Preface: here we are in prague and i must ...

Trip Start Jul 27, 2000
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Trip End Aug 17, 2000


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Flag of Germany  ,
Sunday, July 30, 2000

Preface:

Here we are in Prague, and I must say I am impressed with the Internet access here. This
Cyber Café claims to have an 8mbps link. If that means nothing to you, that's really fast.

I decided to go high resolution this time, the pictures I have uploaded are massive. Think twice before hitting the 'View All' button.
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-- The Grande Finale

'Pool it hard to zee left!' says Till in a fatherly manner.

'I am pulling hard, see?' I say in a confused tone.

'No, reeleez queekly!' says Till, now slightly worried.

'I am releasing quickly, you mean like this?' I say. sweat is now beading from my forehead.

'No, let me trie'
'No, zis iz not reight!'
'Sumzing iz wrong'
'Stup ear!' says Till, now with a worried look on his face.

(accent is exaggerated for dramatic influence :) )

Before I get ahead of myself, let me rewind to the beginning...

-- In the beginning there was... Canada

As with any trip, it all starts at the International terminal. For us Ottawan's, that means pretty much any airport but our own. The connecting flight to Toronto always seems all too familiar and it really doesn't sink in that you will soon be miles away from your normal workaday lives until you hit the Int'l terminal. For us, on this trip, the Int'l was in Toronto.

It had been our first time in the Toronto Int'l terminal. Now, there isn't anything particularly strange about the terminal but having been to the Toronto airport over a hundred times between myself and Julie it was a strange feeling to enter a tunnel to reach our gate. More specifically, this subterranean tunnel with gray cement walls and skin-bleaching fluo lights that make everything look blue, had an eery feel to it. It seemed as if upon reaching the end of the tunnel and passing through the doors, that we would find ourselves in Frankfurt. Although by plane, and not by a force of nature beyond us, we did in fact end up in Frankfurt seemingly minutes later.

The combined time spent researching our trip from books we had brought on the plane was more than we had spent on the ground. We made one great decision, to skip Slovakia and head to the German concentration camps of Poland ( I'll have to validate just how great that decision was when we get there :) ).

--- The flight

The flight was your average international flight consisting of bad meals and constricted body positions while attempting to salvage 30 minutes of sleep. But as the miles between Ottawa and ourselves increased the realization that we were finally on holiday sunk in.

I think it was the sunset that did it for me. I am a big suck for sunsets and there is no better place to see one than high up from the altitude Int'l flights get.

As the captain announced that we had passed over Newfoundland the thick creamy clouds
took shades of pink, blue and orange so smooth I couldn't help but wanting to take a bite. A truly brilliant scene as blades of light cut through the now fading clouds. It reminded of a Christian postcard I'd once seen at a church ( minus the angels ). This was serenity...

--- The arrival

We flew directly into Germany to stay with a vibrant Pro-Euro German friend of Julie's by the name of Till ( Helene's husband for those of you in the know ). When Till isn't pointing his umbrella at American cars while making machine gun noises and cussing, or pointing his 35 millimetre camera in all directions while humming the sound track to Mission Impossible, he is a fountain of knowledge spewing nuggets of information between jubilant cries of laughter. He was a great host who managed to lug our jetlagged corpses through a whirlwind tour of southern Germany that couldn't have been done without him. Initially we hadn't planned on staying in Germany but Till made it worth our while. We were truly lucky to have such a gracious host.

-- Day 1 - Heidelberg

After a quick nap and some food, we were off to the Heidelberg ( See photos ). The only thing which kept us awake on the drive to Heidelberg was Till's stop and go, neck wrenching yet harmless and colourful driving. I think this was the reason Julie chose to sit in the back for our entire German stay :). Till calmly explained that all Germans drove 180kph, bumper to bumper on the Autobahn, I had to take his word for it. Having arrived to his funky apartment from the Auto Bahn in one piece, our first castle visit ( ever I might add ) awaited.

