Today we had planned a shorter route, expecting heat and hills – both of which we got. In all, we did 47 km from Cheb to Aš. We planned an early start at around 8 am, which didn’t happen when I took my bike out of the lock up and discovered a flat back tyre! This ended up delaying us until around 10.30, while we mucked around with the tire. First we took the tube out and couldn’t find a leak, so put it back on, pumped it up and left. By the time we were at the other end of the town it was flat again, so we took the tube out again, found the leak, but couldn’t find anything causing it on the tire. Kris used the expensive Swab inner tube we bought the day before and it immediately seated in the tire perfectly, with no bulges like the other tube. We decided to go and buy another two of these tubes before leaving – which involved finding the bicycle shop again. Bicycle maintenance is one of the the more frustrating aspects of bike touring.
The paths today were very varied. We had a lovely forest ride just out of Cheb, then a ride alongside a road with cars, past lots of wheat fields, then another forest ride to the border. I almost missed the border it was so obscure but Kris pointed the sign out to me. There was a German policeman sitting in a car on the other side with a dog. He seemed to be looking for something specific – anyway he was friendly enough.
We were following the Grunes Dach Radweg, but the first part after the border was actually also called the Eger Radweg, as it followed the Eger river. Some parts were directly on the river and others took us away through forests or green wheat fields – with quite a bit of climbing to and from the river (which is also the German-Czech border). At one point we started following a track on the wrong side of the Egar river – it became a real walking track – Kris checked his phone and we doubled back to cross at a wooden bike/pedestrian bridge.
It was also very hot – we took four bottles of water with us and stopped twice to ask for top ups from householders who were outside (one working in the garage). So in all we drank 8 bottles of water during our ride.
After Silberbach there were very long straight dirt roads – they did not follow the contour but went straight up and down – really cool going down but hot riding or pushing the bike up.
We crossed the border into Czech again on an forest path with a very small sign. We rode through the town of Aš before reaching our accommodation. It is a typical border town, a little seedy with crumbling buildings, lots of glass on the ground. It also has very steep streets – going down was ok but walking up the other side was taxing at the end of the ride.
We are staying in a Casino around 2 km out of town, basically on the border. We have stayed in all types of accommodation on our tours before, but never in a Casino. It is really reasonable – actually costs less than a youth hostel I looked at in Germany. Our room is big with a huge bath. You have to walk through the casino gaming area to get to it. It is “all inclusive” – which means that we can help ourselves to a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And beer is included. We enjoyed sitting in the quiet dining area alongside the gaming floor and ate well (including lots of fruit). This would be one of our cheapest days food and accommodation.
Today we enjoyed an easier ride on Eurovelo 4 from Karlovy Vary to Cheb. Most of route was cycling along river, on good quality bike paths with fewer steep sections than previous days, so it was not so hard on the body. The route zig zagged along the bends in the Ohře river and between towns – so we ended up doing 72 km, even though the straight line distance should only have been about 40 km. The first part of the ride was through part of the Slavkov forest.
The bike path goes directly past the impressive granite Svatoš rocks, which are a national monument. Kris had to carry the bikes up a little staircase here and then we had to cross the swing bridge. The swing bridge was moved around quite a bit while I was crossing it!
Coming out of the forest, we passed through Loket – enjoying views of the bridge and the castle directly above.
We had an unplanned 3 km detour after Sokolov – we missed a turn off and ended up going up a steep hill around one an a half km. In the end we just turned and came down again. This was the major hill climb of the day (just keeping our hand in).
Kris had another flat tyre on his font wheel directly following our detour and we had a stopped to change it near a small closed up outdoor cafe (on cafe lawn). The cafe opened while we were still there and we got some ice cream and had a conversation with another cyclist who stopped to drink a beer. He is a retired German musician from Weimar, who loves Czech and regularly visits. He cites music and slower pace of life as key attractions of the Czech culture.
It was very hot again but a lot of the route was in the shade and we were able to maintain a reasonable speed – which keeps one cool. In the last 10 km or so we were cruising along at around 20-25 km per hour on tarred flat zig zagging bike paths to Cheb.
Cheb has a very lovely central town square. We located a bike shop and bought a new tube and found our accommodation, which is very spacious and close to the town square. It is not so easy to locate bike shop and hotel as tourist info marked them on the wrong places on the town map!
After showering and cleaning our clothes we spent quite a bit of time planning our route for tomorrow – we decided to hug the Czech border and head north. We had a walk around the town square and an excellent meal (calzone, tagliatelle, salad, beer) at a place we spotted just off the town square.
Today’s ride was easier going overall, but still very hot. In all it was 46 km from Zlutice to Karlovy Vary, a major stop on the Eurovelo 4.
