Elbe Bike Trip 2 with a nasty end

Old Jun 22nd, 2016, 06:13 AM
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Elbe Bike Trip 2 with a nasty end

For those Fodorites who have not read one of these bike tour reports before you need to know a few things. Every year Mrs Bilbo and I ride a river/canal bike route in Europe hopefully near a wine region. A few years back we did the Elbe Radweg from Hamburg to Magdeburg in 2 weeks so this was trying to finish off that tour. Trouble was the cheepo airlines no longer fly from my local airport to many German cities so this trip was going to fly into and out of Prague. Started early June 16.

Just to give you an idea of costs; ticket cost for person £60, ticket cost for bike £30 per leg of flight. Bikes packed in giant plastic bags means that once the plane lands we can be riding within 20 minutes of baggage reclaim. Prague is famously expensive in the tourist centre where beer can cost as much a £2 a pint. I promise you, we never hit above the 85p anywhere we went in Czech. Saxony German beer is closer to the £2 mark but normally lower. Pensions (B&B) are going to be E35 to E75. Basically everything in Saxony is double what it is in the Czech republic.

The Elbe does not flow through Prague (the Vlatava does) but those great marketing people from Elbe Radweg have tied the two rivers together. You can buy all kinds of great maps for the route (the Bikeline is the best) but we made do with the free book from TI and picked up local maps from TI as we went along. We booked Pensions for the first and last night via the internet before we left the UK and then booked that night's deal while eating breakfast by booking.com or at a coffee stop in Tourist Information.

What do we expect to see? The Elbe was the river where the Russian and USA armies met after the war. In Germany this means that they have been trying to recover from 55 years of occupation and 20 years of being joined to the West. For the Czech Republic a similar story but with a few more racist overtones and even more poverty as the NW European migration of the last 20 years has brought about some major changes. Both Bohemia and Saxony have small wine areas, famously average to poor quality. Beer, beef, pork garlic, potatoes and paprika is the basis for main courses. Dresden will be our biggest true visit city that most Europeans or Americans will have heard of. So a slightly polluted river a few failed factories and then lots of bird life and river countryside.

Tools that worked, Tourist Information were variable in both Germany and Czech. Generally younger people spoke more English and Mrs B's German was invaluable. Tripadvisor and Hotels.com were useless but Booking.com came into its own with lots of choice, though its Android APP is still neither use nor ornament. Booking often had a “cancel any time” deal going which is perfect for a bike ride when a 50km free day may become a 30km slog.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2016, 06:35 AM
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Well, you hooked me. Waiting to find out what happened. Hope it wasn't too bad....
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Old Jun 22nd, 2016, 06:50 AM
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Hopefully not renamed the Elbow bike trip.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2016, 07:55 AM
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I've ridden Dresden to near the Czech border before - great ride.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 02:45 AM
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Day, slight crisis at LBA as they have re-arranged the tank traps and the parking so it is even harder for people with bikes to get to the front door, luckily terrorists don't use bikes so security is just as weak ;-) .

Czech has a reputation for bad behaviour towards cyclists so the government has tried to provide more bike routes in Prague. Trouble is Prague airport has no copies of the bike map for Prague and the internet ones (while available) are poor or not phone friendly. Luckily I have printed a lot of pages for most of it, except, "how to get out of the airport". Still we quickly get to the first park. Prague is full of green parks and we spend a few hours in them, or on gravel paths by little rivulets, or in gentle meadows, but food, forget it. Finally we go past the Iraqi Embassy and find the Elbe Radweg and an Imbiss, 2pm and my first suasage in a bun and beer of the day. Ordered by lots of hand gestures.

We then cross the river on a tiny ferry and head north. First discovery, Czechs don't say hi as they pass (ahoy would be the word) but not even eye contact. The route detours up a very steep path (thanks to whoever told me about this of Fodors last year) and Mrs B is flagging. "here" steps in when we hit a complicated section which had the builders/bulldozers in an finally our first night Marina Vltava, good restaurant with nice rooms and an ugly aviary.. Still one night was £30 plus around £15 for supper with all drinks, the view over the Vlatava is impressive and the nearby railway (built by Italian prisoners of war) did not wake us at all. German is spoken here. In fact thoughout Czech we find that though people claim not to speak German or English they normally do, if not pointing and writing does pretty well.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 07:12 AM
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 07:52 AM
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Totallly hooked.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 10:02 AM
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bookmarking
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 10:07 AM
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How fun, bilbo.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 10:22 AM
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This will be a slow process as I'm now stuck on my back in bed, typing is tough.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 10:38 AM
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Day2 really hot, riding. Beautiful countryside, good black top (there is a claim that this section cost the same as a British motorway by the metre, as so much was stolen by Czech politicians) but all I know is it is flat. By midday we have followed the Vlatava Canal and River and finally entered the ancient town of Melnik (vines, medievel buildings, Melnik means “rotten” after the local soil) this is a pleasant visit with good food.

For the rest of the afternoon, now on the Elbe, we work our way up to Steti, a bit rust-belt but they still have a paper mill and we get to stay in the Sports Hotel, which proves large, clean, mainly empty and really nice. Strangely the “sport” seems to mean that the young female staff have to wear short shorts, all very non-sexy and homely. Get to see our first motorised skate board, it looked like a bike motor strapped on the back of a standard board. Similar prices.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2016, 05:04 PM
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Is this what they call foreshadowing? >> stuck on my back in bed, typing is tough
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Old Jun 24th, 2016, 11:09 AM
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Day 3 to Litomerice

Another bright hot day, very few other riders and a great breakfast from the Sport saw us working our way along the river. Part of the route would take us past the deathcamp at Terezin. The place is made more awful by the needs of the locals to turn a buck out of the visitors.

