Archive for the ‘Czech Republic’ Category

We’ve Got Hurt Feelings

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Our second run-in with the law was much less pleasant than the first. We left Praha/Prague late Sunday afternoon, the seventh, and drove until 9 or so when we stopped and prepared a birthday feast. Daniel Shenk, 23 years and roughly 10 thousand miles away in Canada, began his preparations for this epic journey and we decided to celebrate. We found a truck stop and began a meal worthy of our birthday boy. Fusilli pasta covered with tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes, onions, and meat. We also enjoyed toast and popcorn and washed it all down with a “cappuccino.” We concluded the birthday festivities by lighting a birthday “candle,” a little excess camping gas. I took the wheel and drove on into the night, crossing into Austria around one. Only David and I were awake at the border where we drove through the dark customs and immigration checkpoint without a second thought. Just another border. I found a rest stop half an hour later and we fell asleep with the promise of showers (our first in a week) in the stop’s facilities the next morning.

Still partially asleep, I stumbles out of the driver’s door at 5:30 Monday morning. I had fallen asleep behind the wheel without reclining the seat and slept fitfully so it merely felt like a dream. I had to adjust my pants on the way out of the seat and I mumbled something incoherent about losing them. I thought the guys were messing around. It took a second before I realized I was standing before two Austrian police officers. I got back in the car. Shenk had also woken and believing he was still dreaming about rendezvousing with some friends, jumped out of the car as well. “Suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming and I had to pretend I was doing something intelligent,” he said later. After returning the officer’s curt “Morning,” he put on his jacket and made a show of stretching. I was in the driver’s seat, only awake enough to understand that we hadn’t bought a €1.25 ticket to travel the highway in Austria. I fumbled in the center console for some change. “It’s one-twenty,” intoned one officer, “you can pay by cash or card.” He had to repeat himself twice until I realized he referred to a fine and it was one-hundred and twenty Euro.

Bumbling, I tried to reason with the officer. We had entered the country late and had missed the signs he described that warned of the necessary highway ticket. Apparently you buy them at customs or the next petrol station. He wouldn’t buy my sleepy appeal for mercy. We payed by card. All of us awake now, there was a moment of panic when we realized it was 5:30 a.m. And we we’re sure to whom I had just groggily handed our debit card. Daniel confirmed seeing their cop car so the realization began to set in that we had just significantly contributed to Austria’s GNP. We returned to sleep less than pleased with the Austrian authorities. I’m not sure how this plays into Ephesians 4:26.

We slept in. I woke, admittedly still harboring some animosity toward Austria. We completely unpacked the car, determined to milk our time in the country. It didn’t help that another police car stopped and an officer demanded to see a highway ticket. He seemed a little too disappointed when I pointed to the dash and our €120 ticket. We reorganized the car for the first time since Shenk’s return and enjoyed a shower. Our tag-team approach proved effective and the four of us finished cleansing ourselves with four minutes to spare of the fifteen minutes allotted us. Shenk enjoyed a late birthday present. I enjoyed a shave.

We arrived at Salzburg around noon and set out to witness this city fit for a king (see film below). It was “a literal fountain of fountains.” We climbed to the impressive castle fortress’s walls and walked past Mozart’s home and the cathedral where he was the music director and choir master. There were even lady-folk. The town was nice but we still felt relieved to leave Austria. There were border signs regarding the highway tax, but they were small and in German. Back in Germany, we found Dachau and its concentration camp. The camp was closed so we walked around outside, enjoying the emptiness. I drove out into the countryside and down a little rural road that led to an ideal camping site in a stand of pine trees. I tried out the off-roading capabilities of our overloaded station wagon. We cleared a substantial tree stump and barely avoided two others. A hot meal and we split to the tent and the car to write blog posts and sleep off Austrian wake-up calls. So the next time you drive through Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, or Hungary, may we suggest you buy a highway ticket.


Sunday in Prague

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

When we finally left Prague late Saturday night, Dan Shenk and I [david] tried to find our way out of the city—this was made much more difficult because the roads in Prague are not marked, so we just navigated with a compass knowing that at some point Prague would have to end. Dan was driving and all of a sudden there were bright blue lights flashing behind us. A couple of cops got out of the police car and approached my side of the car before realizing that it was a right-hand drive. They told us that we had gone down a one-way street the wrong way (but I don’t think there were any marked signs). When they determined that it was an honest mistake and that we weren’t drunk they let us go. I don’t think they wanted to deal with the hassle of ticketing a Canadian (Dan Shenk has a Canadian passport) with a British car in the Czech Republic.

We found a place to park outside of Prague (after finally finding its end) by a KFC. The next morning we got up and went back into Prague to try to find the English speaking church we found on the internet the night before. Again the lack of posting road numbers deterred our progress, but we finally found the church. We were afraid we were going to be about twenty minutes late, but I noticed that on their web page they posted a note that the church service was to start at 12:00 instead of the normal time of 11:00. We were quite glad for this change because it allowed us to freshen up before going into the church and find a place to sit before the service started. We were made very welcome by the pastor and other church members. This was the first church service that I have been able to understand since we left the U.K., and it was very refreshing. It was the first church service that was similar stylistically to my church back home, which made me realize how much I miss my church family back home and the actual church service itself. We first sang praise and worship songs (that we knew), and then the pastor gave a good sermon using I John 3. After the sermon we had a time of communion in which we ate real bread instead of the cardboard wafer served in high churches. The church attracts quite a few young families and young adults going to college in Prague; it was good to see a large number of peers in a church for the first time on the trip.

