Of Castles And Kings And ... Trdelnik?

Karlštejn castle, which dates from 1348, looms above the tiny streets of the village.

Seems like every visitor to Prague finds time for a pilgrimage to the 14th-century Karlštejn castle, about 30 kilometers south of the city (by car). Indeed, it was the first excursion I made outside of the city when I first came to Prague in May 1995.

Karlštejn has a strange pull to it.

The village is relatively easy to get to by train, first of all. (It's a bit more of a hike to get to the actual castle, however.) More importantly, it just looks fantastic, a dream castle. It rises up majestically from a leafy valley and looms over you somewhat menacingly as you get closer.

It was built by Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV as a place to safely hide away the royal treasures, especially, as the website notes, his collection of holy relics and the coronation jewels of the Roman Empire. ´

Unfortunately, the inside of the castle, as I remember it, is not as impressive as the outside. I think there are castles with more interesting interiors in the Czech Republic, but perhaps none that is so striking from the outside.

Karlštejn is also a big destination for cyclists. It's one of the most popular of the organized biking tours from Prague.

Some drunk aliens were apparently responsible for this sloppy Czech crop circle along the 8100 route near Jinočany.

It was time for me to check out Karlštejn on my own. It's funny that I hadn't already done so. I have hiked from nearby Beroun to Karlštejn a few times, but I hadn't yet cycled there.

I met Rob on Sunday (July 1) near the Canadian Medical Center in Prague 6, and we set off. Rob was only going to accompany me for part of the journey, since he had to work a late shift that day. We followed the BR-LE trail to Obora Hvězda, where we picked up the 201.

Instead of taking the RE-HL route down to Stodulky, as we did the other day, we stayed on 201 out to Řepy and Zličín. It was a pleasant ride -- pretty and more interesting than I thought, as it wound its way through Řepy and Zličín and out toward Hostivice.

My map has the 201 going straight out to Břve, but Rob's ShoKart map had the trail heading into Hostivice a bit.

We got a bit turned around, but eventually passed a lovely lake (right) southwest of Hostivice, and we then ended up hooking up with our next intended path, the 8100, in Břve.

We took the 8100 past Chýně (which gives the wonderfully vowel-challenged Břve a run for its money), through Chrášťany, Jinočany, and Zbuzany and then took a slight jag to to Ořech, hooking up with the 0013, which runs to Karlštejn.

(By the way, Rob found a pub along the trail in Zličín that sells half-liters of Staropramen for 17 CZK, about $.80. He didn't get the name of it, but it sets a new record for the cheapest half-liter we've found in Prague. Your entries are welcome!)

The ride to this point was enjoyable, through some charming villages, but it's all on roads. As is the entire ride to Karlštejn. That's sad, really. Sure, the roads are small, but they still attract a fair amount of traffic. The nice thing about heading out to Roztoky and Okoř, my favorite regular ride, is that about half of the route is on forest paths.

This view is typical of the kind of roads that lead cyclists the 45 kilometers or so from Prague to Karlštejn.

Looking at a bike map to Prague and environs is a bit misleading because the routes marked are mostly just roads, not dedicated cycling paths. I didn't have any bad experiences with motorists on this day, but that seems more the exception than the rule in this country.

Rob (that's him at left) and I parted ways where 8100 intersected 0013, and I headed off to Karlštejn.

I would label the difficulty of the route intermediate-plus. It's not the length of the ride so much as the fact that there are quite a few hills that require some serious leg and lung work.

One of the places I wanted to check out before I got to Karlštejn was called Velka Amerika (Big America). I'd read about it on the web, where one cycling site described it as one of the most romantic places in Bohemia. Another said it got its name because the atmosphere of the place reminded one of the Wild West.

I finally located a sign pointing off the route to Velka Amerika, past the village of Mořina. I followed the road down and down and then up and up and up on a paved road that turned into a gravel road that turned into a small, steep path.

I was out of breath, my thighs burning, with no sign of fabled Velka Amerika. I finally reached the top and asked some passing hikers. They pointed into some trees to my right, and I headed off.

I snaked my way through the low branches and brambles, eventually emerging, blindly, at the unprotected lip of a large, very deep hole filled with rusted machinery and trash.

Velka Disappointment.

This is reputedly the "most romantic spot in Bohemia." Good lord.

This is what all the fuss is about??!! Jeesh. Maybe it was filled with water in its day and had a certain charm. It has all the allure today of a pothole.

Maybe I missed the real Velka Amerika. Maybe an informed reader can fill me in. (Note: An alert reader did indeed fill me in. See comments box.) There's also a Mala Amerika shown on the map a short distance away, but I wasn't about to waste my time again, especially with no signage.

I hooked up with some forest paths that eventually took me down into Karlštejn.

The view of the castle as you enter the village is definitely impressive, no matter how many times you've seen it.

Be forewarned. The castle's beautiful, but the road snaking up to the castle is lined with all manner of tacky trinket and crystal shops.

There are a few decent restaurants, though, and I stopped for a half-liter of Pilsner Urquell (30 CZK or $1.42) and a decent plate of goulash and dumplings (73 CZK or $3.50) at U Janů. I dined al fresco and plotted my next move.

I also stopped and bought one of the unfortunately named Czech pastries known as trdelnik, a dry sweetbread covered with cinnamon, nuts and sugar. Alex Kapranos, the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, wrote about trdelnik in "Sound Bites," his food column from the road, in the "Guardian" last year.

