Posted on May 5, 2011 by rodney

At this stage in our tour we changed to a new and slightly more expensive mode of travel, that is travelling by train and staying in hostels. The weather being as it was, i.e. cold and now rainy, and with Vicki contracting the flu due to exposure to the fresh seaside climate, we decided to cancel our cycle leg and use SNCF instead.

We stayed another day in Dunkerque in order to buy medecins and sample the range of bread and pastry available at the various bakeries in town, then took the train to Strasbourg the next day.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to appreciate the cultural and architectural wonders of Strasbourg because we took the next train early in the morning to München. On this morning, Vicki’s wog kicked in so I fed her a few tablets which kept things in during the train journey. But she definitely got her 0.80€ worth in the WC at München station.

The hostel in the delightful Bavarian capital of München is a short cycle away from the hauptbahnhof but it probably feels like longer if you are suffering from a gastro and flu combo… I don’t think Vicki was really paying much attention to her surroundings but I was taking in München and liked what I saw. For a start, the weather was sunny, everyone was riding their bikes, there were lots of cool bakeries everywhere, and there was a rather large biergarten which I made a mental note to return to.

München is cool. We stayed 2 nights and bought good maps and made plans for cycling to Plzeň. After all, our marathon in Prague is on the 8th of May and our hostel booking starts there on the 6th. However Vicki’s gastro bout went to round 2 so we weren’t going anywhere by bike. Plus the weather seemed fairly cool, and it would definitely be cooler in the mountains. So instead we stayed another night, and booked the train and hostel for Plzeň.

So here we are in the industrial jewel of Bohemia, Plzeň. When we got off the train just after noon my first impression was that it was a little nippy. Vicki emphatically agreed that it was cold. We later checked the weather online and it was actually 2°C, so not your ideal bike touring weather. However Viktor, the manager of the hostel, told us that he once had a 72 year old Japanese man stay. He arrived in January (i.e. winter) and had rode his bike from Japan, through China, Iraq, etc. Obviously we are soft. I did some more climate research on the web and found that the Czechs designate three days in the middle of May to the “frozen saints,” i.e. the last reminders of winter.

Plzeň is cool. It is the home of Skoda. It has a really tall cathedral and a network of cellars and tunnels beneath the old town. The brewery of Pilsner Urquell is here. Pilsner Urquell was invented in 1842 by the maverick Bavarian brewer Josef Gröll. It is the beer which other pilsners immitate and owes its unique flavour and clarity to the exceptionally soft water in the Plzeň basin, Saaz hops, and the unique triple mash brewing process. We know this because we did the brewery tour.

We have just been relaxing here while the weather warms up, and sampling some of the local delicacies. Due to local preferences, the choice is sort of limited if you’re a vegetarian but it’s definitely possible to find something nice. We went to a “traditional” (i.e. caters for tourists) restaurant last night and ordered what seemed like two modest meals and rolled out of the restaurant bulging full of all sorts of nice food.

Tomorrow we will take the train to Praha and start preparation and training for the marathon on Sunday, which should be interesting and probably a little tiring given our current condition.