Here we are in Prague, Czech Republic. It’s quite an amazing place and it ‘feels good’ here. We have been here for the last 3 nights, 1 more to go. Sort of like a holiday from our holiday, although we may have already had one of those... No don’t worry, we are not getting sick of it, we are actually just getting used to it. The trip to Prague was pretty uneventful, but here’s how we did it!
After we returned from Sweden we headed back to Amsterdam and the first stop was a place called the Hobby Hall. No, not to do puzzles and make quilts, but to do some work on the car. I found Hobby Hall with the help of I-Site Amsterdam. It’s a fully equipped workshop with 2 post hoists, welding gear, spray painting booths and general workshop areas and is available to the general public for an hourly rate. Before we headed off to Scandinavia I did the wiring and added an extra battery while Christine arranged the rear of the vehicle at the Hobby Hall. We spent 3 days there! This time we just wanted to unfold the tent and remove the ice and dry it some, and I wanted to redo some of the wiring I put in for the fridge and add a fuse to the inverter wiring. It’s a great place even though it’s a bit out of town. A lot of people don’t have houses with garages or even yards where they can work on cars, hence Hobby Hall, thanks guys!
One of the great things about having friends that live in faraway countries is that every so often you can call in for a visit. If they live really far away, its best to call in as much as possible while you can because you never really know when you’re going to be able to just ‘call in’ again. So, due to this, we found ourselves back at Vanessa and Ants place ‘calling in’ hehe.. We really love you two and hope you will have had enough of a break from us before we call in again. It is invaluable to be able to see the locals side of any city, especially a city that has such a tourist presence that Amsterdam has. We saw the tourist attractions but having the time to visit the places that are full of everyday locals as well, is really fun and makes the trip quite different. Thanks for offering us the use of your lovely Amsterdam apartment. We loved staying in your city and all it had to offer.
We headed off southish, down through Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. While we were in Berlin we went to the Berlin wall memorial. It’s hard to understand the wall. They only just saved the little bit they did. The locals wanted it all gone and I don’t blame them. We also had an evening with Katja who we first met on the Appalachian Trail this year. Katja, under the trail name “Spacious” walked from Harpers Ferry, Virginia to the end of the trail at Mt Katahdin. We enjoyed some great catch up time from the days on the trail and Katja showed us around some of the East Berlin she grew up in. Katja knew only the half-walled city as a child but is now justifiably proud of her new city and country. It showed as she toured us around the areas that had changed in her neighborhood after the unification of the east and west Germanys. It was interesting that for her a thing that she remembers above most other things, when the wall came down, was the buildings in West Berlin were bright colors. In her East Berlin, the buildings were raw render or cement and grey. They had never been painted. She said she remembered that lots of the buildings were patched from bomb and bullet holes made during WW2 and remained that way until reunification in the 1980’s when investors developed, and sold, building after building. It was really great to catch up with you Katja and we wish we had more time. We are looking forward to seeing you and staying a bit longer after we have been to Africa.
We made a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp which is in Oswiecim, Poland. I was really surprised at how much of the story they told at the camp. We had it taught to us in schools and we have all heard about the Jews that were put to death at the camps but the untold story for me was about the Polish and later what happened to the Germans. The Auschwitz death camp was originally built to exterminate the Polish people and more than one million Polish were killed by the Nazis. It was later in the war that they included the Jews. Altogether an unusual place and although we were two of the crowds that were there, it was strange to see so many people wanting to visit such a place. The other interesting point displayed at the site were stories about what happened to the German people after they lost the war. Of course, we don’t want to remember that either but I was always taught that 2 wrongs don’t make a right… We didn’t do a guided tour. We could have had someone tell us about what happened in gruesome detail but we already knew what happened at this place. It was terrible for this to have happened in modern times, more than just the fact that it happened. More than once I just found myself saying ‘what were they thinking’ to think they could exterminate an entire country of people. It’s amazing to think of nowadays and I hope that modern communications and a good solid media will stop this sort of thing happening again, but hang on… oh it already is in Syria.
We then travelled to Slovakia for the night. It was our first taste of Eastern Europe and cheap prices. Hotel prices dropped by around two thirds and food by nearly three quarters. Diesel was down to around one euro a liter. We were paying over two euros per liter in Norway! Straight away we realized that English was not the easy second language that it is in central Europe and Scandinavia. Slovakia (and Czech Republic) are really new countries. Formed in the 80’s out of Czechoslovakia, they had the ‘velvet revolution’ and voted in a democratic government for the first time in generations. As countries go, they are doing really well. Low unemployment and good GDP. It is a very strange thought for me, having grown up on an island nation, that a new country could be formed and new borders be drawn up, and over there could be going to another country! Pretty normal for the Europeans though and they did it here and drew a line through the country. The night we spent in Slovakia, our car was broken in to!! They smashed the right rear window and of course the alarm went off and whoever it was fled without taking anything. They did however leave glass right through my ‘wardrobe’ on the back seat. I heard the thing go off at around 4am and went outside straight away. Hmmm I thought, I might have said ‘bugger’ once or twice. I stayed at the car and cleaned it up and taped some plastic over the hole.
Then we were in Prague. We went and checked in to our apartment and then went to the local Toyota dealer who had to order the glass in from Gent, Belgium where they have the Toyota European warehouse. Gent is the same city that Volvo has the main parts warehouse too so I have waited for parts from Gent before. We found some secure parking just on the outskirts of the city to leave the car with a taped-up hole where a window was and waited for the glass to arrive. We only had to wait one extra day than we had planned to stay in Prague but it is a really nice place to wait a while. Prague is very pretty. It has no high-rise buildings, even in the CBD they are around 8 or 9 stories max. In the suburbs and the old city, the buildings are all very ornate and have a lot of elaborate plaster work and statues or verandas with pillars. It’s a complete contrast to what we saw in Germany (so far) and Poland where the buildings were very dull and utilitarian. We did more walking around Prague than any city so far. It was not all flat but it was always nice and interesting.
When we arrived at our accommodation we picked up a map and city guide produced by locals. It was how to be like a local and not look like a tourist while seeing all Prague has to offer. Ended up being a good guide. One of the things in the ‘never do’ section was don’t go to the Palladium shopping mall, it’s too busy, they say. We thought it would be an ideal place to get a few supplies like new undies and a new toothbrush. It was like St Lukes mall except it has 4 floors of it. We found what we needed and did a good long mall walk for fitness. Hehe. We also went to the big old castle by walking over the 600-year-old bridge. It’s a silver lining of the communist era that they did look after the big old buildings and castles and the Prague Castle is in really good condition. There is an amazing collection of palaces and government buildings in an amazing setting on a hill looking over the river as it runs through the city. If it wasn’t 0 degrees C we would have stayed longer. We know we are never going to see everything but it would have been nice to see more of Czech Republic, we are going south to Cesky Krumlov but there is so much more...
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!