Our brush with fame gets interesting

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We use our best detective skills to work out that someone, maybe ABC America, was filming some kind of doco for the 50th anniversary of the release of SOM. We then work out, based on the entourage and security, that it is a pretty big deal. We joke that maybe Julie Andrews might show up. When we come across her sitting in a car we think, “Wow, how cool is that? We come to this part of Austria to check out SOM locations and bump into Maria (Julie Andrews) – what are the chances of that happening?”

We are pretty much the only people who are not part of the film crew at the side of the church. All the other tourists are down in the square at the front wondering why they have just driven an hour from Salzburg to see this church and they can’t get in and no one is giving them a straight answer why.

Well it is memorable so I decide to take a few photos, as you know I like to. This is when things get interesting. Security guards spring to action, waving their arms about. The 4 minders who are actually with the car join ranks and build a wall of umbrellas between me and the car.

I am not sure what they are doing. Maybe they all really wanted to be roman soldiers so made one of those formations thinking the umbrellas were shields (maybe they got the wrong movie); maybe they thought my camera was a trick camera and it was going to squirt water, so they needed the umbrellas; maybe they thought I was going to break into “doe a deer a ……” and the umbrellas would somehow protect Julie Andrews from that awful sound. I am not sure but while they were doing that and the security guard is waving his arms around telling me I can’t stand on the street and take photos of the most photographed building in Mondsee, Julie Andrews slips into the waiting motorhome – I assume for a hair and makeup touch up.

I admit I am probably getting a little more stubborn and cantankerous in my old age. But when someone tells me I can’t do something that clearly I am allowed to do, it makes me dig my heels in a bit.

So we hung around a bit longer and I would occasionally take a photo in the direction of the makeup truck just to keep everyone on their toes. And they kept watching me and then did their umbrella trick to get her into the church – I think I had them really scared.

There was obviously no way we were going to get into the church and get a photo so we headed off. Just down the road we discovered a traditional dress shop, so of course the girls wanted to have a look and then there were some that were really good prices so they wanted to try some on.

Pretty soon Legoboy and I were looking for something to do. So we headed off on a spy mission to see if we could outwit the bad guys.

First the disguise: I took off the red HRT hat I had been wearing so now I looked like everyone else, just a guy in a black jacket. Instead of heading back up to the side of the church where my friend the security guard and the minders were, we headed along the street in front of the church and then looped around to the back of the church, and a little playground. This was accidental, I had no idea we could actually get around the church. I certainly didn’t realise that there was a playground surrounded by hedges there that would give me cover.

By now it had become a bit of a game although I think the guys on the other side of the plastic tape were taking it a little more seriously than me. It all seemed a bit strange to me. Here we are in Mondsee where everyone comes to see the SOM church. The church is roped off and surrounded by security, there are film crew all around, and there is obviously someone in the car they don’t want us to see. Is it that they don’t want us to know who is in the car? Not too hard to narrow down the possibilities: SOM church, 50th anniversary, huge American film crew – can anyone name anyone else associated with the movie.

Maybe it is a secret – I am not even sure what part may be a secret: that it is the 50th anniversary, that this is the church in the movie (it is printed in all of the Salzburg tourist info), that Julie Andrews was in the SOM.

If they are doing a documentary for the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music we can probably even work out how the interview will go:

Intro – Wow 50 years, you don’t look old enough.

JA: Oh stop your too kind.

Q1. Do you still keep in touch with . . . Who else was in SOM?

Q2. Is it true that you lost your role in the flying nun because you took the role of Maria and got married?

I am sure you can think of others.

We are in position in the playground. Legoboy is on the seesaw and I am pushing him up and down (to maintain my cover and because he likes seesaws), but from my vantage point I can see the side door of the church. We have some cover from some shrubs and besides we just look like a dad and his kid at the playground, not two secret spies out to trick the bad guys.

When we notice a higher level of activity at the back door we break cover and head to the car park. The car park slopes downhill toward the church so we can clearly see the side door which is up a couple of steps. The bad guys have made a big mistake: they have parked one of their vans at the end of the car park. We can see over the van to the door but they can’t see us because they are on the ground at the bottom of the stairs looking the other way. Then it happens, out steps Julie Andrews and we get off a couple of good photos plus a couple of duds. As she passes by a tree on her way to the car we step out into the middle of the street where of course we are seen but it is too late we have out witted the bad guys. Of course my friend the guard comes over waving again, the minders close ranks and stand in front of the car windows (they have been caught with their umbrellas down) until the car is ready to drive away. The guard keeps saying, “You are not allowed to take photos.” There is a local lady standing there so I ask her if she speaks English – she says a little, so I ask her if it is allowed to take photos here, she says yes of course. I look to the guard who shrugs; it no longer matters, the car is gone, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Legoboy and I head back to the dress shop but the ladies are still going. So we walk around some more. We end up going by the church again and the guards have packed up and are standing around having a smoke. I go up to my guard and say to him is it ok to take a photo, he and the other guards laugh and he says sure, no problem.

Back to the dress shop, and they are done, unfortunately none of the dresses they like fit so they come away empty handed (unlike Legoboy and I).

It has been an interesting afternoon. It is a good opportunity for us to talk about celebrity with the kids.

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At first the kids think I should not put the photos on the blog and maybe should not have taken them, because they think I have done something illegal. They have been intimidated into thinking that it is against the law to take photos because a security guard says so and makes a fuss about it (Minimandm was too scared to take any photos). I point out that at all times I was in a public place and so was Julie Andrews. We did not take any photos through anyone’s window, we did not hack anyone’s phone. We also talked about the fact that to be a celebrity you not only need to be a good actor you need people to want to see you, to want to take photos, but once you have made it, it seems you want people to stop – so it is a bit confusing. In reality if there was not such a fuss made we would not have even noticed; if we walked past Julie Andrews at a cafe we probably would not know she was there. I am not sure why they could not just get her out of the car, she could wave her Hollywood royalty wave, smile at us and be on her way – maybe I am naive, maybe someone can fill me in on why that couldn’t be done.

The girls enjoyed the fact we saw Julie Andrews at the SOM church despite the carry on, and Legoboy enjoyed playing the spy (maybe I did to). It was also a good discussion starter and a bit of an eye opener for the kids. It was also a good time to reflect on the fact that there are a lot more important things going on in the world than us taking some photos.
So it was a very memorable end to our Sound of Music tour.
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Doe a Deer

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As we left Salzburg we headed to the SOM sites that were out of the town centre.

The Leopold Palace was used in the filming of the movie as the back of the Trapp family home. You may remember the scene where Maria and the children are on the lake in a boat when they are discovered by the captain, and capsize the boat. Well that happened here.

The front of the Trapp home was filmed at Frohnburg Palace which is now a university (more movie makers’ tricks).

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There is a pavilion in the movie which is now located at Hellbrunn Palace. Apparently the pavilion was located in a private garden but the owner got sick of everyone climbing the fence to take photos and dance around it, so they gave it to the city and they located it in the grounds of Hellbrunn. I am not sure how true this story is.

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Minimandm did some directing and tried to get SWTTM and I to dance around and re-enact a scene from SOM. We indulged her for a bit but gave up after take 4.

Mondsee is a relatively small town to the east of Salzburg. In this town is the church that was used to film the wedding of Maria to Captain von Trapp (it is not attached to the Abbey as suggested in the movie). It is a pretty church in a pretty town. You can see why they chose it for the movie it is definitely prettier than the church at the Abbey where the Trapps actually got married.

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While we were there taking our photos and having a look around we noticed that something was obviously going on. First there was a guy with a tripod and movie camera set up across the square filming when we arrived. Inside the church a couple of guys were setting up a camera on a boom.

While we were still inside the church a bunch more guys with film equipment arrived, as well as some security guards.

We were soon told that we had to leave the sanctuary. I asked one of the guards what was going on and they told me it was just a photo shoot. Legoboy, Bookworm and I watched the guys setting up their gear while SWTTM and Minimandm checked out the SOM stuff in the church gift shop. More and more people arrived and we began to notice lots of American accents. Soon the door between the church and the gift shop was closed also.

