19 Jun Prague to Budapest by Bike
The journey from Bhutan to Prague was quite the adventure. Twenty-seven hours, four countries, a thirteen-hour transit in Delhi, lost luggage and a complete humour bypass. I know I am short on sympathy credits, so I’ll spare you the sob story, but suffice to say that I felt like I had been cast in ‘The Terminal does Delhi’ and Tom Hanks might appear at any moment. Sadly ‘Big Red’ did not appear on the luggage belt in Prague and I got my first taste of Czech hospitality when I was dispatched from the lost luggage office with a small receipt and a “We will advise” … delivered tersely and void of any hint of sympathy or compassion by a brusque lady behind the counter. Needless to say, there are no aspirational instagram snaps documenting that section of my trip.
The Czech Republic is an interesting place, steeped in both a rich and checkered history that has influenced its politics, culture and perspective. The Velvet Revolution, that marked the fall of communism, occurred just thirty years ago and it seems that society is still dealing with some of the fallout and symptoms of that ‘red hangover.’ Service is usually delivered with a poker face and a degree of cold indifference. Small talk is not their strong suit and at times it felt as though I was being sized up suspiciously. Needless to say, I did not manage to recruit any Czech mates (no pun intended) and I took to taking both a book and my laptop to dinner (as props) to make me look occupied and feel less conspicuous and ‘loserish.’ I also struggled to shop. Hard to believe I know, but my mission to replace some basic items, while I waited to be reunited with Big Red was not as simple as one might think. I would describe the overall fashion vibe in Prague as utilitarian with a twist of bling … a bit like bedazzled does Bonds. I resorted to hand washing (and inside-outing) and thankfully Big Red made her way to Prague the following day.
Any shortfalls in the fashion department however were counteracted by a surplus of great beer, which was cheaper than water and delivered in pitchers the size of small fish tanks. Toys, crystals and lolly shops were also in abundance … but vowels not so much. This is the consonant capital! But for all its quirks, Prague is a truly magical city. It’s like a bohemian fairy tale full of cathedrals and castles and cobbled laneways. It has a history and heritage that lives on through its ancient architecture, complemented by an overlay of modern twists, like Cerny’s iconic sculptures that are dotted throughout the city.
Prague was also the starting point for my nine day, five-hundred kilometre bike trip (through Slovakia and Austria) to Budapest. I should say upfront that not only do I not own a bike, but I have always harboured an intense (and somewhat irrational) dislike for cyclists in general. But in my defence, I saw this as a sightseeing trip. An adventurous and scenic way to get from Prague to Budapest. Yeah … no …. that’s not what this was. This was (if I had bothered to read the trip notes) a full-blown, serious cycling expedition full of full-blown, serious people (of the cycling variety). This became apparent to me in the briefing session that took place the evening before our departure. Our guide Jan advised us that there would be time allocated before our scheduled blast-off (or whatever cycling people call it), to fit our own seats and peddles. “Back it up boyfriend … fit our own what?!” It was only then that it dawned on me that I had inadvertently signed up for a proper cycling tour for which I was horribly and entirely unprepared. Not only did I not have my own seat or peddles or special click in cycling shoes, I also did not have cycling gloves, glasses, lycra tops (with a multitude of zips and pockets for what purpose I am still not certain) or more importantly any kind of padded cycling shorts or seat cover. I walked in to breakfast the following morning looking like I was about to do a yoga class and have coffee in my active wear. My fellow riders looked like they were about to compete in the Tour ‘De France. They looked at me with a mixture of suspicion and pity and I knew that I was way out of my depth. I considered doing a runner, but in deference to the adventurous spirit underpinning my Golden Gap adventure, I decided to give it a go. Right after I politely enquired about how the gears and brakes worked!
Make no mistake, this was challenging and WAY outside my comfort zone; but as the saying goes; “that’s where the magic happens,” and it really was magical. Our route took us down through the Czech Republic, into Austria (with a rest day in Vienna), through Slovakia and into Hungary over nine days and five hundred kilometres. We rode through fields, farms and forests; through villages and vineyards, along the Danube … up hill and down dale. It was exhausting and I was certainly not leading the pack, but I managed to keep up and I surprised myself by how much I actually enjoyed it.
My cycling pals hailed from all over the world. People I would never normally cross paths with; all genuine and fun and each with an interesting story to tell. We stayed in simple guesthouses, bonded over beer and compared our bikers butt woes. For once, I am so glad that I didn’t read the fine print … well to be fair it seems as though I missed all of the print (very unlike me) … but maybe that happened for a reason and gave me the not so gentle nudge I needed to try something different and expand my horizons. I no longer harbour an irrational contempt for cyclists … and who knows, maybe I’ll even buy a bike? As for those lycra tops and padded bike shorts … I think I would rather put up with the pain!
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