Our opinion after riding two days and a half against a small hurricane is that the Czech kilometer is longer than the German one. Considerably longer. Almost as long as a nautical mile. The signs also do not help, and on several occasions even though we were riding in the right direction, the distance to the next town seemed to be increasing.
But other than the Czech Republic welcomed us with open hands, and from the bike touring perspective it has quite some potential. On one side you have a large network of secondary roads, which do not have a lot of traffic, and almost every town has a rich cultural history.
We didn’t find to many informations regarding bike there, but armed with a road map we start of on a Thursday morning towards Kutná Hora with a steep climb, which signals the nature of bike touring here. The terrain is really hilly, at least in the eastern part and there aren’t so many flat areas where one could ride fast.
In Kutná Hora we catch our breath and we visit the Sedlec Cathedral , the ossuary, and the Saint Barbara church (both are UNESCO sites).
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the ossuary, which was relatively empty of tourists. It’s a sobering experience to spend some time in the old crypt, with the macabre interior decoration. The entire thing started in 1278, when a monk traveled to Jerusalem and brought back some earth from the Golgotha hill, and he scattered it over the cemetery.
Since then the cemetery was considered as part of the holy land, and it was seen as “The place” to be buried. At one point there was also the legend that if buried here, the corpse will rot in just 3 days, and only the clean bones remain. And it proved to be quite a popular burial place, and it is estimated that only during the plague between 40.000 and 70.000 persons were buried here. And in order to cope with the overcrowding around 1400 the first ossuary was already built.
Kutná Hora’s history is a one with a lot of ups and downs, as the entire Czech history. Once it was one of the richest towns in Europe, thanks to the silver mines around the town. This period ended after the 30 years war, when Czech republic came under Habsburg control, and it remained there for the next 300 years, in a period which is called the “Dark Age”.
History teaches us that nothing is eternal, no even the imposing Gothic cathedral upon which we are looking, with it’s beautiful spires and stone arches which stretch over a crystal blue sky.
Imposing isn’t the best word to describe it, because we’re not talking about the massive Doms of western germany, with it their large bodies and even larger and darker interiors. The cathedral is small in comparison, and I can only compare it with a small gothic jewel. It took 600 years to finish it, but it is well worth the time. And as with the Cologne Cathedral, the works were suspended for quite some time, as money ran out after the silver mines closed down. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of the miners, and the church has a large number of original frescoes.
But after visiting the the town, it’s time to start battling the head wind, and to see how the rural parts of the Czech Republic look like. And from our point of view, they are half-way between Germany and Romania.
As we ride through small villages, with a lot of abandoned houses we feel the smell of burned wood, and we see the smoke rising the chimneys. It’s a familiar smell of the villages in Romania, and if we would close our eyes we could picture ourselves back home.
In each larger village there is an old shop, which sometimes is transformed in the franchise of local grocery chain. As in Romania, a lot of the houses are abandoned, and one can realize that the same process is happening throughout Europe, and that people are leaving the villages for the better prospects of a life in a city.
We easily find wild camping spot and we stay around the stove the tomato soup which should warm us on the inside in a rather cold day, spend pedaling against the wind. The night goes by as we warm ourselves in our down bags, a long 12 hour night.
Friday morning is cold, and the grass field on which we’ve camped is split into to two. The part which is in shade is covered by frost, while the other side is already melting the the sun. And we feel in the air the humid smell of the forest.
We skip breakfast and we start moving in order to get the circulation going, and we take our brunch by midday, when the temperature rises a bit, and it get’s comfortable enough.
We reach Litomyšl in the afternoon, our second cultural destination for the trip. We know that the main site is a Renaissance castle, but before reaching it we circle around the the city, through the main square and through small cobble streets.
We finally find the castle, and we’re amazed regarding how cool it looks. The warm autumn light and the patterns on the walls work together to create sharp images. And we have the place all to ourselves, which also contributes to it’s beauty.
Dupa ce serpuim putin pe stradute cu piatra cubica, de undeva de dupa schelele unui muzeu ne iese in fata castelul. O constructie rectangulara, alba, cu peretii exteriori decorati cu diverse modele (sgrafitto) desenate in culori calde, nuante de galben, mustar, ori maro ce ma trimite cu gandul la soarele Italiei. Nici nu e de mirare, deoarece castelul a fost construit in stil renascentist declarat, in secolul 16.
We leave Litomyšl in the late afternoon and we start once again going uphill, this time towards Zdar. And we climb, and we climb until we can sea small hilly peaks which should be around 800 meters high, and the wind of course blowing from the wrong direction.
Night sets in as we still haven’t found a camping spot, but just after darkness sets it we find a protected spot on a green field, and we starting cooking the usual soup to warm us a bit before going to sleep. It’s really interesting how all the tasks are so naturally split when travelling in two. For example even though at home I rarely cook while travelling that’s usually my responsibility, as is buying food. And so I’ve become an expert of quickly getting what we need from a supermarket, even if it’s a completely new supermarket and even if the language is unknown.