Sunday 21 September 2008

Day 2: Prague to Melnik

My trusty steed

It turned out that our group was eager to start riding. K had asked us to be ready to leave the hotel at 8:30 in the morning. The van with our bikes and panniers was supposed to arrive around 8; we could pack our panniers, put our luggage in the van, and start riding by 9. Most of the group was already waiting in the lobby when we got there promptly at 8:30...but where was the van?

This was when most of us found out that Explore had subcontracted the tour logistics to a Polish company - hence our nice Polish guide. The normal van driver had had a last minute emergency, and sent someone else instead. He was "somewhere in Prague" and would arrive at the hotel soon.

We waited.

We talked. K paced up and down the sidewalk outside the hotel, talking on her mobile. "He says ten minutes." We waited. We went back and raided the breakfast room for more juice. "I don't know where he is." We talked. We took advantage of the free internet. "Still not here."

Finally he showed up around 10:30. We got the distinct impression that he had just left Poland at the time we were all gathering in the lobby. But, as they used to say on Ally McBeal, bygones. We finally had our bikes!


There was a bit of a scramble as we claimed our bikes and got the necessary adjustments done.


We checked seat height, gears and brakes (opposite to English bikes - careful you don't rely on your left brake or you'll fly over the handlebars!) My bike felt quite comfortable, but the handlebars took a while to get used to. It felt like riding a Harley at first. Around 11 AM, we set off down the hill from our hotel to the river.

K set a nice pace, making sure we stayed together. We passed the Prague Zoo, a canoe practice area on the river, and various industrial buildings. One thing that S and I noticed about doing a cycle tour is that there are not many photo opportunities if you want to stay with the group. Nonetheless, the cycling was very pleasant and I began to relax about my fitness level.

Our route followed the Vltava out of Prague, but due to construction, there was a bit where we needed to take a detour through some residential streets. K had warned us that there would be two big hills to tackle on the first day: one toward the beginning of the ride, and one at the end. As we approached the first big hill, I got nervous again. She hadn't told us how long it was; just to take it at our own pace and meet at the fire station at the top. I started pedaling. I downshifted. I downshifted again. I downshifted until I was in the lowest gear. Somehow, I kept going. I stopped to catch my breath, then kept going around a corner. Wait - that's the fire station! It's over already? Wow, that wasn't bad at all!

Red cheeks, but smiling, at the top of the first big hill


After that, I think the entire group breathed a sigh of relief. We were on the road and we were happy!

Oh no, K got a flat!



Minutes after I took these pictures, there was a sudden downpour. K fixed her tire, we put on our waterproofs, and started riding again. It's all part of the adventure...

Fortunately, the sun came out again and we stopped for a picnic lunch by the river.


S and I had bought some bread, cheese and prosciutto to make sandwiches. Who wouldn't want such pious, earnest pork products?


While our lunch spot was pleasant enough, there was no loo. One of the women, E, was also vigorously told off for throwing out her plastic bottle in the wrong bin. It seems that the Czechs take their recycling very seriously! But we got back on our bikes and continued along the river...

Wait, we're missing someone. K rode back to discover that J's tire had more or less exploded.


We sat by the side of the path as she helped him. Sadly, it looked like the entire wheel needed to be replaced, which meant that we needed the van to come swap his tire for one of the extras. My loo needs were getting more urgent, but there were not even any appropriate-looking bushes nearby. K kept talking to the van driver and consulting with J. In the end, it was decided that we would move ahead with K, and J would wait for the van. As we rode out, there was a pub just at the edge of the photo above. We could have been sat there with nice cold beers (and a loo!) the whole time! D'oh!

We rode on. We passed a tourist centre (where, coincidentally, we found the van driver looking for J so we set him in the right direction) and I begged K to let us make a toilet break. Much relieved, we kept riding. The pressure was on to reach Melnik. It was around 4 PM and we still had a fair way to go. We made it up the second hill, through some corn fields. We rode through some residential areas, and E had an apple thrown at her. Welcome to Melnik?!

Finally, we saw it in the distance.



Logically, this is where I should stop. Lovely picture. A long day with ups and downs. But there was more...

K suggested that we eat at the hotel's restaurant, and they helpfully provided an English menu. I wish I had taken a picture of it, because it is hard to remember some of the culinary curiosities that it promised. Very little of it actually sounded like food. S and I took what we hoped would be the safest option: a peppercorn steak and beef stroganoff, with fries and potato croquettes. We were lucky. Although it was so dark outside in the garden restaurant that we couldn't see our food, it tasted great. Others were not so lucky. St was not very happy with her overcooked penne and gorgonzola. E and M nearly missed their meal when the server turned around to take it back to the kitchen, after they failed to respond immediately to her when she announced it. R and R got each other's meals. And finally, the server tried to keep St's change as a tip. At least we could look forward to a good night's sleep after all that exercise, right?

Day 2 Stats:
Distance: 50km
Flat tires: 2
Weather: sunny, rainy
Roadkill seen: 2 hedgehogs and 1 mouse
Bruises: 1 (right inner thigh)
Uphills: 2

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