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Czech Republic

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Trip in May 1999. All "facts" are how things seemed to me at the time.

This time it was hot. The temperature difference was about 30 degrees from last time, and I was quite glad, because the wait to get there was pretty boring. 19 hours on a Mercedes coach, from London to Brno, via the Channel Sewer, France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany.

The Channel Tunnel is quite interesting, though I wasn't too keen on going down it. In the middle of Kent, near nowhere, including the sea, is a big car park/terminal, without a purpose it seems. After a small wait, the coach drives down into an extremely shabby looking aluminium train carriage, and goes inside. After this, there is a 35 minute wait before you emerge into a similar looking place in France. The only difference is in France there is rain. In Belgium there is rain also, and in Holland. By the time morning came, we were into Germany, and it wasn't raining. I was very bored by this time, as I'd had hours of nothing but trees and fields, and I was to get hours more.

During my not-brief-enough ride thorough Germany, I saw that it is true, it is very clean, and the autobahns are very fast. But it's all so boring. The place is far to sterile and consists of hours of fields and trees and not much else. Eventually we got to Brno, after passing through some other Czech towns first, like Prague and Pilzn. This was a different Czech Republic to the one I visited last time. All the people had come out of hibernation, and there was life in the towns. Not much at the weekends, but certainly in the week. It seemed like a good time to visit some castles, which is not too difficult, as there is one every 10 metres or so. These are not like English castles, more like a big stately home with a wall, and an empty moat to keep bears in. I've been inside a couple of them and they are quite impressive the first few times, then you get the "Cathederal syndrome", as in England - "Oh no, not another cathederal." Inside one of the castles is a rather large art collection by the Czech artist Mucha, and it's very good, especially as the paintings are about the size of the side of a house.

The best way to see more castles is to hire a car, so that's what we did, a 3 year old Skoda Octavia, with the steering wheel on the unnatural side. After half a day driving in the gutter, because I had an extra metre of car on my right, I got used to it. Not before I'd gone to the wrong side repeatedly for the seatbelt, and hit my hand in the door a lot, looking for the gearstick in the wrong place. The car was sound though, stong and well built, just like any other Volkswagen. It's still against nature though, driving on the other side. It took one and a half hours to rent the car, due to the number of rental cars stolen by people, especially foreigners. I managed about 650Km in the car, without an accident, though this a due in no small part to Hana explaining the laws as we went along. One thing which is the same is the traffic police, as I discovered when I came over a hill, and there were 3 cars in the lay-by. Luckily I'd just been flashed by a truck driver coming the other way, and I had stopped my test of the Skoda's engine power and acceleration. It's all Kph, making speed judgement rather difficult. It's nice though, to drive along and see a sign which reads "120", but boring when you realize it's about 80Mph. Not that I'd want to travel too fast for a lot of the time, as many of the roads are in a very bad state of repair, and on the good ones, the dual carriageways and the moterways, safety is not too great. When I'm travelling at 90Mph, what do I want separating me from people doing the same coming towards me?. Metal armco perhaps? No, I think better would be two small lines of white paint. That should be enough to stop a truck. Perhaps it's from the days when a Skoda's top speed was reverse.I drove the car up into the Beskydy mountains, which were very green. Near the top is a ski slope which looks rather bizarre without any snow on it. There is also a statue of the mountain God, Radegast, who is so famous he has his own beer. Nearby these mountains we stopped at a hotel, who let us stay, despite it not being tourist season yet, so we ended up with the whole hotel to ourselves. As they hadn't officialy re-opened yet, they were decorating and things, but we didn't mind, as we got a mountain view room for one night with breakfast for about £15, for both of us!. After unloading our stuff, we went out to get some more fried pork.

Whilst in the Czech Republic again, we went on a day trip to Austria, to see some castles, because I hadn't seen enough at this point. We also saw some ruins, the Danube, a big valley and some churches, which were very impressivly decorated. The Austrians seem to be all Catholic, and just in case you are in any doubt, there are big life size "Jesus on the cross" signs in some of the fields. Later, when you get to the house you can see a collection of gnomes, which are sold in the Czech Republic just over the border to tasteless Austrians and Germans. The biggest collection I saw was about 15-20, spoiling an otherwise perfect mountain house. On the return from the castles, it started to rain, and continued until in some parts of the road, the bus was travelling through a good 15cm of water. The Danube was also very flooded, as I watched it from the bus, I'm thinking "Is that tree really growing out of that river?" The Danube was impressivly big, even though some of that may have been artificial. Once we got back into Brno the weather was OK, and back to being hot enough to worry a brass door knob.

Whilst we still had the Skoda, we visited the town of Koprivnice, which is where the Tatra cars and trucks are made. The town itself I found quite interesting in a sad way, as it's by far the most Communist looking place I'd seen, in the true Communist style of Grey concrete boxes all round. It looks quite like Coventry, except it is pretty poor. Nearly all the cars there were Skodas and Ladas, most of them old. The Tatra cars in the Tatra Museum were nearly all equally old, but much better preserved, and were all equally ugly, except for one 4.2 litre sports beast. After this, we headed back towards Brno, by way of miles and miles of country road, with not a petrol station in sight. Some of the villages were so isolated, I'm sure the people there still thought that the war was on. Plenty of people were working in the fields too, collecting hay.

I have tried the Czech beer again, and I still don't care for it. Luckily it's not too expensive, so testing it is OK. The more I tried, the less I liked it. I will try again next time.

I went before in Jan 1999 and have been many times since.

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 1999

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