AA on the road: Day 3 – Crossing the Germany – Czech Republic border

Day 3: August 29, 2015
Time: 11:00
Location: Berlin, Germany
Destination: Skutec, Czech Republic

Hallo! After 2 days spent in our wonderful Berlin we are ready to hit the road. The bags are packed, the car is tanked, and it is time to say good-bye to our lovely hosts – Miro & Isabell.

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Miro & Isabell – our dear friends in Berlin (Photo credit: Miroslav Mateev)

Miro is from Bulgaria, Isabell – from Germany, and now they call Berlin their home. Their love story is a beautiful one, I will just say that they had to travel all the way to Alaska to find each other there <3.

I first met Miro in 2010-2011 at my Deutsche class, when Andreas and I were living in Berlin. He was one of the most hard-working students in the class, on par with me (I am modest I know), and that is how our friendship was struck. I like hard-working people :) Miro is also a crazy bike enthusiast, he probably averages around 100 km a day or more, which according to my standards is insane and worthy of a trophy! So if you are ever in Berlin, you might bump into Miro, the famous cyclist of Berlin. Isabell is the sweetest English language/history teacher. She is probably the most diligent teacher in Germany, she puts so much care and love in her lesson preps, that one should seriously envy her students. Isabel is less into biking and more into hiking/strolling, which suits Miro just fine.

These lovely friends of ours became our first hosts of the road trip, and we couldn’t wish for a more wonderful start of the trip :) Tschüss Berlin, tschüss Deutschland, country #2.

Fahren fahren fahren auf die Autobahn. The course is set towards Basteigebiet, the last German stronghold before reaching the Czech border, the country #3 on our list.

The breathtaking scenery of Sächsische Schweiz

The breathtaking scenery of Sächsische Schweiz

Basteigebiet is an incredible bridge built in the rock formations in the natural park Sächsische Schweiz reaching across the border into Czech Republic. We heard about this place some years ago when visiting Dresden but couldn’t make it there at that time. Now the opportunity presented itself on a silver plate.

Rock formations

Sandstone rocks were eroded millions of years ago and now stand as breathtaking columns. To ease access for the less adventurous visitors, a wooden bridge was constructed in the early 19th century. The heavy load of the visitors called for a sturdier construction and in the 1800’s a sandstone bridge was built between the columns. Today the number of tourists feels nearly as breathtaking as the view.

Basteigebiet

The bridge, the rocks, the view across Elbe and the plains were incredible, however the place felt a bit crowded. Probably visiting it in the 1800’s would have provided a nicer thrill of adventure than walking on the bridge together with an army of hundred others dominated by Chinese groups and selfie stick couples. Nevertheless, it is quite a thrilling sight especially from a distance standing in a secluded corner and taking in the view.

#fromwhereistand

#fromwhereistand

#fromwherewestand

#fromwherewestand

After making our way back through the hordes of tourists it was time to refuel our own engines. We found a small selbstdienst cafeteria just by the entrance to the bridge. To put it in a nutshell, it was a bit dodgy food featuring deep-fried schnitzels from a place run by funny ladies and overruled by angry wasps. The only good thing about that place was the commanding view of the valley. Shame it was spoiled by this joint.

Rocks, Elbe and fields

Rocks, Elbe and fields

Time to get back on the road. The first international border is waiting to be crossed. Ahoj Czech Republic! First off you need a vignette of course. It is only Germany that allows foreigners to borrow their super nice highways free of charge, probably not for much longer though.

Ahoj Czech Republic! We have made it to country #3 :)

Crossing the German-Czech border was smooth as always in the EU, we barely noticed the small sign indicating the change of countries and the imposing structure in dull concrete. Andreas was very excited at the sight of the former customs station that barely had energy left to give us a wave for a safe journey.

The German-Czech border crossing or what is left from it.

The German-Czech border crossing or what is left from it.

Just across the border we found the next stop on our itinerary: Hrensko. Supposedly a small village with traditional brick and timber houses, instead we found a local version of the Chinese markets we frequented in Beijing. Later we learned from our hosts in Zlin, that the cheap Chinese goods are in high demand with the Czech people. Who would imagine?!

Hrensko - the timbered houses that we were looking for turned out not to be quite so spectacular.

Hrensko – the timbered houses that we were looking for turned out not to be quite so spectacular.

 

 

The apparent landmark of Hrensko - the copycat Chinese market.

The apparent landmark of Hrensko – the copycat Chinese market.

Looking closely behind the seemingly endless rows of cheap merchandise we did notice some traditional houses, but all the charm had been lost with the Asian invasion. In one of the local restaurants we enjoyed a local specialty of three sorts of schnitzel! Together with us there was a very merry crew of Germans that made it across the border for a cheap dinner and some local schnapps. They were quite an amusing sight worthy to have been photographed for memories.

When leaving Hrensko the car started to misbehave just after hours of buying it. In the moment of panic on my side and trying to keep it cool on Andreas’ side, he put on his favourite headlamp and opened the hood of the car to locate the point of cause. After feeding it some lovely motor oil, we resumed the drive. Little did we know that motor oil was not the point of cause and that the first signs of a motor shutting down while driving would become quite a troublesome mystery keeping us stranded in a small city for days to come. But I am running ahead of things…

On the Czech roads...

On the Czech roads…

Back to the Czech roads. We still had some kms to cover and the night was catching up. Apparently when booking our stay for the night we had misjudged the map and ended up booking a place that was much farther from the destination we initially wanted to find us at. After spending a few long hours driving through the Czech hills and forests we have finally arrived at the hut little past midnight. Fortunately our kind host was up waiting for us.

To be continued…

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 1 – Buying the car in Berlin

Day 1: August 27, 2015
Time: 04:30
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Destination: Berlin, Germany

The dawn is about to break. Despite catching just 4 hours of sleep we wake up fresh as morning dew hyped from joy and the anticipation of the wide road that lay in front of us. After months of dreaming, worrying, planning, drawing, reading, searching, and dreaming again our big adventure is about to start.

Rewinding a few hours into the evening before, Andreas, the packing-master did an impeccable job of cramming our month’s of travel essentials into two medium-sized The North Face duffle bags. As he pulled the zipper shut on the bags in the late hours of the night, I had two thoughts:

1. Andreas is the Yoda master of packing! Seriously. Every inch of what to me seemed a rather small bag, was masterfully utilised. Every nook and cranny was neatly packed. Every single item we wanted to bring found a home. If there was ever a championship for packing, he would with no doubt win the title. You will discover more excellent proof of this later on as he artfully packed all the goodies of Armenia from lavash, peach, grapes to jams and wine into a 20 kg suitcase.

2. How on earth did I go from doing a weekend travel with a fully packed North Face bag to the same fully packed North Face bag rationed for one month of travel! Insane. I must say at that moment I secretly felt rather proud of myself for developing traits that helped me to exercise self-discipline on my urge of packing ah these 3 cannot travel without dresses, and oh that absolutely essential t-shirt collection, and 3 pairs of shoes… Don’t be fooled, it was a darn hard struggle, firmly led by the packing master, Andreas. After a month on the road though as I was unpacking the bag I found that there were even clothes I simply didn’t manage to wear throughout the trip. Ah girls…

Back to the morning after. We have a flight to catch. We are going home. To Berlin. Our home for a year and a city that has become the site of our annual pilgrimage since then. Quite symbolically Berlin is what we chose as the start of our road trip.

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This oh-so-familiar corridor at Tegel airport in Berlin. Magical city, here we come!

One hour on an AirBerlin plane, and we are taxiing to the gate of TXL. This airport is not one of the world’s most glamorous, but oh it is so efficient. 5 minutes in and out the door and you are on your way to a TXL airport bus taking you into the city that has so much to offer, to amaze and to make you fall in love with.

Our mission for the day is to locate and secure our ride. A rather important mission, given a car is an absolutely essential attribute of accomplishing a road trip. After many hours of online search Andreas had already shortlisted three potential candidates for us to check out. We naively thought that it would not be such a hard task buying a used car, after all it is civilised, law-abiding Germany we are talking about. But oh no… Berlin car dealers. Many pages could be dedicated to this particular segment of the city’s population. We will suffice with only a brief summary of probably the most intense day of our trip.

Around 11:00 we arrive at the first address, a huge impound, somewhere in Neukölln to check out the first candidate, an old Mitsubishi. After just a few seconds on the site we already felt like we were in Turkey. After some Turkish/Arabic exchange of screams among the various dealers, we are finally shown the right car dealer who possessed the Mitsubishi from the online ad. But the first attempt is almost never a success. Voila the car miraculously broke down yesterday and of course the dealer did not even bother to remove it from the online system or even try to fix it. Disappointed we leave the impound, off to the second location.

This one is half-way across Berlin somewhere in Südkreuz. This time the impound, or rather the car yard, was a much smaller site, with only a few exhibits. The dealer – another Turkish member of the Berlin car mafia, constantly on the phone and constantly screaming. In between those calls he showed us the car – a scratched, beaten up, plastic parts broken off Land Rover. Test drive did not make it better. After futile attempts to try to say thank you and good-bye to the dealer, who did not even bother to interrupt his 20 min and counting conversation, we left the premises to find the third car place.

Seems like we arrive at the hornet’s nest run by a Lebanese familia. Ali was the man who was juggling around a couple of bosses. He had many cars for sale, and among them with a dead battery parked behind a couple other cars, stood our beauty, an old, very old Land Rover Freelander. For Andreas it was love at first sight. His eyes were set on it and only on it.