It was a bit of a climb out of town, on through Ratiboř, after which we entered some woods on an off road path. This was marked as a dotted line on the cycle map app, so we knew it may be marginal. Some parts of it were certainly not easy, as can be seen from the photos. I also saw a small deer scuttling away in the brush (near the muddy bit).
As we were riding along these sections, Kris made several remarks that we may already be on the Eurovelo 4 – as there was no other way through here. I thought he was joking, until we emerged from the woods at Polom (just a few houses and a junk heap here), to see this sign. The small blue stickers with 4 in the centre are the Eurovelo 4 designation.
The rest of the ride was less eventful, our route took us through Údrč, Bochov, Dlouhá Lomnice, Pila and Kolová. We saw a few heards of cows for the first time on the ride – must be a sign that the landscape is getting less mountainous.
We stopped for ice cream and water at a small store in Kolová, and Kris was asked for some advice on car maintenance (to help identify the brake fluid holder using an English car manual) by the Chinese owner.
The rest of the ride was on nice easy contoured roads and mostly downhill. We approached Karlovy Vary through a long downhill forest stretch, which was pretty satisfying.
Karlovy Vary (formally Karlsbad) is famous for its hot springs, and was founded by Charles IV of Bohemia in the 14th century (there is a silly story about a hunting dog falling into a spring and being healed). It has lots of ostentatious buildings and many hotels. Also plenty of cafes and high end shops aimed at a wealthy clientele (Pierre Cardin anyone?). It was really hot when we arrived and we couldn’t resist a beer at a pavement cafe – further tempted by the jaunty music from a nearby busking accordion player.
Kris spent about an hour in the heat re-balancing the wheel on my bicycle. It seems the tube is of poor quality and maybe a little small so is causing a dent in the tyre near the valve. Kris spent about an hour in the heat re-balancing the wheel on my bicycle. It seems the tube is of poor quality and maybe a little small so is causing a dent in the tyre near the valve.
We found a good restaurant to eat a pizza and Cabonara pasta for supper, after which we had an early night.
Today we chose a shorter day (only 36 km), to allow ourselves some recovery space, and expecting more hills. We had a lovely big breakfast in the banqueting hall of the pension, where the wedding had taken place the previous day. Just us at one table and early rising wedding guests at the other. We had eggs, sausages, cheese, muesli, yogurt, little cakes, not very good coffee.
It was hot from early in our ride and there was no wind to cool us. Our ride was mostly through rural hill country, on very quiet roads, through wheat fields and occasional wooded areas. We would stop for water/ rest breaks in the shade of any tree alongside the road.
Kris observed again that the swarms of gnats that delighted in alighting on our sweaty faces could not keep up when we travelled faster than 10 km/h. Between 9-10 km/hour they hover around and disappear after a couple of seconds. Any slower than this and we are plagued by insects. They can also be problematic when you hit a downhill run – as they hover in swarms and can easily be breathed in or swallowed if you don’t keep your mouth closed.
Every now and then we would pass through a small town. Our route took us through Korytha, Plane, Vladmerice. The biggest town we went through was Manetin, which had lots of statues all over the place – leading into the town and along a cobbled promenade near the church. We were keen to buy an ice cream, but even Manetin didn’t seem to have any open shops (at least not on the main throughway).
The final couple of towns were Psov and Zizkov, until we reached our destination Zlutice at around midday. One of the first things we saw as an open supermarket, so we were quick to go and buy some ice cream (and other essentials such as dental floss). From here it was still a long hill climb (walking the bikes) in the hot sun to our hotel at the other end of town. I was quite happy to stop and get out of the heat early in the afternoon.
The Pension is in a complex which includes mini-golf, squash courts, virtual golf and virtual bowling. We had beer and a meal (mixed grill with vegetables) on the terrace after it had cooled down. We met and chatted with a German couple from Berlin during our meal. They are also on a (shorter) cycle tour. We have not seen any other cycle tourists on our route since Prague, but today there were two other cycle tourist couples (the other was 2 young men) staying at this pension.
Today was physically the hardest day of the trip so far. On some days cycling is easy. Other days you just feel less energetic. Unfortunately I started out the day with an ache in my shoulder and not feeling up to much. This was bad timing, as it turned out.
No breakfast was provided at our apartment, so we had some yogurt and bread and cheese before setting out really early (7.30am).
Little did we know that we would be on the road for over 10 hours, covering only 88 km in that time.
