TRAVEL REPORT CZECHIA, SLOVAKIA & POLAND 2002
This year we decided to make a trip to Czechia, Slovakia and Poland. Main reason was that we heard and saw some good things about Prague, Krakow and we just needed to go to Camp Auschwitz for once in our lifetime. So we searched for a vacation, that had all these possibilities and we found a nice trip at Kras travel agency. Things were still pretty scary a few days before we packed our bags. A big part of Czechia was under water, including a big part of Prague. And only three days before our holidays, we got the conformation from the agency, that the trip would take place. We made some kind of diary, just like we did at our trip in the USA and Canada. And here’s what happened during these fifteen days in Czechia, Slovakia and Poland.
Day 1, August 31
It’s the first time that we travelled with Kras, and propably the last time too. We’ll get into some of the details later on. Every company has another way of departing. This time we had to go to the train station in Gorinchem, where a bus would pick us up. We were there in time, thanks to my father in law who brought us to the station with the car. Two people were in the bus already, but we soon found out that they would make a boat trip through Holland for nine days. Two people arrived later……much later…..in fact too late according to the driver of the bus. A driver who had a very bad temper because of this. We didn’t know what to expect now. What happened was that we made a trip to Asten, near Eindhoven. On our way to Asten we would pick up some more people. And in Asten we got a cup of coffee at a big restaurant. All the busses who would depart today would gather in this restaurant, and leave from there. During my second cup of coffee, I need three to wake up, we heard the news that one of the busses was delayed by an hour or so. The rain had stopped inbetween, because at the station in Gorinchem it was raining already. Well, time for my third cup of coffee, time to wake up. When the last bus arrived, they got a cup of coffee too and we were told to load our lugage into the bus that would bring us to Czechia. And off we went, our holidays had finally started. Our bus driver was called Laurens Jan, or Laurens. A nice bloke from the Eastern part of our country. But where was the tour guide?? Well that was one of the negative aspects of this trip. A huge trip and no tour guide. For Laurens it was the second time that he made this trip. Well whatever, we just were a bit disappointed by this. You can’t guide a whole group and drive a bus at the same time, in my opinion. But let’s not be too negative on our first day of the trip. We were not introduced to the other members of the company. We had to do this ourselves during the trip. But we would succeed in that without any trouble, you’ll notice this in the rest of the story. What can we say about the bus trip. Not too much I think. The Dutch landscape floated by, followed by the German landscape. We had a lot of reading stuff with us, and some music as well, so we were well prepared for this long busdrive. In Frankfurt I recall that we had a good view over one of the biggest airports of Europe. Boeing 747’s were coming and going, flying just above our heads. We could almost touch them. After that we got back into the coming and going of meadows. In the beginning of the evening we arrived at our first sleeping place in Geisselwind. A very small but rustic place consisting of a few streets, a hotel, an evening chappel and a few little shops. Time stood still here. We got a nice hot meal for only a few Euro’s. Later we heard that they had miscounted themselves and we had paid far too less for this hot meal. Soup, schnitzel, chips and icecream. And after that we decided to have a walk in the surroundings. Which was over in about fifteen minutes. We made our first contacts with the Hilhorst family. Kees Hilhorst was one of the oldest people in the group. He worked for a record company, and he knew members of THE GOLDEN EARRING for example. A great ending of the first day. I had a good night sleep after this and on day two we would cross the border of Czechia.
Day 2, September 1st
We had to get out of Geisselwind, back to the highway again. The Czechian border was only a few miles away now. People got excited, but only Laurens Jan knew what we had to expect. I can be very short about the border adventure we had. If you have nerves of steel, and you don’t have any trouble with waiting for ages, then the border crossing was easy. I thought that, after the Iron Curtain had disappeared, the travelling to Eastern European countries would have been much easier. We had to wait for over an hour to cross the border. We were told to stay near the bus, while our bus driver was sweating bullets in the control post. This was a unique chance to meet some of the people in our company. People started to walk around the bus a little, and now it was easy to get in contact with other people like Adrie de Paus (Sliedrecht), Kees Koppenol (from Apeldoorn) and the Krevel family from Oosterhout (near Breda) who had been to Poland many times before to buy Polish crystal. After an hour or so, we were allowed to move on. We thought it was impossible in 2002 to witness things like this. But after we had crossed the border we would realise that we were not in the Western world, which is connected with the Western civilisation anymore. This was Eastern Europe. It’s like crossing the border with Belgium. Things get different then. The same was happening now, but the differences were much bigger than when you cross the border with Belgium I can tell you that much. Almost right after we had crossed the border, we made a stop at a giant fair. It was the opportunity to change your Euro’s for Czechian Crowns. One Euro stands for 29 Crowns, to give you an idea of the value of this coin. Looking at the prices we realised ourselves that everything was very cheap over here. But the people looked satisfied with their destiny. We entered a world that looked very much like Holland in the seventies. A world where time stood still. People were very friendly, but through the language barrier we nicely nodded to them. With this we just tried to be friendly to them as well. A long drive brought us to the first big city, which is called Pilzen. If you look closely to this name, you can recognise the Dutch word for beer (pils) in this city name. Yes, in this town they discovered how to make beer. And the city is still famous for this invention. It looked really beautiful, but we were unable to stop there. We had to continue our way to Kralupy. When we arrived in the neighbourhood of Kralupy, we saw the first proves of the flood. Some of the roads were very bad. Parts of house interiors were lying around in the bushes. The flood had taken them and moved them miles away from where they once were. One road near Kralupy was very bad indeed. It was full of holes and it was almost impossible to drive there. The whole landscape was covered in a grey, mud like substance, which was slowly drying up at the time when we arrived there. The landscape looked grey already, the flood made it look worse. The impact of the flood could be noticed even better when we entered the city of Kralupy. Things must have been very bad here. Hotel Sport was our destination. It had a high entrance, where you could see the level that the water had some days ago. Everything had a ‘ground/mud’ smell, and again we had the strange idea that we were pushed back in the seventies. The hotel looked like one big box of blocks, a leftover from the Communist regime. Like so many other things that we would see during our trip. We had a few hours left before our dinner was being served. We decided to explore the neighbourhood on our own. A sort op ramp tourism maybe, but otherwise none of our relatives would have believed our stories I guess. So we went to the parc that is in front of the hotel, walked over the bridge and then back to the hotel area. In the river, that floats besides the hotel we saw a lot of wood hanging in the trees. But also TV sets, refrigerators and other stuff. It’s all so unreal. Gypsies were burning some stuff down the riverside. I think they were living outside, and they were building this fire to heat their ‘home’. By the way, the houses are heated by city heating pipes. These pipes are above the ground , next to the riverside. Rather dangerous and strange to see it done this way, when you’re not familiar with the sight of it. Opposite the hotel, there was a street in which you could find a little church. You could clearly see the high level of the water. At the backside of this church we saw a street that used to have some shops and restaurants and a hotel. The street was deserted now and people were trying to make something out of the mess that left behind by the stream of water and mud, some days ago. Even the little hospital in that neighbourhood was evacuated, so we heard. We went back to the hotel for our dinner. There we found out that the hotel had some water damage as well. The swimming pool was closed, because of that. But they had prepared a nice meal for us. There is one thing though, that we had to learn. It’s a custom to move your plate, when you have finished your meal. It's not too regular over here. But right after you had finished your last bite, they moved your plate and served the next course. Everything was very well taken care of, in my opinion. This evening we met two people from Katwijk. He was called Herman, and he played organ for the church choir. A nice guy. On a huge screen, they were showing the tennis play. First friendships were made, and after our dinner we went to our room again. We heard a great story however, from that same evening. Right after we went to our room, some people stayed behind to have something to drink. But live stops at about 8 o’clock in the evening. People have to get up early, and there’s not too much to do in small places like Kralupy. So people go to bed early I think. I guess that they weren’t really expecting that the Dutchies wanted to stay up late. To show this, they shut down the lights several times. As a sort of sign, that it was better to go to bed now, the show was over. We didn’t have a problem with going to bed early because we knew that tomorrow would be a mighty heavy day, in which we would visit Prague. One of the highlights of this trip for us.
