|Location: Märjamaa, Estonia|
|Local time: Sunday, 4:15pm|
There was no fancy border checkpoint at the German border. In fact, it was impossible to say exactly when we entered Germany (my third time in this country). It was easy to tell when we'd hit the German autobahn, however. Almost every driver takes advantage of the lack of a speed limit, and I made damnwell sure that I wasn't going to be the exception! It's a little strange when sitting comfortably at 170kph (106mph), with nothing in the rearview mirror, and then seconds later being passed by a flying BMW or Mercedes doing perhaps 240. Having to eventually slow back down to 100 felt like a rediculous speed!
Germany welcomed us with terrible weather, but we managed to find our hostel (a youth-oriented party place, it turned out) in the rain without too much difficulty. The next morning we headed to Neuschwanstein Castle, the unfinished home of 'crazy' King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The weather was still against us, so I never managed to get the fairy-tale photos I'd hoped for, but it was an interesting trip, nonetheless. That afternoon while Mum and Dad slept, Krista and I figured out the underground system, and headed into Munich's old town. I took a few photos and she shopped! Munich seems more cosmopolitan than other European cities I've visited, lacking that unique medievel character that puts other places (like Tallinn's old town, here in Estonia) on the UNESCO map. Later, much to the girls' chagrin, Dad and I headed out to visit the Hofbrauhaus, Munich's most famous beer hall. However we arrived too late and they wouldn't let us in. So we loitered around the outside and peeked through the windows to get a (somewhat-detached) feel for that most German of institutions - the beer hall. Thankfully we managed to get the last underground train for that night back to the hostel. By this time I was feeling very sleep-deprived.
The following morning we hit the road - destination: Prague. We stopped for breakfast in the small German town of Regen, at a very German little bakery, only to be served by a very Canadian girl. The Czech border was a breeze, and the conglomeration of roadside stalls on the other side, selling everything from garden gnomes to Czech football shirts, was somewhat bizarre. (What is it with the Czechs and garden gnomes anyway?!). Straight away, the roads were noticeably worse and full of patches. I was enjoying driving the Renault however, and made the most of the series of 10 or so hairpin bends leading down the hills into the Czech countryside.
We stopped in Plzen ("Pilsen"), the original home of pilsner beer. Of course Dad and I had to indulge in a local brew here (pretty much the only reason I wanted to drive through this city), so we found a small cafe in the square beneath the cathedral (with the largest tower in Bohemia) and sipped a Pilsner Urqelle. Then we were back on the Czech autobahn (yes, not only Germany has these) again sitting at 160kph. Boy that eats up the distance quick. We found our hostel without problems, and later drove into Prague's old town. This city seems to be the most popular I've ever visited - it was wall-to-wall tourists from all walks of life, and a people-watcher's dream. We found a great sidewalk restaurant, were blown away by the cheap prices, and had enjoyed fantastic dinner. However when the bill arrived we realised it wasn't so cheap after all, as the complimentary bread wasn't quite so complimentary, nor was the butter we'd asked for, or the tap water, and a mixed drink was about the same price as a main meal! Topped off by the 15% service fee (mentioned nowhere in the menu) it actually became more expensive than our great dinner in Salzburg's old town a few nights ago. But what the hell - we're in the Czech Republic... who woulda thought we'd ever end up here?! I love Prague, and it's one of the cities I'd be happy to return to for another (more in-depth) visit.
The next day we again hit the old town. Dad and I climbed the 34m-high tower of the square's astronomical clock, built in the 1400s, while Mum and Krista shopped (see a trend emerging here?!). The clock draws a massive crowd every hour, when the little skeleton figure tugs on a rope that supposedly rings the bell, and above him the 12 apostles rotate in and out of view. Cute, but a little over-rated. We slept like the dead that night, and then left for Poland in the morning, stopping in the small Czech town of Kutna Hora on the way. We had an abominable coffee, then visited the ossuary ("n. a container or receptacle, such as an urn or a vault, for holding the bones of the dead"). This is a small church imaginatively decorated with the bones of some 40,000 people. A little macabre, but still fascinating, and very well thought out.
With the memory of the coffee-from-hell still fresh in our minds, we were back on the road in search of something more palatable - driving east into Poland. Completely the wrong direction for a quality caffiene fix...
Munich's 79m-high new town hall, built in Marienplatz in the late 1800s. Very intricate and impressive.
More of Marienplatz, with the red-roofed old town hall from the 1400s.
Standing in front of the Frauenkirche (Church of our lady). I rounded a corner was taken aback by the sheer
size of it - two towers each 109m tall. This one was completed in 1525 - how the hell did they make such
impressive structures 500 years ago?!
A weather-making machine - this cooling tower of a nuclear power plant we drove past seemed to be
creating all the clouds in the sky. (Rather than church towers or town halls, we now build towers as
tributes to the Gods of the immaculate consumption)
The Germans are well-known for their efficient public transport system. Munich is no exception.
The weir of a small town we stopped at for lunch.
Neuschwanstein Castle, which, 100 years later, became the inspiration for Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Enjoying a pilsner in Pilsen.
The Czech Republic is full of Skoda cars (built there), but this vintage one really caught my eye.
A guard standing vigil outside the hilltop Prague Castle.
A passageway we followed, leading from the castle down towards the old town.
A lamp on the wall of the passageway. For some reason I love these simple, nondescript shots.
The Prague skyline, taken near our hostel.
Looking across the Vltava river.
A crowded Prague street.
A couple of Polish girls watching the tourist crowd go by.
The hourly gathering in front of the astronomical clock.
Looking out at the city, from the astronomical clock tower.
Another angle, showing the gothic Tın church.
Prague Castle by night.
The entrance to the ossuary in Kutna Hora.
Perhaps not completely respectful, but hey, they're all dead!
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