Best Cycling Holiday of My Life: Czech Republic

Discussion in 'Road Cycling' started by Elisa Francesca Roselli, May 2, 2006.

  1. I got back on Wednesday, and am still reeling under the spell.

    You may remember I was looking for people to accompany me in these
    forums, because I was afraid of going alone and was hoping to avoid the
    usual “singles surcharge”. The tour was one called “Lost in Bohemia”,
    with the company First Light, from 20th to 26th April:

    Several things attracted me to this company. Firstly, the idea of van
    support. I am a weak cyclist, I go on holiday to enjoy myself and not
    to bust my ass, and I like the idea of being able to cycle as much or as
    little as I want, at my own speed, without having to inconvenience other
    people. (The solution is also ideal for cycling maniacs travelling with
    somewhat less maniac companions). You take to the road, and the van
    leap-frogs to the next main intersection or rendez-vous point. These are
    never more than a dozen or so km apart. So all along the route, you can
    decide whether you want to cycle or not. If you encounter a problem like
    a flat or a pocky stretch of road, you can find help promptly. The van
    also dispenses water, energy bars and other creature comforts of that ilk.

    Secondly, I am not in a situation that I can go off on a self-guided
    tour. There is no-one to come with me and it is too scary, and frankly
    too dangerous, to head out entirely alone in a foreign land where I do
    not speak the language, and where no-one would even notice that I’m
    missing if I ran into serious trouble. So I liked the idea of joining a
    group. First Light’s groups are small as a matter of policy, but in this
    case turned out subnormally small: owing to some last-minute
    cancellations, there was only one young couple in addition to myself on
    the tour, and two wonderful guides just for us three!

    Thirdly, I hate, Hate, HATE sharing the road with cars. At home, this
    means rising at 5:30 in the morning to be able to find low traffic
    conditions commuting to work at dawn. So I was interested in testing out
    First Light’s claims, that there are virtually NO CARS on the rural
    roads of the countries of the old Eastern Block. And it’s true! This is
    a blessed situation which probably will not last: Czech Republic entered
    the European Union last year and already the economy seems to be heating
    up in preparation for the Euro in 2010.

    There was not a single thing on this trip that was short of absolute
    bliss. The roads were empty silken ribbons, the hotels almost
    outrageously luxurious for my simple tastes, the company enchanting, the
    food interesting, varied and palatable, the weather immaculate, and the
    sites straight out of the fairy-tales of my childhood.

    We met at 8:30 just outside the Europa Hotel on Wenceslas Square, where
    I had spent my last night in Prague. The young couple was from
    California – he was a project engineer of Indian extraction and such a
    cycling nerd that I came to call him Road Runner, like the cartoon. Road
    Runner’s pretty, soft-spoken wife was a banker. She kept up with him
    most of the time, but on several occasions was happy to let him go on
    ahead without her. In addition there was Briand, the owner of First
    Light and tour leader, almost continually in quality control mode, and
    his assistant Simon, an engaging young British journalist for a cycling
    magazine, who is now setting up a cycling related guest house in the
    unspoilt wildernesses of Hungary. (check out ).

    The first thing we did was to drive to the highest point in the country,
    at 3500 ft, to a place called Kvilda in the superb, UNESCO protected
    nature reserve of the Sumava forest. This was clever, because it meant
    that most of the rest of the tour was downhill, especially on the first day!
    Snow was still on the ground, but not on the roads. In my childhood,
    when I was reading the tales of Hoffmann and Grimm, I had this romantic
    vision of a Black Forest of swans and deer and Elf kings and witches …
    which was completely dashed when I visited the real Black Forest,
    planted out in tidy German rows and reduced to a few polluted copses by
    the post-war Economic Miracle. Sumava made me bless the Iron Curtain and
    the non-intrusion of the Marshall Plan into this magical place, that,
    freed of its shoot-you-on-sight border patrols, has retained its
    pristine wild state, except for the excellent trail!
    The rest of the cycling took mainly through forests, plains and
    lakelands. The Trebon region, which we reached in the second half,
    boasts 2200 lakes and ponds. Always the same serenity. The weather held
    between 15 and 20 degrees, and we never had rain, except one evening
    when we were all cosily sheltered with Sachertorten and Schlag in an
    after-dinner cafe. I accepted help from the van on uphill portions,
    finding pleasant and cultivated conversation with both Briand and Simon,
    people who travel, know the world, perpetually seek out the best in
    quality and comfort, and have the enterprising creativity and
    organizational ability to invent these wonderful trips.
    Simon rode on ahead. Whenever there was an intersection or a point where
    the road might be confusing, he marked the direction with a series of
    chalk arrows on the ground. (I thank First Light for this technological
    improvement on bread-crumbs.) Despite the solitude, there was never a
    moment that I felt abandoned.

