Dave the motorhome is a little lonely, occupying a quiet corner of a huge car park in Marianske Lazne, western Bohemia, Czech Republic (N49.95902 E12.70183). It’s 200Kc for ‘all day’, which includes all night. We are inexplicably ensconced in a barbed wire enclosure. The guards, who are watching the Olympics, tell us a fierce dog is released at night, I kid you not.
Prague’s recovery period thankfully extended into the evening. Apart from a boat blurting out blues, the river and yacht club snoozed, as did we. This morning as I reccied the grey water emptying point, I turned to find a police car in the campsite, one of the gun-toting rozzers cheerily waving, posed for a photo-taking hippy fellow.
My abiding memory of Prague will be of a happy-go-lucky, carefree, ragged, cheap and cultured place. A little overrun during our couple of days, being mid summer, it felt alive. The scruffiness of the campsite and the city in general just reflected this laid back attitude for me at least, or maybe they’re all skint from charging too little for beer?
This morning’s discussion: shall we go to Poland? We’re as close to it as Germany. The Lonely Planet is consulted which seems to say, amongst puffed up flattery, that South Western Poland is a bit dull. Flat mountains and isolated little provincial towns. Decision taken: Poland will wait until our next trip out, and we’ll do a proper job of it then.
Next decision: head to Germany today? More Lonely Planet palm reading: “ah, you will be shortly taking a trip” ooh, she’s good, “you will drive 2 hours to Marianske Lazne” really? Where’s that? What’s there? “Spas and things, Thomas Edison and King Edward VII went there, be on your way!” Right, we best be off.
Exiting Prague turned out fairly simple, as we luckily flung Dave left just before the ‘tram only’ road section. Crawling through roadworks, no problem for us, we don’t travel that much faster anyway. Once they cleared, we sucked up some more motorway action. These central Europe ‘all you can eat’ toll systems are testing our ‘we travel slowly and look at stuff’ ethic to the max. Germany’s free autobahns will be the real test.
Topping up on diesel, Ju paid via a sliding metal door contraption. No physical contact with the seller was possible. I know this sort of system is in place everywhere, but it had me in mind of the Silence of the Lambs scene where Anthony Hopkins is rather well restrained. Petrol station staff seem to have us all down as cannibals, we just wanted some combustible liquid? The exit past the checkout was about 3cm wider than Dave, nearly resulting in the metal tray coming with us up the road.
Motorway perspective on western Bohemia: wheat, trees and solar power stations. We used to be in the international electricity game and some Czech colleagues told us, over a beer, bangers and mash, how the subsidy system for solar panels had been systematically abused here. Ooh yeah, see what they mean, entire fields of sun sipping panels blankly stares upwards. They appear strange, an unthinking robotic presence amongst this rustic corner of Earth.
Two hours being a long drive for geriatric Dave, we pull into a small town, find an equally small car park and I jump out for a look see with our pet mutt. Said mutt decides, after fulfilling his functions, he want back inside, so the walk is curtailed. A small square truck has pulled up near Dave, sporting a full colour chicken fresco. Cars with their boots propped by sticks have stopped around the van, circling it like red Indians. I’m curious, deposit dog and wander over. It’s all alive inside, except that which is clearly dead. Chickens and turkeys scratch out, packed in coloured crates, ponging the place out. The punters seem only interested in the dead, buying handfuls of pelts. My courage failed me when I came to ask the purveyor what they were.
Back in Dave, Ju was a little delirious. A radio advert in Czech had just finished with an English flourish, a man decreeing “It’s f*****g awesome!”. She’s in stitches. It’s not the first time our hosts have surprised us with English swearing loudly on the airwaves, James Blunt is blared out, and not the ‘flying high’ version.
We’re now in Marianske Lazne. Or is it Marienbad? Signs and literature can’t agree. Until the end of WW2, the West of the Czech Republic was dominated by ethnic Germans, for hundreds of years. With the war’s conclusion, almost everyone from this town is told to leave their homes, to go to Germany. Just like that. In total about 3 million Germans were ousted from the Czech Republic. An incredible part of an enormous exodus of people. With its population gone, what’s next? Ah, 40 years of isolation under the commies. Not until 1989 did the place effectively re-open for business.
Business being water, and a rather fetid variant of the stuff. 100 natural springs bubble up here, about half of ’em tapped for your pleasure. We walked up into the town, staring at grand facades of the past, dripping with icing sugar decoration, one place newly outfitted with a shining magnificent copper roof. Doer uppers remain, a little out of the centre, but the whole place feels like it’s being pumped full of colour. Life here is of the advanced variety, with our 40 years apiece, we’re whippersnappers, or whatever the German equivalent is (Ju’s still in her 30s I should note to avoid a verbal lashing).
Despite Germans being ethnically cleansed 70 odd years back, everyone here seems to speak German. The spring water is free to try, the profit comes from selling weird little drinking china, and wafers designed to mask the mildly foul taste. Different springs taste awful in different ways, perhaps due to their varying chemical composition, which is helpfully carved out in brass for you to check which has the most Lithium. After supping, we overhear a knowledgeable gent saying it’s good for clearing the system, good job we cleared Dave’s loo?
Marienbad (I’m revealing no loyalties here, the short name is faster to type), is a pleasant place to halt and chill. The sun is shining and folks move slowly here, no longer interested in, or capable of, dashing about. Our plan is now to test some local (alright, it’s imported German) beer and decide which to stock up on. The beer here is filthy cheap, excellent Staropramen is about €0.75 a litre. I’m giddy with excitement. Dave’s weight limit will surely be exceeded as we tackle the border tomorrow.