Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Breathalyzer Before Vodka

No driving today...Breathalyzer be dammed!
The weekend started out promising and uneventful enough --- an unhurried drive from Vienna to Krakow via Auschwitz --- but about halfway through the Czech Republic a police van motored up alongside us, the officer in the passenger seat stared us down as they passed, then the van pulled in front of us and we continued down the highway for a few more kilometers.  I thought it seemed odd that the officer in the police van wasn't the least bit subtle about scanning us as he passed and wondered what, if anything, they were going to do.  Turns out, we wouldn't wait long to find out:  they flipped on their police siren and a sign mounted on the rear of the van started flashing directions (in English, German, and Czech) to follow them and pull over.  Once off the highway and parked, the two officers in the van sauntered up, said something in Czech, I stared back and mumbled something in English, then in their broken-English they asked to see my passport, driver's license, and the car registration papers.  Still unsure of why we were pulled over, I found it odd when they told me to exit the car and follow them to the van.  Perhaps this is standard procedure over here but never in my (limited) experience (and from watching hours of cliched crime dramas on TV) are you asked to exit your car unless you are about to be given a sobriety test, a frisking, your vehicle is going to be searched, or you are about to be handcuffed.  It was well-before noon so I was completely sober (I have standards!) and I knew any frisk or search would be fruitless for them. 

Once inside the van, the officer started processing my documents and after several minutes, they informed me that I was being cited for not having a highway vignette (a toll sticker purchased at a petrol station required for driving on the highways --- autobahns --- in the Czech Republic). You also have to buy an autobahn vignette to drive in Austria but unlike the Czech Republic, the signage on the highway when you cross into Austria makes it abundantly clear.  In retrospect, we should have realized that the "partial toll" as listed on the Google Map directions referred to some sort of vignette, especially since we'd been driving for quite some time on the Czech highways before we were pulled over.  Nevertheless, they wrote me a citation but unlike in the US, they tell you how much the fine is and expect you to pay it right then.  Fortunately, they took credit cards because we didn't have 2,000 Czech korunas with us (approximately $95.00).  When they finally finished writing up the citation, processing the credit card, and making me take a breathalyzer test (I passed!), they told me to buy a 10-day vignette at the next gas station and that I didn't need one for Poland (gee thanks).  When we pulled away, they waved to us as if we were old colleagues and had just finished having lunch together.

The rest of the weekend was, fortunately, breathalyzer and citation-free.  First stop was Auschwitz, the largest of all the German concentration camps from World War II, then a couple of days wandering around Krakow. 
One of the memorials in Auschwitz-Birkenau
Wawel Castle and courtyard
Narrow and awkward openings on the way up to the top of the Wawel Cathedral bell tower.
Narrow is the most operative word here. 
It's almost the top of the hour!  Ring it! 
Food:  perogies
Drink:  Żubrówka and apple juice (Żubrówka, otherwise known is Bison Grass Vodka, is produced in Poland)
Main Market Square at night

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