A plate of goulash and dumplings and something nice to wash it all down with. Not bad for $5.

It was about 45 kilometers or so to Karlštejn, which took just under three hours. But I decided to keep cycling a bit along the Berounka River to the village of Srbsko, a busy little place with many restaurants all humming with cyclists, their bikes lined up neatly out front.

While the village is alive, the train station is a sore sight for eyes, a forgotten stretch of track and a sad, delapidated station that nonetheless housed a friendly lady who sold me a ticket back to Prague for me (34 CZK or $1.61, with my Prague metro pass), and my bike (26 CZK or $1.23).

The train wasn't leaving for 45 minutes or so, leaving me no choice but to sit on the terrace of the Hotel Elma and drink another beer, a half-liter of Gambrinus for 20 CZK ($.95).

The ride back to Prague's main station, Hlavní nádraží, took about 45 minutes. I even dozed off for a few minutes.

I'd do the ride to Karlštejn again. It's great to have a beautiful castle and some decent grub pulling you forward. It might be nice, though, to get a bit more adventurous and try to find some off-road trails for most of the way.

Total length of ride: 56 kilometers
Average speed: 16.0 kph
Maximum speed: 48 kph
Time on the bike: 3.27.26
Distance ridden in 2007: 1,099 kilometers

A trdelnik baker lovingly applies a coating of Nutella on the inside of one of the pastries.

If you like tacky trinkets, cheap tchotchkes, and tiny crystal animals in a variety of colors not found in nature, then the road leading up to Karlštejn castle will be a little slice of heaven.

I liked the use of old farm implements to decorate the outside of a house in Karlštejn.

The view from the bridge in Srbsko, looking down the Berounka River toward Karlštejn.

The sad little train station in Srbsko.

The train arrived at Prague's main station about 45 minutes later.


Marek said…
Hi Grant,

I'm almost sure the place on the photo isn't Velka Amerika. There are al least three big quarries around Morina and you have probably visited the wrong one. Compare these photos with your one, or check out the exact place on this map.

BTW, the Small America hidden in the woods west of the big one (see the map above) is much more romantic.

Thank you very much! Looking at the photos you link to, I see that I indeed did stumble upon the wrong one. The signs around there are very bad, and I didn't realize the area was big enough to support more than one of these quarries. I will go back and find the real Velka Amerika.

All the best.
Rob said…
Didn't you stop for a beer at Pivovarský dvůr Chýně? Seems a shame if you didn't ;-)
No, I didn't. Tell me more about it! I'm guessing it's worth a visit?!
Hey, Rob,

Are you the Rob who's leaving cycling routes on bikely.com? If so, get in touch. Looks like we bike the same terrain! I'm starting to create a few routes on bikely myself.
Rob said…
Hi Grant

ref: bikely.com. No it's not me. Not yet anyway ;-)

I'll post a route I'm due to undertake tomorrow (as long as the weather breaks). Did a long trip on Sunday morning and almost died in the heat :-(

You should pop back to Pivovarský dvůr Chýně as they do some very tasty beers. As Evan Rail says in his book 'Good Beer Guide Prague & The Czech Republic', 'if it were Prague proper, brewer Tomas Mikulica would probably be elected mayor...'

Just make sure you have space in your rucksak/CamelBack for the 'takeouts' ;-)
Baudolino said…
Hi Rob,
at least you stumbled across a hole in the ground. I walked from Prague to Morina but could not find it...as you said the signs are pretty bad. Part of the reason is that they are trying to discourage people from visiting, given the number of people who have accidently fallen. Nonetheless, I found Mala Amerika, which I found to be quite romantic and not a bad spot to go for a dip. However, when I attempted to find the spot again I got lost, which was a bummer given that I had friend from Australia with me. It pays to have a good map.

Cheers Baudolino
Rob Whitton said…
Hi Grant - just reading your blog on Karlstein (as I plan to cycle out in a couple of weeks) and saw the question on who is the Rob posting on Bikely. That's me. I live in Nebusice and a few of us cycle out on Sunday mornings (normally pretty early) and do the Okor run, or Roztoky, or a combination. Last week a but further out to Kralupy. I try to read your blog every now and again - it took me to Lidice last summer. Always interesting... Thanks
Grant Podelco said…
Great to hear from you, Rob! Sounds like you're doing the same runs as I am! Get in touch and maybe we can link up sometime for a ride. All the best.
Sandkicker said…
Grant the photo you have of the Church in ruin is in Lidice it is nothing celtic but of a town that was destroyed by the Nazi's in World War two, the photo you have shows the place where all the men where kept in the celler of the house which is destroyed in the photo and then brought out put against the wall and shot, you have it incorrect as Budec, it is Lidice,Lidice was then blown to pieces in order to wipe it off the map thus only the ruins now, you have other photos below from the same place, no offense but how about getting it right considering what happened to this village which the Nazi's tried to remove from the map, I think some respect is in order to get it correct in memory of those that where killed there.
Grant Podelco said…
Hey, Sandkicker. I'm not sure which church you're talking about. There's not a photo of a church in this post. And the only time I've ever been in Lidice was in 2007. I wrote about it on a blog post on July 7, 2007. And the photos I have posted of Budec are, indeed, of Budec. I think you're confusing some of my blog posts or something.

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