Why so slow? – well, partly the state of the roads an cycle paths and the number of uphill climbs, which involved some bicycle pushing. Also partly some maintenance stops. I had another puncture on my back wheel about half way into the ride. We both had gears that needed readjusting (probably noticed now as we are doing more gear changes with the hilly terrain). Also a mounting bolt came loose and was lost of Kris’s rear carrier – he had a spare screw with him that fit the thread – which seemed like a small miracle. After my puncture was fixed, my back wheel ran unbalanced – we stopped to check for broken spokes.
Route description – Our route took us from Kladno, through a forested area to the small towns of Kyšice, Družec and Žilina. I was hoping to get a coffee along the way but none of these places had any! We looked at cafe in Žilina but it was closed. Soon after we decided to take the scenic route heading south to follow the river Berounka to our intended destination of Kralovice (where we planned to join Eurovelo 4). We continued on through the towns of Bycorie and Sýkořice then a big hill climb up to Zbečno.
There was a grocery store here and a outdoor restaurant with a women beginning to prepare some barbecue spit roast, but they also didn’t want to sell us a coffee. We followed the river as it twisted around, and coming down a slightly uncomfortable long cobbled hill, saw the Karlštejn castle.
There was a cafe with a lovely coffee just at the bottom of this hill! We also got our water bottles refilled at the cafe – it was so hot that we were really using up our water. After our coffee we continued along the river, viewing the castle from the other side.
The best parts of this ride were some lovely sections alongside the river.
We continued following the river (past Roztoky) but the with the another three long hill climbs taking us away from and back to the river. There were definitely more hill climbs alongside this river than we expected. It was very hot and we had not had a huge breakfast, so I began longing for an ice cream. We rode through a camping site at Skryje and Kris popped into the little shop to buy some ice cream – but the queue was long and the service seemed slow, so we continued on. Soon after this the path we were to follow was shown only as a dotted line on our map. A man walking by seemed concerned about us finding our way through and gave Kris some detailed instructions in Czech. It never ceases to amaze me how Kris seems to understand instructions given in a foreign language through pure intuition. We soon saw why the man was concerned, the track was basically a walking track through tall grass next to the river. Luckily someone had mowed the one side of the track so we could push our bicycles through.
We had another steep hill climb on the other side with several switchbacks before passing through the Čilá.
Then onto Hradiště, which seemed a bit bigger, so we looked around for a shop. We found a bar/ shop with a nice cool outdoor patio where some men and boys were sitting drinking beer and cokes. Kris went in to ask them to refill our water bottles and to buy an ice cream. He came out again with no ice cream. He asked a local young man sitting with two little boys if he understood English/German and if there was any ice cream in the shop. He said he didn’t think so, but kindly went to ask about ice cream. The inside of the shop was dingy and the old guy at the counter was very grumpy, but two cornettos were produced to my delight. I had Kris’s purse (he has carried the Czech Koruna and I the Euros), but I had real difficulty trying to pay. Unfortunately the first time I was handling the Czech coins and I couldn’t read the numbers on them in the dark shop. The old man just kept on shaking his head. Luckily Kris anticipated that there may be a problem and came in to rescue me.
After our ice cream we had another downhill, crossed the river and an uphill climb on the other side. Here we left the river to ride through rolling rural hill country, with small towns at regular intervals – the names are all unpronouncable to us – Chříč, Holovousy, Všehrdy, Dřevec to Kralovice. I was relieved to get there, we were both very sweaty, hot and exhausted. It was almost 5 pm and we had ridden through the heat of the day. We had not booked a hotel, I had considered doing so the previous night but it seemed there was plenty of space in the hotel and Booking.com wanted to take the money off our credit card. We had just drawn cash, so decided to chance it. This was just as well, as I discovered when I got to the town I had the wrong town (the Czech names are so difficult to remember). So if I had booked a place, we would have been out of pocket as well as without accommodation. The tourist accommodation was closed even though we were there before 5 pm (close early on Saturdays!) The first hotel we asked at was full. The second was a pension next to a Chinese restaurant. The Chinese people in the restaurant were very obliging and contacted the owners and filled our water bottles and let us use their wifi connection – but the answer in the end was that there was no place. There was one last hotel – not very flash but looked fine – I was sure it would have place – it did not. Someone sitting drinking outside the hotel suggested cabins at the camp nearby – we went there – all deserted and not what I would call a camp place. So we decided to ride onto the next town, around 15km away, where everyone was suggesting we would find something.
