bicycle trailer - reviewed

The Chariot Corsaire 2 seemed to be the biggest trailer around, and the one best suited to touring, so that's what we ended up getting. We paid five percent under retail price for it.

I carried Lola (13kg), and in the storage compartment our tent (4kg), two sleeping bags and mats, cooking gear, food stash and other bits and pieces. We took it 800km around Czech Rep. and Austria, on all kinds of tracks, including quite rough dirt tracks.

If you need some sun protection, you'll have to sort it out yourself. These trailers clearly weren't designed in Australia. Here, the back flap is folded over the front to provide a bit of shelter.

The waterproof cover and mosquito netting for the front, on the other hand, are excellent ( the Canadian heritage shows!)

The Corsaire 2 has quite good ventilation through to the back, but only Velcro to close up the storage space. They could have come up with something more secure.

Note hi-visibility flag can only go on the right of the trailer. This is an oversight if you want to sell these in left hand traffic countries.

A closed cell foam mat comes in handy as a prop for sleeping on.

The Chariot head support (above) is not very useful for a kid with a helmet on, in our experience. We stopped using it. It needs redesign.

The suspension works well generally but has flaws. Firstly, part of it pushes into the fabric superstructure when under load and damages it.

Secondly, the adjustment bolt shown above tends to come loose, and the weight range indicator tape underneath is not attached firmly. When we lost one of the nuts I had to file the replacement down so that it would fit underneath - a bit annoying. Locktite or a nylon lock nut might be a better option.

Those bolts you can see on the inside of the frame in the storage area have sharp edges. It took me a little while to work out what was ripping the tent stuffsack. Also, the fabric floor of the trailer is a bit vulnerable to damage.

The hitch to the back hub quick release works well. With a big load, on rough roads, it can come loose, so you need to keep an eye on it.

The whole thing folds up well and we transported it in the box it was shipped to us in - about 17kg with hitch. There's room to stash more in the box, as well. The wheels (no issues with these) come off and fit inside.

Chariot's support materials appear to be aimed at casual suburban users rather than serious long distance users. They really could do a better job of this. Also, our Czech friends (dedicated hard core users) had serious problems getting any warranty support when their undercarriage broke. They weren't impressed.

All in all, the Corsaire 2 does the job very well, but still has a few design flaws.
It's arguably overpriced at around $US1000 retail - but there aren't many other options!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

From Pelhřimov into 'Czech Canada'

On our way out of Pelhřimov we popped into an excellent bakery and then headed steadily uphill to the little mountain of Křemešník (785m), complete with guest house, mini ski resort, spring and pilgrimage site!

Below the castle of Roštejn we camped in forest.
Next morning we found a primary school festival on! 8 or 10 different small primary schools were watching a whole range of different performances, from clowns to trained dog performances to tours of the castle. Our favourites (below) were the Divadélko Romaneto troubadours, brilliant entertainers who clearly loved what they were doing.

Heading further south through Telč, we reached another epic castle dating back to the early 1200's, Landštejn, dominating the rolling forested hills of Czech Canada.

Near Landštejn we decided to try a Czech style camping ground for the first time. Cyklocamp pod Landštejnem ('below Landštejn') turned out to be an old communist era youth camp now trading on the massive popularity of cycling in Czech. Registering to camp for the night took about half an hour and required passports - but the manager forgot to tell us we needed to buy tokens for hot showers.We'd been hoping for a few Czech families, but it turned out only overexcited school groups were staying there.

Beyond Slavonice, tucked away in the forest off a forestry trail, we found the hraniční kámen Trojmezí, or Dreiländerstein - a border stone marking the intersection of Bohemia, Moravia and Austria.
From here, we were travelling east along the Austrian-Czech border, once part of the Iron Curtain.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Blaník to Pelhřimov

A welcome sight: Lola crawling into 'her' trailer without any encouragement!
From the saddle we walked up Velký Blaník (638m), which is supposedly the resting place of an army of Czech knights who awaken if their motherland is in danger (except they didn't do this in 1968 when the Soviets invaded).

At the top was a cafe selling beer and Czech delicacies like nakládaný hermelín (soft cream cheese pickled in oil with pepper) and utopenec ('drowned man' - pickled spicy bratwurst).

This derelict mansion in the village of Pravovin was marked Místní národní výbor ('local national council') which must have been its communist era function. My guess is that the fat cat in the BMW wants to renovate it.

This country was undulating, with one 14 degree climb near Pacov. The bike routes were all on small country roads with minimal traffic.

This was an old wayside chapel.

