The drive from Prague to Berlin was probably the most terrifying experience I have ever had! The supposedly less than four hour trip took us longer than eight hours. Although we left Prague around 10am we didn’t arrive in Berlin until after 6pm!
As we left Prague we were excited because there was a light snow trying to fall and I had looked at a weather forecast and found that a small town on the edge of the Czech Republic border called Teplice was expected to have snow falling. Teplice was less than an hour from Prague but we decided it was a good place to use the rest of our Czech currency up at a café.
As we drove to Teplice I was grinning from ear to ear, smiling at how lucky we were to be able to drive along roads with snow on either side. It didn’t occur to me that the snow might become a problem. Once we arrived, we found a nice café which we realised later was at a local cinema (this explaining the prices being higher than expected) and we sat down, I enjoyed a coffee while Karen and the kids had thick hot chocolate drinks like they do in Spain. We also shared muffins and cake.
I had only driven about ten minutes out of Teplice when I noticed that the snow was becoming more intense. Not to worry, here was a good opportunity for the kids to have a brief play in the snow. I decided to stop for a few minutes so I could get the playing out of the way in case the snow disappeared later!
We got going again and my gps unit told me that the direction we were wanting to drive, via the autobarn, had road closures. Slack! The unit re-routed and we found we could go directly north on what I found out later use to be the main road before the autoban days. The only problem was that the snow was getting thicker and now covering most of the road except a few metres where the cars drove.
Five minutes later and I began to get worried. The snow on the side of the road reminded me of what it is like up the mountains in New Zealand in the ski season and it looked like buildings were covered to half a meter with no signs of the snow stopping. I didn’t dare drive off the side of the road and on to the area that was probably a car park as I would have got stuck. Instead I sent Karen to try to speak to some locals in a shop (that looked like an old shed). I wanted to know if the road would be safe enough for us and if it was flat or mountainous. She came back empty handed as no one spoke English.
I started to drive off, perhaps doing a few miles an hour and only moving a 100 metres or so and I got seriously worried as the road was now entirely covered by snow except two thin tyre tracks which looked like they were covered in ice. Another car had pulled over and was wondering what to do, mean while others drove past us looking like they had no fear. Again I sent Karen out to investigate and again she came back empty handed! I decided to turn again and make our way back to the town to either ask more about the road or abandon the trip and find a place to stay. Turning around was a bit scary as I didn’t want to go off the road. We drove back down to where Karen had initially got out and three trucks drove past on the other side of the road making a much wider snow-free track. I was really reluctant to abandon the trip as I didn’t know how long it would be before we could get up to Berlin and we needed to return the rental car on Monday. So seeing the opportunity I turned around again and started to drive on. I still only got a short distance as I wasn’t entirely sure it was a good idea and I spotted a guy walking toward us down the side of the road. I had a chat to him, he spoke a tiny bit of English, and he said it wasn’t a good idea to proceed and that we should head in a different direction via a town called Decin. He went on walking in the snow while I sat in the car wondering what to do. I then waved down a car coming toward us, from the direction we were heading, and the driver who also spoke little English, said he had turned around and it was not safe to go on.
With that news I again attempted to turn around. Slowly and carefully I turned and began driving down the road again back where we had come from. The road was slightly inclined but only just. As careful as I was proceeding and as slow as you could go without being stationary I found my brakes didn’t seem to be responding and the ABS must have kicked in. Fortunately there were no cars in front of me so I just drifted down the road and made it without going off the road. That shook me up enough to decide we couldn’t go on.
I then drove to and went into the next three petrol stations to find out about our options. No one spoke English but I could understand that the autoban was closed. One women mentioned the route which I think the other guy has tried to tell me via Decin but when I looked on a map it sure looked like a minor road and way out to the east side of the autoban.
