Sunday, 23 March 2008

Help me plan my next big trip

This is my new bike.

I bought it yesterday at the bazar down the street for 1500Kč. That’s about $100. It needs a few things fixed, but it should be good for what I have in mind.

I’ve had this idea for a while now. To cycle around the Czech Republic visiting all those little places that I’ve heard about, or passed through on buses and train, and have always meant to get back to. I’d like to write about it along the way and hopefully end up with enough material for a book. Or at the very least, a solid series of blog posts.

I’m thinking of starting in Olomouc (because that’s where I live) and heading counter clockwise in a big loop around the country. I want to have time to look at things properly, but I think I can only get away for about a month at a time, so I’ll have to do the trip in stages.

Probably four stages of about one month each; Olomouc-Liberec, Liberec-Plzeň, Plzeň-Znojmo and Znojmo-Olomouc, perhaps. I know some of you regular readers know this country well, so…what do you think? I’ve never done anything like this before so I have no idea how it might turn out.

I do know that I don’t want to travel as quickly as most of the long distance cyclists I’ve met. A cycle trip is a wonderful opportunity to travel slowly through a place with the flexibility to stop and really have a proper look at everything you find interesting. But most people squander it. The majority of these guys (they’re almost always guys) are so intent on covering a certain distance in a certain time that all they see is the road. They might as well take an exercise bike onto a train that runs eight hours late every day. The end result would be the same.

So my rough plan is to choose towns one days’ ride apart, and spend two nights in each of them. There’d be a cycling day, followed by a full day of exploring the city or town, then back on the bike the day after. Some overnight stops will undoubtedly need three nights or more (Hradec Králové, Plzeň etc). Others might afford enough time for sidetripping out to castles, lakes or caves on the sightseeing day.

What I’m trying to work out right now is; which towns should I stop in and pass through, which route should I take? I have some ideas, but I want to do a fair bit of research before I go, so as not to miss too much through ignorance. And so that I can fully appreciate things through knowing how and why they are special.

From Olomouc, there’s a good trail past Bouzov castle, towards Moravská Třebova and I’d like to look around that Litomyšl, Polička, Svitavy triangle some more. I’d especially like to find the factory that Oscar Schindler brought his workers to at the end of WWII. Litomyšl’s an obvious place to spend a couple of nights, because there’s so much to see and do there.

Then Vysoké Myto, Hradec Králové, Nové Město nad metují, the Adršpach-Teplice rocks, Grandmother’s valley, the Bohemian Paradise and Liberec would all have to be on the list for the first stage. Have I made any glaring omissions though? If it were you, which way would you go? What would you want to see along the way? Or what would you be curious to read about someone else seeing?

The other thing I thought of was requesting interviews with interesting people. Karlova Studanka (a spa town at the base of Moravia’s highest mountain) is apparently Václav Havel’s favourite weekend escape. Now I’m no journalist (as critics of this blog have pointed out) and the most respected person in the republic might be aiming a bit high, but people of that calibre are accustomed to granting interviews, and it might be refreshing for them to talk about their favourite hiking trails or village pubs for a change. What do you think?

Other people I’d love to meet/talk to/interview are Martin Šmaus, who won the 2004 Book Club prize for his novel “Stoke the fire, Girl”, the ‘King of Wallachia’ Boleslav Polívka, Singer/actress Iva Bittova and any one, or all, of the guys from None of you regular readers happen to have any contact with any of those people do you?

In any case, at the end of it, I hope to have written enough for a book. 80,000 words could be forty chapters of about 2000 words each. Or 80 blog posts the length of this one. It might take me 80 weeks, but I think I can do it.

I believe it’s pretty tough for new writers to find a publisher, but there’s now the self-publishing route via the internet and even if I end up giving it away as an ebook, I’ll have proven to myself that I’m capable of writing a book and cycling around a country (albeit a relatively small one).

I don’t ask for things very often, but if you could have a think about what I want to do and let me know if you have any suggestions, advice, contacts that might be useful, or requests for things you’d like to read about, I’ll be grateful.

Thanks in advance, Captain Oddsocks.
Image #6 -


Michael Carøe Andersen said...

Wow! That's quite an adventure you're setting out to do there. I don't have any advice, contacts or requests. Just want to wish you the best of luck :)

Captain Oddsocks said...

