May 17th 2011. Prague
Very good weather !
Excellent sleep. No pains.. Early start after taking all the bags down to the baggage room and having prepared plenty of sandwiches in the breakfast room for the return trip.
We then headed to the French Consulate to try and obtain a final stamp for our Travel Logs, a kind of 'official' proof that we'd been here. The whole length of a wall facing the Embassy was covered with graffiti.
The place must be famous since there were even post cards showing it. The Consulate was in a street just around the corner.
I rang the bell and the gate popped open immediately. A Consulate official in a grey suit and a long face stood behind the security window in the reception area.
We explained the purpose of our visit and within seconds our Travel logs were stamped with a tiny round Embassy seal.
Thank you Sir !
We then returned to the Hradcany area on top of the hill: castle, cathedral, pictures of the bas-reliefs on the massive doors showing the various phases of the design and construction of the building.
Souvenir shops... Puppet shops, Charles bridge again, this time packed with tourists and tour leaders waving their flags, leading their respective flocks... Senat gardens..
Excellent lunch in an Italian restaurant near the hotel... then a long waiting period....
Not enough time to go out again but far too much to sit around in the lounge..
Two days had been enough to see the main sights. Museums would have to wait till the next visit. Having the bikes was super, since the city speads far out in all directions.
TIME TO LEAVE !
At 16.00 the aluminium donkeys were loaded and the cyclists were on their way to the station for another 2 hour wait.
Many times we checked the departure board hoping that our train would be listed early enough to give us time to access the platform without having to run... The 18.31 finally appeared on the board, followed by a bunch of abbreviated info in Czech language. It was listed with another number but the time was right so we guessed it was ours. A few minutes later platform 7 appeared, triggering a mad race since there was not much time available to reach the train and get the bags and the donkeys on board. Fortunately, the cycling fraternity is real and without even having to ask, several helpful hands assisted us in getting everything loaded.
With the bikes, the bags and the cyclists in the cycle carriage, we could now take it easy.
Rock 'n' Roll and Mout Mout were hung from hooks provided overhead. All the bags were piled together, underneath them. Our seats were located in the next carriage.
In 12 hours we would be back in France ! It had taken us eleven days from Strasbourg to Prague... it would only be 12 hours back there ...
Prague - Offenburg
The night train took us through quite a lot of Germany. It left Prague due North along the Moldau river via Litomerice, Usti Nad Labem... border crossing into Germany at Bad Schandau. The magic Elba valley, on the German side, just beyond the border, is lined with big red boulders partially covered with pine and birch trees. Lots of beautiful houses on the other side of the river; vinyards... and a very interesting cycle path that will need to be checked one of these days...
I managed to get a couple of shots of the sun setting on the river: beautiful scenery !
The train continued its journey through Dresden, Leipzig, Naumburg, Weimar, Erfurt, Fulda, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Bruchsal, Durlach and after what seemed an endless race, finally arrived in Offenburg, where we got off.
During the night, around 22.30, I extracted myself from the very uncomfortable seat and headed for the bicycle carriage. The guy in front had swung his seat all the way back leaving me very little breathing space. After checking with the controller, I spread out a couple of train blankets on the carpeted floor and used my tent as a pillow. With only five bikes in the carriage, there was plenty of space to spead out and it was good for the back... Rock 'n'Roll and Mout Mout were in front of me, swinging from their hooks, with all our bags piled beneath them.
At midnight, I decided to do some maintenance on my bike stand. It was seriously in need of oil and with the bike hanging vertically, access was super.
I managed to sleep an hour or two, but the cycle carriage was not heated ! In spite of the Deutsche Bahn blankets, I was starting to freeze. So I went back to my seat...
Early morning the train reached Heidelberg, passing by the CNH parts depot.
Then it was Bruchsal and Durlach, where we had camped one night that seemed ages ago.
6.20 AM. The train stopped in Offenburg. We got off. Changing platforms was a dream using the super large lifts provided for cyclists.
The 30 minute trip to Strasbourg was done in a small one-carriage train puffing along at a snail's pace.
In Strasbourg, European Capital, the lifts were 30 cm shorter than the bikes...compelling us exit the platform with the bikes fully loaded, holding them back down a fleet of stairs, one step at a time...
We were lucky: the Strasbourg - Paris TGV leaving at 8.16 AM could accomodate both the metal donkeys and their riders. But we'd have to remove all bags to enter the train since the door was too narrow. The "Cycle" compartment (3 to 4 bikes max) was located in the first carriage, just behind the engine. Our seats were just accross, in the same compartment.
At 10.34 AM we were in Paris, back where it had all started !
Although this was the real end of the trip, the blue sky and the sun helped fight the sadness of the end. Mout Mout and Rock 'n' Roll said goodbye to each other and Daniel, somewhat like the Marlboro cowboy, disappeared into the crowd for a few more kilometers to Montparnasse station where he would be boarding the Paris - Rennes train early afternoon.
Along the St Martin Canal, during the final kilometers that led me home, the three weeks we had just experienced were running through my mind in a disorderly whirlwind:
.... the quiet Czech coutryside... Lidl, Netto and the others... yellow rape-seed fields...the scent of acacia and lilac trees..the canals, la Marne, the Elba, the Moldau...old and empty villages..pastel coloured houses..the sadness of the Champagne region..our campground in la Ferté Millon..the datchas..the generosity we met...Plzen...the sun and rain.. the Breton woman from Remungol... the Villey le Sec camp ground..the North-Easterly wind...the Germans and their cars...Max and Thomas...Bernard and his Moped.. the Rokycany birthday... Alsace and Lorraine...The canal strikers ... morning cold and dew...Strasbourg...my doubts during the first day...early morning wake-ups..bivvies...Monte Kaolino... Zum Waldhorn... Stribro... folding the wet tent...muesli breakfasts...Nürnberg... the warmth of the sleeping bag...the towpaths along the canals..loading the donkeys...the many forest paths... morning departures... German Radwegs... Leclerc in Vitry le François...the Pendolino train...the Bauzemont lock... Chartres de Bretagne...the bride and groom to be...Cugnot...the Mommenheim Kebab...Albert Speer...the Czech forests... the Kocher Jagst Radweg... the Zeppelin Stadium...washing clothes...Jean Claude in Chalons... evening meals... the Langenburg hill...my camping stool...the contre-jours...blackbirds, herons, the deer and the ducks...Schwäbisch Hall... daisies in the fields...the tall dark trees...Gigl... morning scents...the Praha sign...German bakeries...the US army... Borek railway station...beehives in the wild...tourist büros...check-lists to recheck...Rothenburg... blue sky cumulus clouds...endless hills...dandelions and buttercups...solar panels.. mist on the canal.. morning wind...pushing the bikes... Tillyschanz... the Waltenheim orchard...sausages and beer... Suzanne the steam engine... the Magic of Prague... Gerhardt in Lowenstein... a new dream come true !
....Three weeks that had made such demands on my senses that they seemed totally unreal.
However, my precious "Travel Log" with its 71 stamps, my 69 pages of daily notes and 1,200 pictures taken during the three weeks were there, like a pinch, to remind me that, if indeed I had lived a dream, my trip, as far as it was concerned, had really happened.
No doubt about that !
May 18, 2011. 10.45AM, Paris Gare de l'Est... the loop is closed..
...Rock 'n'Roll tells me that he's had enough !
He did a good job, I'll let him rest for a while..