Run to the Hills

Day 15: May 3rd, Děčín, Czech Republic to Helmsdorf, Germany

This was an important day. We were finally leaving the Elbe Cycle Route, and heading east on the D4 national cycle route (Mittellandroute), aiming for the Spree River cycle route which would take us to Berlin. I knew only the names of the first few towns we would encounter on the D4, nothing about the conditions.

We had the best weather we’d seen since Florida, and we had some Czech cash that was about to become nothing but extra weight to carry. Deb had fun trying to spend most of it at a grocery store in Děčín, but with what was left we enjoyed beer and chips at a place with an incredible view of the river.

In Birkwitz we changed direction. Unfortunately, leaving the riverside meant going into the hills. Hours of hills. We made it to Helmsdorf (not Helm’s Deep), and found a pension we’d seen online. It took us awhile to locate the owner, which got us worried as it was getting late and our rubbery legs were not taking us anywhere else. I was scouting a nice bit of grass to pitch our tent on when he finally noticed us. No Wi-Fi, but a big, comfortable room, a hot shower, and radiators for drying some sink-washed clothes.

Distance: 55 km

$118

Down the Elbe

Day 14: May 2nd, Mělník to Děčín, Czech Republic

We left Melnik with only a vague idea of how far we might be able to ride back towards Germany. This was the beginning of what I called “Trip 2” in my itinerary sketches: Prague to Berlin.

With little risk of getting lost (we’d done most of it just days before), and pretty good weather, we decided to press for Děčín. This time, we hoped to get into a small hotel we saw right on the river, thereby avoiding both the mountain climb, and the hazardous streets.

We made it, and thankfully they had a room. Exhausted, we ate in the hotel restaurant, which had a great view of the path and the river.

Distance: 97km

$111

 

Praha

Day 13: May 1st – Public Transit to Prague

The Czech Republic is still cheap to visit by European standards, but Prague rooms are a lot pricier than those in Mělník. We decided to leave the bikes for a day and take a bus/subway into the city. The German cycle tourists we had breakfast with at the pension seemed to think we were making a mistake, but we already knew what it’s like riding a bike in a Czech city, and our butts were looking forward to a day out of the saddle.

We covered the 50km in about 1.5 hours, leaving plenty of time to walk the ancient city. It being a European holiday, the place was hopping. The mob around the astronomical clock was of Disney-esque proportions, but it was fun, and it got better when a small student parade broke through the scene.

It was sunny and fairly warm. We looked at all the beautiful buildings and walked across the Charles Bridge, trying not to knock all the selfie-takers into the river. I have never seen so many people taking pictures of themselves.

We found a microbrewery recommended on TripAdvisor, then found a couple more, finishing up at U Fleků, which has been brewing for over 500 years. They only make one style: a dark lager, and servers walk around with trays of it constantly; you simply signal when you need a refill. An accordion player was performing and people were singing along.

For dessert, we couldn’t resist getting the treat that is everywhere in Prague: Trdelník (they sometimes call them “Chimneys” for tourists like us. It’s dough cooked on a spit, covered in sugar and walnuts, and filled with whatever you want – chocolate, in our case.

We managed to find the way back to the pension in Mělník too, which was a bonus.

Distance: 0 (bus)

$149

A Beer Outside

Day 12: April 30th, Litoměřice to Mělník, Czech Republic

Sunny and (finally) sort-of warm! The path was busy and everybody seemed to be having fun. Including the kayakers we saw at a lock:

Home for the next two nights (finally a rest day) would be Pension Hana. A great place, especially because it had an elevator. We explored Mělník, and managed to have our first outdoor beer since we got to Europe. Don’t misunderstand me, we had seen people drinking plenty of beer outside, but it just didn’t appeal when it was grey and 11c.

Looking up at Melnik

Looking down at the Elbe

Distance: 50 km

$85

Pivovar

Day 11, April 29th: Děčín to Litoměřice, Czech Republic

Down, down the steep, busy streets of Děčín until we were on the River Elbe again. The weather was changeable, so we ended up stopping a couple of times to switch out (or into) different gear.

In Ústí nad Labem, we paused to admire the impressive Mariansky Bridge.

We stopped fairly early (just before the real rain hit) at a really nice place: Pension Dubina. I was immediately won over when I saw that the owner was a cartoonist who had covered the walls with his work.

The rain let up early enough for us to go out and explore. We wandered the cobbled streets and saw the town square before seeking out the the local brew pub: Biskupský Pivovar. They frowned when we said we didn’t have reservations, but unlike in Decin, they found us a table for two. Good thing, because I was so hungry I was close to fainting.

Distance: 50 km

$89

What Are the Odds?

Day 10, April 28th: Dresden to Děčín, Czech Republic

The cycle route from Dresden, across the border and on to Děčín, is spectacular, but Deb’s favourite part by far was when she spotted a hedgehog by the side of the path.

There isn’t much of a border anymore, but they kindly left some markers for tourists’ photos. They say Czechoslovakia  on them, a country which was dissolved in 1993.

Sadly, the price of scenic mountainous terrain was a long climb to our hotel at the end of the day. Plus, we were used to German cities and their wonderful bicycle infrastructure. In the Czech Republic cycling is popular – as a weekend recreational activity, not as a mode of transportation. While navigating the rather hazardous roads of Decin, I noted one other bicycle – ridden by a small child accompanied by a parent on a side street. I didn’t even see one parked anywhere. And we were only 65km from Dresden, which, despite a lot of cobbled streets, is full of bicycles.

When we finally reached the top of the “mountain”, we still couldn’t find the hotel, even with Google Maps. We knew we were close, but we had to ask a local who pointed out a dirt path through a woodsy green. The hotel U Kapel was  once a monastery and it is directly across from the neo-gothic, Thun’s Chapel (1872).

After checking in and cleaning up we headed out. Just outside the hotel we saw a couple pushing their bikes up that same dirt path. They looked familiar. It was the couple we had dubbed the “Bonns” – the cycle tourists we’d met at breakfast in Dömitz! It was the last night of their trip, and they said they had wondered if they might run into us on the trail again, but doubted it. They went to check in (ending up in the room next to ours) and we all agreed to meet up later.

Deb and I tried to go to a highly rated brew pub, but it was the Friday of a holiday weekend and we had no reservations. We ended up climbing back up and eating in the hotel restaurant, which turned out great because our friends from Bonn showed up just as we were finishing. More beer was ordered, we finally exchanged names, and we spent the evening talking in the dining room. Mathias and Kirsten hadn’t realized that the kitchen closed at 8. Lucky for them we had hit a grocery store in town. We set them up with bread, cheese and apples. They invited us to stay at their place in Bonn, if we decided to head that way. I warned them not to make the offer lightly – we might just take them up on it.

Distance: 65km

$93