Monthly Archives: July 2012

Prague Toy Museum

Today we spent some time in the Prague Toy Museum, just inside the outer walls of Prague Castle.  I was prepared for this to be a letdown but it was actually really cool.  Perhaps above all else it really highlighted how timeless some of these hobbies, like wargaming, really are.  These are a few photo selections.  A bunch more photos are in the Flickr gallery.

The sheer size of this cohesive set is pretty cool. Then you read the placard noting they have dozens of boxes more of this one set in storage.

There were a lot of dollhouses of dolls playing with dolls in dollhouses. It's just so damn meta!

Now this is what I'm talking about, naval miniatures and toy boats!

Civilian vessels.

The main fleet.

I really liked these dock pieces. They're really abstract and highly simplified but yet they're going to all the detail of having a dock in the first place.

Sort of an early LEGO precursor, with the bonus of being able to be all busted up to show damage---the future of miniatures wargaming is... a hundred years behind us?

Similarly, there were a couple of these block castles. I'm pretty sure the giant pig (upper right) is going to break the siege...

This didn't photograph well, but is an awesome mountain and all sorts of miniatures, everything made out of tin.

There were a bunch of these dioramas with clockwork mechanisms underneath that made pieces up top move around and act out vignettes.

An interesting point was made by one placard that at one point, early in the development of steam power, toy engines were almost more intricate and doing more elaborate things than real ones.

I also really like early models of airplanes and flying machines, almost as complex as the real thing.

The plentiful simple tin models of dirigibles and zepellins also really appeal to me.

Early wargaming terrain... that looks like it would fit right in today.

A really cool diorama/playset.

Detail on the main action.

Action Man, precursor to GI Joes and a pretty sweet male Barbie knockoff.

Most probably the awesomeest Barbies ever made...

I was almost devastated in the final room to see Star Wars and Star Trek all jumbled together. But then, do I see? Is that the sly Mr Solo taking a similarly poorly rendered Capt Kirk hostage so Obi Wan can chat up a redshirt? This I can get behind.

Again, a bunch more photos are in the Flickr gallery.  They’re worth checking out for those into these sort of things.  You know, toys and dolls.

Karlštejn

Two Saturdays ago Caitlin and I took a train from Prague to Beroun, hiked some 15 kilometers or so to Karlštejn castle, and then took a train back to Prague.

Train

Prague’s main train station is only a few minutes away from our apartment, it’s just on the edge of the tourist core of the city.  There are a ridiculous number of trains and train routes.  It’s also comparatively very cheap; for all our tickets we spent something like a total of $12 US for about a forty-five minute ride each way.

Prague Main Station.

Part of the shopping concourse inside the station.

One thing we are big on is writing down exactly which tickets we want and just handing that paper over to the ticket teller.  Beroun and Karlštejn turn out to be pronounced more or less like what an English speaker would default to, but many other placenames bear little resemblance to an English phonetic reading.  English is very common in the big scheme of things, but not prevalent.  Even with all the international travelers at the main station you can’t rely on easily asking for a two person discounted ticket, the express train, or whatever.  So Caitlin looked up and copied down all of the wording on the train system website.

Our ticket requests to give to the teller.

Svatý Jan Pod Skalou

In Beroun we had a three hour detour to watch the start of the Beroun Bike Weekend.  From there we hiked to Svatý Jan Pod Skalou, St John Under the Rock, a modest monastery and the small village surrounding it.  There is not much going on here beside a restaurant or two and the elaborate monastery chapel(s), but it has a great view walking into town.

The trailhead.

Walkin' along.

Approach to the monastery. That looming figure in the top left would be the rock, as in St John Under the Rock...

The village. It really doesn't extend much past the frame of view...

Cemetery and crypt near the monastery.

One of the two or three market tables and small food stalls near the monastery.

Caitlin would not carry this for me the rest of the way if I got it...

Red Trail

From there we hiked over to Karlštejn.  The Czech Republic actually has a really impressive national trail system.  There’s a wide ranging network through the woods and countryside that is marked all the way into the villages and even towns, usually to train stations.  We could have picked up this trail right in downtown Prague somewhere and walked dozens of kilometers all the way down.  The trails are very non-technical and open, so it’s also very feasible to ride a cyclocross, mountain, or beefy touring bike all around on them.

Caitlin is ready to go!

Wait, this is only what percentage of the way there?

More walkin'.

We learned a lot from these frequent educational signs. This one is clearly about a secret Soviet program to genetically cross-breed weeds, biting ants, and woodpeckers to produce some kind of horrible nightmare bird. At least, that's my assumption.

More trail ahead.

But finally more trail behind.

