Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Great European Road Trip of 2010: Part Three

We almost didn’t go to Prague.

After our harrowing trip just getting ourselves to Vienna, we weren’t sure we could take more driving than was absolutely necessary and so considered just staying in Vienna for the duration of our trip.

However, after some discussion and some distance from the exhaustion that we brought with us those first few days in Vienna, we decided it would be a shame to have come all this way and then not see the cities we had hoped to see!

I am so glad we decided to go though, because the trip to Prague held some of the most beautiful countryside we saw.

And sunflower fields everywhere!

Before we actually got to see this countryside however, we ran into one of our first ‘uh oh’ moments regarding driving and run ins with the LAW.

While perusing a sightseeing book on Vienna, Ian had noticed that the book said you had to have a sticker to drive on the autobahns in Austria. Another guidebook said nothing of this, so we assumed since that one was more recent, it was the correct one and the law must have changed. I knew that in Hungary you had to have a sticker (technically just a receipt in Hungary, but in most countries they are stickers) to drive because they don’t have toll roads. Some countries have done away with toll roads in favor of having drivers purchase stickers for the windshields for however many days are relevant for their driving. We knew nothing of this for Austria.

The next morning (the morning we left for Prague) Ian went to ask around about this sticker to see what the current law was. As it turns out, it is required that you have a sticker in Austria, and we had just been fortunate on the way in that we weren’t noticed. So he bought one and we went on our way.

As we were leaving the city, there were some policemen pulling cars aside for what we assume was routine inspection for seatbelts or something. Of course, we got pulled over, because hello, we were driving a British car. The policeman fortunately spoke some English and asked Ian some questions about the car. He then asked for Ian’s license and informed us that it was inadequate. When we told him we were going to Prague he told us that they would have no idea what that little piece of plastic was and that Ian needed an international driver’s license. Obviously we were in no position to obtain one, so he asked us how many more days we would be in Austria, we told him, and he let us go. It’s a good thing too, because I had read about needing an international license and knew that you only needed one if you were going to be in the country for more than 30 days. I wasn’t about to take a fine, no sir!

What this policeman failed to tell us was that in fact, it is a law in the Czech Republic that you have an international driver’s license. Period. Thanks policeman. We did not learn this until we were back in Vienna a few days later.

We are still praising the Lord that we did not get a fine for that reason while we were in the Czech Republic, and that Ian had the presence of mind to ask around about the Austrian sticker before we left that morning.

ERT Tip #8: Be as thorough as you can when checking driving regulations. I thought we were very prepared and came to find as we traveled that none of the sources I used were as thorough as they seemed. Very few sources (if any!) have all the information you need in one place. Also, every. single. country. has different laws. When you’re driving through 8 different countries, you have a lot of information to find! We were fortunate that we did not end up with any fines, but we could have easily been fined at least 4 times in three different countries if it weren’t for the Lord’s timing and provision. Yikes!

So, we got on our way.. A little uneasily, but on our way nonetheless. The view to my right was captivating.


My two guys just doing what they did all the livelong day in that car!

We finally got to the outskirts of Prague and had planned to park in a park and ride to avoid driving in the city (which we had read was terrible). We pulled in, got very excited motions and semi-intelligible words from the attendant about our British car, parked, got all our stuff unpacked, and headed to the entrance to try to figure out how to pay and if we were allowed to park all night.

Thus began a really, really long struggle to figure out what the heck was going on. We have absolutely no concept of the Czech language. None whatsoever. There were even English translations on the signs in this park and ride and still nothing made sense! We had no idea what kind of ticket we needed for our car or for the public transport, we didn’t know if we could park all night without getting towed or fined, and we were only able to find one other person that spoke English, only to learn that he didn’t speak Czech.

It was hot, we were all tired and hungry, I may or may not have put the teensiest dent in the car by accidentally shutting the stroller handle in the door, and we really just needed to put our heads in the sand for a few minutes to decompress. After some tense moments, a lot of wasted time, and a lot of really unhelpful people, we decided to just forget the car park and drive into the dreaded city.

Turns out that’s what we should have done in the first place. It was absolutely fine. Slightly confusing here and there, but for people who have been a part of the LA madness in all its glory, it was a walk in the park.

ERT Tip #9: Pretty much don’t believe anyone when they tell you the driving is terrible. Unless you are driving in Paris, but we'll get to that later. If you are a competent driver (especially if you have been to racing school :), in all likelihood you will be fine.

Fortunately, the Lord knew we would need some pampering after such a frustrating day, so he allowed me to find an amazing deal on a really posh hotel room.

We were greeted by this lovely sight that we only paid 35 Euro a night for..

This room was by far the most ideal set up we experienced for the duration of our trip. Aed had a nice little nook for his tent, which he slept in the most peacefully and consistently of anywhere, and we were able to easily stay up and enjoy the room and bathroom without disturbing him while he was sleeping. It. was. awesome.

So we all got a good night’s sleep and were ready to see some sights the next day!

Do you see what I see? Could it be?

It is!! We found Winston in Prague! We were cracking up with our little Winston in his stroller :)

We headed to Prague Castle first. It is the biggest medieval castle in the world and after going there, I believe it! We were there for something like 6 hours and still didn’t see it all.

Our first obstacle.. the steps..

