Czechoslovakia Trip 1990
- Submitted by: Paul Bakker
- Website: None Available
- Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005
Goodbye Poland, Hello Czechoslovakia. There was a big crush at the border as Czechs and Rumanians leaving Poland had their cars thoroughly searched for Polish contraband. I'm not sure why, but I think that Poland is so cheap, even in relation to other East European countries, that people come in to buy up big and resell later in their own country at a fat profit. The border guards were dragging out radios, televisions, even pairs of jeans from the cars' boots and luggage racks. Strangely, they left us alone. We were two Australians driving in a new (rented) French car; maybe they thought we wouldn't bother with Polish merchandise.
All we had to endure was the stern gaze of four different uniformed officials, one after the other... and then we were free to go. There was no compulsory exchange or prepaying of accommodation or any of the other nasty things we were warned about. They didn't even check if we were importing Czech currency.
Rollin' rollin' towards Brno. The difference with Poland is immediately apparent once the border is crossed. Czechoslovakia looks so ornate, aesthetic, and *green* compared with the harsh ascetic dustiness of Poland. And one thing really strikes you: all the old city buildings have the same burgundy brown colour. They must all procure their building materials from the same place.
The landscape and the neat little country houses along the way charmed our socks off. Betty said it reminded her of Bavaria. We stopped for some desperately needed petrol. What a relief it was to see no long queues! The attendant kept repeating the words "Talon, Talon" to me as she filled the tank. I smiled and shrugged, not understanding what she meant. It turned out she wanted me to pay with petrol coupons. Foreigners are only allowed to buy petrol using these (government controlled) coupons so that they can't snap up all the local juice using black market money. Unfortunately, no-one thought to tell us this at the border. Hmm...I couldn't really siphon the petrol out of the tank again... when no-one was looking I slipped her a few 'kcs' (the local currency) and it was ok. Her idea, not mine!
We reached Brno at 6:30. (Brno, Plzen, kcs,... the languages of the world should get together and donate some vowels to the needy Czechoslovakian language.) I didn't really see much of the city as I was concentrating on the maze of No-Right_Turn, No-Left-Turn, No-Entry signs sprinkled liberally through the cobblestoned streets. These old cities are charming to visit, but hell to drive through. After chasing our tail for a while (the buggers have changed the street names again!) we found a hotel, 'Ur Jakurby', near the town square. US$21 for a room. We chowed down on beer, pepsi, hors d'oeuvres, onion soup, chicken, and ice cream parfaits for the princely sum of 213 kcs (= $8). Burp. At least someone can reap the benefits of 45 years of communist rule. (Joke!)
The next morning we brokefast (eggs, bacon, fresh rolls and jam) and lazed around looking up Brno's delights in our trusty travel guide, 'Eastern Europe on a Shoestring'. Before setting off I had to change some money at the hotel (10kcs for 1DM; In Berlin it was 18:1) and buy some petrol coupons at the International Hotel. That done, we plunged into the sightseeing. Brno, like its name, is very small and compact, so we were able to walk everywhere. First stop was a flamboyant Plague Column in the town square. Whether it was built in memoriam to the victims, or in thanks that the plague passed the town by, is not clear to me. I took a photo and made a mental note to look it up later.
Next we went to Spilberk Castle which, like all damn castles, is a long walk up a hill. Spilberk served as the SS headquarters during the war, and its dungeons were used as torture chambers. The castle looked chillingly well-suited for this purpose. At the base is a memorial to the people who died there. After a hefty climb we walked through a stone archway with the faded nameplate: