Week 7, part 1
Wednesday, November 28, 2001

A small castle overlooks the Labe Valley in the northern Czech Republic.

Smokestack industry and commie highrises are typical fixtures of eastern Europe.

Week 6 ended on Monday, November 19, as we had just returned to Prague from a family pilgrimage to Vitkovice Ostrava. Our plan was to catch a train for Berlin on Tuesday morning, so this was the first in a series of one-night stops between trains that we were to see in this week.

Arriving in the evening, the main station in Prague was a much different place than it was in the daytime. We saw and recognized the scene we'd read about: different classes of people prowling the station hawking accommodation. One young man spoke very good English and offered free rides to the decent-looking hotel (at least judging by his glossy brochure) he represented. There was an old housewife who showed people tattered pictures of the accommodation she had to offer. We wanted to support a certain guy in one of the station's many licensed brokerages, who had directed us to the cyber cafe we'd (thought we) had success at earlier in the week.

There was someone else at his station, but he had for us a reasonably priced room 5 minutes away by metro. A few days earlier, we found our way around Prague exclusively on the tram, but Prague also has a clean and efficient underground system. We had to go one stop to our room, where we unloaded our packs and set out for our favorite cyber cafe to update the week 5 web site.

We got there with high hopes. The previous week, we (thought we) had conquered Earthstink's webmail service, which had become our only option for sending outgoing email. Webmail has its own address book (separate from the one in Eudora, the email software resident on our computer), so we'd set up our mailing list as a group within webmail in order to send out updates for weeks 4 and 5. Last week, the weekly updates appeared to be properly sent out via webmail.

On this night we updated our web site with the pictures and pages for week 5. Once we'd determined that the site was working properly, it was time to send out a message to the list letting everyone know that the pictures were out there. For some reason, webmail was being finicky about letting us in ... maybe because it was lunch hour in California? who knows? Trying it from one of the other computers in the room, we finally got a machine to let us into webmail. We composed a quick message for the list on the newly updated status of the website, hit the send button, and waited for Earthstink to acknowledge.

"Your message was not sent because you have too many names in your 'bcc' field." AAARRRGGH!!! So none of the mail we (thought we) had sent out the previous week had ever actually gone through. After all of this hell, we still hadn't gotten any communication back to the home front. It was closing time at the cyber cafe, and we left there breathing fire. It took another week before our messages finally went out for real. That's why most of you got three weeks worth of these messages all at once. A few of you may have gotten them more than once. Hopefully these problems are over. At this writing, Earthstink has been taken out of the loop. They've been more of a hindrance than a help with communication on this oddyzee.

Buying tickets for Tuesday's train for Berlin would be easier on Monday night than on Tuesday morning, so on the way back to our room we stopped at the station to do that. We had a nice chat with the ticket agent, who talked with amazement about her own train trip through America and how the train she was on only ran three or four times a week. From Prague, there are easily twice that many trains each day for Berlin alone. We had to buy tickets for the German border, at which point our passes would be good again. Good thing, too, as tickets for Berlin were Kc1500, while it cost less than Kc200 to get to the German border.

It was a scenic stretch of countryside we passed through between Prague and Dresden. We saw many hops plantations and vegetable farms before reaching the mountains. We followed one side of a wide river (the Labe) as it wound its way through a deep mountain valley. We saw some of the nicest fall colors in Europe along with lots of coal mining, smoke-stack industries and commie high-rises.

Early on, a group of people got onto our car speaking a language that sounded a lot more like Mexican Spanish than Czech. It didn't take long to recognize that it was Spanish, and it turned out that this was a family from Monterrey, Mexico. A young man in his 30's was taking his wife and his parents on a tour of Europe. Shortly before reaching Dresden, the Czechs and then the Germans came through on their passport and customs checks. We heard a lot of questions being asked of the Mexicans as forms were being filled out. Our passports got glanced at and handed back. After it was all over, Obbie walked through the car asking (in Spanish), "why so many questions for the Mexicans but not for the Americans?" That drew a chuckle from the patriarch of the Mexican group (who did NOT speak English as his son did). The Mexicans told us it had to do with a lot of shopping they had done in the Czech Republic, so they didn't have any reason to see it as such a big deal.

Except for the station, the entire city of Dresden as seen through the train window looked as if it had been built in the early 50's ... and mostly it had. The beautiful old buildings destroyed by allied bombing had been replaced by simple grey boxes ... commie high-rises, commie office buildings ... all function, no form. Such a shame.

Someone joined the train in Dresden to prove that German firmness and rigidity were alive and well. We had a pair of reserved seats, but we preferred the empty seats across the aisle with a power outlet nearby (didn't want to burn up the batteries of our electronic gadgets if we didn't have to). The Mexicans sat in our seats, and we didn't mind. A woman got on in Dresden, gave us a ghastly look, pointed to our seats and yelled, "Platz!" Tempted to jump into a Nazi salute in response, all we could do was to look around at a coach car filled with empty seats. Other than us and the Mexicans, she was the only other person on the car. There may have been 90 empty seats, but we were sitting in HERS. Eventually she chilled out and went to sleep in the seat behind us.

Part 2 ... arrival and first impressions of Berlin.
Part 3 ... a look at the Berlin Wall.
Part 4 ... the rest of Berlin.
Part 5 ... a smoke-filled Beatles pilgrimage to Hamburg.
Part 6 ... making our way to Copenhagen.
Part 7 ... first impressions of Copenhagen.
Part 8 ... meeting the people of Christiania.
Part 9 ... Christiania's innovative bicycles.
Part 10 ... walking about Christiania and learning a bit about its politics.
Part 11 ... saying good-bye to Christiania.

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