Day 3, September 2nd
The next day we were surprised a bit when we went into the bus again for our drive to Prague. Not too many people may have noticed it, but I thinks it makes a nice story. When we were waiting for the group to arrive at the bus, we saw a few people that were repairing the streets or something like that. One of these people was walking around with a pint of beer that was so big, he had to carry it with two hands…..at 9 o’ clock in the morning. Just to indicate how important this golden drink is here for the population. Alexander was our guide. He lived here for a long time already and he was speaking the Dutch language really well. He really told us some great stories, and they couldn’t have made a better decision to make him the guide to this Prague tour. We could see a very big part of the city, but now everything was possible to visit. We didn’t see the Jewish cemetary for example. Prague is a must for every tourist that wants to see nice, ancients buildings in a friendly atmosphere. There are some very beautiful buildings there on almost every corner of the street, and it’s just great to wander around through the streets of this beautiful city. But with this guide, we could wander around a bit more organised. We started in the fortress. The guards were already waiting for us outside. Inside the fortress there was one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever seen in my life, the St. Vitus Cathedral. I have got no words to describe its beautiness. And inside the cathedral my mouth went open wide, and it was quite difficult to get it closed again. The art, the paintings, the sculptures, the amazing glass in lead windows, and the beautiness was even strongened by the great stories of Alexander. It was awesome beyond believe. From the cathedral, where the crown jewels are too, we went to the changing of the guards. This ritual takes place once a day at noon. Outside the cathedral they were selling postcards, another important way to make a living for small children and students. The postcards were beautiful and rather cheap, so many people bought them to send them to their relatives. Which was a good option in our opinion, now we had the opportunity to do this, and Alexander took the time to let us buy the cards. The walk we made led us to ‘The Golden Street’. A very well known street in Prague, which is so important for the different art forms you can see on the outside of the buildings. This is mainly because of the fact that these houses were used as galleries by several artists in the past. Now you have to pay to walk through the street, and nobody felt like paying for a walk through a street, so we just moved forward through the gardens of the castle. And we had just bought a set of beautiful postcards anyway. Okay, so we went to the changing of the guards, who are dressed in blue here. The guards were changed with lots of music, and many people came to see this whole scene. Alexander had seen this all several times before. And while we were watching this ritual, he was interviewed by the local TV show. Right after this we went for a bite in a reastaurant that was right around the corner, by the palace. They had a terras outside the restaurant. The view from this terras was amazing, because the restaurant was on a sort of hill. At this restaurant we had the opportunity to buy a video tape of Prague and some other interesting spots in Czechia, a Dutch spoken video tape. When we had filled our stomach, we were ready for the long walk through Prague. Words can’t describe the charm of this beautiful city. It’s like a combination of London and Paris, but much cheaper and maybe even more beautiful than these two cities together. And definitely not as touristic as London or Paris. Anyway, from the palace and the restaurant we went to the Karls Bridge. A well known bridge on which you could see many street artists, tourists from all over the world and beautiful sculptures and decorated lampposts. The bridge walks over a huge river. It was a nice sight right now, a week ago however this river flooded the city with water. Many things would remind you of this. Alexander told us about restaurants that had just opened their doors a few months ago, that were surprised by the water and had to start all over again. What a crying shame. Now, the river floated so nicely through the city, peacefully dividing it into two parts. The real city was right before us now, the central part of the city so to say. The part besides the big market place. It would be rather difficult to tell you everything we’ve seen on our trip here. But I just need to highlight some things here, if I may. After we had visited two churches, the group split up in half. A smal part were exploring the city on their own, rather than staying with the other part of the group that stayed with Alexander. Rita and I stayed with Alexander, to be sure to see the best part of the town (as far as it was possible of course). So we started our walk at the market place. Just around the corner, we saw the so called ‘Orloj’. A huge clockwork outside of a church. It had moving statues and all, but we heard that nothing was working because of the lack of power due to the flood. There was no electricity available to make the clockwork work like it should work. What a shame, many people were disappointed by this. A walk through the town made us aware that Prague is one of the best kept secrets. The opera house is beautiful for example. The main figures of the play of that evening were completely dressed up already, and they tried to sell tickets for the performance of tonight. Inside the opera house you almost step back into renaissance. There’s also a restaurant situated in the building where people can have a late night supper after the performance. It was one of the most expensive restaurants in the area, and it looked really expensive also. But there also was a great atmosphere. We went through the shopping streets and after a long walk we got back to the market place again, where we had an appointment with the rest of the group. With the whole group we were going to a pub, where we could taste the beer again (pommeranca djus-which means as much as orange juice for us though). It seemed that they weren’t too pleased with a big group like this. Nonetheless we had a great time, and we got in contact with Johan Breeman and his mother Lenie (the oldest member of the group, I think). Two beautiful people from Ridderkerk, near Rotterdam. Really nice people to hang out with. And although the orange juice tasted more like water that had been in touch with an orange, the atmosphere between the different people in the group was getting better and better. Under the good guidance of Alexander we went back to the bus. Saying goodbye to a beautiful city. A city that we definitely will visit again in the future, because we know for sure that it has got much more beautiful places for us to explore.On our way back we saw that a van had lost his load, on the side of the road. Hundreds of apples were lying on the side of the road, and some people were loading the back of their car full of apples. Which is kinda strange because we learned from Laurens that all the appletrees at the side of the road are the property of the state. Everybody can pick the apples from the trees and eat them. I gues that these people didn’t have a tree in their garden, but they had a truck full of apples now. During our evening dinner we met Jan (Pavarotti) and his wife Wilma, who enjoyed us with their nice stories. Beautiful people who were so positive, and who knew how to reflect this to the rest of the crew. They enjoyed every second of the trip, especially when the food arrive you could hear Jan scream: Mjammie Mjammie!! In the evening we saw Alexander on the television, and the stories about Prague filled up the dining room. What a great day!
Day 4, September 3rd
The day after one of the first highlights of our trip, began with a looooooong drive to Slovakia, to a place called Tatransky Lomnica. A rather dull day perhaps, although we had a good view of the things to come. We would stay in a place in the well known Tatra Mountains. We went through a rather big village where Laurens lost his way a bit, which led to unforeseen moves and rather unsafe handlings if I look back at it. Some pedestrians were looking real mad when Laurens almost hit them. Well, lets forget about it, I can imagine that it wasn’t really easy being a chauffeur and a guide at the same time. After he found his way back to the main road, things got better again. Here’s something I have to explain a bit nearer. There are no highways in a huge part of Slovakia, so I am talking about a main road here. The distances were maybe not that long, but the fact that you had to drive over the main road make them look much longer because you can’t drive that fast which makes it all go much slower than expected. We went out of the bus for a couple of times but this was more to stretch our legs a bit and get a cup of coffee at the local McDonalds. No, were didn’t land in our America story again people, but McDonalds is everywhere and especially in Czechia and Slovakia. Some of you might remember our America tour report, in which I talked about McDonalds being on every corner of the street. Well it is here everywhere too. Knowing that they serve a good cup of coffee there, we kept searching for the restaurant with the yellow M constantly. Another interesting thing to mention here was the crossing of the border of Slovakia, which didn’t take us too long this time. But first you leave Czechia. Then you get a ten minute drive through no mans land, which was completely covered with giant woods and one or two houses here and there. Then you’ll have to cross the Slovakian border. The language difference between Czechia and Slovakia isn’t that big, but there are some difference which I won’t explain here. The Slovakian Crown is a bit cheaper than the Czechian Crown. Here you get about 41 Crowns for 1 Euro. After we had changed our money the trip went on to Tatransky Lomnica. Our hotel was in the woods, in an area where there were lots of hotels. Mainly for the wintersport tourism, and I think that they were also not really prepared for big groups like this one. Right before we entered the small village we saw the first deer, that were crossing the road, disappering into the woods right after that. The hotel was luxe and from the rooms you had a beautiful view on the Tatra Mountains. The dining room was big. Every evening we could choose out of several menues, and you could take as much as you like. The only thing that you had to be aware of was that the waiter that handled the liquor storage had his hands so full that you had to order real quick to have something to drink with your dinner. It’s in this hotel that we met Piet and Marijke a bit better. Two great people who had a rough time behind tem. But they also had a possitive view on life itself, which fits real well with our visions. Try to be possitive all the time. Piet was constantly joking. He said what was on his mind, good things and bad things, that’s what I liked about him so much. Marijke was just a nice person to hang out with. An open ear and a nice person to start a conversation with. Yes we had a great group, and tomorrow we could hang out with them in Banska Bystrica, in Slovakia.
