Who else is missing nature right now? I know I am. During the current crisis many of us have had to become accustomed to spending more time surrounded by four walls. The problem is that what you do most of the time becomes the new normal, doesn’t it?
People are slowly beginning to emerge from lockdown in many countries, and in the Czech Republic most things are almost back to normal. One more week and most restrictions will have been lifted. One more week of face masks, at least the compulsory use anyway. One more week of no schools, until a weird sanitised form will be reintroduced for those who need it. One more week until people can really begin to relax. But will we?
Nature was supposed to be the escape during all of this. Get away from the town and get some fresh air. The problem is that everyone else felt the same desperation and before you knew it the forests were full and the town centres were empty. Then we faced a weird choice. If we wanted some freedom we actually had to return to the human creations, heading away from what should have been more natural.
I have visited this National Park several times and, having lived in the Czech Republic for more than a decade, thought I knew what to expect of it. But a recent family trip proved to me how wrong I was.
Located along the northern Czech border with Poland, the Krkonoše National Park is one of the most famous and popular in this country. Containing the countries highest peak, Sněžka, it has a stunning collection of ski resorts, hiking and walking trails, as well as beautiful nature everywhere you look.
Now, I am not much of a hiker, my dodgy knees make me wary of getting too high as coming down is a jarring experience. Due to this I have never been to the peak of the highest mountain, so I had never experienced the difference in nature which the higher reaches of this mountain range contain. But a recent family trip, and a small improvement in my fitness, recently changed that.
We still did not visit the peak itself but stayed in a small skiing village, called Rokytnice nad Jizerou, for one week and enjoyed day trips in the surrounding mountains. Now they may not have been the highest, but they were high enough. And since our holiday took place during the recent European heat wave, it was fairly hard work every day. Hard work, but so satisfying. Physical exercise, beautiful nature and plenty of fresh air.
As I said, it was a family trip and we were all kitted out with our Camelbaks. Carrying 9 litres of water, between us, just about covered our needs for the day. But the best item we carried had to be our micro towels, nice and cooling when wet, they proved to have great recuperative powers, for both the children as well as my wife and I.
So what is so different about the nature? At the higher altitudes, the dense pine forests disappear and are replaced by sparse Scandinavian style nature. Low-growing trees, which look more like bushes, and space. There is much more space, if you can get away from the crowds. But that is relatively easy. There are some very popular trails, like going to the source of the Elbe, or Labe in the Czech language. But if you take a different route back you will be on your own in no time.
There are also many mountain chalets located throughout this area. Places to stop, take a break and buy some food and drink. If you are Czech this will probably mean a beer, but until I finish the day I stick to the water myself. Some of these chalets can be surprisingly large and offer a bit of fun for the kids too, they never lack in energy of course.
At the end of the week, I was happy to get home and rest my legs. But this was definitely one of the most enjoyable holidays I have had. A special mention should go to Hotel Helena, where we stayed. Returning there every day, where the kids could keep jumping and playing and my wife and I could collapse for a while, was a pleasure. This small hotel has good facilities and the food was excellent. Breakfast, a snack for the day and dinner were all included in the price. There was plenty of it and every meal was delicious. Oh and, of course, the beer was cold and refreshing too. Even more so than dipping your toes in one of the local streams.
Following the flow of a meandering river has to be one of the most enjoyable and relaxing ways to spend your time. You come across so much, if you are paying attention. Nature, wildlife, civilisation and, if you are unlucky, people. I’m joking a little bit about the last one, but my main purpose for a walk like this would always be peace and quiet.
Rivers change so much, around every curve there can be a new world to be discovered. Sometimes they are as straight as an arrow, running through the city, fortified against flooding. Then they can become a wilderness of tall grass, where childhoods are spent hiding and forts are constructed. Maybe they run through industry which seems a tragedy as an adult, but as a child was a wonderland of unknown and dangerous intrigue.
But, however you view them, they are a source of life. Veins and arteries, which cross our lands giving sustenance to all the organisms which depend upon them. So they must be cherished, cared for, and not allowed to deteriorate. For, if we are not careful, before long they may clog. And what were once healthy vessels with fresh water coursing through them, could become choked trickles struggling and shrinking.
So, as with the body, we must be careful what we put in, what we take out, and check regularly for any problems. Treatment must be quick and, hopefully, we will all live long and healthy lives together.