Near Nová Cerekev I heard a sudden crack at the back of my bike, and then creaks with every pedal stroke. I'd heard this before. I checked my frame and found that the right chainstay had snapped at the braze to the right dropout, just next to the rear derailleur. Very bad news. This was the third time I'd done this to a frame. In super affluent parts of the 'first world', it's hard to find a framebuilder who will agree to repair this kind of thing - they just tell you to throw the frame out. Fortunately, we were in rural CZ.

We creaked into Nová Cerekev. In the middle of the village, opposite the pub, I saw a likely looking bloke who looked like he spent a bit of time in his shed. I got off the bike and showed him the damage.
In a flash he was on his phone, then bundling my bike into the back of his little hatchback. Next thing I knew, we were zipping off through laneways to a backyard workshop. We found a bloke working on a car chassis, ciggy hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He looked at my frame, grunted, 'Jasné... jasné... ' (I see...), grabbed his grinder, ground off the two ends, got a welding rod out, clipped a cable on the frame, and neatly arc welded both sides of the break. I offered him cash. He said, 'No, no.' I insisted. He relented, then got out three bottles of cold beer. We sprayed some primer on the frame, then went and looked at his pride and joy, an old Jawa, which he wanted to kick start for me. It took a few goes. Then he poured three shots of cognac and we checked how the chicken on the spit was roasting (while other chooks ran around underfoot).

My fixer took me back to where Julie and Lola were waiting. The whole escapade had taken about three quarters of an hour. No photos - I'd left the camera behind.

The frame felt good again and we rolled down into Pelhřimov, an attractive regional centre with a big town square, good bakeries and some strange museums (Museum of Bugaboos, anyone?) We also found Hell in a dungeon under the town hall. The young tourist information worker told us, 'You can go to Hell, if you like.' Poutník, the local beer, was one of our favorites so far.

I got what I deserved in the end.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Which way now? South east to Blaník mountain

We tossed up a few ideas and decided to head south east towards southern Moravia and Austria. This was our lunch spot, in the glade of pine trees. Almost every patch of forest seemed to have its own hunter's hideout, as if the wildlife didn't have enough to deal with already in Central Europe.

We dropped past Jemniště, a baroque chateau this time. Knocked on the front door but nobody was home.

Riding towards Postupice I passed a young mum walking home from the bus stop with her hot, miserable kids - up a steep hill. She said hello - she'd spent a year or two hanging out with punks in Manchester, a time she seemed to miss right then.

Goulash and beers in Louňovice pod Blaníkem.

We camped near the saddle between the two Blaník 'mountains'. In the tent Julie was horrified to discover her first two ticks of the trip. They came out with a soap rub as suggested by our friend Martina.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Vepice to Konopiště

Lola is still asleep, camped just out of Vepice.
Tom had told us about Husova kazatelna, a big 'wobble stone' from which Jan Hus, the 14th century Czech priest-reformer, supposedly preached once. It was a bit out of our way and we had to get to Konopiště Castle that night. So we skipped it. But we soon stumbled on a roadside pub. It had a big trampoline out the front which was a drawcard, and some kind of mini golf, apparently popular amongst Czechs. It also had good goulash and massive serves of dumplings and we struggled to get moving afterwards. Lola rolled around on the trampoline as tradesmen in overalls sporting healthy guts and mullets came and went, driving battered little hatchbacks very quickly. I wondered why none of them seemed to be driving more functional work vehicles. Maybe they worked on tractors? Another group turned up on bicycles. They had clearly ridden from the village straight to the pub, and not for the exercise. CZ has a 0.00 alcohol limit for drivers.

As we rolled over the undulating country we passed Vysoký Chlumec castle, perched on a steep hill.
On the other side of Neveklov, we suddenly realised we were on a popular back road for commuting traffic from Benešov. That's not fun on narrow, curving roads with gung ho drivers. Eventually we got to the leafy forest park around the castle. I rang the bell at one of the enormous gates and a security guard gave us a key to the domeček (workers' cottage) down below where we could stay, thanks to Tom's friend Jana. That little steeple is cute but there is no way into it! I kept banging my head on the angled ceiling. Boo hoo.

Konopiště is an odd place. Jana told us it was much more popular with Russian tourists. This was Archduke Franz Ferdinand's last residence before he was assassinated in 1914: he was also 'Royal Prince of Bohemia'. The bear pit at the main gates gives it a very unreconstructed feel. We took Lola on a tour of the castle which showed off the Archduke's hunting trophies, exotic weapon and armour collections. He reportedly shot up to 300,000 wild animals, many of which were displayed here. Tasteful. We realised that Czech style castle tours don't suit Lola: supervised, slow movement from one room to another, each full of things you can't touch.

