The Czech Republic, with some more Germany and introducing Austria
Updated: Sep 21, 2018
Tuesday, 29th May 2018
Tri Point Border to Cheb, 36 miles
The scene was as enticing as the evening before. I cooked breakfast, amazed at the peacefulness.
And then a couple pulled up in their car in Germany. I could see them through the trees approach. A man in his sixties and his wife on crutches. We chatted a while, he was from the south and was at this remote spot as his wife was up for a knee operation in Hof that morning.
I found this quite astonishing, as I’m sure you do, but the little round grey haired lady seemed quite happy fulfilling her husband’s dream of fitting in a trip to the Czech Republic before surgery.
There was a liberation along the border patrol path that I hadn’t experienced in Germany. The paths were not maintained and fields and forest were thick and unmanaged. At this point, and for a few miles, the Czech Republic is only a few hundred metres wide! And they had really bought into the Eurovelo13 signage. The signs were the only signs posted and, without having to refer to the guide too much, I made some headway that morning.
Without the security of another village in a couple of kilometres, there was a sense of wildness and when I did arrive at the town of Aš, to draw some currency, I was not prepared for the huge difference in culture, people, buildings and infrastructure. The contrast in every aspect was severe. Buildings were dilapidated, factories abandoned or on the verge of closing, pylons and electric cables ran from house to house and most people walked. Cars were old and hoardings advertised tax-free shopping centres. There were a lot of pedestrians and car-free streets too.
The heat, however, remained. It was close and hot and after withdrawing some money from the ATM I made it back onto the forest paths with bundles of cash that made me feel like a cycling desperado leaving a Mexican village after a hold up. The trees brought some coolness and I met a family who said ‘Savorce’ which wasn’t Czech for hello, more Bavarian as the lady pointed out.
Delighted with my new word, I continued to follow the signs and found myself back in Germany. Where the signs soon disappeared and I became lost and a little peeved that my Czech adventure had ended.
I hadn’t researched this part of the trip at all. Only that there were another ten countries to go through and I hadn’t expected to be thrown back, quite so soon into Germany. I had saddle bags of Czech Koruna to spend.
And this is where I discovered that there is a little bit of flexibility and country politics going on. My guide refers to the route as being a work in progress and that local variances may occur.
I had felt that the German signage had pulled me back into the country subtly yet deliberately and then disappeared. There was no correlation between the guide and where I had ended up, which was on a smooth road surrounded by maize fields.
I cycled to Cheb, back over the border, hot and bothered and using google maps.
I had managed to spend the whole of my time in Germany without using hotels and I decided to reward myself with an early afternoon and a stay in Cheb.
I ate like a king and shopped like a diva on the equivalent of ten pounds and made my way to a small pension which promised clean rooms and views of the cathedral all for £27. I was onto a winner.
On the outskirts of town, in the middle of a few acres of dereliction, hardcore and fly-tipped waste, was this amazing pension where the rooms were clean and modern and the young couple so accommodating. I had a great view of the city too, as well as a couple of hundred tonnes of rubble. I didn’t care, the landlady did my washing for £3 and for that she deserved a knighthood.
Wednesday, 30th May 2018 Cheb to Bärnau, 56 miles
Leaving Cheb was a little difficult as the guide, road map, and E13 app were in conflict. I began with the signs and soon switched back to the guide after the conflict became too much. Things became a little easier and I soon found myself approaching an old official border station.
Shops claiming to be tax free and Asian markets lined the road. I assume that once, before the Czech Republic joined the EU, German bargain hunters would turn these border towns into bustling hubs. Now all that remains are dilapidated and abandoned buildings. At the roadside Asian men and women sell cheap non perishable imports to nobody, not even a cycling tourist from England in desperate need of a plywood birdhouse.
Back in Germany, officially, the guide takes me along the border over hills and across fields and through more identical villages.
I’m not lost but trying to be a purist about the route is very difficult. It is frustrating to use the app because the signals dip in and out between countries and after a mega climb in clammy heat that makes for good thunderstorms I arrive at a tall tower with a glass, hexagonal, observation platform. I assume it’s another border tower and make the detour to have a look.
The building is about twice the height of a normal GDR tower. It’s also of a different construction being made from a steel frame. The small complex is surrounded by a wooded fence and the gate is locked shut. A beat up olive Mercedes saloon is parked up at the side and there is another gate, open, which I enter.
I’m greeted by a man in his sixties, his hair is shoulder length, greasy and thinning and he is wearing a black metal rock t shirt and worn black jeans.
