Monday, May 6, 2013
The Dirty Pub
I'm either a bad cyclist or a good alcoholic.
I took my first ride of the year a few days ago. I met Stewart at what will forever more be called The Dirty Pub, also known as Na Břetislavce, on the corner of V Podbabe and V Sareckem Udoli in the village of Lysolaje. It's a right filthy joint, but it's got cheap beer and some outdoor seating under the big trees out back, and it's about halfway between my home in the Vokovice neighborhood of Prague 6 and Stewart's home in Roztoky.
Except in my case, it's all downhill from my house to The Dirty Pub. About 5.5 kilometers of downhill, to be exact. (The ride's a bit more strenuous for Stewart.) Which means I hadn't yet come anywhere close to earning my first bike beer of the year. But I had one anyway. Make that two each.
Let me digress.
The "beer garden" behind The Dirty Pub
The night before this ride, Daisy and I had been to Sansho, the celebrated Prague restaurant run by British chef Paul Day, who's become a good friend since we first met more than two years ago. I and 40 of my friends took over Sansho for my 50th in 2011, and I celebrated my 51st birthday in his butcher shop, The Real Meat Society, last year.
Paul recently moved to Lysolaje, and in fact we had been talking about The Dirty Pub the night before, which is close to his house. So as I sat there sipping my beer, I sent Paul a text message, just for fun, and attached a photo of two crazy cyclists.
Unexpectedly and very surprisingly (I wouldn't even have replied to such an SMS on a quiet Sunday morning), Paul and his partner, Michaela Jorgensen, invited us over for a few glasses of wine and a tour of their new home. We had a blast talking and drinking as Paul tended to some pork he was slow-roasting on the Weber and their dog, Yuzu, tracked mud through the living room.
What an unexpected and delightful detour.
This is the photo we sent to Paul to warn him of our presence in his 'hood. He invited us in anyway.
Not wanting to wear out our welcome, and wanting to get a little actual riding in before we were too far in our cups, Stewart and I bid our farewell and headed up into the forest. We ended up between the villages of Horoměřice and Nebušice, near Route 240, which gave me a chance to show Stewart something I had seen on a ride last year but had never really gotten the chance to inspect: a large swimming pool, surrounded by overgrowth and mature trees, abandoned in the forest.
Abandoned swimming pool or drainage pool? You make the call.
On closer inspection, we concluded that it was likely not an old swimming pool but perhaps some sort of drainage pond. The sides of the pool were sloped, unlike a swimming pool, and there was some sort of small crane hanging over one end. And while we were there, contemplating what this big old hole could be, we heard a big gurgling sound and some sort of effluent burbled up from a drain at one end.
If anyone has a clue what this is, I'd love to hear from you.
From there, we cycled through the forest to Nebušice, where he had a few more beers and a couple of pepperoni pizzas at U Ády, before parting ways.
An inauspicious but totally predictable start to my cycling year. The ride reminded both of us of last year's ride to Únětice, which quickly devolved into a drinkathon. Although looking back at it, I managed eight more kilometers in that ride than I did in this one.
There's nowhere to go but up.
Length of ride: 19 kilometers
Average speed: 12.4 kph
Maximum speed: 46.1 kph
Pivo Index: 4 (plus some white wine and Champagne, with a capital C)
Distance ridden so far in 2013: 19 kilometers!
Finally, hitting the trails, for a little "bhiking." If you don't know what that means, click here.
Man, that tasted good.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
I passed some of troublemaker artist David Černý's "Babies" series at the Museum Kampa.
Editor's Note: The weather in Prague so far this spring of 2013 has been crappy. Cold and snowy and gray and miserable. I haven't been riding. To show just how bad this spring has been, I'm reposting a blog entry from April 8, 2011, which shows magnolias and forsythia in full bloom. As far as I know, none of that has yet blossomed this year yet. Grrrrrrr. Or maybe better to say Brrrrrrr...