There was also a motorcycle museum here (presumably full of Jawa's) and some kind of dog show on, again showcasing Czech pet love.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


We put our bikes (and trailer) onto a train from Prague's central station to Písek. You can buy train tickets (for bikes also) on the CZ rail website (translation function in bottom right hand corner).

When we got to Písek it was bucketing down. We had to sit out 5 days of non stop rain. Luckily we had good friends to stay with, Tom and Eva. That meant lots of conviviality. Home cooking, pastries, tea, Moravian wine, and Czech beer testing. Tom had a 4 year old Chariot trailer and pointed out that we'd already lost a nut from the suspension. He even had spare parts for us (he'd had undercarriage problems too).

Tom taking a pic of a canal he'd never seen this high.
By now we were thinking of heading down to Spain or Italy!

The Písek Stone Bridge, reportedly the oldest bridge in CZ, dating back to the 13th century.
The weather settled eventually and we hit the road, north to Zvíkov, one of many castles we would come across. This is a most excellent castle, very well located on a peninsula. There weren't many people other than one big group hanging around taking themselves very seriously, fiddling with ipads and measuring tapes. We later learnt they were from the BBC and planned to shoot a documentary there. Orlík Dam was full of mud and debris from the recent floods.

From here we skirted around the dam towards the north again, hitting some sodden tracks, which was OK as long as they were gravelly - but then came the mud.

This Eastern Front style mud didn't last too long, thankfully. The mosquitoes were feasting - we weren't going fast enough to blow them off. We had a good pub meal in Kovářov, at the only pub we saw, and discovered Kofola: a well marketed, retro Czech cola. Then we camped outside Vepice in a patch of forest on a hill.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Czech Republic - early summer tour

We decided to head off to Czech for some adventures this northern summer. The idea came after browsing through beautiful 'coffee table books' full of rocky escarpments and ruined castles at our Czech friends' place. These friends, Martina and Lubor, also let us try out their Chariot trailer before we got one for Lola (now almost 18 months old). Czechs are quite avid explorers and we wondered what their 'back country' would be like. What are Czech drivers like? Would we find good camping?

We had a month. My original plan was to get to Prague, catch a train to České Budějovice and then ride through the Šumava forest around the Czech - German border up towards Dresden, then east, then back south to Prague. I always found that sticking to border areas meant lots of national parks and not much car traffic.

The biggest issue was how much to take. Two bikes, a trailer plus camping gear adds up to a heap to lug with you from Australia. Some camping gear we'd have to get in Czech so that saved a bit on the way there. But we still had to check with the airlines.

First card to play was the 'pram' one. Most airlines don't hit you for a pram. So, it's not a trailer, it's a 'pram'. Then we could cram a bit of extra gear into that box, but not enough to get the question we did get once at checkin: 'What kind of pram weighs 25kg?' We ended up with about 80kg of boxed up gear (two bicycles, trailer, panniers, camping gear.) Three big boxes plus a sack with all our panniers in it. We landed in Prague. It was 11 degrees, and raining. Inauspicious. My bike box had been trashed en route. I couldn't even pick it up. Julie's front dropout (aluminium) had been bent a bit despite the plastic protector. Nothing more serious, amazingly.

We'd found a place in Letná (Prague 7) to stay, right between two big parks, Stromovka and Letenské sady (Letná gardens).  Letenské sady offered brilliant views over central Prague from the north. We mused over the weather - heavy rain forecast over the following week.

So, Lola scored new wet weather gear...

...and a new sleeping bag.

Czech Radio Two on in the background, with Czech language covers of 'evergreen' classics (think 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head' in Czech).

We wandered through Letná gardens to Pražský hrad (Prague Castle).

Later, when we headed into the city centre on our bikes, we crossed the Vltava River to Malá Strana. From here, we could ride almost the entire way home through parks: zigzagging up through the lush Petřínské gardens, under the Petřín funicular, then traversing across past Pražský hrad home to Letná.

Prague has lots of bike paths, an excellent 'Prague by bike' route finder, beautiful big parks, but also cobblestones, steep hills, bad drivers, and trams (beware! they don't slow down!)

On Václavské náměstí we went into Palác knih and found an amazing bookshop with a huge map section with a little cycling atlas of CZ which looked pretty decent.

The Green Map of Prague is a great alternative guide to Prague - with good parks, non smoking bars, vegetarian food, farmers' markets, artisan shops and development eyesores all listed. The Prague Use-It map is interesting and fun, too.