I think I got my second wind for those 15 km – the best part was a long fast downhill to Plasy – on a the main road into town – coming into the town past a big monastery and feeling we would find something. We stopped at the first Pension we saw at the first traffic circle in town – Pension Rudolf II. There was a nice looking restaurant in the front. When we went to the Pension at the back, we saw there was a wedding in full swing in a back banqueting hall. They first said they were full, but then went to check with the owner. There was one room left! What a relief. I was beginning to imagine pitching the tent somewhere discrete (it was just after 6 pm). We had a lovely big meal at the Rudolf II restaurant, sitting outside on the terrace and an early night (the loud music from the wedding was well muted in our room).
Today was a shorter ride of only 40 km, from Prague to Kladno, a city to the west. Kladno is not on any tourist cycle route so Kris mapped out a route on bike paths marked on the PhoneMap app. We are setting ourselves up to re-join Eurovelo 4 heading west back into Germany. The route felt longer than it was and our progress was slow, due to the number of hill climbs and the fact that Kris had to regularly stop to check our progress on his phone.
We first had to work back down to the river Vltava, as we had to get across it. Kris chose small roads that kept us away from the traffic. One was made of cobble like rocks and was an incredibly steep downhill – it must have been about 16 degrees. We decided not to subject the bicycles to this punishment, so we walked them down.
We crossed the bridge on a bicycle lane painted on the tar. Then we followed the river for a few km. Sometimes there was a bicycle path, sometimes the bike path was shared with a foot path and sometimes we were on the road.
When we reached a canal lock in the river, we exited the river valley through a narrow side valley (following Sarecky Potok stream). It was a long uphill slog to the top. It was great getting to the top and seeing the wide countryside open up around us.
From here on we moved from small town to small town – sometimes on dirt roads and sometimes on small roads with few cars. There were green wheat fields between the towns. Horomerice was the first big town after our climb. We had another to climb again Tuchomerice and I took this photo at the top. You can see the Prague airport on the horizon, which our route was circling.
We had to make our way to a point where we could cross a highway, and then through the town of Stredokluky. We stopped for an ice cream at Hrebec. The little store was so obscure, sort of hidden around a post office, I wasn’t even sure it existed. We have found this with many Czech grocery stores, even supermarkets – they look as though they are all closed up from the front and not very accessible.
There is not much for the tourist to see in Kladno. It has a lot of large soviet style apartment blocks – which we also saw in Prague and other Czech towns. We rode past many of these on our way in and a big complex of large stores. Kris bought a new shirt at an Intersport store (Decathlon store is due to open in a week’s time here!)
There is a pleasant pedestrian street at the centre with a few cafes and an ice cream shop. We visited the tourist office for some maps.
Our accommodation is about 3 km from the centre. It is not what I expected, as doesn’t have any signage from the street. Even though there are six rooms, you feel like you are in part of someone’s house. Also the owner who greeted us seems to have a cold so I hope we don’t sick. The room is ok though.
We found a supermarket and really nice cafe nearby where we had a traditional meal (involving meat and dumplings) and some beer.
We spent two days in Prague, sightseeing and resting (and catching up with the blog). Kris also replaced all the brake pads on the bicycles, with state of the art brake pads from the bike shop near our hotel.
I woke up with trepidation, given that the weather forecast was for rain the whole day today, and it had been raining the whole night. We had an early start, packing before the 7 am hotel breakfast and on the road before 8 am. Happily the rain cleared up just as we left and it was a beautiful fresh morning ride, through gently undulating green Czech countryside.
The cycle route 3 was mainly along secondary roads, with much better condition (ie fewer potholes) than previous days. The little yellow route signs were also easier to follow. I had downloaded a new app the night before (called PhoneMaps) that I saw advertised in the Czech tourist board literature. This app actually has bike routes marked on the maps, so that also helped in one or two spots where the signage was ambiguous.
The two main towns we passed through were Řevnice and Černošice. Our entry into Prague was alongside the Vitava River, and would have been lovely if it hadn’t begun to rain quite heavily for the last 8km or so (sorry, no photos of this part, too wet).
There was no shelter along the river so we just rode on in the rain until we reached the centre and found a dry spot to regroup and look at the GPS. Then Kris led us through chaotic, wet streets, full of traffic, tourists and big puddles. The place is full of tourists even in the rain, for example groups of Japanese being ushered around all holding umbrellas.
We arrived at tourist info looking like drowned rats. They gave us a good cycling map of Prague, but not such good help on accommodation. Unlike the other Czech tourist info offices that keep lists of local hotels, this guy just referred us back to Booking.com (too many hotels in Prague?). He did a bit of a search for us and then I jumped onto their wifi with my phone and made the booking. First time I have used the app to book a hotel. We booked for three nights, to allow for some sightseeing and rest time.
