June 7, 2014 – Novy Jicin, Czech Republic
Today started out mild and ended up wild. Offhand, I can’t think of a better reason to be out on the road.
At breakfast this morning, our waitress brought out enough food for 8 and when we had finished, she brought out little waxed bags so we could take the rest with us. We took a little with us just because we didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Same at lunch today. We stopped in Paris, Slovakia just outside the Czech border for lunch. They were serving chicken and rice for lunch. No menu, it’s chicken and rice or on your way. A big plate of chicken and rice, soft drinks and two bottles of water came to 7 Euros. Tonight, the hotel owner is doing BBQ and it is all you can eat for the equivalent of $10. Not only is this a beautiful place to ride, it is a beautiful place for your budget.
There is a big outdoor covered eating area on the side of the hotel and we parked our bikes across the street when we arrived. We checked in and hauled our gear inside. Then the owner shows up and says we can park them inside for the night if we wish. Then he asked if we could leave them where they are for awhile so he can get some photos of the Washington plates in front of his hotel. Sure can, and so we moved them so the plates would show up better in the pictures.
The owner has been the owner for 6 months. He is Belgian and has been coming to this area for years. Finally decided he didn’t want to leave. Hotel Praha (Park Hotel) is another of those with “the patina of a bygone era”, but he is working hard to make it better. His biggest problem is folks in this area don’t go out on weekends nearly as much as those from bigger cities or other parts of Europe. I wish him well in his new endeavor.
So Debb and I are sitting on the porch having a beer when three ladies “of a certain age” sit down across from us. Our bikes are still there and they finally figure out they belong to us. In about 10 minutes, Debb is sitting with them and I’m hearing “Americano” a lot. Eventually, I moved the bikes inside and when I got back the ladies had been joined by a fourth. Turns out the 4th lady was a scooter rider for years and only stopped due to health issues. She is only one year younger than Debb.
My camera battery was dead, but the ladies all had cameras so we got some pictures. I’ll post some when I get them. Email address shared all around. The hotel owner knew them and made a point to tell me that one or two of them would be trying to “steal me away”, as he put it. He told them he had told me that and there was lots of laughter and nods. Debb is still out there chatting away. What language problem? (Update: We never heard from them again.)
Just another fabulous day on the road.
Draw a really wiggly line between here and Dresden. We’ll be doing that for the next couple of days.
June 10, 2014 – Liberec, Czech Republic
Hot, hot, hot! We passed several temperature signs today and none were lower than 36C. We arrive at the end of the day soaked from the inside out. One good thing, I think the heat has burned my cold away. I am feeling much better.
A little catching up. We ended up staying in Novy Jicin two nights instead of one. Then through some beautiful countryside to a spa town in Poland called Polanica Zdroj. It is located in southern Poland in the jigsaw puzzle-shaped piece that juts into the Czech Republic. That town has got to be The Hamptons of Poland. Absolutely beautiful. Here is a Google Maps link: Street View of Polanica Zdroj. We ate at the round table on the left. Rotate the view 180 degrees and see the park in the middle of the city. We stayed in a house for $40 including breakfast. There are lots of E200/night places all over. This was the first time on this trip we have seen so many huge houses in one area. Just beautiful.
Our wiggly line has been quite the trip. Yesterday our ride started in Novy Jicin, then to Opava, Bruntal for a refreshment, and on to Rapotin. We definitely have to give a Catfish and SSJoanne Seal of Approval for Highway 11. Great ride. Then it was 44 north to Jesenik, 60 northwest back into Poland and Paczkow, and on to Klodsko and Polanica Zdroj. All fun riding, but 11 was just the best. Language note: Klodsko is not how it is spelled on road signs. On roadsigns, it is Ktodsko and the t is a lower-case size character with the cross part slanted up, left to right.
