Last night we spent our first night in beds since leaving the Smith residence in the UK. We stayed in the heart of Prague, which is a Medieval maze. We paid way too much for a midnight meal outside on a square with an evil-orange glowing castle leaning over our heads. We deserved it though because for the previous 4 nights we have managed to find free places to camp. The first night we made it all the way to Belgium, where we ended up camping in the parking lot of Westvleteren brewery. The brewery is actually inside the abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, whose resident Trappist monks brew what many (including ratebeer.com) believe is the best beer in the world: Westvleteren Abt 12. It was certainly the best beer I have ever tasted.
The next day we used the Garmin GPS unit (with a map of Europe installed) to avoid toll highways and plot a course towards Germany, which gave us a great view of the countryside on a route that would not have been possible to figure out otherwise. The GPS is a double-edged sword, however. On one hand you can save a lot of time and hassle by having it plot a course for you. You know you are not going to get lost or go off track – and even if you do it will recalculate another route for you on the fly.
However, on the other hand, it takes some of the serendipity out of the trip. So many experiences that were trip highlights last year happened when we were lost (we didn’t have GPS). Being lost is part of the adventure and it leads to so many pleasant surprises. The whole big circular tour of Colombia that Ted and I enjoyed so much last summer happened because we got lost trying to get out of Bogotá (we had been aiming for Medellin). When we finally emerged from the city after spending most of the day going in circles (seemingly) in heavy chaotic traffic, neither one of us wanted to go back in. So when a gas station attendant recommended another town to the east near the colonial gem of Villa de Leyva, we shrugged our shoulders and headed out in that direction. It would be days before we finally circled back to the northwest to Medellin, and we enjoyed every minute of our detour. We even found ourselves on the most spectacular paved road I have ever had the pleasure of riding.
Still, the GPS has helped us quickly get out of cities and effortlessly navigate complex road systems to get to the scenic roads that otherwise would have been too difficult (and time consuming) to find. We have been taking mostly scenic routes (with a few stints on the autobahn to satisfy the needs of the Fireblade). From our campsite in a wooded area just outside of Bonn, we followed the rhein south for the better part of a day. The road followed the wide smooth ribbon of meandering river through a deep green valley made surreal by castles clinging to the hillsides. The route along the Rhein has been the most scenic ride to date.
The next night we found a wooded are off the beaten track south of Mannheim. The next days as we made our way east towards the Czech border, we found another stretch of road (with the help of the GPS) that was as fun as it was beautiful. It swept its way through small Bavarian villages and through lush forests and farms. It felt like a trip backwards through time. It was also the first time that we had a full day of sunshine. What a glorious ride. That night we camped in a forest on the side of a mountain.
The next day (yesterday), we rode into the Czech Republic and followed narrow curvy roads through the hilly treed countryside all the way to Prague. It felt strange to ride effortlessly (we didn’t even have to stop to show our passports) across the former Iron Curtain. I was thinking about what my dad’s family went through to escape from behind the Iron Curtain and make it to Canada. Looking at the peaceful countryside on both sides, I found it hard to imagine such a different time.