Monday, 22 September 2008


i have changed the permissions on my blog, so you should be able to leave a comment now without remembering your blogger password (mamasita and lilsis.) you will be asked to verify one of those squiggly words - i hope this keeps the spam away.

i have also added a "subscribe to" button on the right-hand sidebar. personally i don't see much use for it - it's easy enough to bookmark an RSS feed without it - but it might help for people on different browsers and operating systems.

i'd love to hear from you!

Prague to Meißen: Conclusion

I re-read my posts, and realized that I ended without much of a conclusion. I suppose one question on people's minds will be, "Well, would you do it again?" I could be seriously tempted to do another cycle tour now that I have finished this one. Some of the people in our group had done similar trips: Prague to Vienna, the Blue Danube, Poland. And not-so-similar trips: Guatemala. I would like to explore more of England. We're already here... And I know some of my friends would enjoy it (hint, hint, SOAS gals!) I might also consider doing a ride for charity. My colleagues at work were not impressed when I came back and told them I hadn't raised a penny. They all thought I was off doing some selfless act; ha! I showed them. The only money raised went to Explore's coffers.

So that's the next question: would I do another Explore tour? I have now done two with S: Jordan & Egypt, and cycling in the Czech Republic & Germany. Overall I am impressed with them. They tend to be well-organized and cover a lot of ground. The itineraries are almost exactly what they advertise, so there are few surprises. My only complaint would be that they often choose hotels in inconvenient parts of town, i.e. out of town! Sometimes it would be nicer to have a base that is closer to the heart of the city. It certainly would have been nice in Melnik.

As for the physical challenge, the cycling was easier than I thought it would be. All my worries were quickly alleviated once we got on the road. I was disappointed that I missed one day of cycling, but what can I say? Some days my body hates me. At least I didn't suffer one of my three-day migraines on the tour. I was happy that I had invested in a few cycle-specific items: padded shorts, baggy shorts to go over the padded shorts, bike gloves. They made a big difference to my overall comfort and ability to ride for hours at a time. I also wore (wear) my helmet with pride. I might look like a dork, but I'm a dork with pedal power.

And perhaps that leads me to my final observation. Those of you who follow me on twitter know that my bike is in the shop, boo hoo. I came home to a flat tire; decided it was worth the extra money to get it properly serviced; and the shop discovered that the back tire is cracked. They are waiting for a new one to come in. Meanwhile, no cycling for me :( I am still curious to see how my bike feels after being on the big touring bike.

So there you have it. A better closure for this episode. I am happy I was able to chronicle so much of the trip on here; the strange thing about this trip was that the photos don't really tell the story. I haven't written so much while traveling in a while, but when the memories start to fade (oh no!) I'll be able to come back here and re-live it. Hurrah!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Day 8: Leaving Prague

There is not much left to tell. We checked out of our room in the morning, and had a few hours to spare before we had to go to the airport. We went back to town and climbed the tower.

Lift to the top of the tower

Reflection in the ceiling of the lift

The people look like ants



Gradually we made our way back to the hotel, after another slow lunch (it must just be a Prague thing.) Our driver to the airport must have been the long-lost Czech cousin of the guy who took us to Heathrow on the first morning - he drove like a maniac and swore prolifically at the other cars. We had time (and some korunas) to spare at the airport, so I bought some duty free cosmetics and then worried about getting them through security. Note to troublemakers: if you are traveling within the Schengen Zone, there are no security checks that we could see at Prague Airport. Even for flights outside the Schengen Zone (e.g. to the UK), the security checks seemed more like a formality. Just don't tell them I told you!

I have been blogging for hours now. I will most likely go back and edit some posts when I discover the typos, remember important details and squeeze in a few more pix. But now I am going to sleep. Hope you have enjoyed reading about our trip!

Day 7: Back to Prague

Our cycling was done - it was over in a flash, really. No more helmets, no more waddling through pretty towns in padded shorts. We were all ready at 8:30 AM, but where was the minibus? Not again... We didn't have to wait as long this time, and soon we were back in Prague.

We had about an hour and a half before we had to meet for our walking tour, so S and I tagged along for lunch with M, E, St and Su. We ordered some pizza and thumbed through a real estate magazine while we waited. Long story short, the pizza didn't come. We realized that if we didn't say anything, we wouldn't eat. The server was apologetic, but ultimately could not do much to speed it up. Again, the meals came separately, so we shared what came, shoved it down our throats, and ran to meet the group. Why has mealtime been so complicated on this trip?

We took the Metro to Muzeum, and met our walking tour guide for the afternoon. She took us to many of the same sites that we had seen before, but gave us more information than we had gleaned on our own.


Apparently, the blue doors at the top of the clock open every hour on the hour, and 12 apostles parade by while Death - the skeleton - rings a bell. (The following day we happened to see the hourly march of the apostles. It was disappointing. We were expecting a full cuckoo clock-like display, but they just rotate behind the doors for a few seconds before the doors shut again. The rest of the crowd was impressed and clapped, though.) She explained how to read the clock, but I must admit I didn't understand her explanation. She also told us that it was possible to climb to the top of the tower.

She took us through the Klementinum, over the Charles Bridge (make a wish on the statue of the drowned martyr saint, who happens to be in the construction zone right now), and up to Prague Castle. The view was beautiful, much nicer than it had been the week before.


We saw the (very brief) hourly changing of the guard.



Then we went into the church. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows, giving a lovely glow to the stones.



Detail of the window by Alphonse Mucha

The tour guide was very good and she managed to pack a lot into just three hours. K gave us the option to stay in central Prague for dinner, or go back to the hotel. S and I had left our extra korunas back at the hotel, but did not really want to eat back in that neighborhood. Everyone else opted to go back, though, so we duly followed...

And thus we had our most ridiculous dinner yet! Maybe the kitchen staff worked at the place where we had lunch, and just ran back and forth between the two all day. That would be one explanation for the slow food and bad service. Maybe they weren't used to serving such big groups. Maybe that's just how things are done in Prague. But at any rate, my dinner came after some people had finished their desserts. St had the saddest "nacho salad" that fellow Californians M, E and myself had ever seen or tasted. And the server didn't do a very good job of keeping track of who had eaten what. We got charged for several leftover lemonades and beers at the end. Sigh, oh well! Still, the group had bonded quite well by that time, and people began to say their bittersweet good-byes.

Day 6: Pirna to Meißen

I slept like a log and felt like a different person in the morning. My appetite came back and I was ready to ride.


It was cooler in the morning (mamasita mentioned that I was wearing my windbreaker, while S was in a t-shirt, when I emailed her this photo. Well, mamasita, S put on his jumper shortly after we hit the road.)

I volunteered to take the Back Marker position at the end of the group, and took it easy. I was also able to keep my camera in my pocket, so I got lots of pictures of rear tires.


Riding into Dresden

We stopped in Dresden for a few hours. S and I walked around taking pictures and dodging construction sites.



We also found a very modern kitchen store.



However, Miss Bonny and Mister Clyde did not come home with us.

Architectural oddity: is this really an overly elaborate fire escape?




Leaving Dresden, we headed for our final destination: Meissen.

All the duckies in a row



Action shot: in my next life, I should be a cameraman. Check out my steady hand.

Meissen on the horizon

Meissen was another pretty town with nice detailing:



...and deer heads coming out of buildings?

But what Meissen is really famous for is its porcelain.


In a word: yuck! I won't even mention the price tag. You can decide for yourself.

The church



Kilroy was here

We had dinner on the hill overlooking the town. Our server was hilarious and attentive - until the very moment when we wanted to order dessert. He disappeared and by the time he came back, we just paid the bill and left.

Day 6 Stats:
Distance: 46km
Position: back marker
Porcelain bought: none

Day 5: Děčin to Pirna

Remember how great I felt yesterday? Well, that ended overnight. Without getting into details, I spent half the night on the bathroom floor. As it turns out, it wasn't dinner's fault. Still, I was suffering from waves of nausea and I didn't get much rest.

I decided that it would be better to ride in the van. The day before, Su had wrenched her back and wasn't feeling 100% either. The cycle group left at 9 AM; we had a few extra hours in Děčin. I got my room key back and went back to sleep... So nice...

We left the hotel at 11 AM. The border crossing into Germany was almost imperceptible. However, things were just a little bit more colorful and cheerful on the German side. We stopped in Königstein.


Despite my dodgy tummy, it was just too hard to resist a piece of cheesecake - it's mild, right?



I managed about half of it and saved the rest for S.

View from the van window

We reached Pirna and found the hotel around 2 PM. 44km goes a lot faster when you're not on a bike! The rooms weren't ready, so I walked around Pirna. It was so charming!



It was also dangerous to leave me in a town with such nice shops - and all the euros! I was good, though, and only bought a few things from the Ernst Schmole coffee shop.



I also liked some of the signs in Pirna.

Restaurant named something to the effect of "Monk with a Pig on a Leash"

Clothes shop

But perhaps my favorite place in Pirna was our hotel room.


No, it's not my style, but it was comfortable, had a lovely breeze coming in from the windows, and I melted onto the bed for a nap. I left the door unlocked for S - but was awakened by some confused pensioners who didn't notice that it was a private room. (What were they looking for?)

S and I abandoned the group for dinner, and sat outside in the plaza.


The minute we got there, however, I had another wave and couldn't eat a bite. S reportedly enjoyed his meal. I barely managed to drag myself back to the hotel, and fell fast asleep before 9 PM.

Day 5 Stats:
Km cycled: 0
Food: a bite of bread, a bit of yogurt, 1/2 slice of cheesecake, 1 soft vanilla ice cream cone, 2 bites cauliflower (notice a white theme?)

Day 4: Litoměřice to Děčin

We started the day with a trip to the top of the chalice in Litoměřice. Remember it from the plaza last night?

Close-up of the chalice

The views were beautiful.





The path in the morning was bumpier than we had had the past few days, mostly riding over gravel. The night before, K had famously told us that the path "might have more hills," as if she didn't already know. We agreed that the best description would be "undulating."


I was pleasantly surprised that the riding was going well. S and I were at the front of the pack most of the day, and we were getting into a comfortable groove.


We stopped for lunch by the river.



After the drama of the first day of cycling, by the third day it was smooth sailing. We kept riding after lunch, and reached Děčin around 4 PM. There was some construction, and the threat of rain, but otherwise it was easy.

Děčin town square



S and I walked around the town a bit, then stopped for a coffee to write some postcards. We had dinner with the group at a restaurant (Czech/German equivalent of an English pub?) near the hotel. The menus were in Czech and German. With all the languages I have studied, I am clueless when it comes to German - I had as much chance of understanding the Czech! On top of that, the service was laughably bad. They took orders at random and brought the food in an equally unpredictable pattern. They brought dessert for some people before we had even ordered ours. Still, we had a good time and we fell into our beds afterwards.

Day 4 Stats:
Distance: 48km
Postcards written and sent: 10