Friday 30 July 2010

Stage 2 slideshow

I've posted the photos of the latest leg of my trip around the Czech border in a slideshow at the bottom of the left-hand column of the blog. Click on the image to see the full-sized version complete with a commentary. Enjoy!

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Stage 2 completed!

I'm on the train home from Decin (pictured above) having completed stage 2 of my spin around CZ. I underestimated the distance today by at least 25 km. As a result I had to race like Alberto Contador through the Bohemian Switzerland National Park to avoid missing my train. Oh well, I should have more time to explore Decin when I return to start stage 3 later this year.

Monday 26 July 2010

So gorgeous it gives me goose bumps

The photo, shot this morning, shows the Izera River on the breathtakingly beautiful plateau of the same name. It's been a day of enormous contrasts, from chilly mountains down to warm sunny lowlands. I've been in and out of CZ and Poland several times, and I've ended the day in Zittau, Germany, after visiting the point where all three countries meet. I've covered a whopping 119 km today, so if you don't mind I'll sign off now and... zzzzzzz

Sunday 25 July 2010

All shook up - by Polish bike trails

I tried to take a nice photo of Szklarska Poreba, the Polish mountain resort where I'm spending the night, but frankly it's not very photogenic. Too many tacky tourist shops and pizza/kebab joints for my taste. At least you can see my hotel, which is classy enough. Today was tough. The steepest section of the trail over the mountains had been washed away by a recent flash flood and I had to push the bike uphill over fallen trees and rocks. Even the flatter sections were boneshakingly bumpy. Still, it's nothing that a plate of pierogi won't put right.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Circuit Rider and the blustery day

Pictured is the oldest wooden church in the Czech Republic. It's to be found in the town of Broumov, where I had lunch today. I managed to avoid getting seriously wet today, but it's been overcast and very windy. I'm now in Trutnov, where I'm staying in, of all places, an Irish B&B. Coming right up: one pint of Guinness and a plate of fish'n'chips. Cheers!

Friday 23 July 2010

Clouds over Nachod

I'm sitting enjoying a beer in Hotel Bonato on the outskirts of Nachod after an uneventful train ride up from Prague. So far it's quite a contrast from stage 1 of my trip - the hotel is busy and bustling, not empty, and the weather is hot and humid rather than cold and wet. The same old hard pedalling, however, awaits me tomorrow. And those clouds are looking ominous...

Thursday 22 July 2010

Why does it always rain on me?

It’s enough to make a grown man cry. I’m about to set off on another cycling trip - stage 2 of my jaunt around the Czech Republic - and yet again the forecast is for rainy and unseasonably cold weather.

The temperature touched 34 degrees in Prague today; on Saturday I’ll be lucky if it gets above 18 degrees in the Náchod area. On top of that I can expect a stiff headwind. I’m feeling demoralised and I haven’t even started yet.

Clearly my incantations to the Slavic weather gods were all in vain.

Not to worry. It’s not going to be as cold and wet as it was in Silesia in May or in the Alps in June, so I know I’ll cope. And Monday and Tuesday are looking brighter. Besides, I’m committed now. I’ve booked accommodation for all four overnight stops, and I’ve even reserved a space for my bike on the outward train.

Tomorrow I ride.

Monday 19 July 2010

Stage 2 looms

The Tour de France might be up to its 15th stage already, but I start stage 2 of my trip around the Czech Republic this weekend.

View Stage 2 in a larger map

I’ll take the train up to Starkoč on Friday evening to take up where I left off, and then ride to Náchod, where I’ll spend the night. Over the following four days I’ll be cycling very approximately west, in and out of the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, until I reach the town of Děčín on the Elbe on Tuesday evening. From there I plan to catch the train back to Prague. You can read about my planned route here.

As on the previous stage I’ll be reporting on my progress from my mobile phone. When I get back I’ll write an in-depth account of the whole stage day by day. The main difference this time is that I’ll be on my mountain bike rather than my road machine, because this stage contains quite a lot of off-road trails and has some pretty steep hills to boot.

I’ll be travelling through some touristy areas at the height of the summer season, so the next step is to book some accommodation in the towns I plan to stay in en route: Náchod, Trutnov, Szklarska Poręba (Poland) and Zittau (Germany).

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Boiling weather (and weathering boils)

This post began life as a straightforward - and probably rather dull - account of my recent ride up Mount Ještěd. Now, however, it’s going to be a torrid tale of my battle to cope with the extreme heat that day. What on earth possessed me to cycle up a mountain on the hottest 10 July on record?

The hyperboloid hotel, restaurant and TV tower atop Ještěd

But first a few words about Ještěd and my love affair with it. Ještěd is an elegant 1,012 metre peak just to the southwest of the North Bohemian city of Liberec. It is crowned by Ještěd Tower, a wonderfully wacky futuristic building described by my fellow Czech-based blogger Captain Oddsocks as “a giant Tin-man’s hat on a huge earthen head”. I’ve ridden up this hill at least once a year for at least the last six years, so it’s become an annual cycling pilgrimage for me. I’ve climbed it from various different directions, at various times of the year and in all sorts of weather, but never before on a day as hot as this.

The Elbe River at Brandýs nad Labem

This year, inspired by the Tour de France, I decided to give my road bike an outing and cycle there direct from my home in Prague. It’s a trip of about 125 km (77 miles) in all, not including the train ride home from Liberec in the evening. I’m not daft enough to embark on a jaunt like this without checking the weather forecast first, so I knew it was going to be warm. But really, how bad could it be?

I should point out here that I am not a hot weather person. My body can’t stand the heat, and my skin can’t stand the sun. I’m under strict instructions from my dermatologist to slap on the factor 50 on days like this. She’s already excised one iffy freckle from my right thigh, and I don’t want to add to her workload any further, so I set off early that morning dutifully greased up in sun cream, feeling more like a cross-channel swimmer than a leisure cyclist. On the outskirts of Prague I spotted a thermometer already reading 25 degrees C.

12th century Romanesque church in Mohelnice nad Jizerou

I was fine for most of the morning. The roads are mostly flat for the first 100 km, and I was cycling well within my comfort zone. But as the day progressed I began to develop a throbbing headache, a sure sign that my brain was starting to overheat. Despite drinking lots of fluids I was getting dehydrated. Things were starting to go awry.

The sun cream doesn’t help. Yes, it blocks the incoming UV rays, but it also clogs up the sweat glands. And that, of course, means the body can’t cool itself effectively. So, while I might not have been frying on the outside, I was certainly steaming on the inside.

Then there’s the flies (readers of a delicate disposition may wish to stop here). Evolution is a wonderful thing, but nature has yet to come up with a better way of catching flies than a pair of hairy legs coated in sticky sun lotion. Worse still, if I’m out in the sun all day I have to reapply the cream at regular intervals, and that means smearing all the hapless accumulated insects into my skin along with it. That’s exactly what I had to do after stopping for lunch just north of Mladá Boleslav (where they make Skoda cars). Cue nausea to go with that headache.

Maybe I should shave my legs. I’m sure there’d be less insect entrapment if I did. But where do you stop shaving? At the point where your thighs disappear into your shorts? At the top of your legs? Or do you continue into the undergrowth higher up? I’ve no idea. It’s a major gap in my cycling knowledge. Maybe someone out there can enlighten me.

Ještěd looming on the skyline

The climb proper starts in the little town of Český Dub (“Czech Oak”). After ramping up to the village of Světlá pod Ještěd the road flattens out for a while before entering a forest and twisting upwards to Tetřeví sedlo (“Capercaillie Gap”). Here you turn right off the main road and start the last, most difficult section. The views of Liberec below and the Jizera Mountains on the other side are breathtaking (that is, if you have any breath left to take). As the road rises above the tree line and corkscrews steeply around the mountain’s conical peak up to the summit station, you can almost fool yourself that you’re on one of the classic Tour-de-France ascents.

Nearly there

As I rounded the final bend, what little breeze there was dropped to nothing. The afternoon air was so hot, thick and heavy it was hard to inhale. On reaching the top I sat down in the shade of a rock and didn’t move for at least 15 minutes. After exploring the summit area and admiring the views of Bohemia, Germany and Poland I got back on the bike and descended carefully to Liberec railway station. Today, however, even the descent didn’t cool me down significantly. On the sweltering train home I read that the temperature in Liberec had reached 32.1 degrees C (almost 90 degrees F), beating the previous record of 31.5 measured in 1959. In Prague it broke through 35 degrees.

Summit scene

Liberec and the Jizera Mountains

Plaque on the ground at the summit

I awoke the next morning from uneasy dreams (as Kafka might have said) to find that a boil had erupted into pustulent life on a certain part of my anatomy, no doubt as a result of the heat. You could call it a sting in the tail.

Where was my boil? This well-rubbed statue might give you a clue

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Cycling the Via Claudia Augusta - with bronchitis

It is surely the dream of every cyclist to ride downhill uninterrupted the whole day long. Well, it’s a dream that came true for me on my recent trip from Munich to Venice.