07.04.2007 - 17.04.2007
So at last we are under way and the mad rush across Europe is mostly done. This is country number eight, and it is getting a bit confusing. Our standard pattern has been driving for one or two days, then spending two nights in each city. This first update is coming from a small city called Brasov, which sits at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in the province of Transylvania. This our third day in Romania, tomorrow we head for Bran Castle (alleged connections to Dracula).
After driving quickly through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, we reached the Czech Republic. Quickly is a relative term, as our cruising speed is about 45mph. This is fine on the twisting mountain roads of Eastern Europe, but was rather embarassing on the Autobahns. The truck certainly makes an impressive sight and we are getting used to all eyes being on us as we drive around. The truck has a Dutch number plate (ex Dutch army) so quite a few people assume we are Dutch.
Our first proper destination was Prague, which is a very attractive city to walk around. Easter weekend was very busy, with the Easter Market being held in the main square. I climbed the tower at the end of the Charles bridge, which has a fine view of bridge and the city. At the presidential palace it is possible to walk in the main gate (past the sentries and flagpoles) and explore the complex, which includes a huge Gothic cathedral.
Entering the Czech Republic we encountered our first border problem. The road we were aiming for was closed, so we took a detour through the mountains to another crossing. We were told that this was a car crossing only and we had to turn around. As we drove on to the Czech side of the border to turn around, the top of the truck broke a piece off the sign showing the name of the crossing. The German border guards then held us at the border and called the Czech police (as the sign was on the Czech side). We were sat at the border for 2 hours while the police investigated. It turned out that although the warning sign said 4.5m clearance, the border sign was 3.8m high (our truck is 4.05m). So Ian (our driver) was held to be blameless for the damage. The Czech police then allowed us to enter at this crossing after all, mainly because they seemed irritated with the Germans for wasting their time. We were even given a police escort to the nearest town.
Vienna was next, a brief return to Western Europe (and Western prices). I went to a coffee house which Mozart is reputed to have frequented. It was an excellent place to sit back and relax, with delicious Sachertorte and waiters wearing black tie. This was by far the hottest day so far, around 30 degrees.
Budapest is a much more spread out city, so after lots of walking we were eager to stop at a cafe for the goulash. This was my first night on cooking duty; the four of us produced a well received chicken curry, so the group may well be getting curry every eight days.
On our first night in Romania, we camped on the outskirts of a village. One of the locals was insistent that we all came to his house after dinner. They laid out a huge spread of food and drink, and we got a tour of the farm buildings. Home produced schnapps was flowing freely and was ferociously strong. This amazing hospitality was completely unexpected, especially as they spoke almost no English.