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Tuesday: taken by surprise (winter arrives)

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

almost at Prague to Meissen, just past Dresden, Germany
In the vans from 9am til 1pm, then another hour or so later

Yesterday we watched the temperature drop from 16 degrees to 6 degrees. Today it went down another six. Yes, we made it to zero degrees.
In the vans.
What’s more, it snowed.
As we were driving over the mountains separating the Czech Republic and Germany.
I had seen a sign, which I thought read “There is a possibility of snow”, however, as this was guesswork filtered through Polish, I decided something had been lost in translation. Turned out I didn’t do a linguistics degree for nothing! It was fair dinkum real falling snowflakes that stuck to the windscreen before melting – much more real than the Tiananmen Square snow flurry, someone observed. It even stayed white on the road. And ZERO degrees.
The excitement in the vans should have been enough to banish the storm! Everyone was buzzing to be in winter, real winter, winter colder than we get in Auckland. Not five days ago, it was warming up to 26 degrees during the day, and here we were freezing. When you opened the door, a blast of cold air rushed in. When you went outside your nose and ears got cold. In fact, we didn’t warm up all day.

Later it hailed.

Then we saw rainbows.

Oh, and we went to Prague. I had been looking forward to visiting this city, having heard a gazillion favourable reports about it. Plenty of people have said it’s the nicest city in Europe. I wondered if my time living in Krakow had biased my thought that no other city could have as much character as Krakow, although Budapest had come close. We all loved the feel of Prague, even from the confines of a van, but I still hold the Polish city in higher esteem – for at least another week anyway. Maybe modern-day Krakow will be different. Of course, it will, I do know that. But how different? I’ll reserve judgement of favourite European city until we’ve been back.
Prague is enormous. Coming from the south you crest the hill and it is spread out before you – it is so wide you have to turn your head in a semi-circle to even see it all. There are endless apartment blocks in clusters. There are more church steeples than any other city we can remember. First of all you meet modern modern weird-shaped, interestingly decorated mostly glass constructions. Then come the post-war concrete buildings, pretty much lacking any character at all. Finally you get to the old city, which boasts the same architecture as St Petersburg, Moscow and Budapest. Prague, here-and-now, is perhaps the prettiest of them all, with a far greater proportion of the buildings having received a lick of paint in recent years.
And so Prague reaches our list of cities we loved. But it did get a bit forgotten in the drama of the subsequent snow!!!

Actually, lots of things happened today, little things, that could easily be forgotten.

We realised anew how much your geography improves effortlessly as you travel. And I marvel, that even the seven and eight year olds have a real sense of where countries are in relation to each other – in fact, I am surprised that even the five year old can remember such-an-such happened in *Thailand* or *Mongolia* or *Italy*.

Jgirl15 learnt there can be more than one explanation for an observed behaviour. Approaching a tunnel, a sign required that we drop our speed to 60km/hr.
”Germans are so laid-back,” she commented.
I raised an eyebrow. Not the usual description you hear of a German now, is it?
(Rach waves to her German friends!!!)
”Well, look,” she explained, “They are not in a hurry to get through the tunnel, they slow down for it. Not like the Italians – they overtake in their tunnels and sped past us even when we were doing 90.”
I enlightened her. “Germans are well known for following rules. If it says 60, then you go at 60. Simple as that.”

It occurred to us that before we travelled in eastern Europe we had no idea what vignette meant. Now we’ve spent enough euros on them to never forget!

Coming back to Germany after being away, made us realise just how polite these Germans are on their roads. When you are about to enter the autobahn, even the big trucks move over to assure you that they will leave room for you to get up to speed. No disgruntled British stares. No pushy Dutchies sneaking past before you. No mad Greeks with two vehicles simultaneously overtaking. Just courtesy.

Returning to Germany, we see things through different eyes. When we arrived the first time we had just come from Asia and food seemed SO expensive. Today it seemed positively cheap. A few months can change your parameters. Made me think it pays to be aware of what is influencing you. Made me wonder how to continually evaluate, and by what standards.

Monday: Bratislava Birthday

Monday, October 12th, 2009

to infinity Bratislava and beyond
In the vans from 9:30 to 5pm, with a couple of hours in Bratislava

Tomorrow I will turn forty.
Tomorrow we plan to be in the Czech Republic sans local currency.
And so today – but when it is already tomorrow in New Zealand – we celebrate.

We leave Hungary, head into Slovakia and take our tiki-tour of Bratislava.

It might be a capital city, but it’s not a big one. Creatively painted apartment blocks in green grassy parklike settings making suburban living beautiful surround the medieval town. Old stone walls with wooden structures protruding from them overhanging the street below….a castle on the hill….cobblestones….churches ~ it all oozes character.

We thought we’d buy a cake at a little bakery, but we can’t find one. We do, however, see a mall. A big modern mall. We can’t get in to the carpark, but there is McDonalds next door without any height restriction. Ironical really. Mrs Don’t Feed Me Junk Food buys a few cheap chicken burgers in exchange for the privilege of using the carpark so that we can go in to the supermall and wander round a megamarket full of Made In China Junk. Finally we find a food section and come out with a cake of sorts.

Hoping to spend the day tomorrow in Prague we decide to skip Vienna and just drive straight on towards Budapest today. We cross the border into the Czech Republic, wondering if it will be any less grey and dismal than when we were here twenty years ago. Despite the constant drizzle, it is; colourful billboards and crisp European Union road signs have changed the landscape, but not necessarily for the better.
We hope to find a quieter-than-the-last-two-nights truck stop, and, thankfully, we do.