Germany and Stuttgart felt strange this time. I was visiting this city after 5 years- my first visit since I ended my Daimler assignment. It felt slightly different than the Germany I was familiar with. The dry German humour, the straight forward communication and their meticulousness- I was accustomed to it all- but this time I sensed a vague tension, a sort of restless impatience that I had not observed earlier.
Perhaps it was the Syrian crisis, the Turkish asylum, the Africa and Middle East issues or the strain on politics and economy but there was a tension that showed around the corners of the mouth and in the creases around the eyes of people. It was nothing overt- but to us the glances, greetings and even casual interactions at gas stations and countryside cafes and bars did not somehow feel the same.
Anu and me, we missed the familiar attachment towards this land… somehow we wanted to move ahead- and by mutual consent we agreed to head for Czechia- Prague to be precise. The journey out of Stuttgart was on a pleasant German summer morning. The sun was bright, the sky was deep blue with a few clouds stretched over the horizon. The deep green leaves fluttered all along the Schwabian hillsides. And in the rear mirror I saw the diminishing shape of Anna waving us goodbye.
Anna and Simon- were our hosts at Stuttgart. This lovely young couple were truly global in spirit, well-travelled and possessing the innocence and curiosity of youth. We shared recipes, travel notes, cooked Indian meals and downed significant beer during the two days we spent with them.
From Stuttgart, we moved via Heilbronn and cut across Nuremberg- almost crossing the length of Germany. Riding in the autobahn is exciting and scary at the same time. Exciting because the roads are well maintained and there are frequent long patches without any speed limits- time to go full throttle. The scary part comes when, like me, you have a motorbike packed with gear and a pillion- add to that the crashing downpour, cross winds and mercury dropping to 12 degrees and you will get a sense of the challenge of riding full throttle on the Autobahn. Occasionally, we would pull over at a fuel station- just to warm our numb cold fingers, before taking on the pelting rain all over again.
Oh the rain- it has really not made life easy for us over the past weeks. Our soft luggage and the weather protection did little to keep the water out. As a result, most of our clothes and gadgets were soaked. Finally we used plastic bin-bags to reinforce the weather protection and we made some progress in keeping a few of our clothes dry.
Lucky for us, the rain let up as we cleared Germany and entered the Czech territory. And what a drastic change! It was near sundown- and the woods took on a shade of deeper green, the road surface changed within a few hundred meters. Gone was the mirror smooth tarmac; it was replaced by the narrow, broken surfaces of the Czech country side. We stopped at a gas station for fuel. “Dobryden” called out the fuel attendant. I returned the greeting, fuelled up and started onward.
All around us the woods were preparing for the night. The birds hurriedly finished their final supper, the flowers closed down for the day and the surfaces of the many lakes and pools grew quieter as the sky changed from blue to orange to red and finally a shade of purple. In the countryside bars and cafes people were drinking the Urquell, their local (and so they claim) world’s first Pilsner beer.
It was almost 10pm with the light almost gone in the skies and our GPPS indicated that we were really close to our destination… it was a long day and we looked forward to a hot shower and rest. A few minutes later, we reached a clearing in the deep jungles we were passing through. “You have arrived at your location” the GPS announced. What???!!!
I looked around me. It was past 10.30 in the night, we were in the middle of a really dense jungle –and since at least the past hour of more we had not spotted a single human being. The shadows now seemed eerily long and the little road was so narrow that I could not even turn the motorbike around until I reached the wider section of the road. This was not what we bargained for! I reset my GPS- still no change. The phone number of our host was not being attended to. And we were totally, hopelessly lost in some strange road in the jungles of Czech. As the bushes closed in upon us, I almost expected an animal to spring up- or worse still some spooky human figure to float through the jungles.
We set aside our premonitions and stopped the motorbike. Over a cigarette, we studied the email chain with our Czech host all over again. And gradually, we pieced together fragments of the location without GPS support- we had to look for a village called Svata, and past the cemetery and church look for a left lane and a blue gate. So far so good. We set our GPS for Svata village- another freaking 70 kilometers through the same jungle roads (ouch!)… Long story short, it was past midnight when our motorbike roared through the silent streets of Svata village near Prague. Our host turned out to be a human being… in fact quite a nice lady ‘Libuse Souckova’ and I did manage to get my hot shower at the end of a crazy, rather spooky day.