Posts Tagged ‘Police’

To Dalmatia, with Problems

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

The night of the 8th the 50% smaller crew arrived in Venice and wandered the streets for a while. We both decided that Venice is a city best visited with wives. We figured it was good to scout it out, though, just so we knew what we were doing if we ever brought our wives there. I especially enjoyed all of the amazing architecture, almost all built on piers in the middle of the water. It’s difficult to determine where the islands end and the water begins and there are no streets of asphalt or even cobblestone, just walkways and waterways.

We slept that night an hour or so outside of Venice, and the next morning took off toward Slovenia. The border crossing with Slovenia went off without a hitch and we were in… but then we remembered that we had to make a call to an Italian toll-free number to verify with our bank that it was, indeed, us who were using our cards all over the continent. We turned around, made the call, and then headed back into Slovenia. Wanting to avoid paying a vignette (highway tax) we took the scenic routes, leading us to the top of a mountain with a centuries-old graveyard overlooking a beautiful valley. We eventually made our way to a border crossing with Croatia and were turned back because it was for local use only, but the border guard did give us very clear directions to a border crossing we could use.

We approached the crossing in a carefree manner, unconcerned since the past several dozen border crossings had gone without a hitch. We pulled up, they took our passports, they asked us to pull to the side, all good so far. The one border guard, a rather curt fellow with unhappy features, started searching our car. Not a problem, we had nothing to hide and had gone through a few cursory searches before. But this one was different. Everything was taken out, the car was ripped apart. Every bag was opened, all of our seasonings, our dried soup mixes, our bookbags, our CD cases, everything. The guy searched everything while a second fellow, slightly younger, called in our passports for background checks.

In the meantime, another fellow took Matt and I one by one into a small, air-conditioned room for about 10 minutes of intense questioning and a strip search. They were looking for drugs and were certain that we had them. We were told time and time again that it would be better for us to just give them the drugs and we could go. “Just give us the drugs” they said. “We don’t have drugs!” we said. They asked if it was ok if they gave us a urinalysis and called the drug dogs. We readily and heartily agreed! Finally a way to definitively prove our innocence! They were disappointed and didn’t call the dogs or drug testers.

They continued to search the car, they took all the bags out, they opened our ibuprofen bottle, they called in our passports to other officials. They were completely convinced that we had drugs, especially when they learned that we had been to both Amsterdam—home of Marijuana—and Morocco—home of Hashish—AND were students traveling Europe. They made us sit on the curb while they searched and called, searched and called. They discovered Matt’s GORP and exclaimed in glee! “Checka! Checka Checka!” They were disappointed when they realised it was trail mix.

It took almost two hours of humiliation for them to begrudgingly accept that we weren’t smuggling large quantities of who knows what. I’m still not sure they were convinced, but they did wave us on. It took us almost 10 minutes to get enough of our stuff (as little of it as there is after Dan and David left) back into the right places in the car and off we went, free of the tyranny of the Croatian border guards and it turns out we didn’t have any drugs… surprise, surprise.

I had mixed feelings about the entire situation. For one, it’s good to protect nations against illegal drugs and their importation, on the other hand they could have been more polite as we cooperated fully, they could have had a dog check the car, they could have been more careful with our things, they could have put things back where they found them. These were the hurt feelings I was mulling over as we drove away, but all of this was mixed with a feeling of relief.

We had to find somewhere to relax after the past few days of stress culminating in the unnecessary intrusion of our privacy at the border so we headed for the beaches of Croatia along the Dalmatian coast.

Little Liechtenstein and the Umlaut Invasion or How We Got from München to Zürich

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We took the highway south out of München (Munich) back to Austria (purchasing a valid highway pass for €7.70 as we entered instead of paying €120 at 0530 the next morning. It was Tuesday (9/6) and we were bound for Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small “independent principality” stuck between Switzerland and Austria. It has a population of under 50,000 and the capital, Vaduz, has less than 8,000 people in it. So, we thought, why hasn’t it ever been invaded by either Switzerland or Austria? It would be a nice, tasty morsel for even a small country. As we got closer, however, we realized why. The entire country is inside an Alpine valley, which would be pretty difficult to invade. Also, there wasn’t a whole lot there to covet. Plus, it has been independent since 1866, so why ruin its record?

We got some gas in Austria (which has pretty good prices on gas compared to other countries; around €1/liter instead of €1.10/liter) and reset our trip odometer. The border crossing went through without difficulty, although they did check our passports, and we were in the nation. A few miles later we were in Vaduz, parked in the middle of town by a cow pasture and headed for the main tourist drag. The main pedestrian area had an information center/stamp store/free candy spot, a museum, three or four restaurants, several neat fountains, a museum of philately (Liechtenstein is famous for its stamps, although we asked about two people at the info center and one at the museum and none of them knew why), and a path to the castle.

At one of the restaurants we spotted a small boy of about 12 enjoying a beer and were, in our American-ness, taken aback by the sight. We recovered and started up the path to the castle.

Just a short way up the path we stopped for some relief and, looking up, noticed delicious looking cherries hanging from the branches above our heads. We stayed at the cherry tree for almost half an hour picking and eating and spitting. There were no houses nearby and no indication that we were stealing someone’s cherries and the locals didn’t scold us this time, so we ate. I don’t know how much we all ate but I do know that we stripped three large branches of all the available cherries and, working together to pull the branches within reach, looked a lot like a quartet of apes.

After we had eaten our fill, we moved on, reading a number of plaques that lined the path to the castle. They contained information on Liechtenstein. The principality is ruled, obviously, by a prince, although he has abdicated many of his duties to his son, the crown prince who is an absolute ruler but with the input of a Diet of representatives. The crown prince’s modestly-sized castle (only 130 rooms) overlooks Vaduz and, in fact, almost the entire nation. We eventually reached the castle but weren’t allowed inside since the crown prince and his family live there.

Our descent was uneventful and, arriving at the car, we made ourselves some sandwiches for lunch and headed out of Vaduz and, just 5.9 miles after we had entered the nation we were in Switzerland.

We travelled northwest along Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to the city of Constance where the Council of Constance took place which abolished many of the popes ending the Great Schism and was a major point in the Roman Catholic conciliar movement. It was also when Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic. They also recondemned Wyclif, just in case it hadn’t taken the first time. Beyond all that, it is also a pretty little town at the tip of a lake on the German side of the border by the Rhine river. We saw the main square, the Rathouse, and the building where there Council of Constance took place. Then, we were on our way south to Zurich.

We arrived rather late in the evening and walked the city along the Limmat River (where several anabaptists where drowned) and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). We saw the Fraumünster with the headless saints of Zürich, Felix and Regula, and the Grossmünster–the mother church in the Swiss Reformation–but were unable to see either the über-statue of Charlamagne and his 12-foot sword or the Zwingli Bible inside because the church was closed. I had seen them the last time I was in Zürich, büt I was a bit disappointed for the other guys.

After a short trip to a lookout above the city where we just looked out (”the lights of the buildings and cars looked like reflections of the stars,” we thought), we were on our way and camped an hour or so outside of town.

Daniel R. Ziegler