The route: 56km
- Head south along the river on Cycle route 12, as it heads steeply out of town; Alternatively, for a flatter route, take Highway 16 going south from Cesky Krumlov
- To bypass more hills ahead and cut down to Austria, head west at Zaton and use the bridge to cross the Vltava river and head south on Road 160 (reasonable traffic and well-paved)
- At the intersection with Road 163, head east
- Look for the unmarked road off to the south to Horni Dvoriste
- Continue past town of Cesky Herslak: the road over the Austrian border becomes more of a narrow bike trail;
- At the border, continue toward Deutch Horshlag
- Past Deutch Horshlag, follow the Austrian R5 Cycle route
We thought we might take a full rest day. But being Friday and not having booked ahead, the hostels in Cesky Krumlov were full. We relaxed at the hostel, updated our blog, looked at maps and sent out some emails until about 2pm. So, two half-rest days make one full rest day, right?
After scoping out the maps, we knew it was going to be hilly country. We were heading into Austria, although I’m not sure if we realized how hilly it would be. Leaving from Cesky Krumlov on Cycle route 12, almost immediately we began scraping our way up a thigh burning, lung busting section that continued for what seemed like an eternity. Fortunately we still had ‘Monk Wine.’ Pedal, sip, pedal, sip…gasp; repeat. After about an hour of scaling the local landscape like some deranged two wheeled billy-goats, T convinced me to part ways with the ridge-top bike route and descend to the main road that would take us along the Vltava river. Once we crossed into Austria, we would return to the back roads that are generally the bike routes. It was a compromise. T hates hills and I hate cars. Its not that I’m scared of cars—especially now that we are out of Poland. The drivers here are actually quite courteous and give you plenty of room and only pass when safe to do so. I just love the feeling of being out in middle of nowhere—the solitude, the openness—with just us and our bikes. But sometimes I dislike hills more than the cars, and this was one of those times.
Breaking away from the bike routes can be a relief sometimes
So we took the very steep Cycle route 12 out of Cesky Krumluv and headed south. At Zaton, there was a bridge over the Vltava river (the same river into Prague) and there we headed south on the Highway 160. The road was not very heavily trafficked and it was quite smooth. We always had good luck with the triple digit roads in Czech Republic. The bike routes often take you on such routes, at least for short stretches until you find your way to the back roads. Highway 160 hugged the river side, and the hordes of tourists floating down the river back towards Cesky Krumlov. There were also several nice-looking campgrounds along the river here, as well. We contemplated a stop at a couple of these camps just to rest and get fresh start in the morning, but neither of us really wanted to delay our arrival into Austria.
We followed Highway 160 until it ended with the intersection at Highway 163 and headed west. It seemed to be just a regular highway intersection at first glance, then we noticed a strange situation going on here. There were some women in skin tight pants, all made up, running over to cars stopped along side of the road. In the middle of nowhere. By the river. It couldn’t be. All the way out here? About a kilometer down the road, another young woman, made up and wearing hot pants just standing at the side of the road. Ok. Really? Is it? We only had a few kilometers on this road before we turned off on the bike route to cross into Austria on the route to Horni Dvoriste. At the turn off, we saw our third female—same look- hot pants, lots of make up, standing on the roadside in the middle of the forest. She leaned into the car window with a sole, male driver inside. A rural prostitution ring? As we rounded the corner, her ‘management’ was sitting in a car nearby. T made some of bad jokes involving the name of next town, “Horni Dvoriste.” Ewww! Ok, now we’ve seen everything.
Riding on the edge of the curtain
Just a couple of kilometers past Horni Dvoriste is a ramshackle village, Cesky Herslak, that time (and the Communists) had forgotten. A bleak dilapidated town that looked for all the world as if the cold war had never ended here. This is another thing Americans romanticize in Europe: escaping the Iron Curtain. In Cesky Herslak, they had definitely held the curtain strings. Even the most remote towns we went through in Czech did not seem as dilapidated as this border town. We took an old path through to the border markings, and couldn’t help but wonder how it felt to live on the edge of freedom for so many years, just a hillside away. We speculated whether anyone had crawled out from underneath the curtain in this very spot, as the rural hills would seem the place to do it.
As we crossed into Austria, our fun was just beginning. Almost immediately, there was just something different. The hills were steeper and the views more spectacular. The Austrian border towns were filled with prosperity and tidy dairy farms. Every blade of grass along the hills seemed individually manicured. The houses were large and very well-maintained. The divide of the iron curtain still casts its shadow across a unified Europe.
There were some small villages between the vast dairy farms, with churches dating back to the 1600’s. The routing in Austria proved as good as in Czech. Which was fortunate for us, as we no longer had our excellent cycling map. Now we relied on a decent road map and checking in with opencyclemap the T had cached to his ipad using Galileo. Once we got into Deutch Harschlag ,we followed the signs for the Austrian R5 Cycle route, which we would continue along until the next day. As we did our usual climb and descend routine, we passed a firefighter hall where the local volunteers gathered for Friday evening beers. Envying their beers, we charged on to experience our steepest grades yet.
We considered having covered 56 km with these hills and starting so late in the day quite an accomplishment, however after stopping in two villages to inquire about “Zimmer Frei…” we were without accommodations and night was approaching fast. We pedaled on. Trying to find the back side of secluded farm field to throw the tent up as it was getting dark. After finding a side road into the forest we pulled off quickly to a little clearing. I know lots of cycle tourists do the wild camping thing—but it seems strange to me in such populated places, but I was determined to try. That was until T set his bike on top of a hornet’s nest and got stung. Do you believe in omens? I do. We were out of there faster than you could say “Schnell!”
Fortunately just down the road was a gasthaus with zimmers. Do you see what I mean about omens? So we crawled up one last hill (a driveway, really) to inquire whether there was room at the inn. We had to do so in our best German, because English wasn’t an option for the little, old Austrian woman named Anita running the place. Our German was good enough to get us a room and a few beers with the locals, who were quite impressed (or at least entertained) by our journey. The room even came with a kitchen to cook our own food—that way we didn’t have to bother Anita for a meal—she looked a little concerned that she would have to feed us.
After a good nights’ rest far away from the hornet’s nest, Anita made us a lovely breakfast. If you ever find yourself in the small village of Schekenfeleden, look for the gasthaus just south of town, Steinchildwirt, and tell Anita we sent you.