Magic Mushrooms & Other Prague Delights

This gigantic specimen of a mushroom was growing on a stump next to a path on Petřín Hill. I can't believe it's survived so long without getting kicked or picked.

My friend Rob convinced me to go on an early morning ride on Wednesday (July 4). I met him near his flat on Evropska at 6:45 a.m. No, that’s not a typo – 6:45 a.m.

Czechs are notoriously early risers, and I’m always astounded when I have to be up at such an hour how many thousands of other Czechs are also up and about, on the metro, the trams, the roads, the sidewalks.

I didn’t see any other cyclists, though.

I used to work the overnight shift here in Prague (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.), and would always smile to myself, as I was sitting on a tram heading home, when I would peek into the windows of passing snack bars and see Czech workmen in their blue or green overalls sitting a counter, slurping up tripe soup and a half-liter of beer.

Beer drinking in this country is something that is done at all hours of the day. It doesn’t seem to be considered an alcoholic beverage so much as just a tasty drink, to replace orange juice in the morning or a Coke at lunch. In many respects, it’s considered a legitimately healthy drink here.

You can order a beer (or wine, for that matter) in the snack bar and restaurant where I work for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I can safely say that that would not be possible at a newspaper or TV/radio station in the United States!

Anyway, there I was, waiting for Rob at 6:45 a.m. on a cool, moist, but sunny Wednesday morning in Prague. (The sunny part would soon change, as the photo above will attest!)

Rob wanted me to show him the fabled Bakerloo Run (which incorporates the BR-LE and RE-HL bike routes), which he had had trouble completing on his own. There are some tricky turns, but the payoff is the beautiful ride through the park in Hlubočepy.

The weather soon turned dark and threatening, but it never really rained on us.

We did see some of the famous Czech snails, as big as squash balls, and as is my wont, I stopped to help a few of them cross the road. What can I say? Corey and I stopped to pick up a few when we were out riding last month, and she wrote about it on her blog.

Once Rob and I back into the center of Prague, I decided to show Rob a pretty, if challenging, path up Petřín Hill, which overlooks the city. From up there, you’re rewarded with some glorious views of St. Vitus Cathedral and the complex of government offices known as the Castle, as well as the Old Town itself.

We also rode by the house of former Czech President Vaclav Havel -- the playwright, the dissident, the phenomenon. As you may recall, I happened to run into Havel in a nondescript grocery store here in Prague a few months ago. No one was paying him any attention. He was checking his grocery list and pushing around a cart full of food. Stewart said he saw him walking his dog the other day in Letna park.

His house is very nice, in the upscale neighborhood of Střešovice. But there were no guards or anything. It was very low-key. In fact, his front gate even has his and his wife's name on the buzzer, with his signature heart (see above).

Interestingly, next door to Havel's house are the remnants of what looks like an another abandoned sculpture garden. (See photos at bottom of this post.)

The rather modest Prague home (all things considered) of former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

It was strange, but nice, to be finished with our ride by 9:30 a.m. or so.

Of course, the weather turned wonderful that afternoon, with bright blue skies and giant puffy white clouds. It was hard to believe the weather could change so dramatically in just a few hours.

Length of ride: 41 kilometers
Average speed: 15.7 kph
Maximum speed: 49.9 kph
Time on the bike: 2.33.37
Distance ridden in 2007: 1,050 kilometers

The beautiful six-sided Star House at Obora Hvězda park.

The tree-lined avenues leading up to the Star House, just visible in the center of the photo, are 1 kilometer long.

Some Days You Got It, And Some Days ...

I went out by myself today (July 5), a chilly, cloudy, dark, and windy day.

I didn't have a set route in mind. I ended up heading toward the neighborhood of Velaslavin and hooking up with the BR-LE route, forcing me to tackle the dreaded Mt. CMC.

It started to rain, and I was feeling kinda rundown anyway, and after I awhile I just started to drag. I ended up at Obora Hvězda, a lovely, enclosed park with many kilometers of crisscrossing trails, and the famous Star House, a six-sided chateau that dates to the mid-16th century. It was built by Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol for his wife.

The long, tree-lined thoroughfare leading from the gates of the park to the palace is 1 kilometer long. Very beautiful. I highly recommend a trip out there, to cycle or just to walk around.

I tooled around there for a bit before linking back up with the BR-LE route, down through another great park, Ladronka, popular with rollerbladers, to the massive, aging Strahov stadium, and from there splitting off the trail to Petřín again, which overlooks Mala Strana. There's a one-fifth-size replica of the Eiffel Tower up there. It's about 60 meters tall. Of course, it's said to have incredible views, but I've yet to make it up the 300 stairs, the only way to the top.

A fantastical fountain at the Nebozizek Restaurant on Petrin Hill.

While I was on Petřín, I passed the most amazing mushroom. It was so large I could almost lean my bike against it. OK, that's an exaggeration, but it was huge. I would say it was about 8 inches tall, or about 20 centimeters. If anyone knows what kind it is, please drop me a note.

I cycled from Petřín past the restaurant known as Petřínské Terasy, which boasts some of the most amazing views of Prague, over to St. Vitus Cathedral, and back home again.

The views of Prague from the top of Petřín are incredible. You can either walk over on a paved path that begins near Strahov Monastery, or take the funicular up the hill.

I've felt better on a bike, but few times have I had a better view!

Length of ride: 22 kilometers
Average speed: 14.8 kph
Maximum speed: 40.4 kph
Time on the bike: 1.25.44
Distance ridden in 2007: 1,072 kilometers

Mapping My Bike Routes

Today I ordered a Garmin Edge 305 cycling computer with GPS, thanks to recommendations from my friend Dale and a reader named Tyler.

So I will in future be able to upload my exact cycling routes to the blog, in addition to monitoring my heart rate, and measuring ascents, descents, etc. You can even load the routes into Google Earth for a 3-D flyover. I can't wait to try that feature!

In the meantime, I'm still trying to map my routes by hand using

Stay tuned.

These odd, rather disturbing sculptures (above and below) adorn a park and, yes, a playground near Rob's flat in Prague 6...

... While these odd sculptures (or what's left of them, above and below) were in what looked to be a forgotten sculpture garden next door to Havel's house. Strange.


C said…
That crying baby is the most f***ed up, yet intriguing, sculpture that I have ever seen.
Yes, it's very disturbing but oddly compelling. It's just weird that it's positioned so close to a playground.
That's Prague for you!
Anonymous said…
It's a parasol mushroom (bedla vysoka in Czech), and a fine specimen at that. My (Czech) wife says the best way to cook it is to lightly fry the cap in olive oil with caraway seeds.

I like your blog. I'm a bit of a cyclist myself and have done some of the routes you describe, and I look forward to trying some of the others. In return, I might be able to suggest some alternatives...

Hey, Simon,

Thanks for the info on the mushroom. I can't believe someone hadn't picked it, if it is edible, since it was on a high-traffic route.

Please do share your routes. I'd love to see what you're up to. I'm in the process of mapping my routes, and have added a route-finder on the left side of my blog.

All the best.
Prague Hotels said…
These snails are really so giant! After rain early in the morning or late in the evening you can see a lot of them. And I'm really afraid of them, when I see them on my way, and try to jump. They are so ugly.
I like your blog..What a big mushroom is that...

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