my introduction to the czech republic, this time, was an empty road, fields, cows. luckily it was pleasant weather for walking, because i did quite a bit of it. eventually i got some rides, a taxi picked me up and took me quite a long way, then i got someone who spoke good second-language german and proceeded to hold a running monologue with me the whole way in to the fountain in the middle of cesky budejovice, pointing out where the first railway was, where the horses were washed, the world’s first pencil factory…
salim was expecting me at 5pm, but i had such a good trip that i was there by 9am!
i passed the day dozing by the fountain, trying to figure out public phones and the czech currency, and eventually dragging my heavy bag into an information office and finding some free internet, which i used while taking regular turns round the fountain to see if salim had arrived.
in the end, he got there an hour or two early and we went to the post office, where i got my hands on the two boxes tied with twine, which held the contents of the bag i got stolen five years ago. dresses i have missed, books with bookmarks in them at places i don’t remember, toiletries that i would no longer use. photos of copenhagen, my flamenco performance and the queeruption protest in den haag! my coat, one dress and stephen’s bow tie were missing, as i more or less expected. i think i spent a couple of hours sorting everything from both packs into a box to send home, a pile to chuck and another pile to absorb into my current pack. it was harder than packing the first time!
eventually i was done and salim, his friend and i took a tram to the university dormitories where he had booked me a night. very similar to a dorm i stayed in in budapest, it was one of many bare blocks standing in a field, but inside it had people coming and going with their possessions and a thriving noticeboard which suggested a much healthier student life than anything i’ve ever experienced. the room itself was made for two, split down the middle with beds, desks, cupboard, shelves and a sink. there were showers down the hall, facing each other with no curtains, and toilets even further down, the toilet paper bolted to the wall by the sink with an ostentatious padlock. i can’t imagine it being comfortable for long periods of time, but it seems to be accepted.
they took me around the city in search of a map, and to a local bus station dinner of gulash soup and dumplings, which was rather good though it looked anything but. it’s a pleasant city with an old town ringed by small parks and what used to be a moat, very quiet and calm at night, with live music floating from many doorways. outside the old town it seems a liveable city with decent public transport, interesting bridges and no tourists.
in the morning i dragged my tired feet to the tram and easily found a nice road, but the trip was a little more difficult than the last ones. it rained in short bouts but quite heavily. i got dropped in the middle of a highway in the middle of the rain and my boots gave out as i squelched my way to the shelter of a little overpass. interestingly, i got several rides from cars with three or four people in them already, which is very rare. just as i was preparing to shelter in my tent from another rainstorm, a car of four teenage heavy metal fans picked me up and drove me what seemed to be five hundred metres, before deciding to let me wait it out in the car. it was a fun interlude, if not very helpful as the only boy amongst them took it upon himself to help me hitch, which will scare most people off! meanwhile the girls bounced and sang and played badminton with a golf ball in the rain.
at about 8pm i found myself on yet another narrow road which boasted a nice section of layback but no cars, and decided to stop for the night. it was delightful to set up my tent in a forest while it was still light. the leaf litter was soft and the trees were green and i could select a nice flat section out of sight of any road or path, where i could hear the road through the birdsong but it just served to reassure me i would be able to get out of there in the morning. and indeed i could, i woke up nice and early and even after laying around enjoying breakfast protected from the rain, i was on the road about 8.30 and in a small truck a few minutes later.
unfortunately this ride, which was promisingly long, decided to take me sideways to an autobahn when it really wasn’t necessary, and my journey soured. i was surprised by a czech motorcycle cop turning on his siren right behind me and telling me to get off the road. he was gracious enough to give me advice as to where i could go, but it wasn’t very good advice as there was nothing at all visible out that direction. after heading out the other way where at least there was a little traffic, i saw two more hitchhikers walking outside the railing of the autobahn, and limped after them, barefoot on ground that is not meant for anyone to walk on. up hill, down valley, over bridge holding on to the outside of the railing; i couldn’t see any other direction but where they were leading. eventually i caught up to them, a whole highway section later at the next on ramp. they were two boys hitching from prague to berlin for shopping, and we shared some lunch and information on the railings of the on ramp, just past the roundabout. three people together have little hope of a ride, so eventually they walked off to investigate the road and i sat on the railing singing to the empty world. just as they were heading back in defeat i got a ride, another family of three, with watermelons wandering around the floor just to make things interesting. they had room for the other two but my german wasn’t good enough to convince them to take us all. i hope they found a ride anyway…
my ride only took me to the next truck stop, and after i had asked most of the cars and trucks, none of whom were helpful, i stood at the exit, behind the barrier and hoped cars could see me on the road. however an unmarked german police car came up and decided i was too close to the road, which was my first indication that i had made it to germany. they kindly told me how dangerous it was to be within two metres of the highway barrier, though three seemed ok, and helpfully told me to walk over a kilometre down the rough, narrow side road to the on ramp. of course cars drive faster down there than they should, considering visibility is not nearly as good as on an autobahn with a whole emergency lane down each side, but rules are rules and danger is naturally governed by them.
half way down i got a ride who took me almost as far out the other side of the on ramp; at least this road was deserted so i could walk on the smooth centre line until my friendly unmarked police came and directed me again, to the only place i could possibly have been going, and then swung around yet again to order me to walk on the left.
thankfully a little two door stopped for me quite promptly, though they were quite uncommunicative until they had already taken me into the centre of dresden. at the central train station having already spent about eight hours on the road that day, i decided it wouldn’t be the end of the world if i took a train, so i spent a couple of annoying hours on the floor of my platform, but i made it to my destination, and was in berlin for my birthday.