Saturday 15 October 2011

Tripoint number three

Stage 6, day 2 (Sunday, 25 September 2011)
Nové Hrady to Slavonice (99 km)

The tripoint stone is tucked away behind some bushes behind a tourist information board. I tread carefully towards it, as the ground is littered with white tissues, a sure sign that it is used as an open-air toilet by people out walking in the forest. It is here that the historical border between Bohemia and Moravia meets the Austrian frontier. Each of the three sides of the base of the stone has a letter carved in it: Č for Čechy (Bohemia), M for Morava (Moravia) and Ö for Österreich (Austria). This is the third tripoint I’ve visited on my lap of the Czech Republic, the first two having been Poland-Germany-CZ and Saxony-Bavaria-CZ. Unfortunately, the German-Austrian-CZ one, high up in the Šumava mountains, is off-limits to cyclists, so I had to bypass it. As of today, I have two more to go: Slovakia-Austria-CZ and Slovakia-Poland-CZ, both of which lie on the final stage of my circuit ride.

The tripoint of Bohemia (Č), Moravia (M) and Austria (Ö)

It was cold in the shade down by the River Stropnice as I set off from the guesthouse in the morning, but surprisingly hot in the sunshine up on Nové Hrady town square just a few minutes later. I peeled off my outer layer of clothing and took a quick look round the town’s gleaming Gothic Old Castle before setting off on my day's ride.

The Old Castle in Nové Hrady

I followed the road east out of Nové Hrady for about a mile and turned left at the border post onto a damp and sticky forest trail running parallel to the frontier with Austria. On the approach to the tiny village of Vyšné I helpfully gave directions to a group of walkers and then immediately, and slightly embarrassingly, took a wrong turn myself. After a bit of messing around I did a detour along a road and rejoined the cycle trail further on. This section consisted of a long succession of oblong concrete slabs lying lopsided on the ground - a good enough surface, I imagine, for the armoured vehicles that used to patrol the frontier here, but a bumpy ride for a cyclist.

Former Iron Curtain patrol road made out of concrete panels

By late morning I reached České Velenice, a town which did not come into being until after World War I, when Gmünd in Lower Austria was divided into two and its northern part was ceded to the newly formed Czechoslovakia. Gmünd lost its main railway station but retained the town centre and cemetery. The Czechs, however, continued to bury their dead in Gmünd until a new cemetery was opened in České Velenice in 1922.

Cemetery in České Velenice

The Czechoslovak cemetery was built right on the border and became part of the Iron Curtain when the Communists came to power in 1948. After several people escaped through it to the West, the authorities increased the height of the rear wall and installed fences, barbed wire and watchtowers. Anyone wishing to visit the cemetery had to pass through a checkpoint. These measures stayed in place until the fall of communism in 1989.

Mass grave of 512 Hungarian Jews in České Velenice

Just after World War II the remains of 512 Hungarian Jews were found in a mass grave next to the cemetery in České Velenice. They had been part of a group of around 1,000 deported to Gmünd by the Nazis in autumn 1944 to work as slave labourers, and had fallen victim to cold, hunger and exhaustion. A small, sombre monument marks the spot.

The narrow-gauge railway in Gmünd

I crossed a footbridge into Austria and rode into Gmünd on a cycle path running alongside the town’s narrow-gauge railway. A man in his sixties approached me as I was taking photos on the central square and asked where I was heading. He said he’d cycled 300,000 km in his lifetime and as recently as three years ago had been cycling 100 km a day on tour in the Loire region of France. Now, he told me ruefully, he could no longer cycle as he had severe problems with his teeth. I made a mental note to visit the dentist when I got back to Prague.

Gmünd town square

I travelled north out of Gmünd and re-entered the Czech Republic at Neu-Nagelberg. For about an hour I rode along a practically deserted forest road. At the holiday resort of Chlum u Třeboně, I stopped for lunch at a busy restaurant overlooking the town’s 16th century fish lake. My trout with almonds took a long time to arrive, but was worth the wait.

The lake at Chlum u Třeboně

It was so warm outside after lunch that I stripped down to my summer cycling gear. I rode north along the shoreline of the lake and back into the forest. This section of trail ended at a T-junction with the Prague-Vienna Greenways cycle path. I’d cycled the entire length of this popular long-distance route with my friend Ryan back in 2004, but I had little recollection of this part of it.

Re-joining the Prague-Vienna Greenways route, seven years on

By a small lake at Peršlák I found a sign pointing towards the northernmost point of Austria. As I set off down the sandy path a couple flagged me down and the woman asked whether I had “pití” (something to drink). At least, that’s what I thought she said. When I offered her my water bottle, she corrected me: not pití, but pytlík (a bag). She showed me a handful of freshly picked wild mushrooms and explained that they had nothing to carry them in. I found her a spare carrier bag and she gratefully tipped her crop of fungi into it.

The northernmost point of Austria

After resting for a while on the bank of a babbling brook opposite Austria’s most northerly point, I rejoined the border trail down to Nová Bystřice. I would have stopped there for a coffee, but all the seats outside the town’s one open cafe were taken, so I kept going. This was possibly a mistake, as my legs stopped cooperating on the next uphill section and I had to take a break anyway.

Nová Bystřice

I crested the hill and descended past a (disappointingly empty) bison enclosure to Staré Město, another place which looked strangely unfamiliar from my 2004 Prague-Vienna Greenways trip. Due to roadworks, I had to take a diversion through the backstreets of the town before hitting the final climb of the day. My increasingly heavy legs forced me to stop for a rest a further two times, but a weird-tasting malty energy bar I’d picked up the previous week in a health food shop gave me enough extra calories to reach the tripoint at the top.

The Bohemia-Moravia-Austria tripoint stone

From the tripoint it was downhill practically all the way to Slavonice, where I’d booked accommodation for the night. Slavonice’s development was arrested in the mid-18th century, when the Vienna-Prague postal route was re-routed away from the town. This meant that its beautiful late Gothic and Renaissance square was spared the ravages of the industrial age. The place became even more of a backwater after World War II, when the German population was expelled and the Iron Curtain came down just to the south. Since 1989, however, its fortunes have revived. It has become a popular tourist destination and a home for artists and craftsmen.

Slavonice in the evening light

I stashed my bike in the hotel’s ancient cellar, cleaned myself up and went down to dinner. The goulash I had was okay, but the beer I washed it down with was distinctly musty. I took this as further proof - if any were needed - that I’d left Bohemia (beer country) and entered South Moravia (the Czech Republic’s main wine-making region). After dinner I stepped out onto the town square. It was chilly outside, and there was no one else about. The only other pub open was even emptier than the hotel restaurant. Evidently Sunday night is not party night in Slavonice. Feeling cold and just a little bit lonely, I decided to turn in for the night.


Bike Rider said...

Great blog...great story ...great adventure you have done...
Like it..^_^

Circuit Rider CZ said...

Thanks! Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I've been overwhelmed with work and other stuff in the past couple of months, but I intend to return, re-energised and refocused, in the new year.

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