Cycling in Northern Czechia

Ferry across the Elbe River

I will admit that, as I write this, I am feeling a little rushed. Mike and I are heading out shortly on our last ride in Czechia (aka Czech Republic).  For those that know the country as the Czech Republic, the local government found this name to be too long and cumbersome and in 2016 changed the countries short-form name (whatever that is) to Czechia which is much easier to use.

Mike decided that he wanted to leave a couple of days earlier than planned, which reduced the number of days to complete our bike path in this area. I’m partly to blame as I’ve been keeping our rides shorter this year, largely because of my leg issues as well as the need to get back into shape even for electric bikes. Also, when we ride 40 km I don’t have the interest (i.e. my bum is too sore) to visit some of the interesting sites that aren’t directly on our route. With the shorter rides, we take more detours and have more time and energy to spend in the places we are riding through. Last week, we had another heat wave. On Saturday the temperature was 37°C or 99°F, and the humidity made it even worse. I was way behind working on these articles and on our photos, so I told Mike that I was staying inside with our lackluster air conditioning and catching up on a lot of tasks. Mike decided to do a 30 km bike path I had planned. Of course, when Mike does it my 30 km straight line using the train one-way, it becomes a 60 km loop and no train. 37°C or higher and he bikes 60 km.

On another hot day, we took our bikes to a northern suburb of Prague (beautiful city) and then rode north. Prague was the end of our route in 2019. Our plan is to ride through Czechia into Germany and then to continue our journey northward from our next campground.

Czechia has some great long-distance cycling paths. We cycled mainly along a path beside the Elbe River which is called the Labe locally. With all the bends in the river, it makes for a much longer ride between towns, but we really enjoy it. There are lots of towns near the river and the scenery is great. There are more places to stop and have a drink or snack along the Elbe cycling path than we have seen on any other bike path. This is something that I truly appreciate. I am sure that on his own, Mike would never stop for a break.

Typical rural, deserted train station

I thought that I would show you a picture of some of the lovelier places we visit. This is one of many train stations in rural Europe that we often use to travel 30 or 40 km away before starting our bike rides back. In Czechia, we faced a challenge as neither the online app, nor the train tickets, nor the station itself indicated which side of the tracks we were supposed to be on, and there was no one to ask for help. Once, we met a young mother and her daughter at a similar station. I asked her how to say something in Czech. It might have been “thank-you” which was a word I just couldn’t pronounce. She helped me with that and told me that they had moved to Czechia from Ukraine a year ago. I wanted to ask her if her husband was still in Ukraine, but the train arrived, and our conversation ended.

At the top you can see Mike on the front of a ferry with multiple bicycles. The Elbe River is just awful for its lack of bridges. During high season these small ferries are used for people and bicycles to cross the river. Our bike path crossed the river three or four times in our rides from Prague into Germany. In the best case, the ferry pilot sees that someone is waiting, and he starts up the ferry, even if he happens to be on the other side of the river. In other cases, the ferry only runs once or twice an hour and you must wait, often in the middle of nowhere for the scheduled crossing. It is common to see a kiosk selling drinks and ice cream on one side of the ferry path but not on the other. You can guess which side Mike and I usually had to wait on.

Cycled up to the top for lunch in Ústí nad Labem

One day I planned a short route to include a couple of climbs to some hilltop spots near Ústí nad Labem. The picture above is a hotel/restaurant that many reach by cable car. Mike and I rode our bikes up. It turned out to be the longest, steepest climb we’ve ever done in one run. Mike was a little concerned about our brakes overheating on the way down.

The picture below was a castle on the other side of the river a few kilometres away. This time the “path” up to the top was a switchback, making it less steep. After riding all the way up there, Mike decided (and I agreed) that he didn’t really want to visit inside the castle, and we turned around and rode back down.

Cycled up high again, this time to see Hrad Střekov

In Europe, most countries require vehicles like ours to have a transponder for tolls. Each country has its own equipment, which Mike finds frustrating. You buy a transponder, put a certain amount of money on it, and in some cases you now own the transponder for life. In other cases, you can return the transponder if you go to the appropriate place to return it, which isn’t always easy. You often see big trucks with six transponders stuck along the bottom of their front window as they drive through various countries. The fine in Czechia is quite high if we are caught not using a transponder. We have been checked multiple times on this trip. Our problem was that we were only going to be traveling 11 km (6 miles) on the toll road. We were then exiting it to head to our campground. We debated ignoring the rule but the fine concerned us. I did read that you don’t pay a toll exiting Czechia in this area, only entering it. This sounded good but I only found it on one non-official website, which is concerning. As it turned out, when Mike and I crossed the border in Czechia  we never saw anywhere to purchase the transponder before we left the highway. Maybe we didn’t look hard enough. Tomorrow when we leave Czechia we will risk it again and drive 11 km in the opposite direction, with our fingers crossed the whole way.

