30 June 2004

Raid into Czech - May 2004 - Part 2

After a disjointed trip across Europe to get to the Czech SOC “Invader Rally”, finally everything is coming together, or is it?
Saturday 29th May

Our day is going to be very different. Our ride alongside Brno Lake reveals a few changes to landmarks I have been to and wanted to share with Claire. The castle at Veveri is now open to the public, and the nearby bridge destroyed by the Germans to halt the Russian advance in 1944 has been replaced with a new pedestrian suspension bridge. But the lake hasn’t changed and in the sunshine it looks very inviting. This weekend there is a huge festival on in Brno to celebrate the CR joining the EU and also Brno’s place at the centre of Europe, and the city end of the lake has roads closed and we have to divert all over the place to get into the city centre itself. Amazingly it all comes back to me and I can remember where I am.

I have arranged to meet an old teaching colleague at her flat about 2pm and that gives us the morning to do a bit of tourism in Brno City Centre. Amazingly Saturday is quite quiet in the centre. We park up outside on of the new banks that have sprung up close to Svobody Namesti right in the centre of the city.

I’ve not been in the centre for a few years and the changes are apparent, but at least old landmarks like McDonalds are still there and in the same building. Joke. The incredible down market Sputnik Self Service restaurant where you could eat until you burst for less than 50p has gone to be replaced by another designer cr*pwear shop. We walk down past the Jednota Building, famous for it’s bullet holes in the façade, testament to the 1968 invasion by East Germans under the auspices of the Soviets. It’s undergoing some restoration work, hopefully not into a Benetton shop!

We make our way to the post office by the main railway station. This used to be open 24/7 as our American cousins might say, and it still is but doesn’t look to have seen a paintbrush since 1935. It starts to rain as we come out and we head for lunch in the Cabbage Market Square. This turns out to be excellent, but a flaw in my planning for the day! I forget the Czech custom of feeding and watering visitors!

Restaurace Špalicek - Brno

After lunch we idle back to the bike and Claire takes some pics of St Peters & St Paul’s Cathedral and of the old town hall.

It’s too dark to get one of the “dragon” that hangs from ceiling of the gatehouse. Of course it’s not a dragon, but an Amazon crocodile and they have had it nigh on 350 years, so who knew any better back then?

We go back towards the lake and meet the road closures but arrive okay at Lilka’s flat. Parking outside. We’re a little late and I blame it on the traffic controls! Almost before we can get our gear off she has produced plates of open sandwiches and coffee. Jarek her husband is there as well as Tomas her son. We chat about family things and look at Jarek’s photos of Tomas playing ice hockey, more popular in fact than football in this area with ice rinks available all year round for practice and training for the boys.

Then Lilka asks what we are going to do next. Whenever I have visited she always has a few things up her sleeve and it seems rude to say we don’t want to do them, and so I tend go along with the flow… Firstly she suggests we go to Veveri where her daughter has a summer job as a guide before going to University this autumn. Then there is a huge firework display with music over the lake in the evening. We say that we need to change out of bike gear and into “civvies”. So we follow Jarek’s Peugeot at high speed back the way we came along the lake to Chudcice and the rally-inn so we can change. The ride-out hasn’t returned en-masse, but there are a few stragglers that have come back early for a beer or ten. Then it’s off to the castle.

We have to wait a bit until it officially closes and the Suzie and her friend give us a private viewing tour. Her English is quite good and we are the only English visitors they have had since they opened to the public at Easter. The castle is another tribute to the lack of care that the Communist state attached to their past. It was used for many years by apprentice builders (!) as a home and work place. Some of the concrete work needs to be seen to be believed, especially as it covers the original walls and painted plasterwork, (Trompe-l'oeil?). No wallpaper needed, simply paint on the walls!

Hrad Veveří, Moravia

As a result many original and unique aspects have been ruined, some forever, but due to the shoddy workmanship, some has been removed and the original features re-discovered. If you are in the area, it is well worth a look. I can’t tell you how much it is to get in though. I made a donation the collection box instead.

Then it was off for a BBQ at Jarek’s mother’s house in Rozdrojovice, just to the north of the lake. Although she doesn’t speak English I have always managed to get on with her using sign language and my minimal Czech. In fact I have stayed there a number of times over the years. The BBQ is more modern now and instead of cooking sausages skewered on a stick over the fire they have a proper BBQ! But the selection of sausages remains the same, some spicy, some like skins packed with lumps of meat rather than mince and some tiny frankfurter types loved by kids…. And not one packed out with cereal! Take note Mr Walls et al.

