Lim & Kim Visit Prague On A Whim
Bostonians Pauline Lim and Ulandt Kim, astride their folding Bike Fridays, soak in the Gothic atmosphere at the 14th-century castle ruins in Okoř.
You know you've had a good ride when you feel compelled to take pictures of your mud-caked bike at the end of the day. Of course, it wasn't just the bike. Shoes and socks and shins and my shiny new red jacket were all mud-splattered.
It didn't help that my front fender came loose during the trip and had to be removed. Every turn of the wheel covered me in spray until I resembled a large Jackson Pollock canvas painted with mud and rain.
I wasn't alone in my madness, however.
I was riding with Pauline Lim and Ulandt Kim. They're from Boston and were visiting Prague for a week or so after snagging a great deal on air fare and hotel. They're enthusiastic and experienced cyclists, and had contacted me by e-mail a few weeks ago about biking in Prague after coming across my blog while surfing the net.
We spoke on the phone after they arrived, and they seemed like great folks. Once again, I'm blown away by the power of this humble blog, and grateful for the chances I've had to meet up this year with fellow cyclists, like Costas and Carlo.
In the end, I took a day off from work, on Tuesday (December 4), and met Pauline and Ulandt for a ride.
No need to rent bikes, however. They'd brought theirs with them. They own two very cool folding Bike Friday bikes, made in Eugene, Oregon. The bikes take just a few minutes to assemble once they're removed from their hard-shell suitcase.
I was curious to see how these bikes performed on Prague's cruel, mountainous, unforgiving terrain.
The bikes look slightly weird, what with their tiny, 20-inch (50-centimeter) tires and smallish frames, but they really seem to ride well, even through some serious muck, and Pauline and Ulandt had no trouble keeping up with me. In fact, it was I who needed to worry about keeping up.
These guys are serious cyclists in serious shape. I think Ulandt used to be a triathlete. Both of them regularly take 100- to 200-kilometer rides, sometimes much longer.
I didn't know this before I agreed to meet them, or I might have chickened out.
We met at Hradčanská metro station in Prague 6. I gave them a choice of three possible routes -- a ride out to the lovely castle ruins at Okoř, a personal favorite route of mine; a trip toward the Hill of Doom and through Divoká Šárka park; or what I like to call the Bakerloo Run, which takes riders through some interesting cityscapes before entering a beautiful park and ending with a ride along the Vltava River.
Not surprisingly, they chose Okoř.
We left Hradčanská and headed for Stromovka Park. We crossed the river near Troja chateau and headed north, before crossing back across the river via one of the cool little ferries that transport cyclists and pedestrians for 20 CZK each way. The ferries are even part of Prague's public transport system, but I'm always still a little amazed that my annual transport pass is accepted.
A quick trip on the ferry takes cyclists and their cycles across the Vltava.
We then took the usual route to Okoř, through Roztoky, Unetice, Statenice and Lichoceves. It's about 25 kilometers to Okoř one-way. (Click here to see the entire route on Google Earth.)
The temperature was pretty mild, around 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 Celsius), but the blue skies and sunshine I'd seen when the curtain went up on the day seemed to exit stage left as soon as we climbed on our bikes. We slogged through mud puddles and muck and endured spitting rain and a stiff headwind before finally arriving in Okor for some sightseeing and lunch at Family Hotel Okor & Restaurant. If you haven't been there, check it out -- it's like you've suddenly been transported to a charming local inn in the French countryside.
We pedaled around the 14th-century castle ruins, snapped a few photos, and had lunch. I learned that Stephanie and Ulandt are pretty fascinating folks. Ulandt is a microbiologist turned carpenter, while Pauline works as an artist, secretary and singer. I enjoyed their company.
After lunch and a beer (OK, I'm the only one who drank a beer), it was back on our bikes for the ride home, this time taking a slight detour through Tuchoměřice, which is celebrating its 700th anniversary.
I was wearing my new cycling jersey for the first time, along with my new jacket, and I have to admit that I think I now understand the benefit of these clothes. I had been sweating my usual copious amounts by time we reached Okoř, and my jersey was pretty wet.
By the time we saddled up again, though, my shirt was pretty much dry, and I felt ready for a long ride. I know for sure that if I'd been wearing the cotton shirts I usually put on for riding, they'd still have been soaked through.
On our way back into Prague, the dark clouds parted and some spectacular blue sky appeared.
That's exactly what happened when Rob and I attempted our centuries back in October. My cotton mock turtlenecks were sopping wet by the time we stopped for lunch, and they never dried out. I was wet and cold the entire trip.
I'm a believer now.
Funny, though. I had just received a big order of bike clothes, and among the new stuff was a pair of warm lobster-claw gloves and some shoe covers -- but I decided not to wear either of them because the day seemed so mild. Boy, was I wrong. My fingers and toes were numb by the time we finished on Tuesday. I've got to remember to at least carry them in my pack.
I never did get to ride a Bike Friday. I'd wanted to, but forgot amid the hubbub at Hradčanská as I parted ways with Pauline and Ulandt.
It was great riding with those guys, though. If they were searching for a classic Czech cycling experience -- castle ruins, country roads, and crappy weather -- they got it!
Length of ride: 50 kilometers
Average speed: 16.4 kph
Maximum speed: 41.4 kph
Time on the bike: 2.59.23
Distance ridden so far in 2007: 1,867.5 kilometers
Brown coal is still frequently used for heating in the Czech Repubic, especially in homes out in the country. The stinky smoke belches thick and brown out of numerous chimneys, and if the winds aren't right, clouds of it can hang low in the valleys.
The Czech country roads can, at times, be a cycling paradise.