I and an old friend got reacquainted last Friday.
I loaded my bike up in the back of my car and headed into the city. I was intent on riding the Bakerloo Run again. It used to be one of my favorite urban routes, but a quick search on the blog reveals that the last time I'd ridden it was in July 2007. Wow.
I must admit to having reached a certain level of boredom with the beautiful, but familiar, routes routes around my house in Černý Vůl, west of Prague. So I thought a spin on the old Bakerloo was in order.
I'd actually made plans to ride the Bakerloo on this day with its namesake, Mark Baker. I can't quite recall why we named it after Mark. I was going to ask him that question while we were riding, but we never did.
The day dawned windy, brisk and quite cloudy, and Mark wasn't feeling it. Just as I was heading out the door to meet up with him, he called to say that I'd have to do the Bakerloo in lieu of Baker.
I must admit that my sails felt a bit dewinded, as it were. But I had the day off and needed the exercise (I'm 1.5 pounds from my 25 X 50 campaign I began in January -- to lost 25 pounds, or 11.3 kilos, by the time I turn 50 on April 24), so I headed out anyway.
And I'm so glad I did.
The city was a riot of springtime blooms and flowers, there were cyclists and roller-bladers everywhere, the sun peeked out quite often from behind those clouds, I got a chance to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts (such as Marc Maron's hilarious and curiously intellectual "What The Fuck," as well as Daisy's excellent hosting of Radio Free Europe's "The Blender" podcast), and I thoroughly enjoyed my first bike beer of the season (in fact, I believe it may have been my first beer of the year period) at what we call The Blues Shack, at the bottom the park known as Dalejské údolí, near Hlubočepy.
By the way, they're doing some renovations on the ramshackle Blues Shack. It wasn't really open when I stopped by, but the guy served me a 25 CZK glass ($1.50) of delicious Kozel anyway.
That place is still going to be a dump when they get through with fixing it up, but they serve cheap beer and homemade smoked sausages, and it's perfectly situated on the Bakerloo Run, at just the time when you need some refreshment, so what's to complain about.
The ramparts of Vyšehrad.
The cool thing about the Bakerloo Run is that it is almost totally urban, but the route somehow manages to be about 75 percent on dedicated bike paths. It starts at Hradčanská metro, winds its way through the lovely villas of Střešovice, through Veleslavín, to Letohrádek Hvězda, through endless panelaks, until you connect with the top of Dalejské údolí.
There's a beautiful downhill path all the way through the park, which ends at The Blues Shack. Just before the shack, off on side trail, there's also Secret Lake, wedged into between tall sandstone cliffs. It's a magical little oasis -- hushed, beautiful. Hard to believe you're still in Prague, really.
The Blues Shack, under reconstruction. Although, frankly, it usually looks almost exactly like this during the best of times.
My first bike beer of the year, an 11-degree Kozel, from The Blues Shack, for 25 CZK, or about $1.50. Delicious.
A very affectionate, if slightly mangy, cat at the also slightly mangy Blues Shack.
From The Blues Shack, you wind your way down to the Vltava River, crossing on a very busy highway overpass to Branik (but which has a bike path and it's kinda of cool to be above the river and amid all those cars and trucks but safe), and then head back toward the center of Prague, also on a dedicated bike path along the east side of the river.
Once you're in the center, it does get a little squirrelly trying to negotiate your way to Letna park. I cross back over the river on either the Palackého or Jiráskův bridges and then snake through Kampa Park before joining up with Letna.
Prague's fabled Charles Bridge. Not a bad sight to appreciate from your bike. The pleasures of urban riding.
The view of the Vltava and its many bridges, looking down from Letna.
But what fun it is to bike through the city. Living out in the country, I don't get into the tourist areas very often, and it was amazing, on this ride, to see so many new restaurant and shops and hotels. Makes me want to live in the city again, frankly.