Heidelberg is a quaint little town with it's main tourist attraction being the decaying defensive fortress perched high atop a hill. The view from the castle onto the city was something worth stopping for a look but the castle itself was stunning. In its gothic, medieval way, it was just what we wanted for our first castle visit.

A quick stop in Worms ( pronounced Vorms we are told ) for a look at a 13th century church which housed the corpses of dead German royalty, then it was off to the supermarket for dinner provisions.

- Ooooo, Ahhhh....

Although I had seen the superior architecture and German ingenuity all day, it wasn't until Julie spotted the little silver can marked "Rum and Coke" on a supermarket shelf that I was truly convinced that Germans were significantly superior. The Germans had done it! All of my years of whining about not being able to buy Rum and Coke pre-mixed were over. This is what clinched it for me. This is what convinced me that these Germans had it all figured out... I have been in eternal awe of the Germans since that day. ( moment of silence please )

...
...
...

Now we continue...

-- 'Zee zecret vepon!'

For dinner our jubilant host, now turned chef, cooked us up a fantastic shrimp meal while singing and dancing to African music which he had acquired a taste for during his 10 year stay in Algeria. His secret weapon? Some wildly delicious shrimp sauce.

-- Day 2 - Wurzburg, the drive

After a night of deep sleep to replenish our shattered, jetlagged and slightly hung over ( I am speaking for myself on that last one ) nerves we headed out to Wurzberg slightly behind schedule. I wasn't worried, knowing how Till drove, I knew we would be making it to our destination on time.... the Wurzberg castle.

The drive to Wurzberg was enlightening as Till explained much of German history and
Germany as it is today which is completely beyond me, or at least was completely beyond me. Things such as post-war Germany, the 300,000 American soldiers currently residing in Europe for reasons unknown, European rivalries and he even broke down the pet names which all of the European countries call each other ( Some nice, some not so nice :) ).

This made for a 2 hour session which was delivered between colourful bouts of cussing at other drivers moving any slower than 160kph in our path.

-- Wurzberg, the Castle(s)

Wurzberg, south-east of Frankfurt, is a typical German town which has its own castle.
Actually, its own CastleS, there are 2. One for the people and one for the Military ( the Citadel ). Both are stunning ( See photos ).

We took a tour through the residential castle but it was in German. I tried to act as if I understood what the guide was saying, laughing when the others laughed but it was no use, the english guide book we had purchased was to be our guide. It was during the tour, listening to the tour guide speak in German that I noticed the unconscious association between the German language and utter evil. This, I must imagine, being taken from way too many hours of TV, watching documentaries on WWII with Hitler spouting his rants in German. Once I made the conscious effort to suppress this innate trigger-like reaction, I felt a little better, too much TV as a kid I guess.

After WWII the Germans adopted a practice of putting little white and blue 'DO NOT BOMB'
signs on buildings of historical importance. Apparently military maps have these too, the hope is that the attackers will not choose to bomb these first... only at first of course.

Pre-war and post-war pictures of the castle were quite sobering, it's no wonder they use those 'DO NOT BOMB' signs. So much of the castles and historical landmarks were destroyed and rebuilt that it's shocking.

There are some good stories to go with the Castle pictures so it's best if you just pull the pics up and read them there.

On the way home Till stopped at every castle and church we could squeeze into our schedule. We really enjoyed the picturesque fairy tale castle (See Photo) with it's very own, fully fledged, Hansel and Gretel pond with swans and all.

-- 'Izz ok but izz naught fine quizine!'

We insisted that Till let us buy him a traditional dinner but Till was reluctant to bring us to the pub. Although not 'fine quizine', as Till would say, the meal was exactly what we were looking for. A slab of meat, some white sausage ( ok, any colour would have done ) and a pint of some German swill.

This would be our farewell meal, 20 minutes earlier we had found out that an overnight train did in fact go to Prague, contrary to what we had thought.

-- The Grande Finale

The moment I had noticed that we were actually on the Autobahn while heading back from the
airport in Frankfurt to Till's house, I had been as giddy as a school kid.

