Paul & Janita's Home Page

Czech Republic

29 September

 Overnighted with the truckies again last night. Positively hot most of the night and a beautiful morning this morning. Better reception at the Czech border. They were happy to let us in and immediately tried to sell us everything from mushrooms to garden gnomes. Some young girls standing beside the road at fairly regular intervals, all dressed up for a night out…. at 1.00pm? We suspect that they also were in the market for … something?

 
 

Czech roads are not up to the standard of the Reich. However, they are no worse than Australian roads and the traffic is light. The countryside is very open and would be extremely picturesque if it weren't for the ever present haze. 

Prague loomed upon us fairly quickly and Janita had the pleasure of driving directly through the centre of our first Eastern European city. Direction signs are more like we are used to at home. Non-existent! We managed to find a nice, empty camping platz about five or six km from the city centre and on the opposite side of the city from where we’d planned. As with most European cities Prague has a highly populated, but small centre and the suburbs quickly become rural villages. We are just at the fringe of the grey blocks of Soviet-style apartment blocks, in a woodland area.

 People seem fairly easy going and nothing is too much of a problem even with the very significant language gap. Not many people speak English! We have been trying our extensive (one word) Czech vocabulary, -     - thanks (da coo yaar)  -, much to the amusement of all. It’s amazing what you can do with pointing and using that ever-green American tourist trick - just speaking English, loudly, until you get what you want! 

Given the results of our first shopping trip to the local supermarket, where we bought about half a kilo of duck breast meat, thinking it was chicken, some bread and a packet of chips for AUS $3.30, we are not going to blow the budget in the East. And, as long as there are no bullet holes in the duck, our digestive systems will survive also, despite the fact that at least 50% of the water is contaminated. For those who are interested, we also had a beer at a little cafe on the way home. Two half litres of very nice Czech beer, AUS$2.18. We're in heaven! 

30 September/1 October

 Getting the hang of public transport in cities where you can't read the signs, street names or station names is getting to be a breeze. After two weeks on the road we seem to be getting the hang of metros, trams, buses and the frequent need to change between them. Our longest wait for a ride has probably been less then 10 minutes if you don't count waiting in a little village Imbiss (snack bar/pub) for a bus connection in the sticks in Germany.

 

 Prague has enthralled us for two days. It leaves everything we have seen to date in the shade! A relaxed tone of sophistication pervades amongst the locals, who unlike their confreres in Paris and some other supposed 'chic cities', are in no way pretentious or condescending to visitors. City streets were full of Czechs and tourists all doing much the same thing, enjoying a couple of very warm (25C+++) last of summer days in what is surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world!.

 The castle district and the old city are particularly beautiful, perhaps because they have been less "touched-up" than some other European cities. Our thigh muscles are growing stronger by the day as we climb towers for views and steps, steps and more steps - up and down in Metro stations and anywhere else they have chosen to put steps!  

The view from just outside the castle gates is splendiferous! Prague - spread out before us - just as if there were no space between us at the top and the rest of the city below. A -bloody-mazing!!! The old city - tiny, cobble-stoned streets - is interesting and beautiful, but has become a mecca for tourist-inspired industries - souvenirs, money-changers and restaurants. A shame for us, but the economy must survive.

 There seem to be a lot of Americans in the city as well as the ever-present Germans who are, for the most part, far louder than Americans and seem to have the attitude that they have become at least the economic 'master race', by stealth. Australians we come across are mostly young couples backpacking or the odd oldies like us. They are usually quiet and unobtrusive, but we can always pick them before we hear the accent. We can’t specify any obvious pointers, but it's amazing how often it happens.

 Tourist rip off prices have not yet reached the Czech Republic. Transport in particular is very reasonable. A full day travel on and off buses, trams and metro trains cost us about A$.50 each. Lunch in a restaurant, salad and mineral water, cost about A$7.00 each. Dinner last night with two big courses and a couple of beers was about the same. Fuel is still rude by our standards, about A$1.20 per Lt.

 Due to the wonders of modern communications we watched the marathon this morning. Watched is the operative word. The broadcast format in Eastern Europe is only partly compatible with our mini-TV, so we can see (very good reception) but can't hear! You might think this would not be a problem, but even languages as incomprehensible as Czech do give some verbal clues to assist understanding.

 Tomorrow we are off for a couple days in some of the more remote areas of the Republic and then back to try our luck again with the Poles!

 2 October

 In a small orchard with more apples and pears than we could eat in a year falling all around us in a camping/guesthouse owned by a New Zealand born (left when he was three) Dutchman named Chris. This village is about 100kms south of Prague near the International Heritage-listed village of Cesky Krumlov.  

Cesky Krumlov is as advertised. Another incredible demonstration of how seriously Europeans of every flavour take their history. Intact and preserved from the 16th century, the town could take you back in history - except for the usual tourist shops selling everything from splinters of the true cross to a local form of paui shell  - not to mention the ubiquitous garnet and amber in every shop. 

But back to Chris's Guesthouse. Apparently, foreigners like Chris and his partners are able to buy property in the Czech Republic if it is a tax-paying enterprise. He and his mate and their girlfriends manage this place from their homes in Holland, 'commuting' the 9 hour trip once a month in turn during the tourist season, May to September. We caught him just in time. He was taking down the sign as we arrived. The guesthouse was a stable which they have converted to dormitory style accommodation. Very comfortable. The camping area is the backyard orchard. This time of year, although it is still relatively warm, the locals have their wood fires going and the air is pleasantly smoke-scented.  

Water is always a problem when travelling in vans. In a small village like this, the water is drinkable to the extent that it won't make you sick. But the level of chlorinisation gives it a bit of a smell! Vans are a bit like your basic biosphere. Inputs include water, gas, electricity, food and petrol (diesel), outputs are 'grey water' and toilet waste (chemical toilet waste) and, hopefully, forward movement. 

 Water quality can be variable, but generally  those with better than average stomachs, like us, can usually survive most water changes. However, we hear that some of the water in Eastern Europe is polluted so we are more cautious than usual and keep our bottled drinking water separate from the 100ltr tank of general use water that the van can carry.

Filling the tank is one of the never-ending challenges in 'vanning'. Staying in camping areas can mostly solve the problem, although Europeans guard their water as though it were gold and it is sometimes difficult to find a tap even in a camping park. The notion of water available on almost every street corner as at home is anathema to Europeans. As a result, quick 'water missions' with a ten or twenty litre container are the go in service stations, showers, and camping kitchens.

 Grey water is the leavings from washing up, showers/washes etc.. Vans have 'grey water' tanks that for some reason seem to hold about half the amount of water as the fresh water tank? If the original hypothesis of the 'van biosphere' holds, then the rest of the water must go somewhere? - More about chemical toilets later.... Disposal of grey water is not as great for us as it could be for the seriously environmentally aware. We usually 'forget' to put the cap on the tank drain pipe.!

Chemical toilets are a major technical advance on the ice-cream container. The standard is the Tetford system - a very nice little unit that boasts electric flushing and normal pedestal shape. From the 'user's end' this is a very necessary and easy to use appliance. From the point of view of the 'disposer', it is a bit of a chore. Your normal toilet cistern will cope with the 15-20 litres of effluent that a Tetford holds, as long as you pour slowly! Too fast and one has a problem that is best catered for with wellies, which are always used for such tasks. Mr Tetford built a breather valve in the top of his extraordinary contraption that tends to jam open if the flow out of the tank is too fast. This results in an additional flow of what the English like to call 'black water' (they can't have seen too much of it if they think it’s black!). Anyhow, enough is enough. As you can imagine one is not always welcome in public toilets with a Tetford. Again, some of the more environmentally unaware travellers have been known to take a quiet walk in the woods with their Tetfords.

 More about van life another day.....

 3 October

 Drove most of the day in forest and grazing land. Deer wild in the fields throughout the day. Telc was our main joy for the day. A town untouched (again! - what happened to sacking, rape and plunder?) since the sixteenth century. For the first time in over two weeks we had to contend with rain for a couple of hours. The 'biosphere' was in shock! Too much moisture coming in is not a good thing. As we were driving most of the day, the effect of another of the biosphere's inputs, diesel, made all the difference. With the heater on full blast, wet jackets and last night's washing were soon dry and packed away.

 The Czech countryside is rolling and fairly open. Villages with a character not dissimilar to most isolated areas in Europe, dot the back roads. Houses look like scenes from Combat ( a WWII TV series for the TOO young to know!) and while there are no people to be seen, the always-parked cars are a dead giveaway. There IS life here.

 As the inescapable eventuality of cooler times ahead hits us, we have to be more aware of maintaining warmth and dryness inside. The car heater assists during driving times, but when the van is stationary, heating and also cooling rely on gas, battery and, when available, electricity. None of this is much of a problem yet as day time temperatures are still in the high teens or early twenties and nights only get as low as 7-8C. 

Vans have two 12 volt batteries. One is the normal vehicle system battery. The second is a 'leisure battery' which is charged off the alternator when the vehicle is running, or off 220/240 volt power when available (at a cost) in camping parks. The leisure battery runs lights, water pump and is one of the alternative power supplies for the fridge. In addition, in this van the leisure battery has a 12V outlet which can be used to run a range of 12V appliances (read “toys”!).  More on this later...

 

 

Tonight we are on full power in a camping area in Kutna Hora, northern Czech Republic. We have an electric fan heater on to assist with clothes drying, more than for our warmth. We are in T-shirts and shorts. The owner, who came by personally to welcome us (we are the only campers here!) had been out fishing all day, but the morning rain drove him home early. Good news is he caught two pike. Bad news is that the forecast for tomorrow is the same - rain. This won't matter too much for the main purpose of our visit - a 19th century "Ossuary" - part of a cemetery "decorated "with bones carved in the shape of bells, a chandelier, even the Schwarzenberg coat of arms. However, a wander round the rest of the town will require the bringing out of "The Drizabones" - a not-to-be-missed event. Wonder if Poland will let us in tomorrow?

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