The Bakerloo is almost 40 kilometers in length, and it's another 10 or 12 from my house one way to Hradčanská, and I just wasn't feeling up to biking that distance round-trip so early in the season. I'm glad my car was waiting for me.
But it was a great ride. I saw a secret lake, petted a friendly cat, drank a cold beer, tackled some challenging hills, and stopped and smelled the flowers. Not bad for a Friday.
Length of ride: 37.5 kilometers
Average speed: 14.1 kph
Maximum speed: 36.2 kph
Time on the bike: 2.38.47
Pivo Index: 1
Distance ridden so far in 2011: 91.5 kilometers
We call this hill on the Bakerloo Run "Halfway To Straight Up" -- a 24 percent gradient. In other words, almost unclimbable.
The scariest church in Europe, on the east bank of the Vltava, near Podoli.
The scariest yacht club in Europe, on the east bank of the Vltava.
This very steep climb is in the Veleslavín neighborhood of Prague, and is one of the notable parts of the Bakerloo Run. It's a tough one. The photo doesn't do it justice. Easy for some. A challenge for me.
I loved the way someone trimmed these bushes in Veleslavín. Stylish.
Which way is up?
The Stresovice neighborhood was an explosion of color and perfume. Here, forsythia, and below, a magnolia. Spring in Prague makes the winter almost worth it.
Friday, February 1, 2013
Mark took this lovely shot of Air Force One just before touchdown in Prague. There's a video I took of the landing farther down in this post.
In honor of President Obama's recent inauguration for a second term, and since I haven't been riding yet this year, I thought I'd re-post a classic entry from April 22, 2009 -- Grant
It was a ride filled with tragedies and triumphs. And toads.
I met up with Stewart Moore and Mark Baker at the late, great Koliba, which had burned to the ground a few weeks before.
As regular readers of this blog know, it was one of our favorite places in Prague -- a little slice of heaven in the forests of Roztoky that also happened to serve grilled meats and fish and Budvar on tap. I'd seen pictures of its charred skeleton, but it wasn't until this day that I had seen the destruction for myself.
Stewart and I gaze upon the charred remains of our beloved Koliba in Roztoky.
But we didn't have too much time to mourn. We were on a mission.
We had an appointment to keep. With U.S. President Barack Obama and Air Force One.
Obama was scheduled to arrive in Prague on this day (April 4 -- OK, so I'm a little behind on my postings), and we knew the scheduled "wheels down" time for Air Force One, which was arriving from Strasbourg.
We also had observed in which direction the planes were landing in Prague on this day. I live near the airport and have made a small study of the landing patterns. Depending on the winds, most planes either take off or land on one particular east-west runway.
Stewart and I on standby.
On this day, the planes were landing from the east, which meant that we could get pretty close to the beginning of the runway by hanging out on a road in the village of Přední Kopanina.
We set off from Koliba, through the forests to Únětice, then on to my hometown of Černý Vůl, onto Statenice, and then up a long, steep and challenging forest path to the outskirts of Přední Kopanina.
We were a bit ahead of schedule, which meant we had time for some pre-Obama beers in the garden of a cute little pub in the village where we'd often drained a few.
We managed to stop drinking in time to hop on our bikes and motor our way over to the vantage point in an effort to see one of the world's greatest symbols of power up close and personal.
We weren't alone.
To our surprise, there were a few hundred people already there. Cars were parked on the side of the road, lined up for a kilometer or two in each direction. Incredibly, only three or four Czech police were around, mostly keeping people from parking too close to an intersection.
Mark caught this nice shot of the many cars parked on the side of the road, full of folks who were also hoping to get a glimpse of AF1.
A line of parked cars are silhouetted against the sky as a few hundred people await the arrival of Air Force One.
There were no searches of cars. No effort to prevent people from parking and gawking so close to the end of the runway.
Interestingly, we saw two blind men with a radio of some sort who were obviously experienced "planespotters," listening in on the air-traffic control conversations and themselves waiting to feel AF1 pass overhead. (A few days later, I went out to the airport again to try to see AF1 take off, and saw two different blind people trying to do the same thing.)
