I’ve deemed this the “5 Cliff-Castle Century” Route – or in partial local dialect, the “Horni Hrad Hundred”. Like most people, I don’t really think my “regular route” is exciting enough to post about, but there will come a day when my everyday ride is a distant memory… so I’ll post a little about it to preserve the memory and in the off chance anyone in curious about what it’s like riding in this area of central Europe. I don’t think it’s a known “bike route”, just a ride that I made up by biking until I got tired and then turned around. I think I’ve completed the ride 40 times. From my apartment, it is necessary to delve straight in to urban assault city riding. It isn’t too bad but it’s inevitable that you will encounter some sketchy drivers in old Skoda’s and plenty of tram track crossings to keep you on your toes.
Speaking of toes, my left Sidi shoe is starting to look worse for wear as a handful of cars have misjudged the 5 centimeters they normally would give me and rubbed their tires on my left shoe. Maybe I should get black shoes…
Out of city you pass through some small villages that I will skip over in detail… most are small with extremely rough roads dotted with old cars and Zetor tractors. We pick up the photo reportage at mile 27 (km 43) so essentially I’m skipping over 54 miles and highlighting the fairly scenic 47 miles.
Castle #1: Dívčí Hrad (Maiden’s Castle)
A nice hilltop castle built around 1222 that overlooks in rolling vineyards and lakes. Legend has it that the Austrians attempted to steal the castle from it’s owner, Lord Stepan, by torturing him. He refused and they ripped out one of his eyes. Over the next 400 years, it was owned by lords from Luxemburg, Lichtenstein, Hungary, and CZ. The lakes actually were manmade in the 1980’s so the view was a little different back in the day. The castle was plundered and burned in 1645 by the Swedes (thanks guys) during the Thirty Years War. Some say that the burning was a mere accident that occurred when the Swedes attempted to cook a feast and got very confused following a recipe that included only written instructions and did not provide pictures on how to use the stove. A mistake that the Swedes swore would never happen happen again. It remains unclear whether the locals are planning an retaliatory attack on the replacement castle that the Swedes constructed in the area, commonly referred to as Ikea.
Vineyards, this area is known as the “Czech Provence” —-
From here you traverse the rolling hills while admiring the limestone cliffs, vast vineyards, and uncharacteristically smooth roads.
After 3 small wine villages, you reluctantly meet up with a busy road in order to cross the boarder into Austria. The road is full of Polish drivers on their way to the Alps or Italy. A few weeks ago, I saw a large van with a logo I immediately recognized and I waved to the driver at the same time he waved at me. On the side of the van, a huge red, white, and blue flag was painted next to the words “USA Cycling”. Small world.
In Austria, the road conditions are fantastically smooth. Known as the Neiderosterich (Lower Austria) region which is included in the larger area known as Weinviertel (one of the 4 divisions of Austria)
There are several quaint farm villages where it is common to see old ladies tending to their flower boxes and the men driving their Steyr tractors filled with seeds, fertilizer, grains, or grapes depending on the season. It is very easy to imagine that you riding through some sort of 1700’s European theme park in Disney World.
Castle #2: Berg Falkenstein
The village of Falkenstein only reports 430 residents but has a thriving wine industry, idyllic church and a hilltop castle dating back to 1050 AD. In the 1500’s 136 Anabaptists were captured and taken to the castle in chains where they wrote a song asking the Lord for safety and freedom. They were forced into slavery in the galley of Mediterranean ships where they all managed to escape with the exception of 15 unlucky brothers.
Just 34 miles (55km) north of Vienna it also fell into the hands of the Swedes in 1645 who inhabited it but did not destroy the structure like the previous castle. A few years after, the owners were running low on building supplies and dismantled the castle for the re-use of the materials. Today, the castle hosts medieval feasts, concerts and theater performances during the summer.
There is a nice little 10% 1km climb (2km when done in the opposite direction) that flanks the castle that is one of the few climbs on the route.
Castle #3: Burgruine Staatz
Near Poysdorf, the wine capitol of Austria, the hilltop castle in Staatz towers over the fields and vineyards. It was destroyed by the Swedes in 1645 as well. To the right, you can see the Tatra mountains of Slovakia as well as the numerous windmills that churn out electricity to Austria. The village at the bottom of the hill is home to Austria’s biggest open-air stage where Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was a recent performance.
This spring I’ve noticed some very strange billboards in Austria. I was also going to include the huge billboard of the model with her nipple exposed but they removed it the day before. I found it quite risque… not only is American advertising a little more conservative to cater to the general public (kids included) but my state is so conservative that billboards in general ARE ILLEGAL! Anyway, I also noticed that a nonprofit agency is juxtaposing their graphic photos of African children next to woman’s lingerie ads and McDonald’s advertisements… a bold move, surprising the billboard company allowed two clients with vastly different messages to occupy the same board. Anyone hungry?
"Donate What Makes Sense" vs. Gourmet McShrimp
At this point I usually start heading back, sometimes looping around Poysdorf and the very strange village of Herrnbaumgarten. The village features many peculiarities, one of the strangest is a huge clothesline filled with thousands of socks and a elevated washing machine shrine. I’ll take photos next time.
A new Louis Garneau kit, Austrian Farmlands
Crossing the border again back into CZ… the border crossing used to require me to bring a passport on every ride through here, but in 2007 they dropped the requirement and need for border stations when CZ joined the Schengen area. No more inspections, stamps, questions, or traffic jams. Now, you simply pass under the nearly abandon border control buildings by following the clearly delineated lanes:
Border Control Signs, Out of Control
(just keep left, not too left, and chose the lane where your vehicle type does not have a big X over it?)
Castle #4: Mikulov Castle
Next up is this large hilltop castle in the Czech border town of Mikulov constructed in the 1200’s and reconstructed in 1719. At the end of WWII, bitter German troops set fire to it when they pulled out of the town. It was reconstructed in 1950 and is now a museum that is home to the largest wine barrel in Central Europe. This photo was taken while still on the Austrian side of the border:
Hrad Mikulov, seen from Austria
And a closer look:
Revisiting the lakes region where orange sunsets have replaced fields of gold.
Crossing Novy Mlyny Lakes at Sunset
Getting late and still 27 miles to go… if you look really closely on the horizon on the right side of the road, just to the right of the tree, you might be able to spot the 4 nuclear reactors that the Austrians commonly protest against:
Castle #5 Spilberk Castle
Actually I didn’t get a picture of this. Originally built in the 1200’s, it was later reconfigured into a fort. It was used as a prison until 1945 where it was known as the ‘Prison of Nations’ for housing convicted national leaders, patriots, and revolutionaries from Italy, France, Poland, and Hungary. During WWI it also housed Czech patriots who opposed Nazi occupation. The castle is on a hill in the center of the city and on the way out of the city I was too busy fighting off cars and preserving my left shoe to take a photo of it. Instead, I’ll post this picture of the nearby church with 84 meter high gothic-style spires:
And that is about where the ride ends and concludes the 5 Cliff Castles Century route.