AA on the road: Day 8 – acting in a Czech soap opera and finally heading to Budapest

Day 8: September 3, 2015
Time: 08:00
Location: Zlin, Czech Republic
Destination: Budapest, Hungary

Today has got to be the day… The day that we get to continue doing what we set out to do in the first place. Drive! Experience the world lying beyond the small Czech town of Zlin.

Andreas has a plan. He has stayed up late into the night researching on possible failure causes for the car engine. Posts at Land Rover forums, e-mails shot left and right, Facebook messages, countless YouTube videos seem to have produced a result. A hope rather… After all the trouble of fixing the car we dare not harbour big dreams, but nurture a tiny hope that today will be the day. The fuel pump seems to be the cause of all the misery. When it gets dirty, the supply of fuel shuts off and the engine stops. Come to think of it… Apparently it is a common Land Rover issue, that the official Land Rover workshop has no idea about, but the brilliant car owners know all too well about.

We repeat the same ritual of yesterday: pack and say good-bye to the lovely Czech family who have stood by our side day in and out supporting us with their love and care. Alena, our Czech mother has even managed to exceed her breakfast wonders. Freshly baked pancakes are waiting for us on the table as we go down with our bags. What a wonderful surprise!

Saying good-bye is hard, but somehow the anticipation of today being the day of finally being able to continue our adventure makes the sadness a tiny bit less emotional. We leave our beautiful home perched atop the hills of Zlin behind and drive our usual route to the car workshop we so wish to leave behind.

We arrive at the workshop just as they open. I head straight to our oh-so-familiar sofa up the stairs and make a temporary camp thankful for the distraction provided by Boyhood, which hopefully should have enough runtime – 2 hours 46 minutes to be exact, to last for the whole car fixing performance. I also have a backup of Stumbling on Happiness, a great, great book in my bag, just in case my temporary camp has to transition itself into a more permanent abode. As you can see we came prepared for the fight. Both the movie and the book are highly recommended by the way and not just in the rare case you find yourself stranded in a car workshop in Zlin 😉

Andreas heads straight for the mechanic and takes him (read forces him) for a ride so the guy could see with his own eyes how the problem occurs and maybe get an epiphany. At least that’s the hope. Alas just when you want the stupid engine to stop running, it refuses. How convenient, little bastard, pardon my French. An hour passes. To me it feels like they have already reached either Slovakia or Prague depending on what direction they are headed, and have left me behind, stranded in my camp in the small town of Zlin.

I am engrossed in my movie, so the wait is made a little less unbearable. I am sitting quietly minding my own business when a monstrous, stupid wasp, decides to add insult to injury and plant a loving kiss on my shoulder! That is it. That is the absolute last drop I can take. Tears start flowing, I am ready to scream, when my knight on the white horse, aka Andreas, comes back from his drive and rushes to my rescue. In come first-aid measures and after much time spent calming me down that no, I don’t have bee allergies and I should not be ushered to the doctor, I am put to sleep. This whole commotion feels like straight out of a soap opera. I don’t know to cry or to laugh…

I am left to rest my wounded shoulder, which to put all doubt aside, is aching and itching like crazy and is swollen quite a bit. Andreas heads to the workshop to tell the mechanic to get his act together and clean the fuel pump. After some back and forth discussions, of course the mechanic still doesn’t harbour the slightest doubt that his ingenious fix was not a fix at all, they agree to clean the fuel pump.

The spotlight is back again onto the sofa. My movie is long finished, my shoulder feels numb, my tears have dried out and I just feel tired. Minutes slowly tick by, replaced by hours… Finally after 6 loooooong hours of being stuck in this workshop, we get the news that the pump is cleaned, are shown proof of how dirty it was, and are ushered out to greet our car. 1,2,3… here comes the Rover that gave us so much trouble. You cannot imagine our joy! It cannot be described either, it has to be felt.

We cross our fingers and set the course towards Budapest. Oh how long did we have to wait to utter these words… Budapest, Budapest, Buda and Pest… we are coming to you.

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The last few kms of Czech roads before we cross the border into Slovakia.

Kms go by and the car is still driving like a champ. We cannot believe our eyes, and we are afraid to take a breath in relief. It can stop any second now. But no, more kms rush past and we are crossing the last stretch of the Czech road. Unbelievable! Our road trip is saved and we are really continuing our adventure.

Before we reach the Slovak border though, there are a couple of observations I need to put out there before the Czech road finishes. The first observation is that the Czech are truly kind and sweet people. We have received the nicest treatment, support and care from all the wonderful people that crossed our path. The second observation is that Czech women dress in lovely bright colours, even older ladies. And that is just a wonderful little showcase of joie de vivre!