Terezin town itself is built in one of the old fortresses and while we found cake and coffee must have been a depressing place for the “self governing” Jews to be housed. My views change on this every time I see such a place, part of me wants to bulldoze it and part wants me to ensure that people remember.

…................................

Litomerice on the other hand has been a watering hole for many years with some great art deco buildings. The town is a shadow of its former self as was our hotel Roosevelt, but the rooms were clean and the staff did all the right things. But by 8pm the town had gone to bed “reading the bible” I suggested. I have no idea where we ate, but I now took to Caesar Salad with chicken in a big way and gave up looking for good Bohemian wine as the beer was so good.
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Old Jun 25th, 2016, 04:11 AM
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Day 4 to Decin

After yesterday's rather sad day we start to ride into Bohemian Switzerland, basically the river cuts through some very fine small mountains, with lots of chapels on basalt outcrops, fine basalt towers etc, the various ferries across the river are “swing” ferries operating off a cable in the centre of the river and driving from side to side by using their rudders and the water flow. We pass some 1920s hydroelectric dams/locks along the river and at one point we even have to cross a pipe bridge. In this case this means 2x 16kg bikes up and down a two storey tower and then 30kg of bags up the same thing, while some chemical flows beside us only inches away. I hope Daesh never finds out.

We pass the large industrial wasteland of Usti nad lebum on the other bank and find a good lunch in a modern terrace bar, which has a crew of 8 American kids doing a cycling tour, so cute, no luggage, helmets, florescent gilets. We have started to notice that German cyclists say “helo” when they pass.

After a long day's riding we finally end up in Decin. We booked into a Hotel Kocanda, for 2 nights, down on the river bank next to the local rowing club. This is clearly the place to be (the three bars are packed), some of the staff speak English, they have a good bike store and a reasonably large room. A two night break is good for a few reasons, getting off the bike gives your bottom a chance to recover, walking uses different muscles, getting to see local details is worth the time and getting a few clothes washed.
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Old Jun 25th, 2016, 04:57 AM
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I am very impressed with your self-propelled itinerary. How many km were you averaging each day? How did you get in shape for the trip?
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Old Jun 25th, 2016, 02:16 PM
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Sue, for planning purposes we use 30km a day for the duration of the holiday, but that includes days off, days using trains, getting to airports etc. Practically we aim to hit 25km before lunch and 25km after. If we miss a half day for a great castle, no worries, we just need to find a closer hotel.

Our bikes are 22 years old and no special peddles or technology, we aim to be able to repair in the field apart from spokes and chains. Beaten up bikes tend not to get stolen around the world and nothing looks right, Mrs B's saddle begun leaking gel on day one so parcel tapes was used to keep it in.

No training, I go to the gym 3 times a week to make up for an ex-corporate life style, Mrs B.. nothing. Both 56 and a good BMI helps.

I carry all the tools, and throw away old clothes for the length of the holiday.

Foolishly I set up www.mybikeguide.co.uk years back to help others do the same. It makes no money but it gives you all the clues you need to do what we do.
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Old Jun 25th, 2016, 02:36 PM
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Count me impressed to. Also worried about the bad end...
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Old Jun 25th, 2016, 08:45 PM
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 02:13 AM
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Litomerice: I mentioned that I could not remember where we ate, well Litomerice has a pretty fine main square, a big church and a whole bunch of restaurants built into the square side facing the river. The views from each of them must be wonderful as the square is high on a cliff and the edge of the cliff has been buttressed over the years by houses and, well, buttresses.

Mrs B deselected the most of these fine restaurants and instead took us into a drinking den (how often do we drink before we eat?) and for 30p we share two glasses of en-vrac local wine and watch the locals. Above us was an Italian restaurant and after sinking the hooch we entered with my best Italian to discover the staff were .... Czech. Mrs B's pizza was fine and my gnocchi was ... straight from Tescos (a local, high quality supermarket).

You can imagine the explorers of the Amazon, canoeing up fast torrents, avoiding the piranha and finally falling into a clearing with one mighty sweep of their machete to only see a Walgreen/Boots facing them?

Now I like gnocchi, but the stuff from Crawley (for those who don't know it all the pasta (etc) consumed in the UK is made in a series of factories close to Gatwick airport) but this was super normal.

Still the local beer was good (if only from a bottle, but such things are acceptable after the horrors of the wine den below).

More anon.
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Old Jun 26th, 2016, 08:06 AM
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Bird life, now I'm not “into” bird life but this area benefits from reduced human influence (migration of humans from Saxony to the rest of Germany and migration of Czechs to Prague and the NW European countries) so nature and the river has had a chance to recover. While pollution used to be a major issue, the work of the EU and the closure of major industrial units has lead to a cleaning up of the river (acidic leaching of Uranium is another matter, but too far away from this river).

Most days we would expect to see sky larks, kites (red?), buzzards, harriers and your basic mallard ducks. But we also see small and great white egrets, grey herons, canadian geese (and their various friends), swans, all manner of crows, doves, pigeons etc etc. We only saw storks in Germany as the Czechs don't seem to have a culture of putting wagon wheels on posts for them.

Whenever we stopped by the river it seemed to be teaming with the things. We watched one crow bully a whole flock of geese, we also had the pleasure of watching the parents of some ducklings (species unknown) herd them along the river bank for their first swim. First they walked them up and down the river bank, quacking “jump in, jump in” then finally they got the kids trapped between mum and dad, and the little blighters had to run, and they did, they ran across the water until gravity took over and they where bobbing about just like nature intended (Mr Disney! Your voice over is ready!).

Another time a pension host slipped a sack over my bike saddle, “why” because a metre above the saddle was a swallow's nest full of mum and chicks.
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