Day 31 – Prague

The campground we had found (our second choice, the first “Open One” was in fact closed for the winter when we got there) was practically deserted, and we were the only ones there.

In the morning I had a conference call back to Australia (a 4.30am kick off local time – hard work for a guy on holidays), so rather than disturb the family, I went and sat in the laundry mat with my laptop and headphones. It was freezing, but I got the call done and all was well.

By the time I had finished the call, the family was up and we were getting ready to move. I went and had a (cold) shower, and was packing up the motorhome when Mikeala came calling saying Josh had hurt himself.

When we got back to the motorhome, Josh was standing with his head down, in obvious pain, and blood pouring from above his left eye. He had stood up into a light, smashing the light and cutting himself. Our plans for visiting Prague on hold, we had to find a hospital.

Once again our trusty GPS came to the rescue. We selected hospital in the point of interest, selected the closest and followed blindly turn by turn. When we got to the hospital, we had no idea where to go, and we couldn’t find emergency.

We found a chemist and asked for directions, and they contacted a doctor/surgeon and sent us upstairs. The Doctors Assistant didn’t speak any English but she looked at the cut and agreed he needed some stitches.

The Doctor spoke a little English which was good, and went to work on fixing Josh. I stood beside him while she stitched him up. A nice internal stitch (about 6 or 7 insertions, plus two more normal stitches on the outside for good luck.

I dont mind sharing I felt a little squeamish as they put in the needle into the wound then proceeded to stitch away (reminded me a bit of the old days, sewing potato bags in Victoria).

Everyone was pretty nervous about the situation as we had no idea what the medical services or practitioners in Prague were like or their skills levels. After everything else we seen in the country, we had little positive experience to go on.

But in the end everything was fine. The doctor was quite skilled and did a good job (though there will probably still be a scare). And best off all, total cost, all up, $20.

We’d lost a few hours by the time everything was done (they even sent us for an xray) so we drove into town (the absolute center) on stone roads and small ally ways, and just had a look at the buildings.

Josh had a headache and the day was kind of ruined so we bailed on Prague without really seeing anything, and just headed off to Poland, declaring we would return another day.

Later in the day, we found a shopping center, and since we were all freezing, purchased more jackets (warmer ones) and Mikeala got herself a hot pink pair of jeans as well.

After the cold shower and bad internet, Josh’s accident and everything else, we decided to get a room for the night, and have a nice cooked breakfast the following day. Mikeala jumped up front to navigate. Ros rode in the back with Josh.

It became an ongoing joke then, that once Mikeala takes over navigation duties – its straight to the nearest hotel. (There’s probably a bit a truth in that, but hey, she is her fathers daughter…)

Day 30 – Dresden

We had made the decision early we would just head to Moritzberg castle then on to Prague. There was really nothing other than that in Dresden that we wanted to see.

Ros tried to put the Castle into the GPS, but it couldn’t find it, so we had to go into Dresden proper to get directions.

We were there early so getting around town was easy enough (although they were setting up for a Marathon) and by following the GPS to the tourist information centre, we found Dresden Castle by accident.

Of course, we went in for a look.

It was incredible and amazing. We spent some time walking the walls and gardens and just having a look around. We were all imagining ourselves growing up and living in this castle and hanging out in all the enclaves and gardens.

This was by far the best castle we had visited to date. We still couldn’t read any of the plaques and we didn’t really get the story of the castle or its history, but we really enjoyed the experience just the same.

After an hour or so, the info center was open, so we got directions and pushed on to Moritzburg and Mortizburg Castle – Germany’s oldest castle.

This too was impressive. On an island in the middle of a large lake, it was all freshly painted and renovated. In its day, it was mostly a hunting lodge and retreat so it had no walls or fortifications (although it was built on the middle of an island and did have four towers for protection).

We left Moritzberg, and headed on towards the Czech Republic. It was a beautiful day in Germany, with a clear blue cloudless sky. We went through a tunnel and crossed into the Czech Republic, where it immediately changed into a cold, wet miserable day. The weather change was incredible and something I’ve never seen before.