A few more meters and here we are… Slovakia! Ahoj. Another border crossing, another blue sign with yellow stars welcomes us to its vast lands.

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Ahoj Slovakia! That’s a sight we longed to see.

Alas our unscheduled pit stop in Zlin made us cut our planned 2-night stay in Slovakia to a mere 4-hour drive through the country. From the car window we saw some beautiful landscapes pass by. Road signs pointing to promises of amazing sights succeeded one another without being turned towards. Until next time Slovakia, for now you will stay as a beautiful transit country in our memories.

The Slovak roads gave way to Hungarian roads and finally in the dark of the evening we reached Budapest. The city we were already starting to doubt we would ever make it to. Totally unprepared for a stay in our new destination and totally in awe that we actually made it there, we try to arrange for accommodation on the go. After some futile search, Fortuna smiles to us and we find a hidden gem right in the centre on the beautiful Pest side of Budapest. Opening the door to a courtyard of an impressive old building we unlock the door to our home in Budapest…

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We are home! An evening stroll around our hood quickly tells us that our home couldn’t have been located in any better spot. Budapest it is hard not to fall in love with you from the first sight.

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An incredible sight – the Hungarian Parliament building is breathtaking day and night.

Good night dreamy city. Can’t wait to see your pretty face again tomorrow.

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 7 – Yet another 24 hours in Zlin

Day 7: September 2, 2015
Time: 08:00
Location: Zlin, Czech Republic
Our Zlin home

Good morning Zlin!

The heavy clouds clad in a long veil of grey are hanging over Zlin. It is the same window overlooking the same hills that greeted us for the past 2 days in our Czech home. Yet these clouds make the view so different, so intense. I love such days. The smell of the air is so fresh filled with a threat of a downpour, the scenery opening up to the eye is so crisp, sharp and intense. It is amazing what a difference clouds make to the day. This is the beautiful morning that greeted us on the 7th day of our adventures.

Today we have an important appointment in our calendar – at 13:00 our Rover is going back to the workshop and coming out of there hopefully in tip top condition so we can continue our trip towards our next destination Slovakia!

Until then though there are still a few hours at our disposal, so after packing and saying goodbye to our Czech family, we head to our usual starting point in Zlin – Building No. 21 on tř. Tomáše Bati 21, 760 01 Zlín, aka Bata’s Skyscraper.

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Andreas making it absolutely clear that we are standing by the entrance of Building 21 and leading the way into the skyscraper.

Some kind of government function is housed inside the famous building today. But back in its heyday it used to be the headquarters of Bata’s shoe empire. In the 1930s when the construction was completed the 21 was one of the first skyscrapers in Europe. The soul of Bata can still be felt in the long corridors, old elevators and countless of doors lining up all the 16 floors of the skyscraper. The interior was rather reminiscent of the Soviet taste in architecture. Inside we found Bata’s museum and a very interesting exhibition – an elevator that doubled as a personal office of no one else than Thomas Bata himself!

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It was quite a sight. Nothing luxurious and imposing to convey Bata’s rank and status. Quite the opposite, the big room was rather modest in decorations. The only “luxury” he allowed himself was to build his office inside an actual elevator so he could move in between the floors, attend meetings, be on the shop floor and check up on his empire with ease. This is one inspiring and visionary CEO I would have loved to have met in person.

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Office inside an elevator. What a brilliant idea is that and something that many CEOs could take inspiration from.

Apart from the office-in-elevator there are other interesting details about Bata and his legacy to be learnt in the museum. If you ever make it to Zlin, do stop by Building 21.

After walking through Bata’s history down in the museum, we took an old-fashioned open-door or rather no-door elevator up to the last floor to look at Zlin, the city, boldly dreamt and meticulously realized by Thomas Bata. Up on the top floor of the skyscraper there is a open terrace overlooking the city. There was also a café that looked rather empty and off service when we were there, but it could be open in the summer months.

Zlin from above

Rows and rows of mostly identical brick and glass structures. This is Zlin from above.

Rows and rows of mostly identical brick and glass structures. This is Zlin from above. A city inspired by Le Corbusier’s urban modernism, a city designed for function and daily life. Today, decades after their completion, the brick and glass structures still stand tall, however there is a certain air of sadness that has descended on them. Maybe it is the longing for the good old days, maybe it is a cry for maintenance… It is hard to say.

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View to the Letna district, where the lovely family hosting us was also living.