Day5, Sepetember 4th
Our guide was Hans de Groot today. But before we met him we started our day with a good breakfast. There we heard the story that some of the members of the group couldn’t sleep very well because of the sound that the deer made in the woods. They growled so loud at each other, that many people couldn’t sleep. We didn’t hear a thing. Maybe we were too busy doing other things with each other. Hans de Groot told us a lot of interesting things about Slovakia and the Tatra Mountains. But he did this slow and at one tone hight, so for some people he sounded a bit boring. Especially when you were sitting in the back of the bus it was difficult to understand him, although he did his best to give the people as much information as possible. Before we arrived at our final destination we could stretch our legs a bit. At a beautiful place with mountains, trees and a place where we could drink some coffee. Rita climbed the mountain to take some nice pictures. The dog of the owner of the pub didn’t like the tourists too much I believe, and I am glad that his cage was strong enough. If he would have escaped from this, we would have to travel further with at least two or three people less than now. Maybe he was also attracted by this little bird that I heard again. Dogs have a good hearing you know, so I can imagine that he heard the sound even better than I did. But I couldn’t find the damn bird who sang, right next to my ears, or so it seemed. When we finally arrived at Banska Bystrica, we got a few hours to explore this small, but very nice village ourselves. You couldn’t get lost, and there was enough to see in the few shopping streets there. Hans told us a few places that were interesting to visit, like a big clocktower that you could climb. You could have a good overview from there. On the market place, the local fire guards were giving a demostration. We saw that in Luxemburg before, so we decided to buy some stamps at the post office. Outside it looked like a building that was made by a communistic regime. With beautiful big sculptures on the wall of a post officer handing a letter to one of his customers. Inside the post office it was dark and quiet, it was not really a place where you would take your friends. But we got our stamps, so we could write our postcards in the evening. The main streets had the bigger shops. When you looked a bit more carefully though you could see many small interesting shops in small side streets, almost well enough hidden so nobody can find them. But clever as we are, we looked pretty well if we couldn’t find any good CD shops. And we succeeded in that. The first shop was small , but it had a lot of nice CD’s, also some new stuff. The first thing you’ll reckon when you visit countries like Czechia, Slovakia and Poland is that they sell much more tapes than CD’s. The shops are full with tapes. Many extreme underground bands from this area bring out their stuff on cassette. Demo’s and official releases. The other store that we found was in a small basement. They even had DVD’s and they only sold heavy metal. They had a great collection, with again many underground bands from the area. One of this bands is called CLOSTERKELLER from Poland. I think we will try to get them in our magazine in the future. Oops, was it that late already. It was time to get something to eat. After that we would see the rest of the village. Mostly I don’t have anything to say about our lunchbreaks. Everybody needs to eat, nothing shocking happens. But sometimes one have to make an exception to this rule. The exception comes from Banska Bystrica. We had a sandwich and something to drink. And just when we were eating this, together with Piet and Marijke, we see two other people from our bus that decided to eat there too. It’s not strange that you like people very much, and sometimes there are some people that are the odd one out of the group. That description goes to these people. Not that they were not friendly. But these people were a bit typical. I think they didn’t travel too much, in fact they almost didn’t leave the street in which they were living. Now they were in Slovakia, it’s all new to them, especially the difficult language. Please don’t think that I am trying to make the fool out of these people. This is too funny though to forget. They were trying to get some beer, and they asked what beer meant in the Slovakian language. We said that they had to order ‘Two Pivo”, and during two they had to stick up two fingers. Anyone will understand this. So the waiter comes and the lady of the pair says that she wants to order “Two Pipo” (Pipo is a famous clown over here in Holland). When she realised she was saying something wrong, because she saw our reaction, she said she wanted “Two Pino” (Pino is the big bird from Sesamme Street) which made it even worse. I almost wet my pants. After this they got their drinks and then they began to struggle abou the money……..We wanted to see more shops and in a bookshop we found a nice metal magazine. In the Slovakian language though, but nice to have. It was hot, like it was on many days of this trip. Most of the time we had temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. Perfect wheather for a summer holiday. On our way back to the bus, we saw that Jan Pavarotti had become friends with an opera singer. They sang beautiful aria’s together, and this man was really sad when he had to leave his new Dutch friend. Jan had a great voice, and a huge volume, and he proved it several times. On our way back to the hotel we drove throught he High and the Low Tatra. The Low Tatra Mountains went up to 2000 metres, while the High Tatra Mountains rise up to 2600 metres. At dinnertime we said goodbye to our guide Hans, and another great story pops up from the dinner tables. It was really hilarious, and a bit funny as well. When everybody had finished their dinner, most of the people wanted to have a desert. Now there was this cake that looked like apple cake. We took some of that, while others had some cherry pie. When Rita took a bite, she almost spit it out immediately. It was cheese cake, instead of apple pie. So we acted like it was delicious. And we saw the rest of the group was going for these cakes also. Some even took two pieces, so they would certainly have enough. The look at their faces was magnificent, and I will never forget this. That’s how you deal with people that are too greedy. I hate that, but I can’t stop laughing about greedy people, you can tell such funny stories about them. The last country we would visit during this trip was Poland, but first we deserved a good night sleep, without the noise of the horny deer hopefully!
Day 6, September5th
It was time to ‘invade’ Poland. We were really looking forward to that. On our way to the Polish border you could see that this area is mostly used for ski vacations. At some place you could see a deserted ski jump. Our destination was Zakopane. We left the hotel pretty early, because Laurens expected some ‘trouble’ at the Polish border. When we arrived there, the borderplace wasn’t too crowded. This didn’t mean however, that we could pass it very easily. No instead of that Laurens had to run from here to there to get his documents signed etc. After more than an hour we could continue our drive to Zakopane. And with that, we were the lucky ones. Many vehicles, especially old Trabants, were send back at the Polish border. So we were glad that we could travel on after one hour. An hour that went by pretty quick. This was mainly because we heard the nice conversation that Rita had with Jo about Teddy bears. Jo told us that he had a Teddy bear that he called Willy, and that he talked to this bear. He also dressed the bear, and put a shawl around his neck when the wintertime begins. Rita told him her experiences with her Teddy bears and Fozzy bear puppets. Following the conversation led to some very hilarious situations and quotes, but hey we had something to talk about. This would have been lost time, if someone didn't’bring up the subject. The road, in the beginning was really bad. We sometimes have these roads as a private road which leads to a farm or something else. This was the main road now. When we arrived at Zakopane, the world was changing a bit. This village consists almost entirely of wooden houses, which were beautifully decorated. Through this it becomes a very touristic place. Our thought went out to the Polish version of Valkenburg. Which is a small place in the south of Limburg, that attracts many thousands of visitors in the summer holidays. We went to a new church that was build there, only a few years ago, first. The reason why they build this church was that Pope John Paul II had visited Zakopane. His statue was outside of the church, which was a very beautiful new building indeed. New fashioned, but with glass in lead windows and really attractive to the believers in the group. Besides the church there was a little chappel. It was much smaller, but it looked really pretty also. There was a Mass in the big church, while you could pray for yourself in the small chappel. The church was visited constantly by busses full of believers and tourists that went on and off constantly. The even had made a big parking place next to the church, where about five busses stood already when we arrived. In front of the chappel there was a kiosk in which you could buy posters, jig saw puzzles, books, slides, pictures, statues, videos, etc of Pope John Paul II. This Mr. Wojtila, which is his original name (he is from Poland), is very popular