Monday, 31 January 2011

London to Prague - Log #029# - (Sulzbach-Rosenberg - Prague)

Entering Czech Republic

In a 1948 coup d'état, Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state. In 1968, the increasingly disillusioned Czech citizens attempted to reform the communist regime. 

This led to the events, known as the Prague Spring of 1968, ended with an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries (with the exception of Romania).

The troops remained in the country until the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the communist regime collapsed. 

On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into its constituent states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Czech cross-border checkpoints are empty, no showing papers, no bureaucracy, no hassles.

The Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world.

Vec Makropoulos (The Makropulos Affair)  is an opera piece from Czech writer Karel Čapek

Karel Čapek is perhaps best known as a science fiction author, who wrote before science fiction became widely recognized as a separate genre. 

Karel introduced and made popular the frequently used international word robot, which first appeared in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) in 1921. 

The word robot comes from the word robota meaning literally serf labor and "drudgery" or "hard work" in Czech, Slovak and Polish. 

He is considered a peer to Aldous Huxley and George Orwell as a speculative fiction writer rather than a hard-core science fiction writer per se.

Karel Čapek was a close friend of T. G. Masaryk the first President of Czechoslovakia.

There is a small community of Greeks in the Czech Republic. Roughly 12,000 Greek citizens (not necessarily of Greek ethnicity) who fled from the 1946-1949 Greek Civil War were admitted to Czechoslovakia.

They consisted of people of Greek and Macedonian ethnicity, Aromanians, Sephardi Jews, and a few Turks.

At that time the residents of what is now Northern Greece had very fluid national identities and were speaking several local tongues that were later suppressed by the Greek Government to create an ethnically homogeneous population. (read more about the Slavic minority (here) and the Slavic ABeCeDar school book issued in 1925)

Many of these refugees were eventually naturalised as Czechoslovak citizens. In many cases, they were resettled into houses which had formerly been owned by Sudeten Germans and were left empty after their occupants were expelled from the country.

About 5,200 of the migrants consisted of unaccompanied children also called "Children of the Storm". 

Daily Distance: 256 Km
Total Distance: 1356 Km
Soundtrack: Martna & Tena Elefteriadou, Boure (Storm)

London to Prague - Log #028# - (Metz - Sulzbach-Rosenberg)

So next morning I was back on my track heading towards the German borders. However it was destined to be my worst riding experience ever.

Right in the borders of France and Germany Petite Rosselle use to be a little coal mining village.  

German borders. 

Some decent driving of about 400 Km and I am approaching the borders of Czech Republic from the German side.

284 Km to Praha or so I thought..

From this moment and on all hell broke loose.

I had crossed the Alps mid December and it was a breeze, but this time there was snow-storm and the snow started piling on the road. I struggled on for 2 more hours on an average speed of 60 Km/h.

And then it begun forming black ice, I was running low on petrol and I saw  a sign "5 Km to petrol station" riding on a speed of 50 Km/h I attempted to go right and the motorbike slept, swivelled 90 degrees around its axis dragged for some distance, and I found myself staring the cars coming towards me.

Luckily everyone was going really slow. So 2 German guys helped me lift the bike and offered to convoy me to the nearest Petrol station as I was shocked,freezing and exhausted.

Trivial to say that these side-cases once again broke my fall and saved my foot.

3 Km further down the road second fall..

Appalling road conditions. The same guys that convoy me help me lift the bike again.

This is the picture before the party begins, during the party the last thing I had in mind was obviously taking pictures..

The petrol station that these guys led me to was located in the beautiful German little town of Sulzbach-Rosenberg.

Sulzbach-Rosenberg is a municipality in Bavaria, Germany. 14 km northwest of Amberg, and 50 km east of Nuremberg. The town consists of two parts: Sulzbach in the west, and Rosenberg in the east. 

This nice Bavarian Brewery Guesthouse is also well known as a moto-friendly Inn as it has parking for Motorbikes and rooms with special equipment for drying clothes etc.

But it was full so I went further down the road.

This is where I spent the night and I had the most enjoyable hot bath I can remember for a long time.

Next day I was gathering road condition info and was also considering leaving the moto in a parking and take the train to Prague.

The town hall of Sulzbach-Rosenberg.

Local Bavarian lodgings. 

The local tower.

This is a shrine for a local hero figure who saved the city from various villains during the 16th century. I could not gather more info and what I am writing here is intelligence passed to me by Markus Bleisteiner (read more in next paragraphs).

Going back to my bike to get prepared for departure I found this note..

"bitte im brauerei gasthof Sperber Bräu melden danke" 

"please come in the Sperber Bräu Guest House" or something like that, 

Initially i thought there was a problem for not having a parking ticket for the bike, but they said that somebody wanted to talk to me..

They offered me coffee and waited for the one who wanted to chat with me.

