Thanks to Nic’s departure home, I had a double seat to myself on the coach. I made myself comfortable and thought about Slovakia. They are very democratic there, I decided; that’s why there is so much debate about everything. They are also very relaxed and easy-going. I was musing on this, and composing a long analytical post for this blog along those lines, when I accidentally fell asleep.
When I awoke an hour later, we had left the flat agricultural lands of ‘our’ part of Slovakia behind, and were driving alongside a river, with pine-clad mountains on either side of us. I was impressed; we were now very obviously in a different country. As the coach laboured up into the mountains, Leos announced that we would shortly be reaching the border (oh. So, currently still the same country, then) where we would have a break. We would be able to use the toilet, have some refreshment, and, crucially, change some euros into Czech crowns so we had enough cash to tide us over for a bit.
We stopped at what looked like some sort of Soviet border post in the mountains, but turned out to be a lorry-drivers’ cafe that also offers currency exchange. I only changed 20 euros (which translated into thousands of Czech crowns) because I had intended to withdraw crowns from a cashpoint on arrival (and indeed had spent some time the night before calculating what I would need, what this would translate to in terms of a cash withdrawal, what this worked out at in pounds, and so on). I also had an incredibly strong coffee in the hope that this would keep me awake for looking at the Czech countryside, so I could do a ‘compare and contrast’ with Slovakia.
Comparing and contrasting was easy, though, because now we were in mountains (and rising to 1,000 feet), whereas before we had been in the very flat country of the Danube. When we started to come down the other (sunshiney) side of the mountain, I stopped thinking about comparing and contrasting, and started thinking about teachers-die-in-coach-crash type news stories; to distract myself I stared hard into the forest looking (unsuccessfully) for deer and, erm, bears? Wolves?
We were never quite as high again on the journey, but we were never really away from the mountains; and even, towards the end of our journey, when we did cross flatter, agricultural land, I had the distinct impression that we were on a plateau and still at some height, rather than down in the lowlands. Anyway, we passed through lots of villages, and I can report that in the mountains at least, Czech houses are taller and pointier than Slovak houses, and painted in more sober colours. Where the outside walls of Slovak houses are painted in apple green, coral and peach, the Czech ones were grey, black, or occasionally pale cream. And every house has a wood pile.
We passed through a town, with tower blocks, and these were painted the jolly colours, and the further away from the mountains we got, the more painted the houses became. I would have thought that they would want some jolly colours in amongst all the dark green of the pines, but perhaps it’s hard carrying paint up a mountain. Also in the town we saw supermarkets – Lidl and Billa, and even another Tesco. Hardly had I recovered from this excitment when we saw our first livestock for several days (we saw none in Slovakia) – cows! Then sheep!
I even (and it was a good job I was sitting down) saw some oak trees, and immediately felt reassured. The trees are less foreign, thank goodness. And lots of mistletoe. There was a windfarm in the distance (again, not something we saw in Slovakia, although we did have a nuclear power station pointed out to us). The windfarm was silhouetted quite picturesquely against the sunset but this of course meant we couldn’t see the pile of dead sparrows underneath the turbines, or the depressed people living nearby.
It was after six when we arrived in Vitkov, where our partner school is. We had a fifteen minute break here to drop off the children, who are staying with families; long enough to realise that now that the sun had gone down, it was really getting rather chilly. Then finally the last leg, to Hradec nad Maravici (named, I think, after the castle at the top of it). It was dark, of course, but it seems a nice enough town, and the coach pulled up near to the castle and next to a hotel.
The hotel was completely dark, and locked. Gastone knocked on the door and looked for another entrance. We started to worry a little; this was not the welcome we had expected, and Leos, who had made the arrangements, was not with us – he was following later in his car. Then we looked at the name of the hotel, which didn’t seem familiar, and after that it was something of a race to see who would be the first to find the name of the hotel we were actually booked into, and then its location. It was five minutes’ walk back down the hill: the hotel Sonata.
It has free wifi throughout the building; hurrah. My room is pleasant, with bright green bedding which I know I am going to find it hard to cope with in the early morning light. It has no desk (so I apologise now for the typos which will undoubtedly creep in as I am typing on my lap), and no kettle. But it is a nice place and I have a good view over the town from my window.
We met downstairs for dinner at about 8. David and Dave (who had already used their i-phone currency converter apps to make the joyful discovery that beer here is £1 a pint) used their i-phone translation apps to try to speak Czech; our waitress was greatly entertained by this. Czech waitering is even more erratic than Slovakian waitering, in that there was no attempt at all to co-ordinate the production of each individual’s plate of food so that we could all start together; I had finished my (excellent) salmon and roast potatoes before Dave and David had any sign of their Three-Colour Meat (the menu was in English but this didn’t mean we could understand all of it). But I have high hopes of the buffet breakfast; and even if it’s not very good, it can only be an improvement on Sheyly’s.
Tomorrow we have a packed programme from 9am to 9pm. I will have eaten before I get back, but I will need some down-time before I post, and there will be a lot to write. So … don’t wait up.