I rode for 8 hours (with two brief breaks in petrol stations). I made much better progress going in a westerly direction than travelling out to Slovakia, there were fewer roads closed and diversions for some reason. They are constantly building roads around here, with those nice circles of stars on a blue background on signs. I rode 264 miles today – there was a large detour as the road to Brno was closed. Max speed 89.3mph (nice work); moving average 43.3mph. Moving time 6 hours 6 minutes (but I thought it was 8 hours).
I was plagued by severe self-doubt for most of the journey. It was brought on by remembering the list of things I should eat and places I should visit in Slovakia written down for me by one of the students at Middlesex who is Slovakian. I did none of them – even though I had the list with me on a page torn out of her notebook and stuffed into my camping guide. What was I doing instead? Its hard to say. I think the trip has been dominated by travelling – getting from one place to another, so stopping idly on the way, and taking in a Mäsové Guľky didn’t figure as I zoomed, knuckles gripping the handle bars tightly, through very many drab villages on the road, getting a glimpse of incredibly old women, bent double almost, walking by the road wearing an apron and carrying an axe. Or there were the dozens of young men with incredibly athletic bodies, with dark dark skin and black hair, working by the road or just standing. I was looking out for Roma. I couldn’t tell the difference between this despised bunch and the normal human population of Slovakia (I would not make a good racist here). I did notice one striking woman with the same dark skin and a perfect, beautiful Roman nose. Does that make her a Roma? I heard from the Dutch owners of the campsite in Slovakia that a nearby hotel was considering employing a roma girl but could not because they were told that everyone else would refuse to work with her and that guests would refuse to stay there (I wouldn’t for one).
So, after these 260 odd miles today, I have ended up in yet another campsite owned by a Dutch person with only one other resident – in a caravan with a tent poking out the side, with two bicycles on the back and a car with Dutch number plates. using the tiled communal washrooms reminds me of the book I have been reading Austerlitz which is about one man’s lack of memory, his discontinuity with his past.
At the age of 4 ½ his parents had him shipped away from Prague in 1939 to avoid the gathering persecutions of Jews by the Nazis. Strangely this book traces routes that I am taking – up to the Hook of Holland to take the boat to Harwich for example. That was 1939. I remember in 1960 and the following few years my own journeys on the night boat to visit Germany. Like the book’s character I remember only fragments – arriving at night at harwich, (we must have travelled there by train from Liverpool Street but I remember nothing of how we got there) walking on a kind of slatted walkway onto the ship, the funnels and the smuts, the cramped cabin with the 4 of us, and being sick. Today you barely know you are sailing. The space of time between Austerlitz’s frightful journey in 1939 to my own holidays is, say, 25 years. The space from my journeys as a child to these recent trips is 45 years. How strange. In fact how strange it is that the war was over for only eleven years when I was born. It must have been so fresh in everyone’s minds when I arrived. So, inspite of missing every cultural opportunity on this trip so far, the fact of moving over Europe has some meaning to it.
This campsite is run by a tall Dutchman with a pleasant but nervous laugh which after it fades turns into some hint of desperation that I have to turn away from. He speaks pretty good English. The woman who he says is his wife does not seem to speak any English at all and I wonder whether she is Czech. Returning to my journey, I was hastened by 50 odd miles on the CZ motorway system,
but after I left it, my GPS guided me down smaller and bumpier roads and track and my anxiety rose that surely this cannot seriously end in a campsite – but it did and the place has a rather ex-communist-camping-in-the-countryside-is-good-for-you feeling. It looked so forlorn I wondered whether it was closed up and I was on the verge of turning back onto the labyrinth of lanes and tracks…. but now I have got the owners to open up the restaurant and serve me a couple of Pilsner Urquells (the first was on the house) and chicken schnitzel and chips which i have just tucked into (interrupted by a quick dash over to my tent to zip everything up because it started to rain). How uch nicer these microwave chips than another meal of pasta and vegetables cooked crouching over my stove. The sun was out and warm an hour ago but now everything is damp again, though the sky is bright. There’s a slightly swollen river by the site and a train track which seems impossibly high in the air behind the tops of some trees. Things are getting slightly chilly. The air is thick with the soundd ov evening birdsong and a noisy extractor vent from the kitchen (that has just cooked me my welcome dinner so I shouldn’t complain).
After another 3 nights under canvass, I’m staying with my cousin and her husband in Germany. I must make a point of gently questioning them about my family’s years after the war which my mum is so reticent about.