B* is for Bidding a Sad Farewell

The Czech Republic had two national holidays the same week that Canada celebrated its 150th birthday of Confederation.

Ivan and Maria were my hosts in Telč. We toasted Canada Day before I hit the road.

The first of the Czech holidays was July 5. It celebrated the missionaries that brought Christianity to the Slavs in the 9th century. One of the two, St. Cyril, invented the Cyrillic alphabet which for the first time enabled a written Slavic language. Today, over 300 million people use some variation of that script. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/europe/cyril_and_methodius_day.php

The second holiday followed on the next day. It commemorated the martyrdom of Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. Hus had been influenced by Wycliffe, and believed common people had every right to be able to read the bible in their own language. Hus also preached in the Czech language, when preaching in Latin was the general practice.

Jan Hus memorial statue in Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
Jan Hus memorial statue in the middle of Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

70 years before Luther, Hus condemned the commercialization and corruption of the Christian Church. At the time, the selling of indulgences was a significant source of revenue. His views got him in trouble with the authorities to the point that it cost him his life. http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/czech_republic/jan_hus_day.php

 

It feels like the Czech national identity incorporates two competing narratives. The founders are celebrated on the first day and the rebel celebrated on the next.

Perhaps it appealed to the “Canadian” in me. In our national identity, we have had to manage the tension of competing stories between settlers of French and English origins. This accommodation has had its rough patches over the decades. But by and large, Canada has made the tension a positive, creative and inclusive force.

Czechia is another country with two competing stories. And they celebrate them both – in back to back national Czech holidays.

What impact has this had on Czechs? It’s impossible for me to say with any confidence. Has it provided them with skills and ways of thinking that will prove valuable in the world of the 21st Century? Possibly.

For whatever reasons, the Czechs maintained their unique national identity within the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than 300 years.

Their national identity was also sorely tested during two occupations of the 20th Century – first by the German Nazis and then by the Russian Communists.

Their first freely elected President at the end of the cold war, was a jailed poet.

Despite not knowing the language, I felt a strong affinity with the Czechs I met. Their interactions with me were, without exception, respectful, authentic, helpful and kind.

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Honza Galla and Patrik Ištok at AZUB Recumbents http://azub.eu/ were good examples. They took time to give me invaluable advice. The two helped me extensively to chose a route and to prepare for my unusual tour. They didn’t have to, but they did it anyway.

Patrik Ištok, Sales Manager, Azub Recumbent

There was a “down to earth” quality in the Czechs I met that made me feel at home. At no time when I was in the Czech Republic, did I have an unpleasant encounter. I would have a hard time saying that after spending a month in my own country!

In other words, all the Czechs I met, acted like Canadians when we are on our best behaviour.

 

The Czech Republic has so much going for it. It’s capital city, Prague, is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

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Czechia has been at the heart of European history from earliest ages. Their UNESCO World Heritage sites are merited and protected for good reason. The countryside is picture postcard perfect.

Here is a gallery of some favourite sights:

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Plan B* is about creating and embracing new possibilities. What happens when those possibilities greatly exceed expectations?

My experiences in the Czech Republic greatly exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for how sad I would feel once my visit there came to an end.

I hadn’t thought of sadness as a measure for enjoyment. But in a way, it makes sense. We are usually made sad by what we have lost.

For me, bidding a sad farewell to the Czech Republic is the measure of the meaning, pleasure and enjoyment I experienced there.

What’s the Czech secret? I can’t honestly say. I’ll only suggest that a country that celebrates founders and rebels at the same time has to have something unique going for it.

 

 

The World At Three Feet

When did you last travel through the world at a height of 3 feet?

I’m guessing you were 6 years old.

One of the surprising delights of riding a recumbent tricycle is that the seat is only about a foot off the ground. That means little kids of about 6 or 7 look me in the eye when I’m seated in it. Anyone older than that is looking down on me.

