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We are Off: Cycling the Prague-Vienna Greenway

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We debated staying in Prague one more day. Staying was easy. It’s Prague. It didn’t matter if it rained. No need to find new hotels.  Or figure out how to ride in a new country. It’s always easier to stay.

But I’m so glad we pushed passed the inertia that makes staying easy and doing something seem so hard.  I’m glad we started cycling.

We left Prague (Praha) after three days in the tourist center and rode out of town following the Prague-Vienna Greenway. We are self-supported, and came with our own bikes and two panniers that are mounted to a rack on the bike with everything we are willing to carry for 3.5 weeks.

The Prague-Vienna Greenway is a signed bike and walking path that leads from … Prague to Vienna … part of a network of greenways through Europe.

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In the first two days of cycling 140 kilometers between Prague and the medieval town of Tabor have biked over lightly trafficked bike paths, dirt tracks, forest trails and gravel roads. This greenway is terrific. There are ACTUAL SIGNS with directional arrows pointing you in the correct direction with distances printed on them. There are COMPREHENSIVE BIKE MAPS that – in conjunction with occasional GPS use to save mistaken detours – is a terrific assist to plan and navigate. The route so far has led past beautiful countryside. An accompanying BOOKLET has descriptions in three languages of sites to visit in the villages and towns along the way. And organized CYCLE FRIENDLY hotels are conveniently listed and don’t give you dirty looks when you drag your dirty bike through their lobby.

I never knew bike touring could be so easy. What I would give to have networks like this in the states.

The first day of riding always brings the biggest challenges, most which are inevitable getting out of a big city, with traffic, confusion and big city problems. Hope the airlines didn’t break something that the pre-ride inspection and test ride missed. Remember the best system to pack the panniers to find things quickly … like your rain gear. Try to re-orient to everything that is so different.

Our first 25 confusing kilometers getting out of Prague took forever, despite Daniel’s (the greenway bike guru) best efforts to help us connect the maze of multicolored bike paths on our route when we met. All I can say is thank goodness for GPS and that comforting little blue arrow that shows you exactly where you are, so you can see how to get back on track.

Two and a half hours later we emerged into the “country side”. Then the real bike route started. And the miles rolled by getting progressively more beautiful … and progressively hillier … as we pedaled south, finally staying overnight in a small town on the banks of a river with the ruins of a castle tower out our hotel window.

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The next morning, feeling ambitious, we took a detour to the elaborately spired Konopiste castle – the castle that was owned by Archduke Ferdinand d’Este whose assassination in Sarajevo started WWI. This was just one of his estates, and he had undertaken a massive baroque remodel at the turn of the century. Since getting in to tour the castle turned out to be a time-consuming tourist grind, we opted to just walk around the grounds and head on our way.

Which was the right call because there are some significant hills as we headed south. And these days I am really slow up those hills, especially on my heavy touring bike. And, for me, I’ve traveled so much this year I’ve only been able to start riding again in mid-July, which has barely gotten me conditioned to ride on this trip, and means I have to really work peddling this heavy bike.

And then the thunderstorm came. An unseasonable cold front has settled over this area and brought clouds and rain and lower temps. We keep checking the weather and seeing promises of warm sunny weather … that keeps getting delayed. But when you do a bike trip you expect the rain. And whenever you are caught in the rain on a ride you have to make the critical decision … hope it lightens up and tolerate the sprinkles, or take the plunge and bring out the big guns … the rain gear. Try and wait it out somewhere protected, or ride on.

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This is always a big decision because, once you don the rain gear, which is hot and makes you sweaty wet, you have to basically keep it on the rest of the day or until it all dries out so you don’t get mud and water in your gear when you re-pack it. And you get cold from the sweat, if not the rain, once you remove the jacket until your clothes dry. My decider to pull out the rain gear comes when the water drips down my legs into my shoes and my feet are getting soaked. I hate that. Then it’s time for the toe-warmers and the jacket with the hood.

Despite the storm, our second day ended on a beautiful note … the last stretch the sun was warm and casting the beautiful perfect golden light of dusk.  We passed through forests that looked like they housed Grimm’s big bad wolf. And tracks next to ruins of a 14th century castle magically reflecting in the lake filled with ducks and songbirds and lined with flowers. And over green hills and through villages perched at the top with their church steeple forming the perfect crest of the hill.

The ride has become – and will remain – very hilly … some long climbs and constant rolling hills … though we were forewarned. But 50 miles of that so early in the trip made a day off in Tabor today to see this medieval town a welcome recovery in an interesting place with a unique history.

And the climbing didn’t scare us off. Tomorrow we detour onto a side route of the Prague-Vienna Greenway to venture deeper into Bohemia where the climbs get steeper and the scenery even more beautiful as we head to the  Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov. We will just bike it in shorter chunks to make sure we have plenty of time to stop along the way as we do the slow grind up the hills.  I don’t mind the hills … most things are better when you have to work for them.

After we will decide whether to continue back to the main trail and continue east through the mountains of of the Czech Republic towards Moravia and Vienna, or drop down to the Danube river and ride to Vienna through northern Austria.

imageReally … can’t go wrong with either choice. The only bad choice would have been to stay in Prague looking at the weather report. Or worse, sitting in Seattle saying, “Someday, I’d like to bike in Eastern Europe”

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