IMG_7920After getting our fix of bird’s eye view over the city, we descended back to the ground floor to find the restaurant we read about online. The restaurant turned out to be the canteen for the people working in Building 21 and we arrived right in time for the busy lunch hour.

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Luckily we weren’t asked to produce employee IDs, nor asked to pay with a lunch card. After humble attempt at explaining that we would like some food we were shown to an empty table and brought what happened to be the day’s menu of complimentary soup and this delicious lentil and sausage dish.

Though delicious, the lunch was no gourmet 2-hour long affair, we had to be done very quickly and rush back to the car workshop. It is time!

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Two happy travellers waiting on the oh-so-familiar sofa on the second floor of the oh-so-familiar Land Rover dealer shop.

Here we are waiting for hours while our car is in the workshop mostly sitting idle waiting for the mechanic to exchange the faulty part. In Zlin we did a lot of waiting but hopefully it will be over today and we can get on the road again.

Finally after around 4 hours of sitting on the oh-so-familiar sofa on the second floor of the oh-so-familiar Land Rover dealer shop and keeping our fingers crossed for the car, we get the news that the Rover is ready! Hurra…!!! After 3 days in Zlin, way behind our schedule we are longing to get on the road and reach Slovakia. After settling the rather fat invoice we, all in smiles of getting the car fixed head to the front where our green-coloured beauty is awaiting us.
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Alas today wasn’t our day. After driving for about 10 km the car stops again showing the exact same problem of the engine simply dying. It is past 17:00, the dusk is approaching and there is still a few hours of drive to get us to Slovakia. I am on the verge of screaming, which I do getting on the phone with the workshop guy who was spellbound that after making us wait for days they did NOT fix the right problem and unfortunately cannot do anything anymore today as the workshop is about to close. Having no other choice we drive back to our wonderful Czech family to spend yet another, needless to say, not so carefree night in Zlin.

As Alena, our host was hurrying calming tea and her home-made honey to help us get through the stress of the day, Andreas took the matters in his own hands and spent a few long hours scouring the Internet on the potential causes of the car malfunction. It must have been our day after all, as his patient efforts paid off, and people, real Land Rover aficionados and experts, unlike the official branch we had the “pleasure” of dealing with, knew exactly what was the root cause of the car misbehaviour. And of course it was not the throttle body that the workshop diagnosed and made a hefty invoice for, it was nowhere even close to that. Something quite different and very easy and far cheaper to fix was to be blamed for. But the hour is way past midnight and we need to sleep.

Good night! Tomorrow is the day we will be on the road again…

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 5 – Arriving in Zlin, the home of Bata Shoes

Day 5: August 31, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Olomouc, Czech Republic
Destination: Zlin, Czech Republic

We are on the road again. To a destination capriciously thrown at us and pencilled in on the map by our strong-willed ride – the Rover. The ride needs an urgent pit stop, and of course it gets what it needs. By the end of this trip we (read Andreas) will have become experts on common Freelander issues and most importantly, official and unofficial dealers in Czech Republic, Hungary and Turkey that can service your car. So if ever needed, don’t be a stranger, drop us a line, the chances are that we know the right people :)

Workshop 1 – with the help of our lovely Airbnb hosts, we get hold of a workshop that might be able to fix the car problem. Driving 15 km north of Olomouc, we arrive at a big industrial yard, that also happens to have a car repair station. First try brings us no closer to a solution. The guy, unable to even find the computer plug on the car to run a diagnostic test, shakes his head and sends us off to an official Land Rover dealer in Zlin.

Zlin oh Zlin… A small city that we never heard of before, never planned to stop at, but one that we would end up spending the longest time in, not voluntarily… A city that would introduce us to the sweetest Czech family, bring tears of frustration to us, leave me bee-stung and on the verge of calling the whole trip off… The 3 days we spent in Zlin were full of drama that could provide for a rather amusing content for a soap opera now that I look back and down the memory lane.

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Zlin has a very distinct functionalist architecture built by the shoe magnate, Thomas Bata, and inspired by Le Corbusier

But I am running ahead of things. First getting to Zlin. The trip was quite an adventure. The first 20 km went fine, then the car decided to be capricious again. It began shutting off every 10 minutes and in the end we could just drive 2 km before it had to be restarted. Very annoying and tiny bit dangerous to stop for 30 seconds in the middle of Czech roads. Though as we would learn later on the trip – if not Germany, then this country was the best place for the problem to appear. Czech drivers can still be considered civilised.