    On my first day I careened downhill, alone, for 42.65 km, my personal
    record for a single day’s cycling. For the rest of the trip I averaged
    about 30 km a day: Mr and Mrs Road Runner were doing closer on to 50
    miles. I also broke my speed record, which is now at 39.9 km/h. Unlike
    on my return from the Netherlands, when I did not feel ready to get on a
    bike again for weeks afterwards, this time I’m hard on my horoscopes to
    see when I can book another trip.
    Our second day we cycled towards the gem-town of Cesky Krumlov, once
    again, a UNESCO world heritage site. We spend two nights there and Road
    Runners and myself used the third day as a rest-day. The magnificent,
    spookily Renaissance-Baroque castle at Cesky was well worth the visit.
    Like many Czech Castles, it is said to be haunted, but in the pristine
    sunlight I did not encounter the White Lady with her inauspiciously
    coloured gloves.
    That same afternoon, I visited the spa at the 5-star Ruze Hotel for a
    90-minute full-body massage. I’d never done that before! I especially
    appreciated feet and throat; my back was a little sore afterwards from
    the pummelling, but pleasantly so.
    Other towns on our night-stops included Trebon, Jindrichuv Hradec and
    the Hussite fortress town of Tabor. The topology for all three was
    similar: a central square with a fountain and quaint buildings, and a
    noteworthy castle with extensive, cyclable gardens (Trebon’s even had
    peacocks). The indefatigable Road Runners visited every castle while I
    lounged in full length hot baths or checked my email at the hotel.
    Lunches and drinks along the route were also sheltered by magnificent
    places of note. Although I had eaten rather unevenly in Prague, I
    quickly came to appreciate the food in the carefully chosen restaurants
    along the way. I am impressed at the cosmopolitanism of the Czechs. For
    example, they always offer vegetarian selections on the menus, something
    that would be unheard of in France. The standard is meat or duck, a
    range of different bread and potato dumplings, cabbage, but there are
    many palatable variations. In those lakes, fresh-water fish abound, and
    I delighted in perch fillets or smoked trout. I learned a great Garlic
    and Cheese soup under the bastions of Rozmberk Castle. In Cesky Krumlov
    we dined in a fascinating restaurant that tries to re-create medieval
    peasant cuisine. I shared a vegetarian platter with Mrs Road Runner that
    was all millet and garlic, bulgur wheat with mushrooms, rice patties,
    potato gnocchi garnished with fried onions. Czech Republic is also
    famous for its beer, the best in the world after only Belgium. There
    were some magnificent brews, and I especially recommend the flavoursome,
    full-bodied dark ones with their redolences of caramel and wood smoke.
    Road Runner was one of those annoying people who can engulf unlimited
    continents of pizza and ice-cream and still be thin as a rail: we
    sampled a pizzeria in Jindrichuv Hradec that upheld the international
    standard. On our final night, we had a gourmet meal in Tabor at a
    hotel-restaurant that had just opened and that Briand wanted to sample.
    In addition to its being very good and wonderfully festive, it was
    beautifully and tastefully decorated. The owner, a very interesting man,
    was a Czech-Briton who had been a university geologist and
    palaeontologist in his previous life in the UK – another case of No
    Going Back. He came and chatted to us as we dined, conscientious to meet
    his customers and know their preferences.
    Another point of note: I must mention the extraordinary bathrooms in the
    Czech Republic! There was not a single pissing point on this whole trip,
    no matter how isolated or rural, that was not squeaky clean, spacious,
    luxuriously tiled, amply provided with toilet paper and washup
    facilities, and looking like it had just been installed last week. You
    might think it scatological to devote a paragraph to this, but
    inaccessible or unuseably skanky bathrooms are one of my most
    longstanding anxieties as a traveller, especially as a fat, incontinent
    cyclist with allergies causing explosive sneezes and coughs - a phobia
    continually justified and fed by bathrooms in France, alas.

