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Published: September 25th 2014
The city's medieval center is well preserved because the main railroad line bypassed it 150 years ago.
Early Sunday morning we found our way a couple miles through the streets of Pest to the Kaleti Station to catch an express train back to Bratislava. The streets were busier than we had expected for 6 AM Sunday, and we soon realized that the activity was Saturday night revelers finishing their evening out on the town. Again we found comfortable places for us and our bikes on a modern Czech rail car, and we debarked at the Old Town Bratislava in 2 1/2 hours, a trip that we had recently completed in reverse in five days of cycling.
The plan now was to begin the second part of the trip by cycling up the Morava (Slovak and Czech) or March (German) River for two days to Mikulov, Czech Republic, where we join the Vienna-Prague Greenway and continue to Prague as originally planned. The first day, after leaving the train at 10 AM, we found our way along the Slovakian side of the Danube to the confluence of the Morava, up that river a few kilometers to the new pedestrian/cycle bridge that crosses the former Iron Curtain into Austria, and through the agricultural valley of the March to a wonderful
privatzimmer (private room) with a nice family in the small town of Sierndorf an der March.
It was a long day from Budapest to Sierndorf, the train ride, finding our way through the somewhat familiar streets of Bratislava and the unfamiliar left bank Danube trail on the Slovakia side, passing by a monument to the 400 people killed attempting to cross the Iron Curtain and a park with Slovak families enjoying a sunny Sunday in front of one of the bunkers from where machine gunners used to shoot people attempting to cross the river to Austria, the beautiful new (two years old, to the day) pedestrian/cycle bridge to Austria, the vineyards and fertile floodplain fields in the March Valley, waiting out the high winds and downpour of a thunder squall in a school bus shelter, and finally finding the house on Hauptstrasse (main street) Sierndorf where we had booked a room in a farm family's house. And that was just one day.
The bike trails are numerous here, and mostly well marked. In Austria we followed the Kamp-Thaya-March route, which mainly follows farm roads through the flat floodplain, which are mostly (95% they claim) paved but occasionally not.
The unpaved sections are a problem now with the recent rains as are low parts, such as when the back roads cross under railroad tracks. One time we found the water under the tracks way too deep to get through and so we crossed the active two-track railroad (very carefully) to continue on our way. Occasionally, the route takes back roads through the hills in this area, which are full of grape-laden vines at this time of year. Our hostess in Sierndorf sent us on our way with some of the green wine grapes, which are just ripe now and made a tasty snack for us.
We crossed the border into the Czech Republic, and the former kingdom of Moravia, on the second day and soon found the Vienna-Prague Greenway (actually it's known here as Greenway Praha-Wien) in the town of Valtice, one of the places where the wealthy Lichtenstein family built chateaux and such. It's very pretty, but we moved on to Mikulov, which we did did with ease following the well marked trail. The Greenway route is a combination of back and paved (mostly) and unpaved (some) off road trails. There are also numerous other named and
Wine cellar where we stayed in Jarislavice
The moss tells you that the temperature is right. The dry white wine was ok.
numbered trails and routes around here, which makes bike riding lots of fun. The Czechs have lots of detailed maps showing all of this, bike trails and hiking tails along with roads. They are promoting bicycle touring in a big way, and this border area, until recently very isolated, is reaping the benefits as a tourism economy is helping them develop.
It's wine harvesting season in Moravia now; some of it is really quite good. Grapes are being harvested and processed everywhere. The operations are generally small and seem to be family run. We saw grape processing going on into the dark of the chilly fall evenings we're having here now. In Mikulov and Jarislovice we stayed at places with their own wine making and wine cellars and we bought a bottle of different dry whites at each to sample. At the Vinny skleppy u Muhlenberg in Jarislovice ("vinny skleppy" means "wine cellar" and is appended to the names of many establishments around here) we shared our bottle with four British guys who are on a cycling jaunt to this area. They are from Cornwall, and we enjoyed sharing our stories of cycling in the UK last year with
them, including our vow never to return with bicycles to the steep Cornwall hills.
The portion of this southern Moravian area near the Austrian border was the Sudentenland, where the presence of a large German-speaking population was Hitler's excuse for taking over Czechoslovakia in 1938. Until 1945 when the Czechs moved back in and expelled the German speakers (after having been kicked out themselves in 1938), these towns all had German names. Hevlin was Hoflein, Mikulov was Nikolsburg, and so forth. You wouldn't know this from any information available on the Czech side of the border, even though informational signs are mostly in both Czech and German (because they are funded through the EU). But, when we took a short excursion from Jarislovice to the Austrian side we found all kinds of information about the Sudetenland, including a city guide (on an informational sign) to Joslowitz, which is now Jarislovice, just over the border and not in Austria at all. Austrian maps, including the modern cycle route map, show the both German and Czech names for the former Sudetenland towns; the Czech maps leave off the German names. Even when there is a completely uncontrolled border between two EU
countries, sometimes you can learn a lot by going over to the other side.
The trail is close to the border here, and there are many reminders of the border controls of the Cold War years. Once in awhile you can see one of those bunkers for machine gunners like the one at the park on the Morava. At one point there is a series of informational signs about different people who attempted to cross (or maybe did successfully cross; the signs are in Czech and German, but not English, so we can't figure out the whole story) in various interesting ways, including tunnels, ultra-light aircraft, and hot air balloon. It's a bit creepy along there right now because there is a constant sound of gunshots at this time of year. This is from recordings used to keep birds off of the ripe grape vines, but when you pass by one of those bunkers and hear those gunshots, a chill goes up your spine for sure.
Today we crossed some high hills, went through dirt trails in the woods, and ended up ata beautiful town on a bend in the Dyje River with an old castle high above
Looking down the Morava/March
Slovakia is on the left, Austria on the right
us. We are leaving Moravia and entering Bohemia. The adventure continues.
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