Czech n Exit Festivities
Suggestion : Print this out in draft form, on scrap paper, and use it for some bedtime, bathroom or weekend reading. Our journals are more like a chapter of a book and this is 5 pages. So relax and enjoy!
Exciting Photos: Just click the link below. Big thanks to Panasonic for the cameras:
Speaking of trains, my entry into Czech from Slovakia involved quite an exciting train adventure indeed. It was Friday, July 11th that I bid farwell to my Slovakian family and pedaled north towards the Czech border into a mean headwind. A huge storm had just dumped tons of rain and was threatening all day with high northwesterly winds. My plan to ride into Czech on a nice 100km ride but it was cut short due to a late departure and these gnarly headwinds so I ended up catching my train to Prague just before the border in a tiny town and barely made my train.
But the train fairies were good to me this day indeed as July is peak backpacker season and the train was chock full this day and overflowing into the isles. When the conductor saw me lugging my ridiculous load towards the packed train dripping sweat I feared he might not let me board. But this was not an option; I had weekend plans with a long lost California buddy Seamus and some new Czech friends Ondrej and Jozef in Prague for the weekend so I HAD to get on this train.
Luckily the other backpackers had mercy on me and the creative maneuvering and stacking of everyone’s gear went down at rapid speed as I tossed piece after piece of my “train-ready” 15 piece load. It all got on just as the train rolled away but it was right in front of the bathroom and I knew the conductor would not allow me to be blocking the bathroom and there was nowhere else to put it. But then I looked up and, to my happy surprise, read that the bathroom was out of order anyhow so no sweat—well, minus the sweat that was dripping all over my body from a 3 hour ride and this midday sun dash for the train!
The train fairies took it one step further as the next stop a full car emptied out at the Czech border and I was able to get a cool seat all the way to Prague. The final fairy blessing was when the conductor came to check my ticket and realized I had none, as well as no reservation for my bike, which were not technically allowed on this train. I had no Czech money or Euros so technically I should have been booted off the train, but he let me stay on and even gave me a super good price when we arrived in Prague a few hours later.
I loved Prague from the moment I pedaled off into the busy streets. I crossed one of its many bridges as the sun was setting over the stunning buildings and my jaw was hanging in awe. It’s seriously like a fairy tale and I was on a magical ride through it all on the way to my hosts place Ondrej and Jozef. These two guys are buddies with my last host in Slovakia Michal and they offered me my own room in the choice part of town right in the heart of the action. I am still so grateful for the many amazing hosts who open up their homes to me, especially when they are downtown!
Jozef helped me lug the tandem and all my gear to their 4th floor apartment as they had no elevator. But the view from their pad was worth the effort and sharing my first cold Czech beer with my new bro Jozef made all the sweat from the day worth it as we both looked forward to a full weekend in Prague. I gave my friend Seamus an arrival SMS and he just happened to be right around the corner and before I knew it we were reunited after 10 years not seeing each other.
Seamus used to live just ¼ mile up the road in Burlingame, California and we were childhood friends and high school buddies. But between college, career and both of our globetrotting lifestyles we lost touch. But I knew he had been living in Prague for several years and we were due to reconnect. Just like the good ole days we proceeded to hop from one amazing Prague venue after another throughout the afternoon, passed by his penthouse flat for a few cocktails and carried on well into the wee hours of the night with tons of great chats, groove sessions and big laughs.
The next day I met my other host Ondrej who was still working when I arrived the previous day. He invited me out to lunch with Jozef and his family so we decided to take the tandem out on the road on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Prague. Although the city is truly stunning, I must say it’s the most touristy capital I’ve ever visited. I’m sure the fact that I arrived in July had something to do with it and this time of year it was literally a slalom course of massive tour groups anywhere near the town center where we were heading for lunch.
We had a super yummy traditional Czech meal with Jozef’s parents who were visiting from Slovakia and then went out to tour the city a bit. We rode along the river and finally up to Vysehrad Park with spectacular views, amazing nature, cool old buildings a super beer garden overlooking the city. There is really nothing better than cold Czech pilsner beer as far as I am concerned. It’s super easy to drink and in the company of friends on a sunny Saturday afternoon I was in heaven.
That evening Seamus hosted a BBQ on his deck overlooking the dazzling Prague skyline. I decided to ride down to his house and invited a friend Irena I had met the night before to join us. She knew the city well and we were able to navigate the maze of busy streets and the tour bus jammed center until we hit the riverside where one of Prague’s very few cycling lanes is located to ride to Seamus’ place. Irena is a 31 year old Czech woman who, like all of my friends in Prague, is in the high tech world working as a software tester and is the first licensed hacker I’ve ever met.
Seamus went all out for dinner and we had a massive feast as the sun set on Prague’s lovely buildings. The entire evening was filled with great food, tons of laughs and it felt good to be hanging with Seamus again after 10 years apart. Its funny how with good friends 10 years seems like 10 days and we got along just like we did in the good ole days.
Before my dinner date with Jozef and Ondrej on Sunday Irena and I took the tandem out on a long ride through some of her favorite sights and into a cool park where we stopped and had a picnic by a lake on a perfect sunny day. The parks in Prague are plentiful, large, green and loaded with people enjoying them so it’s great for people watching, tandem riding and making new friends.
That evening Jozef and Ondrej took me to their favorite restaurant to enjoy Svickova, the famous Czech meat dish I was told I just MUST eat on Sundays. It was as good as they promised with a nice filet covered in creamy, fruity sauce that drowns dense dumplings. Wash this down with yummy Czech beers with two cheery Czech guys and you have the perfect end to a stellar weekend in Prague!
Monday came and it was back to work getting ready for the next expedition and catching up from the previous. However, this time I just was not feeling inspired to travel on to Poland as planned and I was still dreaming of the upcoming Exit Festival that was going on back down in Serbia. When I first heard of the lineup—Manu Chao, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Juliette and the Licks and a host of stellar DJ’s and bands from around the world—I just had to go. Add to this the draw of it being held in an 18th century fortress in beautiful Novi Sad and the reuniting with some stellar Balkan crew it was hard to focus on riding forward to Poland.
I took care of all I needed to, found a home for my bike and gear at Ondrej and Jozef’s place for a week and was soon off to Budapest and eventually Novi Sad with a train load of wild festival goers. I met my Bosnian friend Mirela’s childhood friend Marjana downtown Novi Sad and soon after Mirela showed up to begin the festivities of the famous Exit Festival. Mirela and Marjana had an apartment rented from one of Marjana’s cousins not far from downtown so we were all sorted on our place to sleep after nights of dancing till dawn.
For the next four nights it was all celebrating music of all genres and dancing our tails off. Our daily schedule went something like this: hit the festival around sunset, dance like mad until we were starving hungry about 2-3AM, eat some food, pound some energy drinks and hit up the late night and early morning acts until sunset. This added up to about 7-9 hours of dancing per day. We would then take a taxi back to the apartment covered in sweat, dust and grime and proceed to clean up a bit then fall asleep dead tired with the shutters drawn tight until about 3PM. We would wake up totally ravished with hunger, go grab some food in town, sit in the shade enjoying coffee and then head back to the apartment to get ready to repeat the cycle.
The festival was unforgettable. It was amazing to be around so many people enjoying themselves to such fantastic musical talent in a perfect venue. And being with Mirela and Marjana, two very easygoing and low maintenance Bosnian gals, was the icing on the cake. But four days went by fast and it was sad moment of saying goodbye once again to Mirela came once again for the fourth time as she drove me to the train station to catch my 8AM train back to Budapest and onwards to Prague.
Back in Prague I got a warm welcome from Seamus but unfortunately none of my male Czech crew of Seamus, Jozef, Ondrej could get time off work to come pedal out of town with me the following day. Luckily my Czech Chica Irena just finished a huge high tech project at Exxon and started her two week vacation that Friday so she was game for coming out pedaling and adventuring in north Czech and into Germany with me so I would not go solo too long.
The time finally arrived for me to depart Prague and the solo time on the bike was just what the doctor ordered, actually. I had not had a ton of solo time and needed some time to let the last 10 countries or so settle in. I ended up riding the entire day cranking my Ipod, feeling the weather, checking out the sights and rocking away. I took Seamus’ advice and called Usti nad Labem my home for the night where I went out on the town to meet some of the locals and enjoy a few beers before getting a great night sleep.
My guest rider Irena was expected in the afternoon just 30km away in the spa town of Teplice where some amazing thermal springs were calling my name. I found us a cheap pad for the night and proceeded to hit the hot springs until her train came in. I picked her up at the station and we weaved our way through Teplice’s lovely streets back to the spa for yet another long soak together and I could see the weeks of stress leading a big software project melting off her smiling face. Let the vacation could begin!
Irena took me out to a nice dinner of traditional Czech food and, of course, more yummy Czech beers in the city center. Conversation never really slows down with Irena and I and we shared so much about our drastically different lives. She opened up and shared some very personal things about her childhood with me and I did with her as well. One thing I have noticed in my travels is that once we share personal, private things with a new friend it creates a space to share, connect and grow closer even faster.
The next day we had a great breakfast and lazed around until we finally got inspired to get the tandem rolling towards the border of Germany. The first thing we noticed as we left town is the sad fact that Teplice, with its close proximity to the Germany border, is the one of Europe’s leading towns for prostitution. We could not ride more than 100 meters without seeing a skimpy dress over fake tanned legs staring north towards the border waiting for their next gig.
Once we left town the climb began, which is about a 600 meter (1,900 foot) climb to the summit. I was surprised how strong Irena was and the climb went very well. We continued our deep conversations, building the foundation of a friendship that no doubt will last a lifetime. A gentle rain fell on us the entire ride up and the vegetation grew greener and more lush as we rode further away from Teplice, which was welcome by us both to keep us cool and fresh. After a few hours of huffing and puffing we were at the border of Germany where we decided to stop and enjoy my last Czech meal before doing the long decent down towards Dresden.
Since Czech Republic and Germany are both members of the EU there are not formal border crossings, but just as we were at the old border a massive rain storm came rushing in so we sought shelter once again, enjoyed a warm drink from our first of many friendly Germans, and waited out the storm. It cleared as fast as it came in giving us a fresh, crisp and sunny decent into Germany where we would explore for some undetermined amount of time together. We were both grinning ear to ear as we left Czech Republic on a small back road neither of had ever explored before, feeling safe, peaceful, proud and content as ever weaving down a picture perfect decent into southern Germany.
Looking back on my experience in Czech Republic I can’t help but smile. From gracious hosts Ondrej and Jozef, to my reconnection with Seamus and our most wild weekend in Prague, my exit to the Exit Festival and the great times with Irena I must say Czech will not soon leave my memory. I’m sure there are many more amazing nuggets to explore but the taste I got was sweet as honey and I plan to be back for more! Big thanks to everyone who made my stay so special!
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