Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Visit to a Soviet Nuclear Missile Site 27/1/09 Day 194

Day 194 (Slide show) (Video 1) (Video 2)

I have this friend from Portugal named Ricardo who sent me a note the other day saying that he and another friend named Alexey were going to go to an old Soviet Nuclear Missile Silo today. This sounded fun and I need to get out. This is a closed silo now and was used for the SAM missile. I was told it closed in the mid 80’s sometime. There are several of these around the city but only a few of them are open so a Yankee’s like me can walk into them. I took a lot of pictures today and thought you might like to see them. For the most part it was a cold winter day but I saw some nice country. Who would have thought 30 years ago I could have even seen such a place.

The deal is that Ricardo is this big gio cache guy and he comes up with these strange outings. Our goal was to see the missile silo then hike into a nature area which had this nice overlook and then into a small village south of Prague.

Here is some information on the locations of these places. At least I think these are correct but check it out and if you find something different please send me a note. For some reason I didn’t write much down for this day. Maybe it was too cold. The missile silo is somewhere in the village area of Točná which is south of the city and east of the river. The nature area is called Šance and is in the Komořany area due south of the city. The nice little village is called Zbraslav.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Riding on Ice 22/1/09 Day 189

Day 189 (Slide show)

Well it’s been three days since I returned from the Czech Mountains and I’m now recovered. I was very sore which seems to be what happens to me after these extravagant adventures. I’m getting old I guess and don’t heal up so fast. It’s very exciting though and I enjoy it. There isn’t much to tell today except I wanted to show a few pictures of my bike ride today.

The sun was out and it looked so warm. I was looking out my window this morning and I thought that spring had finally come. The weather site on the computer said it was 2C and below my flat I could see the payment was dry so I said to Betsy “Lets Ride.” She was ready too. I could hear her giggle as I walked her down the hallway. Well I got just down the hill from my flat and hit the shade where it was wet. Have you ever gone downhill on a bike where there was black ice under you? It scared the shit out of me. I didn’t see it until I was on it. At least I knew better then to put on the brake. I turned up a side hill under an overpass and got stopped.

Well I took these pictures and went back to the flat. I will have to wait for another day. Hell it’s only January I’ve got six weeks to wait.

On another note I want to say that I broke one of my cardinal rules yesterday. I’ve done this before and I always feel very bad for weeks later. I wish someone would invent a devise to turn back the clock, even if it is just a few minutes.

If you wondering this is the rule. “Never hit the send button on an email at night after you had too much wine.” I wrote a couple of really bad and stupid emails last night. For anyone out there that has received one of these thoughtless attempts to express myself please except my apology. I can’t promise I won’t do it again but I am working on this problem. I see now that Google has a moron gadget that will not send an email after a certain hour; I’m going to turn this on.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Over the Krkonoše Mountains to Poland 18/1/09 Day 185

Day 185 (Slide show) (Video)

I woke at around 6AM and went downstairs to find a cup of coffee. It wasn’t ready yet but as I waited I check out the weather outside. It’s not looking good, high clouds, wind and cold. The storm that was forecasted is on its way. I decided to get ready early just in case the lower chair is closed I would have time to make that part of the climb. I had a hard time sleeping last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about this bad section I was about to traverse across. With the high wind the cornice would be larger and less stable. The traverse is quite long and very steep; it will be very tricky with all this weight. I’m here for the adventure though so let’s go. If it was easy then everyone would do it, right.

I got to the lower chair at 8:30AM to find it open. Friday it didn’t open until 10AM, this is a good sign. I will be able to save a couple of hours by taking this chair to the halfway house. As I expected they have closed the upper chair. The climb wasn’t that bad and I made good time considering how much weight I had. I was the only one climbing for some time then I spotted a few others gaining on me as I approached the summit. One Czech guy was carrying a snow kite and I talked to him for a moment, he caught up to me as I was just about to reach the peak and he was kind enough to take a few shots of me. He spoke good English which was nice. This guy looked like a good skier so I asked him if he was going to take the traverse around the back side and he said defiantly not. The area is closed but on Friday we went anyway because there was no wind and still it was a scary place. When he said this I asked if I could follow him down the West face. He said sure so we proceeded to the summit together.

