The summer of beer
I didn’t like beer before this tour. I found it too bitter. I could drink it, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Not that this bothered me too much, but sometimes I thought of beer as an acquired taste, one that I had yet to acquire.
I decided to do so while biking through the Czech republic – what opportunity could be more perfect to “learn” to drink beer? (I’m aware this must sound silly to people who think drinking beer is but too easy!)
Did it work? Yes, I learned to love beer after this summer. In fact, I’m an alcoholic now. Haha, just joking. Anyway, beer never tastes as good as at the end of a cycling stage.
I rated each beer from 1 to 5. It was great being able to taste the beers from the local breweries on the countryside in the Czech republic.
Ok, now let’s continue the travelogue from 2002!
Day 12: Rostock – Röbel
- – 18 °C (64 °F), cloudy, rain.
- Distance: 154 km (96 miles)
- Time: 8:06 h (6:45 – 17:30)
- Average speed: 19,0 km/h (11,9 mph)
- Accomodation: Camping, 6,90 € (9,40 $)
What a nightmare stage! I started out at 6:45, after a more or less sleepless night on the floor of the ferry. And let me tell you: The harbour of Rostock is not made for bicyclists. Between the trucks and cars I tried not to slid in the rails for trains, and eventually I made my way into and through Rostock.
This is where the problems began. I had ordered bikemaps on the Internet from Bielefelder Radkarten long before I started out. God knows how many hours I’ve spent with them at home, planning my way from Rostock to Berlin and praising Germany as such a bikefriendly country where they have so specialized bikemaps.
However, it turned out that the stretches that on the map was called ”gut befahrbare Feld- und Waldwege” (well accessible field- and forestroads) weren’t so well accessible. Actually, some of them weren’t even accessible at all: I had to lead my bike – downslopes!
Never in my whole life have I biked on so bad ”roads”. My bike was literally thrown between the stones of the road, and only a miracle must have saved me from getting a flat. Yes, you read it correctly: Despite a whole day on these hellish roads, my bike was OK when I reached the camping in Röbel. Thus quality has a name, in this case Schwalbe (tubes and tires), CyclePro (bike) and Abus and Agu (panniers). I thank them all for the fact that they didn’t let me down in the middle of nowhere. (And no, I’m not sponsored by them, this is authentic appreciation.)
Not only were the biketrails I rode on in an extremely bad condition. Small as they were, they were also badly signed, which made it hard to know where to go. Hence I biked the wrong way at several occasions. The most unbelievable thing with these so called roads, accessible only with MTB and then without packing, was that they were part of big biketrail, like the ”Berlin – Köpenhamn Radweg” (Berlin – Copenhagen Biketrail). But no – and I do indeed mean NO – normal person would be able to bike on these roads without swearing his or her way through the nightmare.
Of course one shouldn’t be stressed on a bike tour. If I had a lot of time I could just have taken it easy and stayed the night somewhere closer to Rostock after having biked only some few kilometers on these roads. But Andreas, my friend in Berlin, is away and counts with me arriving tomorrow night, because as I arrive I’m gonna feed his cats! That’s why I was so eager to bike halfway to Berlin today, and that’s why I became so desperate when I couldn’t change from the forest roads to a big road since I already was stuck in the middle of the forest.
OK, enough is enough and I think I’ve made my point. During the day I passed Güstrow and Krakow am See, the latter by the touristy lake of Müritz, which I circled since I missed on the map that you could actually pass it on a small bridge in the middle of it. (But since it wasn’t marked as suitable for bikes, it was also hard to detect.)
When I approached Röbel I realized that I actually had biked halfway to Berlin. The little camping seemed welcoming and I raised my tent next to a couple of bicyclists. They are Martina and Rafail from Switzerland, biking from Dresden to Rügen. (Rügen is close to Rostock.) Rafail is still in high school but has already made a 9 month bike tour through America. In the evening they invited me for barbeque with red wine under a tree – do I need to say that that was a welcome end of the day?
