We decided to get a head start this morning by skipping the second parade and heading straight two-lane highways. There was no need to get through all of the fanfare again when we had an ambitious day planned. We intended to drive south through the Czech Republic into Austria and through Slovak Republic to end up in Hungary for the night.
No less than 2 hours into our morning drive was the planned route derailed. Driving along at what seemed like a reasonable speed, at least it was the speed that everyone else was driving, we spotted a cop in the middle of the road waving his little baton at us. Later in our journey we would soon come to loathe the ever present police baton. We both expressed utter shock that we were being pulled over by police before we even left the EU. I suppose we got too comfortable driving in Europe and didn’t realistically expect to have any conversations with police officers until Ukraine where supposedly the cops were very much focused on shaking down Mongol Rally cars for so called fines.
The gruff looking cop naturally came over to my side of the car to ask for documents. I played dumb mostly because I was dumb in this instance not knowing German, but Dillion managed to carry a dialogue. An interesting note about traffic stops in foreign countries is that they frequently ask you to step out of the car. In the U.S. cops are overly protective of their authority and view any action to move out of the car as a direct violation of said precious authority. As Dillion and the cop were outside trying to work out the details of Dillion’s driving violation and what it would cost us, I was in the car taking note of the cop’s badge number as I was convinced this was a bribe waiting to happen. It technically wasn’t. Dillion was driving 10 kph over the speed limit, which equates to about 3-4 mph. U.S. cops wouldn’t take the time to chase a car down for this but when stopping someone is as easy as waving a baton, I guess that’s what you do. The fine came to 500 koruna which was less than $25, but not having expected to spend much time in the Czech Republic, we had no cash and spent the greater part of an hour searching for an ATM in town.
Back on the road with our speeding award in hand, we were obviously driving exactly the speed limit from this point on, much to our chagrin as we were consistently passed by other vehicles. We did pass another car that was flashing his headlights at us. Dillion thought his headlights weren’t on and I thought there was a cop ahead. Turns out I was correct. We didn’t get pulled over this time, but it was a good lesson in things that transcend cultural divides – drivers warning each other about the police.
Pressed slightly for time we drove through Austria without too many stops. As we were entering Austria, Dillion did break out his notable Arnold Schwarzenegger impression and we did an impromptu interview discussing topics such as how it felt to return to his native country, why he was in such a small car and why was driving to Mongolia. It’s these moments of insanity that really keep you motivated on the rally.
My first time visiting the city of Vienna was a disappointing blur. As a consequence of Money Pit’s previously blown head gasket and currently fragile nature in the overheating department, cities with heavy traffic were now mostly off limits to us and we tried to hurry through as quickly as possible. I managed to snap a few nice pictures from our moving vehicle, but nothing that quite tells the story of this historic city.
Evening was settling in and we stopped at a roadside campsite just inside the Hungarian border near the city of Gyor. This was technically our first success in finding a proper campsite while driving through Europe. We set up shop and were soon enjoying one of her first cooked dinners on the Whisperlite campstove, a backpacker’s dream in the compact cooking equipment department. We were later joined by team of Dutch videographers from the rally who showed us decent footage of the celebrations at Klenova this morning. Regrettably, I wished we had stayed for this celebration as there were giant men pulling cars with their teeth, much more enjoyable than the fake jousting show at Bodiam.
The following day we headed out with our sights set on camping in Serbia. Another day of good intentions and another day fallen short of expectations. We drove through the many sunflower fields and plains of Hungary, nicknaming it the Nebraska of Europe, and easily made our way through our first official border crossing. We sailed smoothly into Serbia, I changed our remaining Hungarian Forint into Serbian Dinar and our last stop was buying insurance for the car. This proved to be quite confusing. While we were certain that our current policy was not valid in Serbia and would thus have to buy insurance at the border, the agent standing behind the desk with boxes of hard core porn DVDs swore we didn’t need it. We had a UK registration so it was no problem, she potentially said in Serbian. We didn’t want to chance a second police stopping in one day and carried on to the next city where I ran around on foot looking for a tourist information booth to double check.
We had no luck finding information about insurance in the small town of Subotica and made the prudent decision to return to Hungary. Of course this would be more difficult. A process that took 15 minutes in the opposite direction now was taking up to an hour before we would see border crossing officials. And here’s where the next problem was brewing. Only a few days ago, Dillion and I made the amazing discovery of extremely economical bottles of wine while grocery shopping in France and Hungary. At $2.50 per bottle, we discussed the adequate number of bottles of wine that would be sufficient to get us through the next few weeks journey. 12 wouldn’t quite get us there, but 18 would do the job. Being short on space in the car we got inventive on how to store those 18 bottles. At the time I thought it would be a great idea to tuck bottles within the inner tubes of our 2 spare tires in the back. Fast forwarding to two days later when a customs official started pulling them out of the tires, the cringing look on my face decided it was probably not the greatest idea. She pointed us over to the naughty corner and we waited for her to return to do a more thorough search of the car. I realized at this point though that my obsessive nature in tracking purchases and holding on to receipts was going to save us from a hefty import duty. After she lined up all of our bottles in what felt like an alcoholic’s shaming ceremony I shoved the receipts in her face like an annoying student. “See, see, we purchased them in the EU, we paid all of our taxes!” She checked the names on the bottles and did a count, noting the 4 bottles we had already consumed and waved us off, annoyed that we wasted her time.
Back in the EU again and no longer in need for any further excitement this side of the border we settled up for the night at a campsite just outside Mako, positioning ourselves for an early morning crossing into Romania.