Friday, July 29, 2005

Europe 2005 - Living in eastern Europe

Barriers- near the borders I have seen the curved concrete posts strung with barbed wire the only thing is now people are using it to fence off their garden or parking lot. My Dad tells a story of them waiting in line to get rail road ties from a railroad line being removed and I suspect the same happened when they removed all the fences here.

Police checkpoints- there were a lot of the deserted buildings left in Romania and Bulgaria. they range from concrete shacks, to guard tower looking buildings, to an inclosed lifeguard stand at one busy intersection. Almost all of them are empty and I’m sure a lot have been removed in the last 15 years but it is funny to see what some have been recycled into. In Romania they use them as truck checkpoints and weigh stations, and I have seen a lot of others turned into merchant shops along the road.

Shrines- as opposed to the mailbox churches in Greece we have mainly seen Jesus on a cross here. They are usually carved from wood but some have been gold leaf. They range from being in a corn or sunflower field to the sides of business buildings. They are all about the same size- 4 to 5 feet tall and look so similar that I suspect that they are purchased instead of hand made.

Scenery- as we drive farther north there are more trees and things are getting greener again. A lot of it looks like the farms seen in the Appalachians in Tennessee. Since we have not been driving on that many freeways the highways we have been driving have been taking us through little towns. In Bulgaria and Romania it reminds me of driving foothill (route 66) through Upland and Ontario back when they were still small isolated towns with dusty roads and not suburbs of L.A. In Hungary and Czech Republic it has been more like driving up the 395 through Bishop and up to Lake Tahoe. East Germany looks just like the rest of Germany with no Soviet architecture until you hit Berlin. The lack of soviet reminders surprises me. There is no where near as much soviet architecture as I expected and no statues that I have seen. They have been busy for the last 15 years.

Driving- there are still the old soviet style trucks here and they bellow more smoke then factory chimneys. When following or passing them if you don't roll up the windows and switch the air to internal you will feel dizzy within a minute. It is hard to pass them since all the smoke coming out the exhaust is on the left side and it is thick enough to obstruct your view of the road. We have seen the warning signs on the freeways (the freeways here are a lot like the 101 where it changes it mind whether it is a freeway or not about every other mile.) saying there are carts in Hungary and Czech Republic but have not seen any as opposed to passing many horse drawn carts full of hay in Romania and Bulgaria. If in your mind you see the carts with wooden wheels, they don't. They all have what looks like ATV wheels and I saw one tire being replaced and the hub looked like a drum break but since I see no lever to activate breaks I’m guessing they are recycled car chassis. We did not get stared at in our car in Hungary and Czech Republic since they are now part of the EU and have much fewer soviet style cars driving around.
This was the first time that we tried driving at night. Up until now the latest we have driven has been 8pm when it is still light out. We wanted to drive through the night since we thought we had so much distance to cover. We took turns sleeping and arrived at our destination in the morning but we were both tired so we have no plans to try it again. Unlike in the USA where we dive through the night all the time navigating is best done by the second person so they had to keep waking up.

English- I was not suspecting so many people to speak English here, instead relying on L.'s Russian. That has not been the case even in the non tourist areas. I think the reason for this is shopping. East Europe is full of small countries with a lot of languages. To get cheaper products in the stores it looks like it is easier to get them with the English labels instead of the native language. This has made it much easier for us but it must be a bear for the local that wants to choose between the ultra moisturizing and ultra vitamin fortified shampoo.

Pictures- in each of the countries in eastern Europe when going into any of the places that required tickets they also had a separate ticket if you wanted to take pictures. It usually cost around a dollar extra so its is no big deal and I would much rather have them not beat around the bush and charge extra for taking pictures instead of not allowing pictures in the hopes that you will buy all the post cards.

Looking for communism- I don't know why I was so interested in seeing all the remnants of communism in eastern Europe. I guess I wanted to witness it before its gone. I don't want to give the impression that there was communist signs everywhere because I saw very few communist architecture buildings left and there are no more statues or signs anywhere. I guess I grew up surrounded with to much Regan propaganda. I also like L.'s explanation of that this was history that happened short enough ago that we both remember it so we wanted to witness it.

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