After 3 hours spent walking around in the impound, being called kollega left and right, witnessing many phone calls, negotiations, Polish buyers, money flying around, and observing firsthand a closely tied network of dealer-car workshop-paper fixer, we were finally taken to a werkstatt where cars were piling on each other. So Andreas’ dream car was deemed unfit to pass the TÜV test, the German car test that is needed for obtaining a car registration. We drive back to the impound, and after some more hours and many more phone calls and a brief meeting with the Big Boss himself we negotiate a price and a plan to make the car ready for us by Saturday, the day we would like to start our drive towards Czech Republic.

After a total of 5 hours on the impound, feeling exhausted, hungry and dusty we were released to enjoy the evening in Berlin.

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Exhausted. 5 hours with Gebrauchtwagen händler in Neukölln finally paid off. Maybe? Awaiting TÜV test and Ausfuhrkennzeichen.

Every time we visit Berlin, there is one special place that we always return to: Sony Center & Potsdamer Platz. If you have been to Berlin, you will probably say just about now, but that is so touristy, why, oh why? Well, yes it is. Potsdamer Platz is quite popular amongst the crowds of people visiting Berlin. The Berlin Wall once ran here. We love it for two reasons: #1 it houses the Sony Center, a beautiful piece of architectural mind. We have our beloved spot, lying on the metal benches under the center’s colourful roof, surrounded by all the life passing by, and gazing dreamily at this sky… And that is exactly what we did to release the long day’s exhaustion.

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There is no place like this – Sony Center

#2 is the sight of the three skyscrapers of Potsdamer Platz. Somehow standing there on that busy sidewalk, at the crossroads of Berlin’s turbulent history, looking up at these three buildings, you think back on the past and look forward to the future.

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Potsdamer Platz in evening light.

So here we where, in the midst of enjoying pizza at our usual pizza joint on Potsdzmer Platz, when Ali the car dealer, tracks us down to sign some papers for the car registration and receive cash, of course more than initially agreed for the broker’s service, another guy in the familia, to handle the registration for us with a small price bump along the way. After a really long day, we say good night to Berlin, hoping that the morning after will come with good news…and hopefully no more last-minute pricing surprises.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

Our 5000 km road trip from Denmark to Armenia – how it all started!

The summer has come and gone like a beautiful flap of butterfly wings. Now I am sitting in my favourite café in the hood, sipping on my favourite chai latte, looking out the window illuminated by candlelight reflections and staring at the grey October sky. It is a beautiful day indeed, a perfect type of a setting to start sharing our memories from our incredible road trip.

We have long been dreaming about embarking on a road trip. For a year now we promised ourselves. A graduation gift from us to us. Driving from Denmark to Armenia… Exploring the roads of Eastern Europe… In a Land Rover… This one particular element was the only one thing that Andreas has been persistent and insistent about.

In August, after months of slaving on our theses, we did graduate and we did rock it! First it was Andreas who aced his thesis and graduated the Technical University of Denmark with the shiniest of all diplomas.

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My love all in smiles, surrounded by his proud parents and his work manager


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So proud of you!

Then five days later, I was up in the same room defending my thesis. A day I was so anxious about actually felt quite relaxed, like I was telling a story of my journey during the past seven months. As my supervisor and the censor told me I did ace the thesis, and this is the only self-bragging I have allowed myself to do here. What followed was a hyggelig celebration and a huge sense of accomplishment.

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Now with this exciting academic chapter of our lives behind us we finally became the master of our evenings and weekends again and had all the time in the world to focus on making our next dream come true. Road trip… The adventures of being your own boss of the travels.

The start and end destinations were set long ago when the first seeds of this crazy adventure were born in our traveller minds. Now it was time to plan the route. And that is what we did one Sunday afternoon. We spread out the map over Europe, took a pen and started dotting the countries we would cross, the stops we would make, and the roads we would drive. Little by little our itinerary started to come alive.

Andreas in charge of computerising our travel plan

Andreas in charge of computerising our travel plan

By the time our plan has been laid out, our family and friends got divided into two distinct groups. First was the cheering group, who thought our travel plan was so daring and cool. This mostly excluded the family. Then came the second group – the worry-ers, who thought we were crazy and this was a totally risky adventure. This included many family members.

In the end of August just a few days before we were set to hit the road, we finalised our initial route. 10 countries in 3 weeks! Around 5000 km.  Let the adventure begin!

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Our planned route highlighted in yellow with iconic stops carefully penned in. Of course the route changed along the way, but we did cross the 10 countries and the 5000 kms to reach our beautiful destination – Armenia!

This is our itinerary:

When: August 27 – September 26
Where: Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia

Having jotted the route down, the most important element of our road trip was missing – the mode of transportation. After much talk, worry (mostly on my part), and Andreas’ spending countless hours on the Internet searching for the perfect vehicle, we finally set our eyes on three used cars within our humble budget that were on sale in Berlin. And that is what became our first destination. More on this in our next post.

Follow our adventures and come along for the ride!

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan