It was always a bridge too far. Too far into the urban jungle of Prague's Prague 3 district. Too far from my house. Too far from where we usually wanted to ride.
But I loved that bridge. I passed underneath it many times on my way to work, watching as runners and cyclists and walkers quickly crossed and then disappeared and I'd always wonder, "Where does that path begin, and where does it lead? And what's the view from up there?"
My usual view of The Bridge, from below, taken from my car on a rainy afternoon
I celebrated my 54th birthday a few weeks back and, just by chance, I had the day off. I asked Stewart if he was up for a ride of urban exploration, instead of our usual off-road hijinks. The ride would certainly involve cars and traffic lights and busy streets, but hopefully it would make up for that by throwing a few pleasant surprises into our path.
The Bridge, from up-top, at last
Stewart met me at my flat in Prague 6, like a true gentleman a bottle of Grant's in his hand for my big day, and we set off.
First stop: the beer garden at Letna for a quick morning tipple, before crossing Štefánikův Most and winding our way through the streets of Old Town to where I thought the path likely began: somewhere near the confluence of Husitská and Seifertova streets, not far from the main train station, Hlavní nádraží.
The rather unassuming start of the paved city trail, at the top of the stairs
We did find it, a decidedly unassuming start to what is actually a cool, paved cycling path that winds its way along what used to be an old train track beneath Vitkov Hill that runs parallel to Husitská and Konevova streets. (My cycling buddy David Murphy wrote in detail about this new path when it first opened in 2010. You can read that post here.)
The bridge crossing comes pretty quickly, and it felt great to finally be up there, looking down for once, from what must have once held the weight of locomotives.
(UPDATE: Thanks to reader Jakub Cikhart, I've discovered that the bridge is called Velká Hrabovka. Read more about it here, in Czech.)
We passed through a cool tunnel (the first of two on this trip) and discovered a fanciful pub, sadly not yet open, named U Vystřeleného oka (The Shot-Out Eye) (Note to Self: Make a return visit soon); stopped at Zahrádky Žižkov, a huge beer garden full of dozens and dozens of tents that seems as if it was built on an old abandoned lot, all overgrown and kinda shabby but also kinda cool, with a children's playground smack dab in the middle (only in Prague!); and then headed toward Vitkov Hill and the huge statue of the celebrated, one-eyed (hence the name of the aforementioned pub) Hussite General Jan Žižka atop a giant steed, at 22-meters high one of the largest equestrian statues in the world. It's an impressive bit of bronze, to say the least, and the site offers sweeping views across much of Prague.
The bronze statue was unveiled in 1950 and was designed by Bohumil Kafka. The total weight of the statue is said to be 16.5 tons.
(Read more about Žižka here, including how it's said he had a drum fashioned from his own flesh so that he could lead his troops into battle even after he was dead.)
From there, we took the Žižkov-Karlín pedestrian tunnel down into Karlín, discovering (or should I say, rediscovering, since Stewart and I had had a beer here back in 2001 or so, as I remember) a wonderful pub called U Tunelu situated just at the bottom of the tunnel. Step inside and step back in time. The place is a dream of a pub, with Art Deco cabinetry above the bar and all sort of antique knick-knacks scattered about the interior. They even served our beer in mugs that had been chilling in an ice bath. Fantastic place.
And two doors down is Peter's Burger Pub, where we sat outside and wolfed down a couple of tasty burgers (not the best in town, but pretty decent) and another beer or two.
At the Forgotten Sculpture Garden
From there, our goal was to find the bike path that we knew existed that would connect us to Prague 8 and Libeň. We found it pretty quickly, a dusty trail on the other side of Rohanské nábřeží that took us past the Forgotten Sculpture Garden, after which we connected with the trails that took us back down the Vltava toward the Prague Zoo, Troja, Stromovka, another beer, and home to Prague 6.
Thanks to Stewart for braving the streets with me. I actually find it quite exhilarating to ride in the city for some reason. There are few bike lanes in the city center, and the drivers here are notoriously hostile to cyclists, but I still like it. It's the sense of freedom, I guess, when everyone else is closed up in their cars, waiting at stop lights. And a declaration of sorts, I guess, that we have every right to share the road (as long as we obey the rules!).
Anyway, what a great trip. Happy birthday to me!
Length of ride: 26 kilometers
Average speed: 12.8 kph
Maximum speed: 29.5 kph
Time on the bike: 1:58:51
Pivo Index: 6 (4.9 ppk)
The start of the Žižkov-Karlín pedestrian tunnel
I've had a lot of beers in Prague, but this was the first pub I can remember visiting where they kept the mugs cool in a bath of ice water.
U Tunelu's interior
Peter's Burger Pub
The new bridge over the Vltava, between the zoo and Liben
Zahrádky Žižkov, a charming dump of a place
Some amazing bas-reliefs on a giant door at the Vitkov monument
Near the top of Vitkov Hill
Inside the Žižkov-Karlín pedestrian tunnel
The Shot-Out Eye
At the Shot-Out Eye
Inside the train tunnel
Sharing the path with a skateboarder
In Letna, overlooking the city, with the first beers of the day
A closeup of one of the bas-reliefs at Vitkov
Karlin has really experienced a renaissance since the disastrous floods of 2002. Forum Karlin is a cool place to see a concert. I saw Jack White there last year.