Surreal camper van trip from Dresden to Most Czech Republic
It was the fourth day of our Dresden stay, the first day after the clocks went back, a day on which we would turn our backs on sunny Dresden and head over the border into a gloomy Czech Republic. Peter Portland's long time friend and former study companion Vincent had arrived on Saturday in his Bedford camper van. He had driven this sedate but diminutive vehicle from western Germany after leaving it there following a previous trip. At the end of this trip he would drive it back to his home in Sussex.
Not as glamorous as a VW split screen camper van, or as huge and luxurious as a contemporary RV, this vehicle had come a long way and was about go a bit further - up into the mountains, across the border into the Czech Republic and on to our destination for the day, the town of Most (Czech for bridge, it rhymes with moss or Mostar)
Six of us piled into the tiny van and it set off along the road and onto the Autobahn. Soon we were back on the main road, the E55 heading through pine forests, and up towards the Czech border. Up here there was mist and we seemed to have left sunny autumnal Dresden far behind and were heading into what seemed like an eastern bloc winter. At the Czech border we showed our UK passports and were waved through.
The tiny van gained speed as it coasted down the other side of the mountains towards Usti nad Labem, where we took a right for Most.
As we entered the outskirts of Most, a feeling of gloom and despondency seemed to descend. Most is known in the Czech Republic as the 'gloomy city' due to the environmental effects of lignite mining and the high unemployment rate.
On arrival near the centre, we left the main highway and went to the baroque church, famous for having been moved 841.1 metres from its former location. The Church of the Ascension of Our Lady was the only building saved from the old town of Most which was obliterated to make way for a huge open cast mining project. The stone church was secured and placed on a vehicle which moved it to a new location near the new town. The church was closed that day, but we saw fascinating photos documenting the removal of the church which took place in 1975.
Later we went in search of the hilltop castle, but stumbled on a hilltop Sirak hotel instead. From there we followed directions, heading up a steep and winding track which put the Bedford van to the test. When we finally made it to the top, it was almost dark. The town of Most spread out below us, a carpet of orange lights with, curiously, a Tesco supermarket in the middle of it, making it feel more like Morley West Yorkshire than Most Czech Republic.
In the castle we had a hearty dinner with soup, a sumptous main course and Czech beer which set us back no more than 5 pounds per head.
We set off on our journey back to Dresden on the other side of the Erzgebirge or Ore mountains. Back on the E55, the atmosphere was rather surreal with limited visibility due to mist, queues of HGVs lined up in advance of the border, and ladies of the E55 lined up on the roadside. Several times we stopped behind queues of trucks thinking we were at the border, only to overtake and find there were still kilometres to go. There were flashing police lights and an air of intrigue you wouldn't expect at a border between two fraternal EU countries. Perhaps the fraternal and brotherly atmosphere the East German and Czechoslovak communist dicatorships, with their stringent and randomly punitive border controls, still lingers 15 years after the demise of Communism in this elevated and remote corner of central Europe .
Finally we made it to the crossing and after our passports were checked, we rolled into the Federal Republic of Germany and on down the long and winding E55 towards Dresden.
After a phone call home from the box opposite the flat - I refuse to pay roaming mobile charges if I can avoid them - I returned and fell asleep after a long and interesting day.
Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Aidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs his Eyewitness photography walks in Manchester
and other locations. He offers one-to-one tuition in Photography and Languages. He is a high-level speaker of German and can offer photography walks and tours through the medium of German. Visit www.aidan.co.uk