35 – Czech Republic (Prague) 17-25 September

From Krakow, Poland, I took a train to Katowice, just before the Czech border. This was a long and arduous process to get the right ticket, as I’d come to expect from connecting trains in Europe, especially with a bicycle. But as long as you’re prepared to give them all your money and as much blood as you can provide without passing out it’s easy enough in the end.

Once I arrived in Katowice, and finally found some confirmation that I actually was in the correct station, I had 12 minutes to get to the right platform. Which would have been less of an issue if the lifts were working. I had to take my bike down stairs, halfway across the station, through the foyer/mall area, back up some stairs, and then back the way I’d come via a different route to get to the next platform over.

On the train to Prague I had a Czech biker sitting opposite me, and several other cyclists on the train. The ticket guy who checked everyone at the Czech border looked at my ticket before walking off to another carriage, leaving me without a ticket. The people I was sitting with and I sat there rather bemused until he came back, after having a look at my bike and scratching his head a bit.

The first cyclist left, and the second one and I chatted about his trip from Brussels to Amsterdam he was headed onto. He was planning to use couchsurfing, which he had only used once before, and so I shared my good experiences with him, and he pulled out his phone to read my blog for the places he was planning to visit. A girl sitting nearby overheard our conversation and came to join us, and we ended up all talking until arriving in Prague about our travels.

I headed out of the train station and to look for a hostel as it got dark. I found one not too far away, though there were several main roads to cross, and I spent my walk there chatting to a hippie I bumped into who was going to a party with his bicycle. He invited me to it, but I was still feeling pretty beat from being ill. The night at the hostel wasn’t that great, the kitchen upstairs was pretty bare of resources and the doors slammed constantly, but the large chest under my bed made me feel like a pirate hiding loot and the American girl on desk duty was friendly to talk to.

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I made food the next morning and took photos of the weird art in the downstairs kitchen, before retrieving my bike from where the receptionist had helped me secure it the night before.

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I headed into town, grabbing a coffee at a little vegan cafe near the city square. By this point in the trip my diet was 90% chocolate 5% coffee and 5% chocolate cake.

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I spent the day slowly cycling north, meandering through the town and popping into a few bike shops too to gauge how easy it might be to source a box to pack the bike in.

Prague is a lovely city, but I’d had a thought the night before. I realized I’d actually fallen out of love with cities. I still like enjoy big cities, and all the opportunities they offer of interesting communities, gigs, history, etc. But the time I spent cycling through forests and sleeping by lakes was a lot more calming than the time I spent in cities.

The city really became a much bigger thing after the industrial revolution too, and even in the past century. With the pace of technology, and the possibility of fast, cheap travel to work and friends – or even no need to travel, as you can work from home, or virtual reality technology has gotten so good it’s indistinguishable from real life and used for the future version of skype, you have to wonder at the possibility of the city as a massive, sprawling hub isn’t really a thing a couple of centuries by now. That future humans look on the city as a bizarre but necessary phase of human history, before we transition back to being more spread out, or nomadic.

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Cool Lion statue I found linking British history with Czech.

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As the afternoon began to wane, I crossed the river on the outskirts of the city near the zoo, and headed a bit further out of the main city to my host for my time in Prague, Katarina.

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The last proper cycling photo of the cycle-tour, as I made the most of the little forest on the way to Katarina’s. After putting my stuff in her apartment, Katarina took me over the road to where she worked at a community for people with psychiatric issues, and we visited the horses they use in patient therapy.

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The village for people undergoing psychiatric care

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Sunset as we crossed the road back to her house.

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That evening we headed into town, up to the top of the hill that overlooks the city. Previously a monument to Stalin, it is now occupied by a weird pendulum like artwork. It’s one of Katarina’s favourite spots in the city, and I can see why.

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We went to a party in a gypsy tent in the park, then ended up at a techno party in a bar set into the hill near the monument, where we grabbed a drink.

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We ended up back in the park the next evening, before sunset. On the way there we took a tram without buying a ticket, which Katarina said would be fine as we weren’t going far and she’d never got inspected. I voiced concern as at least three of my previous hosts had said this in different countries, including the time in Paris where we walked towards the platform only to see a a group of twenty or so ticket inspectors, and Berlin where my friends didn’t have tickets and I did, and had to pretend that we had reached our stop before they got searched.

The ticket inspector asked for our tickets about thirty seconds after we got on, and Katarina spoke to him in Czech whilst I played dumb. Or actually, was dumb, I had no idea what they were saying. We were made to get off at the next stop, and he got off with us. I think in the end we got off with a warning, and went and bought tickets for the next stage of our journey, after Katarina smooth-talked him down from calling the police because we didn’t have cash on us to buy the ticket and needed to go to a machine.

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The needle, and the weird running skeleton dogs.

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On the path below us, where we sat next to the needle people-watching, music played, people bought drinks, and then hundreds of runners came through.

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As the sun went down, hundreds of runners with little lights on came past below us. Above us, the bats came out, fluttering above our heads as they hunted for their evening meal.

