Wednesday 10 August 2011

(Not) going to extremes

Stage 5, day 4 (Sunday, 5 June 2011)
Vyšší Brod to Horní Dvořiště (26 km)

I am - you might say - extremely inefficient. Last year I failed to visit the northernmost extreme of the Czech Republic because I was in danger of missing my train back to Prague that evening. And in April this year I got within a few hundred yards of the westernmost point before the path disappeared into an uncyclable bog and I threw in the towel. Today I’m standing on the Czech-Austrian border looking up a sign that reads “Most southerly point of the Czech Republic 300 metres” and I already know this is as near as I’m going to get. The muddy path ahead is so overgrown with nettles it’s barely visible. I’m wearing shorts and I’m not carrying a machete, so it’s effectively impassable. And do you know what? I don’t really care. First, it’s a near miss, as the actual southernmost point is only a few yards south of where I am now. Second, there’s nothing to see there apart from more nettles. And third, whatever this circuit ride is about, it’s not about ticking off places on a list. Mind you, I'll be disappointed if I don't make the easternmost point while cycling Stage 7 later this year.

The Cistercian monastery in Vyšší Brod

I was woken up early by the sun shining through my small square attic window and by a chorus of coughing from the rooms on either side of mine. Clearly I wasn’t alone at Penzion U Candrů that night. After a breakfast of greasy sausages I packed and set off on the short final section of Stage 5.

Lipno II

I started by taking a quick tour of Vyšší Brod and its environs, stopping first at its impressive Gothic monastery (one of the largest in the Czech Republic) and then at Lipno II (a smaller body of water just below the main Lipno reservoir), before heading back into the town centre and out the other side along the main road south.

The monastery again, as seen from a bridge over the Vltava

A long, steady climb brought me to the border crossing with Austria. It was here, at 2.40 am on 22 September 1938, that the Czechoslovak checkpoint came under attack by German invaders. The border guards retreated to the nearby woods but managed to retake the building at daybreak. The next morning, however, they were forced back again, this time for good. The spot is marked by a memorial to all the border guards who fought in vain for a democratic Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Monument to Czechoslovak border guards

I entered Austria and continued uphill along the main road for a while before turning left onto a steep path running steeply downhill through a field back to the frontier at Radvanov. The border crossing here is reserved for cyclists and pedestrians, and the trail on the Czech side has recently been upgraded with the aid of EU money. This was where I wimped out of visiting the most southerly point of the Czech Republic.

The Czech-Austrian frontier at Radvanov...

...where the invisible path to the southernmost point begins

From here on in I was cycling mostly off road. In places the trail was so rough and steep I had to get off and push. I passed by the locations of at least two former ethnic German villages whose residents - like so many others - had been expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. After about 10 km I rounded a corner and the official endpoint of Stage 5 of my circuit ride - the small town of Horní Dvořiště - suddenly came into view. As I rested my camera on the top of a post to take a photo of the bucolic scene, I got an electric shock from a cow fence.

Horní Dvořiště as photographed from an electric fence

Me reflecting on an unforgettable journey through Šumava

I took a few more photos on the town square, then - seeing as I had half an hour to kill before catching my train home - I took a seat at a table outside the village pub. The waiter brought me probably the biggest bowl of ice cream I’ve ever seen. That, coupled with the beer I washed it down with, left me feeling like I’d swallowed a fully inflated football. The final mile of my journey - to the railway station - was not a comfortable experience.

Beer and ice cream: an explosive mix

Horní Dvořiště railway station: end of Stage 5

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