Slowly immersed… Map of our route of the second month – another almost 1’000km

Chapter Three

Slowly immersed

This is how the wheat is separated from the chaff….

I have to be honest, it’s not easy for me to write the blog posts. Keeping a diary is definitely easier – after all, it’s absolutely intimate and I have no (artistic) pretensions to it.

It’s been over a month already. Still in Basel, time was incredibly accelerated as we wanted to finally finish the truck so we could get going. Although we have already come down a lot from our everyday life “at home”, time flies around our ears here in other dimensions. Every day we gather an incalculable number of impressions.

And what man and woman collect has to be processed again. In the meantime, we have arrived well – immersed in travel existence.

Travelling is not comparable with a holiday. Personally, I’m not much of a holiday person. A 2-week holiday as a self-employed person doesn’t last very long and I rarely really get to switch off.

Then there were only four

We wrote our last report in Romania and it only went up to and including the flat tyre in Poland. Until then we always had visitors and technical problems which have been solved in the meantime. Travelling with our beloved cat Pünktli also brought its handicap. Our daily routine was very much oriented towards her. During the journey she was content, either sleeping or sitting on my lap and looking out of the window. As soon as we arrived, we went out to roam – as already outlined in the previous report – we caught mice and ate them regularly. Every day, however, I usually had to go and look for them somewhere in the thicket so that we could continue our journey. Sooner or later this would have brought its dangers for us and me… and… and… and…

The Wild Tatras in Slovakia – here near Ružomberok-Vlkolínec

What was that word “if” again?

We lost Pünktli at Auschwitz. At some point, only the GPS collar could be found – unfortunately without the cat. Somehow it was special that this had to happen at this place of “former cruelty”. “If my grandmother had not survived this “place of shame” on my father’s side, I would not be here today. This was constantly on my mind when we visited the camp in Auschwitz Birkenau.

Today, a place of silence (at least for me):

Picture 1: Here the trains went in and out…

Picture 2: The whole area is fenced in X times, many fences were additionally electrified…

Picture 3: The poor souls were escorted in such wagons…

Picture 4 + 5: “The road of death”, at least that’s how I named it…

Picture 1: The people were housed in such stable-like dwellings…

Picture 2. bedroom…

Picture 3. toilet…

Picture 4. fences over fences…

Picture 5: The remaining foundations of these huts – one after the other!

Picture 1. In this building people were disinfected, shorn & tattooed with a bar code….

Picture 2. autoclaves…

Picture 3. no words…

Picture 4. ruins of a gas chamber….

Picture 5. 1,5 million people died here…

Picture 6. In Memory…

We all know the story – I think the pictures say more than a thousand words…

And so we hope that Pünktli has found a new home in Auschwitz.

With a heavy heart, we continued towards Slovakia in the Tatra Mountains. Already at the Polish-Slovakian border, incredible feelings of home came up. The landscape was very reminiscent of our beloved Jura with a pinch of Ticino – mountains just as we desire them.

Bears, Sinti & Roma

We were excited during our first nights in the Tatra – in bear country. It wouldn’t have been so easy for Pünktli here, apart from having to go and look for them before we left. You hear and read a lot about “how to behave properly” in bear regions. Autumn is the peak bear season – according to a group of park rangers who had scared us away from a fascinatingly beautiful off-pitch in the High Tatras. “The bears come in everywhere!” Fear-mongering or fact? The Romanians handle their bear issue quite differently – but we’ll get to Romania later. We travelled through Slovakia for just under 14 days, far too short, in my view, for this magical, wild Tartar landscape. Unfortunately, we have to admit, the cold and wet weather drove us further south.

Nevertheless, I will try to mention some of our experiences here.

Let’s be honest, we all have our prejudices – some more, some less.

We try to approach our journey as unprejudiced as possible. To let ourselves be influenced by the moment we experience. Despite my Czechoslovakian roots (mum from Brno, dad from Bratislava) I have to admit that this was the first time I visited Slovakia.

We have been to the Czech Republic many times and I would claim to have got to know the country relatively well. In Slovakia, I was somehow completely surprised at how well I speak the language. Some examples: I order something in a coffee shop in Prague (in Czech, which my family took with them to Switzerland in 1968 – of course with an unmistakable Swiss accent) and the answer is in English. We are standing at the counter in a bakery somewhere in rural Czechia and order something… So the lady looked at me and said with joy “Where do you come from, sir? …I haven’t heard that form of politeness for 30 years!” That’s how the world changes with all its languages.

As children we always smiled at Slovak because it sounded funny to us. Today I have to express my greatest gratitude to my parents that we were only allowed to speak Czech/Slovak at home (in the presence of our father) or that we were supposed to speak this mishmash. But this mishmash helped us to get through Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria in the best possible way and to be able to communicate somehow.

Back to the topic of “prejudices”: we chug through the countryside with hundreds of magnificent castles like we know them from fairy tales. Regularly we see, wondering, very dark-skinned people on the road. And suddenly we are driving through an area with children playing in mountains of rubbish, where at first we thought: “We don’t want to have a breakdown here”, we didn’t even have the courage to stop and document this photographically.

We were somehow shocked, paralysed by the sight of this scenery, so I take the liberty of showing some pictures from the web here (we drove past the places in the first 3 pictures):

Here are the sources:

If you are interested, I would like to recommend these reports to you. I would only be quoting them here unnecessarily.

Obviously, we knew very little about Slovakia until now. I was aware that the Slovaks did not have it easy after the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1990-1992. They had to set up their own government in no time and until then they were the so-called “arms factory of the East” which had to re-equip its entire industry. In this respect, they have come incredibly far in the last 30 years.

It is a pity that the integration of the Sinti & Roma has got out of hand since the fall of the Iron Curtain. You are welcome to read through the links provided here.

So we sat wondering, driving in Oleg towards Kosice. We were suddenly confronted with prejudices which we had actually attributed to the Romanians in our imagination. This, in turn, was not confirmed at all in Romania.

When we arrived in Kosice, I diligently researched what I had described here in order to understand what we had perceived – in any case, it was very exciting. Boringly, we had to make another pit stop, wash and clean the vehicle. Lukas, Ziss’s brother, had to catch the train back to Dresden. Bruno was very homesick for the time being.

But he is happy that from now on he won’t have to sleep in the cold and oh-so-often wet roof tent every day – I, on the other hand, am happy that I can get up faster in the morning.

There were only three left

On 22 September we crossed the Hungarian border. When we arrived at the border, we were stopped by 2 dudes in trainer shorts who were somehow playing customs officials. Unfortunately, I had tried unsuccessfully to get a toll sticker for Hungary online the day before.

So there we are, dumbfounded and slightly overwhelmed by the language: “We have to pay the toll here, otherwise we’ll get a hefty fine of 500€! Well, I get out and go into the officials’ hut. Here it already feels more official. A woman behind the glass serves me. After about 20 signed documents, the ice between us breaks. Lo and behold, I get a smile. After a few more signatures and a good 60€ poorer, she explains to me that we are now allowed to drive on Hungary’s roads for 48 hours. Quite perplexed, one of the dudes leads me back to the car and begs me.

Pitch in Hungary, Debrecen – once there was a lake here…

Unfortunately, we still have the feeling that we were ripped off there. This has spoiled our fun in Hungary. Apart from the worst roads we have driven so far, we can’t report anything at all about Hungary – how only with a 48-hour toll sticker?