We drove around seemly aimlessly trying to find someone to advise us and then I went into another petrol station. At last I found an English gentleman who had lived in the area for some ten years. He said I could follow him up to the auoban which was open, as far as he knew. He seemed to suggest it was a different autoban to the one that was closed but I think I may have misunderstood him. He also looked at my tyres to see if they were winter tyres or summer. He couldn’t work it out but told me that in Czech the police issued large fines to people driving with summer tyres in the winter. No one told me it was winter! Great I thought, two more days renting the car and now I have to worry about whether or not we have winter tyres. I just wanted to get over the border to any town where we could stay the night. The guy I spoke to seemed to think I should be able to make it to Dresden so that cheered me up a little. I would have been thrilled to get that far after all this but doubted I would.
I followed this guy for about ten minutes and he turned off and for the next quarter of an hour I enjoyed driving on the autoban until the road seemed to become more covered with snow. Then I guess the inevitable happened and we found road signs directing us off the autoban and to some other unknown route. O-no, now what do we do? Do I keep going on this unknown path or do I head back to the last town? Unfortunately we didn’t take many photos during this part of the trip as we just forgot to due to the stress.
By this time I was feeling the pressure and frightened by the stories I had heard in the past of people stuck in cars in the snow on roads in the middle of nowhere! We decided to try going on, at least there was other traffic. Some of the roads weren’t too bad, yes they were covered with snow but often there were tracks through them that I could follow without driving on the snow. But then sometimes I would reach a few stretches where the snow was blowing over from nearby fields and totally covering the road … I hated those moments driving on … I felt totally trapped not feeling like I could turn around but not wanting to drive any further ….
We reached a small town buried by the snow and I pulled up on the side of the road to try to find someone to ask about the road we were about to continue on. I just wanted to ensure it was flat and didn’t go over hills and to ask the locals if it was crazy to continue … I slowly got out of the car and walked one step at a time through the snow/ice of the road and then on to a pub. Inside a gentleman spoke some English and he said that the road was pretty good, flat and should be safe enough to drive on! I asked him what the route was and he drew on a card, see photo below, that I should be heading to Decin, crossing a bridge then heading to Hrensko. That seemed to agree with what the others had tried to tell me in German so I was slightly encouraged.
We continued on dreading every moment and but eventually we reach Decin and then later Hrensko and the road seemed to be improving. In fact for perhaps half an hour or so before we reached Hrensko we drove in a valley along the side of the river and there was no snow on the road itself. I thought maybe we would make it after all. Shortly after Hrensko we crossed over the Czech-Germany border and things were looking much more hopeful. If only we could make it to Dresden then we would be alright and at least if we stayed the night in Dresden we could explore the city a little.
Then as we drove the snow seemed to be surrounding us again. Once out of the valley and out in the country side again the snow began to cover the roads. I didn’t know what to do. The snow drifting over the road from the paddocks was become more of a problem. I was getting worried by this stage so I went into an auto-repair shop and found someone else to ask about the road conditions. Fortunately I was able to find someone and then also a customer who spoke English. They explained to me that they had just come from the direction I was heading and that a car going very slowly drifted into the back of them and dented their vehicle. Because of that they were now buying winter tyres for themselves and they recommended I did as well. I didn’t want a 600 euro expense when the rental company should have put winter tyres on the car and especially when I was returning the car a few days later.
I asked about the condition of the road ahead and the manager of the firm along with them said that it was only really bad for the next 5km and then the road wasn’t covered in snow but rather it was just raining. They thought I would make it to Dresden without any problems if I was careful. In the end I decided to try, we were so close it seemed. Those 5 km took a long time and felt like they would never end but we made it to another small village, I think called Prina, and from that point the road started to improve. Before long the snow falling turned to rain and the road cleared up again. By Dresden the road was just very wet and so we decided to continue on and try to make it to Berlin. Just outside of Dresden we reached the autoban and from that point I was able to drive faster, still only about 80 km/hr, and we made much more progress. I couldn’t believe that we had made it through the worst of it and that we were going to be able to get to Berlin that day. I was pretty tired, it was a very long day we I was thrilled that we made it, safe and sound, no mishaps, no dents – I could return the car without any penalties although there was one spot in the trip, driving along the river side, when the speed limit dropped to 30 km/hr for a very short distance and I think I got my photo taken doing 36 km/hr … O’well, if that is the worst of it then I can still be thankful.
I never want to drive in snow again …
(Week 36/37: Saturday, 27 October 2012)