Cheers Michael! I'm probably going to need just as much luck as I am advice, contacts and suggestions put together, so thanks ;-)

Michael Svec said...

Romano Hip Hop, Romano Hip Hop in the House. (Love that video - YouTube and Ocko videostreaming).

I think the bike adventure is an excellent idea and to be honest, I wish I could go along. Writing a book provides a nice rationale although I think the trip by itself would be fun. From Olomouc, I think a good starter trip would be to the Moravian Karst. Another excellent trip would be to Valtice-Lednice. I would stay in Valtice, heart of the Moravian wine country. Be careful, too much wine and you might stumble into Austria (unless the border patrol is nearby, of course this is hypothetical, fantasy not first hand experience). Penzion Prinz in Valtice was very good. I would think a bike trip to the Sumava would almost be required although I am not sure where the best place to stay or where to begin the adventure. The area around Pilsen especially to the east (Rokycany-Radnice-Liblin) is OK along the river. Good luck and can't wait to read about where you go and who you met.

sansIcarus said...

i can't really help much with itinerary, but I can say that you should def get the EePC you were looking at in Forster.

I got one last week (for the upcoming trip to China) and I'm super impressed. I think (knowing you) that you'll also enjoy the 12 different versions of solitaire provided!

sansIcarus said...

Also, the interviews are a great idea. I highly recommend getting some sort of thing - like an mp3 player - which records voice so you can record the conversation in entirety and don't have to worry about your notemaking interrupting the convo.

But make sure you've practiced using it though. My first interview was a phone interview with Tim Freedman from the Whitlams - and we had a tops 45minute chat which I thought I was recording. Not the case unfortunately.

Michael said...

I'd give you a top ten bars in Liberec list, but you don't drink (probably for the best when cycling). My favourite part of Cesky Raj is the bit around Mala Skala - you could stay overnight in Turnov and then cycle up to Liberec from there.

If you can't get interviews with big shots, I reckon a Studs Terkel style oral history would be cool - old blokes in grim little towns (in which case, go to Jablonec ;)).

Captain Oddsocks said...

Awesome. Great tips so far, just what I'm looking for!

The dictaphone is a top idea, and I'm leaning toward getting one of those little Eee's as well.

SansIcarus, was that interview part of your course and are there textbooks that cover interviewing technique and standard journalistic practice and so on? I'm sure there must be, but am I better off not trying to be too clever by half learning this stuff? I mean, I'm not going to become a journalist just by reading a couple of books, so should I even attempt to conform to standard practices? There are a lot of journalists who are not very interesting to read, after all.

Michael, I wouldn't mind that list of top bars, if you could manage it. I'm sure some of them serve Kofola and pubs are always the best place to hear the stories of a town.

Old blokes in grim towns are bound to be a standby of this trip(especially the part from Decin to Karlovy Vary) but I'm off to look up Studs Terkel now for some tips. Cheers!

Noone out there has Mr Havel's mobile phone number eh? Oh well, don't know if you don't ask, do you? ;-)

Captain Oddsocks said...

Never mind that question about the textbooks. I think I'll get a couple of Studs' books to read.

Wikipedia - "Terkel credits his knowledge of the world to the tenants who gathered in the lobby of the hotel and the people who congregated in nearby Bughouse Square."

Michael said...

Top ten list coming soon. If you've never been up there before, the tower on top of Jested (right outside of Liberec) would be a good place to visit. Havel was there in 1968, on the day of the invasion itself if memory serves.

Oh, and the Unihotel's far and away the cheapest place in town to stay - it's right by Na Stare Namesti, which will definitely be up near the top of that list.

Captain Oddsocks said...

Yeah, Jested's a must. Has to be the most remarkable building of it's era (in the Czech Republic).

I think I remember that from one of Havel's books. He told a story about a gang of tramps who were always in trouble with the cops for something or other. The day after the invasion, their unofficial leader fronted up at town hall and offered the gang's services in hampering the invaders any way possible. The mayor or police chief sent them out to pull down all the street signs, because they couldn't risk being caught doing it themselves.

This semi-outlaw gang was apparently the scourge of Liberec, but next morning, there were all the street signs stacked on the front step of the town hall without so much as a scratch on them.

Wonder if any of those guys are still hanging out in the pubs up there...?

sansIcarus said...