Workshop 2 – After fighting a couple of hours with the car, we finally arrive at the official dealer / repair shop, hoping that they can easily find the faulty part and provide quick help. We must have been dreaming. Apparently being an official dealer is no guarantee for expertise. We would end up coming to this place 5 times in 3 days and spend a combined 10 hours waiting for magic to happen. But let’s focus on the first visit here. The car is taken to the workshop, the hood is popped open and the diagnostic machine is hooked up.

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According to the machine, the throttle body is the guilty part. So we place an order for a new body trusting that a dealer only carrying Land Rover brand knows what they are doing. The order is placed, now we just have to wait for the part to arrive, which will take 2 days. Not a major issue, as long as we get this car fixed, we are still in good time to stick to our original plan going forward. Little did we know…

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Hopefully changing this little baby will get us back on the road. A new throttle body is on its way.

Content with the outcome of the day we drive to our home in Zlin – an Airbnb room in a house in the hills of the city, hosted by wonderful Alena and her son Zdena. Meeting this sweet family was one of the best experiences of our trip. For us travelling is just as much about discovering new places, as it is meeting people from cultures different from ours that leaves us with wonderful memories. Alena and Zdena did just that, and we couldn’t have been more grateful to our car for taking us to Zlin.

Now it is time to say good night, we are tired after a long day on the road and have this beautiful view of the city to fall asleep to. Tomorrow new adventures await us in Zlin.

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Good night from Zlin and sweet dreams :)

Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

AA on the road: Day 4 – Exploring Moravia

Day 4: August 30, 2015
Time: 10:00
Location: Skutec, Czech Republic
Destination: Olomouc, Czech Republic

Little past midnight we arrived in Skutec. Our original plan was to spend the night in beautiful town of Kutna Hora. Somehow with our short booking window and the late hour of looking for accommodation on Airbnb, we ended up grossly underestimating the distance between the two towns by a small 70 km. On the interesting side, nothing could beat our home for the night in Skutec.

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A picture says 1000 words. I hope this picture we took of our home in the morning sun is able to convey a little bit of that experience. A mixture of a clay hut and a nomad Mongolian tent, hand-made by our kind host Jan and his friends. Inside there was a mismatch of all kinds of furniture and hammocks occupying all nooks and crannies of the hut. The toilet was a dry closet, a polite way of saying hole in the ground. Quite an experience!

As it was a weekend, the local car workshop was closed in Skutec, so Kutna Hora, with its Bohemian charm stayed as an unexplored point on our paper map. Driving backwards with a car, whose behaviour couldn’t be quite predicted judging by its capricious actions of the day before was not an enticing option. Hence, forward lay the road. In the August heat across the Czech countryside to Olomouc in Moravia.

There is something very charming about Czech architecture. The cities feel like they are taken straight out of medieval fairy tales, the cobblestoned narrow streets, the colourful, beautiful buildings that are adorned with details ready to mesmerise you. Prague, the Czech crown jewel is of course hard to beat. But don’t underestimate the beauty that awaits you in the rest of the country. Beauty that is no less charming and comes with no tourist crowds.

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Olomouc is one of these small gems. We arrived in the city boiling in the heat to find charming streets, void of people, who probably had taken refugee in their homes to escape the summer heat.

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The multi-coloured facades of Olomouc

Our first mission was to locate food! On the way from Skutec the car kept us hostage, and we were afraid to do any extracurricular stops as long as the Rover baby kept on driving. So we arrived in Olomouc starving. With Andreas’ excellent food-spotting skills we found a charming café with a French name, tucked away in a quiet backyard, with plenty of cuteness and trees to shade from the sun. IMG_7729

Moving down the list of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we put a tick on the hunger box, and turned our attention to the next basic need – shelter. A quick Airbnb search brought us to a lovely apartment right in the center of the city overlooking the charming roofs of old buildings and with a prime view to the city hall tower. Our host was the sweetest Czech family, a young couple with two most adorable kids.

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Armed with local tips from our hosts, we set off to discover the city. First off, Olomouc is really small, you can walk across the city in practically 30 min. Nonetheless, the amount of cuteness we discovered was far enough to keep our travellers’ eyes occupied for a couple of hours.

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Cuteness overload. The cobblestoned streets and old buildings are a sweet sight for our eyes.

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Look at this mosaic! It is incredible. From this grandiose entrance you would expect to find at a very least a palace. Hold your breath. It is a restaurant! Supposedly gourmet and all, we didn’t try it but it had a sophisticated menu and matching prices to go with the luxurious entrance.

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Olomouc has surprisingly many churches for a city of its size. The imposing Saint Wenceslas cathedral is set on a hill and is a nice stroll to make from the old city center.