He has a nervous tick and his neck twitches and I ask if he can get me a coke. My clothes are saturated with sweat and I must look red in the face after the climb. He says that he’s closed but he’ll see what he can do.
He brings out a cold glass bottle of coke and takes the opportunity to join me with an mid morning lager at a picnic bench.
He use to work at the German embassy in London where he ate “loads of fish and chips and drank a lot of beer, all the good stuff.” The tower wasn’t a border tower, “It was put up in the mid 1960s for the Germans who had been forced to quit Czechoslovakia to look back and reminisce about their homeland, and all the good stuff.”
The tower’s caretaker and I chatted away and he talked about working in the embassy in Washington when the Pentagon was attacked and how a friend of his had been in the basement of the Pentagon when all the good stuff happened and had survived.
It was nice to chat to someone with a strong command of English and he talked about his farm that he worked in Virginia with his wife for ten years. When I asked what he farmed he said that he grew herbs and all the good stuff.
He charged me 3 euros and I made my way into the ICT abyss and followed a forest road along the border path. The commemorative stone in the pictures below commemorates the murder of Hans Dick 18th September 1986 by Czech border troops on German territory.
In the afternoon the hot humid air gave way. When the storm broke it was torrential and I waited it out under some trees and when they became saturated I sought shelter at a nearby barn but by the time I had got there the rain had eased.
I headed off into the hills that took me as high as I had been on the journey. I was rewarded with magnificent views and a long downhill stretch after the plateau. The run down the hill became a race against time as another storm cloud approached. The rain changed the scenery in its path like an airbrush bringing a torrent of watercolour blur and I pedalled fast to find shelter, which I did under a bridge. When I came to park the bike I realised that I had lost my click stand. And then the rain hit and a car joined me under the bridge as the hail stones beat down.
I was very upset. The click stand is invaluable. It’s a collapsable pole that supports the bike when you want to nip into a shop or stand up the bike in a field. I had lost one in the snow in Norway and had my sister-in-law post another one out. I wasn’t going to be able to do that again and resolved to go back and find it, or at least try.
The man in the car hadn’t seen it on his way and so I began to scan the road for the previous ten or so miles when the storm had passed.
I was glad that I was doing this because there would have been a time where I wouldn’t have bothered but this was important to me.
It was important because I didn’t want to be disposable in my attitude and when I found the stand at the barn I had sought shelter at, I felt immense satisfaction that the tenacity had paid off.
For my efforts I was rewarded with a completely different view from the mountain tops too.
All of the clouds had disappeared and a bright evening sun warmed the cool wet meadows that I passed through a second time.
Thursday, 31st May 2018
Bärnau to Nemanice, 44 miles
The brook behind the tent gently stirred me from a deep sleep and I woke to a warm early morning sun and an empty meadow surrounded by fir trees. As I lay, deer ran by adding to the melee of morning chorus reminding me that this type of alarm had no snooze button.
Time to get going. Everything but the tent was packed. I ate my porridge with the sun on my back, forcing me to move to the shade of the side of the tent. The dew dried off as I ate and, when finished, me and Mrs F set off.
The forest track rose and climbed and within half an hour we had travelled just two miles but climbed to desolate cross country ski routes, winter huts and a cottage in the wood.
With a running spring fountain, no signage, and no one around. I filled up all my bottles with the ice cold, slightly brown, life giving water and continued up.
The track became a path and led to ‘Silver Hut’ - Silberhut, it was very tough to navigate, but even tougher to push, so I pedalled away in the lowest gear and went for it.
The day followed roads and tracks along the border, and it was hard going. The heat was oppressive and by two o’clock I was running on empty. Each pedal turn was a burden and looking at the odometer was disheartening.
Since giving up the Mentos I had been trying different food type combinations to keep the calories up and keep my teeth in.
I pulled into a Czech pub and had a coke and three Galipo type ice lollies, got brain freeze and back on the bike managed to ride another couple of miles before stopping. Not a working combo, obviously.
Attacked by a mob of biting insects, I made my tent up and ate the last of my nuts before the all night storm began.
Friday, 1st June 2018 Nemanice to Železaná Ruda, 55 miles
It was raining when I woke and I was on the bike early to get some miles done before it heated up. And they were straight forward, no getting lost, just long steady climbs and a German town with a supermarket.
I stocked up up on bananas and skyr - my new power combo - and headed over the next mountain in the last drops of rain from last night’s storm into a town called Furth im Wald.
From here with the cool weather and smooth roads and good directions it was a lot less frustrating than the other German / Czech Republic days.
I stopped in the town of Neukirchen at around two before the big hills and watched a wedding from outside a town hall.
For the rest of the day I climbed hills. It’s easy to do when the road is smooth and you know where you’re going. You just pedal.
Up into the hills and once more into the Czech Republic. I camped at a campsite just outside of town there was one other party, a couple of Czech teenagers, and as it was late I turned in.
Saturday, 2nd June 2018 Železaná to Haidmühle, 55 miles
When I woke there were a number of tents, cars and people sleeping next to their cars.
After talking to a couple about paying, it turned out to be a free site. Too good to be true....
Another great climb followed. I used to think people mad who would say things like ‘great climb’ but there is something about the continued focus and hard work with the reward of views, cool weather and the descent. It’s very satisfying.
Other road users included motorbike tourists and on this day vintage motorbikes and their owners were out. It was great to see all of these enthusiasts come out and ride in convoy with their engines roaring as they gathered in hill top towns.
I had a lunch at pension restaurant in the ski resort of Kvilda.
A gentle afternoon, mostly downhill, where the rain stayed ahead of me leaving a cool road surface whilst the sun gently warmed my back. And Mrs Fairweather continued to work her magic into the cool evening.
I stopped at a border village, at around eight. There was an open museum. It was an old disused railway carriage and hosted hundreds of black and white photos with titles in English and Czech. There was a donation box where all the good stuff went.
Sunday, 3rd June 2018
Haidmühle to Vyšší Brod, 54 miles
Sundays in Germany are quiet affairs and the morning passed peacefully along disused railway tracks and quiet roads.
I crossed the Austrian border mid-morning and stopped at the BP for an ice-cream. In the store a familiar smell hit my nostrils with a warm nostalgia. It reminded me of old days cleaning offices, and I looked at the floor to see if it was the floor tile. It wasn’t, dog ends and nicotine oil has a unique smell and it was abundant as it pervaded through a large rest area, a smoking room. It seemed alien to see people smoking and indoors.
Austrians, like German's see stalwart smoking as a final act of Hitler defiance. Hitler was a keen anti smoker.
Outside with my Magnum, a biker looked at my clickstand. I demonstrated its folding action and let him have a go. So glad I went back to collect it, just for the look of marvel in his eyes. I know you want one too.
Austria and Czech Republic got together and decided to make sure that Eurovelo13 took the cycling tourist to every town, pub and piece of barbed wire possible. I believe that compared with my guide that the route was twice as long but I resolved to follow the A Cz system to see what happened.
I got lost.
I wanted to see and ride along a logging canal but there was no google point of reference. The villages that I stopped at in my search were not only at the top of steep hills but were also saturated with signage. Described as an technical marvel of the 19th century the canal known as the Schwarzenburg flume moved Barvarian wood to Vienna. But could I find the fucker?
In the afternoon I made my way into a main town, off route, and sat in a park to dry out the tent, watch some football with some Syrian refugees and eat French fries.
The Czech Republic or the Czechoslovakian Republic as it was after the war only became Socialist in 1948. In the years between, its German inhabitants were expelled (All the good stuff tower) and in 1948 there was a Socialist uprising, a coup d’état, where bully boy communists extended the Soviet sphere of influence to the Austrian border. Austria skilfully managed to remain independent during this period and, like Finland, is not a member of NATO today.
A bit too late, the US was quite shocked at the results at the ballot box and began to flood border countries with money under the Marshall plan to keep communism at bay. They targeted war-torn regions, helping rebuild housing and industry and in turn making the red vote less appealing.
In the evening I was back in the Czech Republic, where I preferred to be and rode along a dammed river that cooled me before settling in a logging forest, by a disused paper factory, at the side of the road. A short commute in the morning for me.
Monday, 4th June 2018
Vyšší Brod to Česke Velenice, 62 miles
This was my favourite day along the Czech border by far. The scenery was beautiful, the people very engaging.
Sadly the signage threw me off course and back into Austria in the afternoon. It made me suspect that both countries also ran their own Eurovelo13 routes and although Austria is nice, every village has a fire station, and nice to cycle through, it is just that - nice.
Here are some pictures, some are nice.
In the evening I planned on camping in Cz and arrived late in the town of Česke Velenice. The contrast between the two countries is vast. It’s like walking from one side of a theme park - say ‘future world’ into ‘western world’.
