BootsnAll Travel Network

Loket: Picker Lonesome and the Lonesome ´Mater Pickers

Following the departure of our friends, Bec and I took stock of our situation, and realised we had plenty of time to kill in the Czech Republic. From Czech, our plans were to travel to Germany, onto Holland to meet Dutch relatives of my mum, and then to Belgium to catch up with Dylan and Mieke, who we met in Budapest, before returning to Germany for Christmas and New Year. But with those countries being way more expensive than the Czech Republic, and with us having absolutely no idea how much money we have, thanks to the bumbling beauracracy of our UK bank, we were keen to spend as much time in Czech as possible. And shit, when the beer is this cheap, why wouldn´t you? So to that end, after a couple of extra days in Prague with just the two of us, Bec and I found ourselves on a bus on November 2nd, headed for the tiny town of Loket, a couple of hours West of Prague.

Loket hides itself on a bend of the Ohře river; a bend that loops right around and almost back onto itself, forming all but an island on which the old town of Loket rests. On the clifftops of the island sits a dramatic castle, almost a mini version of the stunning Edinburgh Castle. Surrounding the castle is a spacious town square, and colorouful cottages sleeping beside the river.The river surrounds the island like a moat, beyond which are forested hills now almost totally devoid of colour; the trees having shaken themselves free of their leaves, they now stand tall and naked in an everpresent ghostly fog.

We saw all this from the bus as it circled the town before dropping us at the bus station across the river. Walking over the bridge and into the old town, it felt like entering a fairy tale. The only hostel in town was the aptly named Lazy River hostel, and upon finding it tucked in a back street at the foot of the castle, we were greeted with a locked front door. Shit. I´d emailed them the day before to check that they had some beds for us, but in our haste getting out of Prague, I hadn´t checked to see if they´d replied. Maybe they were closed or something, it was getting towards the low season.

Bec and I exchanged worried looks, neither daring to suggest that we may have to turn right around and get a bus back to Prague. I started thinking of other places we could go…. maybe down to Plzen, or just head straight to Cesky Krumlov, or…. there was the sound of a key in the door, and after a bit of jiggling the door swung open and we were greeted by a young American guy. As soon as we walked in we felt at home. It was shoes off at the door, and we were led into a 9 bed dorm room, “Well, this´ll be your room.” It was empty. “And you´ve just seen more than half the whole place.” The hostel was tiny, no more than 13 beds in total, in two rooms, with a dining room, a shelf at the end of the hall with a sink and some hotplates, and a tiny bathroom.

“Dane´s my name,” our host said, before introducing us to the only other two guests, Will and Gram. “You´ll meet Doug, the owner, later. We´re just looking after the place while he´s out.”

“So you´re the only ones here? Just the three of you?”


“And how long´ve you been here?”

“About 2 and a half weeks.” Yep, right at home.

Dane, Will and Gram were three of the most easy-going and friendly guys you could hope to meet. In their early 20s, and all hailing from North Carolina (although Dane was originally from Indiana), the three of them together formed a bluegrass band back home, the wonderfully named Picker Lonesome and the Lonesome ´Mater Pickers, and were travelling not just with a guitar, but also with a banjo. They were planning on leaving the next day, but were convinced to stay an extra night after our arrival.

The next few days were fantastic. We spent our hours reading Kerouac, and Hemingway, and Salinger, and listening to Ryan Adams, and Wilco cds. We went hiking through the forest with Gram and Will. Twenty minutes in and Will produced a bottle of rum from his back pack, “Now we´re really hiking,” he said and took a swig. We found a clearing in the woods, a meadow rising up over a hill, and sat up there talking shit, sharing the rum. That night the boys gave us a lesson in the history of bluegrass (Will had done a thesis on the topic), and played us records by Bill Monroe and Dell McKurry, and we in turn played tracks by Gillian Welch and Jolie Holland and Johnny Cash. And then they put on their own cd, Picker Lonesome and the Lonesome ´Mater Pickers, Live in the Studio, and we listened for hours. Then we walked to the pub, and listened to the Grateful Dead, and shared a joint with some locals, and played fooz ball ´till early in the morning.

There was none of the usual monotonous travel talk; where´ve you been? where´re you going? have you been here? oh it´s awesome, you should go. It was just enjoying the moment, not worrying about anything more than what song to play on the stereo, or what book to read next, and what sort of beer to buy.

I reckon that´s how it should be.

We did eventually meet Doug, the hostel owner. A guy in his mid 30s, and like the three boys hailing from North Carolina in the ´ol U S of A, he´d lived in the Czech Republic for 6 years, and set up the tuny hostel a bit over 2 years ago. We got to talking about what we´d been up to, and told him of our trip to the hockey in Prague. Doug was a huge hockey fan, and so we went with him to see the local team play. With Loket being waz too small to host a team in the National league, we hopped a bus to the nearby small city of Karlovy Vary to see the Vary play Cesky Budejovice.

This wasn´t like the big stadiums of Prague, this was a venue holding just a few thousand, and half of that was standing room only. We packed in, and stood shoulder to shoulder with smelly Cyech men, on bare concrete steps. We blew fog in front of our faces, and wiggled our toes to stop them from going numb. We ate sausages served on paper plates with a slice of brown bread and a dollop of mustard, and that squirted sausage juice everywhere when you bit into the skin, but no-one seemed to mind. We cheered when the Vary went up 2-0. And then we threw our heads back in despair when Budejovice scored the winning goal with under a minute left in extra time, and trudged out with our eyes on our feet, shaking our heads, just like all the smelly Czech men did.

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