So many steps. We did have a backpack carrier, but we only used it once during our trip because we were out for so long each day. Even trading back and forth I think we would have crumbled under the weight of our little hungry hippo. Not to mention how sore his tushy would have been after a day of the backpack carrier! So up the steps we went, carrying the Aedster on his throne the whole way!

Look at the view we were rewarded with!

They were changing the guards just as we got to the top

The castle grounds were gorgeous

We got to see the crown jewels..

A very dusty chapel..

And a gorgeous gothic church.

The other buildings we saw aren’t really worth mentioning because we just don’t know much about them. There wasn’t a lot of information and we had decided not to get an audio guide as we had been advised it would only be enjoyed if we had PhDs in history. So, their pictures will be in the slideshow if you’d like to see more!

Aed was always getting plenty of attention. Any time we entered a place with abundant floor space we put him right down so he could move his little bones.

He crawled right across this floor the moment Ian put him down! :)

After visiting the castle, we headed over to the famous Charles Bridge. Part of the fun of this trip was that Ian did all the sightseeing plans, so everywhere we went was a surprise to me! This bridge especially struck me as so wondrous and breathtaking because I just had no idea what to expect.

The entrance is very unassuming

Which made the width and length of the bridge very surprising!

There were TONS of statues on this bridge. Ian took a picture of almost every single one. He does things like that :)

It was gorgeous though, and there were lots of artisans promoting their efforts.

There were also tons of people. I have never wanted to get away from people so badly as I did in some of these cities. I didn’t realize how easy we have it on these tiny streets in St Andrews. Even The Open seemed like a breeze compared to wandering through Prague!

Every now and then, I’d ask Ian to get in a picture I was taking so we would see that we had actually been to these places. He usually didn’t want to, so I had him take pictures of me instead!

I have been on the Charles Bridge!

Aed assumed his position. We took so many pictures of him with his foot perched all cute like that :)

After we crossed the bridge, we were on the hunt for the Jan Hus monument.

We got to the area where he was supposed to be, but found a crowd standing around a big church instead.

We weren’t entirely sure what they were all waiting for, but then we found this big astronomical clock that is very unique and has figures that move on the hour. We were also there while a trumpeter called out the hour from above to the town below.

Another sight we wanted to see was the Church of our Lady Tyn. The only way we could have gone in was to attend a service, but we were more than satisfied with the gorgeous outside!

Another building on the square with an awesome scenic sky.

Then lo and behold, there he was!

Jan Hus was waiting for us!

This whole area was so refreshing. There was plenty of space and people were just lounging, snacking, carriage-riding, and photographing everywhere. Each building was so beautiful and Aed and I just chilled and took it all in while Ian took pictures from every possible angle.

We had a scrumptious end to a delicious day of sunshine and blue skies. We had to walk back down the river and across another bridge to get back to our hotel, so Prague kissed us sweetly goodnight with these views..

(I love this picture just for the cement truck :)

(crazy building.. also famous..)

The next day would be another full day of driving.. back to Vienna. It had taken us longer than we anticipated to get to Prague, so we decided we had seen enough and left earlier than we had planned to avoid rush hour in Vienna.

We climbed back into the car and happily greeted the green countryside again.

LOVE these corn fields!

On the way into the Czech Republic, when we crossed the border we were greeted with a bunch of crazy, but I didn’t have the camera ready. For many miles it was just bizarre buildings, casinos, and nightclubs. I don’t know what the laws are in Austria, but that border crossing is catering to someone!

The Jet Restaurant

That big globe? It says THE WORLD IS YOURS in huge letters across the other side. This? This is something we would have never seen if we had flown to Prague :)

We had made it almost all the way back to Austria when we needed to stop to change Aed. We pulled into a rest area and parked and went in to take care of our soggy baby. Upon returning to our car, we noticed a police van parked not too far from us. I didn’t think anything of it, but before we knew it, the van had pulled in behind our car, blocking us from leaving the parking lot. A policeman got out and began telling Ian that we could not be driving in the Czech Republic without a windshield sticker. Ian handled it very well and though (I quote) ‘…this is problem… but, because you have nice baby, it is ok…’

Ian quickly went in and purchased the sticker we needed for our last few miles in the CR.

ERT Tip #10: Bring your baby. It will be harder to travel, but chances are his cuteness will get you out of a 200+ Euro fine.

We got home, got the Aedster in bed and tried to rustle up some grub. Ian had gone out foraging and you will not believe what he came back with. He says, ‘I got myself this awesome chicken cordon bleu and I got you a ham sandwich.. is that ok?’ But he has this tone in his voice that tells me this is not the ham sandwich I am picturing. Let me just show you the ‘ham sandwich’…

Now that you have seen it, I need not tell you that I did not eat it. I think I ate some cereal and some pasta, but I did not eat that huge slab of porker. He swears it did not look like that in the picture. It still cracks me up to think of his distress as he watched the woman hack off this hunk and imagined my face when he presented it to me for consumption. Not surprisingly, Ian ate it a day or two later. Well.. most of it. Until he started complaining of coronary distress. But then he came to the pocket of condiments and thought he’d just go ahead and finish it. Just kidding.. he left a little hunk :)

The next day we turned right around and hopped in the car to head for Budapest!

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