Sometimes, simplicity far outdoes complexity. Such is the case with this photo and the story behind it, at least in my opinion.
My friend Hamilton and I had been cycling for two months through Europe already, covering over 2000km from Norway to the Elbe River in southern Germany. So far, the countries we had travelled through had been very western, and more importantly, very bike friendly. Germany in places had been an embarrassment of riches, where we would sometimes come across bike route direction markers with up to 15 bike routes pointing in different directions. As we reached the border with the Czech Republic however, we realized that the easy riding portion of our trip might be over.
The Elbe cycle route runs from Cuxhaven, Germany in the North, to Prague, Czech Republic in the South. We had joined up with the Elbe a days ride North of Dresden, and had been following it for three days before reaching the Czech border. On the German side, the route is immaculate. The pavement on the path is pristine, shops, restaurants, camp grounds and pensions dot the pathway, and directional signage is plentiful and easy to understand.
Immediately after crossing into the Czech Republic the difference in economic prosperity was apparent. The pathway was cracked and heaving in places, tourist facilities catering to cyclists were non-existent, and the route signage was vague if it was present at all. This new country was going to challenge us on many levels, but I left with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the place, indeed the county as a whole is one of my very favourite.
Much of my feelings toward the country have to do with the simplicity that I found to be more prevalent in the rural areas than similar areas in other countries I had been to. Even in many of the mid sized towns and villages, the facades on the once grand architecture was cracked and peeling, hinting at better days gone by. There was a grit that was present indicative of a people who had had to work hard, and fight for their livelihood, but were refused to let this fact get to them, despite the prosperity of their neighbors to the North. The country is home to some of the friendliest and most helpful people I've met anywhere, and I've talked to more than one traveller whose fallen under the Czech spell and been drawn back time and again, or refused to leave all together.
Somehow, this photo of an aging church on the banks of the Elbe has come to encapsulate everything that the country means to me, and brings me back every time I look at it. Something about the simplicity of the composition, the balance, the hardiness, and the mood, reminds me not only of the moment that was captured in the image, but of so many moments that took place throughout the weeks I spent in the country.