Monday, June 23, 2008

Ostrava to Berlin, 22 June 2008

7am...the alarm that was set for 6.45am didn't go off...oh well. Got dressed, brushed teeth...walked back to Patrik and Jitka's flat from his parents' place. Packed my bags, got my food...

Patrik drove me all the way to the Polish border. What a nice guy. Really.

No cars. Either direction. Arrived at the border at 8.30am.

I had my highlighted maps, and I was trying to take the 45 to Raciborz to hit the autobahn...after about 30 minutes, a Czech car stopped. No common language, jumped in, and realized they were going to Rybnik - not where I wanted. So they let me out and I was back to square one.

Walked to the starting point of the 45, found a shady spot, waited half an hour, then decided maybe I had better rethink my route. After all, my map showed Rybnik in all capital letters (perhaps indicating a larger town?) went back to the main road.

I was getting a little frustrated, mostly just because I was surprised at the lack of traffic, but looked around and thought to myself that being stuck in this gorgeous countryside with bright blue sky wasn't the worst situation I could be in. An army truck with two officers came to check my passport and were totally amused that I had ended up there. They said they could take me to the train station...

About 10 minutes later, a guy pulled over and said he could take me to Rybnik. Jumped in. In Rybnik, about 20 minutes after he picked me up, he left me at a bus stop and after about 10 minutes I got a ride from a guy who was headed to Zory but said he could take me towards Gliwice. So about 20 minutes with him, and he left me 2km from the autobahn. 5 minutes til a young guy stopped and took me to the entrance of the autobahn...

By this time it was about 10.45am and I had gone about 60km...15 minutes later, a car with two guys stopped and agreed to take me to Opole...this was 80km away so I was pretty happy to jump in. They left me at the exit to Opole, and in less than 10 minutes, at 11.50am, a big truck transporting beer stopped. I was in luck - I thought my next stop would be Wroclaw, but he was headed further, to Legnica. Slow pace but comfy ride, so I had my lunch and a little snooze. I got to see a lot of the Polish countryside with roofs dotted the landscape and cute countryside homes, lots of green and fields full of yellow flowers...He left me at a petrol station on the side of the road and I asked around with no luck...

So got on the road, and about 10 minutes later a construction worker stopped. No smile or anything but he had the kindest eyes I've seen in a long time. No communication whatsoever so he pulled over and showed me on the map that he wasn't headed to Berlin - he had to drive west across Germany. I was torn about what to do, since I was really excited about the idea of getting this long ride, but it wasn't exactly where I had wanted to go...but I decided to take it, and showed him that I wanted to get off at Dresden. He said ok and off we were.

What I had failed to realize was that indeed the roads in Poland aren't exactly what we can call highways. The A4 that I had been on, which goes straight to Berlin, WAS a proper highway, but the route I went with the construction worker wasn't. It passed through beautiful countryside though, so no complaints. Plus I was comfortable enough to have a short snooze. We stopped for some lunch and I had my only Polish meal, and all smooth til the turnoff for Berlin. Throughout the day just looking at all the signs and menus and things in Polish, I realized just how foreign this language was. So many multiple consonants together which seemingly made no sense to me at all, and the pronunciation seemed impossible to decipher.

Unfortunately, there were no service stations near this spot so I had to walk the exit (luckily in Germany there's a huge shoulder) and's not ideal to hitch on the autobahn in Germany since the cars are going so fast - they don't have time to stop. But I had no choice...and in less than 10 minutes a Citroen stopped, I ran up to them, and I was on my way - direct to Berlin.

This couple was lovely, and they had both grown up in East Germany and loved all the questions I was throwing at them. We talked about the wall and they showed me old maps of Berlin and how the underground used to stop at the Western border...about traditional German food and different beers...about what I perceive as the differences between Europe and Japan...

They were in their late 40's, so they really lived through the communist times. It was like having my own private interviewees for 1.5 hours. (Unfortunately, until this ride, the whole day I hadn't been able to speak to my drivers because of language barriers...)

They totally coincidentally live about 15 minutes drive from they said they could take me to the S-Bahn station nearest his house...and then proceeded to drive me to his door. So my total cost was 0 for transport today because lovely Patrik started me off and this couple took me to the final destination, meaning I didn't pay for public transport even once.

According to google and Michelin, the original route I wanted would have taken 6 hours and 10 minutes from Ostrava to Berlin. Add in lunch and fuel refills and realistically, driving straight through in a passenger car, it would have been 7 hours. Changing the route as I did, to go to Rybnik instead of Raciborz, and Dresden instead of Cottbus, it should have taken about 8 hours and 15 minutes. So adding in my lunch stop, and factoring in the slow speed of the truck driver, I did fantastically well to arrive in just over 10 hours.

Exhausted but happy and glad to have done the trip. I was really impressed by how kind the drivers were about taking me to the best spot convenient for both of us, and how much they tried to communicate with me.

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