On the summit the wind was quite strong and we both took a break behind a building to catch our breath and get out of the very cold wind. This is the kind of wind that goes right through you and we both just wanted to get off the peak. We put on our skies and headed off together but because of my packs he soon got ahead of me. The west face was solid ice and it was also the trail coming from the lodges. This trail had ropes and chains that I had to avoid as well as the switchbacks and ruts the hikers made. Very tough stuff but I’m still glad I didn’t try the traverse in the closed area. I lost control a few times and on one fall my back pack went over my head and hooked onto the front pack which was a bit funny because I was all tangled up. I had virtually no edges and could only slide when turning. It was very frustrating and tricky.

I made it though and then to my surprise there was Andrew starting to climb up from the Polish lodge. We stopped at the lodge for a break from the wind. I wasn’t very hungry but Andrew had climbed up from the Polish side starting at 4AM in the dark so he could snow kite at dawn. He had figured that the Forrest Police wouldn’t be out that early but he got busted anyway. It is illegal to snow kite up here which is a real stupid rule but they have very strict rules here. Skiers can’t leave the trails so it is impossible for the folks with snow kites. The bad thing is they chase you down on snowmobiles and they go off the trails. These snowmobiles do more damage to the area then anyone with a snow kite.

We left the yellow Polish lodge where they only take PLN currency by the way and headed out. It was now about 1PM and we still had a ways to go to reach the Polish ski area to the north. The wind was very strong at this point and on one occasion it blew me over as I was doing a step turn for a picture. It was very funny and I couldn’t get back up without taking off a ski. The weight of my packs and the wind made it impossible. I think I was getting very tired too.

After a few hours we made the Polish ski area where there were very icy conditions and not enough snow to cover the rocks and tree branches. It was very hard skiing. We reached the bottom about 4PM and headed for the car. I was ready for a good beer and wanted to fall asleep.

First we stopped by Andrews’s dorm and I saw the village area where he lives. I think he lives in Dolina Pieciu Potokow but I’m not sure about that. Maybe you can help me with this Andrew. Send me a comment. It’s about 30K from the Polish resort.

We got under way about 7PM for a 5 to 6 hour drive to Prague. Looking back at it I really had a good time, far better then I expected when I was planning it. Thanks to Andrew for helping me because I couldn’t have pulled it off without him. Everyone I spoke to, Czech and Polish had not done this in the winter before even though I’m sure it has. It’s just too hard to get a ride back around the Krkonoše Mountains.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Day of Hot Wine and Beer 17/1/09 Day 184

I decided yesterday that today I would give the ski resort a try. The cost for a day pass was 600CZK which is about 31.00USD. I figured it would be worth it to work on my ski technique a little. It’s been a long time since I was on skis. My trip to Italy didn’t give me enough time to find any form. Who knows after what I saw what is in store for me tomorrow I will need it. The route to Poland looks like a challenge.

The mountain isn’t much with its T-bars and gentile rolling piste’s but there is one black run and I can stay there for the day I figured. This equipment I have is decent but I forgot to ask the shop to tune up the skis before I took them out, the edges are non existant. It’s like ice skating almost everywhere around here and sharp edges are a must.

Around the different parts of the mountain, three parts I would say, there are several lodges. Some have restaurants or bars and some have snack stops where you eat outside like a fast order joint. I had a hard time finding one that was comfortable so I stopped at several. It was a bit boring on the slopes so my day was spent riding to the top on the chair or T-bar then skiing to a different bar for a hot wine and doing it all over again. I made many runs down these pistes because they are very short. By the end of the day I was feeling pretty good.

The skiing was pretty good, I made the most of it.

My friend Andrew and I had set a call time at my lodge for 8:00pm to discuss the plans for tomorrow. The whole thing could have been canceled if the weather turns bad but as it happened the storm that is coming is late so we figure on gusty winds and some snow later in the day. He is going to meet me on the ridge where he will climb up from the Polish and I will climb up the Czech side. This is the plan. If I don’t see him then I’m to proceed to the Polish town of Karpacz where we will meet at a restaurant. I hope to see him on the Polish mountain but you never know about these things. One other thing is I don’t carry a cell phone so we are doing this the old fashion way.