'So where is the Autobahn?' I say completely obliviously.

'ziss *IS* zee autobahn!' says Till.

My eyes focussed in on the speedometer which was feverishly quivering at a steady 180kph.

This was it! This is what all red-blooded men dreamed of, the road with no speed limits.

'There must be a lot of accidents no?'
'Zere is nut many, but ven zere is vone, it eez very bad'

The thought hadn't even crossed my mind that I could possibly drive on the Autobahn. The fact that I had actually BEEN on the Autobahn as a passenger was enough to make most of my
friends jealous and has kept me satisfied until...

It was on the way back from Wurzberg. I had now known Till long enough to have felt
reasonably comfortable in asking him the big question. But first, the warm up.

'So... Till... are Canadian licenses valid here?'
'Yezz, zey are valeed' Till said confidently.

A seemingly innocent question, but anyone with an ounce of Testosterone in them knew where
this was leading to...

To a man, letting another man drive his car is a big thing! I don't know what came over me but, in an irrational moment I had asked the big question...

'Till, would you mind if I drove your car on the autobahn?' I said, in what I thought was a calm tone.

awkward pause...

'Ok, but zeese ez ze only car I have, if you break, I am noot ensur...'

I cut Till off and quickly added the only thing a man can say...

'If anything happens I'll pay for it... no worries!'

And with that, I had bought my ticket to the Autobahn.

Although I spent the afternoon after our fateful talk plotting how my high speed cruise down the Autobahn would be, it wasn't until we had all packed our bags, double, no, triple checked Till's house for anything we might had forgotten and loaded up the car, that I had been really nervous.

After carefully adjusting the speedster, which just happened to be a diesel-run Corsa Opel (which I am told is a very popular car here), we had decided that a gentle run down some German side streets was the best way to get warmed up. And off we went...

Clutch in...
Turn key...

No problem!

Chug, chug...

After getting used to the nerve jarring narrow streets, my confidence level began to rise. That didn't last too long...

'No zeeze is noot first geer'

Sure enough it wasn't. The gears in this rocket were much different than in my little Miata but it didn't click until we hit the Autobahn. Yes, it was odd that the first gear felt like fifth and yes, of course it was odd that the high gears didn't rev quite right but hey, it must be me right? Wrong! Well partly wrong ... It must have been the first few times I missed the gears that it happened.

As we entered the Autobahn I was, remarkably, still full of confidence and excitement at the thought of taking my midnight high speed jaunt down the fabled Autobahn... but it was not to be...

As I slowly made my way up the prescribed gears the fifth gear made it all too apparent that something was wrong...

'Pool it hard to zee left!' says Till in a fatherly manner.

'I am pulling hard, see?' I say in a confused tone.

'No, reeleez queekly!' says Till, now slightly worried.

'I am releasing quickly, you mean like this?' I say. sweat is now beading from my forehead.

'No, let me trie'
'No, zis iz not reight!'
'Sumzing iz wrong'
'Stup ear!' says Till with a worried look on his face.

Sure enough Till took over and sure enough the fifth gear had somehow now become the first
gear, the second the fourth and the third second. My heart sank into my boots ( Sandals
actually ).

How could this have happened? My midnight jaunt! Till's car! It just wasn't meant to happen... As it would be, my midnight jaunt down the Autobahn would end up by being an 80kph Sunday drive... and poor Till. Spending 2 days entertaining 2 foreign visitors and what do we ( well, me specifically ) do for him? Eat his food, drink his beer and break his car!

As I had promised, I re-issued my vows to repay any damages and Till drove us to the Train
station for our overnight train ride to Prague.

In retrospect, it was actually the calmest, quietest, slowest ( 120kph ) and most peaceful ride I had had with Till since I had met him. And that... is how the story ends... Actually, it ends when I get the repair bill in the mail but at least I got my Autobahn story!

------------

Fewph... several Heinekens and 5 hours later this entry is... over. It's 10:30pm in Prague and bed time for our jet lagged bodies.

Goodbye, until Poland!
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