I must praise this German camping somewhat. First of all, you pay for a tent and then you pay per person. That way they don’t discriminate solo travellers as they do at Swedish campings, where you only pay for the tent, no matter how many people sleep in it. This is much more fair! Second, the atmosphere at the camping is so nice. On my way to the bathrooms, I started to talk to another bicyclist, on his way to Rügen just like Martina and Rafail. What a contrast to the Swedish campings where middleaged couples lock themselves into the shells of their huge caravans.
It’s not even 10 pm, but the previous night’s bad sleep, in combination with today’s nightmare stage and the wine I’ve just drunk will make me fall asleep in SECONDS as I now cuddle down in my sleepingbag.
Day 13: Röbel – Berlin
- – 25 °C (77 °F), sunny.
- Distance: 117 km (73 miles)
- Time: 5:49 h (7:30 – 15:00)
- Average speed: 20,1 km/h (12,6 mph)
- Accomodation: My friend Andreas, 0 €
It has been a sunny day and I have biked solely on good, bigger roads – wise from yesterday’s experience. There were of course many cars on some of today’s roads, but believe it or not, the Germans have a terrific traffic culture, which means that they won’t overtake me as long as there are meeting cars. This is fantastic! Sometimes it means that a long line of cars gather up behind me, until the sight is clear in the other lane and they can overtake me.
I had a new strategy for today: I would read the map CAREFULLY and OFTEN. Apart from this, I would also ASK people along the way, to get constant feedback about my way. This new strategy of mine was a success: I didn’t lose my way a single time, despite all the ”umleitungen” (alternative routs due to roadworks).
These umleitungen are many and worrying. If you’re in a car you don’t mind driving some extra kilometers every now and then, but on a bike you do. Especially since you’re never completely sure that you’re biking along the right umleitung, since the signs differ between for example U2, U4 and U7. You have to pay attention.
In Sweden we don’t have these kind of umleitungen, but I guess they are good, since they let the roadworkers work alone, instead of just forcing the cars to slow down at the roadwork.
I biked today through Rheinsberg and Lindow to Oranienburg, which is the end station of the S-Bahn. Just before Oranienburg I encountered a huge roadwork as I took a chance and diverted from an umleitung. A whole highway was under construction – what a surreal view it was to see this big highway, complete with viaducts and bridges – but without cars. After a few kilometers I biked into a group of roadworkers. The leader drew a map in the congealing cement, and about ten minutes later I had found my way to the station, from where I took the S-Bahn to central Berlin.
And here I am now! Sitting on Andreas’ roof terrace in Kreutzberg (edit 2014: it’s Kreuzberg, Karl, not Kreutzberg!), I watch the sun set as I drink a glass of wine. Andreas will be home tomorrow night, so I have the whole three-floor apartment to myself until then.
I must say I can’t believe I’ve biked from Stockholm to Berlin now. But I do feel it. Not in my body, that is in perfect shape, but in my mind. It feels good.
Day 14: Berlin – Lübben
- – 23 °C (73 °F), cloudy and lots of rain.
- Distance: 104 km (65 miles)
- Time: 4:50 h (6:10 – 14:00)
- Average speed: 21,5 km/h (13,4 mph)
- Accomodation: Room, 15 € (20 $)
I left Andreas’ apartment in the part of Berlin called Kreutzberg (Kreuzberg!) at 6:10 and biked to Alexanderplatz, from where I took the S-bahn out to the end station Erkner. There I sold back the two tickets (one for me and one for the bike) since I had forgotten to validate them.
I will now follow the Spree Radweg all the way to its spring in Neugersdorf close to the Czech border. There were plenty of signs showing the way, which I also follow in the Spree Radweg booklet, that I ordered from Bikeline on the Internet long ago.
But despite the sympathetic idea of following a river to its spring, I decided quite early to diverge from the route. After all, I want to feel that I make some distance here, which I don’t if I follow every single turn of the Spree. So I head south for Alt Shadow, but when I came there, the bridge I had planned to use over the river was closed! That forced me to make a detour to the next bridge – which also was closed!
As I desperately searched for a third bridge, the rain came. And as so often on this tour, it virtually poured down. It was eleven o’clock and would continue to pour down for the rest of the day. Suddenly everything seemed so hopeless. It was as if I suddenly woke up in the middle of the East German countryside and realized: What am I doing here? Why am I biking through a rainy Europe on my own for two months? I have no idea.
