4th of June, 2018. 7th day in Europe. The second European country on the R nineT.
Visited the Dresden Frauenkirche, crossed the Elbe using a pedestrian-only ferry, ate a pork cutlet grilled the Czech way and set up camp for the night in Prague. ‘Cos we’re just fancy like that.
Woke up at 6am, morning sun shining brightly in anticipation for a warm Summer day on the road towards Dresden. With temperatures to hover at around 30°C, we were in for a warm ride later in the day to the Czech Republic. Or is it Czechia? I, like many English speakers around the world, have referred to this central European country as the former. From a governmental level in the nation of 10 million, there had been an official move to have it simply called Czechia since 2016. As of 2018, the name Czech Republic still stand in the embassies of Australia, the UK and USA.
The first major stop for the day was Dresden, a major city in the eastern region of Germany. Prior to the formation of the Soviet-governed East Germany, the city was decimated by British and American aerial bombers during WW2 in 1945. The Dresden Frauenkirche, completed in 1743 and rebuilt in 2005 with many parts salvaged from the original church, stands tall and prominently in the central square as a symbol of harmony and progress resulting from the unification of West and East Germany.
We left Dresden to explore the banks of Elbe River and discovered a quaint, traditional-looking, though undoubtedly a touristy sort of town called Rathen. I wasn’t really aware that there were any proper mountainous areas in Germany until I saw the rugged ridges of Saxon Switzerland National Park over in the horizon, a forest with a name that sounds like it should belong in, well, Switzerland.
As the Czech Republic is part of the European Union, it is included in the Schengen Area, which is an area of open borders between participating countries. This essentially means that there are no stops required to cross between countries, no passport checks, no inspections, no vetting; a seamless transit to your next town.
With this in mind, the differences in customs and languages used wasn’t unexpected but it was still surprising when I thought about the distance proximity between neighbouring towns of two countries. Imagine travelling from Sydney to the Central Coast across the Hawkesbury River, or Brisbane to the Gold Coast, and having to speak a totally different language.
The majority of languages around Europe use a derivative of the Latin alphabet, but every variant has different characteristics that make a language distinct from another. Some languages are partially mutually intelligible, such as Swedish with Norwegian, and there are partial similarities between the Dutch and German vocabulary. However, Czech is a completely different language that even Konrad, born and raised in Germany, cannot read or understand at all.
As an indication of how clueless Konrad and I were out in the sticks of non-English and German-speaking Czechia (I’m trying to use their new official name now!) without a clue of the local language, we stood for a minute in front of a bar to check out what we assumed was the establishment’s menu and price list. Turns out that those numbers and Czech words were the bar’s opening times. D’oh!
Thankfully, English menus were available at restaurants in Prague, so we had a better idea of what to order when it was time to devour some desperately required edibles. The food was great, service was impeccable. Even that sweet miniature beer given on the house was damn good. As chilled out as oysters in the bay, as satisfied as eating bangers off the Weber, I was.
My sense of culture shock was alleviated with a visit to the German grocery store, Kaufland, as though I’ve become somewhat German over the past 7 days. The store had the fanciest carpark that I’ve seen for something that’s as mundane as the budget grocery store that Kaufland is in reality. Old photographs lined the perimeter walls and lattice-style steel frames hold the roof of the car park, the sort of place where I would pitch my tent. Good thing for the civilised Czech, then, that Konrad and I were better planned for tonight, opting for a neat and very affordable campsite off the edge of the city centre, 15 mins away from town. A proper night’s sleep is needed after the rough one on the Autobahn from the night before.