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I asked some other people who seemed to be involved what was going on and one said something about the 50 year anniversary of SOM and another told me it was an ABC America doco and that they had been filming in Salzburg also – everyone was pretty evasive though.

The church was now closed off so there was nothing more for us to see so we decided it was time to leave. When we walked out the door we found that the whole church had been cordoned off with tape and there were more crew outside. The church also had security guards stationed all around it.

As we were passing some of the members of the film crew we overheard one of them say, “She is waiting in the car”. We joked that they were probably talking about Julie Andrews.

We decided to hang around a bit to see what was actually going on.

Nothing much was happening, just lots of people milling around so we were walking beside the church looking at the surrounding buildings when we noticed a black BMW being reversed behind the tape which cordoned off the church. Well that caught our eye so we continued in that direction. And as we got closer sure enough there sitting in the back seat sipping a coffee (presumably) from a McDonald’s cup was Julie Andrews.

So that was a bit of a thrill, especially for the girls who have enjoyed watching her play different characters in the Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Princess Diaries 1 and 2 and the Tooth Fairy 1 and 2.

Then the fun really began . . . to be continued next post.

The Hills are Alive

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Salzburg is a very pretty city. The backdrop of the mountains and the river rushing through it all add to the beauty of the place. It is also the home of “The Sound of Music” (SOM) so we were not only looking around the town we were also checking out SOM sites. All day I kept breaking into song and dancing about – I thought that was put on for the movie but it must be something in the water.

Our first stop was the Mirabella Gardens. These are beautiful gardens but their real claim to fame is that they were used in “The Sound of Music” you may recognise the fountain or maybe the stairs. As you can see from the photos, even 50 years on SOM still draws a crowd – or maybe everyone just loves Salzburg.

Salzburg is also the home of Mozart so we had to wander past the house he was born in and also later in the day the house he lived in. No one in our family is that into Mozart so we kept our SOM focus going.

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From Mirabella Gardens we crossed over the river via the now obligatory bridge adorned with padlocks.

As we walked around we noticed lots and lots of people wearing traditional clothes – lederhosen and dirndls. At first we thought isn’t that cool, people still actually wear those clothes, but then we saw more and more and thought maybe something is going on. We eventually asked someone who confirmed that the day we had chosen to visit Salzburg was in fact a public holiday and there was a festival going on in the town square.

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There were people everywhere, but it meant that we got to experience a Salzburg festival. There were markets stalls, traditional food and rides. It felt a little like a really big country show set in and around a couple of hundred year old church – a little bizarre really. But a good experience.

After fighting our way through the crowds and enjoying the atmosphere we made our way up the hill/mountain overlooking the town to Nonberg Church and Abbey. The abbey was used in SOM but it is still an abbey so you cannot go inside. The church is used in the movie, as in the wedding is supposed to be set in this church but the church used in the movie is actually in a village kilometres away (more on that later). So we got to have a look around the church where the real von Trapps actually did get married – it just wasn’t used in the movie (the tricks of movies).

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The climb up to the abbey was mostly via stairs which while steep and long were not too bad, we then continued up the hill to the castle – this got pretty steep. We enjoyed the view from the castle, which is high up so looks right down onto the town. We are getting pretty picky about castles so decided to just enjoy the view rather than go inside – it wasn’t in SOM anyway so it didn’t really rate.

In the movie the Trapps hide in a cemetery from the Nazis. The one cemetery in the movie was modelled on the cemetery at St Peters church back down in the town. The main difference is that in the movie the family could hide behind the headstones, whereas in the real cemetery these headstones were right against the wall with no space behind them (another movie trick). While we were at St Peters we visited the catacombs which are actually built into the rock face of the cliff. While we were here we met a family from Victoria.

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The festival was still going strong so we made our way through some more of this and checked out the gingerbread which seems to be a local tradition.