The difference between Germany and Czech was considerable. Where Germany was modern, and industrialized, and looked and felt like a developed state, the Republic was old and run down, and very much every bit the “Old Communist Russia” I grew up with.

The trains were old, the cars were old, the weather was grey, the difference between the two countries was so stark – even though we were less then 20k’s from the border.

We went to Terrizin – which was a Ghetto Town and Prisoner camp under the Nazi regime. We did a couple of laps of town, then visited the “Small Fort”.

A Fort built in the mid 1500’s which in itself was very impressive, was turned into a concentration camp by the Nazi during WWII. We did a tour and learned about its history under Nazi Germany. The Small Fort was a particularly harsh place and was considered one of the worst places to be posted.

Whilst it was not an “Extermination Camp”, the occupants (prisoners) were constantly tortured and bastardised. Most simply died of starvation, exhaustion and other disease. The guards there were particularly tough, to the point they executed 52 people 3 days after the war was done.

After the fort, we continued on to Prague. Ros had picked out a nice “Open All Year” Camp ground which when we arrived was closed. We found another and checked in. We’re the only ones in the entire park.

On the trip from Terrizin, we had had great discussion around the Nazi’s, WWII and Extermination Camps and we decided to head to Auschwitz. We check our plans, and realised we are running out of days (even for what we had originally planned, let alone adding Poland), so we cut a few locations, and added Auschwitz.

Day 29 – Moving Day

We checked out to the camp ground and headed into Potsdam, There were a few places we wanted to visit, but we couldn’t find a car park big enough for our motorhome, or a tourist information center, so we gave up and headed to Dresden instead.

None of us wanted a repeat of getting to and our first day in Berlin.

Since we were on the Autobahn, and couldn’t read any of the road signs anyway, it was a most uneventful day, with no sight seeing. I was a lot happier, and even took to referring to the motorhome as my Porsche, but was still frustrated to be only doing a little over 100km’s / hr

We arrived Dresden with plenty of day light and found our camping ground. The campground was open but reception was closed, so we picked a site and had a kip.

We went back and checked in once they opened and then headed into town for dinner.

Along the way we found another large supermarket, so went in to restock the groceries.

The kids decided they would like to juggle (one of the activities at the Mad Museum the day before) so we grabbed some rice and balloon. More McDonalds for dinner and after dinner we created some juggling balls.

Ros and Josh got a head start on Mikeala and I, but we did seem to be catching them, when I managed to spill a whole cup of rice over the floor. In the end we finished up with 4 balls each (the ones Skinny and I made were bigger of course).

Berlin Wrap up

I’m in love with this city. I was really worried that without working out what we were doing, I wouldn’t enjoy the experience. I had heard this was one of the great cities, so I wanted to give it every opportunity.

Once we knew what we were doing, it was really easy to get around – but the key was to work it out in advance.

Everyone speaks “a little english”, in that, those 3 words are about the only english they know.

85% of Berlin was destroyed in the war, and they have done a magnificent job of rebuilding. Real effort has been made to rebuild the building in their former style, with lots of sandstone and sculpture on most. It also has an amazing touch of modernism. I was amazed.

This process has created a very clean and modern looking city, with the detailed architecture of years gone by (imagine Sydney banking districts, but with all new Sandstone). Its very impressive and now rates as one of my favorite cities in the world.

Food was incredible, in fact, I think I put on weight. No, I DID PUT ON WEIGHT

One of the most striking things about Germany (or this area of Germany at least) is the amount of renewable energy being created. Nearly every hill top has a cluster of wind turbines, and we seen several Solar Panel plants as well. And every other truck we passed on the highway was carrying parts for more wind turbines. If I had a coal mine selling into Germany, I’d be a little concerned about the future.

