The Perfect Bike Ride (Prague to Mělník)

The boys, outside of Mělník.

Where to begin?

Stewart Moore, Mark Nessmith, David Murphy, Rob Coalson, and I met in Klecany on Sunday. We were to meet a new cycling pal, an acting friend of Stew's and mine named Peter Hosking, in Kralupy, for an ambitious ride to the wine town of Mělník, north of Prague.

We thought we'd get in a good ride on a path new to most of us, sample some burčák, the prepubescent Czech wine that's on offer at this time of year, have lunch, drink a few beers, enjoy a sunny day, and sleep well that night.

Well, we did all that, and more. It was quite an adventure -- a 12-hour adventure, in the end.

My Garmin ran out of juice just before we arrived in Mělník, but this gives you an idea of our route:



RIDE STATS
Length of ride: 95 kilometers
Average speed: 17.2 kph
Maximum speed: 47.2 kph
Pivo Index: 6 (!)
Time on the bike: 5.26.02
Distance ridden so far in 2011: 353.5 kilometers


Rather than me babbling on and on as usual, I asked my cycling companions if they'd be interested in contributing their own impressions of the ride for the blog. I'm honored to share their contributions with you. Enjoy.

DAVID MURPHY

It’s beginning to look a lot like Austria, everywhere you ride.

It’s nice to see our tax crowns at work and almost unimaginable that they would be at work doing something that we actually want. But as the famous baseball manager Casey Stengel once said, "I always heard it couldn't be done, but sometimes that don't work out."

And not work out it did well in the case of the new Vrbno–Hořín-Dolní Beřkovice-Horní Počaply cycle path.

Putting together this ride was a bit of a challenge since Stewart hates to ride on roads. I tried to put together an itinerary where we would spend most of time free of cars, and I was hoping this path would be completed to make that possible. Twice last year, Rob and I rode this stretch when it was still under construction and in varying stages of completion, so we were curious to see if it had finally been finished.

Completed it is, and it is a pleasure to ride.

The path runs for 18 kilometers connecting the "the mainland," or far bank of the Vltava, with the Mělník castle.

After riding a beautiful stretch of road on the Vltava flood plain, passing through hops fields and picturesque villages, we reached the path after crossing the gas pipeline bridge over the Vltava just outside the village of Zálezlice. There is a plaque at the trail head listing the various contributors to its construction.

We rode to the village of Vrbno and continued along the riverbank and inland wetlands, through fields of sunflowers, to the village of Hořín (where a small pub serves a very fine Krakonoš beer). After a brief stop, we continued through the castle park to the bridge to Mělník, completing a 7-kilometer ride on the path.


An unassuming roadside watering hole served the delicious Krakonoš beer.



While we chose to cross the river to Mělník for burgers and other aspects of the local culture, the path itself continues north past Mělník for another 12 kilometers to the town of Horní Počaply, where the massive coal-fired power plant is located.

The path is not only well-constructed, runs through a beautiful landscape, and connects quaint villages with nice pubs, it also has an interesting story. According to an article in a local paper, the idea for the cycle path originated more than 15 years ago at the power plant. Employees wanted to cycle to work, but the roads leading to and from the power plant were too dangerous. They pushed management to negotiate with local municipalities to design and fund the path.


In 2008, local mayors created an association of municipalities and successfully brought in EU structural funding to finance construction.

The total budget for the 18.6-kilometer path was 80 million CZK, which the paper points out is a bargain compared to 150 million CZK for the 3-kilometer path in Prague known as Europe’s Most Expensive Cycle Route.

However, the sandy soil of the flood plain proved too unstable, so ČEZ, the local energy giant and owner of the power plant, donated 12,000 tons of stabilizing material to create landfill in the weaker sections.

The path lies in the trajectory of the international cycle route Eurovelo 7 connecting Scandinavia with southern Italy and Malta and is known as The Sun Route. It is also part of the Elbe River Trail, which connects to Germany.

Locals hope that the trail will help strengthen local tourism. If the trail and the Krakonoš are any indication, their hopes are well-founded.


