** Here is the link to a video I made of the trip: REI Bike Trip Video
Just finished the REI bike trip form Prague to Budapest and it was everything I was expecting and much more.
A little group overview:
-Tomáš Šretr, the lead guide
-Martina Šilhanová, co-leader
-Ondrej Rybka, the bus driver
=5 couples (all over the age of about 50)
=1 solo woman
=And my mom and I
=Total 13 riders and 3 guides
Needless to say, the oldest person on the trip was 3 times my age. I knew that when my mom asked me to do this trip that I would be the youngest, but I did not think I was going to end up being that much younger than everyone. Oh well, it ended up being a really great time regardless. Some of the old guys enjoyed drinking beer during the bike rides as much as I did so thankfully I did not look like a young alcoholic due to all the beer I tried.
We left Prague on the morning of the 20th at around 9AM and had a hour and a half bus ride to the start of our bike ride. We were dropped off in Postupice, which was a fairly small village out in the country. We were each given our bike that would remain the same throughout the entire trip. The bikes ended up being very nice and fairly new hybrid bikes. We were given a dry bag to attach to the back rack on the bike and a little water proof map holder. Tomáš handed us the directions, which were printed out onto computer paper… The directions were a little sketchy at best and not the easiest to follow along with. That being said, I decided to never wander off ahead on my own. We rode 19.1km (11.8 miles) up and down some “rolling hills” (more so up than down) and stopped for lunch in a little village called Načeradec. The weather was off and on cloudy and fairly chilly. We ate inside a small restaurant that must have been the owners actual house. They served us some chicken dumpling soup and chicken with couscous, which was turned out to be delicious. After finishing my third beer it was time to hop back on the bike and finish the second half of the day. We met back up with the bus in a town called Pacov, totaling 38km (25 miles) and 2,352 feet in elevation change. It was a pretty tough day and I would probably label it the hardest of the entire trip.
Ondrej was waiting for us in Pacov. A few of us arrived earlier than the rest so we decided to have a beer while we waited. Once everyone arrived, the bus was loaded up and we drove for about an hour to a town called Telč (pronounced Telch, the “č” is a “ch” sound). Telč had some very interesting little town houses that were all decorated in different architectural styles and colors. Tomáš explained to us that over the years the architectural designs changed from gothic, to renaissance, to baroque. There were different houses from each design and some with a combination of the two or all three. We got in relatively late so we basically showered, went to dinner and then relaxed for the night in our hotel (Hotel Celerin)
Today, before we started our bike ride, Tomáš took us on a tour around the square and castle to explain some of the history. After the tour we started the bike ride from the hotel in Telč and had a 15.7km (9.8 miles) ride up to a castle called Roštejn for lunch. The Roštejn castle is located between two villages, Růžená and Řídelov. The castle was on a hill that overlooked the surrounding valleys. When we arrived at the top there was a really cool bike rack that was made from a large tree log. All fourteen of our bikes fit on the log rack with some room to spare.
For lunch we roasted our own sausages over a little fire pit built by Ondrej. The were delicious if you took the time to cook them slowly over the coals rather than burning them over the flames. Our guides had a little surprise waiting for us when we arrived. They informed us that some other group must have left twelve, 0.5 liter, beers at the gazebo before us (REI workers are “technically” not allowed to provide or pay for beer for the clients due to liability issues. However, the Czech guides did not seem to care about the rules. I was not about to complain about it.) After we finished lunch some of us climbed the several flights of stairs up the castle lookout tower to take some panoramic pictures of the view. It was worth the climb.
Warm sausage and good beer in our bellies and it was time to ride back to Telč. We still had more than halfway to go to complete the ride for the day. The final distance for the day was around 43.8km (27.2 miles) with 2,254 feet in elevation change. Another difficult day, but it was a beautiful ride.