The Tim Freedman mishap happened when I was coeditor of my uni magazine, way back in the 90s. So no training. I just picked it up as I went along.

There're heaps of books out there, but one I'd recommend is 'The Art of Creative Nonfiction' by Lee Gutkind. It's not so much a textbook as a book of tips and good advice.

If you can't find a copy over there, let me know and I'll send mine over to you via France.

RennyBA said...

Here from BlogRush.

What a nice bike and a great idea - wishing you the very best trip.

Next time you might consider biking around in Norway, and then I'll gladly guide you :-)
RennyBA's Terella

Captain Oddsocks said...


Lee Gutkind on the shopping list next to Studs Terkel. Roger that.

Dictaphone. On the list.

Bike in for a new chain and gear cluster. Pick up panniers and new grips at the same place. Check.


Michael said...

My Svijany-addled memory of the very bestest pubs and cafes in Liberec:

Takaš Pakaš (past the town hall, down Frydlanska and on the right)
Atelier (at the Tesco end of Prazska)
Posta Cafe (between the town hall and the big glass library)
Stamina (between Tesco and the bus station, on the right just past the river)
Duli (top of Moskevska, right by the Radnice Hotel)
Na Stare Namesti (straight down Frydlanska and upstairs on the right opposite the vegetarian restaurant)

Captain Oddsocks said...

That's brilliant Michael, thanks! Another drink I owe you...:-)

Michael said...

Neni zac.

I missed one out, though. Just as you start down Prazska from the Benes Namesti end, take the downhill path next to the Chinese restaurant for Irska.

Oh, and if anyone mentions Zanzibar, cycle like the wind ;)

Captain Oddsocks said...

"and if anyone mentions Zanzibar, cycle like the wind"

Hehehe! Can I quote that when it comes time to write about Liberec?

alsch said...

Good call on Jested, although whilst walking down from it last time I met a few cyclists on their way up, didn't look as if they were having fun! And make sure you take the correct path, there are a lot of trails used by fearless guys for high-speed downhill mountain biking!

Have you see the film Grand Hotel? It provides another perspective of Jested, and Liberec.

My other recomendation would be for the Plzen to Znojmo leg and would be the town of Vodnany and the small villages around. Very nice countryside.

I don't suppose the Liberec to Plzen leg will go via Prague? If it does there are loads of good cycle trails especially to the north and west of Prague. The route out through Karlstejn, Srbsko and Beroun is really nice. And perhaps the castle at Krivoklad.

Also the small town of Slavonice on the Austrian border (Somewhere inbetween Trebon and Trebic) and the cafe by the square there are especially worth stopping.

Good luck! When are you planning to start?

Captain Oddsocks said...

Thanks for the tips Alsch.

I've only walked to Jested, but i can imagine how tough it would be on a bike. I expect I'll be pushing my bike up some of the long hillsides like this ;-)

Prague is not really on the itinerary. I've kind of been there before and i think the cycling would have to be amongst the worst in the country, so i'll be giving it a miss. Where I am actually going on that leg though, I'm not too sure. It's the part of the country that I know least well, and of the places I have been there, Cheb, Litomerice/Terezin and Melnik are about the only ones I'm really keen to return to.

Vodnany's a good tip. I'd like to go back to Pisek, which is not far away, and I'd be curious to check out the nuclear power station at Temelin too.

I hope to get started as early as Mid-May. If I can find somebody to do my job for a month...!?

alsch said...

I forgot to say that the cafe in Slavonice, Besidka, is owned by some of the members of Divadlo Sklep, and they do great 'bramborova pizza'!

Captain Oddsocks said...

Yeah it's not bad that cafe is it? The Cafe I really wanted to go to, le Petite Mort, was closed, for no explainable reason (according to their posted hours and seasons they were open).

And that was my main gripe with Slavonice overall. All i could was wlak the streets and look at the outside of stuff. I couldn't get into the church, or climb its tower, and couldn't go down into the catacombs, because it was out of season. The girls at Tourist info looked a bit horrified that I even had the cheek to ask. In the middle of September!

It's an interesting place though. Seems to have become the new favoured weekend spot for not-so-adventurous Prague expats who think they're above the common tourism of Cesky Krumlov. But we'd still like to go somewhere quaint and drink soy lattes and imported beers, if you don't mind, please.

Yeah, there's a chapter in that...