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Locals hanging out in a community garden.

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An abandoned venue turned into a “secret” cinema.

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During service times, bikes get a VIP parking inside the church.

When we travel, there is always one must-do item on our itinerary, and that is to get a bird’s eye view over the place. In European capitals, there is always a good chance to find a church, a hill or on few occasions a high-rise that has a commanding view of the surroundings. In Olomouc, this old charming city, the church of St. Michael had the honour to watch over the city. As we ascended its spiral staircase the sun was about to set, spreading a magical glow all over.

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The view from St. Michael’s church.

The main attraction of Olomouc is the city hall square with its Holy Trinity Column that is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is also the place where we kept returning to after criss-crossing the small streets. A pretty impressive sight.

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Besides the impressive column, the square has another highlight – an astronomical clock. Of course, Prague has its world-famous clock, so it would have been strange not to find one in Olomouc too. Don’t hurry to pass on judgement. It is not about copying all that Prague does. The one in Olomouc is not only astronomical, it is also very very Soviet. Yep! A remnant of the good old socialist times. As the cuckoo announces the strokes of an hour, slim figures of hard-working men and women pop out displaying the full glory and various trades of the Soviet era.

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The astronomical clock of Olomouc is quite a show.

After walking around for a couple of hours we ended the day’s adventures at a popular local brewery. The Czech food, at least this dinner plate we were served in Olomouc reminded quite a lot of Bavarian food. Simple delights, no effort spent on gourmet twists.

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Our dinner plate for two with the complementary Pilsner of course. Na zdravi!

On our way back home we passed by the impressive square again. The bustling liveliness of the afternoon had worn off and the beautiful silence was only broken by the steps of occasional passers-by. A beautiful day spent in a beautiful city. Tomorrow new roads await us.

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Photos © Andreas Eriksen & Ani Movsisyan

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.

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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 2 – First day with the Land Rover

Day 2: August 28, 2015
Time: 09:00
Location: Berlin, Germany

Guten Morgen aus Berlin!

Today it is all about the car. We spent the morning anxiously counting the minutes until the clock would ring 10:00 o’clock so we could call Ali the car dealer. First high five moment of the day! Our Land Rover has passed the toughest test, the bureaucratic exam necessary to deregister the car in Germany and get the export license plates. Phew… we can breath freely now. After all the craziness of yesterday, the chances of obtaining the necessary papers, stamps and license plates did not look so fat. Anyway all the big worries are behind now, the plates are secured, and the car just has to pass a check up at a workshop that is of course friends with the car dealer. Pick-up time 17:00 and we can hit the road as planned the day after.

Seeing as we got some time on our hands before we brought our Rover back home, we decided to take care of one important business. Stock up on some road trip essentials. Nope… not camping gear or a trailer… Wool clothes of course! On the insistence of Andreas, the man cannot resist his shopping urges. He has recently discovered a newfound passion for Merino wool clothes.

When travelling long and constrained on the amount of luggage you can carry, it is great to have clothes that don’t need to be washed every day. On this trip some of the Merino wool items became our travel companions. To put in a word of admiration, this wool has all the benefits of wool and the softness of cotton. It keeps you warm when it’s cold, and cool when it’s hot. It’s naturally odour-resistant / antibacterial so it can go days without washing. Woah if this was happening in a movie you would by now be bombarded by major product placement all over the place. But seriously the Merino sheep didn’t sponsor us unfortunately, so this is only a tip for the road from two travellers who have crossed many roads.

Yes! The license plates with the famous bear of Berlin are secured. Let the adventure begin!

Yes! The license plates with the famous bear of Berlin are secured. Let the adventure begin!

Little after 17:00 we arrive at the all-too-familiar car compound, and are presented with our red license plates. Second high five of the day! After a few moments of pure joy, and signing of Kaufvertrag, that suddenly had a much lower price neatly scribbled in for the official records only, we join Ali on a short drive to the car workshop. At the workshop before getting off the car, we are kindly asked to settle the workshop payment in the car… Hmm… not shady at all! But we are pressed on time and the sight of our Rover is far too tempting to renew price negotiations.

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Here it is – our Rover!

After what seemed like eternity, the car is ready and we can seal the deal.

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A few Euros and a handshake and the deal is sealed!

 

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First spin of our baby Rover – we are all smiles!

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One proud owner. Just look at his smile :)

After two days spent exploring the used car markets of Berlin, we are now proud owners of a Land Rover Freelander in British racing green, the one and only iconic colour! Third high five of the day. Roads of Eastern Europe we are coming!

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