Due to the wind forecast I know that my chair to the summit will be closed and another problem is that bad area I went through on Friday where there is a sever avalanche danger. I went through it with three other guys but tomorrow I will be by myself. It’s a little spooky.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter on “Mount Sněžka“ 16/1/09 Day 183

Day 183 (Slide show)

(Video 1)

(Video 2)

(Video 3)

Today I’m not sure what I should do. My friend Andrew tells me to buy a two day pass at this small resort but I saw it yesterday and I would be bored to death up there. I’m tempted to take the lower chair up to the summit and tour around.

That’s what I did. I wrote that before I left the lodge at 8:30 and I’m so glad I made that decision. I went for the Peak Sněžka. I wasn’t expecting much but I sure got a lot. It was a “Bluebird Day” as my friend Andrew would say. There was very little wind and bright blue sky. The lower chair opened at 10:00. What a rickety old thing. Of course I’m not complaining but in the states it would be closed due to corrosion. It worked fine though and I was at the midway point by 10:30. I got off because the guy’s at the ski shop told me to climb to the top. I started to put my climbing skins on the skies and a nice guy named Peda came touring up with his friends and dogs. He spoke good English and told me he would ride up with me. It seems the upper chair is only running every hour. That little fact confused me when I got off and all of a sudden it shut down. It seems I was the last person on of about 10 folks. Well, Peda and I rode to the top and after a few words I asked if I could join him and his friends as they toured around. Only at the top did I find out that they were going for a 25klm tour. I thought for only a second and said “Lets go” What a break I thought as we waited for his friends Kozisek and George to climb to us with the dogs.

It took them about a 40 min which I thought was strong. It seemed like a long way. It turned out it was. I had my ski skins on already because I was ready to climb before Peda showed so we made our way off the mountain towards to polish side. I was checking out the area for my Sunday trip over to Poland and it was exciting. After going over a lot of Ice we cut around a closed gate. Avalanche Danger area it said but with no new snow I wasn’t worried. I saw very quickly that if you get 4 or 5 inches of new stuff this would be it. It falls straight off to the right. With the ice there is nothing to keep the new snow on the steep slope. Think about trying to keep an edge while traversing on a frozen window. This lasted about 30 minutes then onto some flat and trekking. Remember I still have the skins on. Big bummer, because I down hill I sucked but uphill I dominated. This area was flat so I sucked. Skins are great but you need to know the terrain. I have to know when to take them off and when to put them on. I had no help from the guys I was with.

We stopped at a real big lodge, Lučni bouda. You can only reach it by snowmobile or trekking. After a few Bohemian Beers and some rest we moved on for about 2 hours we moved on. This was uphill for the most part but these guys were strong climbers and on their touring skies they were keeping up with me. At the top of the ridge they told me we would stop for lunch about 1 km ahead. It seemed like the top so I let them go head while I took the skins off. This was not a good idea because just around this ridge where I thought it was on a downhill slope. No, it was to be a slight uphill slope. The skies were sliding too much, and then it became steeper.

At this point we were about 15klm from the summit and about 3 hours. It was coming on 3:00PM and I needed a lunch break. My new friends were way ahead of me. With all that going on I was caught in the middle of a group of young ski touring folks. Their light skies were much easier then my heavy mountaineer skis. I made it though and my friends had just ordered a beer and soup. We had a great time at lunch. It was a nice little lodge way up in the mountains and there were just a few folks there.

I forgot to say that my rental boots were killing me and I could feel some serious blisters coming on. Not in the usual places like the heal either. These bad boys were on the sides of both feet. F@*k it I just had another shot of Hennessy.

After another hour and just about getting dark I split off from my new friends and headed down a small ski run. Total they told me we had gone about 25 to 30K for the day and if I took off to the left and down the ridge I would come to the ski area. From there I could catch a bus. Their cars were still about 30 minutes away. I don’t think they wanted to try there touring skies on a downhill run anyway. As I reached the bottom I couldn’t figure out where I was. After skiing further then I thought I reached an area where there should be a bus but it was dark. Now think about this, your reading a log by Odysseus remember, I got on the wrong bus.