The bridge we used to cross back across the river was another SOM prop. The river here is amazing, a beautiful colour and flowing very fast. It sets up a very pretty picture with the river in the foreground then the old town and the castle rising above on the mountain.

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We swung by Mirabella gardens one last time for a couple more photos then it was back to Max to pay the most expensive parking we have paid all year (more than twice as expensive than Monaco), and somewhat different from what we were told it would be when we arrived in the morning (don’t get me started). We were still undecided where we were going the next day so we took the opportunity to use the Salzburg car park internet to do some more research – the girls of course also made sure they used some.

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Red Bull Gives you Wings

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In the morning we did the normal stuff and got ready. I spent a bit of time digging the mud out from around the tyres and I scrapped up some gravel from the roadway which I used to make a path from the front wheels (front-wheel-drive, remember) in the direction of the road. When I had fired up Max and was ready to go the neighbours (the only other people in the place) came over and gave us a push. So, with the neighbours and our family pushing and the increased traction from the gravel, and a few prayers, Max made his way out – he did dig some pretty sizable ruts in the process but we were on our way again.

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Not too long later and we were entering Austria. It is sometimes amazing the difference a border makes. Sometimes it makes no difference and sometimes you can see changes straight away. Driving into Austria we could tell that we were no longer in a country that had been under Soviet rule – even the kids noticed it. It was quite surprising.

Salzburg is not only the home of “The Sound of Music” it is also the home of Red Bull (the energy drink company). I think there is some confusion over the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”. What that slogan actually means is that if you buy Red Bull the owner of Red Bull will get wings.

In Salzburg Red Bull has an aircraft facility at the airport called Hangar 7 – it is called this because it is the 7th hangar at the airport, they also have hangar 8, but Hangar 7 is the main one.

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In Hangar 7 is displayed some of the collection of Red Bull. There are planes and helicopters, Formula 1 cars, Indy Cars, a Nascar, a New York Cab (not sure why) plus heaps of other vehicles and then some more planes and a couple of restaurants. It is free to enter which is nice, and you are allowed to take photos – you just agree to not post those photos on the internet, so sorry no photos from inside (google Hangar 7 and you will get an idea). Hangar 8 is where all of the machinery is serviced and as you can see into it from Hangar 7 you can clearly see that it is packed with more planes and helicopters – as it says “Red Bull gives you wings”.

Hangar 7 is an amazing building set in a magnificent location (as is Salzburg) with the mountains towering around it. It was great to visit.

Unfortunately there were no campsites in Salzburg so we ducked back into Germany (less than 10km) and found a place. The downside to the place we chose was that it was filled with acorn trees that dropped acorns all night – it sounded like someone was throwing rocks at us intermittently through the night.

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Kylie and the Bears

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Once we were finished with Prague we headed south. We were still not completely sure about the vignette thing, but from what we could work out by looking at the internet and talking to the people in the servo (where you buy vignettes) who spoke just about no English (and we definitely don’t speak Czech) we didn’t think we would need it for the roads we were planning to use.

We also had to do some grocery shopping and get some fuel. I don’t think the maps in the Czech Republic that are loaded into Jack are completely up to date (even though he has the latest version of maps) and we ended up doing a massive loop looking for a supermarket – I think we have been here before – but we found it and we got to look at some different parts of the outskirts of Prague.

We also got some fuel. I thought it was bad to hand over five hundred to get fuel, but here we paid 1500 and the tank was already half full when I started – fortunately one Aussie dollar buys almost 20 Czech Koruna.

As we travelled south we passed though some pretty countryside as well as some pretty villages. Some villages however just looked like they need a lot of work – it was an interesting drive.

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The place we stayed for the night was deserted when we got there so we just made ourselves comfortable. I think everyone in Czech Republic camps only in the summer. An interesting feature of this camp ground that I thought may work in Australia was that the camp ground was almost covered in solar panels that made shelter areas to set tents up under. I thought it would be good to get some shade in an Australian summer.

