Prague (2012)

Amerika and Karlštejn

We escape a gruesome fate. We visit the Prague Castle and where the Thunderbirds are go. Cycling spontaneously turns into a barbecue (part 2).

Swipe left and right to browse through the photos.

And that brings us to the reason behind today’s dramatic opening. When we arrived at the pension we had inquired whether bicycles could be rented anywhere nearby; that was not the case, but the owners of the pension immediately offered to rent us their own bicycles; yet another display of their friendliness and helpful disposition. When we had done a small laundry and hung our clothes to dry over the towel rack in the bathroom, they had noticed when cleaning the room and immediately provided us with a laundry basket and drying rack. The laundry would be dry much quicker when hung outside and if we wanted anything washed, we merely had to ask and they would do it for us. Now, is that hospitable or not?

So today we took them up on the offer to rent the bicycles and explore the surrounding area. We noticed two features on the map (which we received along with the bicycles) that drew our attention: the Amerikas, two gorges in the ground that were marked on the board in the village as well and the castle of Karlštejn in the village of that name, situated a few miles further along a river. The bicycles turned out to be two mountainbikes in excellent condition, only lacking a pair of locks, which meant we could not leave them unsupervised. Yes, this appears to be a country (or at least a region) where bicycle locks are an optional accessory, contrary to Amsterdam where your locks are worth more than your bicycle to begin with, and the risk of finding your bike missing is very much real with anything less than three locks and two chains.

You can move one foot forward here and plummet down a hundred.

We set a course and head out. It soon becomes apparent that the double set of gears on the bicycle is not an unnecessary luxury: from Vysoký Újezd to Lužce the road slopes gently down, but from there to Kozolupy it is all uphill and even a seemingly small incline turns out to be more treacherous than expected after some time. On the way to Mořina we reach our first stop: the Big Velká Amerika. A small path leads from the road through the trees through a landscape that does not indicate any tourist attraction being nearby; only a handful of parked cars and a stand selling bottles of soda indicates anything out of the ordinary. We follow the path, along which a rusty old steel cable ran as a makeshift fence, with a warning sign every few metres that suggested that your life would be over very shortly if you even considered stepping across the cable. A short walk down, that is exactly what we do.

Considering the story does not end here, you might be inclined to believe that we did not immediately plummet down to our horrible deaths, which is correct. Between the trees, there is a small natural plateau along the edge of the gorge, where a few other people are also standing and, judging by the trampled ground, many have done so before to enjoy the view. And rightfully so: before us, as if from nowhere, a huge gorge stretches out with walls that drop straight down into the ground. The amazing red and gray rocks offer a spectacular view over this giant hole in the ground. Across the gorge we see a few fences at what appears to be a more official vantage point, while here you could move one foot forward and plummet down a hundred.

At the bottom of the gorge we noticed a path and several messages that people had left by arranging rocks: props to the people who placed the word ‘minecraft’. We follow the path a bit further down along the edge and find two locations, one of which at the far end of the gorge, where paths seem to lead down and which you can climb down like some sort of mountain goat. It was apparent that we would not be able to get down together with the bicycles on this end. A shame, for at the bottom was a beautiful blue and clear lake, where a few people were already swimming. We suspected they might have descended from the other end and that there would be a better path near the official viewing point. But as we did not have any swimming gear with us and still had the bicycles with us, we decided to be satisfied with the view and to continue on. We hopped back on and cycled back to the main road. Next stop: Karlštejn!

View over the Czech hills

A castle on a mountain

Or rather: Karlštejn should have been the next stop, but somewhere around Mořina we took a wrong turn (yes yes, we had an app and a map, I know), which we only discovered as we were already racing downhill at about twenty mph into the river valley. We decided not to make the climb back up, but followed the road into the village Hlásná Třebaň, from where a scenic road runs along the river bank to Karlštejn. We had actually thought to take this route on the return journey, but had now made it a little early. A little while later we drove into Karlštejn after all, where it turned out the castle really is a popular tourist attraction: pretty much the entire village seems to consist of hotels, pensions, restaurants and souvenir shops. The road to the castle winds up from the river and along its whole course you can eat, drink, spend the night, buy “I ♥ Prague” T-shirts and furry stuffed animals that run on batteries and play with a ball.

Back in the day, small settlements of merchants and craftsmen used to spring up around fortresses and castles, servicing travelers. It is amusing to think that Hrád Karlštejn, which has lost its primary function a long time ago, still has this secondary effect in the year 2012. Who could have imagined that when they built the castle around seven hundred years ago? At any rate, the climb up is quite a steep one and as the sun this day has not been hindered by anything so much as resembling a cloud (nearly to our demise), we arrived onto the castle courtyard hot and exhausted. Since we could not leave the bicycles unattended, we were unable to visit the interior of the castle—I understand it is locally frowned upon to visit Charles IV’s bedroom seated on a mountainbike. Fortunately the courtyard offered enough benches and shade to have a lunch break and cool down somewhat. In addition, the walls offered a magnificent view of the village and the valley, and it was possible to head into the water tower with its well, going down 78 metres. Not quite the Velká Amerika, but still not a place to fall down.

I curse the Czech and ask myself why they will not just level all of these hills.

Having rested up and taken plenty of photographs, we descend again, purchase fresh water and prepare for the trip back. Having taken the wrong way in turned out to be a blessing, for now we would not have to ascend the steep road from Hlásná Třebaň (see, apps and maps are absolutely useless). The road from Karlštejn was less steep and pretty much straight as a line. But, as with anything, appearances turned out to be deceiving, for the incline of the road still was an absolute punishment. Before we were halfway up the road, I had already lost more fluids than the United States during Prohibition. As we stopped to pant, disentangle my tongue from the spokes of the wheel and drink some water, two backpackers passed us. They greeted us amicably, but their eyes said: and that is why you walk. But after a few stages we reached the top of the hill, from where the road led straight down the other side. As we suddenly sailed down at full speed with a cool wind in our hair and blew right past the backpackers halfway down, I thought to myself: and this is why you ride!

Other than another horrible climb into Kozolupy, the rest of the way back was perfectly doable, although I did at one point curse the Czech and asked myself why they will not just level all of these hills and be done with it. That would simplify matters immensely. Vonne made the alternate suggestion that they should simply tunnel the road through them, so that you at least cycle in the shade. And that was not at all a bad idea, for it became apparent that the sun and asphalt had conspired against me and were slowly but surely turning me into a moving advert for crispy bacon. Even my arms and legs, which had so far resisted the Czech sun effortlessly, had now capitulated and called for a truce. The last part of the ride surprisingly did not turn out to be the final straw that broke the camel’s back, for sooner than expected we arrived back in Vysoký Újezd and the pension. We placed the bicycles back and fell down onto the bed.

A cooling shower and a lot of cold drinks later, I am now somewhat able to relay these events onto paper. And that is quite important, for at the moment I would not be out of place in a bad joke: “A tomato, a chili pepper and Iwan walk into a bar…”. There is a more than reasonable chance that at breakfast tomorrow, I will be mistaken for a slice of ham and disappear into a sandwich. Goodbye, cruel world!

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