Business opportunities – no idea. I couldn’t speak with anyone to have the conversation. I’m not sure I even want to do business in Berlin (or Germany for that matter), as I simply enjoyed being there as a tourist, and thats the way I’d like to keep it for now.

One thing for sure, their economy is strong, infrastructure is excellent, and if you wanted to do business there or explore opportunities, I’m sure there would be plenty, and it would be relatively easy.

I love this city and look forward to coming back. Next time it will be for a couple of weeks, with a solid plan. No more making it up on the run, when we cant speak the language or read the signs.

Day 28 – Berlin (with a plan)

With a clear plan we headed off informed and under control.

We’d mastered the train and tram lines and we had 4 things scheduled for the day. We even knew where they where and how we were getting from one to to the other.

First up we went to the Mad Museum – an interactive science museum of some sort. The kids had a ball and once again they got to run, and climb and play and blow of steam. They didn’t understand much of what was going on, as it was all in German, but they did get a bit of a gist of it, and even made a box from a sheet of paper.

After the Mad Museum, we headed to the Brandenburg Gate. WOW. It was really impressive, this great big structure of columns and statues, originally set up as a point to collect tariffs on goods entering and exiting the city of Berlin. The entire gate was almost destroyed during WWII, and has been restored to its former beauty.

The gate itself, along with the other buildings (mostly Embassy’s now) and the fountains were impressive.

We were half way through out planned day, and we were all having a ball.

From the bus, we had spotted some sort of Jewish Monument near the gate, and we decided to head over there an investigate. It wasn’t part of the plan, but we felt “informed” enough about our day and transport options to step outside our plan and investigate further.

The monument is approximately 2700 slaps of concrete or granite or something, arranged over an acre of more. All in rows and columns, but at different heights, and the ground itself was rolling. It looked impressive from the bus, although you could only see the tops of the stones (which looked to be about 2ft off the ground), but with the underlying landscape, and down amongst it, some of the columns would have been over 20 ft high.

It was really quite impressive, just the sheer size of it all. There was also an underground exhibition, but there was quite a line up, so we went to lunch instead.

I had my first beer of the trip. Saturday afternoon in the sun. It was magnificent, and just felt right.

After lunch we headed of through the Tiergarten, a massive park in the middle of Berlin and to the Berlin Victory Column. The column is a massive monument, that looks back toward the Brandenburg gate and has 4 other tree lines roads leading to it (its kind of on a large round about in the middle) On top of the column is a large gold statue, and most of the other features are gold. It really is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

We climbed about 10 000 000 stairs to the top and and observation deck, that looked out over the city. The view of Berlin, the Tiergarten and the roads leading to the column was incredible, and being up there was an absolute highlight of the trip for me.

With the day done, we grabbed the train home and our time in Berlin came to an end.

Day 27 – Berlin (finally, without a plan)

Without a plan we hopped up and got ready, then headed to the tram stop. We had to change for the train at the Potsdam interchange, so we took a few minutes out to get some  breakfast, and finally there were some good options for food.

After breaky we hopped on the train to Berlin. At the Berlin interchange, we headed to Dinkim Donuts for morning tea (not sure why, we had only had breakfast like twenty minutes before).

We still had no plan, but we’d made Berlin, we were excited, and we figured we’d just work it out on the run.

We purchased a ticket for the “Hop on Hop off bus”, and our first stop was Check Point Charlie, the former location of the checkpoing between East and West Germany, and one of the few crossings for the Berlin Wall.

This was  pretty cool, and there were loads of photo’s and stories of the days prior to reunification.

We were at Check Point Charlie for a few hours and were getting hungry again (whats with all this eating???) so we picked a place for lunch and tired to work out what we’d do next.

Unfortunately, we had no idea how to read the maps for the tram, bus and trains routes (coming from Toowoomba we don’t have a large public transport system) and we were once gain feeling lost and confused. I was having feelings of dejavou like being on the road and once again, I wasn’t enjoying the experience.

