Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Prague Joy Riding

The suspension bridge near the Prague Zoo.

I wanted to share some quick memories from four rides I took recently.

-- I rode to work one morning from my flat in Prague 6 to my office in Prague 10, a ride of around 40 kilometers, if I remember correctly. (I somehow lost my notes on the trip.) I took the bike path on the east side of the river to Libeň, then across to Karlin, up the pedestrian tunnel to Žižkov, and then winding my way on some back streets to my job near the Želivského metro station. I was pleased to make this trip mostly on bike paths, although the last few kilometers were on busy roads, which was no fun.

-- I took a 34-kilometer ride with my pal Stewart and his two boy, Jules and Ronan,  on the east side of the Vltava to one of our favorite haunts, Marina Vltava in Nelahozeves, just past Kralupy, for lunch. I ended up hopping on a train crowded with dozens of other cyclists and their bikes in Kralupy for the ride home.

-- A solo ride of 25 kilometers along that same path but not nearly as far. I rode a few kilometers past Klecany and then turned around. It was more of an exercise ride than anything.

-- And a second solo exercise ride of 21 kilometers along the same path.

As always in Prague, each of these rides was filled with interesting sights, a few surprises, and a couple of cold beers.

Another view of the suspension bridge near the Prague Zoo.

This is part of the path on the east side of the Vltava toward Kralupy. For most of the trip, it's quite a nice, paved path. But then it turns slightly nasty -- and exciting -- for a few kilometers when it skirts the top of a wall with the Vltava far below. You can't tell it from this photo, but it's probably a six or seven meter drop to the river below, and as you can see, there's no guard rail to keep you from falling. In fact, two cycling pals have fallen into the river around this spot. One suffered some broken ribs and had to be evacuated by emergency medical boat. It's a dangerous strip, but I like it, perhaps for the adrenaline rush. But you do have to be careful, especially if you're riding with kids. (READ MORE ABOUT ONE OF THOSE FAMOUS FALLS HERE.)

I've long admired these reliefs above apartment-building doors on a block of Malešická in Prague 10. Usually, I'm in a car. This time, I was on my bike, and decided to stop and take some photos. I don't know the story behind them. Perhaps someone out there does.

On my way home from work, I met up with Andy (left) and Mike, two friends and work colleagues, for a couple of beers at Camp and Hostel Žižkov Prague, a very cool campground, beer garden, concert venue, and playground all wrapped up in one. Great place. And they even had live music on a Wednesday night. Thanks to Mike for the find.

At Camp and Hostel Žižkov Prague.

There's some sort of endangered snake that lives along the bike path near the Prague Zoo.

Heading north toward Klecany.

Ronan and Jules wanted to check out a big quarry along the path toward Kralupy.

Beautiful country house and ruin along the path toward Kralupy.

Modern industrial chic.

Ancient industrial chic.

A classic Czech lunch at Marina Vltava -- fried Hermelín or Edam cheese with tartar sauce.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A View From The Bridge

It was always a bridge too far. Too far into the urban jungle of Prague's Prague 3 district. Too far from  my house. Too far from where we usually wanted to ride.

But I loved that bridge. I passed underneath it many times on my way to work, watching as runners and cyclists and walkers quickly crossed and then disappeared and I'd always wonder, "Where does that path begin, and where does it lead? And what's the view from up there?"

My usual view of The Bridge, from below, taken from my car on a rainy afternoon

I celebrated my 54th birthday a few weeks back and, just by chance, I had the day off. I asked Stewart if he was up for a ride of urban exploration, instead of our usual off-road hijinks. The ride would certainly involve cars and traffic lights and busy streets, but hopefully it would make up for that by throwing a few pleasant surprises into our path.

The Bridge, from up-top, at last

Stewart met me at my flat in Prague 6, like a true gentleman a bottle of Grant's in his hand for my big day, and we set off.

First stop: the beer garden at Letna for a quick morning tipple, before crossing Štefánikův Most and winding our way through the streets of Old Town to where I thought the path likely began: somewhere near the confluence of Husitská and Seifertova streets, not far from the main train station, Hlavní nádraží.

The rather unassuming start of the paved city trail, at the top of the stairs

We did find it, a decidedly unassuming start to what is actually a cool, paved cycling path that winds its way along what used to be an old train track beneath Vitkov Hill that runs parallel to Husitská and Konevova streets. (My cycling buddy David Murphy wrote in detail about this new path when it first opened in 2010. You can read that post here.)

