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.

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