Kralupy-Usti: 60 miles of bad road

“I’m worried about day 3: Prague to Usti. It’s 101k on bad surfaces. We start cycling at 10.15 (assuming we can get breakfast in time to catch that train) and there are two ferry crossings. We are not going to make it.”

It was every bit as tough as Caroline predicted but we did make it.

The train to Kralupy was to avoid the Prague suburbs and shorten the day to a manageable distance. Buying a ticket speaking no Czech was quite a comedy. Despite holding up two fingers as in “two people, two bikes” the ticket was unfeasibly cheap. Google goggles on the ticket didn’t help much, except some advice about unhitching horse from wagon before boarding the train. I went back to the ticket office with pictograms: 2 (Stick man pic) 2 (dodgy looking bike pic). Reassuringly expensive ticket resulted.

It wasn’t long before we hit our first stretch of rutted muddy forest track. And that was the pattern for the day. We’d have some miles of perfect tarmac and then just when it seemed it would last: loose gravel. Fearful cobbles. Piles of old broken bricks.

No surprise; I got a puncture. No surprise; first fix didn’t hold so I had to do it all again. Still no time lost because C had gone ahead and was dragging her bike through mud, and called back to say “take by pass by road” and I recovered 45 minutes of puncture fixing time.

On the bright side, the sun shone, the ferries were prompt, the scenery nice and contrary to worst fears, we made it. Only 8 and a half hours on the road.

Hoek of Holland to Amsterdam

Forgot to start Strava so missed the first bit. Speeding along under milky sun, fettling odd bits of Bob Jackson that weren’t quite right: saddle height, bar end plug, pannier fixings, gear adjustments. It’s all good now!

Lunch in Leiden then more fast flat silky cycle paths before the slightly hectic last few km into Amsterdam. 3 hours to wait before overnight train to Prague.

Winter Warbler

For the last few days we’ve had a blackcap visiting our garden. Here it is sharing the feeder with a couple from our troupe of long-tailed tits.

Beautiful Days – like festivals used to be’

Beautiful Days photosThis year our summer tour took in Beautiful Days for the first time. This festival has been widely described as “like festivals used to be”. I think that phrase is meant to distinguish Beautiful Days from the sort of festival that’s sponsored by makers of lager and mobile ‘phone networks, but it must have been created by a twenty-something marketing director. I remember how festivals used to be, and they weren’t like this.

If you’ve ever seen the film of Woodstock, the archetype for later festivals, you’ll remember no food, no toilets, no information, a sea of mud, bands turning up a day late or not at all, playing on a single stage with terrible PA, interminable waits between acts, and some nasty thuggery. Contrast this with Beautiful Days:

  • delicious food

    In the festivals of my youth, you could either stand in an endless queue to be fleeced by the chicken ‘n’ chips vendor or the same for the hot dog vendor. At Beautiful Days there was a choice of tasty wholesome meals from some of the best festival caterers.

  • ample clean toilets

    The Beatiful Days toilet fairies were constantly doing the rounds, keeping the facilities clean, fresh and well-stocked with paper.

  • child-friendly

    At the festivals of old there were no children. Beautiful Days had a happy and mostly-free area dedicated to making sure the children had a good time too.

  • more music

    As a paid-up old fogey, I couldn’t allow that the music now is better. But there is just so much more of it. Beautiful Days offered two main stages and a dance tent, all of which ran more or less to time, and the turnarounds between the acts were effectively managed. And we did see some great performances, my highlights being Bellowhead, the Eliza Carthy Band, Billy Bragg with the acoustic Blokes (thanks for Levi Stubbs’ Tears), and my first experience of Jill Sobule.The nightly showing of Freeborn John, which allowed members of The Levellers to dress up as cavaliers, and involved the English Civil War Society in the gratuitous firing of muskets, was a “concept”, and thus unquestionably ’70s. And what a glorious show it was, too. Apparently a recording is promised. More throwbacks like this, please.

Beautiful Days photosBut yes, there were some reminders of how festivals used to be:

  • traffic jams

    Although Glastonbury now knows how to get 120,000 people onto the site in the manner of a military landing, a mere 10,000 of us spent two hours stationary in a traffic queue waiting to reach the Beautiful Days gate. Very nostalgic.

  • security thugs

    We’d already half-erected our tent when a short bald muscly man in uniform with walkie-talkie zoomed up self-importantly on a quad-bike and told us in the choicest language to move on, because our chosen spot was reserved for the security team. Not a very nice man, but I suspect he might have been worse if I hadn’t managed to suppress the urge to giggle at his pompousness.

The rest of our Beautiful Days photos are here.

