Thursday, August 14, 2014


At last we go back to the mountains after a few days that seem eternal in Germany following the course of the Isar River (I don't wish my enemies any harm, but hopefully one day they'll waste their holidays touring the Isarradweg). The Czech Republic has a lot to offer, so over the next few weeks we'll make several silly detours like the ones that have characterized our trip just to enjoy the scenery and villages with epic-sounding names. We enter the Czech Republic through the Šumava National Park in the region of Bohemia. Two benches on the road and a small sign mark one of the many invisible boundaries which divide Europe. In the map case in the bag hanging from the handlebar there are a few basic words and phrases in Czech.

We climb a few more miles of this mountain that lies in Germany until we reach Železná Ruda, the first Czech village we find across the border, a tourist destination for German and Czech mountain-lovers both in summer and winter. Here we buy our first 3-pound loaf of bread for one euro (25 crowns), which will be our staple for the next few weeks, but we don't stay there very long - after all, we're looking for something more authentic than an outpost full of brothels, alcohol and stores that sell Czech crafts made ​​in China.
For those of you who are looking for a destination for your next summer holidays, especially if you don't mind getting wet and love mycology (which is the study of mushrooms), Šumava may be paradise. There are dozens of cycling trails in the woods and lakes for any level and over any kind of terrain, housing is cheap and free camping, though prohibited, is feasible.
Another option is dropping by and having a good time in the incredibly well-equipped tourist offices planning the best routes depending on what you want to see or just wander about its numerous and unpredictable paths. We enjoyed the best and worst of the latter, immersing figuratively in beech forests and literally in mud bogs, bathing in these red-hued rivers, the veins of Šumava, and drinking water from them. Within the Cyclostrasa, we'd recommend Route 33, which runs along the Schwarzenberg channel and nearly took us back to Austria without realizing, and Eurovelo 13, also known as the Route of the Iron Curtain, although at times it would be more aptly named as the Route of the Stone Curtain. Everything's so nice that, for once, the perpetual rain doesn't make me have my usual existential crisis. Our only regret is not knowing about mushrooms, especially one night that we stayed in a field of mushrooms and had macaroni with tomato sauce while thinking whether we could eat that delicious snack we had in front of us.
We leave the park to visit Vimperk, which, according to our map, boasts a castle... that turns out to be little more than a big house. This visit is one of the few disappointments we have in the Czech Republic, aggravated by the terrible moment of helplessness that we suffer when, after having bought a can of beer (the first one since France), it falls on the ground and opens before our eyes. For one treat we give to ourselves, and we have to drink it in a hurry, at three in the afternoon and in the parking lot of a supermarket. And last but not least, because of the lack of habit, we get considerably drunk.
While I manage to get my foot run over by my 40-kilo bike I make the promise, that I won't be able to fulfill, not to drink beer ever again  at noon. We can't even wait until we sober up, because Gabriel has seen on the odometer that it's five thirty in the afternoon, although this time of the day magically turns into three thirty once we reach the top of a hill that someone with malice must have placed between Vimperk and Prachatice. This is the charm of Czech beer - it makes you travel in time. Prachatice takes away the bitterness of Vimperk and we enjoy once again an old town instead of a town that is old, with its neat painted houses. However, we miss the forest where you can empty your bowels without being charged between 4 and 15 crowns.
As we follow Route 12, which goes along the river Vltava from Vyšší Brod to Český Krumlov, the rain gives us a break and the sun beats down on us relentlessly. These days are hot and we take advantage and camp in meadows and pastures to dry out everything we're carrying, and we discover the use of these clamps that are included in the utility knife that Albert gave us in Switzerland: they're ideal for removing ticks. As always, I'm the main target for them with four of these bloodsucking bugs attached to my legs, but Gabriel argues that his one scores double because it's attached to his most sensitive parts.
Days of massive sightseeing follow one another. We visit castles (the ones in Český Krumlov and Hluboká nad Vltavou are really beautiful) and carry our bikes amidst packs of Asians with cameras. Our blood boils because of our empathy towards animals after seeing too many mounted animals, zoos, deer antlers hanging from every façade and even a bear scraping by in the small castle moat of Český Krumlov.
We leave Český Krumlov and take the path north to Kolín, near Kutná Hora, where the Tvrzník family is waiting for us. The landscape has changed, and now it looks more like Castile in Spain than Central Europe. We stop at the quirky town of Tábor, on Lake Jordán, where we once again take advantage of the low prices and trip over the same stone and treat ourselves to a pizza and a couple of pitchers of beer. We finish our meal pretty groggy, but in good spirits. The continuous seesaws (one day we calculated a cumulative slope of 1,000 meters in the lowlands) accelerate the process of alcohol digestion and that afternoon we continue our journey normally. 
After two weeks in the Czech Republic we feel like experts. We know what makes a Czech crazy: camouflage suits, picking mushrooms and berries in the woods, eating zmrzlina (ice cream), skating and sunbathing in a bikini in the rain and cold. And, of course, having a cold beer on a terrace, which we couldn't agree with more.

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