PETER HOSKING


Having never ridden more than 30 kilometers in a day, I have to say I was pretty apprehensive about going out with the big boys.

In order to feel a little better about my chances, I chose to train it to Kralupy and meet them there. Either by good luck or good planning, we arrived together almost to the minute, at 10.15 a.m. A few introductions and we were on our way.

I was just settling in to the first stretch along the left bank of the Vltava when the first beer stop was called. At this stage, I’d done about 2 kilometers, whereas everyone else had done between 25 and 40, depending on which part of Prague
they had ridden from. I didn’t feel qualified (or confident) enough for beer at that stage, so I settled for ledový caj (iced tea) and listened to the discussion about the propensity of rivers to always flow south, or not.

Have to say the sequence of things is all a bit of a blur for me after that, but we stopped at an impressive zamek, rode through some beautiful countryside, carried the bikes up a lot of stairs to cross a channel via a gas pipeline bridge, tasted Krakonoš at a little pub outside Mělník, and I was forced to get off and walk halfway up the steep hill to the town center.

This wasn’t too demoralizing, as I wasn’t the only one to do so.


We had lunch at the Buffalo restaurant in Mělník, an American-style restaurant that featured the Ultimate Monster Burger (very good, but nearly impossible to eat without fork and knife, and some very respectable hot chicken wings. Man, that burger hit the spot.


Lunch was huge hamburgers all round, except for me. I tried the lunch special of ribs. Unfortunately, they were old and dry. And the hamburgers were soooo good, as I was told gleefully many times over the rest of the day.

The hunt for burčák was fruitless (or should I say wineless?), but to soften the blow it was decided to sample a bottle of local wine before we left. Then it was back in the saddle and homeward.


We couldn't leave Mělník without sampling some grape stuff.

Somewhere around the pipe bridge crossing again, I was surprised to find that I was craving the rehydrating effects that it was claimed flow from a single beer. Shortly thereafter, a halt was called in order to sample the Holba at a nice little pub with a large grassy area.

We left there, and I never saw Stewart again. Something to do with the spontaneous combustion of his bicycle. We regrouped, and timed it nicely to the Kralupy train. I got home, walked the dog, had a little more rehydration, and passed out for about 10 hours.

Great day, great sense of accomplishment (67 kilometers) and soooo glad it was an easy (as in not-too-hilly) ride.

Thanks, guys, for the opportunity.


Mělník is an impressive sight.


STEWART MOORE


We went to Mělník by bike years ago on old paths, long since forgotten or untended. This new route, however, satisfies the extremes of our group better than any other. I favor trails, but they are not for everyone. This route had everything and none of the cars that drove me to trail-riding in the first place. As well as safe from reckless drivers, it's also -- for the most part -- flat, and for that probably one of the best routes I can think of to introduce your kids to the pleasures of cycling...with plenty of places along the way to stop and get a bite and something to drink.

As a cyclist, I often think I find places of interest I wouldn't otherwise see, but this route proved I'm just as likely to miss them. Last time, we came very close to the wonderful gardens at Veltrusy chateau and missed them entirely. We were too busy, perhaps, hacking our way through the shrub to see this great spot!

I returned to Veltrusy the next morning to make this sketch in red wine. This is the back of the chateau, a side we did not see on the ride:


But back then, there was no path connecting the farm roads and so no logical reason to head that way to Mělník. But what a splendid route this new one is, with huge fields and scattered poplars reminiscent of Tuscany -- apt, as we were heading into wine country. In fact, Rob pointed out it was "the border of wine and beer country." We must have ran back and forth over that border several times by days end!


The view from the castle in Mělník -- the confluence of the Vltava and the Elbe rivers.

I had a few problems on this ride, and Mark wasn't the only one to have issues with his chain. The first at about 9:30 a.m. while riding the "Baker Falls" trail along the east side of the Vltava. I hit a tree root and went over the handle bars. It's a challenge to ride this section of path without dismounting.

I wear protective eyewear because in the past I've been hit with bugs and branches on the trails. They've been a big help. But at Baker Falls they were mucky and I think blinded me a little. Anyway, I think my back wheel was damaged here.

