Monday 29th June Back in the Czech Republic, south east of Prague

I rode for 8 hours (with two brief breaks in petrol stations). I made much better progress going in a westerly direction than travelling out to Slovakia, there were fewer roads closed and diversions for some reason. They are constantly building roads around here, with those nice circles of stars on a blue background on signs. I rode 264 miles today – there was a large detour as the road to Brno was closed. Max speed 89.3mph (nice work); moving average 43.3mph. Moving time 6 hours 6 minutes (but I thought it was 8 hours).

travelling back West

I was plagued by severe self-doubt for most of the journey. It was brought on by remembering the list of things I should eat and places I should visit in Slovakia written down for me by one of the students at Middlesex who is Slovakian. I did none of them – even though I had the list with me on a page torn out of her notebook and stuffed into my camping guide. What was I doing instead? Its hard to say. I think the trip has been dominated by travelling – getting from one place to another, so stopping idly on the way, and taking in a Mäsové Guľky didn’t figure as I zoomed, knuckles gripping the handle bars tightly, through very many drab villages on the road, getting a glimpse of incredibly old women, bent double almost, walking by the road wearing an apron and carrying an axe. Or there were the dozens of young men with incredibly athletic bodies, with dark dark skin and black hair, working by the road or just standing. I was looking out for Roma. I couldn’t tell the difference between this despised bunch and the normal human population of Slovakia (I would not make a good racist here). I did notice one striking woman with the same dark skin and a perfect, beautiful Roman nose. Does that make her a Roma? I heard from the Dutch owners of the campsite in Slovakia that a nearby hotel was considering employing a roma girl but could not because they were told that everyone else would refuse to work with her and that guests would refuse to stay there (I wouldn’t for one).

So, after these 260 odd miles today, I have ended up in yet another campsite owned by a Dutch person with only one other resident – in a caravan with a tent poking out the side, with two bicycles on the back and a car with Dutch number plates. using the tiled communal washrooms reminds me of the book I have been reading Austerlitz which is about one man’s lack of memory, his discontinuity with his past.

Soviet era campsite buildings maybe

At the age of 4 ½ his parents had him shipped away from Prague in 1939 to avoid the gathering persecutions of Jews by the Nazis. Strangely this book traces routes that I am taking – up to the Hook of Holland to take the boat to Harwich for example. That was 1939. I remember in 1960 and the following few years my own journeys on the night boat to visit Germany. Like the book’s character I remember only fragments – arriving at night at harwich, (we must have travelled there by train from Liverpool Street but I remember nothing of how we got there) walking on a kind of slatted walkway onto the ship, the funnels and the smuts, the cramped cabin with the 4 of us, and being sick. Today you barely know you are sailing. The space of time between Austerlitz’s frightful journey in 1939 to my own holidays is, say, 25 years. The space from my journeys as a child to these recent trips is 45 years. How strange. In fact how strange it is that the war was over for only eleven years when I was born. It must have been so fresh in everyone’s minds when I arrived. So, inspite of missing every cultural opportunity on this trip so far, the fact of moving over Europe has some meaning to it.

This campsite is run by a tall Dutchman with a pleasant but nervous laugh which after it fades turns into some hint of desperation that I have to turn away from. He speaks pretty good English. The woman who he says is his wife does not seem to speak any English at all and I wonder whether she is Czech. Returning to my journey, I was hastened by 50 odd miles on the CZ motorway system,

Life is a crossroad

but after I left it, my GPS guided me down smaller and bumpier roads and track and my anxiety rose that surely this cannot seriously end in a campsite – but it did and the place has a rather ex-communist-camping-in-the-countryside-is-good-for-you feeling. It looked so forlorn I wondered whether it was closed up and I was on the verge of turning back onto the labyrinth of lanes and tracks…. but now I have got the owners to open up the restaurant and serve me a couple of Pilsner Urquells (the first was on the house) and chicken schnitzel and chips which i have just tucked into (interrupted by a quick dash over to my tent to zip everything up because it started to rain). How uch nicer these microwave chips than another meal of pasta and vegetables cooked crouching over my stove. The sun was out and warm an hour ago but now everything is damp again, though the sky is bright. There’s a slightly swollen river by the site and a train track which seems impossibly high in the air behind the tops of some trees. Things are getting slightly chilly. The air is thick with the soundd ov evening birdsong and a noisy extractor vent from the kitchen (that has just cooked me my welcome dinner so I shouldn’t complain).

