1. Back on the road!
2. White Carpathians
3. Along the Váh river
4. Hey! Aren’t you Brave lemmings?
5. Along the Orava river
We planned it for months, we postponed it again and again… and again… but finally, one month after the date we originally planned for departure, the bikes once more (over)loaded with our stuff and ready to go!
Our new adventure starts on 12th of August 2012 in Uherské Hradiště, the home town of Tina in South-East Moravia, Czech Republic. Tina’s family and some of her friends came to say goodbye and to wish us a nice journey. We are pleased to see that some of them even came by bicycle. There’s no big ceremony, only couple of hugs and in a moment we are back on the saddle, cycling across the fields on a track which leads to the next village, we are gone… but not yet alone! Tina’s dad, and two friends (Peťa and Venda) are cycling with us for couple of kilometres.
Tina: Since JP left France a year and a half ago, he has spent so many days on the road that this day is maybe not so special for him. But for me it is now – the moment to say goodbye to my family and friends. It’s only when I woke up this morning that I realized I won’t see many of them for couple of years. My little niece will be already walking and talking when I come back!
Some people say it’s always harder for those who stay. I hope it won’t be so. I wish this travel will be a nice experience for all of us. We will try to keep in touch and share as much as we can.
The White Carpathian mountains are rising in the East of the wine region Slovácko, in south-east Moravia. It is quite a hilly region for our untrained legs but we take it easy. On the road, a young man on a bike asks us: “why are you going so far?”
We answer him that we don’t know yet, we will learn a lot on the road…
Tina: So this is real, it’s no more a test ride. My bicycle is much heavier than last year and I will definitely need some time to get used to the weight on the front wheel! 😉
JP: At dusk, we find a nice place to camp by a river. I am so glad to be back on the road. I look at the sky, watch the stars, it’s going to be sunny tomorrow… Even though my bike is a bit lighter than last year, I feel the lack of training and even my beloved leather saddle felt quite rough today. It’ll be better next week 😉
The next morning, we climb up to 600 meters until the border with Slovakia. When we are on top of the hill, the sign says 15%, let’s put on our helmets and enjoy!
Our first kilometres in Slovakia are pretty fast, the road follows a river in a valley, we cross numerous villages but these aren’t yet the typical wooden Slovak villages. We are eager to reach the more mountainous regions and enjoy some traditional Slovak cheese and Halušky!
In the afternoon the last hills of White Carpathians disappear behind us while we ride along the river Váh. Like last year, we take our time and we are happy to avoid big roads and traffic as much as we can.
In the evening we find a nice place to sleep by the river (which actually looks like a lake because of a dam couple of kilometres from here). The water is pretty cold but we manage to wash ourselves with our foldable basin. A moment later we are sitting and cooking and watching sunset. We decide that tonight we will sleep under the stars without tent. Huge fish are splashing every now and then.
This could have been a very romantic evening, but this place is also an ideal fishermen spot. We just finished our meal when an old man in army suit comes with his grandson and settle to fish right next to us. When they see that we are setting our sleeping bags, they tell us that we didn’t choose the right week to sleep outside: “The temperature won’t exceed 9°C tonight!”
He was damn right! In our summer sleeping bags we were freezing all night!
In the morning, another fisherman is here. He is looking at us with a smile: “guys, it was 5°C this night!”.
If we have these temperatures in mid-August in Slovakia, I wonder how will be our Anatolian winter!
At 6 o’clock, the river is covered with a foggy blanket while we prepare a hot soup for breakfast.
The good things of cold night is that you wake up early and the moment that follows sunrise is usually our favourite. This morning we continue to cycle along the river, watching the mist which slowly disappears with the first sunshine, dewy spider webs are sparkling by the road, and when we reach the the ruins of Považský castle, the sky is already blue and we start to feel warmer…
When we reach Bytča, the weather turns grey so we decide to make a break and enjoy a warm meal in a Hospoda (a hospoda is a typical Czech/Slovak tavern). Once we’re full the rain can’t stop us. We put on our waterproof jackets and continue our way until Žilina.
Žilina is the fifth biggest city in Slovakia and this is quite a mess to cycle in. We first passed an industrial zone and as we didn’t find our way out, we decided to go to the centre. The main square of Žilina is actually really nice. While JP is about to take some pictures, a young guy comes to us:
“Excuse me, aren’t you by chance Brave lemmings?
