Saturday, September 27, 2008

Valtice to Vienna

The Greenway Trail from Prague to Vienna travels through Valtice, Moravia, the site of the baroque winter palace of the Leichenstein family. A side bike trail loops 7 kilometers north to Lednice, site of the family's summer palace and fabulous gardens and lakes. One of the Leichenstein's, a general in the Czech Army fighting against Napolean's Army, had his minions back at the summer palace in the 1800's build a series of Follies in the wooded park surrounding the palace. The Three Graces, a Roman Arch of Triumph cum hunting lodge, an Apollo statue, among others are along the trail hidden in the woods. I imagined as we rode our bikes along the trail, a Leichenstein gentleman trotting a horse with a companion and coming upon the Three Graces, and in a surprised tone, "Oh, my dear, there are the three graces! What d'ya think they are doing here?"

After pedaling the 20 miles through the gardens and wooded park, we ended up at the railstation in Breclav to board a train for the 94 kilometers to Vienna to make up for days lost due to rain.

Vienna is a totally different city that any Czech city, including Prague. Grander buildings, more crowded shops and resturants, and double to triple the price of everything. Austria is on the Euro, while Czech is still on the kroner. EU investment funds in Czech are obvious with the rail station upgrades to platforms and the new train cars on some runs.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Telč, Moravia, Czech Republic

We have been on the Prague to Vienna Greenway for five days riding about 25-30 miles a day. Each town or village we pass through is another wonderful place to look about and see how the buildings are built with stucco and slate or tile roofs. The country side has been hilly, with pine tree groves on the higher ground and fertile fields of corn, sugar beets and potatoes. The Prague to Vienna Greenway has been well signed, with a small yellow sign with a number, bike symbol and the logo for the Prague-Vienna Greenway on the one we follow. There are numerous bike trails that loop around the countryside, so we often have to stop, scout ahead and consult our map before heading down the trail. So far all of the trail has been on either narrow paved roads or short links of packed gravel and dirt through a park like setting.

Each town we have come into where we want to stay, except the first night, has had accomodation for all five of us. At first the food was blah, potato and bread dumpling and pork, sausage smothered in gravy. In the past few day we have found more interesting fare. The beer and wine are good. Moravia is a wine growing area, and the Czech beer, pivo, is a Pilsen and good.

From Slavoniče we took a short modern train for an hour to Telč with our bikes for about 3 dollars each to spend the night and have a look around this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The roofs on the pastel colored houses surrounding a large cobblestoned square are all gothic gabled, looking something like a roccoco Alamo roof. An covered arcade runs along in front of each house, with gracious arches. All of these buildings are at least 250 years old. The original building having been burned earlier after several invasions.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Prague to Vienna by Bike

For my birthday I wanted a memorable trip with special friends. Pedaling the Praha-Wien Greenway seemed a perfect adventure: visiting two great cities and the physical challenge of traveling under our own power. Seeing the countryside from a bike saddle seemed like a good idea and it was. Our route was well signed and maps that Daniel Mourek gave us in Prague made it easy to figure out how to get from one place to another. We learned there are many signed bike routes that criss cross the Czech Republic as well as signed long distance routes from Budapest to Prague or Warsaw.

What we didn't expect was how cold it would be in September. Unusual weather, everyone said. Train stations in most towns of any size made it fairly easy to catch a train to skip ahead if we were behind schedule, it was pouring rain or to venture up to Telc, 40 miles off our route.

The language barrier between English and Czech was broken by smiles, nods, sign language, pointing or using a limited travel glossary to struggle through Czech pronunciations without vowels. We found accomodations by pedaling up to the offical tourist offices in town squares that were usually staffed by an English speaker who would telephone ahead for us. Our meals were usually meat, potatoes, bread dumplings and beer. Once we found a Chinese restaurant for a needed infusion of vegetables.

We bikes 30 to 45 miles a day, after a filling Czech breakfast stopping to tour castle ruins, peeking into Gothic churches, and pedal into Renaissance town centers. Most of all we enjoyed looking around the rolling Czech farmlands cultivated in corn and wheat. The variegated browns, yellows and greens, depending upon what had been harvested, were a soft background to the red roof tiles of nestled villages.

For the first few days we would stop for lunch in a cafe, later just coffee or beer and a snack since we were so full from breakfast and in anticipation of the large dinner at night where we would stay. If we were hungry for a snack while we rode, we would grab and munch on juicy apples hanging from loaded trees edging the farm fields lining the country roads.