Croaks, Castles & Low-Flying Aircraft

An eye-catching poster advertises a local football match in Dobroviz. At least I think it's a football match.

The clank of swords. The croak of frogs. The roar of jet engines.

Just another bike ride around the villages and country roads outside Prague!

The weather has been stunning of late in Prague, and Saturday (May 10) was no exception. My cycling buddy Rob and I decided to meet up and take advantage of the sunny skies. I also wanted to see Rob's new bike.

Rob lives in Prague 6, and I live in the village of Černý Vůl, northwest of Prague. We met near the village of Přední Kopanina, not far from the airport. In fact, our plan was to ride what we call the Airport Loop, which, as its name suggests, well, you get the idea.

The apple trees were in full blossom, and the fields of bright yellow rapeseed continue to amaze both with the intensity of their color and their sheer size. I can't stop myself from taking pictures of these fields, but the photos never do justice to what my eyes see.

It's an almost painful yellow.

Fields of rapeseed somewhere above the village of Okoř.

While riding down a road in Statenice to meet Rob, I heard the most amazing noise. I didn't know what it was at first, and it kept getting louder and louder. As I got closer and closer to the source, I spied a small, algae-choked pond by the side of the road, and realized the sound was of about 50 frogs, all croaking at once.

I managed to record a little snippet of the frog songs on my digital camera, but sadly, my presence made many of the amphibians clam up:

Rob's keeping his mountain bike, but he also went out and bought himself a 2007 Schwinn Le Tour GSX road bike. It's a sweet-looking machine.

He let me take it for a spin on the flat stretch of empty road near the Prague airport. Normally, on my mountain bike, with my extra-fat tires, I can get up to around 30 kph on a flat stretch, if I'm really trying. Maybe a bit more.

On Rob's new bike, I hit 46.5 kph. Yes, I was really pumping, but the difference was pretty plain. It was a lot of fun, but I think I'll stick to my mountain bike for now. I really like being able to head off into the forest on a whim.

I think it's time I switched to some narrower tires, though. Jeez. My bike's great on the trails, but the tires seem to stick to the pavement like they're covered in chewing gum.

Rob flashes by on his new Schwinn Le Tour GSX.

We ended up cycling through the village of Dobroviz, north of the airport, and noticed that the planes were taking off and landing in opposite directions from their normal flight patterns. (Anyone know why they switch them sometimes? Wind?) Anyway, that meant that we could ride our bikes up a dirt road near to the start of the runway where they'd be landing, and get some good views of the planes flying low overhead:

Awesome stuff.

We noticed that a few seconds after the plane had passed overhead, the air around us would be quite turbulent, and we could actually hear the air make some sort of snapping or popping noise, almost like a whip being cracked. Can anyone else confirm this phenomenon?

Instead of completing the Airport Loop, though, we decided to head to Okoř. My friend James Gogarty (with whom I cycled to Melnik the previous weekend) had told me that there was a medieval festival taking place at the ruin of the 14th-century castle there, so we decided to check that out instead. We backtracked to Dobroviz, then through Běloky and Středokluky, through Cicovice, and onto Okoř. What lovely country roads to cycle, especially between Dobroviz and Běloky.

Okoř was a hive of activity -- hundreds of people, and hundreds of cars parked along the roads leading up to the village. We locked our bikes up and paid the 120 CZK admission and strolled around the castle grounds.

Lots of folks dressed up in medieval garb. Cooked meat of every description for sale. The tasty -- and quite popular -- Czech pastry called trdelnik, or trdlo (which I write about in more detail on my other blog, gusto). Wooden swords and shields and helmets to buy for the kids. Jewelry and ceramics. (I bought two beautiful blue ceramic wine goblets.) Music and theater and sword-fighting performances. You could even fire a small crossbow at a target in what looked to be the castle's chapel.

And beer. There was beer. But we only had one. And I had a heaping plate of fried meat products. Oh, and I had a small glasss of medovina, or mead -- a sort of thick honeyed wine that, despite of or because of its sweetness, goes down pretty easy. The Czech word for honey is med. Is that where the term "mead" comes from?

I've always wanted to drink a glass of mead. I'm sure I must have seen some movie where a knight takes a big swig of mead from an oversized mug, or where a pitcher of mead is passed around a table populated by grimy men ripping off huge turkey legs and eating them.

Sausages. Sausages wrapped in some sort of crude pancake. And more sausages.

I believe it was James Gogarty who told me about the mead that's apparently for sale at the Beekeeper's Institute in Řež, north of Prague, along the Vltava. I've got to cycle up there and check that out.

Despite having visited the village of Okoř dozens and dozens of times, I'd never actually been inside the castle before, so it was a real treat to finally walk around inside. There's more preserved than I realized, including beautiful Gothic arches over windows in what would have been that chapel.

We hung around for a bit, then cycled from Okoř to Statenice and back to Černý Vůl, my home. Rob had to get going, so we parted ways.

Once again, I ended the ride shaking my head, amazed at how many interesting things you end up seeing while riding in Prague.

Distance ridden: 34 kilometers (21 miles)
Average speed: 16.4 kph
Maximum speed: 43.9 kph
Time on the bike: 2.01.52
Pivo Index: 1 beer
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 642.5 kilometers (400 miles)

Rob heads down a lovely country lane near Beloky.

Gothic arches frame a set of windows inside the 14-century castle ruins in Okoř.

A pair of medieval guards replenish their liquids outside Okoř castle.

A view inside the castle ruins.

The grounds below Okoř castle, as seen for the first time (at least by me) from the castle itself.


Lauren said…
Great post - I've always wanted to go to a medieval festival... tried to make the Battle of Hastings re-enactment in England last year but was foiled in spectacular fashion by weekend engineering works.

A question - are you using a filter on your camera to get those great colours? The greens are great, and I like the graduation in some of the sky as well.
Grant Podelco said…
Hi, Lauren. Thanks for your comment, and for your kind words about the photos. Actually, I use a simple Nikon Coolpix S3 that I can shove in my bike bag under my seat. I don't have any filters or anything. It's just me and the subjects!

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