Thursday 31 December 2009

My bikes

Here's the lowdown on the bikes I'll be riding on my trip. I say bikes because I'll be using two very different machines depending on the terrain (and because I can't afford to buy a specialised touring bicycle).

Thursday 10 December 2009

All along there's watchtowers

Hillwalking must have been a pretty unrewarding pastime in Central Europe before the 19th century. You'd struggle to the top, in woefully inappropriate non-Gore-Tex clothing, only to find your view completely blocked by dense forest cover.

But then someone (almost certainly a German) had a bright idea: If we can't see the world for the trees, then why not rise above the forest canopy?

And so, unlike in Britain, where the preferred option had long been to chop down all the trees and introduce sheep to stop them growing back, towers with 360-degree viewing platforms started springing up on hills and mountains across Central Europe.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Brewers loop

Svijany - my favourite beer on my favourite cycling jersey
When I worked at the Czech News Agency (CTK) back in the mid-1990s, hardly a month went by without reports coming in of another Czech brewery hitting the skids. Around 20 were closed down in the ten years or so following the 1989 Velvet Revolution. There was trouble brewing.

Anyone who knows beer knows the big Czech brands - Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Staropramen and so on. But there are some 125 beer producers in the Czech Republic, most of them local breweries, microbreweries or brewpubs. And it was these small operations that were struggling the most.

But now they are bouncing back.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Linkin' parks

In a previous post I mentioned that I'd be travelling through some stunningly beautiful landscapes. In fact, my route passes through all four national parks (NPs) in the Czech Republic, as well as one in Poland, one in Germany and one in Austria. On top of that, it takes in numerous official "protected landscape areas" (PLAs) and all sorts of nature reserves.

The catchily named Agency for Nature Conservation and Landscape Protection of the Czech Republic has this handy interactive map with links to all the Czech NPs and PLAs:

Wednesday 25 November 2009

How and when

No rules, no timetable, no agenda.

Kind of.

Originally I was going to set myself a rule not to stray more than x miles from the Czech border. But having studied the route in more detail, I've decided that's neither practical nor desirable. So, the frontier will generally define my route, but I'll venture further "inland" or "outland" when the terrain demands it, or just as the mood takes me.

As I wrote in my last post, I can't afford to do the trip all in one go. So, I've broken it down into seven stages, as listed in the left-hand column. My Lap Chart is now festively festooned in coloured balloons indicating where the stages start and finish. Each start/end point is easily reached by train from Prague.

Each stage is around 150-200 miles long and should take me a long weekend to complete. I expect to do three stages a year. That means starting in spring 2010 and finishing in spring 2012.


Over the next few weeks I'll be describing each stage in more detail. All I'll say for now is that the official start point is the Silesian town of Bohumín (the green balloon on the map). I'll then head west, travelling anti-clockwise around the country until I eventually hit Bohumín again.

As for my agenda, I'm not seeking sponsorship and I'm not trying to convince people to go green. I'm just going on a bike ride.

A bloody long bike ride.

Friday 20 November 2009

But first... Why?

A pointless exercise? Well maybe, but...

Each year I set myself some cycling "tasks" for the coming season. Past examples have included Prague-Vienna, Prague-Munich and Prague-Berlin. Planning and executing such adventures gives me something to work towards. It gives me an outlet for my escapist tendencies. And it gives some structure to my cycling year. In short, it makes me happy.

Each "task" has to meet three criteria: it should be challenging, yet manageable and enjoyable.

The Czech perimeter meets all three.

It's challenging partly because it's a long way (well over 1,000 miles according to my back-of-the-envelope calculations) and partly because of the terrain. Take a look at the terrain view of my Lap Chart at the top of the blog. You'll see that the Czech Republic rises, bowl-like, at the edges. Its border is demarcated largely by upland areas. That means hills. Big hills.

It's manageable because it's close to home (Prague) and can be tailored to fit my everyday life. I can't afford to disappear for weeks at a time, so I'll be tackling the route in stages as and when time allows. Even the furthest point from my home takes just a few hours to reach by train.

And I've no doubt it will be fun. First off, I'll be cycling, and I love cycling. Second, I'll be travelling mostly through national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty. The route contains some of the best cycling this country has to offer. And third, there'll also be opportunities to explore less familar territory as I weave in and out of the four countries neighbouring the Czech Republic - Slovakia, Poland, Germany and Austria.

But more on the route and logistics in future posts...

Wednesday 18 November 2009


It's 1980 and I'm at school in the UK. Once a week, we have to do a cross-country run. And more often than not it involves "Two laps of the perimeter today, lads". Off we all go, trying to finish two circuits of the school grounds and get showered and dressed before the bell goes for the next lesson.

Fast-forward 30 years. Now a bit of a cycling nut, I'm living in the Czech capital, Prague, working as a translator, and looking for a new challenge for 2010 and beyond. For some time now, I've been thinking of cycling around the perimeter of the Czech Republic.

Not two laps, as that would be silly. Just one.

But how and when?