over here. The way back led us through this wooden village again. In the centre of the village we put the bus on a parking space and we could go shopping in Zakopane. From the moment we went out of the bus already. Cause every time when a bus arrives, people seemed to pop up from out of nowhere. They carry bags full of stuff like jumpers, goat cheese in many different forms (very popular), toys etc. And if you got rid of the first one, the second one was already waiting for you to try his luck on you. The biggest reason why nobody bought something was that we didn’t have any cash with us yet. So we first changed our Euro’s into Zloty’s. 1 Euro is 4 Zloty. Zakopane has one very long shopping street and a few small side streets with some shops. We decided to go our own way and search for a good place to eat first. At the end of the street we found a lunch room where we had a good meal, that costed us almost nothing. After that we went down the street, and shopped around a bit. Some street artists were doing their thing. Most of them stood like statues, completely dressed up with painted faces. You see them in every big city. Another touristic thing was that you could make in a ride with a horse and car through the village. But they also had things like a horror museum, and other tourist attractions like that. We found two good music stores down this big shopping street. One store that some tapes, again many underground stuff in the death and black metal style, but was more specialised in buttons, patches, flags, stickers and posters. The other store was a real good one. In the back they had a lot of good metal music. Lots of local bands like KAT, ARTROSIS, MOONLIGHT, CLOSTERKELLER, TSA, etc. But they also had lots of magazines, DVDs, videos, poster, and other merchandise stuff. Just go to Zakopane, and you’ll find the shop pretty easily. It’s a big store which you simply can’t miss. Many people of our group took the cable ride, that went up to a small hill, where you could eat and have a nice view. We went to see another church. Not that we are true believers, but we can enjoy the art in these places like no other. I was glad that I wasn’t dressed in short pants, cause churches sometimes forbid you to go inside when you’re dressed in short pants or a short skirt. They ask for some respect, and they get this from us. Some people of our group though didn’t think like us, and they just went inside, dressed in a short pant……..What should we say more about this?? Slowly we went back to the bus, but not after we had enjoyed a nice hot cup of coffee at the …..McDonalds of course. They helped us in good English. And we were just in time, cause right after us there was a whole class (or two) of school kids coming in. They all wanted their hamburgers and milkshakes, and they all needed to go to the bathroom. Time for us to leave the place unnoticed. When we arrived at the parking lot, we saw a lot of our group members carry huge bags full of new bought stuff. And now the salespeople that invaded the busses could sell some stuff, while we had our Zloties with us now. The sweaters were really cheap, and they sold the best. After that it was time to go back tot the Polish/Slovakian border again. Ready for another hour stop. The evening dinner was nice again. One thing had changed though for some people. Remember the man who carried the liquor through the dining room. Well you could either wait for this guy, or prove your luck at the beer tap in the small dance hall they had created next to the dining room. Every evening two to four people were dancing there, while we were having our dinner. The man (or woman) behind the bar was unemployed for almost the whole dinner, so many people gave him something to do, by ordering their drinks by him. Very well thinking for Dutch tourists. You see that we can be very clever, when we need to get our drinks. Krakow was waiting for us, our next destination was Poland again. A lot of people went to the folkloristic evening, which was organised in the basement of the hotel. We decided to write our postcards this evening, and hit the sack early. We love music, and song and dance, but our poor souls don’t like it the folkloristic way. We love our rock hard and loud. Amen!
Day 7, September 6th
We had to follow the same road again that we had followed yesterday. I thought it would have been easier that we would have an hotel in Poland. Now we had to cross the border three times (times two, forth and back), which took us about six hours in total. Something that could have been much better in my opinion. So again we had to stand in line. We were patient, and after we had finished the necessary formalities we could continue our trip to Krakow. Inbetween we witnessed a hilarious story from Rita, who told the whole group that she had a terrible dream last night. She had to perform in a play…..as a red cabbage. Well try to tell that without laughing in a crew of thirty five grown up people. You won’t succeed, I can tell you that. But these nice things help you survive through some dull moments. And of course everybody was talking about the great folkloristic evening. I am glad that the rest of the group had a great night. Laurens had organised a guide, who would lead us through the streets of Krakow. Krakow is a very nice city, so we got a very nice female guide this time. Again we were invaded by people who wanted to sell us postcards, sweaters etc. We had to wait for our guide for a moment, so we took some time to go to the toilet first. And again I heard this strange bird, but I didn’t see it. And then Wilma, the wife of Jan Pavarotti suddenly fell over a metal chain that was part of a sort of fence. She didn’t get hurt too much, but this could have been worse. Some members of our group decided not to wait for our guide, and they began to walk around by themselves. We were guided through the city and we began at the citadel of the town. A huge climb to get inside the citadel, where our guide started to tell us everything about the city. In the German language however, but she did it so well that everybody understood what she had to say. The citadels was big. Inside the citadel there was a big church. We didn’t go in there, because we didn’t have the time for it. Opposite this church there were some remains of the barracks that were there many years before. There was also a big square that was surrounded by many buildings, which were beautifully decorated. The drainage had the shape of a dragons head, for example. After we had left the citadel, we went to the huge market place of Krakow. We walked through rustic streets, passed by some churches, art galleries and little shops. The main focus in Krakow however is the sight of the giant ‘cloth hall’ or ‘Lakenhal’. It was very crowded. There were a few street artists, totally dressed up in the original Polish costumes. In one of the national building a trumpet player played a song. It was played during a war. The story goes that this trumpet player was hit by an arrow in his throat, while he was playing his trumpet. From the day that this happened, they play the trumpet at noon and stop at the exact time when the original trumpet player stopped playing because he was hit by this arrow. Many people know this story, and they are waiting for the trumpet player to appear. They wave and shout at him, as a sort of tribute to the original trumpet player. Our walk continued and brought us to the city walls. Not too much is left of these walls, but it looked really nice indeed. Just inside the city walls there were people who sold paintings. Hundreds of beautiful paintings were stalled there, so people could see them really well. It was a beautiful sight with all these many colors. The ended of the guided walk was when we came back to the huge market place. We could have gone further with our guide, but most people of our group were starving, including ourselves. So we thanked our guide, and decided to get something to eat. We found a Mexican restaurant, that served some very good food for a cheap price. Other people went inside this giant “Cloth Hall”, where you can shop. There are a lot of trendy shops inside, which are a bit more expensive than the average shops, and a bit more exclusive as well. We had a few hours left to search for some record shops. We found two shops that were interesting. First there was a big shop that had a good metal section. Again focussed on the national underground bands. It had three floors and it was right on the big market place. On our way back we passed a second shop. Outside the shop there was a giant IRON MAIDEN-“Number Of The Beast” flag hanging, so we knew we couldn’t go wrong here. Inside the little shop there were many flags, posters, buttons, videos and some CD’s. I found a rare Randy Rhoads poster, that I wanted to buy. But this was the only item that they didn’t want to sell. I am always the lucky fellow. That was reason enough to leave the shop and go back to the parking space, near the citadel. When the whole group was back together again we started our way back to the hotel. For the first time this holiday we stranded in a sort of traffic jam like situation. It was not a real traffic jam, but you could see that the traffic near the big city was much more crowded than the traffic in, and near the smaller villages. The Polish border was crossed a bit easier than before, maybe they knew us by now. After that it was dinner time, and time for a good night sleep. The day hereafter we had to go on a boat. Talking about variation, ladies and gentlemen!