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After, we headed down into the city to look at the buildings in the night-lights, and grab a doughnut pizza.

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This bridge was so crowded at night.

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The astronomical clock

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It’s not called a doughnut pizza, but that’s basically what it is. They’re so filling and fantastic, and I just wanted to eat them forever. I had a second one a day or two later and decided that was probably enough for a lifetime, actually.

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Langose! They’re called langose.

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We caught various trams that day, which made laugh a lot when a week later in NZ I watched the James Bond film “The Living Daylights” and recognised the same trams were still in use in Prague. We ended up running to a place called the Cross Bar to get the free entry, and chilled out with a drink under it’s unusual decor.

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“This is where I tried to buy crystal meth. They sold me sugar. I wasn’t mad, I think they sold me what was right for me.”
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Katarina always carries incense blocks, just in case.

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Each room was decorated differently, but with weird lights of some sort. We danced for a while, and then eventually headed home.

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The next day we went to an art museum that had an exhibition on death.

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It was pretty interesting, if macabre. I particularly liked the Japanese giant skeleton above.

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The one above just made me think there were a bunch of small wooden people standing on each others shoulders under that robe pretending to be an adult wooden person.

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She’s pretty angry that ghost used all her hair products.

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Upstairs, there was an exhibition on Pacific art, which was hilarious. Their maps weren’t the most accurate.

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This pink goop was seeping out of a nearby cathedral. Across the road, a statue of a man clung to a pipe swung out across the street.

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Katarina made some delicious dinner, and then I got to work cleaning my bike for NZ customs.

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I walked to a shop a few klicks away named Bauhaus, which sold hardware to pick up tape, bubble-wrap and a small pair of pliers. Walking back with a small drawstring bag with a large stack of bubble-wrap sticking out of the back of it a cop car pulled up alongside me but I ignored it and kept walking. It then pulled in front of me and a cop got out. When they realized I didn’t speak Czech they asked for my passport, which I didn’t have on me, but I told them I had it at the place I was staying around the corner. They asked me what I was doing there and I pointed out the bubble-wrap and tried to explain, and eventually placated them by showing my NZ driver’s license before they drove off. I’d love to know why they pulled me up, if there was an APB out on a bearded man carrying bubble-wrap for some reason.

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I managed to grab a box from a shop a tram ride away, which was actually much smaller than I’d expected, but I managed to fit the bike and most of my stuff into it anyway.

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The next day in town I checked out a little record store, hoping to find a gift for my friend David who collects weird stuff like VHS tapes with Eastern European artwork on.

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I wasn’t able to find anything for him, but I did find an album I’d wanted to listen to since I’d seen the single for it as a thirteen year old! Turns out my thirteen year old self didn’t have great taste.

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Attach board to bag for rollerbag, stand on board for free travel around bumpy cobblestone town.

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Prague entering the Stuart Bast Baker awards for weirdest sculptures.

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After checking out the Astronomical clock chiming, and grabbing a pizza-doughnut, I headed to the communist museum. The museum was up a flight of fancy stairs in a large building that I think was a hotel or casino, or something fancy, with what was essentially one wing secluded off for the museum.

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It was a relatively small museum, but packed full of stuff and very interesting, especially comparing the different level of occupation Czechoslovakia had compared to the Baltic states.

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Outside there was a little area dedicated to North Korea, a current communist regime. It was pretty gut-wrenching.

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Above is the Stalinist monument that previously occupied the space I sat at several times to overlook the city.

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Above, the pinnacle of postcard propaganda artwork. After the museum I headed downstairs to the museum of Capitalism, also known as McDonalds, where I paid for a milkshake with a mixture of Euros and Czech krona because that’s a thing you can do in Europe.

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This was weird, you paid money to a charity and then got to paint a brick which you put on a stack in the street outside? One person did an amazing painting of Pierce Brosnan.

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Later I headed over the river and checked out a weird little bookshop, which had a captive typewriter on display.

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This is what I imagined going to university would be like, but as a university student I couldn’t afford to buy books at bookshops.

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And despite stiff competition, Prague won the 2015 Stuart Bast Baker award for weird sculptures with their statue of two men pissing onto a cutout in the shape of the Czech republic. Well done Prague! Bonus points for the fact you can apparently control their pissing remotely, allowing you to write things in the water.

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Love locks are weird, but I’ve always thought attaching them to someone else’s lock rather than the bridge itself is extra weird. Doesn’t that mean you are depending on their relationship to hold yours together?

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Prague you already won the weird sculpture competition, don’t overdo it.

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The John Lennon graffiti wall

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I walked through the particularly impressive palace at the top of the rather steep hill nearby, but the views were worth it.

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Having packed most of my stuff and assuming I was going to be a little overweight, I posted on Reddit saying I had some stuff to give away that anyone was welcome too like some clothes, fuel, front bicycle rack etc. I met up with Dan, otherwise known as Nulty Nult of the band Aardvark Ltd, for a coffee.