– Ehm… Well, yeah, we are, but… How do you know us!?
– I saw your pictures on Facebook… I think, you must be quite famous, now!”
That’s how we met Tomas from Brno! 🙂
Till now, we had never thought we would ever meet somebody who knew us first from the web. We still think it was just a nice coincidence.
Leaving Žilina isn’t much more pleasant than the arrival. Finally, with the help of locals we manage to find the direction to Terchova but the only way is a pretty big road with a lot of cars. Luckily, we meet a cyclist who recommends us to go through the village Teplička nad Váhom to avoid the heavy traffic for couple of kilometers. It might be longer but definitely less stressful!
Terchova is a popular place for many hikers in the Lesser Fatra mountains. It’s also well known for its national hero and highwayman Jánošík who robbed the nobles to give money to the poor. Like Robin Hood, his mate from Nottingham, his life ended in a pretty terrible manner. Tonight we sleep in Terchova in a garden with a pigeon house!
In the morning, a grandma is picking salads in her garden while we pack our tent. Before leaving the town, we stop for a soup and and “štrúdl s tvarohem a marhuľami” (yes this is good :-)) to get some energy because we are heading once more to the mountains and there’s a hill of 800 meters ahead of us.
Tina: Uff, I can’t remember how many times we had to stop and take a breath before reaching the top!
The way down in the forest is beautiful with the occasional wooden houses by the road. We finally stop by a woman selling traditional cheese and a moment later we are eating it in a garden behind church.
Tina: It feels so natural to eat outside. How come it is so easy to forget it once we live in a city…
JP: As usual I am getting angry at stupid drivers. I am angry because whatever is on the opposite lane, the cars are overtaking us sometimes with crazy speed… really would it be such a deal to brake and loose two seconds when a truck is coming in front instead of driving full speed between us and the truck like if we were not here?! Just before we stopped to eat the cheese, a guy just squid and almost lost control of his car behind us…
After a cappuccino break in Dolný Kubín, we are once again cycling on a busy road. When we arrive to Oravský podzámok and glance at the castle, we decide that we will spend the night around here. The castle is one of the biggest pride of Slovak historical monuments.
Tina: We were probably quite naive when we decided to try to sleep in the courtyard of the castle. We struggled to climb the 22% paved road to the castle and arrived in front of a beautiful closed door. JP tried to ring the buzz hoping some cool guard would let us in. Unfortunately, nobody answered so we sadly went back in town. The streets are dark now, it is too late to cycle and search for a place to camp in nature. JP suggests me to ring at someone’s door and ask to sleep in their garden but I don’t feel courageous enough, not in Slovakia. I know, it may sound weird, especially if there is no language barrier for me, but I somehow feel it won’t work. I think it’s much easier to refuse a person who understands what you are saying so I convince JP to give it a try with his enchanting accent and little vocabulary 🙂
It actually worked quite well! In the first house where we rang, a man called his friend and arranged that we could sleep by a pond in his private yard right under the castle! I was cold the two last nights so tonight I tried my down sleeping bag to be sure to be warm!
The next morning we wake up early and start riding after wiping every inch of our tent to get rid of the morning dew. On the road, the castle is absolutely beautiful in the mist.
JP: Today we are cycling to Zakopane in Poland. I cycled to Zakopane last year, it is a beautiful town near the Tatra mountains, a nice place to hike. I didn’t take the road we will take today but I remember Zakopane is about 1000 metres high so we will have to climb 😉
We stop by the road in a bus stop to have our breakfast. Some old people come to talk to us and they seem interested in our travel. A grandma tells us her niece was cycling to Rome couple of years ago… We are glad to talk to such open minded elder people.
In the villages we pass, there’s a lot of traditional wooden houses typical of Slovak mountain regions. They are sometimes ornamented with paintings and carvings around the windows. The gardens and balconies are often full of flowers.
Bicycle seems to be a common means of transport here and sometimes the only one. The closer we get to the Polish border, the more we see babushkas with their shawl tied around their neck, cycling to the nearest shop to get bread and energy drink (wait, energy drinks?! maybe for their grandchildren).
Some kilometres before the Polish border we finally see the Tatras, we are almost there!
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