After church we walked Prague for several hours. We first saw Wenceslas Square, which turned out to look much more like a road than a square, but what do I know? There we saw a noble statue of the “Good King” who went out on the Feast of Steven. We next saw a statue of Jan Hus—an early protestant martyr—in the town center, before seeing Franz Kafka’s house nearby. Unfortunately, Gregor the giant beetle was nowhere to be seen. Next, we climbed a big hill which gave us a great view of the city and also contained the Palace. Matt had a very one-sided conversation with a guard who was standing by the gate to the Palace. I had to wonder what was going through the guard’s mind as Matt explained why his job was unimportant and how he was nothing more than an ornament. We decided to head back to our car and walked over the famous Charles Bridge on the way. The Charles Bridge was covered with tourists like maggots on a rotting carcass, but we were eventually able to fight our way through the teeming masses. Prague is a very tourist town; I knew that this would be the case, but the sheer quantity of them surprised me (and also disappointed me a little too).

On the way back to the car we found a cheap supermarket (Tesco) and purchased some normal extremely cheap bread, some other normal food items, some snacks for Dan Shenk—it was his birthday, so we decided to get him some small treats—and some cappuccino mix which has joined toast and popcorn as a delicious supplement to our meals. We piled our food purchases into the back of the car and headed out of town excited to see the beauty of the Austrian Alps the next morning.

david miller

South to Praha

Friday, June 12th, 2009

While the guys continued enjoying the view of the city from the Reichstag dome, I set off through the Brandenburg Gate and returned to the Bebelplatz square. Earlier that day I had stuck my head into an atrium-like room off the square, attracted to the techno beat and kaleidoscopic light show. I learned the university was hosting a benefit dance party that night. I arrived around eleven and persuaded my way inside for half price. The party was slow in starting so I chatted with the student manning the Macbook and the music until around midnight when the real DJ arrived. I hung off to the side until working up enough courage to join the growing crowd on the dance floor for a good passionate dance. The guys were expecting me back at the car before 12:30 so I could not stay as long as I would have wished. Instead, I tried to navigate the Berlin subway system. I arrived an hour and a half late to cold pasta and toast. At junctions, I had to ascend to the surface and walk a block or so past a few raving drunks to descend to the desired subway’s station, then wait for the next train traveling my intended direction. Interesting characters on the subway at 2 am in Berlin. We departed Berlin and Ziegler drove an hour south as we fell asleep.

Mid-morning we woke and David drove to the Dresden Monarch American football team’s stadium where we celebrated with oatmeal. While Ziegler napped, the other three split up and explored Dresden’s Altstadt, the old city center. The area’s architecture is awe-inspiring, especially since it’s a recent recreation. The buildings all appear weatherworn and of ancient Baroque style, despite much of them are less than 20-years-old. It was hard to remember. In February 1945, Allied planes firebombed the city, laying waste to 75% of the city. Pictures portray Dresden as a wreckage where 40 thousand people died. During the Communists’ rule, the area was only partially rebuilt. Today, however, the skyline is adorned with majestic spires and cupolas. I admired the Semper-Oper, the opera house restored to its pre-war glory; the Frauenkirche, the impressively reconstructed 4-year-old cathedral; and what appeared to be the Dresden Schloß palace. Easily distracted, I crossed the Elbe River, drawn by cheering and music. I watched a few minutes of a beach volleyball tournament sponsored by Smart, the makers of those tiny cars only recently introduced in America. On my return through the Alstadt streets to the car I splurged on a German bratwurst, totally worth a Euro.

Reassembled, we left and headed into the Czech Republic. Shenk, my navigator, and I had some fun trying to find Terezin after signs stopped pointing the way and forced a little guesswork. We arrived too late to justify the several Euro for an hour in the small museum so we walked the town and two memorials. The town especially interested me for its history as a ghetto for Jewish artists; these internationally known fine artists and musicians would have been missed if killed by the Nazis. Portrayed as “Hitler’s gift to the Jews,” Terezin’s inhabitants were forced to act out a false cultural ideal for Nazi films and a Red Cross visit. Before that visit, the S.S. thinned the population by killing thousands in Auschwitz and threatened death on any who revealed Terezin’s true living conditions. The ghetto’s Nazi offices churned out propaganda from the Jewish painters. After hours, though, those same artists would use their propaganda materials to draw and paint the true nature of the camp, some of which were discovered later. They are powerful images, Holocaust art from the inside. I appreciate their deviousness: expose the Nazis with the tools intended to conceal.

We continued to Praha (Prague) that evening, doing some intense wardriving before we found free wi-fi (pronounced wif-fee). While we shared the access and opportunity for communication home, we followed the lead of two teens who passed and ate from a cherry tree across the neighborhood road. We ate our full until an old woman passed and scolded us in Czech. On-line, Ziegler and David looked up some Mennonite Your Way contacts along our route, whom they emailed regarding hosting four smelly young men. We also found n English-speaking church for the next morning, a change from the native services we had enjoyed until then. Satisfied, we headed out of the city for some food and shut-eye. A busy day.