The fact that I only slept five hours tonight adds of course to the bad experience. But also: There are no other bike tourers in this part of Germany. I thought it would be much the opposite. Anyway, I’m halfway through the tour, geographically speaking, so I comfort myself with the idea that it can only become better now.
Since the rain didn’t stop, I decided to stay in Lübben tonight. I really didn’t feel like camping, so now I’m renting a little room with toilet, shower and TV with 50 channels for 15 euros. I have got warm, eaten my mackerel and planned tomorrow’s stage. I really only wanna fall asleep in the double bed, but it’s only 16:30. It’s funny how I so totally lack energy. Neither Tour de France on Eurosport nor Kafka is tempting me, but at least the first doesn’t call for much of an engagement.
Some food and some pages of Kafka later and everything feels better. You shouldn’t underestimate the power of food when you’re pressing your body so much every day! It’s a humid evening. I’m sticky and my clothes haven’t dried a bit.
I just watched the weather forecast. It’s gonna be 17-19 degrees centigrade (63-66 °F) tonight with heavy showers and thunderstorms. Tomorrow morning will also bring lots of rain, but it will clear up in the afternoon. Once again, I guess I just have to bike on…
Edit 2014: I had to check in my Kafka collection which book I was reading back then. Incidentally, it was “Description of a Struggle”:
Day 14: Lübben – Bautzen
- – 20 °C (68 F), windy.
- Distance: 127 km (79 miles)
- Time: 6:09 h (9:20 – 16:45)
- Average speed: 20,6 km/h (12,8 mph)
- Accomodation: Room, 17 € (23 $)
I’m quite exhausted now, after having biked fast and covered quite a distance. Instead of following the Spree and its biketrail, I took a shortcut from Lübbenau to Spremberg.
There I got accompanied by an unemployed 50-something who gave me a paper with the title: “Ist es vernünftig, in einen Gott zu glauben?” (Does it make sense to believe in a God?) He had written it because he considered people stupid. We biked together along the Spree biketrail for an hour or so.
At Uhyst we separated and I took a shortcut again over Kleinwelka until I reached Bautzen, where a little kid exclaimed hilariously to his father: “Der Mann hat viel Gepäck!” (The man has a lot of luggage!)
There was a reason I biked so fast today: The rain. Yesterday’s forecast had virtually promised rain during this whole day. Not a single drop fell. Even the landlady from who I’m renting a room tonight emphasized how today’s weather diverted from the forecast.
Yes, I decided to rent a room since there doesn’t seem to be any campings around. It wasn’t so easy to get a room in this little tourist resort, once bigger than Dresden, but now I have a huge room with four beds all to myself.
There are still some sorbs living in this area, and that’s the reason why all the signs are in two languages: German and Sorbian. There are also some slavic-sounding names of villages here, like Kleinwelka, where welka means big in “slavic”.
I have now enjoyed a big and fatty potato gratain in a restaurant in central Bautzen. Over a draught Feldschlößchen, I now plan tomorrow’s stage. I will try to reach the Czech border, and I’m feeling full of high spirits when I think of that. Or maybe it’s just the beer.
Day 16: Bautzen (DE) – Dubá (CZ)
- – 12 °C (54 °F) in the mountains, no wind.
- Distance: 126 km (78 miles)
- Time: 7:05 h (8:10 – 17:30)
- Average speed: 17,7 km/h (11,0 mph)
- Accomodation: Camping, 60 Kc (2,20 €, 3 $)
(Note 2014: The Czech crown has grown much stronger in the 12 years since 2002. When I first wrote down the travelogue with conversions to dollar, 60 CZK equaled 2 dollars. Now it equals 3. Since this is a “remastering” of the travelogue, all currency conversions are made now, in 2014. So keep in mind that all the low Czech prices were even lower back then, by one third or so.)
It’s been a hard day, because I tried to cover some distance, which wasn’t so easy in this hilly area! It only went upwards, all the time, which wasn’t so strange since I was trying to reach the spring of the river Spree – an important stage goal. I found it deep in the forest – had to walk the last meters – framed by a memorial over the soldiers who died in the first world war.
