Saturday, October 30th, 2021 – Mělník

I do like to spend time in the saddle of a motorcycle, but not all long rides are good ones – my final day in the U.S.A in 2006 was a case in point. Sometimes you just have to knuckle down and grind it out.

By the same token, not all good rides are long ones – and the HOG Prague Season “closer” for 2021 illustrated that very well.

Because of Covid restrictions and, possibly, a slight reluctance to meet up even when it was “theoretically” allowed, the 2021 riding season had been patchy indeed. A few events had taken place but, apart from Prague Harley Days, nothing of any real major significance had happened at all.

So, someone decided we could, at least, all go out together for one last time before the bad weather set in. It was not to be anything dramatic and the destination that was chosen was the town of Mělník, which is a mere thirty five kilometres to the north of Prague. However, it went without saying that the clever guys who plan these routes for the club were going to make it a bit more interesting than that !

We gathered, as is usual, in a petrol station. In this case the Benzina in Argentinská street in Prague 7. It was a sunny day, which may have helped and there were already a lot of Harleys present when we arrived. It was good to see some of the people we had not encountered all year.

By the time the “vesťáci” (the riders in fluorescent vests who marshal our progress) had finished their deliberations, the number of bikes had risen to well over fifty. Then, it was a quick word from our Director, Kamil and we all mounted up and set off.

To leave any city, particularly as a group, it is necessary to use fairly major roads.

We started on the main route towards the E55 Highway which leads to the German border, but left it at the Prague ring-road which we followed to the second exit. Here we all branched off north-east, towards the small civilian airport of Kbely.

On our rides, we are careful to keep within (or at least close to !) the speed limits and our long column proceeded at a leisurely pace past the airport, the aero-museum and out into the country. There was a surprising amount of other traffic and, as always, our column attracted a lot of attention. Children love to wave to us because we wave back (!) and a surprising amount of the older ones seem to feel a need to film us with their ‘phones. I suppose, in all fairness, our column does look impressive and is a bit out of the ordinary to most people !

The Summer had been a long one, with above average rainfall, which in its way had been very good indeed for the trees. Even at the very end of October, most trees still had a lot of their leaves. Because of the moisture, the decline had been slower than is usual and there was a spectacular array of browns, golds and even reds to be seen. Who needs Vermont !

It is the function and practice of the “vesťáci” to ensure our progress is largely unhindered. They actively block side roads and roundabout exits and junctions to ensure no other vehicles get in amongst the column.

For this reason, we only had to stop twice on the entire journey. One was because of a closed road (which had presumably been open during the “planning” phase – and once because of a closed level-crossing. Not even fifty or more Harleys can take on an onrushing express (although in this case it was a little, single car, passenger train that operates as a kind of bus service between the smaller towns…).

It was a lovely, fairly relaxed ride. I use the qualifier “fairly” because, in any kind of riding you can never fully relax if you want to stay alive. In staggered column riding, quite a high level of concentration is needed at all times in order to stay “on station”. Constant attention is needed on the riders directly in front and obliquely in front in the “stagger” and, of course on the similar pairing in front of those two. It is also necessary to watch closely for the “vesťáci” that were passed at the previous obstacle and who come speeding up the outside to get back to the front. I presume the riders behind me are watching me with the same intensity. Because forward visibility is a bit limited, tiny riding errors tend to magnify as each succeeding rider takes the same course. I feel a bit embarrassed if, because of this, I inadvertently take a bad “line” on a corner !

Even with all that attention to my immediate surroundings, the sheer visual loveliness of the countryside could neither be missed nor denied. In the clear weather and slowly decreasing leaf cover, long views over the flattish countryside were on every side.

There is also, on a motorcycle, the added sensation that you can smell your surroundings. This was not quite so wonderful as we passed a few cattle or pig farms, but in general the ripe, earthy, smells of early Autumn were almost as pleasing as the sights. The overall beauty was particularly noticeable as we wended our way along some very minor roads indeed that weaved their way up and down through the woods and forests. Although I tend to bit solitary, the view of the column snaking ahead through the trees is always something to stir the soul.

All too soon, it seemed, we came to our destination and I was quite surprised to note we had ridden over seventy kilometres. A bit of clever planning by somebody had effectively doubled the distance of using the main routes.

Mělník is a pretty little town, particularly in its Historic centre. It has an impressive church, Sv Petra a Pavla (St Peter and St Paul).

The church is on the hill which overlooks the confluence of the river Vltava (which flows through Prague) and the slightly larger (at that point) river Labe which the Germans and consequently Google Maps insist upon calling the Elbe. At some point, probably at the German border, the Labe does become the Elbe and eventually achieves the sea having passed through Dresden, Lutherstadt-Wittenberg (where we went on one of our Hundertwasser tours) and Hamburg on the way.

During the catastrophic floods of 2002, a sea-lion called Gaston escaped from Prague zoo and actually swam all the way to Dresden before being recaptured. His progress was the highlight of the otherwise depressing news at the time and his subsequent demise, soon after, as a result of his exertions, was almost a cause for national mourning.

We parked our Harleys in naměstí Míru (Peace Square) in the town centre where a space had been reserved by arrangement amongst the stalls of a small farmers’ market. They made an impressive sight in the sunshine and attracted a lot of attention.

The tower of the church was clearly visible a few hundred metres away and I noted that the cobbles in the square had been intricately laid out in a sort of “target” pattern. Sadly, Lucie and I allowed ourselves to be distracted by a stall selling honey and we somehow missed the group photo – so if you see it, we WERE there ! At least we got some nice honey !

The group spread out to find something to eat and Lucie and I chose Café Tamara – Creperie & palačínkárna (Svatováclavská 13/1, 276 01 Mělník) where we both enjoyed a lunch of pancakes with cream-cheese, warm fruit, ice-cream and sauce (se tvarohem, horku smeší ovoce a zmrzlinou, ślehačka. Čok. Poleva). It is number 21 on the menu. Go there and try it ! The accompanying hot chocolate drinks had also seen some real chocolate and were just sooooo good !

Then we returned to the square and most of our comrades were leaving to go their independent ways home. There was a brief moment of humour as one of our members (ironically another David) jokingly offered to tow a children’s Merry-Go-Round (his Harley has a towing hitch) but the lady owner opted (probably wisely for all parties) for her partner’s SUV instead.

Lucie and I wended our way out of town and took a leisurely ride back to Prague that was a little more direct, but which, nonetheless, avoided the main roads. Despite the sunshine, it had become a little chilly (according to Lucie, I never really notice) but it was still glorious.

Another year done ! (for HOG at least !)