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