Friday, June 29, 2007

All good things must come to a beginning...

...and I've been pre-partying. It's tailgating before a football game or drinking before you go to out to the bars. I've spent my last week in Prague on a couple of training rides across the countryside getting used to my new bike; my home for the next couple of months.

Rafting down the dam bypass along the Elb River, near Roudnice nad Labem.

Last weekend I left Prague for Zubrnice, a small town in the mountains near the German border. My friend Greg's choir, Kakofone, was performing at a small Czech folk festival, and they were the special guests. The plan was for me to ride to Zubrnice while Greg traveled with his choir (and bike) and meet just before the performance. This happened.

Roudnice nad Labem

The choir sounded great singing in an old church, and everyone in attendance seemed pleased. We soon made our way to the town pub and began eating and drinking. This compromised the next part of our plan, which was to awaken by the dawn's early light and ride back to Prague. This didn't happen.

The other lasting effect of the trip was a painful reminder that long-distance bicycling should only be enjoyed after one has properly trained. I had not properly trained. On Sunday night, after getting out of the shower, my quads became so tight I was unable to walk. I think this was partially due to dehydration, but mostly to the fact that I hadn't ridden a bike more than 1km during the last 4 years.

Early morning in Zubrnice

What castle is complete without free-range peacocks?

Chateau Ploskovice

Bad weather kept me in Prague longer than expected this week. Winds were blowing at 50km/hr (gusts to 80), so my next training ride was delayed 'till Wednesday. In the meantime, I wandered around Prague revisiting the sights and finding a few new places along the way. Greg had mentioned a vineyard in the city he'd found a few weeks back, and that sounded interesting. I stopped by Viniční Altán on Tuesday, and sure enough, they've got a couple of acres on the hillside, right in the city. The neighborhood is called Vinohrady, which literally translated means "wine castle," or more colloquially, "royal vineyards." The rumor goes that Charles IV himself established the site in 1358, making it the oldest vineyard in Prague (and today, possibly the only vineyard remaining in Prague). They grow pinot noir, pinot gris, reisling and Dornfelder, with an on-site production limited to about 150 cases.

Kost Castle

Trosky Castle

I finally left Prague Wednesday afternoon and took the train north to the town of Mlada Boleslav, where I would begin a castle tour through the aptly named Český Ráj (Czech Paradise). Seriously, if you ever visit the Czech Republic and have a couple of days to spend outside of the cities, hike or bike through Český Ráj. It is one of the most unique natural areas I've ever seen, and it's full of castles. You really can't go wrong.

Few things feel better than arriving at the train station 30 minutes before the last train of the night departs for Prague. Drinking a cold beer and stretching after a day of riding is one of them.

Train rides are always relaxing when you're headed home. After about 30 minutes of wind and driving rain, this rainbow appeared over Prague. It stood in stark contrast to the gloom of the Soviet-era panel buildings below.

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