Thursday, 10 August 2017

Cycle friendliness ranking

List of countries travelled this time based on cycle-friendliness:
  1. Austria (as I travelled only on the Danube Way)
    1. rarely have to meet vehicular traffic
    2. water taps at some spots
    3. wide, well maintained cycle paths
  2. Germany
    1. trunk roads see little traffic
    2. drivers patient with cyclists
    3. many cycle paths
    4. no public water taps!
  3. Serbia
    1. some cities have good infrastructure (Novi Sad, Sombor)
    2. drivers are patient with cyclists
    3. water taps everywhere
    4. east Serbia has narrow winding roads, multiple tunnels and some large freight trucks
  4. Slovakia
    1. Bratislava has some good infrastructure, but some roads are dangerous for cyclists
  5. Czech Republic 
    1. must take circuitous routes to avoid the highways
    2. general roads through villages not well maintained/ cobblestones
  6. Bulgaria 
    1. water taps everywhere
    2. allowed to cycle on major roads (including highways)
  7. Hungary 
    1. many roads prohibit cyclists without prior warning ie difficult to avoid
    2. Danube Way is sometimes just a dirt road or very difficult to follow as it zigzags through villages
    3. water taps everywhere

Berlin, my long lost friend

I had planned to break up the ride back to Berlin into two days, but an impending rain-filled night changes my mind. I decide to ride the full 200km. Even if I am riding into the night, I will sleep in my own bed tonight.
It turns out that the wind is favorable and I depart all hilly terrain on my exit of Dresden. With a steady pace, I reach Berlin as the sun is setting. It wasn't really that much of an effort after all - must have developed those "biker legs" over the past two months.

Dresden

Taking two days to reach Dresden, due to a very late start from Prague, I welcome the improvement in the cycle lanes as I enter Germany once again. As a result, there is a large increase in the bike trekkers, with even queues forming at times. The Danube Way is a spectacular ride toward Dresden, with castles and sweet villages lining up on riverside precipices.
I use WarmShowers (WS) in a last ditch attempt to find somewhere comfortable and central to spend my night(s) in Dresden. The WS community is there for me and Tobias says that although he won't be in town, he is prepared to leave his keys with his neighbour, so that I can let myself in.
As it turns out, he recognises me on the Danube Way and, after a quick chat, we continue our opposite courses with a longer introduction set aside for tomorrow. Yet another example of how a trust-based system is a great way to meet people and increase one's faith in the goodness of one's fellow man.
Basically it all means that I am home alone for the evening. After a quick stop at the shops (supermarkets are closed on Sundays in Germany), I enjoy the comforts of a large apartment with full TV privileges.
Dresden is a beautiful city, with many restored buildings in the old part. I spend the next chilling out in the old town: nothing specific, just watching the world go by.
Tobias arrives later and I prepare some dinner. He tells me of his previous night spent in a cave in the Tschesches Schweiz (Czech Switzerland) mountains and we talk bikes and life until late into the evening.







Friday, 4 August 2017

Prague

With no accommodation planned in Prague, my thought is to go through the city and sleep wild in the nearest woods. Once again, CouchSurfing saves me from this foolhardy plan - there are no forests within approximately 40km of Prague.
Steve (UK) and Gabriella (Brazil) offer their second apartment for my personal use. They have only lived here two weeks and although new to CouchSurfing, they trust me to respect their apartment.  Feeling tired from the previous night's wild camping and the holy terrain of Czech's midlands, I stay up late enjoying the comforts of WiFi and four walls.

Chrast, an unexpected highlight



It rains all day as I struggle to climb out of Brno and toward Prague. Thanks to my GPS (maps.me & mapy.cz), I know the challenge that awaits me. Approximately 3000m cumulative elevation over 260km.
In spite of sugary waffles to raise my energy levels and my mood, I manage only 110km today. The roads are uneven, the climbs steep through innumerable small villages with unpronounceable names. The constant rain adds to my deflated mood.
As I pass through the last town before looking for somewhere to wild camp for the night, a driver in a truck stops me and tries to ask me where I will stay for the night. Thankfully, he rings up his wife who proceeds to invite me back home to stay the night. Throwing the bike onto the back of the truck, I am stuck by how alruistic people are.
It turns out that Petr is crazy about bikes and with help from his wife, Nicole and Google translate, I learn all about his crazy bicycle adventures. In 2015 he competed in a bicycle race that was 720km long, with 19000m elevation, through muddy trails in Czech and Poland. Respect!
Their three year old daughter Johanna (Johanka) is gregarious and bemused at my not being able to speak Czech, like normal people.
I enjoy their company and generosity so much that I stay an extra night, my only role to sometimes keep an eye on Johanka.

Brno

With a packed lunch, courtesy of my foster mother (I'm sure she has hundreds of foster kids), I set off for Brno. It's the second largest city in the Czech Republic and I remember it as a less pretty, but gentler vibe, than Prague.
Yet again, I am relying on the last minute search on Couchsurfing and BeWelcome to come to my rescue and yet again, it does not disappoint. Lenka is my heroine this time and she lives on the outskirts of town. This means hills, lots of hills, to climb. We head out on the town and a quick tour of the city and night.
Next day I explore the city alone, taking in the parks (slackliners abound), la bouchele (an urban garden) and an artist neighborhood. It's difficult and confusing to get around this city, as there are numerous trails through parks and steep inclines everywhere.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Moravska Nova Ves, Czech wine country

I meander my way out of Bratislava without Rodrigo following the Moreva river north. It is beautiful following the cycle paths and disused railway lines. I take my time as I have no host for the evening.
On checking my emails, Michal (Warm Showers) tells me that his parents would gladly host me if I go to their house in a wine region in the Czech Republic. As it all last minute, I arrive at the address not knowing if they know of my arrival. I ring the bell and as soon as Maria (Michal's mother) sees the bike, she welcomes me into her family home. It turns out that she has had no warning of my coming, but she and her husband are always taking in weary travellers.
A former English teacher, she tells me of her family and its history and gives me a tour of the huge garden. She makes sure that I am never hungry and keeps filling my plate, bowl or cup until I surrender.
Having only planned to stay one night, I succumb to the warmth of the hospitality and stay two nights, spending the next day cycling around the Moravian towns and vineyards, before returning 'home' to be promptly fed once again.
It truly is remarkable that such people with a meagre pension take time and effort to make strangers welcome. They trust implicitly in the goodness of their visitors and allow that breath of fresh air into their lives. They become enriched by the adventures and cultures from far away lands and have even accommodated five Canadians at the same time. To give and to expect nothing in return - actually living their Catholic beliefs.