After another 3 nights under canvass, I’m staying with my cousin and her husband in Germany. I must make a point of gently questioning them about my family’s years after the war which my mum is so reticent about.

Saturday: Slovakia nr. Brezno

Good news and bad news. The good news is I finally found my way to the jewel in the crown campsite in Slovakia recommended in the informal guide I found on the net. It is hard to find but it is beautiful and though the owners aren’t here, fellow Dutch campers have made me welcome with a cup of tea. The word has it that nothing could be too much trouble for the owners. Lets wait till they return to find out. I am pouring over maps to see if I can stay two nights here and make a speedier return across cz and Germany next week. Everywhere takes so much longer to get to because of all the roadworks and summary closures of roads, with just a cross in red tape over the name of the town you need to go to. On the BAD side, it is pouring with rain (now continually) and camping and rain don’t mix. Neither does biking and rain – though somehow that’s slightly less bad. There is a Tesco 8k away apparently but I don’t feel like budging an inch from under this awning and table and bench that I’m sitting at. Not only is it raining but its now cold. I am sitting in my jacket. Apparently there’s an apartment here as well as camping and I am sorely tempted to ask for that.

Sunday morning Same place

For the first time I am staying put in one place. Last night after making my standby dinner of what I happened to have with me because it was too wet to go and look for the supermarket, I met and talked to the campsite owners and their two sones, 14 and 17. They moved here from Holland about 3 years ago for the space and quite and to gget away from the fast pace and pressure of city life in Holland. We talked about life here, how some people resent the fall of communism because now they have to put effort into their jobs. We talked about how badly the roma are treated here. Their sons built a great fire and we sat around it after dark discussing these things and they taught me three simple words I will try out today Dobra, Dove and Dyekume – hello, goodbye and thankyou. They also told me that Michael Jackson has died – apparently from heart failure. Its amazing what news you miss while you are travelling. The rain: ah, it rained all night it seemed and my sleep was really disturbed. I noticed how my mind runs to a worse case fantasy e.g. what if the small stream 5 metres away from my tent overflows in the night? what if it rains continually for the next 5 days? what if all my things are getting soaked? what if the tent leaks? what if the bike won’t start? etc. I realised how good I am at these lines of thought, like ruts worn in the road of my thinking. So, I tried to imagine the best case, me sitting completely unscathed and unwashed away in the morning having coffee in the sunshine – which is pretty much what happened. My things were bone dry. The tent did not leak. Therefore I can have some confidence that the other disasters won’t happen.

Here’s a kitchen to sit in while it rains

There is a wireless network here but I can’t find any pages. By the time I get a chance to upload all these thoughts, I probably won’t be interested in them.

Here’s the GPS trail from Bojkovice to here:

Today’s riding to here

Friday 26th Near Slovak border

I rode again with the normal menaces: roadworks that completely confuse the GPS and add hours onto the journey and heavy showers of rain. Mind you, I don’t mind riding in the rain now. My Heine Gerricke jacket keeps me bone dry. My time in Kutna Hora was mixed. It was great arriving to the band in the square and finding my hotel was good(ish) – but I saw a nearby hotel – too late advertising rooms at one third of the price so I ended up feeling that I had been ripped off. People in hotels seem to lack that quality of a real or even acted welcome. There is something faintly resentful in their actions that leaves me feeling that I would sooner be under canvas for all its annoyances. Here at Bojkovice, in the Carpathasian hills, I have a nice spot in a terraced campsite (so the camping book says). I just walked a mile to the nearby supermarket and felt the same kind of vague resentment from the staff there – unlike the friendly welcome I got here and at the last site. There is a genuine camaraderie of camping.

It poured and there was thunder and lightening while I shopped but I missed it to find my beautifully put up tent rather damp.

Yikes I look so young – its my first camping trip

Now its nine pm. The site has had an influx of teens who I imagine will make things noisy tonight. Apart from them are mainly Czechs but two campervans of Dutch who were friendly and helpful. I had a moment (only) of bliss when the sun cam out (the sky is completely clear now!) and I got my trusty cooking equipment out and used my bike as a kitchen worksurface.

I cooked pasta with sauted vegetables and nice sausage, followed by a yughurt with a cheap pivo. Unbelievably 0.5L bottles each cost 8 or so Crowns and there are 27 to a pound. I have worked out thee rest of my trip. Tomorrow I ride 125 miles to the highly recommended site in Slovakia, then the next day I return here, follwed by two more nights in CZ toward the south and two more i Germany before I visit my cousins, then a final 200miles to Hook of Holland. If this weather really presages some warm dry days I will be really happy. Lets see if I sleep well tonight – somehow I doubt it. I had a whiff of wireless network just then but it went away.

