Day 18-19: 1k miles!

The last couple of days have seen us pass the 1000 mile mark in going from Prague to southern Czech. The hills have got more severe, and the temperature has soared. These two factors have made for very sweaty budapedallers!

Yesterday started with us leaving the loveliest yet least cycling friendly city I’ve seen. Prague’s cobbled streets and large tram network are no friend of the cyclist! And from the death stares we received from tram drivers, they don’t like us much either.

Once out of the city, we found need of our path-finder Martin, when the road we were following ended rather abruptly! In what has become customary fashion for us, we carried on anyway – who needs roads anyway?

As is also customary, we came across another closed road. So we carried on anyway, the Czechs don’t seem to mind our “we can go anywhere” philosophy.

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Our stop for the evening was in a hotel/bowling alley/bar in Vlasim. It also provided our biggest language barrier moment yet. The hotelier spoke no words of English, German or french and seemed to like her method of louder Czech to get her message across. It was particularly hard to mime “can we put our bikes away in 10 minutes after cleaning the chain?” We fortunately made a friend in the bar, who helped translate the menu for us, but Will found difficulty when asking for a recommendation. He got very little say in what to eat, with the waitress and our new friend debating his dish! It all worked out ok, with some good food, a round of chips, a round of pancakes and a couple of rounds of beer.

Today managed to get hotter and hillier. We didn’t think this possible after yesterday. What makes fantastic weather for a lazy summer holiday doesn’t work so well with a cycling tour!

After our large lunch from Kaufland in Pelriymov, we started up the hill towards our highest point of the tour. As chance would have it, the summit (2250 ft) coincided with the thousandth mile since Clapham common!

With the hills, it is becoming apparent that Martin’s bike may be the new problem bike. His bottom bracket (the axle between the pedals) has gone from a small click to a grinding crunch with each turn of the pedals. Fingers crossed it makes it to Vienna ok, so we can replace it.

Tonight I can look forward to an interesting nights sleep on my slowly deflating air mattress as we’re camping again, before our last full day in Czech tomorrow.

– Fergus

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Day 17: Rest day Prague

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Another rest day for the team allows us to indulge the local beer and cuisine to its fullest, without the (loom/worry) of the 6:45 wake up.

After settling in with the hostel yesterday (day 16) we hit a local favorite restaurant “Lokal”. This was a surprising large restaurant which only serve you the Czech beer: Pilsner. Which had its advantages as the beer was cheap, perfect (much better than the UK version) and was served with deadly precision. At no point in the evening was anyone’s glasses empty without having another full beer on the table.

We decided to each choose an assortment of house specialty dishes. I (Will) had the “Head Cheese”, a dish which one would assume was some form of dairy from the cranial area, which makes very little sense anyway. My curiosity got the best of me and I pulled aside a Czech waitress and asked her to explain my mystery dish. After some puzzling looks while we overcame the language barrier, she smiled and said “Pork!” which was a relief, as I didn’t fancy a plate of cheese for a starter, but what about the head… so I asked if she could elaborate with what kind of cut or style the pork was going to be served. Without any hesitation she beamed a smile and triumphantly replied “Pork!”. At this point I was wondering if she knew any other English or in fact she was the ham fairy, but my politeness overcame me and as I said “Excellent, thank you” and she skipped off on her merry little way.

Several Beers wait later, our starters came. My dish arrived and disappointingly it turned out to be essentially a large slab of sausage meat salami. Martin had the Beer infused cheese, which turned out to be a very stinky cheese, somewhat similar to the powerful taste of Stilton with a beer flavoured aftertaste. This dish proved to be a worthy adversary for Mr Blick, as the serving was gratuitous in size and dominating in smell. It took Martin until our mains arrived but he did finally conquer the dish. After Martin’s plate of cheese and my slab of assorted pig it was becoming apparent that you got what you ordered, nothing else. Then Tom got his dish of deep fried cheese…

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Yep.

After the meal we had a few drinks at The Pub which is a Pilsner only pub which has tap built into every table and you pay by the litre. As the beer you drink is measured you can compare and compete between tables, with a leaderboard on a overhead projector.

