This was a trip through Czechoslovakia
The fact that it is now the Chech Republic and Slovakia should give us away. We were there at the time of political transition, 1990. Also, our second trip through Czechoslovakia in March, 1991 ended up to be a train trip since the weather was so cold and nasty. I honestly feel that if we went back and spent some time there during the warm summer and we weren’t pressed for time, the Czech republic would be one of our favorite biking destinations. And there is always Prague.
How We Rate This Trip
The main roads are good and well engineered. The back roads follow the terraine so that they are much more strenuous.
Around Prague, the traffic is heavy on the main roads. There are trucks and fast moving cars. The secondary roads are much quieter if you can handle the bigger hills. We preferred the harder work to get the quieter rides
Lots of rain, wind and overcast – limited our progress in May. In March, it was so cold that we gave up biking. Its supposed to be midway between maritime and continental weather with warm summers and mild winters.
Cold winds are said to be from Scandinavia or the north. It seems that this condition was almost continuous for us on our two spring trips.
The rugged Tatras of Slovakia and the historic towns of Bohemia are unsurpassed. Forests cover a third of the country. In the west, acid rain has decimated some of these forests.
Bike specific information was only gleaned from other bikers, either German or Czech. The tourist officers run by CEDOK tried to help. They were oriented toward the top end of the market traveler.
Road Safety: 5
The main highways were crowded and carried a lot of trucks. Especially around Prague the main roads were somewhat dangerous. The secondary roads got us there slower but much surer.
General Safety: 6
The newly opened city of Prague was a magnet for tourist, especially the near-by Germans. One of the first by-products of freedom is crime so we took care around this beautiful city. Outside Prague and Bratislava, crime of any sort was rare.
First in 1990 it depended on the exchange rate. Our first day we exchanged dollars at 20 at a store. Then at 24 (official rate) then at 26 in the street. Prague is on a completely different level. In March 1991, the tourists were overwhelming Prague which was newly open to tourism. We got poor value for poor private rooms. Otherwise, the hotels were very overpriced. Outside of Prague, it was good value. Food was reasonable and good beer was very cheap.
The bottled water available was mostly mineral water that was carbonated. This gets old. We did drink tap water from time to time. Stores closed at noon on Saturdays and all day Sunday. We also found springs with good water occasionally. Finally, the beer is excellent and fun to drink in huge beer halls. Bratislava had the largest beer hall in Europe.
In the smaller towns and cities, there were limited choices for restaurants and often we had to settle for the Hotel restaurants, which were lackluster. Also, at times we had trouble getting what we wanted due to lack of communication. The restaurants also closed early and offered unmotivated service. Vegetables and salads were hard to find. Breakfast was not included with the rooms.
The rooms were better in Czech than in Slovakia. We stayed in big cinder black (but clean) high-rises, in private homes with rooms to let and regular European style hotels. It ran the gamut. In Prague, all rooms were scarce and expensive. Finally, we had the good fortune to befriend a Czech couple who invited us to stay in their home. This was fun.
In Slovakia, the People were more spirited than in Poland but there was still the old “Can’t do” attitude. This improves in the Czech Republic. Finally, to be invited into a home in Prague to stay was a good experience.
It’s all happening in Prague. It’s the highlight and is a world class city. It’s just a matter of time before the luster of this city returns.
The historical center of Prague is worth the trip alone. Other cities in the Czech Republic like Kutna Hora or Karlovy Vary are also intact. Even the smaller towns have castles and town centers of interest. Slovokia offers some of this but is more agrarian and less sophisticated. This also applies to Bratislava.
TOTAL SCORE 72
Route Descriptions and Maps
1st trip: May 1990 – from Warsaw, Poland to Frankfurt, Germany
2nd trip March 1991 – from Munich, Germany to Warsaw, Poland
Polish Border to Kezmarok 40K
Compared to our earlier attempted visits to Czechoslovakia, the border formalities had recently become a snap. Reported to be beautiful views of the Tatra mountains but we were fogged in. Up and then down to Zdiar. Then a gradual descent to Kezmarok, a nice town with an old town center.
