Tunnel Visions

Stewart took this cool shot of the train rushing past us -- and our bikes -- in the tunnel.

Have we found a new cyclists’ paradise? Even a new Koliba?

Well, nothing can replace the late, great Koliba, but Marina Vltava comes pretty close.

Stewart and I discovered Marina Vltava on a recent ride down the east side of the Vltava, the river which snakes its way through the center of Prague.

We met up at The Smallest Pub In The World in Úholičky. And instead of going our usual route through Tursko and Holubice before ending up in our usual Okoř for a beer or two, we decided to be a bit more daring.

Stewart had been wanting to ride down the river to Nelahozeves, a village noted as being the birthplace – on September 8, 1841 -- of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. Dvorak lived in the village until the age of 12. The village is also dominated by a 16th-century castle owned by the Lobkowicz family.

Whenever Stewart had mentioned it, the trip had always seemed too big to bite off for an afternoon ride. It seemed I always had something I needed to do later in the day, and was hesitant to commit to what seemed like a big bike trip.

In this case, though, I had just come back from eight days of eating and drinking in Bulgaria, and was eager for some exercise.

So we set off for Nelahozeves.

From Úholičky, we rode up the hill to Tursko, and then took some back roads in the direction of Kralupy nad Vltavou.

Wanting to get off the roads as soon as possible, we followed what at first seemed to be a promising trail. Unfortunately, it soon deteriorated into brambly overgrowth, and spit us out above a gigantic train yard on the outskirts of Kralupy.

Stewart heads bravely down an unknown path, which, it turns out, led to a gigantic railroad yard (below).

The 20 or so active train tracks stood between us and our destination, but it looked particularly inhospitable to cyclists. We didn’t want to backtrack, though. We wanted to forwardtrack, so to speak.

We climbed down from the forest, and saw a man in a booth who appeared to be overseeing the train yard. We thought he’d yell at us, or tell us to turn back, but instead he nodded his head, indicating that it was OK for us to cross.

We hoisted our bikes onto our shoulders and did just that, as quickly as we could. A train crossed on a track behind us shortly after we’d passed. Very cool.

Once across, we entered Kralupy, then hooked up with the river path on the west side of the Vltava, heading north.

And what a beautiful cycling path it is! One of the best trails either of us have ridden in quite some time. Smooth dirt, no roots or rocks, with large trees shading the way, the river close by on the right, and tall cliffs on the left.

Suddenly, we look up to the left, and there are some spectacular sandstone cliffs looming over us, pockmarked with rounded caves and all sorts of holes and indentations, eroded over the centuries. Very much like the rock formations near Kokorin, where we rode last May.

We stopped to take a closer look, and discovered a much larger tunnel into the rock, which led us to two sets of train tracks passing through the mountain. The tunnel was long and dark and cool. A couple of local kids were playing in the caves and running along the tracks.

We waited eagerly for a train to pass, but none came. Of course, as soon as we hopped back on our bikes and headed off, a train whooshed through the tunnel.

A couple of local kids hang out in a sandstone cave above the train tracks. Am I the only one who can see some sort of mutated monster face in this picture?

Just up from the tunnel, we came upon a most inviting-looking spot – Marina Vltava, a beautiful pub, restaurant and hotel, situated right on the river. We stopped for a couple of reasonably priced cold ones – Gambrinus for 23 CZK ($1.13) for a half-liter, Pilsner Urquell for 33 CZK ($1.62). We splurged on the Pilsner.

I can think of worse places to stop and have a beer.

This may become our new favorite ride. A beautiful riverside trail, and a lovely pub at the end of it all. What more does a cyclist need?

Marina Vltava.

Just up from Marina Vltava was our destination -- the village of Nelahozeves, where the beautiful Lobkowicz castle rises over the river. I actually thought the castle was Dvorak’s house, but Chez Dvorak actually turns out to be somewhere else in the village. I’ll have to check it out on my next visit. I’m sure I’ll be back.

The Lobkowicz castle in Nelahozeves.

It was back down the trail to the train tunnel, where we hung out for a few more minutes, hoping for a trainspotting. The kids were still there, running on the tracks through the black tunnel. A few seconds later, a train appeared down the tracks. The kids must have known the schedule, and were playing a little game of chicken.

The kids made it to safety, and the train roared past right in front of us. What a thrill! We felt like a couple of kids ourselves.

Speaking of Dvorak and trains, I found a great story about Nelahozeves and Dvorak on the Radio Praha website. It contains this passage, which I’m pretty sure is referencing the very tunnel where Stewart and I were hanging out:

"It's quite well-known that Dvorak throughout his life was very fond of keeping track of train schedules, and going to see the trains even, when they came and left. For some reason it was fascinating to him."

So he was a 19th century trainspotter.

"Yes, you could say that. But I think what's more interesting about the train station and the train line here in Nelahozeves, is the fact that when Dvorak was born it wasn't here. There was no railroad here. It was constructed during his childhood and it was a very big event for the village of Nelahozeves, and Dvorak was here to see it being built.

The entrance we discovered to the train tunnel just south of Nelahozeves.

"I can't resist telling one anecdote. There's a tunnel through the cliff just to the south of the village, and the workers who built it were from Italy. They were experienced in building tunnels through the Alps and came here to little Nelahozeves to build this tunnel. There is one report that after work they liked to gather around Frantisek Dvorak's butcher's shop - that's the father of the composer - and sing their Italian songs."

So, maybe Dvorak as a little boy was picking up a little bit of the Italian spirit.

"Yes, and in general it's quite surprising, when you start going below the surface of what is commonly said about Dvorak's childhood in Nelahozeves, the variety of musical experiences you could have here."

The tunnel, inside out.

Back on the trail to Kralupy, where it was our understanding that the river trail ended.

But on a whim, we decided to see for ourselves if that was true, and kept heading south on what appeared to be a trail. And the trail kept going, more or less. We had to improvise in a few spots, but sure enough, we followed a pretty nice path all the way down to Libčice nad Vltavou.

From Libčice, nestled at the bottom of a steep valley, you’re forced up a steep climb to get back to civilization. Last time I did the climb, I did it one-handed. I was holding a bottle of beer in the other hand. This time, it seemed equally tough, but I had two free hands. Go figure.

At the top of the hill, we explored a quarry for a few minutes, and then headed out on the road to Úholičky, and back home for both of us.

Consider this our new favorite ride!

Next time I’ll bring along my Garmin GPS device and map the route for all to enjoy.

Length of ride: 48.5 kilometers
Average speed: 14.5
Maximum speed: 42.5
Pivo Index: 2
Time on the bike: 3.10.09
Distance ridden so far in 2009: 257 kilometers

If the cheap beer, bright sunshine, and fantastic river path weren't enough, many trees and flowers were in full bloom.

One of the many beautiful views from the bike path along the Vltava River.

This huge, gnarled tree on the grounds of Lobkowicz castle may have been the model for the Whomping Willow in "Harry Potter."


Wissy said…
Beautiful description of your ride. You are so lucky to live where you are and still be able to discover, even after 10 years, new interesting places to explore.
Still loving your photography as well.You really should publish a book of you bike travels Grant!
Grant Podelco said…
Thanks very much! It's amazing that I have had this blog for two years now and each entry is unique, in its way. As for the photography, most of the photos are mine, but I do have excellent help from time to time from Mark and Stewart. All the best!

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