I took my Camelbak with me and I was very glad of it. If you don't know this type of backpack, it has a bladder for water and a tube to drink from that attaches to your shoulder. Very handy to be able to drink on the go, especially when you're stuck far from anything, as I was at the end of the day.

Another problem: my back brake had begun failing me again. It was essentially useless this time out. I'd hoped Dave knew some magical solution, but nothing he did worked.

On our ride back, as we headed home, I changed gear and my chain came off. It caught in the wheel and tore into the spokes, breaking a bunch of them. Mark lent me a pair of handy fold-up pliers to remove the broken spokes. But they screw out easily by hand from the wheel rim, so that was fine.


(Photo by Mark Nessmith)

I said I'd get a taxi. I didn't want to hold anyone up and I still hoped to ride on. We weren't sure it was safe to ride with a wheel that was missing so many spokes. I watched the rest of the guys disappear along a road lined with apple trees and thought about a train home. My iPhone showed no station nearby. Riding wasn't an option. The wheel was so bent it wouldn't even move.

However, I realized that if I cut the tread off, I might get the wheel rolling. I used my penknife and I shaved off all the treads on one side of the wheel - and it spun! I was in business again and could manage to slowly ride back to Kralupy.


(Photo by Stewart Moore)

It was a waste of a tire, but as Grant has said, the sound of my tires on the road is like "a swarm of bees." They are only good for mud and I need something intermediate now.

In the process of fixing the bike, I cut my thumb. Damned bloody, too, and it wouldn't quit. I'll be carrying a first-aid kit next time, as we have cut ourselves from time to time. Once when I fell in the rain (pre-blog) or when Grant hit the hole on the Bakerloo run. Or, in fact, when Baker himself gave name to the Falls trail.


(Photo by Stewart Moore)

On this occasion, I cored an apple and stuck my thumb in to make a fruity bandage. By pressing into the flesh of the apple I could close the wound for the rest of the ride.

As it turned dark, I noticed my halogen light was missing. It must have been a fellow cyclist, as only cyclists get anywhere near my bike. What a crumb. Imagine doing that to someone? Well, scumbag, whoever you are, enjoy. That lamp is packed with serious voodoo and it's all going your way!

As I rode along on my broken bike, with my gashed thumb, missing lamp, no mates, and only the moon for company, I realised I couldn't have been happier! We'd had a fantastic day, thanks to Dave sourcing such a great and surprisingly beautiful route.

We set out around 9 a.m. and I caught a train back from Kralupy (27 CZK for me, 25 CZK for the Bike) and was home for 10 p.m. that night.

MARK NESSMITH

I think I speak for Grant, Dave, Stewart, Rob and Peter, when I say that -- just like Chuck Yeager in his prime, the Navy SEALS, shark wranglers, and guys who parachute into disgusting countries to deliver needed food or something -- I spend a lot of time answering the question of WHY I DO WHAT I DO.

Why do I subject myself once, sometimes TWICE per year, with little to no training or preparation, to saddle up and ride my bike 80-100 kilometers through the Czech countryside?

On this latest grueling trek all the way from Prague to Mělník and then back to Kralupy nad Vltavou (where I wussed out and caught a train to cover the last 20 kilometers), I took a brief detour up onto a mountaintop and gave some thought to the very question.



Is it because the open road calls, bringing always a new vista or horizon, a new challenge, a new sense of accomplishment?

Is it the exhilaration of the (comparatively) clean air out in the fields and woods filling my lungs as the sun beats down on my body, my heart pounds and my thighs pump harder and harder to get up this hill, refusing to even consider the possibility that over this hill is yet another?

Is it the smug superiority gained knowing that countless city dwellers are locked in their four walls, trapped by their sidewalks and metros and trams, yearning to break free and see the things we see all around us on a ride?

Or is it because there's beer and no kids?

Take a good guess, Einstein.