Something’s Wrong (Junior Watson, Bluesman)

I ended up about 20klm down the road past the turn off to my lodge. The damn bus just kept going. It stopped once and I asked a guy, what’s up. He motioned that the bus would go back up. Wrong, I got off and got a taxi after waiting 45min

What a great day and good company. I got so lucky to meet Peda, Kozisek and George. Thanks guys.

After a great dinner and dressing up my feet I hit the sack.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pec Pod Sněžkou 15/1/09 Day 182

Day 182 (Slide show)

A new adventure starts today. I need it too. This is the way the plan ended up. I am leaving on Thursday, today because it takes all day to get here and then Friday and Saturday I will ski tour around the area leaving Sunday to climb over the summit. The details have changed a few times in the development but for the most part I was always going to climb over the Czech mountains and into Poland. The past couple of days several people told me to forget it for different reasons. The main one was the Forrest Service Police might not like it. We will see.

I picked up my mountaineering skis from the rental shop yesterday and left this morning for the metro station at 5:30AM. I needed to catch the 6:45 bus to Pec Pod Sněžkou which is a ski resort on the Czech side of the Krkonose Mountains. These mountains have a lot of old history and the border of Poland and Czech Rep divides the highest peak in the Czech Rep named Mount Sněžka. (1602M) Not very high at all but it is all I have and it is the highest peak in the Czech Rep as many Czech friends have pointed out to me. They are quite proud of this and it is an interesting place.

Everything went smooth for once and I did get on the right bus. I’ve learned a lot since Greece I guess. Ad I got to the station area I search out the ticket window and bought a ticket early. I was told just to get on the bus and pay the driver but because I had a ticket I was the only one to get on first. Everyone else stood in line to pay. The lodge is all right but not as advertised on the web. The pictures showed a hot tub area and a lot larger dinning room but that’s all right. I would say this is a cozy place. The only person that spoke any English, guest or staff was the lady of the house, Christina. A very nice host and she kept track of me so I would get anything I needed. Breakfast and dinner comes with the room but you need to order from the choices provided well in advance.

I think I packed too much again though. I have a front pack and a back pack. I know I can ski with all this but it will be tricky. I just hope there aren’t any cornices I have to jump off.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Prague in a Freezer 12/1/09 Day 179

Day 179 (Slide show)

Yesterday the Couchsurfing group going to the Czech Mountains fell apart. I was hoping they would go but I suspected this. I’m going to extend my reservation for a day at my lodge ‘Chata Betyna.” My plan was to move over to the lodge they were staying on Saturday night but now it’s just me. It’s probably better this way.

Today there is a lady from Bergen, Norway by way of New Orleans in town that I meet a few days ago who wants to see the city. It’s very cold but I like her so I promised I would show her my favorite places. He name is Benedicte Kjobstad (Bene). She is a student in Bergen getting her Masters Degree and wanted to come and see Prague. I wish we could have spent more time together because we seemed to get along well. But she is only here until tomorrow.

We had a great day in the frozen city and stopped several times for hot tea and hot chocolate. She even got me into two churches to look around. The first was the St. James Church./St. Jacob I'm not sure which. The second was the St Vitus Cathedral which is inside the Prague Castle. That is first for me as I have a thing about this. The time at the John and George Restaurant was particularly nice. We were so cold and it felt good to warm up at that restaurant. She invited me to a dinner at the CS host’s house but I felt I should head back to my place. I appreciated her company and I hope to meet her again someday but I fear it won’t happen.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Brunch that Lasted all Day 10/1/09 Day 177

Day 177 (Slide show)

This is a day of getting together with friends for brunch which turned into an all day event. But on the way to the restaurant I had to make a stop at an outdoor shop close by my flat. I was trying to find out some information, like a scouting mission. I ended up booking the whole thing so here is the story. I heard that a few folks wanted to go to the Czech Mountains for a weekend at a lodge. As I started looking into it I found this could be a great adventure. My friend Andrew who went skiing with me in Italy lives on the other side of this mountain range in Poland. My plan is rent some mountaineering skis and skins, climb over the Czech mountains where Andrew would pick me up in Poland and we would drive back to Prague together on Sunday. Of course as usual my plans always explode into some kind of crazy adventure.