Eventually a lady turned up at the office and when I went to pay, Kylie Minogue was playing in the background (on the radio, not in person), strange maybe, but then I remembered that while we were in Poland we had seen some billboard for a Kylie concert – she is obviously big in central/eastern Europe.

The next day we headed Cesky Krumlov (no I had never heard of it either) a pretty little village set on the curve of a river. I may never have heard of it before but plenty of other Aussies have, I think we heard more Aussie accents the day we were here than for the rest of the year combined.

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As I said the village is very pretty and old so we just wandered around soaking it in and of course taking photos. Across the river from the main part of the village is the castle which is set up on a cliff which is quite imposing. The royal coat of arms features a bear so of course they have a couple of bears roaming around in the castle moat.

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We climbed the tower of the castle church which had an amazing view of the town. We got one of the Aussies that were there to take a photo for us.

We also tried a Trdelnik (we called them cinnamon roll thingies), and then another, and another with chocolate – we had seen them in Prague and they are obviously unique to the Czech Republic so we had to try them – they were very nice in case you were wondering.

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We enjoyed our day in this pretty little village – even though it was very touristy.

To finish the day we headed toward the Austrian border. The road we took may have been the best we had been on in the Czech Republic. It was not a main road, just a back road but it was smooth and had a nice mixture of corners and undulation – I love Max, but this would have been a great piece of road in something a little more sporty.

The campsite we were headed for was on the shore of a huge lake. It was dark when we got there and fortunately there was still someone waiting at the restaurant / reception. There was one other caravan there. The campsite and the whole area which was full of campsites and hotels was pretty much deserted – another summer holiday place.

It had also been raining as we drove along and still was when we arrived. We were directed to an area, but they didn’t really care as the place was empty, but they told us the internet was best the closer you were to the restaurant (this is pretty normal – we often choose where to stay with an iPad or iPhone in hand). So we drove in and picked the first spot we came to, and got bogged.

We tried to get out, but just spun the wheels. We were pretty level and it was dark and rainy so we went to bed.

Prague

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Many towns in Europe have beautiful old town centres which are surrounded by newer often uglier parts of the town. These newer parts are often full of huge apartment buildings and industrial areas. These new areas can be a little depressing, so some towns are a bit of a let-down to begin with, but are then beautiful when you get to the old town.

Prague is one of these towns. As we drove in on the highway we drove past these apartments, shops and factories, and you can look down to the river and the city, which showed how big the place was.

My impression of the former Soviet Union was one of harsh treatment as well as lots of rules. We came across what I think was a bit of a hangover from this when we turned up at our campsite. The guy there had to have each of our passports and had to record each number, he also had to fill out our camp registration in triplicate. A funny experience we have not encountered anywhere else.

We caught a bus and then a couple of trains to get into the old city. As we have experienced in some other countries you really need to hang on in the bus or you may end up on the floor.

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Once we were off the train we had a big walk up the hill to the castle which overlooks Prague. The view from up here is very good, you just had to dodge the thousands and thousands of tourist to try and get a decent photo – or sometimes you just have to resign yourself to the fact that there are going to be heaps of random people in your photos.

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The castle has a village inside which includes a huge church.As we arrived at the church square a group of guards were marching back in the direction we had just come to carry out the changing of the guard ceremony. Legoboy and I followed them back to the castle gate and watched the process. There was a medieval market going on in one of the courtyards which included sword fighting, a blacksmith, flower making and a very brave guy who was stamping “coins” out of leather and letting the kids swing the hammer

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It started raining while we were here and had to head for cover. The church was a good place to seek shelter.

We saw at least 4 brides and grooms getting photos taken at different spots throughout the castle – a popular spot.

A local Art college was holding an exhibition of their students work in Glass production, there was some very good work here and interesting to see some of the creativity of these students.

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The view from around the castle is fantastic giving a chance to see all of Old Town Prague below, which is very pretty.

We made our way down from the castle into the Old Town. We had a look at the Beatles graffiti wall which is a little strange and a bit of a mess as everyone seems to paint over everything, also a little strange because of the post it note messages on the wall to John Lennon and the other Beatles.