The boys on the road. (Photo by Peter Hosking)


Beers and Ultimate Monster Burgers at the Buffalo restaurant in Mělník. (Photo by Peter Hosking)


The Buffalo restaurant features a cool quote by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal ("I Served The King of England") painted on the wall. It says: "...that’s why for me drinking beer is a sacred time, and I firmly believe that a pub and the table inside enjoy the right of asylum, as in olden times when you could run into a church and they couldn’t kill you there!" (Translation by Katarina Solikova)




The Buffalo restaurant also serves Holba, another beer, like Krakonoš, that I'd never tasted before. Yummy.


A makeshift shrine in Mělník's main square to the three Czech hockey players who died in the tragic plane crash in Yaroslavl, Russia, a few weeks ago. The entire Yaroslavl hockey team died in the crash.


Colorful architecture in Mělník's town square.


We passed through an unfortunately named village.


Mělník on the horizon.


The perfect bike path.


Crossing the Vltava over a pipeline bridge south of Mělník.


Believe it or not, a retirement home in the wilds south of Mělník.


Veltrusy chateau.


Cycling doesn't get any better than this.


Crossing the Vltava above Nelahozeves.


Our first hydration of the day, at Marina Vltava north of Kralupy.


An old-school shop in Kralupy, which looks like it hasn't changed one iota since before the Velvet Revolution.


On the way from Klecany to Kralupy.


A chainsaw sculpture at the Klecany ferry crossing.


The ferryman from Roztoky to Klecany delivered Stewart and me and our bikes on the east bank, and then picked up his guitar and started strumming in the sun.


As Mark described it, our "unnecessary beer," on the way home from Mělník. (Photo by Mark Nessmith)


Rob Coalson and I auditioning to be in a hair band. (Photo by Mark Nessmith)

Comments

MiGrant said…
Damn I'd like to join you guys one of these days, but I didn't bring my bike to Prague. Maybe I can rent one somewhere....
Anonymous said…
Nice idea with the collective post, Grant. Looks like you guys had a great adventure, though a rather punishing one for Stuart, the poor guy. As David points out, its good to see the cycling infrastructure in the Czech Republic getting better every year. My girlfriend and I were in Moravia over the weekend, cycling around the wine country of Mikulov, Valtice and Lednice. The network of trails makes it a real paradise for cyclicsts, and the landscape is breathtaking. Highly reccommend it. In fact, the wine festival in Valtice is scheduled for next weekend, I believe. Cheers, Andy F.
Grant Podelco said…
Hey, Andy! Daisy and I were just in Mikulov cycling around. I'd be interested in knowing which trails you followed. We had a great time but had trouble finding bike-only trails, rather than fairly busy roads. Lovely time, though, still.
Grant Podelco said…
MiGrant, lots of places to rent bikes in Prague. See my recent posting about it: http://praguebikeblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/renting-bikes-in-prague.html
Peter Hosking said…
This place in Letna seems cheaper than most. I rented a couple of bikes there for visiting friends and the guy who runs the place is very friendly and speaks English. And Stromovka park is two minutes away, no busy roads to cross.
http://skalasport.ic.cz/pujcovna-letni-sezona/kola/
Grant Podelco said…
That's great, Peter. Didn't know about that one. Great find!
Anonymous said…
Hi Grant, as for the trails around Mikulov, we basically just took the recommendations on the back of the map we bought. The first trip we took was from Mikulov north to Pavlova. Not a great trail, since a lot of it was on the road. The second trip we took was much better, a loop west from Valitce along the ponds to Lednice, and then south east of Lednice back to Valitce. On our last day we went from Valitce to into Austria, which was also really nice. I was kind of surprised that although there were a lot of vineyards, we didn't really come across many wine cellars while on the actual rides. I suppose we weren't looking too hard, but for some reason, I thought the cellars would be everywhere along the trails. Anyway, we'll have to go back and explore further. Andy
Grant Podelco said…
When people say "trails" I always think of bike-only trails, but it's good to hear that you were on roads, too, like us. Kinda disappointing. I, too, was struck by the lack of wine cellars. I was under the impression they were everywhere, too. I'll be writing about our Mikulov trip soon.
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