Today we missed a couple of turns so we spent some time in the flats with what seemed like a thousand truckers and a thousand round-abouts. We got free of that as soon as we could and turned back north for the hills. We had a very nice lunch in Vrchlabi. We continued on 14 in the deep shade along a river and it would have been perfect except for the 4 sections of one-way traffic lights. Stopping in the heat was not fun. Once we turned west to Tanvald and on to Liberec, it was a slog in the heat and afternoon traffic. Ugh.
But guess what? We are in the Hotel Praha again. Praha means park and I am told there are hundreds of Hotel Prahas in the Czech Republic. That’s 3 nights for us. This is an old hotel, originally built in 1906, right downtown and next to a nice square. The snack bar of the hotel is in the shade on the square so we had a cool drink and people-watched after our showers and before our naps.
Dinner tonight was in the newly-opened hotel restaurant. It is located on the second floor, which means it is about 30 feet up, and has huge windows all along two walls. A great view of the elegant buildings all around. Our waitress was new and very nervous, and her first act was to dump a bottle of tonic on our table. She was mortified, but did okay after that. Poor girl; new job and foreigners all at once. I left a nice tip. Dinner was good, not great, and about $40 for drinks, entrees, soup, dessert, and coffee. We are using Crowns now, but most tabs come listed in both Crowns and Euros.
The other day Debb and I passed some big cooling towers so I have been trading email with WetLeather’s Big Cooling Tower Guy, Brian C. There are some interesting effects to the high energy costs here. In many hotels, tho not any in Eastern Europe so far, there are switches you have to put your room key into before the lights work. Brian estimates electricity costs twice here than what it does where he lives. Those of us in the PNW get it even cheaper. The hotel owner in Novy Jicin told us if he turned on all of his antique chandeliers, even with half the bulbs not working, it would cost him about 25 Euros an hour. I found it interesting he said Euros, since his currency is Crowns. I wonder if he pays for energy in a different currency? Maybe he just thought I would know the value better.
There are light sensors everywhere. Most hallways and stairwells are dark until you walk into them. Public bathrooms is another. We had a room that had a sensor on the bathroom fan, not the light.
Ice is another big difference. You can get it, but you usually have to ask. I have been served many soft drinks that were barely cooler than room temperature and no ice. Now I ask, but you only get 3 or 4 cubes. Once, I got charged per cube for 6 of them. Again, I’m sure it is energy costs. BTW, Coke and Pepsi are way different here than in the States. They seem much softer to me. Local taste, of course and also served warmer than in the US.
We are off to Prague in the morning. See you there.
June 10, 2014 – Prague, Czech Republic
These two young ladies served us coffee and breakfast this morning. The one on the left rides motocross when she can and the one on the right is T r o u b l e with a capital T. Debb taught her to make an iced latte and they both were grinning ear to ear.
From Liberec we followed E442 north and west to Decin. That is a nice ride in the foothills. We passed some huge glass factories, some active and some not. Chandeliers were advertised prominently.
After a light lunch in Decin we continued on 442 and took 30 south along the river to the Autostrata. Another very nice ride. After that it was 75mph and watch those mirrors all the way to our room in Prague. We are very close in and we spent a few hours this evening walking around and marveling at the amazing buildings. Dinner was at an Asian noodle place and a couple from Virginia were at the next table. They have visited Seattle a number of times and we had a nice time visiting. Only after describing our ride across Albania in one day did the guy realize we were talking about motorcycles, not bicycles. His wife knew and we all got a laugh. Nice folks.
Still quite warm but the edge of a thunderstorm crossed with a little light rain and it cooled everything down. Now that its gone it has warmed up again, but there is a breeze.
Full tourist mode tomorrow.
June 12, 2014 – Notes from Prague
In Prague there is a tower for TV and cell antennas that rises high above the city. Everyone thinks it’s ugly, but replacement is unlikely. It was built during the Soviet era, so it is called the last Russian rocket in the Czech Republic.