We waited for 15 minutes or so, all the time second-guessing our decision. Would Obama instead land at Prague's old military airport, which was nearby but which would mean Air Force One wouldn't pass overhead? That would certainly make sense from a security standpoint.
Would AF1 really land right over our heads?
Why, yes. Yes it would.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, a glance to the east revealed a large plane approaching, two gigantic, unusual-looking "headlights" shining brightly in the distance.
Air Force One was approaching, and we were in perfect position. I turned my digital camera to video and started shooting:
Still hard to believe that we could get that close to the Boeing 747 that was carrying the president of the United States. I guess they can't close every road around the airport, but you'd think there'd be some kind of security...
The gigantic plane -- in its unmistakable light blue and white, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in elegant letters -- passed right overhead with a roar, and then was silhouetted against the setting sun as it touched down.
We'd done it.
Another nice shot of Air Force One making its approach, also taken by Mark.
Although for me, truth be told, the plane itself, while very, very cool, wasn't quite as huge and overwhelming as I had somehow imagined. I don't know what I was expecting. Perhaps if Obama had arrived on the Space Shuttle or something.
A few minutes later, as we celebrated our good luck, a Boeing 757 carrying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- painted in the same colors - also passed overhead and landed on the same runway.
Then I had an idea. Why not try to race over to Evropska, the main boulevard linking the airport area with downtown Prague, and watch the motorcade drive by?
I have never pedaled so hard.
Stewart and I catching some rays, and downing a few beers, at a pub in Přední Kopanina, before the landing.
Stewart, on the brink of saying something extraordinary.
It's a good five or six kilometers, I would say, from where we were to where we needed to be, and we only had a few minutes. We were racing through fields and forests, legs pumping furiously, jumping over rocks and roots.
In the end, we missed Obama's motorcade by a few seconds. Damn!
But what a lark, what an adventure!
My best picture from Obama's speech at Prague Castle on April 5. You can just make out Obama and Michelle.
The next day, I was fortunate enough to be in the vast crowd of 20,000 or so who gathered in the massive square outside Prague Castle to hear Obama speak.
Now that was the real thrill.
RIDE STATS (April 4)
Length of ride: 28 kilometers
Average speed: 14.5 kph
Maximum speed: 44.5 kph
Pivo Index: 3
Time on the bike: 1.54.32
Distance ridden so far in 2009: 208.5 kilometers
RIDE STATS (for a previous short solo ride)
Length of ride: 17.5 kilometers
Average speed: 15.5 kph
Maximum speed: 42.0 kph
Time on the bike: 1.06.12
Mark (right) and Stewart enjoy a laugh at the beer garden in Přední Kopanina.
Why talk when you can drink?
The sun sets on a memorable day on the bikes.
Monday, December 3, 2012
It's going to be a long ride home in the dark.
Despite what they say, sometimes it's the destination, not the journey. This was one of those cases.
Stewart and I decided to go out for a ride last weekend.
Incredibly, the last ride we'd taken together was in late April, and that one was a bit of a laugh, really.
Before that, we'd ridden to Melnik in March, which was a truly fantastic outing. Hard to believe, too, considering how often Stewart and I used to go out, that this was the first ride, just the two of us, since sometime way back in 2011. I've moved closer into town, and it's a bit trickier to meet up for a quick ride.
Anyhow, him in Roztoky and me in Vokovice (Prague 6), we decided to meet in Lysolaje and head along the river toward the Prague suburb of Liben, the home -- or so I'd heard -- of a wonderful brew pub, Pivovar U Bulovky.
It was chilly, but the sun was out, a rarity at this time of year. We got a late start, not meeting up until 1:30, so we only had a few hours of cycling -- and drinking -- time.
