Campfires and cutlery

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Czech Republic  ,
Monday, September 18, 2006

As I was leaving the Hostel in Dresden, Leanna thrust into my hand a flyer for a hostel/campsite about 45km away on the Elbe cycle route. She explained that a friend of hers ran the place, and that it would be a very nice place for me to stop. Feeling very much disposed to repay her kindness in some way and considering that it was almost the best location for me to end the day, it seemed rude not to.

One of the features of this particular hostel is a nightly bonfire in the garden, around which the hostel's guests can sing, talk and generally mingle. And drink. I, however, had planned to read my book and get an early night, ready for a long day tomorrow. The evening turned out almost exactly as I planned, with just two minor changes...

I can't remember all the names of the group who's campfire party I gatecrashed, but I definitely spoke at length to most of them. (with a fluency that is only possible after about 4 premium lagers). One of them gave me a camping cutlery set after I explained (humourously, I thought) that my diet consists only of foodstuffs that require absolutely no preparation whatsoever. A few others spent about half an hour with me pondering the world map in the hostel lounge, trying to see the best route across the middle east. At one point, I think around midnight, I was chatting in German to two of their party, while three others on the far side of the fire talked amongst themselves in English. I can't explain how this happened.

Despite waking late the next morning, I managed to cover the 70km to the next campsite well before dusk. The border crossing into Czeck Republic was at least marked, though not policed. This 'campsite' was a watersports club by day, with photos of the proprietors waterski-champion daughter papering the wall. In one she is skiing on a boogie board, with a puppy between her feet.

These two days were the most consistently visually breathtaking so far, following the Elbe through 'Saxon Switzerland'. The river showing the way ahead, with steep, densely wooded mountains either side broken by cliffs, strange rock formations and the occasional hilltop castle. Most of the cycle route is on traffic-free paths, (of extremely variable quality) so it was possible to enjoy the scenery without fear of wandering into the path of an overtaking juggernaut.

The ride to Melnik (pronounced like 'Munich') was challenging, as the signposting and maintainence of the cycle route seems to be much less assiduously prosecuted the further into the Czeck Rep you go. This is unsurprising, as the maintenace of the roads and buildings, which are probably higher on the municipal authorities priority list, is also somewhat... patchy. I managed to find my way, partly because of my greatly improved map-reading skills, and partly because navigation for this section of the journey mainly involved asking myself two questions:
1) Am I next to a bloody great big river
2) Is the river flowing the opposite way to the direction I'm heading?

If the answer to either of these was no, remedial action was required.

I left virtuously early on Monday morning, then spent 9 (nine. remember this.) minutes purchasing breakfast and a bunch of bananas from the local supermarket. Despite several fortuitous wrong turns which turned out to be short cuts, the going was slow. This was largely because the 'way' was often nothing more than an elongated heap of rubble.

I arrived at the ferry crossing as my map told me I must. I´d expected the ferry to be a motor launch piloted by a toothless, wizened ferryman as all the German ferries seemed to be. Instead, I found that it was a large rowing boat, attached by a wire to an overhead zipline which used the rivers current to shift from one bank to the other. It also appeared to be unmanned. I found the signboard with the ferryman´s times:

am: 06:30 - 09:30
pm: 13:00 - 18:00

The time now... 09:38. Sodding bananas.

I sat at a picnic table, in theory to conduct feasibility studies for plan A (sit here until 1300hrs), and Plan B (find an alternative route). As partly expected, after about 5mins of me sitting there, the ferry-woman emerged from her house and mimed "do you want to cross the river?". I mimed "yes".

About 20km outside Prague, I was presented with a choice: either a 10km detour, or follow this brown dotted line by the river. Well, a brown dotted line must be a way of some sort, other wise there would be no line at all. This was a no-brainer.

In this particular map, it transpired, brown dotted lines meant either 'really too dangerous to call a 'way' as such' or 'path not only unmaintained and partly fallen in the river, but also overgrown with stinging weeds.' The vertiginous drop, often only inches to my right and terminating in totally unavoidable moistening for me and almost certain sinkage for the bike, and the myriad ensuing travails that this would entail, would have been enough to make me feel a little unsteady. The tree roots, rocks, dips, sand and on two occasions fallen trees which constituted and obstructed the ´path´ called for levels of concentration I didn´t know I could maintain, while keeping the bike on the not straight and extremely narrow was physically exhausting.

I made it into Prague in the mid afternoon. The various detours had made it somewhat more the the 911km predicted in Brussels but I'd still arrived two days early. I used the time to wash and tend to myself, my clothes and my bike - several parts of each had suffered serious wear and tear on the worst surfaces - as well as to familiarise myself with the city and make plans for the next few days, before the arrival of my beloved.
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