    As a further general aside, I would avert travellers to Czech Republic
    of Killer Cobblestones in almost all the ancient towns. I am especially
    bad on cobblestones because my faulty balance cannot handle them. The
    most lasting sensory impression I came back with is not of cycling but
    of sore feet! I do not know if there is a pair of shoes that can be
    designed to mitigate the problem for me, but be warned to take
    super-insoled special arch-supported cobble-buster shoes with at least
    an inch of isolating rubber if you plan ever to get off your bikes!

    I was also enchanted with the bike care. First Light provides top-end
    Cannondales as part of its package, and the ones I saw looked new and
    gorgeous, impeccably maintained. However, having been very unhappy last
    year with the rented bikes on my Netherlands trip, I preferred to take
    my beloved Flyzipper. At the entrance to Trebon, Flyzipper repeated his
    mysterious stunt of blowing his front inner tube, for no apparent
    reason, while at a standstill. Simon not only changed the tube but let
    me watch, sought the possible cause of the flat, tested Flyzipper and
    offered his knowledge throughout. It is the first time I have been able
    to have a general assessment of Fly from an expert with such a thorough
    comparative knowledge of bikes. And I learned a lot also, from watching
    the cleaning and lubrification of the bikes at the end of the trip. It
    is relaxing to be with people minding bikes – I suspect bikes, like
    horses or dolphins, have a euphorizing effect on the nerves.

    So in short, a 5-star holiday which I would recommend to any non-puritan
    whose love of bikes is not inconsistent with a love of comfort and good

    Ile de France

  2. > I got back on Wednesday, and am still reeling under the spell.

    Glad you loved it certainly looks great from the photos. Good to finally
    see Flyzipper too.
  3. Pinky

    Pinky Guest

    "Elisa Francesca Roselli" <[email protected]> wrote in message
    news:[email protected]
    >I got back on Wednesday, and am still reeling under the spell.
    > You may remember I was looking for people to accompany me in these forums,
    > because I was afraid of going alone


    I suspect bikes, like > So in short, a 5-star holiday which I would
    recommend to any non-puritan
    > whose love of bikes is not inconsistent with a love of comfort and good
    > living.
    > EFR
    > Ile de France

    I enjoyed reading that and lots of pictures too!

    I'm afraid my 35 day Rhein/Mosel trip is going to be much more basic! A
    tent and one pot cooking -- but I do live well nevertheless -- although I
    can't quite come round to accepting nearly a month of German white wines!!
    When I get to Trier on my birthday I shall celebrate using my "egg card"
    and have a night on the town ( it will certainly be a veloless night!)
    Trevor A Panther
    In South Yorkshire,
    England, United Kingdom.
  4. Sorni

    Sorni Guest

    Elisa Francesca Roselli wrote:
    > I got back on Wednesday, and am still reeling under the spell.
    > You may remember I was looking for people to accompany me in these
    > forums, because I was afraid of going alone and was hoping to avoid
    > the usual “singles surcharge”. The tour was one called “Lost in
    > Bohemia” {snip}

    Lovely account, Elisa, as always. I forwarded it to my "world traveling"
    correspondents, as I'm sure they'll appreciate your gift for writing AND
    adventurous spirit.

    Thanks for sharing it, Bill S.
  5. Elisa Francesca Roselli wrote:
    > I got back on Wednesday, and am still reeling under the spell.

    A very nice account! You've succeeded in making me very jealous - so
    I'm passing on the favor by forwarding your post to others.

    - Frank Krygowski
  6. wafflycat

    wafflycat Guest

    Sounds like a truly glorious holiday, Elisa, and such a lovely, engaging
    report of it.

    Cheers, helen s