Trip to the Youngest Volcano in The Czech Republic to Find Out if It's Really Extinct
(and to make it easier for me to kick the nicotine habit today, again)

The screaming local Radio Egrensis drowns tView from my hotel window in Marjanky / Pohled z hoteloveho pokojehe bed & breakfast stock breakfast with shrill and screeching wannabe upbeat DJ voices every morning.  But today, unlike on other mornings, it fails to mash my thought processes into the usual scrambled code no Enigma machine could ever read.  Maybe it's the outing I'm going on, I think.  And then it's last peek from my hotel room window and soon me and my new but already trusty 4WD, albeit still on summer tires, find ourselves on pretty but fantastically marked roads, in the worst Czech tradition, using the words fantastically in a very naked sense here.  However much I love West Bohemia, putting signs on roadsides belongs to arts not yet mastered here. Badly marked turn-offs and absence of road designation numbers and my expensive yet rather useless new Marco Polo map of the Czech Republic are OK only when you're joyriding.  Which is what I'm doing. today.

    Without White stuff on the hillsmaps and road signs, you get to see nice and unexpected sights and enjoy a bit of off-roading on muddy fields and tracks you wouldn't find if you tried looking for them.  Less exposure of your Bus to the main roads covered with corrosive salt is another benefit of the chaos.  And at last the ABS system finally lived up to its name in the snow-covered hills and even proved more advanced than my old 2001 Mondeo's, newer model as that comfy and sporty station wagon was.  No ja, German engineering triumphs again.  (Not that the Ford wasn't German-made.)

    Especially after living in the Marjánky spa town (so what that the healing springs have long ago allegedly turned into plain drinking water, would they tell you after they built a whole town around them with great hotels and restaurants?), the country I drive through today appears poor, with dilapidated and sad looking houses.  Nor does gloomy rainy weather prettify the villages.  And no shop, no gas station, no nothing where I could buy new batteries to replace the terminally weak ones in the camera my beloved ex (thankfully for me) forgotten to pack.  I haven't taken any trip for so long that I forgot the need to pack spares.  So, the sunlight captured in the optimistically yellow leaves on bedsheet-white snow patches with the backdrop of dreary unmowed meadow remains unphotographed.  Economically depressed Sedlčansko villages seem wealthier and fairer in retrospect.  islandAnd -- what's worse -- maybe even friendlier, hard to believe as that seems.  Is this region still suffering from the bad karma of kicking all those German civilians from their homes in 1945?

    Having parked near an old Russian barracks, which someone half-heartedly tried to turn into an hotel only to give up soon afterward, I venture bodily into the tempest.  The open countryside of West Bohemia that I prefer to the doll-house Chicken Mountains near Sedlčany breeds powerful wind, reminiscent of last summer's windstorms in the Lísek Meadow and last winter's violent storms (which actually, I just found out, is a technical term for 64 to 73 MPH, Beaufort scale) in Vraný.  The icy rainstorm forces me to put on all my summer sweatshirts and black yachting windbreaker any old how and fast.

    German church bells chime in the gale and evoke a contemplative mood.  My paternal German grandmother was born and grew up in Cheb, about ten kilometers from here.  She had the foresight to marry my Czech grandfather and move to Prague before the war, thus avoiding the mad retaliation of mass deportation.  What ancient history that is compared to the last decade or so when the town of Cheb worked hard to gain stronger international renown as a center of child prostitution.  And the new spa town of Sybillenbad tempts tourists and patients not far from here.  But my goal is Iron Knoll (Eisenbühl, Železná hůrka), and, on feet haf frozen and half wet,This is not the border patrol service road I struggle through the horizontal sleet, dressed pall mall in all my clothes, red made-in-China-and-falling-apart-right-after-I-bought-them overpriced Nike sneakers, black baseball hat, and the purple scarf you gave me wrapped around my head granny style.  Which reminds me of the story of my grandmother taking flight, becoming airborne when the local wind grabbed her by the woven box on her back and carried her some hundred meters.  It's suddenly quite believable.

    A ruler-straight narrow blacktop road becomes my guide for a while, a hallmark and an enduring reminder of the Commie border zone and a witness to many murders of would-be escapees.  No man could walk here safely for over forty years, unless you count the Commie border guards as people.  But no more pictures: my camera batteries refuse revival.

    Looking for the volcano takes me back to my childhood when Dad took me to the Prague municipal volcano of Bohdalec, where we were just like here looking at any bigger hole and wishfully thinking, This may have been the crater.  Funny-looking guy in a bed & breakfast I had stopped at to ask the way warned me there's nothing to see here; so, I guess the pics of the Iron Knoll volcano I saw on the Net must have been taken at Vesuvius or Krakatoa.

    The hotelier had said the volcano lies in the direction of the border.  Leaving the dilapidating border-guard service road my red sneakers quickly turn brown in the plowed field, and so I won't go check if the white signs by the distant forest really mark the state line, warning people even today not to cross the border between two EU countries outside designated checkpoints. 
An exception to the rule.  No wonder the house figures on all brochures and web sites.
    But the magic of this sparsely populated, peaceful, gently rolling and open country without many high obstacles, of the landscape where one can see very far, the calm and powerful magic of the ancient hills and valleys, of the wind and clear, sharply fragrant air, is felt everywhere and easily permeates and overcomes any such small failures.  And quite possibly, big ones, too.

    Back in the Bus, my numb hands gratefully enjoy the the warmth from the vents.  And although I have seen no crater or lava rocks today I sense I found my volcano and leave feeling tired but purified by the ancient infernos.  Long extinct the fires may be, I feel them burning even now in the rolling hills they formed.


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