The hotel we chose is around 7km from the centre, to the north. We wanted something a bit out of town and in the direction we would be leaving for the rest of our journey. Getting there proved a challenge and took the rest of the afternoon. We first drank some coffee and drew some more money in the centre (drip drying in the warm cafe). Kris took the most direct route, along cycle roads with little or no traffic. However the landscape and roads were not what we expected. We had to cross the river twice to get over an s bend in the river. On the S bend, we went through a little park – it was surprising how steep it was (we expected a flat landscape in a s bend). We waited for the rain to abate for a while in a little cafe in the middle of the park – drinking more coffee and having some snacks – waffle and fried Camembert (not very good). On the second crossing (off the S bend) the bicycle route took us over an island in the river. On the one side was a bridge and on the other a ferry. It turned out that the ferry was free – we were the only passengers for the crossing. On the other end we had to finally conquer some more steep hill climbs, at one point we had to push our bicycles up about 300 m up a small road. I think in the future we will use the roads on the other side. We were definitely out of the city now, riding past houses and apartment blocks. Finally we found our hotel. Thankfully we got a friendly welcome and the room is basic but comfortable. The best thing about it is it has a bath! So we were able to warm up properly with a long hot soak.
In the evening we walked down the hill (in the other direction) to a nearby pizza place and enjoyed some pizza and Tiramisu.
Today we travelled 64 km to the town of Horovice, about midway between Pilsen and Prague.
We rode out of Pilsen past the two big breweries – Urquell and Gambrinus – following cycle route 3. Soon after, we lost the cycle route 3 signs and Kris had to navigate with his off-line GPS mapping app (Here We Go). The app doesn’t show cycle routes but Kris knew which direction we should be headed and found a route on small roads. In fact the route that Kris found was easier than a lot of the roads the official route has taken us on. Our unofficial route took us past a small airport, skirting a highway along secondary country roads and wooded paths. It was slow going however, as we had to stop quite regularly to check our progress and position.
At some point we joined cycle route 2127 – not the correct number 3 but a cycle route none the less – and this took us to Rokycany which was on our intended route. We intersected with number 3 again at an intersection just outside Rokycany. We stopped here and Kris went into the tourist info to see if they had any maps – which they did – quite helpful. From here on we followed the number 3 signs quite easily along a river and past a number of little towns all the way to Horovice. Maybe the signage is improving the close we get to Prague? It was curious that it was so poor coming out of Pilsen. We stopped for an ice cream at a small local shop around 9 km out of Horovice.
The roads were similar to the previous day, with a wide variety – some really good and some really challenging terrain (on the official bike route 3!) – punishing for the bikes due to lots of large loose stones. The route was not entirely off road – only on selected forest or river rides (often the worst roads to ride on). When we were on the road with traffic, it was not too busy and the cars thankfully gave us enough space passing.
At Horovice we rode up and down looking for the tourist info – the road signs were totally contradictory. Eventually I had to go into the town hall to ask where it was and a woman who could speak neither English or German gave me a map with the location. The lady at Tourist info was very dour, but eventually we got info about an affordable hotel in town. The town is small, so there was not much choice. However we are very happy with the room as it is spacious and on the quiet side of the hotel.
We had some beer at the hotel bar – more Pilner – and a burger at a nearby burger cafe which was delicious.
Today was a relatively tiring 66 km ride – cycling on Czech cycle routes is definitely harder work than the Austrian or German equivalent. We started with a long steep uphill climb out of Horšovský Týn to a viewpoint above the city.
From here on we had every type of bicycle path imaginable. A few (just between villages) were excellent, tarred off road paths that we sailed along – we speculated that these may have been funded by the EU. They were in the minority. Most of the route was on minor roads with little traffic – it was fine, but a number of the minor roads are in really poor condition with many patches and pot holes. At the worst end of the spectrum, we had a number of stretches along poor dirt roads with pot holes and stones.
The country-side was pretty – rolling hills so we had lots of ups and downs. We passed through a number of small towns – the biggest being Dobřany where we stopped to eat some peaches we had been carrying. It was very quiet with almost on one else in the town square.
The entry into Pilsen on bicycles was not easy – in fact we lost the bike path and meandered a bit through suburbs. Kris had to ask for directions a couple of times. There were also a couple of long uphill climbs just coming into the city. Our first stop was the tourist info bureau to for help with accommodation and the route from here on. Unfortunately they did not have a good map of the bike path to Prague, so navigation will be more challenging tomorrow. The accommodation Jenny chose was not great either – poor value – probably because it is in the centre of the city. The toilet is private but down the passage.
We had a bit of a pub crawl in the evening – walking around the city centre and sampling beer at different pubs – many of them outdoor. The beer is good but there is not much variety – ie all Pilsners and no craft beer. We enjoyed the unfiltered beers the most.