Thurs 22nd Aug.
The Czech Republic
Kurt was a wonderful host, very generous and patient. He had to go out before I left and trusted me to leave and shut the door behind me locking me out. I needed to go north and being in the south of the city, I had to go through the centre and cross the Danube once again. It took about an hour to cross the city and another hour to get outside, being one of the most slow and difficult exits from a city (Paris still holding number one spot taking the best part of a day).
I got through some industrialised areas and was back in the country by around 1pm. The countryside was plain and fairly flat with the occasional sloping hill. I’d gone straight back to listening to music to make it bearable, although the two break was good, it wasn’t enough to make cycling through these areas all the more fun. I took a break in a village and sat on a bench eating some apples and getting a glimpse of life in an Austrian town. Kurt told me that in Vienna they got their water pumped from the Alps, some 80km away. I wonder if it went as far as these villages. The valleys, turned into crop fields and then the crop fields were replaced with sunflower fields. The last town I went through in Austria had lots of scarecrow families out on the grass, that seemed like it was supposed to be a joyful welcoming gesture to guests of the town, but came off as quite the opposite, some of them looking quite terrifying.
I reached the Czech border (my 17th border pass of the trip) before 5pm. I was very glad that I would get to see a country sparked to life for me by the novelist Milan Kundrea in the two books I’ve read of his (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness of Being), that detail its recent history with Soviet Russia in the Cold War. I realised now how much of a connection these books created between the country and I. I realised immediately the power authors have, to make you emotionally connect with them, their problems, their home-country and their struggles in the face of crisis. I felt a positive connection to this otherwise unknown land and was eager to explore it.
I had heard about a cycle path that followed the Iron Curtain through Czech Republic and into Germany. I forgot about this and only remembered recently as I was approaching Czech Republic. Shortly after entering, I saw the Iron Curtain route signposts and couldn’t believe my luck. I’m not sure why, but I have a bit of a fascination with the Cold War, probably as it was the last major thing to happen in recent history and brought the world to the skin of its teeth many times over with threats of nuclear warfare. It’s also referenced frequently throughout the arts, which is where I began hearing about it and what sparked my interest. The thought that I was now following a border that was created by the Soviets to divide Europe in two was fascinating. Now it was all fields, with wheat growing naturally and barely anything in site.
I tried to stay on the path but it was so poorly signposted that it was very difficult. I got to a small village with a few bars that had some life in them and had no signifiers on where to go to follow the path. I went with my instincts, realising I was probably leaving, but without the proper map it would be very difficult and troublesome to follow anyway. I regretted not doing more research and making this part of the trip, but didn’t dwell on it. I saw signs later on for it, but had to ignore them and go the way I knew would take me to Prague.
I got close to the town of Znojmo and decided to set up camp this side of town, going through it in the morning for coffee. I trailed off into a set of allotments with a few people around and found a nice hiding spot in the corner of a crop field. I came close to being spotted by some kids that were out walking around and had to lay low and stay quiet for a long time. I rarely left my tent at night and didn’t see much of the sky at night, but this night in particular the moon and stars were incredible, bright and vivid in a clear sky.