The bridge crossing comes pretty quickly, and it felt great to finally be up there, looking down for once, from what must have once held the weight of locomotives.

(UPDATE: Thanks to reader Jakub Cikhart, I've discovered that the bridge is called Velká Hrabovka. Read more about it here, in Czech.)

We passed through a cool tunnel (the first of two on this trip) and discovered a fanciful pub, sadly not yet open, named U Vystřeleného oka (The Shot-Out Eye) (Note to Self: Make a return visit soon); stopped at Zahrádky Žižkov, a huge beer garden full of dozens and dozens of tents that seems as if it was built on an old abandoned lot, all overgrown and kinda shabby but also kinda cool, with a children's playground smack dab in the middle (only in Prague!); and then headed toward Vitkov Hill and the huge statue of the celebrated, one-eyed (hence the name of the aforementioned pub) Hussite General Jan Žižka atop a giant steed, at 22-meters high one of the largest equestrian statues in the world. It's an impressive bit of bronze, to say the least, and the site offers sweeping views across much of Prague.

The bronze statue was unveiled in 1950 and was designed by Bohumil Kafka. The total weight of the statue is said to be 16.5 tons.

(Read more about Žižka here, including how it's said he had a drum fashioned from his own flesh so that he could lead his troops into battle even after he was dead.)

From there, we took the Žižkov-Karlín pedestrian tunnel down into Karlín, discovering (or should I say, rediscovering, since Stewart and I had had a beer here back in 2001 or so, as I remember) a wonderful pub called U Tunelu situated just at the bottom of the tunnel. Step inside and step back in time. The place is a dream of a pub, with Art Deco cabinetry above the bar and all sort of antique knick-knacks scattered about the interior. They even served our beer in mugs that had been chilling in an ice bath. Fantastic place.

And two doors down is Peter's Burger Pub, where we sat outside and wolfed down a couple of tasty burgers (not the best in town, but pretty decent) and another beer or two.

At the Forgotten Sculpture Garden

From there, our goal was to find the bike path that we knew existed that would connect us to Prague 8 and Libeň. We found it pretty quickly, a dusty trail on the other side of Rohanské nábřeží that took us past the Forgotten Sculpture Garden, after which we connected with the trails that took us back down the Vltava toward the Prague Zoo, Troja, Stromovka, another beer, and home to Prague 6.

Thanks to Stewart for braving the streets with me. I actually find it quite exhilarating to ride in the city for some reason. There are few bike lanes in the city center, and the drivers here are notoriously hostile to cyclists, but I still like it. It's the sense of freedom, I guess, when everyone else is closed up in their cars, waiting at stop lights. And a declaration of sorts, I guess, that we have every right to share the road (as long as we obey the rules!). 

Anyway, what a great trip. Happy birthday to me!


Length of ride: 26 kilometers
Average speed: 12.8 kph
Maximum speed: 29.5 kph
Time on the bike: 1:58:51
Pivo Index: 6 (4.9 ppk)

The start of the Žižkov-Karlín pedestrian tunnel

I've had a lot of beers in Prague, but this was the first pub I can remember visiting where they kept the mugs cool in a bath of ice water.

U Tunelu's interior

Peter's Burger Pub

The new bridge over the Vltava, between the zoo and Liben 

 Zahrádky Žižkov, a charming dump of a place

Some amazing bas-reliefs on a giant door at the Vitkov monument

Near the top of Vitkov Hill

Inside the Žižkov-Karlín pedestrian tunnel

The Shot-Out Eye

At the Shot-Out Eye

Inside the train tunnel

Sharing the path with a skateboarder

In Letna, overlooking the city, with the first beers of the day

Thanks, Stewart!

A closeup of one of the bas-reliefs at Vitkov

Karlin has really experienced a renaissance since the disastrous floods of 2002. Forum Karlin is a cool place to see a concert. I saw Jack White there last year. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Ride Down Memory Lane

Before, in 2007

After, in 2015

My butt hurts.

Which is what happens, I guess, when you haven't ridden a bike in, well, forever. At least since the beginning of January, but even then, I don't remember my butt being so sore, and I'd been off the bike even longer before that ride.

Butt I digress.