Kezmarok to Ruzomberok 100K
Lots of traffic to Poprad through a river valley. On the main highways. Huge farms after quickly leaving the mountains. Rainy and cold west wind in May. Could not find secondary road so back on the Highway. Traffic, big trucks and buses. Still in pretty valley with pine covered hills but some climbs and descents. At Hybe, 4 lane new highway. Excellent road down a beautiful river valley. Little traffic to Liptovsky-Mikulas. Continue on the excellent road for 30more Ks to Ruzomberok. The last 10Ks with some kids as guides on bikes in the rain on unknown back roads.
Ruzomberek to Zilina 66K
More rain! All our stuff is wet, Yuck! Continue on very good road down to the Hah River Valley. Light traffic (later we find out it was tied up due to a huge accident) to Martin. Still good riding for 40 more Ks to Zilina which has a nice town center. More rain. This is getting old.
Zilina to Valasske Mezirici by train
Valasske Mezirici to Olomouc 74K
Out through the flat valley to Hranice along side the train tracks. Out of Hranice on a narrower road to Lipnik (beautiful baroque cathedral). Then to Olomouc which had the typical gray black apartment high-rises on the outskirts but a beautiful city center.
Olomouc to Parduvice by train
Pardubice to Kutna Hora 47K
Beautiful road. Huge farm fields. Long gradual climb and through old growth trees and small villages. Some are cobblestones. Past a large Nuclear power plant about 15 Ks before Kutna Hora.
Kutna Hora to Prague 66K
Cold. Rolling hills but mostly gradual down into the towns and then climb back out again. Many Ks of urban sprawl going into Prague. Saw a lot of bicycle racers. Met a Czech couple who spoke English on bikes, who offered us a room. Very good fortune. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe.
Prague to Rakovnik 85K
Out of Prague via the then (1990) new bridge. Lots of urban traffic including big trucks. After the bridge, the traffic thinned and we turned off for Karlstejn. (This route was recommended by our Prague hosts). Now a beautiful ride along a river on big rolling hills that offered great views. 28Ks SW to Karlstejn Castle. Continue on to Krivoklat and another castle. More rain starting. Finally climb up then down to Rakovnik. Good riding off the main roads. Great scenery.
Rakovnik to Karlovy Vary 103K
Still cold. Beautiful ride to Jesenice, 20Ks. Continued on quiet back roads but tried the main road for 6Ks. Too much fast traffic, especially big trucks. So back to the slower quieter, back roads. 33Ks out of Karlovy Vary, we tried the main road again and again got off. Using a good local map (given to us by our cycling hosts in Prague) we took on the hills of the back roads into Karlovy Vary. We climbed to a perch above Karlovy Vary then rode down into the city that’s on a river. (The baths were only open 8A to 3P)
Karlovy Vary to German Border 58K
Out of town on the main road with the trucks. Went into Loket (Castle on the river). Back to the main Highway to Cheb. A long gradual climb to Cheb. Then to the border and into Germany. (Ended the day in Bischofgrun, Germany)
Part of our second trip in March 1991 from Munich, Germany to Warsaw, Poland. Very bad weather. We ended up mostly riding in Germany and Austria.
German Border at Bratislava
Bratislava to Prague by train.
Prague to Warsaw by train
Czech – A Chance Encounter
We saw this couple walking their bikes near the main square in Prague. We’ld just arrived in Prague. It was our first trip in 1990. We took this 40ish couple to be English so we approached them to lean some local tourist information. Bedecked in the usual European biking garb and riding high quality European bikes with equipment that was new to us, we just assumed they were foreign bike tourists.
To our surprise, they were both from Prague. He was an engineer and she a teacher. They were avid bikers but only within Czechoslovakia. Eastern Europe had just opened up. Moreover, they both spoke very good English. We had hit the mother lode. We had coffee and talked. They took us to a few hotels but there were no rooms available. We were becoming friends. After finding the hotels full, they huddled for a minute and they proposed that we stay with them. We hesitated to impose on them and looked at a few more hotels, which were also full. Then we agreed to spend the night and ended up spending four serendipitous days with them in Prague.
For What It’s Worth
Per German couple: Hungarian people are friendlier and it’s more advanced and comfortable.
Because of the on going bad weather, we took a few trains to stay on schedule. Eventually we learned how to use them: First, go to baggage and ask if a particular train is ok for bikes. If yes, then buy the tickets and tell them it’s ok for bikes. Then back to baggage and check bikes and pay for shipping them.
In 1991, in Bratislava, there was the biggest beer hall in Europe called “Mamut”. Budvar beer on tap. Music. Great.