Before it was time to head off to the bright lights of Prague I still had one more piece of important business to take care of. As I mentioned previously I entered into the world of Teaching English as a second language in 2001 and having gained my certification I was on board a flight to Prague in no time. I imagined immersing myself in the bohemian café lifestyle of what is in my opinion Europe's most beautiful city but soon found myself whisked off to the small provincial town of Mlada Boleslav about 60 kilometres outside of Prague.
I would like to say that I was swayed by the chance to experience 'real' Czech life away from the hustle and bustle of the big city but the truth was that they were willing to pay my accommodation which left me with a few extra coins in my back pocket.
It's funny how things work out though. Mlada Boleslav is most notably famous these days for being the heartbeat of the Czech automotive industry as it is home to the countries most famous brand that of Skoda. It is also where I spent just under a year of my life.
I have lost a significant amount of weight on this trip as one might expect considering how far I've ridden. It's therefore interesting to note that when I left Mlada Boleslav all those years ago I also did so very much also under weight having undergone surgery to remove my appendix or as I should rather say my burst appendix!
Despite my health scare whilst there its somewhere that certainly holds a special place in my heart. Most Czech people will probably raise an eyebrow when I say that I enjoyed my time living there but I forged some wonderful friendships, gained invaluable experience in teaching and came away with some great stories from my time in 'the Bolly' In fact I think I learned a lot more from living in the Czech Republic by being in Mlada Boleslav as opposed to perhaps working in Prague.
So last Sunday morning Kauli drove me the short fifteen minute drive to Mlada Boleslav. It's always funny when you go back to a place that you used to live in. Kauli explained that he sometimes used to take his grandmother back there and she would constantly make remarks from the front seat of the car about how things had changed as they passed through. I found myself doing exactly the same much to Kauli's amusement; “Oh I used to teach Josef Stafl there”, “....that building was never there”, “......oh the Internet café is still there you know it was one of the only places to get online back in those days”
As Skoda has grown so has Mlada Boleslav, it still remains essentially the same as when I left but somewhat depressingly it now has all the traits of other modern day nowheresvilles. How many shopping centres and massive factory like supermarket does one small town need? Do we really have nothing better to do with our time than to traipse around these soulless places spending money on things we probably don't even need?
We did the usual tour of the city and to anyone who hasn't been there it won't mean that much so I will attempt to keep this as brief as possible. The biggest change has to be in the shape of the bus station. Bus stations are never really known for their aesthetic beauty and this was certainly the case with Mlada Boleslav's station in the past. Much like Skoda cars which were previously known in the UK as something of a joke the bus station is now the epitome of modernity; a sleek, shiny, metallic monument that really goes to show the upturn in fortunes of this once small industrial town.
The other major change is in the old town square which has also undergone something of a facelift. I believe that old towns should really remain essentially that....old and the new modern additions to it don't seem to quite work in my opinion.
For all you ex-Boleslavers out there who might be reading this you will be glad to know that all the old haunts continue to be thrive; U-turn, The bowling bar, Kaufland, McDonalds, Penny Market and the Forum to name but a few. I didn't spend too long there as I sensed Kauli could think of far better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon and likewise I was getting a few puzzled looks from locals as I snapped shots of my old apartment block or I rather as I should say 'newly painted' old apartment block.
Taking bicycle security to a new level
My pilgrimage complete we headed back to Mnichovo Hradiště I was pleased to have seen my old stomping ground and like I said before it's a place that still hold fond memories for me and shaped part of my life as I know now. I'm sure it is not the last time our paths will cross. Mlada Boleslav I salute you!
At the time of writing I'm now in Prague having left Mnichovo Hradiště on Monday morning. I was so happy to have met up and spent nearly a week in the company of my old friend Kauli. With my plans to settle much closer to home now I very much hope we'll see more of each other in the future, London marathon next year? I can't thank him and his girlfriend enough for their hospitality, delicious food and their steadfast determination to get my sleeping bag as clean and dry as possible!
I set off for Prague on Monday morning full of excitement and for anyone who has been to Prague in the past you will know exactly why; it is quite simply for me the gem of all European cities.
In keeping with last weeks riding I decided to stay as far away from the main roads as possible and weaved my way through small villages and some lovely countryside on-route to Prague. There wasn't too much really to say about the ride itself and was a fairly short one at around 80 kilometres and after three hours of riding I was on the outskirts of the city. By the time I'd reached this point I was eager to reach my final destinatio and jumped on a couple of the main roads leading into the heart of the city.... big mistake. These were probably the busiest and fastest roads I've encountered so far on the trip and after a couple of kilometres riding on the hard shoulder I was back off again and looking for a much quieter route in. I eventually found it but it was once again very much a case of stop start as I constantly had to check my GPS.
Some places I passed through on the way to Prague
With my battery almost dead I arrived at the hostel located in the previously working class and now somewhat arty and edgy district of Žižkov in Prague 3. I spent a lot of time researching hostels and eventually plummeted for 'Hostel One Prague' a Spanish run chain of hostels. Prague is known as something of a party city and something I can attest to from my earlier years here. However what with now being a fully paid up member of the 'thirty something travellers club' I was very much looking for something on the slightly more sedate side but also not wishing to abandon the slightly more 'youthful' elements of Prague life. I think I've found a happy medium here and my first impressions of the hostel are great. It's a good location, modern and has a massive and more importantly clean well equipped kitchen. There is a really nice garden and living room and despite being in a ten bedroom dorm it is surprisingly spacey in our attic style abode.
There is the usual diverse mix of people staying here but generally speaking it's a younger crowd all drawn here by Prague's old world charm, liberalism and vibrant youthful energy. The staff at the hostel are really friendly and they had a barbecue organised the first night I was here with plenty of burgers and beers to welcome in the start of the week. There is though very much a holiday like feel around the place and I've already been invited to take part in numerous tours and activities which it seems they have to push here. I think they will soon come to realize that I'm mostly here just for rest and I'm not so interested in all-nighters, paintballing and the like.
It was a glorious sunny day yesterday so I took the opportunity to walk around the city visiting all the usual touristy places and was amazed how I could once again find my way around with such suease.
I'm now awaiting the arrival of my best mate Tom from England who is coming to join me for the last twenty-four days of my trip. I've made a few changes to this final part of the ride. When I rode through China and Kazakhstan and to a certain extent Russia I didn't have a lot of choices with regards to what road I took. Now I'm back in Europe there are cycling routes everywhere throughout the region and it would be stupid not to take advantage of these.
I've come across the famous Eurovelo 6 route which runs from the Atlantic all the way to the Black sea check out this website for more information http://en.eurovelo6.org/?set_language=en It's a slightly longer way to get to Paris where we are going to meet up with Tom's wife Charlotte so that they can celebrate their wedding anniversary but it's a route I'm really excited at taking and one that also means I can add another country to the trip that of Switzerland. We don't have the maps for this route so I spent the best part of yesterday evening amassing as much information regarding it and making sure we are as prepared as we can be for riding it.
Well that is all for now, I may get one more blog up before I leave Prague with plenty of pictures for you to enjoy. Pedal onwards people.