We woke up this morning knowing today would be the longest riding day of the entire trip, but we did not know how intense the wind was going to be. Ondrej drove us from Telč to our starting point in Rozkoš. From there we rode through several villages and the open country roads. Unfortunately for us this meant no protection from the constant gusts of wind. Thankfully most of the first half was down hill. We rode 35.8km (22.2 miles) to Damnice where Ondrej and Martina had lunch waiting. We are now in the Moravia region of Czech Republic, which is known for its vineyards. After lunch we continued to bike through the countryside passing many vineyards along the way. Our destination was in Perná totaling 63.6km (39.5 miles). From there we had a bus ride to the Czech village of Hlohovec and stayed at the Hotel Hraniční Zámeček
The night we spent here I will never forget. The evening started off very well. Our guides informed us that after dinner we would be going on a wine tour. We were all pretty hungry and tired and I was just read to eat and relax. For dinner we had a choice of three options: chicken, fish, or pork knee. Martina told us that the pork knee is a huge entree and should be a shared dish. I was starving so I decided to get it for myself anyway. I soon found out that she was not kidding…
I ate as much as I could, but did not want to be uncomfortably full. On top of that they had ice cream for dessert so I had to save room. After dinner I was not really feeling the wine tasting and was hoping my mom would suggest just going back to the hotel. We drove up to the tasting and it was not what I expected. Ondrej pulled up to an old sketchy looking building with no lights on and old metal gates that looked like prison cell gates from medieval times. Tomáš got out to check and see if anyone was there, but the owner, Juan, was not. I was a little relieved because that meant I could go home and kick back. Tomáš then called Juan’s house and told us that the man completely forgot that we were suppose to come tonight. Juan asked for us to come pick him up from his house, which was only a few blocks down the street. We arrive at his house and his wife, whom looks like she is already in her pajamas, comes out and apologizes for the miscommunication. Next, this old man with a huge “wine belly” got on the bus and shouted something in Czech and Martina translated, “I am glad you called me! You must have known I was thirsty!” and from then on I knew this would turn out to be a great night.
The tour started in Juan’s cellar that was built in the 1980s. Juan had twelve different wines from last years harvest. He started us off with the six whites. I am not usually a fan of white wine, but I was not going to pass up free wine fresh from the barrel. Juan served the wine through a special glass pipette thingamajig (Tomáš told me the name in czech but I could not find it on the internet) and would basically pour 1/2 glass of wine every time.
After about five white wines or so, more than half of our group went back to the hotel. This was when the fun began. The wine holder Juan was using held a substantial amount of wine and now that half the group was gone, one would think he would not fill up the holder as much. Wrong. He would fill up the pipette the same amount no matter how many people were left and he would continue to refill your glass until the pipette was empty. However, most of us were trying to make it to the end of the tasting and did not want to drink too much, because we still had to ride our bikes tomorrow. The entire time Juan was also drinking with us and basically anything we did not finish he finished. You could say Juan was drinking for 5… Juan did not speak any english so Martina and Tomáš translated everything. We were joking and laughing with each other talking about how long the vineyard has been in his family, which was for a few centuries. We were all asking various questions about the vineyard and Juan’s family. Eventually I asked him how the pipette thing works and he chuckled and said hold on. Next thing I knew Juan brings out a bucket of water and motions for me to take the glass pipette. I figured what the hell, why not? It was much harder than I expected and took a lot of lung capacity to fill up. By this point we had just finished all the whites and were halfway through the reds. Everyone was feeling pretty good.
As we kept drinking everyone kept asking for less and less when tasting the last three reds. However, Martina assured us that we will not have a headache in the morning after drinking his wine, which I thought was a joke because that never happens. She explained that the reason for this is because of how fresh the wine is. Juan’s wine came straight from the jugs and barrels with no additives or preservatives. I told her I will believe it after I wake up and see how I feel. Back to the wine. After finishing the 12th wine (probably about 15 glasses or so) there were only seven of us left (out of 16): 4 of us on the trip, Tomáš, Martina, and Juan. I was very surprised that my mother was one of the seven that made it to this point. After we tried all the wines, Juan started to pour any wine that someone asked for. This went on for about 30-45 minutes until Juan decided to invite us to his other two cellars… Up until this point we did not even know he had two other cellars.
The second cellar he took us to was from the 18th century and it definitely looked like it. The whole place looked, smelt, and felt musty, but it was awesome. The room before the cellar had a bunch of random old antiques that I assume were once used for harvesting. Walking down into the cellar you could tell that it was drastically different from the last. Juan bent down and reached under one of the barrels and pulled out a dusty bottle. He said it was a white burgundy from 2005 and opened it for us to share. He was such a generous man and was more than happy to drink and socialize with us.
The last cellar he showed us was from the 13th century… You could tell because of how low the ceilings were. The average person was much shorter back then so for me to stand in the cellar I had to hunch forward several inches. We grabbed one of the pipettes and got some fresh wine from one of the barrels and we continued to drink. At this point I thought to myself I will definitely be struggling in the morning. Not only had I been drinking wine all night, I had not had a sip of water since dinner 4 hours ago.