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Martin takes pint pouring very seriously.

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Fergus demonstrates how to achieve a foam only pint.

After we chilled out in the bed bar which was perfect after all the walking about. Shame about the drinks. £5 for a cocktail that tastes like a blended urinal cake.

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For the actual rest day (Day 17). Tom and I got up earlyish and headed to the bike shop yet again to fix more problems with my bike. This time it was the front derailleur, (the part that adjusts the chain to change gears). It managed to bend in a way that caused the chain to sheer away parts of the derailleur. So this was something that required a replacement. However we got the bloke to have a look at it (pretty sure his name was mateyboy). He bent down and inspected the damage, started moving the pedals and changing gear to see how my bike was coping. He reckoned the chain grating on sharp metal (and disabling me from changing gears properly) was the least of my problems and that this new clicking noise coming from my pedals that had just recently developed was my biggest issue. He started saying he would need to replace the bottom bracket aswell. I managed to swiftly remedy this problem by moving the bike’s kick stand (the pole that props the bike up when stationary) back to it’s docked position. Mateyboy, realising all his credibility as a certified bike mechanic was lost, stood up, took a step back and muttered “o…k..” and slowly excused himself, never to be seen again.

After we got my derailleur replaced we headed back for a quick lunch (which lasted 2 hours) then went about sight seeing. We walked up to the Prague castle which was situated on hill overlooking Prague which gave incredible views of the city.

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We wandered around the castle which was more like a small fortified town, the centre of which was a large cathedral.

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Spectacular metal work (the picture doesn’t do out justice)

It was getting quite late so we briefly stopped at the Beer Museum for a few beers.

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This place served 30 or so specialty beers from breweries all over Czech.

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These beers ranged from chocolate, honey and fruit infused to serious high quality brews. My favorite beer, Sedm Kuli, was a beer infused with pepper, Basil and liquorice which produced a caramel taste with a complex finish. Another favorite was a very fruity but delicate Indian pale ale, which wasn’t overly strong like most IPAs but went down like nectar.

After a little shell shocked from traditional Czech cuisine we ventured across the city to dine at one of the best curry houses. The tandoori meats were excellent, but the price was better. Czech is exceedingly cheap!

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– Will

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Day 16: It’s nice to be in Prague

Today brought us to Prague, with a 50-mile cycle through the rolling Czech countryside.

After the previous nights rounds of food and beer, it was a slightly bleary eyed start. I wasn’t even sure if I was all that hungry for breakfast, until I saw that this continental breakfast included cake… We definitely perked up when the waitress refilled our cake plate, but she was careful to not let the rounds upon rounds of food begin again!

We set off with full stomachs in full sunshine from Dobriv, with our biggest hill-climb to start the day. 5 miles of up brought us to the highest point of the day and meant mainly downhill all the way to Prague.

Today’s in-saddle entertainment was drive by scrumping. This involved trying to pick apples from the numerous trees lining the roads. It wasn’t altogether successful, with branches tantalisingly far away and ditches quite severe. When Will eventually succeeded, we found out the apples weren’t worth picking – being much too sour!

Since Nuremberg, we’ve been loosely following the pan-European cycle route between Paris and Prague. As we got closer to Prague, we noticed the popularity of this route with the locals, but were slightly confused that they all had mountain bikes when it was a mainly road route. Our confusion turned to realisation when the path became more of a dirt track! Slightly nervous about will’s weak wheel, the team promptly carried on regardless.

Safely negotiating the bumpy paths, we were rewarded with a beautiful afternoon to view Prague, a city we’ve been looking forward to. Oh, and the double reward of a rest day with which to enjoy it.

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– Fergus

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Day 15: Will the food stop now?

