When travelling from Prague to Berlin, why take the same old boring modes of transport when you could spice it up by using a pedalo instead? Well that’s just what freelance super adventurers Sarah and Matthes did!
In the summer of 2014 Matthes and Sarah bought a yellow pedalo, put it in the back of a van and drove to Prague to start their epic 620km adventure. For 18 days they pedalled up the Vltava and Elbe Rivers, a handful of canals and lakes and finally up the Havel River to their final destination. Here’s their story…
This is certainly a unique adventure — how did you come up with the idea?
The short answer is: Matthes. He basically comes up with crazy ideas for a living! Otherwise, it was a long combination of wanting to do a big raft tour down the Danube, realising we didn’t have the time, people or resources to pull it off in such a short time and then looking around for an alternative plan. We looked at all kinds of things — different rivers, motor boats, canoes and everything in between. Then we saw the ad for the pedalo on eBay and it all just sort of fell into place. 10 days later we’d bought it and were in Prague ready to set off.
Did the adventure pan out the way you expected?
I’m not sure we had too many expectations to begin with as there aren’t many other long-distance pedalo tours to learn from. However, several things were easier than expected, in particular getting through the locks. We’d been led to believe they’d be dangerous and that we might have to pay or wait for ages. In reality, everyone was really friendly, we were always allowed straight in, never had to pay a penny and the whole experience was far less dramatic than expected.
Overall there was a good mix of pedalling along in the sunshine surrounded by beautiful scenery and having to push really hard in the pouring rain, fighting the waves from oncoming boats passing too closely. The good times far outweighed the bad!
What was your most memorable moment?
Nearly sinking in the middle of Prague?! We hadn’t had any time to actually take the boat for a test ride since we’d only bought it one and a half weeks beforehand and had spent the time doing painting and repair work. Needless to say, realising your boat is filling up with water less than two hours after setting off is not a pleasant feeling. Luckily we made it to the wall just as the front began to dip underwater and three of us scrambled up a ladder and started scooping water out from inside the boat. The rest of the day was spent sourcing repair material and fixing our boat on an island in the centre of Prague. Definitely one of those “funny later, not so funny at the time” moments!
What was your favourite time of day to pedal?
One morning we woke up especially early to pedal into the sunrise and that was truly magical. There was a thin veil of mist across the river, it was cold, completely quiet and you could just float by, watching the sun as it snuck its way up over the hilltops in the distance. In general, we loved getting up early, packing up and heading off as quickly as possible and then having breakfast on the boat, enjoying the peaceful stillness of the early morning. There were generally fewer people about, so it was really just us and nature, which is always a wonderful feeling.
What were your favourite stopping points en route?
I loved exploring the area known as “Saxon Switzerland” around the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. The place is full of these insane, fantastical sandstone rock formations that you can clamber around in and feel like you’re in some kind of ancient mystical forest. A few weeks after finishing the tour, we actually went back to explore some more.
Aside from Prague itself, we embraced the opportunity to see several other super interesting places, like Theresienstadt (a large Jewish concentration camp in the 1940s), Meissen (famous for its porcelain, also has an impressive fortress), Wittenberg (where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door almost 500 years ago) and Dessau (home of Bauhaus design).
Sleeping must have been interesting, ey?
That’s one way of putting it! There’s a special kind of excitement and nervousness about not knowing what’s around the river bend and where you’re going to sleep that night. We had an even mix of camping at marinas and campsites and sometimes simply wild camping by the side of the river. At times this meant nice sandy banks with a stunning view out the tent door, but at other times it meant sharing a field with a herd of cows and just hoping they wouldn’t get too curious. The last night we essentially slept on a pile of moss covered rocks beneath a flashing green beacon. But after pedalling all day you can pretty much sleep anywhere.
But at the same time, I had some of the best naps ever, curled up on the back of the boat while Matthes pedalled alone (I also let him nap occasionally), drifting off to the gentle splish splashing of the water and the rocking motion of the boat.
It must have been quite physically demanding — what hurt the most?
Our bums! Even though we had better seats than your average pedalo — which we’d plumped up with extra cushions — after a few hours of pedalling without a break you definitely feel it most in your backside!
Sunburned knees were also pretty painful. We both managed to burn our knees quite badly, which was super sore for a few days. And our calves definitely felt the burn of pedalling the most inefficient drive mechanism for hours on end.
Were there any low points?
Almost sinking on our first day was certainly a low point. But the second to last day was also really tough as we were on a canal the whole day — with no current to help us. We knew the lock at the far end would shut at 4pm and we just couldn’t get stuck on the wrong side of it. It was super hot, we ran out of water and it was also the weekend so there were tons of motor boats around, which sometimes passed very close to us, making big waves — not fun!
How much did the whole adventure cost you?
The boat: €550 (but we sold it on for the same price afterwards)
Transport (boat and us) Berlin-Prague: €250
Equipment (after selling the boat again): €150
Restaurants, food, entry fees, accommodation: €850
Total: €1,250 (average of €35/day pp)
Costs are no excuse to not go on an adventure! We ate out almost every day so it could definitely be done cheaper.
Would you mind reenacting one of your ukulele songs from the trip?
I think it’s fortunate for all of us that there were no videos of the ukulele playing! I literally learnt to play sitting on the pedalo, so definitely not recording-worthy yet!
Would you do anything differently?
We’d certainly take the boat for a test ride first and pile even more cushions on the seats! It also would have been cool to organise some Couchsurfing stays en route or something to meet a few more locals along the way.
What’s next on your list of adventures?
On 19th April I’ll be starting my 1,000 mile cycle along the length of Great Britain. I’ll mostly be on my own, but Matthes will join me for a few days. You can follow my cycling odyssey on our adventure blog or on my Instagram.
In the summer we have a big Danube tour in the pipeline. There’s still space onboard, so if anyone is interested in joining us as we raft the Danube, just get in touch!
We also have a couple of sporting feats planned with Matthes doing a Western-themed obstacle race in September and me taking on my first marathon in October.
All photography courtesy of Sarah and Matthes