Outside Bautzen I biked the wrong way due to insufficient road signs. I had to climb over real alp villages (at least it felt like that) with goats and houses with these characteristically steep roofs. Despite the enormous amount of energy that this detour sucked from my body, I was happy to see these cute little mountain villages. A local I asked about the way told me that sorbs inhabit these areas. So I asked him if he was a sorb, but he disappointed me by saying he was German.
The border crossing in Neugersdorf was closed for cars, but as a bicyclist I was allowed to pass. While the German police thoroughly checked my passport and wished me a nice trip, her Czech colleagues just nodded their heads and let me in.
It was 12:35 as I passed the border to the Czech republic, my second home. (I have studied Czech and lived in Prague and that way got myself this asylum without any real connection to the country.) The roads were totally empty, since no car would come from or go to the closed border crossing. As a bonus I biked downslopes for the first time today.
I feel so at home in the Czech republic. At the first sign that signaled a smaller village, I turned off the main road. It happened to be a village called Rybniště with one single restaurant. They all look the same, these countryside restaurants in the Czech republic (and so does the waiter: hockey haircut and jogging pants), so it’s easy to feel at home.
Speaking the language adds of course to the experience. Not knowing what the big, red, rusty signs that screams POZOR means can make you feel uncertain. It means Attention or Warning, but Pozor sounds much more vulgar.
After the lunch break I continued over Krásná Lípa (The beautiful lime) to Kamenický Šenov where I had a banana break on the cool cliff Panská Skála.
Then I continued to Česká Lípa (The Czech lime), where the downslopes became steeper and steeper – I reached 60 km/h (37 mph) as maximum speed.
According to my Michelin map from 1996, there would be a camping in Dubá. And there was! I have now taken a bath in the little lake outside my tent and eaten some fish fingers with chips. Left infront of me now is only a plastic mug with dark, draught Březňák. A beer has never tasted so good.
Day 17: Dubá – Prague
- – 22 °C (72 °F) sunny.
- Distance: 71 km (44 miles)
- Time: 3:20 h (8:45 – 13:15)
- Average speed: 21,2 km/h (13,2 mph)
- Accomodation: My friend Libor, 0 Kc.
What a wonderful day! Nice roads, perfect weather – and Prague as the goal of today’s biking.
I passed the small towns of Liběchov and Mělník. According to my map, both of them are supposed to offer either a palace or castle. I don’t know which, since I didn’t bother to diverge from the main road. Instead I called my Czech friend Libor to say that he could expect me in Prague in a few hours. We decided to meet at Náměstí Míru (the peace square), which is close to his flat.
Outside Líbeznice I met a woman on her bike. She called to me from her side of the road (in Czech): “Where are you heading?” I noticed happily that she used the intimate form of “you” and answered: “To Prague!” Then she shouted something more and continued biking. I didn’t pick up what she said, but I hope it wasn’t: “Oh really, then you should know that the road is closed and you have to bike over bla bla bla…”
To enter Prague by bike was somewhat complicated due to some closed roads. I had bought a more detailed map at a petrol station (the Michelin map is 1:600,000 which is usually not detailed enough). But soon I reached Náměstí Míru – and what a feeling it was! Libor turned up after some minutes, and I have now unpacked my stuff in his little apartment.
I will stay here for some days, don’t know how many, and then we will continue the bike tour together through the Czech republic.
Day 18: Prague – Hradištko)
- – cloudy, some rain.
- Distance: 48 km (30 miles)
- Time: 2:42 h (14:00 – 18:00)
- Average speed: 17,9 km/h (11,1 mph)
- Accomodation: My friend Mirek’s chalupa, 0 Kc.
Since we weren’t going too far today, I and Libor started out quite late. Today’s goal was our friend Mirek’s cottage in Hradištko, not too far from Prague. Getting out of Prague wasn’t too easy, partly because we only relied on Libor’s intuition, but as soon as we reached the big, green city forest it was quite clear which way we should go.
It was a quite hilly ride. We biked east from the river Vltava. After having enjoyed a kilometerlong downslope that led down to the river, we realized we had biked the wrong way. No problem, we could cross the river at Davle, continue on the left side to Štěchovice and then cross it again.
Mirek waited for us on the outdoor serving of Hradištko’s local pub U Gulášu. We drank a beer and then bought food for dinner at the grocery shop.
