I had never been to Eastern Europe before this trip. The closest I had ever been geographically was Vienna (as in, the border with Hungary was nearby). I think I looked at Eastern Europe as kind of scary, and I was possibly a little Xenophobic about it because “they use a different alphabet” (though not all of Eastern Europe does….some just use a heavily accented Latin alphabet!). It probably didn’t help that I grew up in the 80s, when the Cold War was winding down, but I was still young enough that I really had no idea what was going on outside of New Jersey, let alone the world, and even in 1990 my German classroom still had maps of East and West Germany, both flags, etc. And even when we started studying European history, my class didn’t go into the present, focusing more on the Holy Roman Empire than anything else. My HS had a requirement to take two years of US history, but only one of world, so I never took a modern European history class and if I’m honest, I wasn’t even interested in learning anything until within the past 10-15 years.
When we started planning this trip, I was still really nervous about travelling to the Czech Republic. Mostly because neither Tim or I spoke Czech and they use a different currency from the Euro (They are in the EU, but not the Eurozone) and maybe there was still a lingering fear of the unknown in general. I had only ever travelled in countries that either spoke English or German or I knew enough of the native language to be polite (ie – French and Spanish speaking countries where I can manage to say things like hello, please, thank you, and do you speak English). But Czech? Totally foreign. Even looking in the phrasebook I bought left me with a puzzled look on my face.
I soon learned that because we were on the border with Austria, a lot of the people we would interact with spoke German, and many knew English, too. The few places where no one spoke anything other than Czech, we made do with pointing and trying to pronounce things in the phrase book!
After we griced (chased!) a Waldviertelbahn train to Gmünd, we noticed that we were very close to the Czech border and were in fat parked in an area where they probably used to have people pull over for inspection. So we decided to go on a short walk across the border just so I could say I had been in the Czech Republic, even though we would be returning in a few days to ride a train on the JHMD.
When we were getting close to our apartment, we also noticed how close we were to the border on the map. When we mentioned it to our landlord, he told us that when he was a child, if you got too close to the border you could hear the border agents cocking their guns, and they would occasionally hear gunfire. You didn’t want to kick your football too close to the border, that’s for sure!!
We’re also pretty sure that when we went on a walk in the woods behind our apartment, we must have crossed the border at least once. After we visited the JHMD (I’ll blog on that later), we needed to get rid of some Czech Kroner because neither of us had realised how cheap things are in the Czech Republic. I had exchanged £50 before we left and was given something like 1600 Kroner. We had intended on buying our tickets with the cash, but then we decided to book them online instead to make sure we got seats so we really had quite a bit to spend. We then assumed Lunch would use most of it, but Lunch only came to around 300Kr. We decided to wander into a grocery store (Lidl), but we still only spent the equivalent of £13. But at least I have some Kroner for our next trip. I’m totally ready to visit Prague now!
There will be more about our visit to the JHMD in a few days!
Read about the full trip here as links are added as new posts and videos are posted.
Iron Curtain Map from Wikipedia
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