After a few days of riding the dull flats of Austria, being up in the small mountains of southern Bohemia was rather lovely. There were forests and an abundance of deer too. It didn’t involve long climbs, but enough to keep the tedium away. The area I was riding through had plenty of small towns built on the rivers, reflecting beautifully. The area felt poorer than Austria, with houses looking more dilapidated and several towns where the market was little more than a guy standing in a car park with a collection of crates.
The highlight of the area was the UNECSO town of Český Krumlov, a small town with the historic centre built almost completely in the oxbow of a river. I was a rather big fan of the look of the tower of the castle, which you can walk around the outside of, but I skipped the guided tour.
In the evening, I was nervously looking for someone to speak to, and failing. I left the final town, tired, having resolved to wild camp when I saw a couple sat in front of their house, just outside of town, nattering. I pulled up to the gate, and was welcomed by their dog barking ferociously. The man, in his 50s, who I will call Pavel, had worked for years in Vienna so was able to understand my German enough to welcome me in and offer me a place where I could put my tent. It turned out that he and his wife lived in one house, while the neighbouring house was one that they rented out. I was shown inside the house, with a sauna, and told that I could stay there but it’d cost €10. I didn’t really need a bed that badly, so happily accepted to sleep outside.
By the time I had my bike organised and my sleeping mat down, Pavel was offering me a beer, and then asking me what I’d eaten. I told him about the bread, and he invited me over so his wife, who I’ll call Veronica, could feed me. The three of us sat down, and chatted while I ate soup and drank beer. When the conversation slowed down, I got my laptop to show pictures. This turned out to be a great move, cos they had Wi-Fi. Google Translate was pulled out, and so the evening was spent with my laptop asking them ridiculous questions in Czech that Pavel answered in German.
My second day in the Czech Republic saw me visiting two more UESCO cities, Telč and Třebíč. Telč had a stunning main square, that seemed to last forever. Třebíč on the other hand was apparently on the UNESCO list for it’s Jewish ghetto that you can read about in the pictures. Maybe because I arrived a little late, but the ghetto wasn’t so interesting to walk around and seemed to be composed primarily of two streets of mainly battered up housing. If I’d been there earlier, and had a guide to explain it might have meant something more, but as it was I wasn’t too impressed.
The evening involved another nervous attempt to find a place to stay, even after the resounding success of the night before. I took my route intentionally through some small villages in the hope that I’d meet people, but most people were hidden away as the sun had set. The few that I did meet were in a bar busily watching the Czech Republic lose 2-1 to Iceland. I walked in to get some water, which in South America always got questions and offers of beer. In the Czech Republic those drinking didn’t even acknowledge my presence and I ended up walking behind the bar to get my own water.
I finally found one lady, who was outside her house which had a magnificently large garden. I explained my situation and she helpfully mentioned the presence of a nearby campsite and told me how to get there. I think it might have been free, but it didn’t really appeal for some reason so I kept going. I’d almost decided to camp in the woods, when I went past two houses by themselves and one of them had lights on. As they were outside of the village there was an enormous amount of greenery around, and so I decided to go and try my hand.
Arriving at the gate, I rung my bell and said hello. Two young kids, who I would learn were called Natali and Tomas, said something and told me that no, they didn’t speak German, or English. Bugger. A bit of miming later, they went off to get Natali’s mum Gabi, who it turned out also didn’t speak German or English. With a bit of gesturing, I finally got my point across that I was hoping to put my tent up on that big bit of green to the side of their house. They nodded and said Yes Yes OK! before going back inside.
While the tent was going up, Natali and Tomas came out and asked, in English, if they could help me put the tent up. I accepted, and the 5-minute job of putting my tent up took 15 minutes instead as I got to point at things asking them to do it, then correct them, then have them try again, and correct them again, and finally just do it myself. But they were having fun so that was all that mattered, right? Adam, a 15-year-old who was there, came out to ask me if I wanted a coffee, which I of course accepted. Why not was one of the few things I learnt in Czech (proč ne?). He then disappeared and came back about 5 minutes later to tell me that everything was ready and to invite me in.
It turned out that while I was teaching Natali & Tomas with great futility how to put my tent up, the ladies of the house were making me a coffee and getting me some food ready so on the table alongside my coffee was a plate of chocolate brownies and a bowl of pasta salad. The house was owned by Natali’s grandmother, who I call Granny1. There was also Granny2, and Gabi (Natali’s mum). Adam was Natali’s cousin, and the grandson of Granny2. Tomas was the neighbour from a house about 500m down the road that apparently had a swimming pool. It turned out that while neither Granny1 nor Granny2 spoke any German, Natali’s favourite subject in school was English and Adam kinda liked it too.
The night flew by, with Natali getting to translate every question, with some help from Adam. Adam would sometimes disappear for a few minutes, at first I thought he was getting bored, but then he would come outside with an almost perfectly-crafted question of the type that only Google Translate can spit out. Usually when there are men around, these situations descend into drinkathons. That was especially my experience in Korea. I was quite happy sipping my coffee, hoping it wasn’t very caffeinated. That’s when the bottle of wine came out and we all had a glass. Then my glass and Gabi’s got refilled with Granny1 & 2 being far too smart for that. Then the first type of liquor came out. Two small glassed were poured and then two large ones. A second type of liquor shortly followed, with Granny1 & Granny2 showing their experience by not taking a sip of it. With age comes wisdom, and the ability to force younger people to do things that you know is foolish. Whenever I’d finish a glass, it would be quickly refilled, but I wasn’t going down alone so I made sure that Gabi’s glass was getting topped up too. This continued until past midnight, having turned up not long after 9pm. I retired when my translators went to bed and the night would have been even more alcohol-centric having been told that breakfast was at 9am.
I was up around 7:30 with a stonking headache, the downside to camping in countries where the sun comes up at 5am is that by 7am your tent is starting to represent an oven unless you smartly position your tent to be in the shade. It did give me time to drink lots of water and slowly take my tent down, so that was a benefit. At 8:50a, the kids turned up and invited me in to eat my breakfast which was on the table. It was just me eating. The kids had already eaten, the Grannies weren’t hungry and Gabi was in bed with a worse headache than me. After I finished, I was taken to pick cherries in the nearby trees, food for my trip ahead, and then it was quick goodbyes and off cycling on my way to Brno.
Brno is the second largest city of the Czech Republic, and I had a Warmshowers host lined up. I’d been in touch with Martin, another host, but he was out of town the day I was arriving. That didn’t stop him being amazing by designing my route for me and sending me a GPX file and a list of things to do. If you’re ever going to the Czech Republic on a bike, Martin is the guy to contact. Dropping down to Brno meant I was out of the hills and in a big plain, and the heat ramped up accordingly. The Wikipedia page has a quite good montage of the sites to see.
Overall I was very happy with my diversion to the Czech Republic. It was a country that I knew little about before, and would definitely go back to in the future. There’s a lot to it outside of Prague, and because of history and its position German gets you quite a long way if you can’t get your head around Czech.