Going The Hole Way

I came across this intriguing hand-painted billboard on the side of a building in the forgotten Czech village of Hole, northeast of Prague. I think it dates from the 1920s or '30s, although it's in remarkably good shape.

The sweet tang of manure. The sharp bite of coal smoke. The fragrances of freshly turned earth and plump pears rotting by the roadside.

Such were the smells on my solo ride on Saturday (September 29) under skies intermittently dark and cloudy and blue and sunny, evoking Ireland's windy sea coast more than the pastoral farmland of Bohemia.

I was feeling a bit gloomy on Saturday. Daisy was at work, and I just couldn't seem to get myself in gear. Unexplainable malaise. I thought I might cure what ailed me with a ride -- you know, get the adrenalin coursing through my veins. Stewart was busy with work, and I didn't feel like bothering anyone else on short notice, so I headed out alone.

My friend Rob had told me, when he learned that Stewart and I had been in Úholičky last week, that the ride on to the village of Tursko was quite nice. I decided to see if he was right.

A tiny church in the village of Holubice. Blog reader Max Bahnson says it's called Narození Panny Marie and that the rotunda was built in the 1230s by Otakar I.

I live in the village of Černý Vůl, about 11 or 12 kilometers northeast of Prague. It's the area where I used to head to when I went cycling while I lived in Prague 6, so it's rather funny to be starting out from there. I headed to Unetice, then up a decent climb to a highway, turned left, then right, down to Úholičky (the Pub With No Name was closed), and then on to Tursko.

It was, indeed, a nice ride -- on small country roads, not trails, sadly, but there were few cars to worry me. In fact, I decided to ride with my iPod on, rocking out to the fantastic new album by the Foo Fighters, "Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace." Perfect music to pedal by.

(Click here to see a detailed route map of my ride, which I'm calling The Hole Way. Click on the KML icon to import the route into Google Earth for an incredibly cool 3-D flyover.)

Outside of Tursko, I passed a vast field of tall, desiccated sunflowers, like an army of brittle old men, bearded with bristles, burnt by the sun, their heads bowed deeply, sagging with fatigue.

An exhausted army of sunflowers.

Flocks of birds were feeding on the seeds. I saw a huge hawk dive into the flowers and disappear, never to reappear. He must have had quite a meal -- a rabbit, perhaps.

In Tursko, there's a lovely church and cemetery, and I passed a country house with a backyard full of chickens -- curious chickens, which flocked to the fence like a pack of small dogs to check me out.

From Tursko, I headed to Kozinec and Holubice, outside of which I passed massive orchards, the trees long picked of fruit, but impressive nonetheless. The area seems to be Prague's fruit bowl -- orchards as far as the eye could see, both mature trees and saplings.

Well-tended orchards stretch to the horizon near Holubice.

I headed toward Trněný Újezd, then toward the vowel-challenged village of Svrkyně. Say it three times fast. Actually, just try to say it once!

From there, I simply had to check out a town -- OK, it was a few houses and a couple of barns -- called Hole (in Czech, prounounced Hole-eh). Appropriately enough, the road to Hole is a dead end. (You can't make this stuff up.)

In Hole, I came across a very curious discovery -- a fading but still beautiful billboard, hand-painted on the side of a nondescript building -- for what turns out, as far as I can determine, to be a French shoe polish. It says Creme Eclipse, with the slogan "Cirage a la Cire," or polisher with beeswax.

A quick search on the Internet finds folks who collect tins and other items containing this company's logo and slogan. It's difficult to pin down a date for this type of advertisement, but it seems like something from the 1920s or '30s.

Considering the history of Czechoslovakia, it's hard to imagine this dates from the communist period, and it's faded enough for me to reason that it also does not date from the post-Velvet Revolution era. Which would date this sign sometime to the First Republic, from 1918 to 1938.

Even that is strange, because Hole is such a small community that it doesn't make obvious sense to have such a billboard in a place where only a few dozen people would ever see it. Maybe Hole was a hopping place in the days of the First Republic.

Anyway, it's a charming little curio, and I'm glad someone has seen fit to save it from destruction.

From Hole, it was a rocky, rutted path downhill that eventually linked to a familiar path connecting Kovary to my favorite cycling destination, the Gothic castle ruin at Okoř.

Seeing as I was alone, and temperatures were a bit chilly, I decided not to stop for a beer at my favorite watering hole in Okoř, the awkwardly named but amazing Family Hotel Okoř & Restaurant, and headed for home, through Lichoceves and then into Statenice and Černý Vůl.

I really enjoyed this ride, lots of picturesque villages, not a lot of cars, some good hill climbs and a couple of fun downhills, and even a bit of off-road behind Okoř (which turned out to be incredibly muddy, considering the torrential rains of the day before).

And best of all, I felt a lot better when I got back -- both my body and my brain.

Length of ride: 36.5 kilometers
Average speed: 16.4 kph
Maximum speed: 45.8 kph
Time on the bike: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Distance ridden so far in 2007: 1,500 kilometers

The 14th-century castle ruins at Okoř peek through the trees.

I passed this beautiful fungus in Unetice.

Looking back down the road toward Trněný Újezd, on the way to Svrkyně.

The cycling path behind Okoř castle passes through this lovely grove of trees.

The paths behind Okoř castle were muddy enough to cause even those on horses to dismount. The mud caused me to involuntarily dismount my bike a few times.

This looked to me like an ivy waterfall.


Carlo said…
Nice photos as always!
Max Bahnson said…
I live in Velké Přílepy and now this area really well, and of course, like it a lot. It's great for cycling and walking. The small church of the photo is actually in Holubice. It's called Narození Panny Marie and the rotunda was built in the 1230's by Otakar I. There is a very interesting book about the area. If you can read Czech I really recommend it. It's called Pole slunečního býka. Talks about the history and legends and mysteries of the region. And there are some really nice photos in it as well...
Grant said…
Hi, Max,

Thanks for writing. I've incorporated your info into the post. I guess I got confused on the location, what with so many little villages! I wish I could read Czech, but sadly, I don't, at least not at that level. But I'm very interested in all these legends and mysteries.

Maybe we can ride sometime, since you're right up the road! Stay in touch.
anna said…

I stumbled across your blog - it's very nice. I like the photos.

I like a ride sometimes, too. I rode from Germany to Romania last summer before making my way to Prague by train. This is my blog: http://annak.pmeh.org/ It's a bit patchy - a work in progress that will probably never be completed at this stage.

I wouldn't mind a riding companion for some adventures around Prague if you're at all interested.
Grant said…
Hi, Anna,

I really like your blog. You should keep adding to it! It sounds like an amazing trip. I would love to do something like that sometime.

Send me an e-mail at my Yahoo address and let me know your details. It would be great to go out for a ride sometime.

All the best!
Max Bahnson said…
Actually, you didn't get that much confused. The two villages Holubice and Kozinec are in fact one municipality imaginatively called Holubice-Kozinec.
Wouldn't mind going for a ride some time, or at least for a pint down at Spejchar in V. Prilepy.

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