Stage 7, day 5, (Wednesday, 5 July 2017)
Jablunkov to Cieszyn, 54 km
Jablunkov to Cieszyn, 54 km
I should be feeling happy, but I’m not. My wife, Jitka, her cousin Pavla and Pavla’s 10-year-old son Šimon have travelled all the way from Prague to Cieszyn in Poland to join me for the final stage of my Circuit Ride tomorrow. For them, the four-hour journey has been a bit of a nightmare, as the train was full to bursting and they struggled to get their bicycles on board at all. So it is them who should be feeling irritated, not me. But no, they are all smiles, whereas I am tired, overwhelmed and - if I’m honest - a tad grumpy. I’m trying to navigate us to our accommodation, but the roads are busy and the area by the railway station is under massive reconstruction and barely passable even on foot. The hotel - when we do eventually reach it - turns out to be in a big car park next to a DIY store and a supermarket. It has no bike store and the lift smells of urine. This is hardly the idyllic reunion I had in mind.
Mrs Circuit Rider and I reunited in Cieszyn
In the Czech Republic, the fifth of July is the feast day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, two ninth-century brothers who propagated Christianity in this region and are now venerated as national saints. Not that I felt like venerating them when the church bells outside my hotel room in Jablunkov started ringing in the public holiday before seven in the morning. As a result of the din, I was up and in the breakfast room even before the chef arrived for work. This at least gave me time to mull over my route options for the day. Should I take the low Road down the valley via the steel-making town of Třinec? Or should I stick to the plan and head into the hills - specifically the Moravian-Silesian Beskids - further east, closer to the Polish border? I decided to stick to the plan.
Písek fire station
Roadside spring on the first ascent of the day
The climb started after just a couple of miles, by the fire station in Písek. Initially quite arduous, it then flattened out for a while as I entered the dense forest, before kicking up again up to Bahenec Hotel, where I stopped to give my complaining muscles a rest. As it turned out, the really hard work was still ahead of me. In a familiar pattern, the road petered out at higher altitude and became so steep I had to dismount and push my bike through a field for about half a mile to the top.
Shrek and Fiona admiring...
...the view from Bahenec Hotel
From then on it was up and down, but mostly down, and mostly on rideable trail, to Filipka, where the tarmac started again. On the smooth descent to Nýdek, I whizzed past a family with small children labouring up the other way on their bikes. It struck me as a good way to put one’s offspring off cycling for life.
Fine views on the way up...
...and on the other side
Most places in Nýdek were shut for the public holiday, but I found a nice little restaurant on the edge of town. While I was waiting for my lunch to arrive, my wife texted me to say that she and her two travelling companions had managed to squeeze themselves and their bikes onto the train in Prague and were now heading my way. I meanwhile managed to squeeze a pizza and couple of tasty local Koníček beers into myself and set off again.
The road out of Nýdek was properly steep and my legs felt leaden, due possibly to that second beer, but more likely to the cumulative effect of the relentless hills I’d tackled over the past few days. However, the fact that this was the last major climb of my Circuit Ride drove me on to the crest at Gora (which, appropriately, means “mountain”) on the Polish border. As I emerged from the forest, I was greeted by the most amazing vista, stretching from the Beskids across to the Silesian plain. By now I was used to beautiful views, but this was something else.
Fabulous panorama near the Gora border crossing
Before long, I was back in the Czech Republic and descending to the Olza valley floor. Below me, various industrial plants were belching fumes from their tall chimneys. I eventually came out on the main road just north of Třinec. It was odd to be on a busy highway after spending the last three days riding solo in the tranquil hills and forests. I felt quite disconnected from this new reality.
Factories down in Třinec
Fortunately, a cycle path soon took me off the main road and into Český Těšín on the left bank of the Olza. On the opposite side of the river was my destination for the day, Cieszyn. These two towns were in fact a single entity until 1920, when they were divided by the newly created frontier between Czechoslovakia and Poland. Most of the town fell on the Polish side to the east, while the Czechoslovaks had to make do with the smaller western suburb, including the Railway Station. Nowadays, with Schengen, the two sisters are no longer estranged, but they remain apart.
Český Těšín town hall
I found a cafe just a stone’s throw from Český Těšín railway station and drank coffee on the terrace there while waiting for the train from Prague to arrive. Sullen storm clouds passed by further to the north and I began to feel hot and bothered in the sultry afternoon air. A wave of fatigue washed over me. I paid for my drink, ambled over to the station and met the others on the platform as they alighted. We were soon crossing the bridge into Cieszyn. Unlike the Czechs, the Poles were evidently not commemorating Cyril and Methodius, as the streets on this side of the border were full of traffic.
Arriving in Cieszyn
Exploring Cieszyn with Šimon, Pavla and Jitka
A shower and a change of clothes soon put me in a better frame of mind. That evening, the four of us dined in the hotel restaurant. We then strolled down to the main square and wandered around the picturesque historical centre as the light faded. And so ended the penultimate day of my ride along the Czech border.