When we think about our final 5 days in Austria, one thing comes to our minds; the Brandtner family. Once again we used the Warm Showers website and ended up at Christian and Andrea's house where we stayed for a few rainy days, got a bunch of errands done and shared bike touring stories. When the day came for us to continue on, Christian drew us a map and told us we were welcome to stay at his parents' house 100 km up the road, which happened to be right along the bike route we had been following. So we left one Brandtner house and arrived at the next that same night, tired from the mountainous ride and wet from the rain. We were immediately ushered into their toasty warm kitchen, fed hot tea and a typical dinner of cold meats, cheese and homemade bread. It was unfortunate that Roman and Johanna didn't speak a word of English as we would have loved to have a conversation with them so smiles and nods had to suffice, but thankfully their other son, Robert, was there to show us to our bedroom and help us get comfortable. As Robert was helping us map our route from his parents' house, we were then invited to stay at his and his wife's house the following night another 80 km along the bike route. This family couldn't have been more welcoming or more conveniently located and perfectly spaced for bike touring. We had 5 consecutive nights with a roof over our heads and showers. It was by far the cleanest 5 days we've had in many, many months. Huge thanks to Christian and Andrea, Roman and Johanna, Robert and Karen for all of your hospitality; we couldn't have dreamed up a better family to meet on our ride through upper Austria.
Cari, Andrea and Christian making dinner at the cafe.
Cari, Roman, Johanna and Mike.
Cari, Robert, Karen and Mike.
Our last 2 months of cycling have been spent in countries that have been immaculately clean where spotting so much as a soda can laying on the side of the road was virtually impossible. The roads and cycling paths have been top-notch and buildings, though centuries old have been renovated to look like new. When we arrived in the Czech Republic there was immediately noticeable differences in the infrastructure from what we had seen in its neighboring countries to the south. The cycling paths suddenly disappeared and therefore forced us to ride on the roads which could use a bit of repair. We noticed the first bits of trash we'd seen in what seemed like ages and many of the buildings required considerable maintenance. The border town was busy with people selling their wares in small, crammed shops that somewhat reminded us of the markets we had seen in South America. It was obvious that this country has experienced difficult social and economic hardships in recent history, but insight from some locals has informed us that it's recovering, has improved drastically over the past few years and is thankfully on the mend.
We purposely chose a route heading north through Czech that bypassed Prague, likely the most tourist visited city in the country, because, as we've tried to explain to a million people, big cities are a nightmare to bike tourists. We did, however, ride through the cute, and definitely touristy, town of Cesky Krumlov with its castle nestled in the center of this picturesque city on the banks of the Vltava River. From there we headed for the traffic-less country roads through rural Czech which we discovered to be a little “rough” feeling, in the same sense that you'd likely find a bike trip through the back roads of rural America to feel. But despite the roughness in the people and the state of disrepair of the tiny farming villages through which we passed, we found the landscape to be absolutely beautiful. The countryside was rolling hills of deep green forests and fields of hops, corn, wheat and fire-red poppies as far as the eye can see.
Cari making dinner at camp.
One of our biggest challenges in the Czech Republic came on our second night in the country. By then we were deep into the heart of farm country, it was getting late and we needed to fill our 8 liters of water so we could start looking for camp. Remember that we have just left the Alps where some of the most pure water imaginable is abundantly flowing from the mountains. For nearly a month we've been passing through towns with numerous fountains in each, continuously spewing fresh drinking water for anyone who passes by. Finding good water was as easy as riding into the center of a village and we didn't expect to have such a difficult time in Czech.
Most of the farming villages we rode through consisted only of a few dozen houses or so; no gas station, no supermarket, no bar and no restaurant. We didn't have many options other than to ask people who were outside working in their yards. The first guy we asked didn't speak English but clearly understood that we wanted water. He passed all of our bottles through the window to his wife who filled them and sent them back out to us. The last 2 bottles that came through the window were our clear 1.5-liter soda bottles and much to our disgust the water in them was a murky tea colored brown. No way were we drinking that so we rode around the corner and dumped every last drop. We were down to our final 16 ounces of good water so we changed our route and headed for the nearest “big town.” A half mile up the road we saw an old, shirtless man outside so I asked him if he spoke English. He nodded yes, but when I spoke to him it immediately became clear that he didn't. He understood that we were searching for water so he led us into his house and we filled a bottle. Again it was brown and we made gestures to ask if it was safe to drink. “Yes, yes, gute” he kept saying and then proceeded to imply through charades that he didn't drink water, only beer. He certainly wasn't a guy to trust when it came to whether or not we'd be sick for the next day from bad water, so once again we dumped the water and continued on. The third times a charm, right? A few miles further on was another small village and to our relief it had a bar which we've found always have the best water. It was my turn to go in and ask so I took our 2 big bottles inside and was thankful to see 2 young girls working. Our experiences throughout Europe has been that the majority of the young people and a fairly high percentage of older people spoke English, but in Czech we hadn't yet run across anyone. No, those girls didn't know any either. I said “water” in every language I could, English, Spanish, French, German but they had no idea what I wanted. No problem I thought. We've become very good at acting out what we need so I lifted a bottle to my mouth as if I was taking a drink. Still, I got only confused looks and then one of the girls grabbed a pen and paper, pointed to each individual beer tap and wrote down a price, thinking I wanted them to fill me up with 3 liters of beer. I finally spotted a sink behind the bar, pointed until they understood and watched them fill the first bottle. Once again the water looked disgusting so in an attempt to ask if it was safe to drink, I made drinking gestures followed by a thumbs up. But again they just looked at me like I was crazy. One of them then disappeared outside and returned with another woman who said with a strong accent that she understood English. I asked if the water was safe to drink as the 3 of them stood behind the bar watching the questionable water fill my last bottle with looks of skepticism on their faces. The third girl shrugged her shoulders, “yes, it's safe to drink.”