Day 8, September 7th
And we were not going on a normal boat, but more about this later. First of all we had to take a drive to the place from where the boats started their trips. That trip leads us to the border between Slovakia and Poland. A part of that border is a natural border. It follows the stream of the river Dunajec. We were about to make a trip on that same river. So we were constantly floating on the natural border between Slovakia on one side, and Poland on the other side. At the beginning of the trip some people were still doubting if they wanted to make the trip or not. They were discussing this on our way to the place of departure. It was a very misty morning, which was not too good for this boat trip Through this you would be unable to see the beautiful sights that this trip would give. But the more we approached this place, the better weather we got. And again I heard this bird next to me?! When we finally arrived, the sun was shining. Maybe this was the reason that finally, everybody decided to make the trip. Through this, even Laurens could join us. Cause now he didn’t have to stay by the bus. And the people who decided at last that they wanted to make the trip too, were very happy that they made the trip. This boat trip was definitely the second big highlight of our summer holidays, for many people in our group. The boats didn’t look too comfortable maybe, but the pretty landscapes would make up for that. We were divided into three groups. Our group was consisting of people like Kees Koppenol and his wife, Herman the organ player and his wife, and we decided that Laurens could go with us as well. We’re so friendly! I don’t know why the MARILLION song “Three Boats Down From The Candy” slipped my mind every now and then. The trip would last for almost two and a half hours. That sounds like a long trip indeed, but in fact this trip was over before we knew it. And it could have lasted a few hours longer, if we were the ones in charge. But we were not, cause we were guided by two people who ‘pushed’ the boat forward with long wooden sticks. While doing this they told us some information about the flora and fauna of this area, and some other nice information about this area. Later we heard that we had the only boat on which they told the passengers a story, the rest of the group didn’t get any information at all. The two guys were dressed up in traditional clothing and they did their job really well. You think it would be an easy job to push a boat through the water with a stick. But I guess that’s not the truth. This was proven when one of the passengers had to take over the rear, so that the two ‘captains’ could have a nap. Of course they had to choose me for this. The famous follow up to Michiel de Ruyter. First the boat started to circle around, but then we slowly moved along, continuing our trip. On the other boats they’d found ‘volunteers’ like Piet, who was also the choosen one for this task. One thing is for sure, things went much better when the other people were doing this heavy duty job, so we decided to trade places again after some time. It was an excellent moment for some marvellous pictures though. Some of the giant rocky hills we passed had names as well, like “Maria” and “The Seven Monks”. If you ever come to this area, then I would certainly recommend you to make this boat trip. You won’t feel sorry, and you’ll definitely be satisfied with it. After the boat trip, we had to walk to a nice little wooden restaurant that they had hired for us. We would have our lunch there. Accompanied by some musicians, we had a great time there. We even sang some songs with these musicians and I did the conga with Wilma and one or two others. Not too many people wanted to do the conga, but it’s one of the only ‘dances’ that I know. So I volunteered and had a lot of fun. After that we sat down at the terras, outside the little restaurant. In the meantime, Laurens went back to the starting point of our boat trip. The ‘captains’ of our boat were collected with a giant truck, and together with the three boats and laurens they drove back to the bus. Laurens would pick us up after that. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the landscape so much that we forgot the time, and angry group members came to look for us after they had waited in the bus for about forty minutes already. Well, time flies when you’re having fun. And fun we had that day, although this was the only thing we had on our schedule today. Because we came home real early we decided to look around in the area of the hotel. It was the last possibility to do this, because tomorrow we would go back to Czechia again. The area was full of trees, and there really wasn’t too much to see outside. The only two interesting things in the neighbourhood were two little churches. Okay, after that it was time for our dinner again.
Day 9, September 8th
We were on our way back to Czechia again, and we had a great day ahead of us. First we learned how to make glass objects in a glassworks. When we arrived at this factory we had to wait for a little while because to had to get the guide out of the factory. The guide showed us a big part of the factory and we also got some demostrations in glass blowing. And even better, Piet got the chance to make is own glass art object. It was amazingly interesting, but on the other hand……… Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you this, if this factory would have been in Holland it would have been closed immediately. The glass blowers are drinking beer whole day, there are almost no safety regulations and you could walk in and out without any trouble. People weren’t even wearing safety glasses. But I wouldn’t have missed it because of that, because it was amazingly interesting like I said already. Maybe it’s time now to tell you a little bit more about the gas industry in these countries. I watched this very closely of course, because I work in this branch too of course. The gas industry in the Eastern part of Europe consists mostly of Linde factories. There is also some Air Products and some Messer Griesheim, but Linde is the main producer here. In Kralupy for instance we saw some giant Linde factories. The gas cylinders however look in a terrible state. Most cylinders look like they were used as a bomb in the first world war. Some cylinders don’t have any caps on them, and sometimes things looked pretty unsafe to me. But hey, I am just a tourist, taking his vision from his work with him on his summer holidays. The main reason why we came to this glassworks was to buy the expensive cristal objects of course, and right after the guide through this joint we were directed to the shop. But that was what my ‘cristal boll’ had predicted me already. The stuff you could buy looked beautiful and I guess it wasn’t too expensive also. But we just don’t need anymore of this stuff, so we went outside the shop to talk a little. Some minutes later we saw a few motor guys, showing their tricycles (motorbikes with three wheels). They saw that we were interested and we easily got in touch with them. They told us that they regularly went to bikersfestivals in Germany, and if we would meet them again we could make a ride on the back of one of these tricycles. We could have done this now already, but Laurens was waiting for us already, like Mother Goose did in the fairytale with the same name. Next thing we were about to do is pay a visit to a big open air museum. The museum contained a lot of old buildings in their original state like a watermill, a school, a farm, a church, a pub etc. These buildings were situated in a giant parc. We were guided by some piece of paper on which they had explained what you could see in this museum. The museum was situated in Zuberec, and it was really nice to spend some hours there. In the afternoon we could visit a huge castle in Oravsky Podzamok, which was really amazing. The group split up in half, mainly because some of the people couldn’t climb the hill on which the castle was situated. It’s sad for them that they missed another highlight, cause the castle looked really pretty. The young guide explained what we got to see inside the castle. First she did this in the Czechian language, and after that she did it in in English for our group. This girl was still very young, and I think she did an amazing job. Later on she told me that English wasn’t really her favorite language, and she would have succeeded better when she could have done it in German. But again I had to say that she did a hell of a job. She brought us from the big gate where we entered the castle up to the castle itself. 320 Stairs up. 280 stairs down, going through many of the halls. We had an amazing view from the top of the hill. And in the beginning of the guided trip we could enjoy a short falcon show. The falconer had about five falcons and an owl that would eat out of his hand, and fly from the fence to his shoulder. The demonstration was short but a nice interlude, and a nice opportunity for our young guide to catch her breath. The dungeon was the most interresting place of the old castle. A castle that also had a little museum inside, which was full with stuffed animals that lived in this area like bears, deer, wolves, falcons, owls, lynxes and foxes. When we were in the top of the towers of the castle we saw some thunder and lightning in the distance. The weather was changing, but it looked real beautiful to see the blisters, with the dark skies behind them. After we said goodbye to the guide again, we had to go back to the bus, that was already waiting for us. Our new hotel would be in Vsetin in Czechia. But this name caused a lot of hilarious moments in the bus, because Laurens had told one of our group that the best pronouncement of this name would be “D’r zit vet in”, which means as much as “There fat inside it”. This joke is much more hilarious in the Dutch language, or we Dutchies laugh about everything. Nontheless, this made our way back very nice already. When we arrived at our hotel, we saw that this hotel was also quite okay. Some people even had two separated rooms, one small livingroom and one bedroom. The hotel was in the middle of a little shopping mall, in this nice place called Vsetin. Here we would spend the last few nights in Czechia. The hotel had a little dining room on the ground floor, and when our whole group was having diner there, the whole dining room was filled. No wonder that the two waitresses were having some trouble, providing us with our dinner. And because of the fact that they didn’t speak any English or German, every dinner became a jolly mass. More about this later on, when something extra interresting happened, so stay tuned. Our room had a view on a big square, with some statues on it. Besides that, the hotel had a bar, a discotheque, a hair dresser, and there were some offices located in there too. As you can see, the hotel was okay. And still we insisted to go to a health resort tomorrow. Well you can never be healthy enough.