After lunch, we walked (couldn’t work out the trams) to the DDR museum, which was a hands on interactive museum displaying what it was like living in East Germany before unification. It was pretty hands on with lots of stories and articles (some even in English) and we all enjoyed it, especially the kids who had a chance to move around and interact and let of some steam.

Afterwards we called it a day and headed home.

On the ride home Ros and I were speaking and we realised that in a country where you don’t know where you are going, cant read the roadsigns and/or ask for direction, a little more planning is needed.

I even mentioned that I really wanted to work out how to get around the city, as I understood Berlin to be an amazing place, and I wanted to experience that, not this constant disappointment of not knowing where we were going or how to get there.

Once home we got on the net and planned the next day. We worked out what trains and trams we would need and how to best experience the sights we wanted to see.

Overall it had been a frustrating but good day, Berlin is a magical place and I was pumped about day two in Berlin.

Day 26 – Almost to Berlin (checked in at Potsdam).

After dinner (and while I was sleeping) Ros did some research and came up with a plan.

She managed to find some option for accommodation in or near Berlin and also learned that most campsite are seasonal and now closed; something we were experiencing first hand, and that the kind lady at the Tourist Info stand had tried to tell us. (It all makes so much more sense when you hear it in English).

So after breakfast, with a real plan and a good nights sleep, as well as several options for accommodation – we headed once again towards Berlin.

Along the way we even found a larger shopping centre which had some brands we recognised. (Seems all the other stores we visited were like Aldi, only stocking limited house brand items. Now we had managed to find something more like a Woolworth’s). We even got some Kellogg’s breakfast cereal, although we still hadn’t found fresh milk.

Our camping ground of choice was at Potsdam on the river, about a 40 minute train ride into the centre of Berlin. We arrived, checked in, and I chose to have a kip (its tough being on an extended holiday).

Ros cooked dinner (‘cause now we had food) and we all agreed we would tackle Berlin in the morning.

Finally it felt we were getting on track (and going to make Berlin).

Day 25. First full day in Europe

We froze all night. Between the cold and the trains, and my general light sleeping with one ear open for passers by, mad men or serial killers and/or of course the caretaker rattling on the door, I didn’t get much sleep at all.

After laying in bed for a little while, trying not to move and keep warm, finally I’d had enough and got up. I went outside to reception, but still it was not open, so we packed up and left. (A win for us, we avoided paying rent on our first night).

We still had no plan, and very little food. We actually didn’t even know where we were. We knew we wanted to head to Berlin, so we punched that into the GPS and just headed that way.

Along motor way couldn’t read the signs, or what we were missing. This was going to make our grand plan for Europe a challenge. The plan was, a few key destinations, then whatever we find along the way. If we couldn’t find anything along the way because we couldn’t read or understand the signs, it was going to be both quick and boring (and we have 6 weeks of this).

We found a town and tried to do some more shopping, but again we couldn’t understand any of the brands or packaging. We spent most of the day going in circles and hated it.

I was so frustrated with the lack of progress, I was ready to go back to London (or Australia). I was not having any fun at all.

We went to Burger King at a roadhouse for lunch (another brand we recognised), but were frustrated to learn they don’t offer wifi.

After lunch we managed to find a shopping complex and purchased extra blankets and a kettle (we didn’t even have a kettle), then continued to move along towards Berlin.

We decided not to wait until dark to find a campground today, so about 2pm, (and still a very long way to Berlin), we once again put campgrounds into the GPS, picked the closest and went in search of it.

We drove along winding roads and through towns and villages but again we couldn’t find the dam camping ground. We finally gave in, and picked a tourist information spot. We went in but the volunteer only spoke German. She gave us some directions that I didn’t understand, but I nodded and smiled, and we headed out.

I’d had enough. I was over it. We’d been in Germany two days. We hadn’t managed to do a shop, we had hardly any food, we couldn’t speak with anyone. I was cold, hungry and tired. As much as people were trying to help us, (be it shopping or the kind lady at the Tourist Info site), it was all too hard.

For me, the adventure was over.