I walked into this outdoor store looking for equipment and advice on this hair brained Idea. The communication was a bit difficult but one guy spoke a bit of the old language. When I told him of my plan he got all wide eyed and thought it sounded fun. He had been up there several times but didn’t know anyone who had skied over Sněžka, the highest peak in Czech Rep, and into the Polish side. He told me not too many folks can find a ride back. It’s about 1 ½ hours to drive around and leave a car so nobody wants to do it. Quietly I’m thinking it has been done a lot. But it sounded good to me. Their equipment was pretty good as I had heard and their prices were good. He even helped me to get a reservation at a lodge for Thursday thru Sunday. I had the whole thing done in an hour.

As for the other folks I have learned that when you try to organize a group on something like an overnight in a ski area you might get 10% to show. So I figure that I will go a few days early to my own place and if they get their act together I will meet them for dinner. Their plan was for Friday and Saturday nights and already there is some dissention in the ranks.

So it looks like I’m off to the Krkonoše Mountains.

Well back to the brunch which was fun but I can’t remember much about it. I’m thinking about all the preparations I need to make. So take a look at the pictures and you can see the sleigh riding and after sleigh warm up in the bar for hot drinks and beer. I had lots of fun and meet a new friend named Benedicte Kjobstad. (Bene) A really nice lady from Bergen, Norway. She was surfing at another friend’s house and came to the brunch. We might go out and tour the city tomorrow if it isn’t too cold.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'll get them next time, guaranteed 9/1/09 Day 176

Day 176 (Slide show)

I received a care package from my son yesterday and I thought I would post a small note about the event. I heard some stories about how bad the Czech postal service was and how they steal stuff so I wanted to be cautious. The postage was $50.75 for what I think is a small package but my CC card was charged $79.00. I’m still trying to figure that out. (Somethings Wrong, Junior Watson) You know he’s a Bluesman, right. So this FEDEX small package arrives 23 days later and smashed. It was a good thing there wasn’t anything fragile in it. The package wasn’t opened and the contents were in decent shape which was good. I really only needed a few things that I forgot to ship with my bikes. The rest of the stuff was just stupid stuff. I was very excited to get it but after opening the thing it was anticlimactic. I won’t do that again, it’s too expensive. My son was a little annoyed with me too.

Today though I get to tell you of the epic battle which I survived at the super market. I was out of milk, bread and bananas. The temperature outside is -11C and there is ice and snow on the roads. That means now bike today. I broke out my trusty REI Venturi 40 pack which served me well in China and Pakistan. I figured it would be large enough for the groceries I needed.

With all the cold weather gear I could find and still look local I started walking. It’s very important when going to the market here to get your mind right first. It takes focus and patience with an aggressive edge. Coming home with bruises on your ankles and hips from blocking shopping cart is not uncommon. This is the same market that took my cucumbers away and I won’t forgive them for that. Today I’m tired and I’m not going to take it anymore. “There will be Blood”

It took me about 40 min to get there and as I walked towards the parking lot I told myself,”Shields Up, Let’s Rumble.” The place was packed but I was ready. The first thing is to get a shopping cart. I forgot a coin. What is it with the coin operated shopping carts? I know these carts cost the stores about 2400 ckz maybe more. I know in the states these cheap carts are about $90.00. So if I want to get one off the friggin chain it takes 5 krowns and then I get it back when I finish. I was told this is to keep the carts away from the homeless but that ridicules I’m sure they would give up on 5 krowns for the cart. Because I don’t have a coin I have to go into the store and find a checkout clerk to give me change.