Success!

Wait, what? More trail?! But the sign, the sign!

Ok, success for reals this time.

Hrad Karlštejn

The castle (hrad) was built by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, to hold the crown jewels and important holy relics.  Of the latter, many of the paintings actually have little sockets cut into the frame to hold bones, spearheads, and other bits.

Like a lot of the major castles here, this one saw its fair share of fighting, particularly around the Hussite Wars.  It’s interesting looking at different renovations and additions to the castles.  Many features that look like serious castle business are post-renaissance or even more modern renovations and actually make less sense for the real purposes of the castle.  For example, the main buildings in Karlštejn are three distinct, separated towers in a progressively important sequence: The Imperial Palace, the Marian Tower, and the Great Tower.  There’s actually no way to get into the last two from the ground floors, you have to go through the previous towers.  In a post-renaissance update the first two were connected by nice little stone archways.  When the castle was still important though as a physical defense they were connected solely by covered wooden bridges, like the main tower still is, so that you could easily burn the bridges down and completely isolate the tower(s).

Looking down the depth of the well required to go all the way down through the hill to the water table is also pretty neat.  Wikipedia has an interesting tidbit about the well here being a significant weakness as it couldn’t supply enough water for a prolonged siege and all the miners being allegedly murdered to keep that a secret.  Castle dudes also clearly loved tall, steep steps and nothing else.  Daily chores could not have been pleasant for short people.

Getting inside the Marian and Great towers require a tour booked in advance, ostensibly to limit traffic through them; Karlštejn is one of the busiest tourist sites in the country.  The first tower though has regular group tours (required to get in) and is worthwhile.  I particularly enjoyed the vast, tangible difference between the bright, open assembly room with its kitchen area, large fireplace, and big tables, and the very dark, claustrophobic appearance room, where two tall, narrow window columns beam light onto the subject appearing before the king while he himself sat in a throne, the only piece of furniture in the room, set between the windows so as to be completely obscured in shadow.  The tower entrance is also neat in that it’s essentially a locker room for the region’s knights vassal, with personal chests along the walls with their individual heraldry and space to bed down if necessary.

The three main towers, from the close by well tower. Formerly the critical linchpin of the castle's defences... now its gift shop.

Looking down on the village. Bothersome peasants!

We have sacked the castle and taken their iced cappuccino, and now we can be cheery again.

The village immediately outside the castle is small despite being a tourist hotspot.  Entertainingly, as a prime national tourist spot, most of the restaurants have thick books with menus in every conceivable language.  I would have to think a fair bit to confidently list more languages than some of them have.  Vegetarian options were thin as the restaurants served mostly standard Czech fair, essentially pork knuckle or beef goulash and a kind of funny moist, dense, bland potato bread roll that’s really common here.   However, we did find some omelettes and potato pancakes.  Food seemed shockingly cheap for a major tourist area.  We figure restaurants in Prague, outside of the critical centers of the tourist areas, run about 3/4 to 2/3 of what we would figure on paying in Philadelphia.  Here was down around 1/2 to 1/3.

Train

The train from Karlštejn is just a few minutes’ walk from the castle.  With both the forest trails and several bike routes along the Vltava and Berounka rivers to town, it’s clearly a popular place for people to ride to and then take a train home.  Lots of cyclists were doing so when we were there.  Trains seem largely very accommodating of bikes, even at peak times.  Many cars have a few hanging hooks, and bigger trains have cars with large, dedicated rack spaces.

Caitlin declined my offer to just keep on walking back to Prague (Zbraslov on the sign here is a town about 15km south of Prague).

Karlštejn train station.

Countryside from the train.

Writing out the ticket request for the next day's adventure.

Etapa 4: Olomouc

This past weekend Caitlin and I took a whirlwind trip through Moravia, the eastern side of the Czech Republic.  We wrapped up by dropping into Olomouc on Sunday morning just to walk around, maybe see the cathedral, and get lunch.  From the train we started walking through a lovely park, and then cut over into the main town square.  There…

Hmmm, that's funny, down the end of the alley looks like a...

... team car.

And another one...

And another one?!

Hmmm…

No, you have got to be kidding me!

The Czech Cycling Tour

Sure enough, for the third straight weekend we had randomly stumbled into a huge bike race of one kind or another, this time the Czech Cycling Tour.  Fortunately a cafe parked right on the finish line (those are its umbrellas above) had free WiFi so this time we were able to figure out roughly what was going on: We’d arrived in Olomouc just in time to catch the conclusion of the fourth and final stage of what’s seemingly the Czech Republic’s biggest road race, part of the UCI’s European continental domestic pro circuit.