Throughout each of the cellars we noticed coins were on the walls and ceilings. Juan told us that it was for good luck for the harvest and that you will be back someday. He told us that the wall also accepts credit cards and large bills as well. Juan was a pretty witty guy. I decided to stick a coin on each cellar before calling it a night. When everyone was ready to head back to the hotel we all began our walk back.
I woke up the next morning a little hungover, but Martina was right! No pounding headache at all. I was amazed. We ate breakfast and were ready to start our day. Before we started to bike we went on a tour through the Lednice Castle. The castle was astonishing. The various art work, all the antler trophies, the decor of the rooms, and the various things sculpted out of wood. After the tour we had about 45 minutes to walk around the surrounding area to check out the gardens and the huge greenhouse. The greenhouse was the length of three football fields, has over 250 different types of vegetation, and has a koi pond in the middle. Enjoy the pictures below, but I recommend seeing it in person for yourself.
We got on the bus and had an hour transfer to our starting point at a village called Malacky. From there we had a 48.4km (30.1 miles) ride to Slovakia’s Devin Castle. This day was probably my favorite ride of the whole trip. The weather was partly cloudy with a slight breeze and we had a nice bike path to travel on. The path went through open country fields, through little forest tunnels, and along the March river. Unfortunately we ran out of time and were not able to hike up to the castle, which was onto of a huge cliff overlooking the river. After the ride we had another hour transfer to the town of Sopron. For the night we stayed in Hotel Wollner.
Today there was a high chance of rain and 20-30 mph winds so my mom and I decided to walk around and explore the city instead of biking. Even though the weather held off and it would have been a good ride we still had a good time exploring the city. We started off at a really cool little bakery shop and had an omelette and crepes for breakfast (much needed change up from the free hotel breakfast that was the same thing every morning).
After breakfast we spent the day just wandering around the city. We stumbled across an old church and cemetery. It was interesting to see how much different it was from the states. Families seemed to purchase a fairly large plot and then would have the whole family buried/represented on the same tombstone. For lunch we went to a pub and had some soup and salads that were really good. Today was also Martina’s birthday so my mom and I decided to take her and the other two guides out for dinner.
After dinner Martina and Tomáš invited me to join them for a few drinks at a bar or two. The first bar we went to was really cool. It was from the 18th century and still had an old fire oven in the middle of the bar. We had a few drinks and then decided to go check out a different bar that they had been to before. Tomáš decided to sit this one out since he had to lead the bike ride tomorrow so Martina and I went by ourselves. When we got there we realized that pretty much no one was there. We decided to stay anyway and have a drink. After a little while two locals came in and both spoke zero english. They tried to start a conversation with Martina and I but neither of us knew Hungarian. Then one of them send one word we both knew, “foosball?” It turned out to be a pretty fun night with some friendly competition, but of course what really matters is that Martina and I won.
Woke up this morning to some rain and slight wind so only five of us decided to bike. Bill, Karen, Martina, my mom and I. We asked the guides if instead of doing the total 40 miles if we could be dropped off halfway through to just do a quick 20 miles. It was no problem, but the ride was not the most fun. Oh well, my mom and I needed the exercise, because we skipped the last day. Unfortunately it continued to rain for the whole day so we did not get to explore the town of Györ very much. We were told there was a thermal bath we should go visit, which was only a 1.5 mile walk away. When we got there it was pretty much just a large swimming pool with a bar with a bunch of grannies. My mom and I decided to go for a little bit anyways since we already walked all the way over there. After a few hours we walked back to our hotel, Fonte Hotel
Today was the last day of our bike trip. Ondrej dropped us off near Györújbarát and we had a 33.3km (20.7 miles) ride down to Pannonhalma. The ride was very nice with rolling hills. At one point we came to a bike trail that went through the woods with some nice scenery. We passed several little campsites and places to hike around. When we ended in Pannonhalma Ondrej and Martina had some champagne waiting for us. We had a quick toast and then had to get in the bus to take us to the top of the hill where we had a tour of the Archabbey. It is an incredible monastery with a lot of history. After touring the building we had our last bus ride with the guides over to Budapest. It was an awesome bike ride, but I am glad to finally be in Budapest and begin my travels on foot.