 

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We came across quite a few marionette shops in Prague, I am not sure of the connection between marionettes and Prague, but there is also a marionette theatre.

Charles Bridge is a famous Prague landmark. The bridge was used in a scene from one of the Mission Impossible films. In the film the bridge was deserted, when we were there it was packed with thousands and thousands of tourists. Prague is a popular place.

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After crossing the bridge we entered Old Town. There is a real rabbit warren of streets, again packed with tourists. We were heading for the main square but were not really sure where it was as our map was not great – but we just followed the sea of people and eventually got there. It was getting dark when we arrived at the square but all of the buildings are lit up, so it looks very impressive at night.

We waited and watched the Astronomical clock go off on the town hall, it was a bit of a let-down in reality – I think I was expecting a little too much.

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Fortunately we were able to work out what train to catch from what platform and then which bus to catch from which part of the bus station and made it back to Max – part of the challenge of this is that you buy a ticket which is good on all public transport, but only for 30 minutes, so you need to know where you are going. SWTTM had it under control though.

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Saving the World One Docket at a Time

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While we were in Poland we noticed a trend. As I have written earlier when we arrived in Poland we went shopping at a border town and we first noticed it there. We think maybe Poland either has a shortage of paper or they are being very careful with what they have.

Poland has the smallest dockets that I have ever seen.

In some places the docket you get from a shop could be rolled up and used as toilet paper (a bit harsh maybe) it is that long, and that is when you buy just two or three items. Well not in Poland.

In Poland you get the bare minimum of paper and all the print packed in there.

I have included a couple of photos so you get the idea – with a lego figure so you can get the scale (it was the first thing I could find that was universally the same).

I am not really sure why they have small dockets, maybe paper is really expensive, or they are really trying to cut down on paper use, but it seemed to be pretty consistent wherever we went – interesting.

Rock City

 

P1310519Adrspach Rocks is an area just near the border of the Czech Republic that is also known as rock city. This was one of the places the Ayers had suggested we visit.

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On the way to Adrspach Rocks we had to leave Poland and enter the Czech Republic. As I had mentioned earlier Poland uses the Zlotty for its currency, which we of course had to have. The only problem is that no one else accepts the Zlotty except in Poland which of course means that you have to get rid of any cash you have or get stuck with it. So the best way to get rid of the cash is to go to the servo and spend the cash that you have on fuel. So we had to find a service station and ended up in a little village called Nowa Ruda, which was made up of beautiful old buildings, which like many in Poland were rather broken down, but it was a pretty location and a funny detour.

Poland was a very interesting place to visit. We were surprised on a number of different occasions to be reminded of some of our visits to the Philippines,which we did not expect. I think these reminders came about because of some of the religious practices as well as just the feel and the look of some of the places we drove through.

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When we first arrived at Rock City we decided to go for a bit of a walk to see what was there. We walked to the lake and were confronted by an old man skinny dipping in the lake – fortunately the water was not that clear from the distance we were from him. The girls were glad that he got into the water. It must be the thing to do at the lake as there were a few people dotted around the lake swimming, some in clothes and some not. We did a quick lap of the lake which was very pretty especially in the late afternoon light.

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The next day we did a walking loop through the park. The rock formations are quite amazing. There are a number of places where there is a creek running between the rocks – all very photogenic. There are a number of rock formations that have been named in the park including the Jug, the Tooth, the Lovers, the Mayor and the Mayoress.

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It was an amazing place to visit and we were very glad for the tip from the Ayers as we would never have come across this place on our own. The highlight for me was the Mouse Hole where you go through a small hole and then make your way out of the rocks though a split in the rock formation. It was pretty narrow, I couldn’t walk through with my arms by my side – must be my huge muscular shoulders.

I am always amazed at Gods creativity. We have travelled to quite a few countries now and on the whole human creativity is very similar, most built environments are pretty similar, but God really mixes it up, and is full of surprises. As we walked through this rock city we were reminded of this again and again. God is truly awesome.

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Once we had finished our walk we headed toward Prague.