Day 10, September 9th
Our breakfast was very well taken care of. We didn’t know what to expect, since our chaotic dinner yesterday. We could grab as much as we could, and if we needed anything else we just had to ask. Now it was time to meet our German guide. He was an older man, whose name was Erich Eichner. He was always dressed in a very colourful Hawai shirt, which made him look at least one year younger. Despite that, he was a friendly old man who was giving us a lot of information on our way to Luhajovice. There was the health resort, a very nice place to walk around. Erich had ordered the sun for us, and we could enjoy another 28 degrees Celsius again today. Great job, Erich. We would have our lunch together, in a nice restaurant in Luhajovice. Soup and bread, all organised really well. After that you could walk along with Erich or discover the beauty of Luhajovice yourself. We decided to walk along with Erich for a while. During this walk we were proved that human beings are herd animals, in the best way possible. One of the male group members bought a sort of safari jacket. A short coat that had many pockets, and looked real sportive. Once he had bought this jacket and showed his to the other members of the group, everybody insisted on buying a jacket like that as well. So this shop sold about ten of these ‘safari-jackets’ in half an hour. After that they could close their shop and go on a holiday for two weeks. They’ve never sold that much in a whole year, and now they did this in thirty minutes. Erich spend his money on a local speciality. It was a flat biscuit that had the sice of a 7” single. It had sugar on it and a filling that consisted on several flavours like lemon, apple, pineapple, chocolat, cinnamon or whatever taste you wanted. He presented this to the people in the group. We enjoyed it while we walked along to the health resort of Luhajovice. Every health resort has got his own speciality, so to say. It’s the healing working of the water that comes out of the wells, that creates the specialty of these resorts. Here, the water seems to help againsst neck pains. Well sometimes I feel like I am a pain in the neck as well, so you could say that this water had a healing working agains myself. I hope it doesn’t get any funnier than this. Anyway, we first wanted to see the shops that were located in this parc. At the end of this walk there was a centre where you could buy cups to drink this healthy water. And again I was hearing this bird sound, that I’ve been hearing since I crossed the Dutch border. I couldn’t find the bird that was making this sound though, but it was a huge parc so the bird could hide itself everywhere in the trees and bushes. They also explained you here why this water was so healthy and they showed you which substances were in this water. Erich wanted to drink a cup of coffee in a pub there. In the meantime we saw that he had become good friends with Lenie, the mother of Johan. He was constantly walking next to her and telling her everything he knew about Luhajovice. We didn’t feel like having coffee in this heat, so we decided to take a walk back through the beautiful parc, together with Piet and Marijke. In the middle of the parc there was a very nice mosaic in flower. It showed the cup with the long spout, from which you could drink this healthy water over here. In the beginning of the parc we finally found one of the few wells that were here. So Marijke decided that she wanted to have a taste of this healing water. She had an empty bottle with her and filled it with water. After a small taste, she spitted out the water immediately. Everybody was watching her. We tasted a little too, but it tasted salty and not really tasteful. (Not really Mjammie Mjammie) As a result of that, Marijke decided to empty the whole bottle on the floor. With which she insulted the whole population of Luhajovice I think. The didn’t look really friendly already when they saw Marijke spit out the water, she had just drunk. But when she emptied her bottle on the floor, they were looking like they would kill her…..two secconds from now! But I must admit that I really loved the honesty of this lady. She didn’t like the water, and she showed that immediately. After buying some stuff in the local super market, we had some time to drink something in the restaurant that we ate at, this morning. The bus would collect us, and after that we had a few free hours in Vsetin. A few hours that were spend by taking a look in the surroundings, especially the shopping part. Not too many shops were really interesting maybe, but it was nice to wander around a bit. We did get the shock of our lives though, when we saw a group of gypsies in the middle of the town. Not that we saw gypsies here, cause you see them very much in these countries. But one of these guys was holding a gun, in the middle of the shopping centre. He wasn’t really trying to hide it and showed in public that he was having a gun in his hand. Nothing happened after that, but the sight of someone holding a gun in their hands in the middle of the streets didn’t give us a safe feeling. I think that this will surprise nobody, actually. The evening dinner contained a hilarious scene, that I want to describe here. We got a sort of pasta to eat. They hadn’t made enough pasta though, so one of our group members was appologised and asked if whe wanted something else to eat. She kindly replied that she would have liked some chips and a steak instead. As a sort of joke actually. A few minutes later however, she got her fish and steak, which surprised her even more than anyone else I think. But now, some of the other people saw this and they insisted that they also wanted chips and steak, instead of the pasta that they’d already finished half. After some arguing, with head, hands and feet, they actually got what they asked for. Through these hilarious moments, the waitresses had forgotten to serve a knife and fork with this. And then they even started to become rude against these waitresses. Dutchies at their best. I wished I didn’t belong to this group of selfish Dutchies, but I didn’t have a choice. I fell ashame that I was in this group, but hey what could we do. Sometimes it’s hard to be a member of a group, when things like this happen. Civilisation stopped growing by these people when they were four years old or so. When I was that age, and one of my friends got a toy to play with, I wanted that too. And I started yelling until my mum gave up and bought me a toy. Same happened here, with people that were over ten times older than the age I had at that time………
Day 11, September 10th
Today we would make an interesting tour to the Tatra museum, Stramberk and Trojanovice for a cable ride. Early in the morning, after we had our breakfast, we gathered around the bus for the drive to the Tatra museum. And that bird, that I’ve been hearing for a long time already, must have been in this neighbourhood too cause I heard it really close a couple of times while we were waiting there. On our way to the museum, Laurens told us about a man that was living in one of the small villages there. He was living there with a couple of women and his pigs, goats and chicken in one house. A sort of Czechian Anton Heyboer, a man who does the same over here in Holland. When we passed his house, it became quite clear where exactly he was living. The house was decorated with silver papers and little colourful flags, to prevent the birds from stealing his own grown vegetables and fruit. The Tatra museum is not really big. In about an hour or so, you’ve seen it all. It looked like a newer museum. Tatra is the name of a car that is made here in Czechia. It has never been exported to other countries although it looked like a very decent car. I wouldn’t mind driving in it over here in Holland. It didn’t look like a Lada or a Trabant, but instead of that it looked really sportive, trendy and styleful. Of course they didn’t only make cars with this name, but we also saw some planes, motors and other vehicles like a very old snowmobile. This snowmobile was for very much people the highlight of the museum, cause I saw many people take pictures of this thing that could well be used in a film of James Bond. It was a cobination of an areoplane and a sleigh, and it looked rather strange. But you don’t have to build a snowmobile that looks like a Porsche, do you?? After you’ve visited the museum, you could buy some models and toys in the shop next to the museum. After a five minute drive we arrived at a restaurant, where we had our lunch together. From there we went to Stramberk. The centre of the village was located in a labyrinth of narrow streets that went up and down. Laurens showed us his craftmansship as a chauffeur again, this time in a very possitive way. And he nearly got a standing ovation from the group. We went for a little walk in this small village with Johan and his mother Lenie. There wasn’t too much that you could visit. Only a church, but we’d seen churches enough already we just wanted to have some coffee. And that was a major problem. The two terasses that were in this small village, were already taken by the rest of the group when we arrived. Lenie can’t walk that fast and we had no trouble with waiting for this lady, so she could slowly walk along the narrow streets that went slighty up. The weather was great again, but because we wanted some coffee so bad we decided to go inside one of these two pubs for our coffee. We ordered and started a conversation. After ten minutes we still didn’t have our ‘black gold’. Ten minutes thereafter, there was still no coffee, zippo, nada, rien, nothing, noppes. Ten minutes after that Lenie saw that they were working on coffee with whipped cream. We’d ordered this, and we pressumed we finally got what we had ordered……half an hour ago already. But this coffee was meant for somebody else, and we packed our stuff and went away. There was one little pub, that had no visitors on the other side of the square. So we went there and ordered some coffee again. Within three minutes we got what we wanted and now we had to be real quick, because we had to be by the bus in about ten minutes already again. Time flies, when nobody serves you the right way. When Johan and I went to the toilet inside this pub, we realised why nobody was visiting this place. Inside the place it looked, dusty, dirty and filthy. They made a good cup of coffee though, and they served you real fast, and that’s what we wanted. But I wouldn’t get my lunch there, if I was you! On our way back to the bus, some people bought some “Stramberker Ören”, as they’re called. These are cookies that tasted like gingerbread and had the shape of big ‘donkey or pig ears’. I liked the cookies we got from our German guide Erich much better though. In the afternoon we were going to Trojanovice, to a mountain called Radergast. Half of our group would go up the mountain with a cableride, while the rest of the group would stay at the bottom to have a cup of coffee. There was a discussion who would take the cable ride or not. I definitily wanted to go up that mountain, but Rita wasn’t really convinced. She was scared, which isn’t a shame of course. After all, you would go up for 1683 metres, which is about 1000 miles. After some hesitating, she decided to go with me, although she didn’t trust the ride at all. On top of the mountain you had a beautiful view over the mountains. There were a few shops and restaurants there. But above all it was a beautiful place for a good walk in the woods. The sky was clear, and I had spotted a nice hill already which I wanted to climb. A stairs was leading to a sort of small garden cottage, from which you would have a nice view all around you. Adrie de Paus had the same idea, so we went together. Rita was staying below, together with Adrie’s wife Reina. While we were climbing up the stairs I was hearing that bird again. I looked around me and I saw that Adrie was moving his lips a bit. The bird mystery was unfolded before my very eyes, at that very moment. Adrie was imitating bird sounds every now and then. And he did it quite well. This explained the funny noises that I was hearing all the time. In the meantime we had reached this small garden cottage, and we had a nice view from here. Very strange was that I saw a mosque on top of the hill that I saw far away from where we were. But with my camera I could bring it so near that I could almost touch it. It was standing on top of this hill, all alone by itself. Must have been the house of a lonely Muslim priest or so?! Anyway, we had to get ready for our cable trip back again after a bit more than an hour. Through this construction of excursion that I have described here, there was a complete change of the whole schedule as presented in the brochure. We didn’t visit the liquor factory for example. This was a great shock for some of the people, I can tell you that For us it was a relief that we didn’t visit the birthplace of Pope John Paul II called Wadowice, which was also on the schedule officially. After this spectacular cable ride we went back to the hotel for our dinner. No hilarious moments this time. I think everybody was a bit looking forward to tomorrow already. The day that we were about to visit “Auschwitz” in Poland. Before that we wanted to take a walk through the village, together with Johan and Lenie, Piet and Marijke. We just had a little walk around the area, and one thing appealed to me during our walk that night. That was a big black show window, that was standing near the parc, right down in the middle of the street. In this show window we saw the mourning advertisments from the people that had died recently. Some small flowers were in there as well. I think it was a respectfull way to honour your loved ones this way. When we returned to the hotel, we saw that many people of our group were still having a drink. We thought it was better to get some sleep, while tomorrow we would have a very busy day.