The timing crew starts getting set up for the finish.

While volunteers get all the signage out on the hard fencing.

And a UCI official talks with some of the course marshals.

The all-important bouncy castle was of course established first thing in the morning.

Caitlin enjoys some pickled cheese (!), pizza, and a mojito---conveniently enough the only drink she's found that reliably includes ice cubes...

Earlier that morning the race had left Olomouc, done a long loop, and as we arrived was just about to begin smaller loops around town for a full 180km race.  It was very hot this and the preceding few days, which must have taken a large toll on the field.  The number of finishers did not seem to nearly approach the 148 riders that had started the tour three days previous.

Map of the stage (from czechcyclingtour.cz).

The lead cars arrive!

The breakaway leader comes by, several minutes up.

Coming into the main square.

Note that the entire old town section is on cobbles...

The peloton rushes by.

The extensive caravan, supporting 23 teams, starts going past.

DNF'd riders and their team vans drifted in throughout the day. These guys are notable because I'd coincidentally seen their van broken down on a roadside south of Prague while out on a ride earlier in the week.

Heading back to the showers...

Strava

So, we’re sitting there in the conveniently placed cafe and I’m cruising the web to find out more about the race.  I start looking through the earlier stage results to see if we can spot any big international pro names.  We don’t recognize any, but then I realize “Hey, I have seen some of these names before…”

A start list that organizers were handing out to the crowd as the finish approached.

The Strava leaderboard for a longish climb out of Řevnice, a town a bit south of Prague.

The leaderboard for another climb on the way back toward Prague.

One of the many issues coming to Prague was what bike to bring, or even to bring one at all.  A six week trip is right on the upper edge of where I could skip the hassle and be reasonably happy and fit with just running.  Ultimately I brought my road bike, well aware that skinny tires could be pretty challenging in the inner core of Prague, what with the beefy cobblestones, trolleys, traffic, tourists, and more cobblestones.  A big part of the decision was that I’d been talking a lot of smack about a few stage races in August and September, particularly Green Mountain.  I didn’t want to go into that having been off my road bike all of June and July.

What really sold it though was that I did a couple quick searches on Strava for the area and found this one long ride by a guy named František Paďour.  It hit a whole bunch of good climbs, was a nice roaming route, had great mileage, and wasn’t far out of Prague.  I was sold.  The very first thing I did on my bike in Prague was head straight (well, as straight as I could navigate) to the main climb on that route.

The ride in question.

That first ride I spun up the hill, came back, uploaded my data, and was a couple minutes off the leader.  I figured: No problem, if I go kill it up the hill, I could challenge that KOM.  …  Since then I’ve been unable to make any real dent on the leaderboard (it’s the first one above).  I felt a lot better about that knowing that the leader was out doing pro races.

The Neon Yellow Jersey

Then came the end of the race.  It was pretty exciting, but we had no idea what was going on.  They didn’t start doing English announcements until the awards ceremony, we couldn’t tell any riders apart, it was a short sprint, and so on.

Waiting for the finish.

First place!

Second and third.

Part of the field. Note that the sprint is short, curving, and cobbled.

Then I see rider #3 roll into the little staging tent next to the podium.  I do a quick double take on the start list, confirm that it’s František, and start telling Caitlin “Hey, I think that dude I was talking about on Strava might have won something…?”  Next thing we know…

Paďour wins the top Czech rider jersey!

“Wait, I think he might have won a lot…”

Whirlpool-Author takes the team GC!

Paďour wins the neon yellow jersey as overall winner of the Czech Cycling Tour general classification!

As far as we can piece together from results and horribly mangled translations of Czech cycling news sites, Whirlpool-Author won the opening team time trial, stage two, and stage four.  Paďour hovered in the top ten on several stages, and aided by the TTT took the overall win by 2 seconds.  The key move was making it into a ten man split from the field going into the stage four finish we saw while his rivals did not.  Notably, earlier in the day we’d actually seen the rider who’d started the day as leader trailing far behind but we had not realized the significance of his jersey.  Apparently he had multiple mechanicals and could not recover.

A teammate brings the last-day GC leader home.

Whirlpool-Author sets up the train to reel in the solo breakaway going into the closing laps.

Ironically, just that previous Thursday and Friday I had spent considerable time while riding trying to figure out how these guys, whom I had assumed all along were quick but still comparable locals, could be going up that one climb in particular so much faster.  Suddenly it was much more clear.

So that is the full story of how František Paďour and Whirlpool-Author became Joe Kopena’s official favorite European continental pros.

Trying to congratulate František and thank him for posting all of his immensely helpful routes.

There are a bunch more pictures in the Flickr gallery.