Day 3 Kutna Hora

Today started in the middle of the night being disturbed by the rain on the tent. It didn’t leak though I was trying to stop myself worrying about it (this must have been my very first night under canvas). Eventually I woke up at 8.30 with puffy eyes. Challenges were getting small change for the clever shower machine (that didn’t work properly in the end), making some coffee with my primus stove (it boils quicker than you can change your knickers crouched the other side of the tent) and packing up a wet tent. Kindly the rain held off while I had breakfast and packed up but started again on the motorway drive up toward Prague, coming down in buckets but this time I wasn’t panicked as I remember I had been last year on the motorway in Holland where I pulled over because I couldn’t see a thing. I had soup and rolls and a pastry and latte in a service station and watched the Czechs. The clientele at a service station in CZ say as little about the Czechs as if I were watching the same groups in England. And then you tend to notice the unusual people – the very fat and hairy, or shabby or men with gold chains on their necks and Porsche t-shirts. I felt relaxed. By the time I got up to the Prague ring road it was pouring again and disobeying the GPS I ended up in maddening circles again surrounded by big trucks. When I first got on the D5 motorway this morning near Marienbad (which I looked around briefly in the rain) I was the only vehicle in sight. Finally I found my way to Kutna Hora with some luck. I think I headed there under the influence of Euan and Charlie, I’m slightly embarrassed to say. In fact the whole easterly direction of this trip was probably treading in their steps.

a bit blurry but you get the idea

There was a band playing in the square just to welcome me, along with the rumble of gathering thunder. Three smiling men plugged into a sound system that made them sound more like, well, four men. 
Half the road in CZ seem to be dug up. Including the street surrounding this small hotel on the corner which looked cheap to me. i couldn’t cope with another night under canvass with already damp clothes.

This place is cheap (38 Euro)but camping was cheaper – 5 Euro! And I prefer the informality of camping and chats with the others there, two retired german couples, one of whom was on a 5 week trip in their campervan up to the Baltic states and finland – very sweet. She was wondering around the campsite in a red dressing gown and told me on my greeting that she was covered in soap, that the shower had stopped unexpectedly and she had too go and get more 20 crown coins. In hotels its a bit more frosty.

When I arrived in Kutna Hora a band was playing in the main square very nice and corny European tunes which I sang along to (to the tune known as ‘Never on a Sunday’ – see the rist of two embarrasingly poor quality video clips). I found a hotel but then rode round and round trying to park nearby – completely in vain. So had to haul my luggage half a mile up hill. I didn’t want to leave anything on the bike so far from where I was staying. The hotel is opposite a convent and I watched a naughty nun hitch up her skirt as she negotiated the mud that is the road outside – where the cobbles used to be. The bar downstairs is smokey with the usual regulars you seem to see in any bar and wonder if they have jobs to do. But I will have dinner here I can’t resist it – much nicer than the smartish pizza places in town catering for the smart elderly tourists who seem to be thronging here. The next picture is of the famous and much (too) visited ossuary. Also visited by E&C. (those were the days – before nearly every motorcycle became an ‘adventure’ bike.)


Today’s mileage was only 165 but felt longer. Three and a half hours in the saddle compared to much longer times on the first two days. The Ossuary here is I have to say, a Ewan and Charlie landmark on their journey East which I couldn’t resist. I have to say, now I am out and about, I admire their guts to wade through (literally often) some of the really tough parts of their journey. I’ve only had rain and traffic to battle with. (Mind you, there is only one of me…)

Day 2 Near Mariansky Lanze

Wow what a lot of riding today but I made it to the Czech republic! Crossing the non-existent (but mysteriously implied by the lack of a sense of the German byroad going anywhere) EU border gave me extra energy when it was flagging. My plan was to load a string of interesting German towns into my GPS instead of let it take me on boring motorways as it usually does. Unfortunately all didn’t go according to plan: Eisenach was an interesting town. Now I know where all the cool young people are – certainly not in the small conservative towns I’ve visited up to now. Weimar, or at least what my route showed me of it seemed labouring under something, large groups of brooding men shambling down the street dressed in dark colours and cynical groups of youths (don’t ask me how I could tell that from my bike). Then the main road to Jena (where the Jena romantics came from as well as my Carl Zeiss lenses for my old SLR in the 1970s) was closed and the day was wearing on and rain threatening so I thought forget this and knuckled down to another stint on the motorway. I rode for 6 hours 25 minutes. My riding time was over 8 hours yesterday.