Day 12, September 11th
Together with Erich Eichner we would make the last trip to Poland. A trip that would lead us to concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. We left early in the morning, because we had a five hours drive in front of us, which was followed by a visit to the camp, and then a five hour drive back to Vsetin. The stop at the Polish border was not too much different than the other stops we made at the border. This time they made it extra difficult for us though. Read this story very carefully and you won’t believe your eyes. After the people had examined our papers and passports, they looked at their watches and thought it was wise to have a cup of coffee. Our buss had a coffee machine on board, and we could pass if we would provide the controllers a cup of coffee. That was easy. Some people were inspected very groundly, and by one van they even asked for a small radio at the border. When the owner of the van gave the controller the radio, he could step into his car and move along. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, and I know it sounds unbelievable but this is really what happened there. Poland will join the United Nations in 2004, and they will have to open their borders then for us. Can you believe that this will happen without causing too much trouble, after you’ve read this story. Will corruption die in a few days? I don’t think so. We also saw a lot of trucks standing at the border. Laurens told us that there was a waiting time of almost TWENTY-FOUR hours for these truck drivers, before they could move along. On our way back we also met a giant queue of trucks in the opposite direction. Someone in the bus counted them and he said that there were at that time a hundred and twenty trucks waiting to cross the border. Let’s make a simple calculation for a moment here. 120 times half an hour, is sixty hours waiting, that is one and a half day for Christsake. If you have stuff in your truck that needs to be delivered very quickly for some reason, you got stuck in a pool of stinking mud. Stinking mud that was past tense in our world of civilisation. Here it was normal routine. After an hour we could continue our trip to camp Auschwitz. What happened right before Auschwitz is really unclear to me. We could see the traffic signs already, pointing that the road to our left would lead us to Auschwitz. But the bus moved along, although you saw the hesitating of Laurens and Erich. We lost some precious time there, because an half an hour later we had to make a turn and get back to the road we passed some minutes ago. When we arrived in the village called Auschwitz, the atmosphere in the bus started to change. Everybody became a bit quiet at that moment. The village is very small. There is a school and some shops and some farms. Then there is a long road through the fields. After some miles, on our right hand we saw the barracks, they seemed to come from nowhere. We saw the parking place and we realised that this was the place. The place that I don’t want to discuss too much in this story. Everybody will have his own emotional memories when they hear the name of Auschwitz. The impact that this place has in our memories, our minds and our hearts is incredible. Many emotional moments were shared on this trip as well. But I won’t get into detail too much here. Fact is that some people shed a tear when they entered the hall. We had a guide that would lead us through the camp. A camp that is divided in two parts, namely Auschwitz and Birkenau. The camp has become a memorial place, a place where people come to remember the terrible holocaust. You can visit the cell blocks, the barracks. Walk through the gate that kindly welcomes you with the legendary words “Arbeit Macht Frei”. And then you realise yourself that you have entered a world where time stood still for many many years. All the fun we had together all these days disappeared in a few seconds. When the host was introduced to us, we knew that this would be a very emotional visit. We had the option to eat first, and visit the camp after that, or do it the other way around. The whole group decided not to eat, and I heard several people say already that they couldn’t eat. Or that they refused to eat as a sort of sign of solidarity with those who spend the last days of their lives here. I could spend thousands of words to describe the feeling I got when I saw all these terrible things, but none of these words could come near the real feeling that we had during this visit. Especially when we saw the inmense pile of hair or shoes that was in one of the rooms. You could still smell the odor of dead bodies, when you entered the bunker with the ovens next to it. This was no work of human beings, this was the work of animals. I have no other words to it. No other human being could do such cruel things, but still it happened. I want to be briefly, but people must know that this visit had set me with both feet on the ground again. When people say that they live under bad cicumstances, or that they are treated bad, they should see this camp and shut their mouth forever. I’ve never seen a group so quiet than during the walk through the camp. The host was telling us no more than necessary. A few words were enough to describe what must have been going on here. The other part of the camp could be reached after a short bus drive. Before we made that trip, there was a small change to drink a cup of coffee or buy something from the bookstore there (which I did of course). After that we had a five minute drive to the other part of the camp. We all know the two towers in the beginning of the camp, with the big gate inbetween. Where the trains, with wagon loads of Jews, Gypsies and other people came in. Try to realise this yourself. Every day they brought in so many people that they needed trains to transport them. They needed to build extra ovens, because otherwise they couldn’t ‘get rid’ of the people quick enough. That’s really a disgusting thought. When you look at the giant rows of barracks and ovens, than it looks like it that the gassing and cremating of people had become something they did on a conveyor belt system line. I’m not even talking about the fysical experiments that were done with the people. Women that were crossed with gorillas. The well known lamp of Joseph Mengele that was made of the tattoos of the male prisoners, whose skin was carefully peeled of by the surgeons of this inhuman creature. You could almost feel the pain that the people had suffered here. It was a visit that I will never forget. And it was also a visit that I will definitely make again, whenever I get the chance. This is too important to forget, and despite the enormous pain that you feel when you leave the little village, you are still glad that you have witnessed a piece of history that some people even dared to denie. This may not happen, not in a million years. The tour back was long, sad, quiet and it was time to put everything we saw this afternoon in our long term memory. But the visit had so much impact on all the people that it certainly will be part of the memory of at least about twenty-five Dutch visitors. On our way back there wasn’t too much talking, but the atmosphere was okay. We know about each other, that each and every one of us wanted to deal with the situation in their own way. When we arrived at the Polish border we saw that there was a giant traffic jam for the trucks. One of us counted the trucks and he came to 128 trucks, waiting to cross the border to Slovakia. Let’s do some math here, if I may. 128 times fifteen minutes (which is really short) is about 32 hours waiting. I hope that the stuff that they had on board the truck couldn’t decay, otherwise you might have a huge problem here. This country wants tio become a part of the united nations of Europe. They have to change their burocratic way of dealing with these kinds of things, and open their borders from one day to another. Can you see this happen?? I hope not. Not for the citizens of these countries of course, but mainly for the old fashioned way that they deal with things sometimes. On our way back we had a short stop by a church that was completely made out of wood. It is the only church, that was completely made out of wood, so they say. The church was closed, but it was a good opportunity to stretch your legs for a second. It was getting dark already when we arrived at the hotel. We were starving. It’s not really appropiate to put it this way maybe, but that was just the way it was. During our dinner I had a nice conversation with Kees Koppenol from Apeldoorn. He told me about his trips to other concentration camps in Germany and Holland (Westerbork).He told me about his search for remains of World War II. And he also told us that he thought it was great to see young people still being interested in this war. He noticed this already when he saw me buying a small booklet about Treblinka in Prague. He told us then already that he never would have thought that younger people, who didn’t witness the war at all, were so interested in this subject. He also gave me some good suggestions and addresses of things that he had visited already. He also told me an amazing story about one of his trips. He was searching for an old aircraftplant, that should be somewhere in the south of Germany. He couldn’t find the spot, while he knew that he was not too far away from the spot where the plant should have been. After he talked to some citizens there, he decided to drive around a bit. There was this huge mountain that he followed and when he passed the mountain and looked in his rear view mirror, he suddenly saw a hole in that huge mountain, covered with bushes. He found a path that was leading towards this hole, and that’s where he found this small plant where they had made equipment for helicopters etc. You really have to keep your eyes open, when you want to discover the world behind World War II. Many things have dissappeared, mainly because they were bombed and destroyed. But if you search for things real hard, then you might be lucky sometimes. Ah shit, I didn’t want to mention the war. I mentioned it a few times, but I think I got away with it. (Thanks to John Cleese for these phrases) Slowly we’re getting back to reality, the world in which we were living. Thank goodness, Olomouc was the future. Our last trip with this nice group. (Besides the people then who still think it is normal to go to Auschwitz in their short trousers, which is a case of disrespect in my opinion!!)
