I stopped for coffee in the very next town of Kourim and was hassled by a youngish man for money/beer. I offered him food – he didn’t want food, he wanted beer, despite it being 9am in the morning. I felt a bit desperate for him, but I wasn’t going to support his habit either. I’ve seen a fair number of young men drinking in the streets at all hours and suspect I’m starting to see the alcoholism that is rumoured to be rife in Eastern Europe (not that we don’t have our fair share of alcohol and drug related probs in the UK either – it just doesn’t seem so public!).
Today turned out to be the best day I’ve had in the Czech Republic yet. Even though I couldn’t get the map on the Macbook to enlarge again without wifi (having shrunk it) and went much further south than Komoot would have had me go, I wouldn’t have met the people I did, if I hadn’t, so it was meant to be. I was pleased to be out of the city and back in the country-side (you’re RIGHT Susan) – my eyes feasted on all the green. I was getting frustrated with my lack of a paper map – and with the non-compliance of the computer. I stopped at a supermarket (only open in the mornings on Sundays) – for the makings of some lunch and to ask directions – the woman at the till did her best with no English (and sort of assumes there is a car – so tends to give directions for the quickest roads – not necessarily the shortest). I went off clutching a sheet of paper with place names to aim for and we’d wished each other “Dobrÿ Den” and shaking hands vigorously with a big grin! (I have learned that “Dobrÿ Den” is the standard greeting meaning “Good Day”, like hello – even the children say it when you pass by). I carried on, and then decided NOT having directions was just too much to take (or too little information), so I resolved to stop and ask the first likely looking people for assistance.
Not long afterwards I spotted a couple in their garden – and asked if they knew any English (after saying “Dobrÿ Den” of course!). The wife did – and they both proceeded to bend over backwards in their efforts to help me out – whilst plying me with biscuits and water – and their three boys were demonstrating how they could count to ten in English. First we tried connecting my macbook to their wifi – didn’t work, for some reason (I think it was the wrong network). Then we resorted to paper and out came LOTS of maps – I was given a small local map first, then a Czech Road Atlas – which is perfect (they had spares and the one they gave me was an old one). The husband was a mechanic so he proceeded to glue on the handle of my bicycle, which had become totally loose since I’d adjusted its position to relieve my ulnar nerve problem a few weeks ago. I didn’t get their names – but they were just so friendly and generous. They waved me off up the road.
I’d opted to continue up a road closed because of road works – on the grounds that a bicycle can often get around an obstacle that a car can’t. Only problem was that it was a bridge under construction and it didn’t go right the way across the gap any more. Fortunately it was over a ditch and not a river and there was a way across – but down a steep bank. I was just contemplating unloading Rowenna when the two chaps who were on site approached and volunteered to carry Rowenna. She was mightily pleased with this arrangement, whilst I was trying to point how HEAVY she is! I think they took this as a challenge – because they duly carried her down the bank and up the other side with no apparent trouble.
I was wondering why there were two chaps there at all, on a Sunday and not apparently labouring on site – but there was a small caravan there and I suspect maybe they’re paid to guard the building materials.
I waved my thanks and carried on, thinking what an amazing day this was turning out to be. I stopped for a picnic at the brow of hill and discovered the roll mops I’d bought were set in aspic! Weird, but otherwise tasted just like roll mops.
A little further on, I came across ANOTHER road block – they obviously do all the repairs on a stretch of road in one swoop. I decided not to risk this one and, fortuitously, there was a small side road – and with my new paper map I could see were it went…
It was now very hot and sunny. As I went over a small bridge in a village called Jindice, it occurred to me that the railings were ideal to drape the tent over to dry it out. So I stopped and unloaded Rowenna – only to find that the plastic water bottle had been leaking also, so it was a good thing I’d stopped as it wasn’t just the tent that was soggy. While I was taking the baggage apart, I could see a youngish man standing chatting to two older women. I could see they were curious, so when I’d finished draping, I strolled across to say hello (or Dobrÿ Den anyway). Their little dog barked fiercely at me through the gate, but turned into a poppet once it was open.
It transpired that the younger bloke could speak very good English. He asked me what I wanted, and when I replied that I wanted for nothing and was just saying hello – he offered coffee or tea. Since I’d have to wait a while for the tent to dry I quickly agreed that coffee would be lovely. He summonsed me to the back garden of the neighbouring cottage – and there was a sort of lemony, Easter bread and a little glass bowl of chocolates. The guy’s name was Stanislav, but I really couldn’t decipher what his mother was called (so I shall call her Gwendolyn as it sounded a bit like that – how terribly patronising of me!). I was really quite full up after lunch and didn’t even have a chocolate (which everyone who knows me will realize is unusual), though I tried a slice of the bread – because I wanted to know what it tasted like more than anything else. Then Gwendolyn wanted to give me some hot food. “No, no,” I tried,, “really, I’ve not long eaten” – but it was a “traditional Czech lunch with dumplings – how many dumplings did I want?” “One?” I said feebly. We haggled. I got four on a plate, with venison, cranberry sauce and what looked initially like dahl, coloured with mustard, but turned out to be pureed veggies (including carrot) made into a sauce with buttermilk etc. Apparently I needed the strength if I was cycling all that way. The meal was OK – the dumplings came sliced and were made with bread, I think, and the venison was lean and tender. Stan had to mime a deer as he couldn’t remember the word in English. I managed to eat it all, bar one dumpling, I’m proud to say – though I felt totally stuffed and waddled back to the bicycle. I must say though, I’m missing SPICE! I love curry – and food in Eastern Europe has been universally fairly bland and very filling.
Stanislav asked so many questions about my trip that I didn’t have much opportunity to find out about him – apart from the fact that he lived in Prague and this wee cottage is the weekend and holiday retreat from the city. Also that the harness hung on the wall of the cottage as decoration was actually for a cow, not a horse. They seemed fascinated by my journey – and also the knitting. Gwendolyn had tried to knit and given it up as a bad job. She could see I knit differently – it’s very odd to be the oddball.
Stanislav told me I’d missed the UNESCO heritage site at Kutna Hora – a cathedral I think. I know which experience I value more, though – I’d much rather meet up with local people than see a cathedral any day of the week.
And I’ve been riding past churches in small villages every day that are wonderful to look at and very different from home. So much to see.
I came to a town called Zbraslavice where there was an openair musical event taking place in the town square. They were playing mostly Czech type dance music with an accordian but I heard one 12 bar blues number. There was half a dozen couples waltzing around, children running around and lots of empty chairs in front of an empty stage, so I guess there had been more performances during the day. I thought it might have been a private party so crossed the road to an icecream parlour and had a cup of ‘cofolo’ (which is a cross between cola and coffee as far as I can make out, and therefore has a fair whallop of caffeine, I’m sure). The icecream saleswoman assured me it was a public event – a ‘fundraiser’. So I sat and watched and knit for a while.
I rode on, keeping an eye out for a camping spot. There was a track leading down to the woods where I could see several deer grazing at the edge. I could hear several more – and have decided that THAT was what my ‘pig’ was t’other night – a deer making a weird, snorty noise. My campsite was otherwise totally quiet, idyllic – overlooking a wooded valley and fields.
During the night I nipped out of the tent for a pee – to be greeted by a stunning bowl of stars overhead.