Skoda builds cars in a plant just outside Prague. The S in Skoda has an umlaut(?) over it so is pronounced ‘sh’ as in shoe. It is open to the public nearly every day of the year to watch cars being built. It is now part of the VW empire. Our guide told us Skoda translates to “What a pity” in English. Maybe that’s why we don’t see them in the US.
A town we passed through on our way back to Prague translates to “Eat the goat”. Town names evolved in competition with neighboring towns, for reasons both good and bad. There was a lot of discussion going on in the bus and I didn’t get the actual town name. Sorry, Martin.
There are a lot of Canola fields here and in other countries we have passed through. Turns out the EU mandates 4% of fields be Canola for use as bio-fuel. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” was our guide’s feeling on the matter. She reeled off a list of reasons it is a bad idea, one of which was folks in the CZ are not keen on having a lot of mandates from above. But…
In the small quaint town our guide was taking us through was a very modern new house built between two traditional ones. It was well finished and quite striking to my eye. Our guide was visibly offended by it. She said it was built after the Soviets left, who would never have allowed it, and before new regulations were enacted to preserve the quaintness. She thought it was just awful that anyone would do that. Politics is much the same the world over, I think.
They eat a lot of pork here and a couple of Australian ladies on our tour asked, “Where are all the pigs?” Well, they all live inside. This is a small country and they don’t have room for outdoor stock yards as in America or Australia. And they are fed a very controlled diet, mostly of manufactured ‘granules’, basically like dog food. Same for chickens, cows, and other food critters. Our guide pointed out several large barns to us on our way back that were typical for pigs.
Virtually none of the large fields of crops have irrigation. Only some vegetables get it. There is normally enough rainfall to grow all that they grow. Virtually all the corn they grow is for animals. It is not sweet corn, which has only recently become popular and all of that is imported.
Our guide joined us when we took a break for lunch and we had a wonderful chat. She speaks seven languages, has lived in Prague all her life, as has her extended family for several generations. I explained that Americans are way more mobile and often move for a job, a spouse, the climate, or just because. I felt like I was describing a rainbow to a blind person.
BTW, the Czechs think of themselves as central Europeans. Our guide was quite firm on this point. Poland is northern, Russia and Ukraine are eastern. “Those two countries are so different from us!”. Almost no one who has mentioned Russia has done so without crinkling their nose, or worse.
Our Mercedes mini-bus had a 5-speed manual transmission in the dash. That surprised me. There were three or four suction cups on the windshield in front of the driver. One was his cell, one a notepad, one a dash cam and something I didn’t get a chance to ask about – probably a GPS. The bottom half of his view was well obstructed. As we came back into the city and traffic got heavy, the smoothness of the traffic was a revelation. No one was driving too fast and then braking hard, we all just got slower and kept our distances and we all flowed into town. And there was a lot of traffic. They drive better here, I think.
On our tour today we had quite a mix of folks. Two from Spain, five from Australia, two from Russia, and us. Nearly every time we had to gather up to be off to the next place the Russian couple were the last to join us. The guide kept saying, “We’ve lost the Russians, again.” When we got back into Prague the Russian lady asked if they could be dropped off at some corner. We did, and as soon as the door was closed and we had started to move, the guide said, “We won’t lose the Russians again!”. Everyone howled.
We were having a drink in the bar when the local evening news came on. Looks the same the world over. There was an extended segment about the weather. I gathered several heat records were broken, several large damaging hail storms and the odd flood here and there. We experienced none of that, thankfully. It is much cooler here today so the front has moved past us. It was a very pleasant mid 70s day today.
We are looking forward to more tomorrow. Oh, and after getting thoroughly lost this morning, we are not going out tomorrow without the GPS.
June 13, 2014 – Street performers in Prague
The first are some Peruvian performers near our hotel from yesterday. I suspect the original Andes sound wasn’t quite so electronic with such a beat. Still fun to watch. Those outfits can’t be comfortable in the heat,
These two on the Charles Bridge were quite good. We listened to several songs and they got a good response from the passers-by. Best accordion music you’ve heard in a while!