It's an easy ride along the river (see our route above) and the setting sun and approaching darkness made for some wonderful urban vistas. We found the pub with little problem. It's not exactly a place you'd accidentally stumble upon. It's on a tiny little street darkened by the hulking mass of Bulovka Infectious Diseases Hospital. But inside, it's warm and welcoming, the tap room dominated by two gorgeous copper brewing tanks.
We sampled the house lager, a lovely, hoppy brew, and a half-liter each of a spicy ginger ale. That's ale flavored with ginger, not the cocktail mixer I'm talking about. Delicious. (The pub grub here also comes highly recommended, but we didn't get a chance to partake on this day.)
We stood outside and drank and talked. The windows of the pub are opaque, and even with bike locks, we didn't trust that our rides wouldn't be stolen while we were warm and toasty inside. So we drank and talked and got progressively colder until it was time to head home.
When the weather gets warmer, we vowed to book a table at the wine bar at St. Claire's Vineyard, which overlooks the Troja chateau. Looks like a lovely spot for a few glasses of grape juice.
Length of ride: 27.5 kilometers
Average speed: 14 kph
Maximum speed: 36.6 kph
Pivo Index: 2
Time on the bike: 1.56.54
Distance ridden so far in 2012: 267.5 kilometers
A couple of cold ones for a couple of cold ones.
Here's to old times and old-timers.
Stewart pointed out this interesting juxtaposition of the old and charming with the new and ugly . He says he always thinks of director Terry Gilliam when he sees this view, imagining Gilliam opening on the house, with appropriate idyllic music, and then panning out to show the tower block right there. "It's like a scene from Brazil. Brutalist architecture at its most brutal!"
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
An interesting formation in the park below the Star House.
The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
In other words, I'm riding again.
Back in September, I posted what I assumed would be my last blog post for quite some time. My heart just wasn't in it anymore. I needed to lose weight, I was out of shape, my asthma was acting up, and my usual cycling/drinking buddies couldn't seem to match their schedules to mine (no one's fault). I just wasn't having any fun out on the trails.
Well, I'm losing weight, my asthma's in check, and I realize that I've got to ride, I've got to exercise, I've got to get back out there, the gray and the cold and the rain and the snow be damned.
So I went out a week or so ago. It wasn't a long ride, and it was raw and overcast and spitting rain, but I did it, and I survived.
It was a solo urban ride. I cycled from my flat in the Vokovice neighborhood of Prague on a trail beside busy Evropska, crossed under the highway, and headed through parts unknown in the general direction of the so-called Star House, aka the Hvezda Summer Palace, in a park near the site of the Battle of White Mountain in 1620.
I cycled through the lovely park around the Star House, then back into the Stresovice neighborhood and back home. You can follow my route on the Garmin map above.
I was tired and cold and wet by the end, even though I'd only done 15 kilometers. But I had done it. I'm back.
Stay tuned. Another ride may just be around the corner.
Length of ride: 15 kilometers
Average speed: 12.3 kph
Maximum speed: 28.9 kph
Time on the bike: 1.12.32
Pivo Index: 0
Distance ridden so far in 2012: 240 km
The Hvezda Summer Residence. We just call it the Star House. It's surrounded by a wonderful park with many kilometers of walking and cycling trails.
Heading up through the forest toward the Star House, looking back down to a small lake.
While trying to reach the Star House, I had to walk my bike across some active railroad tracks.
A rather ominous-looking fence and railroad track into some sort of old industrial area. I couldn't help but think of Auschwitz. The weather didn't help my frame of mind.
Near the Evropska interchange, I came across two girls on horseback. I'm still amazed at what I come across on even the most routine of rides.
So lame. I'd only made it to the top of Evropska and already I was hurting and questioning why I'd come out at all.
I decided not to carry my bike down.
Heading back home, I got a great view of the construction on the new subway tunnels heading out from Dejvicka. This is what will become the new stop at Nadrazi Velaslavin. The picture doesn't do it justice. This is a very large hole in the Earth. Otherworldly, really.