Festival Food Awards 2005

It’s not only the music that takes us out on the festival circuit every summer; we also go for the food. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Leon Lewis
    Leon LewisLeon is peerless as a festival caterer, and has been top of our list since we first encoutered him at WOMAD in 1991. Every time I sit down to eat a meal from Leon’s, someone will come up and ask for directions to the stall where I bought it. A former Maths teacher, Leon is nearly always on the stall in person, earnestly explaining each of the dishes. At Leon’s you get a substantial meal of gourmet veggie food, made from high-quality ingredients and prepared with skill and attention to detail. His signature dish is the Leonese Plateful, a meze platter of tasty Lebanese delicacies.

    The only concessions to outside catering on this stall are the disposable plates and cutlery, but never the food. Actually Leon has been known to go one step further towards the environmental goal and serve the food on edible (potato) plates.

    Leon has tried a few sites at Glastonbury, but seems to have settled on the north side of the Jazz-World field, echoing his position to the side of the open-air stage at WOMAD Rivermead. Apparently he also has a devout following at Cropredy.

  • Queen Delilah
    Queen Delilah serves excellent and good-value salads. They have tasty black-eye bean burgers too, but the salads are so good they make a nice lunch on their own. Queen Delilah is a regular at Glastonbury on the east side of main route which divides the Avalon and Greenpeace fields, next door to the Manic Organic. I don’t know anything about them, but they have nice friendly women serving up the food.

    Manic Organic (photo by Martin Lucas-Smith)


  • Manic Organic
    The Manics are a festival institution. A scarily large-scale organisation, a cast of what seems to be hundreds of well-drilled Antipodeans work in and behind their bedouin-style tent, and can process a queue like a military operation. The food is consistently good, a hearty plateful of Vegetable Daal or Chana and Potato Curry being just the thing on a cool evening.

    Manic Organic have an established site on the main path through the green fields, as it passes between the Avalon and Greenpeace fields. Also to be found at WOMAD, Beautiful Days, Big Green Gathering, …

  • Pizza Tabun
    Pizza TabunJust as you thought festival pizza was always going to be unpleasant greasy stuff best ignored, along comes the Pizza Tabun. Not a stall to visit in a hurry, because each pizza is rolled from fresh dough, topped to your specification and cooked to order in their special pizza oven. But the tent is a charming place to wait, with its comfy cushions and low tables. Unlike the previous entries, this one is also loved by the junior festival-goers, both for the pizza and the chocolate brownies. And the proprietor is a lovely man, whose manners belie his Steven Berkoff lookalike appearance.

    We first tried Pizza Tabun at the Larmer Tree festival. We’ve also found them at Glastonbury (in the Avalon field just round the corner from the Tiny Tea Tent), Beautiful Days, and the Big Green Gathering.

  • Yeo Valley
    The Yeo Valley stall sells the same stuff you can buy in your local supermarket; delicious organic yoghurts from a Somerset dairy farm. But while most producers hike up the price for the captive audience, Yeo Valley sell big pots of yoghurt at a discount price of £1, which makes them one of Glastonbury’s best bargains. They do frozen yoghurt too. The stall is down in Babylon in the F market area; you’ll pass it as you walk between the Pyramid and the Other Stage.

They hae slain the Earl o' Moray and Lady Mondegreen

The mondegreen was named for this mishearing of the Scottish ballad, “They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and layd him on the green“. Everyone has their favourite mondegreens, the gems of innocent misunderstanding which stand out from the contrived or merely smutty. The confusions of my own childhood began at school with “forgive us our Christmasses”, and progressed to Hendrix’s classic “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy”.

How much more fruitful for the modern child, whose parents listen to music in languages that I hadn’t even heard of at their age. The imagination can run wild when the lyrics are not in poorly enunciated English, but in Tamashek. Tinariwen’s “Got ash on my knees in Aldershot” is a car singalong favourite.

Her Britannic Majesty helps out

What a nice surprise to read some news that makes you proud. Apparently the British High Commission in Islamabad has a team of diplomats who rescue young British women held against their will in Pakistan. No equivocation, no mealy-mouthed excuses about culture or tradition. That stuff on the inside cover of your passport really works.

Now let’s she what she can do about a fair trial for David Hicks.

Squirrel Nutkin moves home

Squirrel eating rosehipSquirrel carrying babyYesterday we watched a squirrel move home with her three babies. Sharing our garden with two cats had proved too much for her. One by one she carried her babies, tiny mouse-sized creatures with thin tails, in her mouth to their new nest, racing as fast as she could. You may just be able to make one out in the blurry photo on the right. Job done, she returned for a tasty rosehip.

My, hasn’t the rose bush grown!

First day at primary school 1998First day at secondary school 2005On your left, Tom and Clara starting school in September 1998, in their shiny new shoes and too-big uniforms. And on the right, the same scene in September 2005. Spot the differences.