Cyclists standing n a city street waiting for a light
Cyclists waiting for a light, Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic

Adults on bikes? They’re giants. I reach up to shake hands. They lean over and down. Just like when I was 6.

The sensation of travelling through the world with eyes at the 3 foot level triggers some deep, childish delight.

Everything on the ground is so much closer, so much more accessible. I’m easily distracted by the variety of flowers, the diversity of colours, the flitting of insects and the darting of butterflies.

Poppies with wheat field behind

Perhaps it’s because at 3 feet, you are so much closer to the world inhabited by flowers and insects.

Sunflowers

 

Travel by trike with trailer is slow travel. Especially crawling up long hills. Even the butterflies make faster progress.

This is travel that breaks the sound barrier, though. Or perhaps more accurately, it is slow travel that breaks the silence barrier.

There’s nothing between you and the world. No windshield. No radio. No hermetically sealed cabin. No thick shell to suppress against road noise.

There is no road noise. Just the swish, swish, swish of a pant leg with each pedal I push. And the barely audible, rolling thunder sound of the trailer dutifully following along in my wake.

Sounds take on a different dimension. Cyclists and hikers know this phenomenon. The birdsong, the buzz, the chirps, the hum, the croaks that comprise nature’s chorus. Moving at three feet from the ground, you can’t help but catch snatches of creation’s hymn.

Dragonfly

Plan B* has been re-discovering the world from a new perspective – like the perspective of those who are 6 and those who are lucky to be 6 a second time.

 

 

There Is Magic

“Magic” is the word that captures the unexpected delights and surprises of this trip.

Each day, as I start my travel, I have a general direction. (West, through southern Moravia, following the border with Austria.)

Beyond that, I know very little about what to expect, what I will see or what I will encounter. I have no certainty where my day will end. I don’t know where I will spend the night.

This is Plan B*, after all.

Yesterday, I started pedaling. A hill rose in front of me. I crawled and strained. Then the hill fell away. I picked up speed and raced in exhilaration to the bottom.

Near Znojmo, Czech Republic

I slowed as the next hill rose in front of me. I repeated the process again. Crawl up. Race down.

And again. Crawl. Race.

There is a form of magic in that. Hard work and then fun. It may be why many people get so attached to cycling.

But then, other magic happened.

I pulled off the road to stop for a lunchtime snack.

Side road, near Lukov, Czech Republic

Why there? Why then? 10 meters down a side road was a tree loaded with black cherries. Abundant with cherries. More cherries within reach than could be eaten in a week. (Hint: You have to know how much I love cherries!)

Each day I pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread”. Yesterday, I never expected it would mean fresh, ripe cherries directly from the tree!

A person holding black cherries in their hand
The black cherries I’ve found here, look like Kalamata olives and are about the same size

“Thank you, God for answering my prayer.”

(And thank you for the magic of exceeding expectations!)

Energized and rested, I was back on the road.

Still the hills kept rising and falling. My legs began to flag. Where should I be looking to stay for the night?

I consulted the map. At my current pace, in less than an hour, was “Vranov nad Dyji”. I’d never heard of it. I wondered what was there. What would I find?

I was at least confident of finding a room. There would likely be at least one “penzion” (guesthouse), perhaps two. Every small Czech town or village I’d passed had had a least one, “penzion”.

Decision made: “Vranov nad Dyji”, here I come!

Then that magic happened again.

I came around a bend in the road. All of a sudden, Vranov nad Dyji was spread out in front of me. It was more than some non-descript name on a map. It was a place of real and unexpected beauty.

Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

Here was a delightful, fairy tale beautiful, picturesque village hugging the river below a castle.

Like magic.

A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau
A view of Vranov nad Dyji from Vranov Chateau

Vranov can take your breath away.

Vranov Chateau from the village of Vanov nad Dyji, Czech Republic
Vranov Chateau, Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic

And exploring Vranov revealed many other visual delights and treasures.