As it began to get dark, in this region there seems to be a very quick change from day to night with a very short twilight, we set off for the hills on the side of the lake to see the fireworks. There are thousands of people all with torches in the dark trying to get a good view. Many have radios with them tuned into the local station that is broadcasting the music. Everyone waits with excitement and then the first missile flies high into the sky and bursts with a huge red flash and a deafening crash.

Then follows twenty minutes of fireworks and music from Strauss to Elgar… did they know we were there?

Jarek ran us back to the rally-inn afterwards and we said our goodbyes. Sunday we’d be up early and Austria bound.

Sunday 30th May

Up early and have ham and eggs for breakfast. And then pay for the room, two nights costs me 800kc or about £18.

Then we are off, across country, through Zastávka where I used to live in 1992/93 And then over the hills towards Ivancice and south to Austria. I make one mistake and fail to notice the left turn I should have taken and so we do two sides of a triangle to get back to the Vienna road. The roads have changed quite a bit with main roads being more prominent than before. The incredible upsurge in the number of cars on the road since the Velvet Revolution means that roads that were suitable for the occasional car and a few trucks and buses are now too small to cope. We pass through Moravsky Krumlov, where the castle is an art gallery and shows the works of Alfons Mucha, best known for his art-deco style of painting and sadly used as chocolate and biscuit tin artwork! We have no time to stop; tonight’s stop is Zell am Zee to the west of Salzburg.

This part of the trip was hastily cobbled together so that Claire could have a “taster” of Austria. In hindsight, my usually high level of preparation went awry and the distances were too great to be able to see very much and so it was definitely a case of “If it’s Sunday it must be Austria….”. Hummingbird tourism. But at least she got a “taster” of Austria for a future visit.

I filled the tank just outside Mikulov with my last fill of cheap Czech petrol expecting Austria to be like Germany and about the same us UK. I was wrong. Austrian unleaded and I used a bit, was about 62p a litre. I bought a motorway vignette for ten days at the first petrol station in Austria. Once again, hindsight comes in useful. I should have asked for the receipt. Although the vignette says it’s a ten-day jobbie, it doesn’t give a start date. The receipt does, and could avoid some hassles should the coppers choose to stop you. The seller is supposed to have clipped the start day and month from the vignette before handing it over. If you go, check it is done.

Of course, navigating in big cities can be a nightmare, even on a Sunday. My plan was to fly along the A1 as far as Salzburg, then go off piste to Zell. All went swimmingly until I took a wrong turn on the Ring and then was in two minds whether to change the plan when I saw the signs for A1 again.

At Melk we took a coffee break. Sitting in the sun, taking coffee with the huge monastery towering over your heads on its hilltop is one of those “bliss” moments of any holiday. Once back on the A1 we continued towards Salzburg and another route decision… right through Germany or straight on past Salzburg and then right to Zell. In the end I needed petrol and took the Germany route through Bad Reichenhall and back into Austria towards Lofer.

Once off motorway, and the S311 southwards, the scenery was so much more pleasant and the snow topped mountains appearing and disappearing as we wound down towards Zell. I stopped a few times to take some pics on the digital camera. In Zell we had a problem finding the Youth Hostel. After three circumnavigations of the town, Claire asked in the police station. Zell is in two parts as the lake cuts it in two and the YH was in the other part! Once again I had booked in advance, and had reserved a double room with facilities. What we got was a small room with ample luggage space and lockers, a bunk bed (!) and a nice bathroom with loo and shower, but best of all, was the scenic view of the lake from the window. We stood looking at the view for a few minutes before going down and securing the bike and looking again from the lakeside terrace. Once washed and brushed up we had a walk around the lake to the main part of the town for dinner. Zell is really a nice little town, and it was here that we heard our first English voices (apart from our own rally group) since leaving Prague the Thursday before.

Monday 31st May

Today’s a short day run across the Tirol to Vaduz in dear old Lichtenstein. From Zell we take the lakeside route towards the Grossglockner. Once again we have several options for the trip west. Option one is over the Grossglockner and then to Lienz and a short step into Italy (or former Austria!) and then up to Innsbruck, or option two; over the Gerlos Pass taking in the Krimml Waterfall and that way to Innsbruck. In the end we took option two, but first we went to the foot of the Grossglockner for a look and some pics. I last went over on my GT750 (Kettle) in 1999 with a mate, Steve Hazlehurst, who was on his Bandit 1200. It was impressive.