Stopped in Roudnice nad Labem while cycling one day

We stopped at this pretty town of Roudnice nab Labem while riding our bikes The name translates to Roudnice on the Elbe indicating it is close to the river. We often see towns whose names have extra words at the end indicating their position to a landmark or larger town. We do this occasionally in North America, but nowhere near as much as they do in Europe.

I haven’t mentioned the prices in Czechia, they are great. Fuel is the cheapest we have seen on our travels this year. Food is quite inexpensive in the towns where Mike and I are eating although this may not be true in the tourist centre of Prague, and in small towns the restaurants don’t expect tips.

For the last few weeks, Mike has been almost crying every time we saw a corn field. The heat and the lack of rain has really done in the corn. Mike says that some of the farmers won’t be harvesting any corn this year. For the farmers reading this, Mike tells me that the corn we see in the fields is now “in tassel”, but the leaves are all curled up for lack of moisture which is apparently very bad.

Thoughtless female, cane and ALL!
Tisá Walls

One day Mike and I decided to do something quite different, and we went to visit one of Czechia’s National Parks. This park has a very confusing name. It is called the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. The adjoining park in Germany is called the Saxon Switzerland National Park. The two parks together form a portion of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. They are mainly parks for hiking which is still a concern for me. We found out that there was one road that went through the park but didn’t really go near the major sights. The most iconic landmark is the Pravčice Gate which is the largest natural bridge and sandstone arch in Europe. It has been compared to the Arches National Park in Utah which Mike and I just loved. When we drove into the park it was so sad to see the landscape near the road. Last year there was a terrible forest fire that wiped out 5 square miles of the park or 7,500 acres. I had read varying articles about how easy or difficult the hike was to the Pravčice Gate. Given that there was no nice greenery to hike through we decided to give it a pass and visit another very popular spot called the Tisá Walls which are striking sandstone cliffs and rock formations. The internet said that the hiking path was fine for families, so we decided to give it a try. I thought that it would be a gentle hike around the bottom of the rock formations, WRONG. We ended up climbing to the top of some of them. I don’t usually need my cane anymore, but I was really glad that I had brought it with me for this hike. Yes, kids could run up and down these rocky steps and inclines but I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t have my balance back properly and the thought that I had to go back down the rocks that I had just come up was a little terrifying. After we got about 1/3 of the way along the path, I found out that the rest was just more ups and downs before I would have to turn around and come back. So I gave up. Mike continued while I returned to the car, very slowly, to read and wait. Mike said that the rest of the walk was nice but that you didn’t really see anything that I hadn’t already seen, just more of it.

In case you didn’t realize it, while Mike and I are not in Switzerland, we are in the Bohemian region of Czechia. Bohemian Switzerland National Park was used as a filming location for the Chronicles of Narnia film: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I don’t remember the film, but I know that I loved the book series.

Decin Castle

Mike and I stayed next to the town of Děčín, a name that I never learned to pronounce, much like the Czech word for “thank-you”. Our campground was largely for cyclists who were biking and camping along the Elbe river. There were also kayakers and hikers. This meant that the campground was full of young, good-looking, athletic people. I fit right in ☹. The number of tents and the number of campers changed dramatically on different nights. It must be tough to run a business like that.

In the campground, we met a couple from New Zealand in their 50s who were taking a year off to cycle throughout Europe on regular bicycles. They used to own a camper, but they wanted to try something different. Occasionally they would do things like a short house sitting, or helping out on a work assist project, where they would get room and board in exchange for ½ day’s volunteer work. They said that it was an opportunity to meet interesting people. They were leaving our campground to go and help with a house renovation in Czechia.

One night we had a knock on our door, and it was a man saying “Canada??”. He was a Canadian originally from Saint Catherines, near where Mike and I live. Brad spent about 30 years working in British Columbia and decided to leave Canada to live in Czechia with his Czech wife and his youngest daughter. His older daughter is at university in BC. The family lives in a small village in Czechia, no crime, and no rush hour. They don’t bother to lock their door. He said it was just fantastic. Brad and his 6-year-old daughter were camping on their own for about 20 days and they both seemed to be loving it. He had never had this much time alone with his daughter before. It was nice to see.

We have had two days of lovely cool weather 23°C (73°F). It will get warmer tomorrow again, hopefully not up into the high 30s though. Tomorrow, we leave for Dresden, Germany where are friends will be meeting us later this week. Next article will be from there. Bye for now.

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