Further along the bridge was a jazz and swing band. Debb and I were dancing in front of them and I’m sure we are on YouTube. There were sure a lot of cameras pointed at us. Let us know if you see it!
A full and fun day. I have a lot of photos to sort through.
We are back on the road tomorrow.
June 14, 2014 – Pictures of Prague
June 15, 2014 – Horni Planá, Czech Republic
There is a mark over the second a in Planá but I have no idea how they pronounce this. There are some unusual names in this part of the world. Our guide in Prague told us that with rare exceptions, every letter in a word is pronounced. If it is not pronounced, it isn’t there, according to her.
Today was all about the ride. We are deep in Bohemia and it is beautiful country and a beautiful country to ride in. We spent most of today on the German side, but started and ended on the Czech side. It certainly is much cheaper over here on the Czech side. Our apartment is under $40 with breakfast, two entrées and two beers for dinner was $14. There are a lot of pensions around this area. Ours is up on a hill overlooking the river, and the mountains in the not-too-far distance are Austria.
Here is a link to our route today: Our route for Sunday, June 15
You know you have picked a good route when lots of bikes pass you along the way. Way more coming toward us, of course, but we passed many groups of bikes parked at cafés and along the roads all day. One group was all BMWs and most were the new models with the intake on top and exhaust on the bottom. Interesting because all the license plates were in a sequence. Hope they had as much fun as we did!
At the start of our route you will see a street called V Brizach. Fourth house from the intersection was our place last night. Satellite view shows the huge driveway, which slopes down about 10 feet, top to bottom. That was a really nice house. Four or five guest rooms, a huge kitchen and eating area downstairs and great wifi. Dead quiet in the evening. $40.
We stopped for gas at the border just inside the Czech Republic. The gas station was part of a big “Tax Free’ store and folks were coming out with big bags of stuff. I saw folks coming our of the store carrying armfuls of cigarettes. Must be cheaper on that side.
It was pretty solid overcast today, and quite windy, but now at 9PM local the wind and the clouds have gone. A beautiful evening in Bohemia.
June 16, 2014 – Ramsau-Ort, Austria
Now I know some of you were asking yourselves, “They are riding all over Europe, when are they going to do the Alps?”. I am pleased to set your concerns to rest. We are now about 80km southeast of Salzburg, sitting at 3600 feet elevation. We intend to get much higher in the next couple of days.
Our plan for currency management worked to perfection today. After dinner last night and paying for the room this morning we had 450 Korunas left, about $23. We stopped for coffee and it was so good we ordered seconds. That left 200 and change. Just before we crossed the border I bought 200.50 worth of gas so now all I have are some small coins. I think we now have remnants of 7 different currencies.
We zigged and zagged out of the Czech Republic before crossing into Austria. Then we zigged and zagged some more getting to Linz. As we came to a stop in the traffic, Debb said “That was delicious!” Yes it was. Some of it is almost too perfect, like riding in a movie set. Perfect little Austrian villages set in perfect little fields on the perfect wooded hillsides. It is a treat.
South of Linz it was Autostrata. 75mph and watch those mirrors! We missed one turn-off and had to go 3 miles to the next exit and on ramp but otherwise it was uneventful. Besides, that is, the high-end touring cars doing Warp Factor 6 in the left lane. Watch those mirrors! Once we headed south it was a steady stream of tunnels all the way to our exit near Liezen. By then were deep in the mountains and it was one scenic wonder after another.
We are going to stay here for a few days. There are several delicious Alps passes to ride in the area, including the highest in Austria, the Grossglockner at 3,798m. Reports to follow.
Another reason we are staying is that Debb is not feeling 100%. She hasn’t been able to shake her cold like I did and she wants to stay out of the cool moto breezes for a day or two. We are in walking distance of several nice stores and coffee houses so she says she’ll be fine. At our age we are probably lucky we have stayed clear for this long.
Continue to The Alps 2014
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