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Dan was from Liverpool, and had gotten a job teaching english in Prague. Unfortunately he got sick, and was then fired, but managed to find another job. He’d previously lived in Barcelona and Poland, and had some great stories about going to a Polish wedding and getting horrifically drunk with his girlfriend’s family.

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We went for a walk around town and were reborn.

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We walked past the Jewish graveyard but it was too crowded for us to consider going in.

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Talking to people with better language skills than myself makes me feel like I should learn languages better. It’s like they’ve been given keys to other rooms in the library of human knowledge. I’m standing in one of the biggest rooms, and I’m tall enough to reach most of the shelves. And I can see through little windows inot the doors of a couple of other rooms. But there are hundreds of other rooms, some of which are nearly as big as my room, that I haven’t even got a window into.

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Katarina and I went to a little houseparty with some of her friends from Rainbow party, which is like a hippie festival popular in Europe, and where she had originally heard about couchsurfing from.

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Everything was blacklights, trip-hop music and interesting cups of tea.

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“You can never get enough of what you don’t need,” was the words of advice I was given that night. We were given a tomato for the road, I said goodbye to the cute dog, cute hippies, and cute little house, and Katarina and I walked back through the countryside to her place. It was nice being in such rural land so close to the capital, watching out for the shadows of pigs.

The next morning, a car came to pick me up and take me to the airport. It was pretty weird being called Sir by the driver, especially seeing as I looked pretty rough and had just carried a bright yellow drybag full of camping equipment, my rucksack, and a 20kg carboard box full of bicycle to the road on my own.

After helping get the bike box in the car I showed how long it had been since I got in a car by jumping straight into the driver’s seat, forgetting that Europeans drive on the opposite side to us island nations.

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At the airport I checked in my luggage, and used my last ten euro note to get green wrap awkwardly put around my bike box. My flight to Wellington was quite a long one, with stopovers in Dubai and Melbourne.

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The officer on passport duty sat in his little booth, vibrating. He was listening to heavy metal, and he wasn’t dancing, he was just vibrating to it, like a wind-up toy. His vibrating changed pace as he looked at my passport, confused. Eventually I pulled out my Uk passport and he started bouncing around erratically again, and told me off for not using that one in the first place. I didn’t try to explain that I’d been told to use the NZ one when checking in, because my stopover in Australia was over eight hours.

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Dubai is kind of like that friend of a friend I always bump into but never actually hang out with. Hopefully one day I’ll check it out properly, though I’m not really one for flash resorts so I don’t think it’s really going to be my scene. Though I am keen to see the largest single window aquarium that’s in the mall.

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Having a nap during my rather long Melbourne stopover. When I checked in for my last flight, I realized my friends Kate and Sam were also checking in, as they’d been in Melbourne for a holiday! I was so used to bumping into people unexpectedly overseas by now I just took it in stride.

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My Weta, my shirt and I all took a bit of a beating in Europe compared to the photo in the first blog of the tour…

Customs was fine, I asked the customs officer if I should declare that I had drugs even if they were legally prescribed in NZ. He said yes I should, but eh and ticked that I had nothing to declare. In bio-security they opened up my tent which was in the yellow dry-bag rather than the bike box, checked it for contaminants, thanked me for cleaning it and sent me on my way.

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My friend David picked me up and took me to Vik’s house, complete with L&P to bring me back to NZ culture.

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And soon everything was back to normal.

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Watching The Living Daylights, complete with Czech trams.

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Vik unwrapping the bike box with glee.

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We went to Backbenchers, for possibly the last episode (though it has now been renewed!) of New Zealand’s pub politics show. Apparently wearing a Putin shirt made me an expert on NZ’s republicanism debate, so I got put on the spot and asked a question.

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Why does Putin have the same facial expression as the bear?
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My siblings are both over 18 now, so we went to the Little Beer Quarter to celebrate me being back.

Zubrowska was also found, and Rhiann was tasked with retrieving the bison grass from the empty bottle.

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It was great being back in Wellington, seeing my friend and family, of which the city almost counts as one. Reading an article on the Ian Curtis Memorial wall I used to walk past all the time also made me laugh, and think about why I like Wellington so much, though I’d kind of fallen out of love with cities.

“This is a tale of misunderstanding, tenacity, and accidental compromise”. That’s just as apt a description of the Ian Curtis wall as it is of our country as a whole, or even the world.

We went to see Goldeneye, the James Bond film of my childhood at the cinema, and I got very confused following the chase scene as from my recollection of St Petersburg the route they took made very little sense in real life.

I had a fantastic time in Europe, and I can’t wait to get back on the bike, or just back to travelling. But it’s also good to be back. As of May 2016, I’m working at a bike store in Napier, NZ, where I spend my day playing with dogs and falling off bicycles. And in a fortnight, I’m spending a week in Melbourne, Australia, for a supercheap travel fix.

Written from: Napier, NZ
Next time: ?

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