May 29th, 2021
As I have mentioned before, I am a member of the local chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG). In what we have now, because of Covid-19, come to describe as “normal” times, this is a fairly active chapter.
Traditionally, our riding season begins on the first Saturday of April when, whatever the weather, we ride, together with the Prague Harley-Davidson Club (PHDC) to the town of Podebrady, where there is a celebratory fair. The rest of the season is punctuated by numerous events, some “traditional”, like Podebrady and the three large club rides where the chapter stays away in a hotel overnight – and some more spontaneous and dependent upon what is going on around Bohemia and the rest of the country at the time.
The Spring of 2021 had been fairly cold and more than a little wet. So when we got an email from the Chapter Director announcing a “possible” outing, if was qualified with the phrase “tak pokud nebude pršet” (so, if it does not rain). It did not rain (well, not very much !)
We met, as usual, in a petrol station, which had been specified in accordance with the direction of travel. It was a bright and sunny, if not actually warm, morning and when Lucie and I arrived there were already several Harleys parked. Over the next half an hour, as we all caught up with people we had not seen for a while, around another thirty or so appeared and, by the time we were called to order, there must have been closer to forty than thirty. As always, I marvelled at the variety of styles and customisation on display. No two machines were remotely the same, even when they had started life as identical models. Our Heritage Softail was probably closer to “stock‘ than any of the others there !
We have a group of members with orange vests (we call them “vesťáci”) who ensure column discipline and marshal our progress by blocking side roads and roundabouts to other vehicles which allows us all to keep together. It is a difficult and somewhat thankless job, but they do it very well. Our exit was onto a two lane dual-carriageway and the whole group was able to form up and move out as a cohesive unit. We were off !
Unless we have a long way to go we tend, as a group, to avoid the main routes and to stick to the more picturesque country roads. We soon turned off of the highway and, as I always do when I am fairly familiar with the area we will go through, I began to imagine our various possible routes. I will say at this point that whoever does perform the route planning usually does a very good job. There can be hitches of course and we soon found the first one. After only a few kilometres we were halted at a point where the road crosses a railway line in a small town. This can happen, there is a LOT of railway in the Czech Republic (more line, per head, I have been told than any other country). What does not usually happen is that, when the train goes by, the barrier stays down and the warning light and bells continue to flash and sound. We all sat there. A second train passed by – but still the barrier did not rise. We waited and we waited. Engines were turned off, out came the cigarettes, people wandered about chatting. A third train passed – still nothing.
Finally, a railway worker came and raised the barrier manually. We started up and moved off, passing the still flashing light and still chiming bell as we crossed the track.
We moved off through what I know is some lovely countryside.
I know it was beautiful, but I did not really see it. When you are in a column, particularly when there are some, to be kind, less experienced people with you, it is vital that you pay 100% attention to those around you. In a two line staggered column, you must carefully watch the rider directly in front of you, whilst taking care to allow the rider in the “stagger” room to manoeuvre should he need to. This means making sure that your front wheel never gets in front of the rear wheel of the rider in the “stagger”. He, in turn, must make certain that his front wheel never gets in front of the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. (It sounds complicated, but it is not if everyone follows the instructions). Sadly, the rider behind and inside me, did not seem to know this. He continually rode directly beside me, sometimes even edging in front. It was not enjoyable.
Luckily, the next time we crossed a railway line, the barriers were working properly and the delay was minimal. In bright, but not warm, sunshine, we passed through the mining town of Příbram and wended our way through Rožmital and Březnice. The countryside had that bright, slightly light-green look of early Spring and, when I could risk a glance, it was truly lovely. From time to time we would pass through areas where it had obviously rained very recently, but somehow we did not encounter any showers. Just after the town of Blatná, we all paused in a petrol station to allow the Sportster models to refill their small tanks and for most people to have a cigarette ! At that point, it DID rain on us, but out of a clear blue sky – it was a bit weird standing in the sunshine with rain falling on you ! Luckily it was a short shower, not even enough to douse the cigarettes…..
