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Not Your Typical Australia Day: Brief thoughts on trepidation, friendship, and driving on the wrong side of the road

“You’re so close to me!” the Instagram message read.

I had come to Prague, Czechia (formally the Czech Republic) on the spur of a moment ticket purchase after my Mum suggested it while I was weighing up my options on where to travel next while visiting friends in the Netherlands. I had no plans, no real idea even, what to do there but I booked a ticket since it was closer to Israel – where I was flying out of in a week – than the Netherlands.

After a few days of sightseeing, I felt restless. Seeing a friend for some good conversation would help cure that.

That’s when I decided that renting a car to drive to Germany to see a friend sounded like a fun idea.

As I woke on the morning of the road trip I noticed that the hotel carpark was covered in a half inch layer of snow from overnight. By the time I had arrived at the airport, it was falling heavy.

Josh, my friend who I was catching up within Germany, continued to send messages telling me to be safe on the road and to check in regularly. Despite my teasing him about being such a Dad in his messages, trepidation set in and I wondered if it really was a good idea.

Sure, I’ve driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road before in the Britain, Scotland, Canada and America; but this was different. In all the other countries I’d driven the signs were in English. In Czechia and Germany the signs were in the local language.

My German was fine but I’d never encountered Czech until four-days ago.

Having grown up driving and feeling most comfortable in an SUV, I rented the cheapest one available in an automatic (a Mercedes-Benz CLVtotally not complaining about that!) to make the near five-hour return journey.

Car fuelled up, road trip snacks packed, tunes picked; I was ready. So I turned out of the carpark.

Immediately I panicked. Which side of the road was I meant to be on again?

As I sat in a clearway – hopefully on the right side of the road – waiting for another car to show me how the heck to get to the highway I adjusted my grip on the leather steering wheel for about the tenth time in succession and hoped I wasn’t making some dumbass mistake. 

But by the time I was nearing the Czech/German border I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Driving on snow and in the snow was finally… well, it was damn fun.

The powdery white snow touched every piece of land for as far as my eyes could see. Strewn across otherwise black paddocks and capping mountains in the distance.

While snow is commonplace for many of the world’s population, as an Australian who has seen snow less than 10-times in my life, it was pure magic raining from the heavens.

As the snow piled higher fir trees turned from dark green to looking almost black as their needles were covered a crisp white. I couldn’t believe the beauty of it. I wanted to pull over or take a turn-off to take a photo but there was nowhere; I tried to commit the black, white and greys filling my vision to memory.

Suddenly my back wheels skidded over the puddles of ice rain and snow and that lump of fear jumped back into my throat.
Nothing serious warranting action but it was more than enough to snap me from my daydream. It made me realise that sharing the land with such elements means you need to have respect for them; and not just them. Fellow drivers, the animal: they travel these paths too.

As the highway turned to smaller roads and winding villages appeared I realised I had somewhere crossed into Germany (the much smaller yellow street signs also gave it away). It looked like the books I read as a child… but real.

“Happy Australia Day,” he greeted me with.

I looked around. This was probably the most un-Australian looking place. No signs of sun, beach cricket, people wearing shorts, and no Triple J Hottest 100 on the radio.
I wrapped my scarf around my neck a little tighter as I shivered in the minus-something degree weather. With the snow piled as high as I am in height along some of the roadsides and the snowploughs making the rounds of the towns but – in the right company – it felt like the right way to celebrate.

Thankfully Josh took over all driving responsibilities after I made it to his village, whipping around to streets to his house in a Volkswagen at speed.

It was a Saturday in Germany during bad weather. Not much was happening nor many things open. After warming by his families fire and a strong coffee we headed out to see what was.

After a quick tour of the village and town – and realising his car wasn’t going to make it up to the steep snow-covered hill to a restaurant he thought was open – it was settled: Macca’s (that’s McDonald’s for the rest of the world) for dinner.
As we pulled into the car park I teased him about his choice, “but we could have had a sausage sanga from ‘German Bunnings’ for Australia Day!” Referencing the classic – and very Australian – BBQs sausage sandwiches run by volunteers raising money for their charity or causes found outside a chain of hardware stores that are commonplace back home.

As we talked he told me how his family, particularly his Mum, had told him to tell me not to drive up since it was so heavy and my first time driving in snow. I didn’t tell him that I had second thoughts more than once, but the excitement of the challenge had overridden the trepidation. 

The chats were moved from Macca’s to a German pub in the village, and then back in front of the fire in the living room of the family home. Each nestled into the cozy, well-loved leather couches before it, complete with a fluffy dog that just wanted a belly scratch.

It was kind of the perfect un-Australia Australia Day.

Friendships come in different forms but the really good ones, the ones worth keeping and travelling for, don’t need to be met at fancy bars or expensive attractions.

They can demystify and help break a fear then discuss the merits of fusing Mexican and Israeli food together; like my friend Mitch from New Jersey.

They can come to hang out in your hotel room with homemade sangria, and do all the talking for three days straight because I couldn’t; like my friend Teresa – a feisty Puerto-Rican/American travel writer from New York who now lives in the Netherlands.

Or it could be simply that an Australia travelling from Czechia walks into a bar with a German/Australian she met in Sri Lanka to drink a Belgian beer after eating American food; just like I did with Josh.

The fact that they are part of your day turns it from an excellent day into a priceless day. That is its immense power.

All too soon the day had ended. It was just after 10 pm when I was dropped back at my car, ready for the challenge of driving back to Prague in the dark on the snow-covered roads.

No sooner had Josh bid me goodbye with one last hug and driven away I scampered out of the rental car to a field of fresh snow. I plonked my unjacketed body into the cold wet powder. Spreading my legs and arms a few times I stood up to look at the snow angel I had created; my small impermanent mark on German soil through this village and the friendship I was leaving in Saxony left a bigger and longer lasting impression on me.

Best Australia Day ever? Pretty sure it’s right up there.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Beverley Malzard
    January 29, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    A lovely Oz Day yarn. Oh, those piles of snow!! And here I was sweltering in Sydney wishing for snow – but, maybe not.

    • Reply
      Nicole
      January 30, 2019 at 8:47 am

      Thanks, Bev. 🙂

      Hope Sydney cools down just a little for you. Melbourne too! Not sure how I’m going to go when I get home..

  • Reply
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