Day 13, September 12th
Olomouc was the place we were heading for on this last day of the official trip to Czechia, Slovakia aand Poland. We were ready for a nice day again. And Olomouc was a perfect opportunity to spend our last money. But how different would this day start. The trip to Olomouc was good. We didn’t need a guide today, cause we would be able to discover this city ourselves. The bus was parked on a big parking place, just outside the centre of the city. Two streets away from the shops. We went to the centre of the town in a big row, and there we started to form groups. Rita and myself decided to walk with Piet and Marijke, and Jo and his mother Lenie. The tourist office was right in the centre of the town, on the big market place, next to the McDonalds. What exactly happened there is still unclear to us. But after we had picked up some brochures, Lenie found out that she had lost her wallet with all her money, some pictures and some other papers. Panic all around. It could have been the gypsie people who were begging on the parking lot, when the bus arrived. It could also have been some of the guys who were standing in the tourist office. Whoever it was, the had handled pretty quick. And of course they had done this with someone that couldn’t defend herself too well. A bad start for such a beautiful day. We decided to buy her a cup of coffee. We also tried to encourage her to think not too much about what happened. This can cause a lot of trouble and panic. Why, good lord, why should this happen. And why with this lovely lady, that wouldn’t even able to hurt a fly??!! After that cup of coffee we decided to walk around in this beautiful city. A city that was also the proud owner of a beautiful clock that was hanging on the outside of the county hall. It looked like ‘L’Orloj’, that we saw in Prague. And this one worked , although not too much happened . Some puppets were moving, and there sounded some music. But the clockwork itself looked much more impressive than the moving images. The shops were nice. There was one record store that was quite okay. Lots of cassettes as usual. And because we didn’t want the rest of our group to wait too long, we decided to move on to the market. We bought some fruit there, which was really cheap and enjoyed the nice wheather. We also found a little store where we could buy a candle that was made of bee wax, for Rita’s father. And we found out that turtle riding is fun to do. Jo and Rita were sitting on this huge turtle sculptures that were on the market place there. That became nice pictures of course. Same goes for the beautiful fountains they had there (three big fountains). And there was this enormous pilar, with historic sculptures on it, in the middle of this market place, that was one of the biggest eyecatchers of Olomouc. McDonalds was the place where we took our lunch. French fries with chicken McNuggets and a McFlurry. Of course, Lenie and Jo were treated on a meal as well. We felt so sorry for her that this had to happen to her. After this meal we had to go back to the bus again. We still had a few minutes, so we decided to take the long way back, which led us to a short visit to a church which was on our way to the bus. There we saw Herman, who was enjoying the church organ playing there. He is a church organ player as well, so you can imagine that it was a treat for him to hear the organ play here. When we arrived at the bus, we heard that a couple of people made a walk to the cathedral that we passed when we entered the city of Olomouc. That would have been very nice to visit as well, but you can’t have it all. On the parking place there was an old aeroplane, that just stood there. Nice to make a posed picture of, a last memory of Olomouc. When we left the parking place, I had a good look at the ground of the parking place. The ground was covered with glass pieces. I think it’s not really safe to park the bus here at night. On our way back to the hotel, Kees Koppenol organised a sort of fund for Lenie. He collected money from the group members, while Lenie and Jo were asleep. And before we got back to the hotel, he handed the money to Lenie. There was enough to buy a new purse, and she got ‘her stolen money’ back. It’s still a pity of the pictures of her grandchildren of course, but when you looked at the smiling face of this old lady and the faces of the rest of the group you knew that there are still some good people in this world. People that stand up for each other, when one member of the group goes through some bad times. That was a good experience. We returned to our hotel, pretty early in the evening. There was plenty of time to take a walk through the parc. Which we did. There was a stairs that led to the upper part of this parc. From the top of this small hill you could have a nice look over the city. There was a church on top of this hill as well, and a statue that remembered us of a sort of war memorial statue. My Czechian speaking and reading didn’t improve well enough though, to tell you what this statue was about. We went back to the hotel for our dinner, and after that we hit the sack quite early. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day.
Day 14, September 13th
Everything must come to an end. Same goes for this holiday. I won’t bother you too much with the long drive back to Holland again. We would spend the night in Aschbeck, in the south of Germany. I had a bag full of magazines with me, and we also started to exchange addresses with the people that we knew the best after these days. We made some nice contacts, and we went home with ahard disk full of memories. When we arrived in Aschbeck, we had to find our hotel. But we were lucky that Wilma and Jan Pavarotti had been here before, in the same hotel. So this was pretty easy. We had our last dinner together, and the last stories were told. We shared the table with Alie and her husband. They were from Rotterdam. And although we didn’t have too much contact with these people, they told us that we reminded them of their own children. That’s nice to hear, especially when a mother tells you that she loves her children very much. Alie’s daughter also wears black t-shirts with scary figures on it, and she also likes her rock hard. And every morning that Alie saw us, she wandered which band would be on the t-shirt that we were wearing. We were surprised in a very positive way. People tell positive things about you, and you didn’t even realise that they were even paying attention at you. To prove us that she was not making fun out of us, Alie went to her room between the soup and the potatoes, to come back with a picture from her lovely daughter. Who must have been almost the same age as we are. (30+) They told us that they lived in a stocked building in the south of Rotterdam, and they could look at the AHOY (sports parc, where many concerts take place) from their living room. It was a wonderful, but tiring day. Tommorow we would make our final trip to Asten, from which we would be transported to good old Leerdam again. And guess what. We had to end our summer holidays again and at night it was freezing cold here. And in the late evening it even started raining. Did we make a good planning for a dry and warm vacation or what. Asten we’re coming to get you!!
Day 15, September 14th
Even after a beautiful vacation like this you’re longing to go home again too. Nothing changed on our way home to Asten. Laurens Jan told us his vision about the days that he spend with us, in chronological order. We could also taste a sort of hard feelings he had towards Kras, for not being perfect. He also thought it was strange that he had to be a busdriver and a host and a guide at the same time. But despite the negative things we have said about Kras, we still decided to do a collection for this guy, who did his very best to give us the holidays of our lives. And he succeeded. So Alie’s husband handed over the money, with a short story. In this story he also pointed at the negative things of the Kras organisation. But he did it with so much humour, that Laurens Jan could only be pleased with this speech, and laugh out very loud, just like the rest of the group of course. Mr de Paus walked through the bus, for the last time to film every member of the group. Many people ordered a copy of his video film, when we arrived at the hotel in Asten. And it was worth it every penny, cause every time I look back at this video, I relive my holiday again and again and again. When we arrived at the German/Dutch border, we could move on just like that. How different this was a douple of days ago?? Asten was only a couple of minutes away now. There we were treated on bread and soup, and the last appointments with other people were made. The last arrangement we made was that we changed busses. We didn’t want to drive to Dordrecht first and have to wait for the next train to arrive. But instead of that we took the bus that drove us to a parking place in Deil, which is about 10 miles away from Leerdam. We had the same bus as Berry and his wife, who lived in Deil. When Rita’s father arrived at the parking place by the McDonalds (what again???), we knew that our holidays were over. Fifteen beautiful days went by, in the blink of an eye. Wonder where the next trip will take us. A trip to Czechia, Slovakia and Poland is an excellent choice for a summer holiday, but try to avoid Kras. We were not too possitive about them, but like in every holiday with every travel agent there is one thing that you have to bear in mind. When you want to have a nice summer holiday with lots of joy and fun, you’ll have to take care of that yourself. You and the rest of the group will have to make the fun. The rest will come by itself then. Have a nice summer holiday!!
Written by: Toine van Poorten