On the way to the tourist information centre, we passed a Holiday Inn. So I ignored the instructions to the camp ground and headed straight for it. To rub salt into my wounds – I couldn’t find that either, so we just got back in the highway and continued towards Berlin.

Along the way I spotted a hotel from the highway, took the exit and went straight in. It was a Park Inn, operated by Raddison. When I asked at the counter first “English” and the girl announced “yes”, then “do you have rooms” and she again said “yes”, I was a happy man.

I’d have paid $1000 a night for a room by this stage, though thankfully two rooms including breakfast for the four of us were just over $100 euro’s.

I still had no plan. But at least now I did have a bed, a warm shower, a restaurant down stairs, and wifi.

Finally, things were starting to come together (not really, I just felt comfort in retreating to my English speaking, Western venue).

We had a swim, a shower and a feed, checked my emails and went to bed. Perhaps Germany was not that bad after all. Tomorrow I’ll work out what to do next.

Day 24 – Getting Started in Europe (Frankfurt, Germany)

Next to the Motorhome hire place, was a large store, kind of like a Harvey Norman, so we went in and picked out a TomTom, GPS navigator. This was a challenge in itself, as the assistant didn’t speak much English, and we had to try and communicate what we needing it for. With lots of pointing and gesturing, we managed to get one that would do the job.

When we got to the checkout, we learnt they didn’t take Mastercard or Visa.

In German, by a very emotionless and efficient check out operator, we were told they only take ICB Card (or something like that); next. No emotion – total efficiency. Ros and I were still at the head of the line and she was already serving the person behind us. We were just looking at each other trying to work out hat had just happened, and more importantly, what to do next.

Since we hadn’t been anywhere, we still didn’t have any cash.

We were standing around trying to work out what to do next and I don’t mind admitting, I was really starting to feel the pressure. Even Ros said she had never seen me that out of sorts. I think this was the first time it hit me, what we had actually committed too. We were now in a country where we didn’t speak the language, know the lay of the land or have a plan, and I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Beside the electronic store, was a “casino” or a shop full of poker machines. In a stroke of genius moment, I figured it would be just like the casinos and clubs at home, with an ATM in the foyer or somewhere. So I went in.

I was partly right. It did have an ATM, but you could only withdraw some sort of token, that you put into another machine, that changed it into coins for the poker machine. I tried to ask the girl at the counter if the tokens were tokens or Euro’s and she did her best to answer (in German of course), but still unsure I decided not to risk it, and left, still with no money, no GPS and no plan.

The guy from the hire place came over to the van, wondering why we were still there and if there was a problem. He even asked Ros if I was scared to drive the motorhome. When she told him what was happening, he gave us directions to town, where we found bank, got cash, went back to shop, purchased the GPS  and were now good to go. The question of course, was go where?

Playing around with the GPS we found under the points of interest, it had a camp ground option, so we selected the closest one and headed off.

At last, we were finally moving. (This was about 4 hours after actually arriving at the motorhome place).

Along the road, we tried to find a grocery store to do some shopping and buy food. But since we didn’t know or recognise any brands, we had no idea what we were looking for. At last we found a McDonalds, so we pulled in for dinner. Finally we felt we were making ground.

After dinner we drove by an Aldi (the first brand we recognised) and went in. Once inside, we couldn’t understand the brands or the options. We couldn’t even work out what animal the mince was from.

We did get some goods (coffee, cereal, biscuits) and then headed on to the camp ground.

By now it was well and truly dark. We followed the GPS directions to the letter, but when it told us we had arrived at our destination – there was no destination to be found. After about 30 minutes of looking, we gave up, selected the next camp ground in the GPS and drove another 30 minutes away.

This time we found it, but as it was late, reception was closed. As the motorhome is fully self contained, we just camped in the car park out the front.

We had just climbed into bed when a train went past, scaring the crap out of us all. We were parked right beside an active line. For most of the night, the trains continued to run. The ever efficient German Railway system.