Friday, 22 June 2012

Pyrenean Haute Route - crossing the Pyrenees the hard way

In the process of packing for the Pyrenees.
After one and a half months in Prague, I'm finally heading off again. I'm going to the Pyrenees, to cross them on foot from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. 800km of hiking in about 30-45 days! It's the Pyrenean Haute Route I'm talking about, my biggest hike so far.

I think it's just about time to leave Prague, before I settle down too much. It already feels awkward to be leaving my flat, my gaming computer which I started using again, and the city environment I was getting accustomed to after many years.

The first two weeks here were really hard. I was clearly unhappy to have left New Zealand and my non-Czech friends who saw me said that it was visible a mile away. I was disappointed by Czech beer, whose fame kind of faded for me after tasting all the nice stuff in other countries, and after realising that mainstream Czech beers like Gambrinus or Staropramen aren't what they used to be. Nowadays all the big breweries belong to huge concerns such as Heineken, and everything tastes the same. However, I found out that micro-breweries, pubs that make their own beer, have sprouted up around Prague like mushrooms after a hot rainy day, and that they make really awesome, delicious brews. That's the real stuff, to hell with the mainstream crap without character. Two places I'd definitely recommend are U tří růží, near the Old Town Square, and Bašta, in Nusle. Their beer is simply delicious, and it goes without saying that food is also great. What really struck me was wasabi beer at the Bašta pub. Now, now, don't sneer, it's not what you think. Wasabi beer doesn't burn your mouth to bits, on the contrary; it's a normal beer horseradish smell and flavour, that's all. I love it.

Anyway, this is the happy part of my stay in Prague, but prior to it, I was still in a bad frame of mind. Not only because I had left NZ, but also due to a lot of pressure from tough decisions I had to make, from choosing a new camera to finding a suitable bank for remortgaging (this involved a lot of study and effort into a field I couldn't care less about). Probably the worst of all was deciding where to travel next. I had wanted to find seasonal work somewhere in Europe, but it's not as easy as in New Zealand, you can't just try one place and if things don't work out, hitch-hike for half a day and try somewhere else. With a huge stroke of luck I met someone who was just looking for a mate to go to Denmark. We saw eye to eye, I finally had a purpose and my mood was back on top. I finally started living a bit more socially, getting in touch with old friends, instead of playing one videogame after another (most of the new ones were nothing but a disappointment), I went to the Krkonoše mountains with my cousin and had a great hiking weekend, and things had overall improved.

Later I went to Krkonoše again with Káča, a friend I met in NZ, and we climbed Sněžka, Czech Republic's highest mountain (1602m). While competing against my younger self from a year ago, I was very pleased. Last year, the climb from the Polish Hut to the peak (a steep rocky path about 300m of altitude over 2km) took me more than half an hour, a lot of puffing, resting and sweating. This time, I did it in 15 minutes with no breaks and hardly any sweat. My NZ fitness really paid off.

In the end we decided to postpone Denmark and go to the Pyrenees first. I'd been planning this big trip for ages and now it was finally starting to take shape. There's a long way from buying the guidebook to finalising all plans, putting together all the necessary equipment (maps are bloody expensive) and to call my last week in Prague stressful would be an understatement. I was still remortgaging while getting ready to leave the country at last.

And now it's here. Tomorrow morning we'll be boarding a plane to Toulouse, then hitch-hiking 330km to the coast and we'll start our big 800km trip across the mountains.

I wish I could have left Prague sooner. I spent a month and a half here, the longest stay in years, and I was sort of getting settled down again. Now it feels awkward to see all my things packed and put away. There's a strong feeling of deja-vu - I had felt this last year when leaving for New Zealand. Speaking of which, I really, really bloody miss it! I'd give everything for being there now, even if it's wintertime and I'd be slaving off in the vineyard, pruning them vines. Can't wait to go back.

But now I have something else to look forward to. Pyrenean Haute Route, I'm coming!


  1. Good luck and have fun on your journey. And if you're still in Prague on 26th of June, let's have a goodbye-Beer! :)


  2. I'm blocking comments to this post due to the incredible amount of annoying spam.