Options, options - Bohemian Rhapsody - CycleBlaze

Options, options

Over the last couple of trips, I've boiled down my touring approach to maximise what I enjoy (out of the way routes and not excessively long days) and minimise what I don't (traffic and cities). But looking at my musings before my trip to the Black Forest last year, it seems my basic criteria for putting the trip together haven't changed all that much. 

I'm still keen to avoid air travel with the bike and luggage - I suspect that once I try it, I'll find it much more convenient than suspected - but for now the additional headaches of packaging the bike and panniers and hoping it makes the journey undamaged outweigh the speed of travel. I'm going to have limited time so don't want to spend days travelling before I can start cycling (another reason I shy away from flying is my suspicion that the rigmarole of getting to-and-from airports at each end will eat into any time benefit). And I've certainly remained keen on camping, ideally with a spell of wild camping thrown in.

All of this points towards another trip to the continent. I had little trouble camping (both formally and in the woods) in France and Germany, but adventures in less populated Central and Eastern Europe beckoned. I'd found on my trip to Sweden that getting trains across Germany with the bike was relatively quick and reliable, if something of a bunfight on busy days - without having to catch a second ferry to Scandinavia, I could cross Germany and reach Poland almost without changing trains.

Poland sounded immediately promising as a touring destination. I've been there a couple of times before off the bike, and the combination of rolling, pastoral terrain, good cheap food and beer, and enthusiastically friendly reception in the face of my linguistic flailings definitely appealed.

But where to go from there? My natural inclination was to head further East. DFDS run a ferry back from the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda to Kiel. This would mean crossing the whole width of Poland - and assuming I didn't want to cross the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad (and given the bureaucratic inanities involved in getting a visa, I did not) this would mean passing up near the Belarussian border. A little investigation revealed an interesting fact: that it was now possible, with limited access, to enter Belarus visa-free. 

The possibility of a jaunt through this rather left-behind land by bike was a tempting one. There were some complexities: in theory I needed to stay at a registered hotel, so wild camping in the sole remaining area of primeval forest in Europe (the Białowieża) probably wasn't on - but for a trifling fee it did seem possible to spend a couple of days in the forest and around the fortress city of Brest.

What put me off was the sheer distance (1,300km+) and potential dullness, of the ride on either side. There was no real topography on the way, and while I was sure I'd find the route attractive, it made the complete tour revolve around a fairly brief and whimsical visit. On the other hand, I'd be compelled to high-tail it across significant distances, considering the rather long journey to return to the West. 

This didn't seem like a recipe for a consistently engaging ride. Some consultation of OpenTopoMap suggested an alternative. While there was an unbroken sward of green lowland all through central Poland and the Baltics, if I went instead South through Silesia to the Czech Republic, the land rose in inviting - but not too overwhelming - tan-coloured folds. I'd visited the Czech Rep. (or "Czechia", as it is now rather unbelievably officially named) before, and while my visit had been limited to Prague by train from Vienna, it had as much to recommend it as Poland with a little added geographical variety. I could cross West through the bulk of Czechia, in a long loop south of Prague but re-entering Germany in Saxony and Thuringia - at which point I'd be that much closer to catching a train home.

Some sketches indicated this would be around 1150km or 700 miles - rather similar to the estimates on my previous trip. Not including a rest day, I'd have 12 full days to do this - one more than my previous trip, which was undertaken in heat-wave conditions. It seemed to fit my pledge to not exhaust myself with unattainable arbitrary goals - while retaining a sense of adventure. 

On closer inspection of the map, I realised that I would be travelling pretty much the full extent of the ancient kingdom of Bohemia (the Czech. Rep. consists of Bohemia, Moravia and a smidgin of Silesia). Would this tour provide my Bohemian rhapsody?

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