We have now enjoyed a nice evening with cheese, olives and grilled vegetables. As a light rain started to fall, we went inside and played “čurák”, a card game which means “dick”, and drank Becherovka liquor.
Everything could have been perfect, if it wasn’t for this little thing:
The plan was to bike with Libor for three days to a cottage in southern Czech republic and then stay for some days there. But the information from Libor has shifted constantly since I arrived to Prague. I realize he hasn’t planned this as seriously as I, because he has now told me that this day is enough for him. Tomorrow he and Mirek will take the train back to Prague, and I will continue on my own.
What an anti-climax! And a very unpractical one: With these new circumstances it’s not more than a week’s biking to Budapest, but the plane leaves from there on August 25 – in one month! And I can’t rebook since the ticket was so cheap. Shit, what shall I do in Budapest for three weeks?
At least tomorrow is settled: I’m gonna bike to Písek and sleep at Libor’s friends’ place, without Libor himself though.
Day 19: Hradištko – Písek)
- – 24 °C (75 °F), cloudy.
- Distance: 117 km (73 miles)
- Time: 6:29 h (11:00 – 20:00)
- Average speed: 18,1 km/h (11,2 mph), max 55 km/h (34 mph)
- Accomodation: Camping, 60 Kc (2,20 €, 3 $).
I started the day by climbing a huge hill, it went upslopes for at least 10 kilometers, probably 20. I biked on the west side of the Vltava, passing villages like Chotilsko, Celina and Obory, before I crossed the river at Kamýk nad Vltavou. At the castle Orlík nad Vltavou I crossed it again and biked the rest of the way to Písek on the west side.
There was something that troubled me the later it got: I couldn’t get in touch with Libor’s friends, with whom I was gonna spend the night. The mobile phone I was supposed to call must have been out of reach or something. I left a message and sent an sms and couldn’t do anything but to wait.
But it’s not too nice to wait for someone to call as the sun is going lower and lower on the sky and you don’t have a Plan B. So as the sun was gonna set I decided to search for a camping. There was no one on the map, but outside Písek I eventually found one – what a relief. Fuck those friends anyway. (Sorry, but that was how I thought.)
This was a very rough camping. No formalities, no thorough writing down my passport number as at the other Czech campings, no commu-style stamps – the barman took my money (60 Kc) and told me to raise the tent where the hell I wanted.
I sort of like it here. I live in my tent just by the water, which I think is Otava, a little side creek to Vltava. It’s already 10 pm and I think I’m gonna go to bed.
Day 20: Písek (CZ) – Passau (DE)
- – 26 °C (79 °F) sunny.
- Distance: 129 km (80 miles)
- Time: 6:38 h (8:50 – 18:00)
- Average speed: 19,5 km/h (12,1 mph), max 64 km/h (40 mph)
- Accomodation: Camping, 5 € (6,80 $)
This was the most hilly day so far. Even more hilly than when I crossed the border into the Czech republic. At Strázny, where I now crossed the border to Germany, the highest top was the mountain of Strázny itself at 1115 m (3658 ft).
I must say it’s wonderful to experience the Czech republic from the saddle, and that way really feel – not only read – how Bohemia as this part of the country is called is surrounded by mountains and therefore always has been an attractive area to rule. This feeling expressed itself in speed: My cruising speed was sometimes 10 km/h (6 mph), sometimes 50 (30). At the most I hit 64 km/h (40 mph), which is the record on this bike tour so far!
I biked on a rather big road since I wanted to reach Passau today. Especially between Bavorov and Prachatice there were numerous picturesque little villages east from the main road. I would have biked through them if I was to spend another night in the Czech republic.
I reached Passau at 6 pm and raised my tent on one of the last spots of a city camping. What a difference from all other campings: 90 percent of the guests are bicyclists! That is because the Danube Biketrail (Donauradweg) starts here. I am going to follow it the whole way to Vienna, as are probably many of my neighbours at this camping.
After having had a pizza downtown and seen some of the sights of this beautiful city, I will now doze off to sleep.
To be continued.
This was part 2 of 3 of my bike tour travelogue from 2002. Here are the other parts: