My Eastern European travels have taught me as much about myself as they have about the region. One thing that has become increasingly apparent to me is how much I enjoy risky situations. How else to explain sticking with a plan that meant driving straight into a winter storm in Austria and the Czech Republic. Throughout the drive across Lower and Upper Austria, I kept telling my wife – and myself – that if the conditions got much worse than we would stop for the night and stay at a roadside hotel. The statement was made in a pathetic attempt to pretend I was being safe. I had no intention of stopping unless a blizzard descended upon us and made road conditions impassable. The closer we got to the border of the Czech Republic the more it looked like that just might happen.
Withering Whiteness – Adrift In A Swirling Snowstorm
The possibility of a blizzard began to loom as the wind whipped the snowstorm into a frenzy of thick, swirling flakes. Traffic slowed to a crawl as road conditions turned treacherous. The surest sign of this was the line of cars that queued behind our small Suzuki Splash. No one dared pass on an ultra-slick highway where visibility was suddenly reduced to a few meters. We slowed down to no more than 30 kilometers per hour. At times it felt surreal, like I was handling a sleigh rather than an automobile. The road could not be seen except for a barely perceptible two track. This was the path left behind by some anonymous vehicle that had long since vanished into the withering whiteness. Our goal now consisted of making it to the next village. The closer we got to the Czech Republic, the more distant Cesky Krumlov seemed. Our ultimate destination was hidden somewhere beyond the swirling snow that cast a blinding white veil over the surrounding area.
The final few Austrian villages took on an outsized importance. Rainbach im Muhlkreism would not be of note to any foreign tourist except for those who might possibly end up stranded there. Winding our way through the village center, I was heartened by the sight of a few establishments that might provide refuge in case of an accident. I felt a sense of relief when the road signage announced Leopoldschlagg, but then my heart sank as I realized that it lay somewhere off the thin strip of frozen highway which we now clung to as an icy, solitary lifeline. Anywhere more than a few meters off the roadside was terra incognito, a land whited out by a sea of swirling snowflakes. The idea of a guesthouse in one of these tiny burgs was no longer a quaintly romantic notion. Instead, it was the one thing that might save us from a ditch side disaster.
A Fearful Desire – To Love & Loath In Unequal Measure
I was becoming increasingly fond of the idea of spending the evening at almost any roadside accommodation. Even the most remote village offered help or hope, though I continued to stubbornly forge onward towards the border. Somewhere amid this land of ice and snow I realized the gravity of our situation. We were in a foreign country, driving a compact car on dangerous roads consumed by a near whiteout. Traveling in conditions that we would have avoided at home. None of this was a good idea and could only be explained by my passionate urge for ever increasing risk, that or just wanting to get there. Was the risk worth it? In retrospect it never is. At the time, I could not help but continue. A conscious desire on my part to not let anything delay this journey, a willful impatience that disregarded common sense lay behind the urge to drive in the least desirable conditions. An adrenaline rush from this perpetual tension kept me going. At one point my hand began to shake from nervous tension. Since I was a child I loved and loathed feelings of fear. The love was often greater than the loathing.
I tried to push away negative thoughts by stating that surely it could not be this bad on the other side of the border. Austria was known for mountains and snowstorms, the Czech Republic for beer and Bohemia. Such a line of thought was patently ridiculous. We were within a few kilometers of the border, it was not as though snowstorms obeyed tiresome stereotypes. Climatic conditions give no heed to man made boundaries, but that did not stop the Czech Republic from becoming a last, best hope. The Czech border was the lone goal. One that I had spent the past hour focusing on. I kept telling my wife that things might possibly be different across the border. I really had no idea, since I had never been in this part of Austria or the Czech Republic. The slow crawl to the border crossing abruptly came to an end. We made an initial slow descent as we entered the Czech Republic. In just a few kilometers the snow began to miraculously subside. It no longer poured down upon us. Flakes floated innocuously in the air, many of them failing to cover the pavement. This likely had to do with the forest lining the highway which cut off much of the wind that had buffeted us throughout our final stretch in Austria,
A Land Beyond The Storm – Crossing Into Bohemia
The briefest respite from the storm was cause for joy. I could hardly believe our good luck. It was still snowing, but not nearly as hard. A small, but perceptible drop in elevation had made a world of difference. I did not want to lapse into overconfidence, but Cesky Krumlov was now within easy driving distance. Soon we were pulling into the first gas station we came upon in the town of Keplice. That was when I finally realized with a palpable sense of relief that the first leg of our journey was nearly done. One moment we were in a raging snowstorm, the next we were viewing the falling flakes with disregard. Our thoughts were now turning to the town we would be calling our home base for the next several days.
Cesky Krumlov had been a distant notion for years to me. It took a fair amount of convincing to get my wife to visit here, mainly because she rightfully believed that winter was not the optimum time to traipse around the provincial parts of southern Bohemia. I knew few who had visited what was said to be one of the most enchanting towns in Central & Eastern Europe. Cesky Krumlov had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its medley of architectural wonders. This brought it a fair amount of notoriety, but everything in the Czech Republic was obscured by the fame of Prague. As we would soon discover the town was worthy of the many accolades bestowed upon it. In our case, it turned out to well worth the risk of a memorable and treacherous winter drive. I would not want to do that same drive again in such poor conditions, but if given the option I would likely take the same chance.