Sunday, March 30, 2008
Gunfight At The Okoř Corral
The old-fashioned mechanical shooting gallery.
I'm always amazed, but never surprised, at how much can happen on a short bike ride in Prague. Saturday's ride was no exception, filled as it was with wildlife, wild weather, heavy guns, and a mysterious disappearance.
It had been awhile since I'd been out on my bike. I've been recovering from minor surgery for the past couple of weeks, and the family and I spent the Easter holiday in Berchtesgaden, in southern Germany.
The weather on Saturday (March 29) looked promising enough -- milder temperatures, some blue sky and sun -- so I decided to ease back into the saddle with a short solo ride. I figured I'd take an easy route from my house in Černý Vůl, just west of Prague, to the village of Okoř and its 14th-century castle ruins, one of my favorite cycling destinations.
I decided to take a slightly different route, cycling from Černý Vůl up Route 240 to Velké Přílepy. It's a busy highway, and I don't need to get into the disregard that Czech drivers routinely display toward cyclists, but I'd only be on the main road for a kilometer or two before turning off onto a smaller country road.
The highway route wasn't a total loss, as I did get to watch about six or seven deer grazing in a farmer's field. Surviving the main road, I turned off in Velké Přílepy and headed toward Noutonice, from where I began a fierce battle with a raging headwind. I'd ridden a few weeks ago during the deadly windstorm in Prague, and Saturday's gusts ranked right up there, I have to say.
My average speed during that chunk of my ride must have been around 8 kph.
In Noutonice, I passed a nondescript little pub called "U Evžena." These little places are always interesting to me, for it's in just such out-of-the-way establishments where I'm likely to find a record-breaking price on a half-liter of beer.
Regular readers know that I'm on a quest for the cheapest half-liter of beer in Prague. So far, I've found a half-dozen or so places out in the country where a half-liter sells for 17 CZK. The record is 15 CZK (about 93 U.S. cents), and in fact "U Evzena" had a fading sign out front that advertised a half-liter -- of Gambrinus, I believe -- for 15 CZK.
I'll have to stop in for a swallow one of these days to make sure.
On my way to Noutonice, I saw lots of huge European brown hares -- as big as cocker spaniels -- frollicking in the fields, and I passed a single deer -- a buck, with small antlers -- staring intently at me as I passed close by.
From Noutonice, I took a wonderful forest path -- partly paved, most of it dirt -- into the woods behind Okoř, and then headed into the village proper, coming in just behind the castle ruins.
I discovered a small children's fair set up on the grounds beneath the castle. I'd seen the same fair here last summer. I recognized the creaky merry-go-round:
Then I saw something I'd never seen here before. Or more precisely, I heard something I'd never heard here before. The sound of guns cocking and "shots" being fired.
Next to the merry-go-round stood a perfectly preserved, brightly painted, mechanical shooting gallery, circa 1895. It was fascinating. You could shoot at tigers and antelope and deer and oddly dressed men who passed across the top of the range, and at a big revolving sun and an organ grinder, as well as two men on a see-saw on which balanced two large steel ball-bearings.
And the guns! The guns were made of dark wood and cold steel and were very heavy. For 30 CZK ($2), the gallery attendant gave me seven metal bullets -- not BBs, but heavy pellets the size of small buttons. I inserted a pellet into the stock, cocked the gun, and fired away.
The pellets ricocheted everywhere -- steel off steel. I'd be surprised if the attendant and her two or three small kids didn't routinely get hit. I wouldn't be surprised if the shooters also didn't get hit from time to time.
Check out this little video I made:
This shooting gallery is the kind of thing that would never be allowed to operate in the United States, for reasons of liability. In addition to the ricochets ("You'll shoot your eye out!"), there's nothing stopping a person from aiming and shooting the gun at someone on the merry-go-round.
You've got to hand it to the Czechs for not only preserving this kind of thing, but for letting people enjoy it the way it was intended, lawsuits be damned. Fantastic stuff.
Sadly, while I was busy felling elephants on the Serengeti, my iPod must have fallen out of the exercise case on my wrist and onto the ground. I looked around for it, and even asked the attendant, but it was gone. One of her kids -- he must have been about 5 -- kept looking at me intently as I searched the grounds, and I think he probably picked it up. I wasn't too upset. It was old, and I still had the earbuds and all the music on my computer at home.
If the kid can just find some earphones, he'll have a great old time listening to National Public Radio podcasts and the latest Radiohead CD.
Just outside of Okoř, heading home, I was caught in a torrential downpour of rain, snow, and sleet. Of course, I'd left all my winter-weather gear at home. I was soaked, and my fingers were freezing.
Then the sun came out, I began to warm up, and I saw a rainbow near Lichoceves.
Jeesh. What more can you ask for in a ride?!
Length of ride: 15.5 kilometers
Average speed: 15.0 kph
Maximum speed: 44.2 kph
Time on the bike: 1.01.20
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 363.5 kilometers
Rainbow and storm clouds near Lichoceves.
The trail between Lichoceves and Okoř (above and below) is free of cars and full of fun.
Forsythia and grape hyacinth in my yard as I arrived home.