Daisy and I had an American friend, Dale Bemis, visiting Prague from his home in London. (We'd last ridden together here in Prague back in 2007.) Dale is an avid biker, often traveling around England and to the continent to participate in races. In other words, he's a serious cyclist. So why he wanted to go out on a ride with the likes of us is a bit of a mystery.

Dale said he wanted the full Grant's Prague Bike Blog experience, which is to say he wanted what is basically an old-fashioned pub crawl interrupted by brief interludes of peddling.

We were more than happy to oblige.

Dale and David Murphy met at my flat and we set off -- Dale riding Daisy's bike -- to meet Stewart at the ruins of the late, great Koliba in Roztoky. (Daisy decided to sit this one out.)

As regular readers of this blog know, Koliba -- until it burned down under mysterious circumstances in 2009 -- was a favorite haunt of ours back in the day. A more gorgeously situated restaurant you couldn't find -- a cute ivy smothered A-frame chalet with a big fireplace inside for those nippy winter rides and outside a charming little pond stocked with carp and surrounded by umbrella tables.

To sit outside and sip on a beer in the shade after a long ride while watching the fish noisily break the surface, feeding on insects, was heavenly.

On one of those nippy winter mornings a few years back (in 2007, to be exact), Stewart and I and Mark Baker sat inside and had some soup and beer in front of the fireplace. We had the waiter take our photo, so cozy was it. Since the fireplace is the only thing remaining from the old Koliba, I had this idea awhile back of re-creating that photo today, amid the ruins of the restaurant, with Stewart, Mark, and I taking up our old positions. A kind of homage to our lost oasis.

Mark wasn't with us on this ride, so we had Dale stand in for him. As if we weren't sad enough about Koliba's demise, this visceral juxtaposition of years makes the tragedy feel that much deeper.

We cycled from Roztoky along the wonderful forest path to Únětice, where we were obliged to stop at Únětický pivovar to allow Dale to sample a few pints of our local treasure.

From there, on this sunny day, our plan was to ride to Tuchoměřice, to have a bite of lunch at the Belgian place, Auberge de Provence, which has a beautiful outdoor garden (and which I hoped was still in business). But wouldn't you know it, on our way, just a few kilometers outside Statenice, we discovered Kopanský Mlýn, a brand-new restaurant and riding stables, with outdoor seating next to a tiny, duck-speckled pond. Fabulous.
We'd noticed this area being under construction the last time we were through, but we had no idea that it was being turned into such a grand affair.
The inside of the place is pretty spectacular, too, with dining tables overlooking a large covered riding arena, huge wooden beams arching over the sawdust floor.
We sat outside and ordered a few more beers and lunch. The roast duck and dumplings was superb. Definitely a find, this place, in the middle of the countryside, and perfectly situated for a mid-ride stop. We'll be back.
We'd spent too much time drinking and talking and it was getting late, and a lot of us had wives and responsibilities to return to, so we headed back toward Prague.
Passing through Únětice, however, we couldn't help but stop for a quick one at U Lasiku, one of our favorite local haunts, an ancient wheelwrights that's been turned into a funky pub and restaurant by a local couple. And who should we run into but Robin Bond and his wife, Julie, who adopted one of our stray kittens, Maddy, when we used to live up the road in Cerny Vul.
Great to see those guys again, and to hear that Maddy is the love of their lives and doing great these many years later.
My new ride

Hey! I just figured out why my butt hurts so much. It's the new saddle on my new bike! My butt hasn't adjusted yet.

After eight years or so with my old trusty 2006 GT Avalanche 2.0 26er, and too many people telling me that my bike was too small for my rather large frame, I gave in and bought a 2015 Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29er, with a 21-inch frame and a Shimano 2X9 Alivio derailleur. 

The new wheels feel great, and I apparently no longer look like a clown on one of those tiny circus bikes.

Let's ride.

Length of ride: 32 kilometers
Average speed: 16.1 kph
Maximum speed: 34 kph
Time on the bike: 1.59.30
Pivo Index: 7 (or 4.5 kpb -- kilometers per beer)

Dale on the abandoned road just outside Roztoky.

On the road again with Dale

We ran into this charming lady walking
her eight dogs near Koliba.

The duck at Kopanský Mlýn

The indoor riding arena at Kopanský Mlýn

A local football match in Statenice

At Kopanský Mlýn

Robin and Julie

A three-legged cat at Kopanský Mlýn

At the brewery in Únětice, with eight beers between us,
taste-testing to see whether we liked the 10° or the 12° better.
The answer is lost in time.