Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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October 2nd 2009
Published: February 25th 2011
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October 2 and 3

After such a great time in eastern Europe in 2008, I am back for another trip, this time to countries a little further south than the Baltic countries I visited before. After changing planes in Iceland I landed in Frankfurt.

To save about $150 in airport taxes I had agreed to pick up my rental car in downtown Frankfurt instead of the airport. It seemed easy enough while checking it out from the comfort of my living room. But it proved to be a bit of a challenge. I got there at 1:00pm which is 3:00am at home so I was tired. I couldn't figure out which buttons to push at the ticket machine to get a train ticket downtown so I stood back and watched a few others and eventually figured it out. Then I took a taxi to get to the rental car place.

The taxi ride was...uh...different. Constantine from Greece was my driver and he said not to worry about the meter, it was “no problem” to get me to where I was going. He was very chatty but not when it came to speaking in English. At one point I asked how long he had been a taxi driver and he was offended. He said "I am business man, not taxi driver!". I was a bit at a loss for words after hearing this as we zoomed through the Friday afternoon traffic, sometimes going into the oncoming lanes to go around groups of stopped cars. In the end we went right to this obscure little office and Constantine, true to his word, charged me quite a bit less than the meter said and gave me a couple of home grown apples to boot, leaving me relieved but confused. I gathered that he works in an office during the day and then borrows someone’s taxi for a little moonlighting sometimes, but who knows?.

I had heard about the autobahns before and, being a former race car driver, I wasn’t too worried about them but they definitely took some getting used to. If everyone was going 100mph it would be a piece of cake. The challenges arise because everyone goes such different speeds. I would be bopping along at about 85 or 90 and many, many cars would roar past me, many at 110 or so and some much faster. The scariest times were when I would come up on one of the frequent trucks. You had to look way, way back, kind of grit your teeth, and pull out into the fast lane and try to get ahead of the trucks before some Mercedes or BMW came roaring up on your tail. I found that Ford Fiestas just don't accelerate quickly when they are already going 90. At one point I was doing this and a car that was going at least 110 came up behind me. I moved over as fast as I could. I could see him put on his blinker while still in my rearview mirror and he moved over just as soon as he was in front of me because there was another car bearing down on him, going considerably faster yet. But like anything, you get used to it and after two or three hours of this I was back to driving with one hand, drinking Diet Coke (Coke Light in Europe) and fiddling with the radio, just like at home.

A few hours later (thanks to the wonders of the GPS) I drove straight to a really cool old hotel in Plzen, the Czech Republic where (thanks to I had a cheap reservation. A beer at a local bar made to look like an old cowboy saloon, and off to a good night's sleep.


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