15 March 2017

Cycling in the Czech countryside

The Czech countryside is charmingly dotted with an incredible number of little churches, chapels, and religious monuments.

I'm starting to feel like something of an authority on them as I've passed an awful lot recently on my bike.

In case you skimmed the previous sentence, I'd just like to stress that this sightseeing has happened while I was cycling, on a bike, with my own two legs.

I have joined the multitude of cyclists infesting Czech country lanes, March to November.  We mostly come in singles or doubles, but we are multitude and a not-insignificant source of irritation to most drivers.

There are fewer cyclists on the road when it's cold, wet, and windy, so on those days, we tend to nod at each other in a 'I acknowledge you and your hardcore ways' or, perhaps, 'I also have lots of chaos at home that I am skillfully avoiding'. I once got a passing 'Ahoj!' from a fellow escapee and I take that to mean I am a certified member of the club.

It's no wonder, really, that the Czech Republic has so many cyclists. The countryside is relatively flat, the climate is fairly predictable, Czechs tend to value being active outside, and, as mentioned previously, there are lots of interesting things to look at as you speed/huff by.

There is an increasingly more comprehensive network of cycle trails throughout the Czech Republic (Cycloserver shows them online and this helpful blog post talks about signage). Most of the trails follow a combination of country roads and paths through forests and across fields. Some of the marked cycle paths look suspiciously like just very muddy meadows.

I've been avoiding the non-paved trails since a particularly muddy November ride, but was back to the exceptionally-satisfying puddle dodging this weekend.

I was on something of a mission. Like I said earlier, there are lots of little religious monuments. Some are statues, but most are these mini-chapels which were built along roads, especially near crossroads, presumably to mark the roads and encourage reverent thoughts (as most don't seem to offer much in the way of shielding one from the elements).

Late in November, before the snow came, I rode past one of these mini-chapels which was striking in its peculiarity. Most of the mini-chapels are painted white or in muted yellows, pinks, or reds. But this strange one was white with a bright blue alcove. Even stranger, it was in the middle of a field, nowhere near a recognizable road. If I remember correctly, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which is also a deviation from the norm as most of the mini-chapels I've seen don't seem to have a named saint as their sponsor.

So, there I was, on a windy, wet November late afternoon, in the middle of a field which smelled very strongly of manure. And there, before me, this otherworldly chapel, white and bright.

I've been meaning to go back to see it again, maybe even to take a picture to prove that it actually exists. A few weekends ago (after the snow receded), I tried unsuccessfully to relocate it, but last weekend, having studiously combed through Google maps, I was ready to attempt my luck again.

'Podstavec soch sv. Salvátora' initially got my hopes up as St. Salvatore sounds like someone who would be worthy of a Southern European blue. After battling up a stone-and-mud track, though, it became apparent that, though nice, this was not the monument I was looking for.

The next mini-chapel seemed to be in the right place and the view from Google maps at least made the roof look similar. So, back on my bike and over yet more puddles and stones.

This chapel was so disappointingly weathered-white that I didn't even take a picture.

Perhaps I should have gotten more emotionally attached to a full-sized chapel.

The search continues next weekend - wish me luck!