Cycling the Prague-Vienna Greenways
By Kim Lyon

When I went cycling in the Czech Republic, I could never have dreamt to pass through so much beautiful countryside, no matter how much I believed the brochure blurb.

I've volunteered here for several months, but I'm still getting to know my surroundings. Travelling around by bike, you see so many things which are missed on car journeys.

I travelled some of the Prague-Vienna Greenway, a 250-mile network of hiking and biking trails between Prague and Vienna. Starting in Brno, where I volunteer, I cycled down south towards Vienna. There's something humble about the Czech countryside, whose borders were closed to the majority of the world during Communist times. Billboards don't line the roads. There are no flashing signs, no fast food joints. Instead, a rich and varied countryside greets the traveller who ventures into it.

I cycled through deep forest, past lakes, vineyard, lime-rock hills, by river and some of the most charming towns I've ever seen. For someone who grew up in the Cotswold area of England, this is not a shallow compliment.

I visited two of the six World Heritage sites along the track: a chateaux in the Lednice-Valtice area and the Schonbrunn Palace. All associations of the Czech Republic with dingy grey Communist tower blocks fled my mind. The chateau stands in a former estate of the Liechtenstein family, surrounded with vineyards, bird sanctuaries, nature reserves and ponds. It felt like I was cycling in a set for a period drama.

Cycling into Austria, you immediately notice that this is a country much wealthier than the Czech Republic. On the Moravian side of the border, you are lulled by the sleepy pace of life, the hearty food of meat and dumplings. In Austria, I see a place more like what I know as home, with marks of capitalism, a language that I can read and make sense of, expensive cars. It's strange to think two neighbouring countries and their inhabitants can be so foreign to each other.

Tell me, who of the millions visiting Prague would think to go further than Old Town Square? Of those visiting Austria, who would think to leave the grandeur of Vienna behind? Perhaps it is only by exploring areas outside of the capitals that you learn about the essence of a country - seeing not what the tourist board wants you to see, but how the country is.

About the author:
Kim lives in England and spent 10 months volunteering for a non-governmental organization in Brno, Czech Republic, in 2005.