We set off again and soon rejoined Route 4 (the road we had originally set out upon and was, at that point, the D4 motorway) for the short distance remaining to the town of Písek.
Písek is a quaint little town which, like Prague, has a very ancient centre. It was a long time since I had been there and the central square had been quite radically improved. It was most picturesque. We parked the Harleys there in a big, shiny group which, sadly, I completely omitted to photograph ! Ah well !
We walked, in small groups, down the short but steep street, now pedestrianised, towards the river. Písek is bisected by the river Otava which is crossed, as I have mentioned in another post, by a stone bridge that actually pre-dates the, more famous, Charles’ Bridge in Prague by around fifty years. The Písek bridge is the oldest stone bridge in the whole of Europe. It is equally well preserved and looked lovely in the sun.
On the far side, we got our first glimpse of what we had come to see. This was five cones of sand which had been flattened upon the side closest to the river and into which the letters which form the word Písek had been carved – for some reason upside down. I later discovered that, when the cones are illuminated after sunset, the word Písek reflects in the river, the right way up !
Up close and, as it were, personal, the sand carvings were well worth the ride to see them. According to the posted information, which was helpfully in Czech and English, each cone was comprised of twenty tonnes of special type of sand which “stabilised” into a solid mass when mixed with water. They do tend to deteriorate slightly over the Summer and are susceptible to damage from heavy rain. Luckily, as the cones had only just been put there, they were pristine. The sharpness of what was some very skilled carving was unsullied and very skilfully done. Each cone had a different “theme” but, as there were only five, it did not really take long to see all there was to see.
Job done, the group began to fragment as we all sought somewhere to have lunch. It had only recently become possible to eat at a restaurant again and only outside service was allowed. As we walked back over the bridge, Lucie and I spotted a restaurant with a view of the bridge and the river and, joy of joys, a couple was just leaving a table. We did not run there, but we did walk briskly – with so many people looking at once, finding somewhere can be difficult !
The place was called Cafe restaurant U Kamenného mostu (Karlova 110/6, 39701 Písek – Vnitřní Město). The menu was, due to the ongoing crisis, a little bit restricted. Lucie chose the Czech “standard” of Fried cheese with boiled potatoes (smažený sýr s vařenými bramborami).
I went for what I “thought” was a burger with Halloumi cheese and french fries, but which turned out to be a burger shaped piece of Halloumi with french fries (Halloumi hamburger s hranolkami). That will teach me to speak better Czech ! Some people might describe it as the “vegetarian option” but it was tasty enough and I expect it was healthy ……
Lucie does not drink alcohol at all and I only drink alcohol-free beers when I am driving. So, it was with some irony that my first beer away from home in almost a year was alcohol free. Luckily, Písek is very close to České Budějovice, which is the home of the REAL Budweiser brewery, so even missing that little “something”, the beer was most refreshing !
As is usual, the return trip was to be made independently and, by the time we returned to the square, a lot of our comrades had already departed. It was, indeed, looking rather dark and threatening in the skies to the north, so we decided a smart exit might be on the cards for us too. For the return journey, we were joined by two of our friends, Honza and Jana who have a Harley Trike.
I needed to activate my SatNav to extricate us all from the maze of old streets in central Písek and, unknowingly, I had left it on the “Find the shortest possible route” setting from the recent Harley Challenge. As a consequence, it avoided the new piece of motorway upon which we had arrived in town and guided us faultlessly through a maze of small, but well surfaced, country roads that were almost totally deserted. I was amazed at how easily Honza kept the trike on my tail. I was not exactly going crazy, but I was certainly driving more quickly than at any time so far that day.
We passed through Vráž, Ostrovec and Smetanova Lhota before arriving back at Route 4 in Čimelice. The sky was really quite black by then, but we all made the forty-five minute trip back to Prague without actually encountering a single drop.
As Wallis and Grommet would have said, “A Grand Day Out” !