Is this water potable?
I returned to Mike with a look of defeat on my face, we rode around the corner and for the third time in less than 3 miles we dumped all of our water on the side of the road. An hour later we reached the town of Pisek, found a bar, filled our bottles and made it to camp just as darkness settled in. The water ordeal and our inability to find anyone who spoke any English that night was a subtle reminder that we were no longer in the touristy areas of Europe.
Our final destination in Czech was the city of Most, the home town of Helena, one of our good friends back in California. I had met her mom, Jitka and uncle, Zdenek, 3 years ago at her wedding and though there were major language barriers was looking forward to seeing them again. Helena arranged for us to stay 2 nights and made sure her mom knew some details about us; we'd be stinky and dirty, need showers and laundry and one of us was a vegetarian. The thought of staying with someone we can barely communicate with no longer phases us; we've managed to get by with body language for many months now and there's always “Google Translate” if we really get stuck. I think Jitka, however, was a little more nervous about our stay. First, she didn't know how we'd find her flat amongst the hundreds of pastel-colored apartment buildings in Most, second, she was worried about entertaining us, and finally she had to deal with cooking for a vegetarian who didn't eat chicken or fish. It's hilarious to me how many people think chicken and fish are exempt from the “meat” category, but it's a very common inquiry.
Well, our stay with Jitka was wonderful. When we arrived to her building she was standing at the window waving to us and since we had no idea what time we'd arrive, I hope she wasn't waiting there for hours. We lugged all of our stuff into her apartment and immediately the pampering began. Cold beer and dinner was ready and waiting, when our laundry was finished she hung our clothes to dry and they were neatly folded the next morning, breakfast was always on the table when we awoke in the mornings and for every meal she cooked something with meat for Mike and something completely different for me. Every time we offered to help with anything we were told “no” and shooed away. Neither of us are very good at sitting around while someone else waits on us and throughout the many Skype sessions we had with Helena during our stay we tried to get that point translated through the grapevine, but it was hopeless. Helena said just let her do her thing as it makes her happy. And so we did, were spoiled rotten and tried our best to show how grateful we were for her hospitality without words, which is much more difficult to do than you might think.
On our second day in Most, we went with Jitka to her cottage in Mila to do some gardening. We took a tour of her garden and with the help of her little red Czech to English dictionary, learned all of the fruits and veggies she was growing. She had a lot of work to do and I really wanted to help as I love gardening but all she'd allow us to do was pick strawberries, which took considerable begging on our part to convince her that we'd really enjoy the work. Later that day Uncle Zdenek and his daughter, Zdenka, who spoke perfect English which made life a lot easier for everyone, took us on a tour of the city. We saw some former coal mines that have since been made into lakes and recreation areas, an old church that was relocated nearly a kilometer when they tore down the old mining city and still holds the Guinness record for the heaviest thing ever moved on wheels and the castle up on the hill overlooking the city.
Jitka showing Cari the garden with the help of her trusty red dictionary.
The city of Most.
The next morning we left Most and headed towards Germany. We had made arrangements to meet Zdenka for lunch at her family's cabin in Cesky Jiretin, which was right on the border. Jitka decided that she was going to the cabin as well and insisted on taking our panniers in the car. We weren't going to argue with that one; a few miles of unloaded riding are always appreciated. About half way into our ride we realized we'd made a huge mistake. Suddenly it got cold and started to rain and neither of us had any extra clothes with us, only our shorts and t-shirts. By the time we arrived at the cabin we were soaking wet, our feet were numb and fingers purple. Thankfully, inside was a pot of hot water on the stove which was poured into a garden watering can and used as a shower to warm us up and get all of the mud off of our bodies and hair. There was no running water at the cabin but I must say, that method of showering was very effective. Our clothes were hung and our shoes set set next to the stove to dry while we drank hot tea and coffee, indulged in the risotto lunch Zdenka had made and enjoyed our final afternoon with Helena's family.
When the time came for us to leave, Jitka pulled a cooler from the fridge full of food for us. There were apples, bananas, cherries, sodas, sandwiches and chocolate bars that she insisted we took. There was enough food to keep us going for two days and our bikes weighed an extra 20 pounds when we left Czech. Many, many thanks to Helena and her family for their amazing friendship and hospitality. I know we will see you all again, only hopefully it'll be in California next time where we can be the ones doing the pampering instead of you.
We love Jitka!
Mike, Zdenka, Jitka and Cari