As we were driving along we came across a sign blocking our side of the road, which we could not read. The car in front went around so we followed; the car behind us also came past the sign. The car in front of us soon turned off which left us heading into a little village where there were some road works going on. It was about this point that we thought that maybe we were in the wrong place. So we continued down the road until we got to some road workers who clearly did not want us to be there, we didn’t understand the language but we were pretty sure they wanted us to go back the way we had come. So we reversed back and I noticed a driveway that seemed to lead to another road. I drove into the driveway and headed for the other side, which is when I heard the whistling and yelling, so I thought I should turn around. When I got back to the entrance to the driveway we were met by two cranky security guards. Again, despite the fact that we did not speak the language, we were in no allusions as to the fact that they wanted us to leave, so we headed back the way we had come and took another road which was a very narrow and bumpy road, but we eventually got to where we wanted to be.

Despite the fact that the EU exists there are still many differences between the countries that make up the EU. One of the differences relates to toll roads. In some countries you turn up to the road and pay the toll, in other countries you have to buy a vignette at the border which covers either all of the roads, the major roads or a selection of roads, some countries you have to buy the vignette before you enter the country. So all of these different rules can be a little confusing as well as being hard to find out exactly what is required.

We drove into the Czech Republic and travelled along the motorway. We later discovered that a vignette was required in the Czech Republic, we have no idea if the roads we travelled on were ones that required a vignette, and fortunately we did not get pulled over by the police if we were supposed to have the vignette. Just one of the confusing experiences we get to deal with in a country where we do not speak or read the language.

More New Friends

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The Ayers are missionaries who are working in Church planting in Poland. We had never met the Ayers before but thought since we were in Poland it would be a good opportunity to drop in and meet them.

We spent a couple of days with the Ayers which gave us a good opportunity to get to know them a little; it also gave our kids the chance to spend some time with some other kids.

Hopefully we were a bit of encouragement to them. They were able to give us insights into the Polish culture which was eye-opening in many instances.

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Legoboy and I were able to take a trip with the boys to their school. In Poland it is customary to take off your shoes when you enter a house and normally slip on a pair of slippers. They do the same at school which was interesting to see – the kids have a locker area where they swap from their shoes into their slippers.

The Ayers introduced us to these caramel fudge lollies which were quite nice – these were the only (yes the only) lollies available in Poland during the Soviet era.

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We were fortunate enough to have a tour of the town of Opole with the Ayers, which included a tour of the Piast Tower which is the only remaining part of a former castle from the 13th century.

We had a great time with this lovely family and really enjoyed getting to know them. We were also fortunate to get some tips for places to visit.

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Auschwitz

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I am sure everyone knows of Auschwitz and all of the atrocities that happened there.

SWTTM has always wanted to visit Auschwitz I think to get a better understanding of what happened and also to better identify with the victims.

Auschwitz is made up of two different sites, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). We knew about Auschwitz and the kids and I were not super keen to get a really close up look at the camps.

Our solution was that SWTTM was able to get a tour of Auschwitz I, which is the only way to see this site. She then met up with the rest of us to catch the shuttle bus out to Birkenau where she continued her tour and the kids and I were able to wander around by ourselves.

Auschwitz II was the main extermination camp. Many of the buildings are no longer there and in many cases only a chimney has been left standing. There are a number of buildings which were still intact including the beds if you can call them that, which gave us an understanding of the conditions in the camp huts. On this site there are also the remains of the gas chambers that were blown up by the Nazis in an attempt to cover up what they had been doing.

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We spent a few hours walking around and having a look, unfortunately we were not able to get up into the tower which would have meant we could get a better understanding of the size of the place. The only way to get into the tower was to be on a tour, but they suggest that kids do not go on the tours, so the part which would be good for the kids to be able to see was off limits.

Auschwitz was one of those places that are not a fun place to visit, but it was good for us to see. It was good for the kids to see the evil history of the Nazis, so that they can understand the need for us to not ignore bad things that are happening in the world and to grasp just how cruel and heartless humans can be to fellow humans.

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