Monday, 12 August 2013

Chilling in Chemnitz

Hey, as long as you are on to a good sound, why change? Today has been a very interesting day, going through 79 miles of post communism. I started the day in the small town of Cheb, just over the CZ border from Bavaria. Painted in various warm shades of yellows, oranges and brick red, I think Cheb had likely seen better days, though there did seem to be regeneration happening around the centre and there were a surprising number of German stores. The supermarket I went to though was all Czech, meaning I had to actually walk down all the aisles looking for things, as the labels mostly consisted of unlikely combinations involving excessive number of consonants, with a particular focus on z and lots of little additional doodahs over the letters. I'm such the linguist, I am. I was the only person staying in the pension, which made for a slightly awkward breakfast, as they laid out an entire buffet. Even I have my limits, though I did do my best.

I set off then on the rural Czech roads. Not too bad, windy and a bit bumpy with very little traffic. Open farm country. Pleasant. And then then road began to climb into the wooded hills. A bumpy roads sign appears. They don't fool around, as it turns out. Bumpy road meant the next 10 or so mils creeping along, avoiding bike eating potholes. Perhaps the take home lesson about cycling in the Czech Republic is to keep to the larger roads, which have generally been repaved at least once since the fall off Communism. This is up probably like a no shit Sherlock comment, but the Czech Republic really is a different country. Germany I sort of get and can muddle my way through. Rural CZ, well, I was glad my bike didn't fall apart. There was clearly a lot more money in the past though, because there are a lot of really magnificent houses, done in a generally more ornate style than across the border. And, of course, these are interspersed with all the lovely communist apartment blocks. No worse than London though, really.

I crossed the border back into Germany and blessedly smooth roads, though not quite so good as Bavaria. Lots more hills and towns full of very large, old, slightly scruffy looking houses nestled in the hills. This was supposed to be the West Virginia of Europe, and it did actually bear some resemblance. It also reminded me of England more than anywhere else on this trip, oddly. I think it was probably the old brick houses and the slight scruffiness without being messy. Still the anal German woodpiles though. The occasional dead factory, mouldering away quietly, back in the woods.

And then Chemnitz, formerly Karl Marx Stadt. As the name suggests, the city centre is an ode to communism. Stark concrete buildings, wide boulevards, little in the way of human scale. It is quite neat though, and has been greatly softened by pedestrianisation,  outdoor cafes and trees. Still though... Just outside the centre there are still fragments of the old city, some rather magnificent by houses and churches, interspersed with blank spaces or concrete. One rather sudden, fenced off, round and deep pond that looks suspiciously like a bomb crater. And road construction. The Communists may have liked their central wide boulevards, but go away from those and the roads leave a little to be desired. Even 24 years of German money still has a way to go. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the roads over the border.

Tomorrow is 90 miles of mostly flat, quite the change from everything before. I can't quite believe it is coming to an end soon. I just remembered today that about 15 years ago I said I was going to cycle the Mississippi for my 40th. It may be a different continent, but I think I'm pretty pleased that I'm actually doing the thing I decided to do on a whim all those years ago. Shows the power of just letting an idea percolate... Right. Bed now.

I forgot, today I found the best rail trail I've ever seen. It was about 10 miles long, so smooth you could practically ice skate on it and just about empty. Why are bike facilities in the UK so shit and why are all the roads in such terrible shape? They have a worse climate here and more people. Not looking forward to the traffic, crappy roads, asshole drivers and asshole cyclists in London again. Sigh. Just need to remember the many things I do actually like, as well as the people I know. OK, really need bed now or am going to make myself grumpy...

1 comment:

Katherine Plumer said...

When you're done, can you post a pic of a map showing exactly where you went? I think that would be very interesting to see.