Many towns wish they had the natural beauty and historic legacies of Vranov.

Yet Vranov does not get any special promotion. It remains anonymous. Probably, it is because the Czech Republic is filled with towns that share some of Vranov’s magic. I’ve been delighted and awed at nearly every turn in the road as I’ve travelled here.

When beautiful, picture perfect places are the norm, then you know the country where they are found is exceptional.

A suitable description of the Czech Republic might be: “Small, but mighty (magical)”.

Did magic uncork Plan B*? Or did Plan B* uncork the magic?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that there is magic in Plan B*.

And so far, Plan B* in the Czech Republic have made magic happen for me.

Easy Rider

Easy Does it

Nope, I’m not Wyatt. Nor Billy.

Bob’s Excellent Adventure is not about some counterculture dude on a road trip.

Wait a minute.

Maybe it is – at least a wee bit. It is a Plan B* road trip after all!

Bob Hawkesworth sitting in recumbent tricycle
Definitely not Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper

What I want to mean by “Easy Rider” is that everyone, and I mean Everyone on wheels is faster than me.  Little kids and octogenarians alike. They all whiz past me. I have yet to overtake a single biker.

And the guys on bikes wearing the spandex?

I can hardly say “Dobrý den”, before they are half a kilometre down the road.

Two cyclists riding through a forest

Just call me your turtle traveler. Your plodder blogger. Your slacker tracker.

Motorist speed display monitor
Independent verification, if needed. No excessive speeding laws were broken in the making of this adventure (so far)

For the record, I travelled a distance of 80+ kms in the first three days. That’s an average of about 4 times faster than walking. I’m certainly not breaking any land speed records.

Pedaling a recumbent tricycle uses different muscles from walking. So, I’m taking it easy. Getting into a routine, into shape and setting a manageable pace.

View over Moravian Hills in Czech Republic
At the top of the first hill. Whew! And a view worth the effort.

Most importantly (for me) I’m taking the time to enjoy the journey. I’m learning the joys of slow travel.

Slow travel has its own rewards, something our culture has lost.

Small motor boats travelling through a lock in a canal in Moravia, Czech Republic
Another form of slow travel. Small motor boats navigate through a lock in a canal near Uhersky Ostroh, Czech Republic

It takes time to notice all the gifts hidden in plain view.

Easy does it. But easy doesn’t come easily.

 

I’ve discovered a few of those gifts by being mindful of the present without a deadline to meet or even a destination to keep. Here are a few from just one day to share with you.

 

Cherry tree
Cherries! Free! For the taking. Who in their right mind would race past an opportunity like this?

 

 

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European Energy Systems – Plan B* Trainspotting

Wind turbine in a field
Wind turbines from the train window. Trainspotting of a different kind.
Solar arrays in a UK field
Solar arrays can be spotted in numerous rural UK locations.
Smokestacks in the UK countryside
At first, these appeared to be smokestacks. The UK is committed to phasing out coal generated electricity. I thought this might be a coal powered plant. But closer inspection suggests the “smoke” could be water vapour from the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant.

The South Downs

The South Downs in West Sussex

The South Downs dominate the skyline in small villages and towns in West Sussex. Here, I visited two dear friends – Barb and Ange. Through a happy series of circumstances, we walked the South Downs Way together many years ago. Now in their 80’s the two sisters are no longer walking the Downs. But we relived the gift of warm and happy memories of a distant, special holiday.

The Shift 

Barb lost her husband Bern a couple years ago. They were married for 57 years. He was a prince of a man. I know. And Barb misses him every day.

Plan B* (for Barb) 

Barb sold her home in a town near Gatwick and moved many miles to West Sussex to be closer to her daughter and sisters. As she said, “The older you get, the more important family becomes to you.” 

Yes indeed. Our support networks can sustain us when changes call us to adapt. Let us always be mindful of those whose families are not capable of support. When shifts happen, many Plan B*s flounder because people do not have family and friends to help.