In the twilight crossing a footbridge from Austria there was the swift return of empty dilapidated buildings, bars, clubs, tat shops and casinos and a casino with a hotel. And this is where I checked in for £25.
The man behind the counter was in his early thirties and nervous. Shaking. He told me he had been to England, Luton, and had a job as a manager in Newport Pagnell on £9,230 per annum, almost 50,000 here, good money. He helped me put the bike away and then proceeded to check me in. There were four sheets for me to sign and one to retain. And he shook as he talked of Czech corruption and his hate for the Polish and Ukrainians who were the most corrupt.
“Oh,” I said, casting an eye into the casino. It was near to empty, the all you could eat buffet consisted of a couple of rolls wrapped in cellophane. I went to my room and slept.
Tuesday, 5 June 2018 Česke Velenice to Nonndorf, 65 miles
Leaving the hotel early, I headed out to a rather flash looking supermarket in the Czech town. The day before I had picked up loads of supplies for a tenner but was drawn here by the happy family pictures and hoardings advertising fresh fruit. Inside, however, was shelves and shelves of knock off goods similar to that sold at every border town.
I crossed the border five times today and got lost twice.
To recap there are the following options to Eurovelo13’s navigation
* The 2010 Iron Curtain Trail part three (that clearly states the Eurovelo13 is a Work in Progress) * Local Country signage, that seem to work side by side but have their own ‘keep you and your tourist cash in our country’ agenda * The app, which sort of works on this section of the route but at times conflicts with the above * Other routes such as ‘R’ * The google maps route * I’m going via an ice cream shop (my route)
It was a great day though and I really like the safe rawness of the towns and people of Cz. My favourite was Slavonice and I wish I had more time but I didn’t and I cycled off into the vineyards, warm evening and a nice meadow in Austria behind a large orderly wood pile.
Wednesday, 6th June 2018 Nonndorf to Dyjákovice, 65 miles
It was a perfect day today and the pictures show what great adventures I had.
At 0830 the most curious of things happened in the town of Vratenin, just over the border from Austria. A Europop song came on over the town’s tannoys followed by a citizen announcement. It was quite bizarre and a post communist hang over.
My super selfies at the open air Czech border museum fail to realise the true horrors of the crossing where 394 people died between 1948 and 1989 and 654 border guards died. Only 10 through conflict the rest through electrocution, stepping on mines, accidents with guns or suicide.
Thursday, 7th June, 2018
Dyjákovice to Bratislava, 90 miles
I woke by a perfect lakeside setting, fish jump to catch the early morning fly and gulls dive to catch the early morning fish. The day has begun.
It was dry and although there was no sun, the breeze cutting across the lake meant no condensation on the tent.
I cooked porridge in an insect-free environment and enjoyed every fuel loading mouthful. It was going to be a winning day.
I was on the road by 8 and just before half past stopped under the speakers in a small village and waited with my go-pro to capture the morning’s announcement. It didn’t come.
At the town’s border with Austria I grabbed a selfie with something as equally bizarre as the tannoy system. A large Euro looking blue ball with yellow teeth was outside the store Laa Bomba. I’m not sure if a competitor in the discount trade had placed it there. It was a very clever method for deterring punters, me included.
I bid farewell to the Czech Republic and its quirkiness for the final time.
I had a lot of miles to cover if I was to make it to Bratislava and E13 route confusion could not be an influencing factor. I decided to stick to the guide and follow the inner curve of the border through Austria before crossing over the border into Slovakia.
The vineyards were now frequent and small villages were made up of houses with tasting rooms, popular even at ten in the morning.
By mid-afternoon I was at the border, stocking up on provisions for the rest of the day. I still had some forty miles to go, but they looked flat, following the River March along a defensive border of old barrack buildings and pill boxes.
And I worked the plan and everything was going well until I saw a ‘13’ signpost and followed it, only to do a three mile triangle that I didn’t quite understand for what purpose, ending back at the ‘13’.
Oh well, a little later I met a lady on the dyke with gypsy hair and a white flowing skirt we chatted and she talked about how beautiful Romania was and wished me well.
It was at this point that I realised that I was the happiest that I have ever been in my life that I was truly enjoying this trip and this moment.
With the sun setting behind me I passed through villages of folk of different generations sitting outside their homes, all with a jolly smile and wave. I liked Slovakia.
As dusk turned to night the cool breeze brushed over my arms and a storm lit up distant clouds and I entered Bratislava along traffic free roads, close to midnight, I checked into a city hotel.