We had an early start from our lodgings in the small village of Stare Sedlo. Our wonderful host gave us breakfast at 7.30am and we then managed to pack, get the bikes ready and set off by 8.30; compared to most days this was a quick one. It was quite cold but fresh for the first few hours of cycling, partly due to the high wind and our height since we never dropped below 1000ft. The country continued to surprise us as we travelled through some of its small towns. There were certainly lots of very run down derelict houses, but strangely just a few metres away there would often be modern, newly built houses along the same street. We caught a little rain but apart from that it was a good cycle and we got through the miles easily.

We stopped for lunch in Pilsen. We found a nice place just off the main square by the cathedral.

After seeing the fantastic prices, this became a 2 hour 3 course meal with plenty of the local Pilsener to go with it.
A little too full we carried on and within a couple of miles managed to find the only road in the country that was closed to traffic, for today only. We stopped at the barrier and promptly decided to ignore it and cycle on anyway – well we do have a schedule to keep to!

We discovered the closure was due to a local cycling race which used this stretch of road. We carried on straight up a long hill, looking back we saw a line of cyclists at the bottom preparing to start. It was a race to the bottom of the hill to get through the other side before they did – we had visions of getting to the end with lines of people thinking we were the winners and cheering along the Budapedal team anyway. This didn’t happen, we reached the end and found a car, barriers and a single cone marking the lap of this race. Ah well, at least we completed half a lap!

Having made an earlier detour which cut off a corner we finished the day on a friendly 45 miles and got to our planned stop in plenty of time, although this wasn’t the end of our drama. We pulled up at the hostel we had booked, some paint was falling off the walls but otherwise it looked nice enough. Myself and Fergus ventured in to find the owner and get our keys. Of course as all the signs were in Czech we had no idea where to go, so we just started opening doors. The first was a large hall with an array of old beds strewn across it, no people to be seen though. None of the beds looked very comfortable and it was all a little strange. The second door was even more bizarre. We opened it to a woman sitting on a chair a few metres away staring towards us. I made to say hello and wave but she made no reaction. To the right we could see through to another door into a large hall where lots of people were lying down on sleeping bags and mats listening to someone speaking through a loud speaker. Not entirely sure what we had stumbled into we quietly closed the door, went outside and cycled down the road to a much more normal looking establishment who were very happy to give us 4 beds for the night and breakfast. The bar had cheap beer and food which we made good use of for the rest of the evening, ordering food and drinks in rounds until the waitress had to ask if we were going to stop now as the kitchen had to close. I even managed to catch a bit of the Olympics and saw Mo Farah clinch gold in the 5000m 🙂 .

Tom.

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Day 13-14: Czech-ing in

Having arrived at Nürnberg we decided that, as our last big German city, we would use another half rest day to see what the city had to offer. Fortunately for Will and Tom it offered yet another morning spent in a bike shop to fix bent de-railers. Tom was even swayed to buy some mud guards so that the rest of us wouldn’t get soaked when we cycled behind him.

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We had been recommended by Wills friend Martin Bratwurst to check out a restaurant called ‘Bratwurstglöckein’, a traditional German eatery.
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After having devoured sausages many each we had to make a big decision, do we take it lightly and cycle just 20 miles or do we push our selves in the afternoon and do 45. So at 2 o’clock we set off on a 45 mile journey to the very outskirts of Germany, to a campsite only 35 miles to the German-Czech border. This route did lead us onto a motorway which we decided it was probably best to avoid. The campsite was situated next to a stone quarry but, more importantly, it was situated next to a man-made mountain created from everything excavated, on top of which a toboggan track had been built. We desperately wanted to try this the following morning.
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Unfortunately it didn’t open in time for us to give it a go. Which was perhaps a blessing in disguise, letting us leave earlier than we otherwise would have. We had made a good choice by pressing on the previous day. Crossing the border lead us up into the start of many hills which would have appeared at the end of our day rather than the middle had we not kept going.

The border between Czech and Germany was perhaps the most obvious border we crossed. Despite the fact we actually saw border signs for the first time, there was a very distinct change in appearance of houses and services, including spotting the smallest train station that we’ve ever seen.