I have to hold my head up and take it. After getting the damn coin I go straight for the produce section. This isn’t like your usual veggies and fruits. Half the shit is rotten. The big deal here is if it is going bad mark the price down but don’t put out any good stuff at the regular price. You can’t sell the shit tomatoes if there are good tomatoes out even at double the price. It’s take it or "get out." Buy the way there are no bananas today. Not even brown bananas, just no bananas. Already I’m depressed.

After fighting my way to the bread area where the real blood is spilled I find out they are out of the bread I like. Come on now.

I worked my way over to the milk where they sell most of the milk warm in cardboard but there are a few bottles in the refrigerated section next to the yogurt. Their out of milk cold today. This is really getting me down, I walked all this way in the cold and the things I needed are out of stock.

Just about this time I was hit in the right heal by a cart. I turned around and the old bag didn’t even look at me. It was a good thing I had my hiking boots on. All the folks wanted the cold milk and behind us was this warm crap in the cardboard. Nobody’s buying that stuff I guess. All bet it is out dated too. That’s another thing you need to watch here. They love to put outdated stuff on sell.

So I’m bummed out and went sniveling to the checkout. My total came to 401.00 czk so I give her a 1000.00 note and I’m reaching for a single krown when she huffs and puffs and threw down the change. I wasn’t quick enough, so now I have 199.00 czk in change because of the cart. At least I’m alive.

I really felt good coming in here today but the experience brought me to my knees.

I have to remember what my friend Tomas Damon told me “Quit you’re whining”

I’ll get them next time, guaranteed.

There is a new plan in the works. I’m going to go to the Czech Mountains next week. Details to follow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

“Zimni Stadion Stvanice" Prague” 7/1/09 Day 174

Day 174 (Slide show) (Video)

At first the day was turning out to be another boring cold Prague day. I was hanging out writing in this blog and occasionally turning around to look at my bikes and dream when I got this email. It was from a Couchsurfing friend who told me to look at a post about ice skating. I was contemplating the gathering. Sounds like fun as long as I don’t fall on the ice and break my ass. It might be worth the risk if only to see the arena where we were to meet.

This place is called Zimni Stadion Stvanice and is the oldest Ice skating rink in Europe. The place is on an island in the river north of the Old Town Section and was for a long time the only way to travel across the river. In the 11th and 12th centuries the island was a major market area. Traveling from the North Shore to the Old City Center was hazardous and other bridges keep getting torn down or burned. (Read the link provided above. Sorry, it is a translation but you can get the jest of the place.) Also there is some great history about Czech Hockey.

It was very cold out and hard to find the way to walk out onto the island but I found it. About 15 people showed and the place got a little too crowded for me but I had a good time. I didn’t fall although some other folks did. I used to skate a lot when I was very young. It came right back to me. I specifically told a friend from Portugal to be carful about injuring her wrist if she falls. She heard me and later I saw her holding her wrist.

I wish I would have written down all the names of those who were there but I’m not that good. I thought I had a picture of everyone but I guess not. But those who I remember were Andre, Laura, (wrist problem) Ruben, Asia, Emre, Barbara, Martina and others. I almost forgot Kate. Early on my picks for the ones to most likely to hurt themselves was Emre and Rubin but they managed to stay healthy or lucky.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I’ve got those “Bohemian Blues” 06/01/09 Day 173

Day 173 (Slide show)

For the past 10 days I have been in and out of Hell. I’m now just starting to kick this terrible cold/flu. The temperature has been running about -12C as a high. It’s been pretty bad. The hardest thing has been getting to the store for supplies and the pharmacy for cold medicine. It’s the usual crap I get every winter. This season is a bit worse though because I couldn’t find a place to get a flu shot. I saw this coming back in November when I got here.

I missed out on having any New Year Celebration though. I just find the energy.

I did a little work on my friend Daniel’s bike. I’m repairing it for him. It’s in bad shape and needs a lot of work.

I have heard and read about this city and the winter depression that people have had throughout the centuries. Prague has a lot of old stories about famous authors that wrote morbid and gloomy stories after spending just one winter here. I can see why now.

Today is a better day and I think I’ve kicked it now. I getting out today and I don’t care how cold or crappie the weather is. I’ve got to go somewhere for a few days. I’m going to start planning.

I’m just going to forget this period and move on.