No less impressive is the Gerlos, to be honest. Quite wide so it can accommodate coaches (more’s the pity) but plenty of sweeping bends and tight hairpins take you up to about 1600 metres above sea level. The views over the Krimml Waterfall are spectacular. Time passes quite quickly when you stop every few miles to gawp at the scenery. Even this late in the year, the run off from the melting snow leaves rivers running with water and all the waterfalls impressive. Lunch was at Zell am Ziller at the Hotel Englhof . Good stodgy Schwabian food to fill the belly and warm us up. Despite the sun, it’s cold up here in the mountains.

From Zell we carried on up the Ziller valley to the motorway and then needed to catch up some time so it was full throttle westwards, stopping only at the services for a fuel stop and a shelter from the rain as it poured down for a while. At the Arlberg we had the choice of the tunnel or the pass. I chose the pass. Even though it was drizzling it had to be better than a tunnel! As we climbed up to the summit at 1793 metres it was clear, in St Anton it was clear but ahead as you could see the road curve over the crest it was misty… The “Arlberg Pass 1793m” sign was obscured and it was dangerous to stop for the obligatory pic. As we continued down the other side it gradually cleared.

We then upped the pace to get to Vaduz before it got dark so we could find the YH. This one was situated in a new building in Schaan, about three miles (we walked them there and back) from the city centre. In this hostel we had a double room, but the loos and showers were in nearby washrooms but the room was spacious and had proper beds.

After dinner in the hostel, we walked into the city centre. I had expected to find a quaint little city like the town in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, but all we found was a place overrun with modern banks the size of football fields with hardly any old buildings worth a second glance. Even the Duke’s castle was scaffolded. Very disappointing after a long walk!

Tuesday 1st June

Northwards off motorway towards Bregenz and then westwards again along the southern shore of Lake Konstanz. Well that was the plan. For some reason the Austrians seemed to only have signposts with St Gallen on them. Admittedly, it is in Switzerland but not where we wanted to go. In hindsight, we should have gone that way to save all the circles we went in! What could have been simpler? Lake on right…

The weather wasn’t actually the best but it was dry until we approached the border near Kreuzlingen and Konstanz, when it was waterproofs on again. We stopped for a coffee in the Scottish restaurant again to blow the last of our few Swiss francs we had got out in Vaduz. Whilst there, an Italian R1150GS arrived, making two in the parking lot. The guy and his girlfriend looked equally tee’d off with the weather.

Into Germany I had chosen a diagonal route along the BS33 across the Black Forest, somewhere neither of us had been. In fact between Zell am Zee and Strasbourg was uncharted territory for both of us. The road is quite chocked with trucks and there are pretty villages, plus opportunities to visit cuckoo clock shops. One we stopped at but didn’t go in (thank god!) actually has a house sized model alongside and a coin slot to see it working. Nice? Awful? Up to you to decide.

At Strasbourg we tanked up on expensive French petrol and had a coffee then navigated the final leg of the day’s journey to Nancy and the ETAP hotel we were booked into. These are cheap and cheerful and one step above Formule 1’s, at least you have your own loo and bath for €27 a night. Dinner was in the Courte Paille next door.

Pulling into the hotel's car park I felt the bike handling a little strangely; falling into the 90° left turn rather than my usual smoothness! Checking the tyre showed that it had become seriously squared off although there was still plenty of tread across the width of the tyre.

Wednesday 2nd June

The last day of the holiday. A long run along the N4 missing the turn off that I wanted and we end up at the A26 well to the south of Reims where I was expecting to arrive! Still, travelling without a map invites this sort of error. The plod north on the most boring motorway in existence (okay that might be a little strong) to Calais and the train home is almost too mind numbing and tiring. Today I am suffering a little and feel tired all the time and stop at every service station for a rest, a coffee and/or petrol. Glad to be home in time for Corrie!

The final picture of the entire trip was as the bike cooled down in the garage at home. It showed 16492. All in all we covered 2388 miles from home and back. If we hadn’t wanted to “bag” a few different countries it could have been much shorter and more relaxed at some stages. But, after all, we are motorcycle tourers and that’s why we joined the BMW Club or the GS Club UK isn’t it?

Our next trip is a relatively short one to the French Alps in August 2004; our lesson learned on the Czech trip means that we will take far less with us…
We get up quite late, or later than 50% of the other rallyists staying in the rally-inn “Pod Horkou” and in time to have breakfast. The other British members are still recovering from their 4am finish.

After breakfast I have to work out how to let my good friend Ivan (the organiser) know that we will be out most of the day and that we won’t be on the organised ride-out to wherever. Ivan, as a former racing champion in his younger days, likes to include an old road circuit into his runs. Some of these are frightening enough on your own but with 50 Czech lunatics all “going for it” well worth taking a back seat for, especially with 1000 mile ride home afterwards!

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