So here comes Markus Bleisteiner from newspaper Sulzbach-Rosenberger Zeitung who wants to have a chat with me and investigate whether he has a story..

This photo was taken by a beautiful girl named Marina who is working as a journalist-apprentice for the paper.

After the coffee with Marcus I discovered that the chain was loose and Marcus led me to local mechanic Thomas, a fellow biker himself.. 

Thanks Thomas for fixing everything and refusing to charge me, I owe you (and Marcus) a beer next time I visit Sulzbach-Rosenberger.

So ready to go..

This is mighty Germany the powerhouse of Europe!

During the night the snow road trucks were spilling salt and clearing out the snow, so in the morning the tarmac was in perfect condition...

This is the place that I had my first fall the previous evening, completely cleared out from snow and ice.

Absolutely impressed by the German-Bavarian hospitality, kindness and warmness. 

I will definitely be back to Sulzbach-Rosenberg in the summer to explore more  of the local Bavarian culture.

Daily Distance: 473 Km
Total Distance: 1100 Km
Soundtrack: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Refugee

Saturday, 29 January 2011

London to Prague - Log #027# - (London - Metz)

I kicked off this trip from Bow, borough of Poplar, famous for its Bow porcelain,its working-class character and the emergence of the British suffragettes movement back in the 18th century. 

Bona china porcelain was first developed in this area in the 17th century as a result of Bow becoming a centre for the slaughter and butchery of cattle. 

Ample supply of cattle bones was used by local entrepreneurs, Thomas Frye and Edward Heylyn, who developed a method to mix this with clay and create a form of fine porcelain and this became known as Bow Porcelain.

This hallmark below is part of the wall of an old Psychiatric Clinic just before Tesco on Bow road. I lived shortly, just round the corner.

This time instead of taking the ferry to Calais I am going to enter mainland Europe through the Eurochannel Train from Folkestone.

Detail of of the above picture.

Not even the most experienced UFO buff would notice this Earth Sign, apparently created by Aliens as a landing pad for horse-shaped spacecrafts.

Just before boarding.

Just after off-loading the bike.

The plan was to be in Stuttgart before night. 

Second time this year passing by this sacred place.

The Batttle of Verdun resulted in 306,000 battlefield deaths (163,000 French and 143,000 German soldiers) ,an average of 30,000 deaths for each of the ten months of the battle. It was the longest and one of the most devastating battles in the First World War and the history of warfare. 

This was the scene of the Flight to Varennes: In June 1791 Louis XVI, with his  immediate family, tried to escape from prosecution.

But in Varennes Louis and his family were arrested, by Citizen Drouet, the local postmaster, who had been alerted.

Tradition has it that at Sainte-Menehould, a merchant alerted the town authorities of their presence after recognizing the King's face on a coin, as Louis tried to buy something from a shop. 

France's king, queen, and dauphin (crown prince) returned to the Tuileries and were subsequently executed on the guillotine.

Lesson learned: if you are a Despot about to escape and on the way you decide you want to buy a crosswords magazine to pass the time, well use your credit card. DO NOT USE change.

Now getting to Stuttgart was not a realistic target because of cold conditions and tiredness. 

So around around 22.00 after 635 Km I decided to spend the night in the French city of Metz which turned out to be a rather interesting city.

Serpenoise city gate, 19th century in the entrance of Metz, one of the oldest republics of the common era in Europe.

They say that the earliest western musical notation was created at Metz around 800 as a result of Charlemagne's desire for Frankish church musicians to retain the performance by the Roman singers.

The city hall by night, work of architect Jacques-François Blondel, on the town square, the Place d'Armes. 

In the spring of 1096, Metz became one of the scenes of the Rhineland massacres of non-Christians as count Emicho of Flonheim gathered followers for the First Crusade. 

A group of these crusaders entered Metz, forcibly converting Jewish families, and killing those who resisted baptism. 22 Jewish citizens of Metz were slaughtered.

Saint-Stephen cathedral in Metz.

Metz was always contested between France and Germany. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche took part in the siege of Metz as a German soldier in the Franco-Prussian War.

The iconic Protestant Temple Neuf (1901–1904) in the Garden of Love.This neo-Romanesque church, was built during the German annexation.

I was exhausted and looking for a place to sleep the night and for a moment considered the Hotel of Police, or is it how the French call prison...?

The French owner of a local hotel that was full, led me to the well-known F1 Hotels. F1 are no-frills budget hotels but clean and tidy nevertheless. I parked my moto in front of the security-camera overviewing the cash machine just to stay assured.

Entering F1 I was greeted by an empty reception. 

So you just use an ATM to book your room on the spot.. 29e with breakfast.

Daily Distance: 635 Km
Total Distance: 635 Km
Soundtrack: Naked and Famous, Young Blood