Finally I found a campsite mentioned in my green book on the Czech side of the border after a lady with a baby in a pushchair managed to tell me that the one I was aiming for was being refurbished – by Americans if I understood properly. That town seemed poor, reminding me of Ulrich Siedel films (strange as his films were set in Austria or Ukraine), and the campsite was meant to be right next to a Siedelesque housing estate. So, 20 miles down yet another motorway I found this place which I’d downloaded from the useful Dutch camping site. It is so informal. A young guy seems to run it with his friends hanging out, practising a band and drinking beer. He made me some fried chicken and chips which I ate eagerly with some beer, surrounded by people talking Czech and enjoyed so much more than the meal I had in my last hotel, then smoked a cigarette outside with another nice cold beer. It was one of those moments when I felt satisfied with my geographical achievement and relaxed. Hearing Czech seems so familiar after nearly every other person at home is speaking Polish. (to my ear I am afraid to say they sound the same.) Oh yes, my tent is up (it is the only one in the field) and I am smeared with insect repellant.

I wonder who took this

Even as I unpacked the bike I was welcomed to the site by a gang of mosquitos. Ha – let them deal with my 100 percent plus (how can that be possible?) Deet! This place would be perfect if I could connect to the wireless network which I can’t. In the picture my Triumph Sprint with the great panniers I bought on Ebay. And the Triumph rack. I had so much more room for luggage in this trip than my first jaunt the year before.

Day 1 Near Kassel, Germany

Some 260 miles of sunny motorway riding has brought me here to a small hotel in the busy town of Wolfhagen. The only mishap on an otherwise smooth journey was forgetting to plug in the curly extension lead for my earbuds into the Garmin after filling up at a service station. I realised once I was back in the traffic. One end was fixed but the other end must have been trailing somewhere because when I eventually stopped by the turnoff I needed the plug had been wrenched off. Not only this but because I hadn’t heard the last vital instruction I guessed the wrong route off the motorway and ended up in that familiar endless loop around a town as the GPS tries to put you back. The only snag was the slip road I needed was closed due to roadworks. But nowadays I try not to blame myself so harshly when I get lost like this. Its completely pointless stress.

first day riding

Once I arrived in this town I suddenly remembered the atmosphere of these small rural towns in Germany – rural. The lady running the hotel was not exactly welcoming and we didn’t speak any English. Lucky I have my spattering of Deutsch. As usual I fell asleep as soon as i touched the bed, troubled by strange noises. Ominously, just as I was arriving, a funeral party was filing in with meine grumpy host standing to attention holding cups of teas for the mourners. I think they have safely gone now. I’m drinking vodka now though, just in case.

I’ve just had a walk around this small town (it took 20 minutes at a slow pace). Its beautifully pretty in classic German way, with timbered buildings, church bells ringing and cobbled pathways. But its incredibly quiet. Everywhere is closed and there is almost no one on the street. The only noisy place is the intersection outside my hotel which is a pity because there is a music school opposite with occasional wafts of student music.


As I eat my dinner of battered fish downstairs here in the bar a little girl in pink comes to my table and puts down her plastic toy house and spreads the people and their beds down all over the table talking herself through a story. She makes a ring ring sound as someone phones up the house. Outside there are the strains of violin playing from the music school opposite but for every phrase of notes there are ten minutes of ranting from a music teacher. There’s a piece of metal on the road and every time a smart BMW or Golf passes by its tyres jangle against this ominous piece of metal. A couple are eating outside, he smokes while his partner finishes her meal. They talk in hushed voices. It’s nine o’clock and I’m tired but its still too light. These days seem too long now.

On trips like these I often find myself prey to fundamental self-doubt, along the lines of ‘why are you doing this? Its not enjoyable, its just some mad test of endurance, peppered with tension and boredom’. I try to keep in mind my friend David’s wise words: ‘just think of yourself as traveling- not having a holiday. A holiday is something you’re expected to enjoy.’ So, I take each day at a time. The task is to reach the next destination and find somewhere to stay – and find something to eat and drink. I’ve programmed into my GPS – I hope – old german towns to the east of here – Wiemar, Jena, before i turn south then east again to cross the Czech border.