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The other first that we encountered crossing the border was the language barrier. Until now many of the people we had encountered spoke English and with our combined knowledge of broken French and German we had managed to make it through. In the Czech republic however we had know idea what was going on. This made trying to book a hostel very interesting, with a mixture of German, English, Czech and a sprinkling of French thrown in for good measure Tom and the hostel owner could have conjured up a new language. This crazy conversation played in our favour when we arrived though, with Tom making the international hand sign for phone the lady behind reception realised we were those crazy English people and, after laughing, swiftly showed us to our rooms. The hostel was very nice, but after a hard day through the hills it was the Czech beer that we appreciated most, working out to 50p a pint it was as cheap as Jesters but thankfully with considerably better beer.

We have decided to only do 50 miles a day through the turbulent Czech terrain meaning that it is only 2 more days until we reach Prague and have our next full rest day. And we’re gonna need it.

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Martin.

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Day 12: Half way!

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For the first time on the trip we are now closer to Budapest than we are to London! Tonight we arrived in Nuremberg which puts us at 670 miles out of our 1250 mile route. This is now day 12 for us which means we have 15 days until we plan to arrive in capital of Hungary. We have actually cycled over our planned distance so far, around 715 miles, due to various detours we have encountered along the way and getting around towns. Nevertheless, we are well on schedule at the moment and will soon be speeding towards the Germany-Czech border on our way east to Prague.

Our cycle today was a little over 70 miles from Wurzburg to Nuremberg. We were expecting a tough day as we knew there were some hills to cover as well as the long distance. The weather was on our side though, it was sunny all day with a nice cool breeze – exactly what you want for cycling! We began with an easy start along the Main river out of Wurzburg. After 15 miles we turned off and began travelling through rolling German countryside passing through small towns and villages along the way. We were struck with the architecture of the settlements we saw, the small cobbled streets felt much more mediterranean in style than German but all had an interesting character to them. Almost every village had a nice church with a tall spire, we would often spot these coming over the hills before going down into the streets. We had 2 major climbs today, the largest brought us to 1450 ft, but neither were particularly steep..which we were very glad of!

So a summary of today – beautiful countryside with perfect cycling weather 🙂

Tom.

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Day 11: Long and flat or short and hilly?

Today’s route took us from our campsite near Aschaffenburg to Wurzberg, which is either 75 miles along the river route or 50 miles through the hills.

We decided to have a crack at hill-climbing, much to my delight, being a bit of a nutter, I love hill-climbing. The others were less keen, but all decided it would be good to gain some experience of hill climbs before we’re in Czech and no longer have a choice.

We set off around half 9 after some attempts to dry our tents before packing them away (not hugely successful as the ground was wet from the overnight showers too). The route had 5 sections of uninterrupted hill – with each around 600ft. The first 4 combined with some short downhills to bring us up to 1900ft (highest point of our trip so far!).

Thankfully these hills weren’t all that steep – more of a long grind than a short sprint. But our individual preferences for speed meant we became separated along the climb, and re-grouped at each top. This was normally a good excuse for a bite to eat (today’s elevensies choice was lemon cake).

After 20 miles of cycling we reached our highest point and had 10 miles of downhill ahead of us. We decided lunch at the bottom would be a good idea – and stopped in Marktheidenfeld (a name that just keeps on going). The town had a large brewery named Martin Brau – we had to get a photo of our Martin with the brewery.

Having filled up on chicken and schnitzel, we went on for the last couple of hills – these were a bit shorter and steeper. On the final downhill the road reached 12% – enabling Will and I to breach the 40mph mark. (Will beat me by 0.4mph to reach a maximum of 41.1).

With a whole team of weary knees we thankfully had a short stretch along the river to finish. And what is it we wanted to do after cycling most of the day? Watch cycling on TV? Yeah… We just caught Sir Hoy winning the Keirin between large amounts of German focused coverage.

Lessons learnt today, we can do hill climbing, but it’s draining. We’re going to have to pace ourselves through the Czech hills, and will need to be ahead of our 60miles a day average before we reach them (which we are at the moment). Another 70 miles tomorrow on to Nuremburg and we’ll be past the halfway point for mileage!

– Fergus

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