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Fun in Central Europe

My job offered me the chance to go on a jolly to Berlin in mid-October to Embedded LinuxCon 2016. A nice technical conference, food, travel and accommodation all expensed. The nice thing is my employer is flexible on business trips being extended into holidays as long as it costs them nothing extra. BONA!

I’ve wanted to visit the bits of Europe that were behind the Iron Curtain since I was a child and had maps of Europe that were detailed about the West and lacking about elsewhere. Now I could visit and explore. Well that was the plan but some changes in how I used my vacation meant I didn’t have much time left to properly explore. I had enough vacation left to take a long weekend. Secondly, with the asylum inmates voting to leave the EU my pounds are worthless and I’d need to buy Euros and also Czech Crowns and Polish Zlotys. I ended up staying in Gorlitz which was one city but is now 2, Gorlitz in Germany and Zgorzelec in Poland, the other side of the river. Based here in Germany with my ability to speak a few German phrases reduced the effort needed, I really only needed to worry about Euros as driving to summits in OK or SP was only 1hr30 away and I could use a credit card if needed.

Being a professional cheapskate I booked a cheap Fiesta sized hire car to collect at Berlin Airport. You have to pay a little extra to insure it out of Germany. When I collected it I had a very nice, high spec Opel Insignia 2l diesel with GPS, blind spot detectors, heated seats, heated steering wheel, A/C high spec audio etc. etc. It was nice to drive, quick and also driving on cruise on normal roads meant I got 59mpg or 4.8l/100km. 4 days hire cost me £99.21 including extra charges for going to OK and SP. I was also able to pick the car up 3hrs before I should simply by asking nicely. :wink: (Enterprise Car Hire, cheap and unbelievably brilliant customer service.)

I’d surveyed loads of summits and the drive to and from Germany and where I was staying or may stay. Also I factored in WX issues. I was looking at some summits with cable cars to the top etc. But there was plenty of snow and winds the week before I went that ruled these out. I wasn’t after points, just summits to increase my mountain explorer score. The WX was low cloud with maybe light showers so I plumped for a few easy summits that actually feature a little exercise to get the tops. I did extensive checking on Google Earth and Streetview to check the summits were not completed wooded and that there was somewhere to park. It’s hard enough driving down small rural roads when everything is back to front but when you also have to park a car and you don’t know local driving rules and customs you really need to know there’s a car park at the start. The GPS was excellent in guiding me right to the spot. It did however, take me down a Czech motorway where you need a toll sticker to be legal. There was one on the car but it was a Swiss vignette when I checked later so I got the GPS to take me back on toll free roads!


#Day 1 Saturday 15-Oct-2016

#Klíc OK/LI-020
After a hearty breakfast of rolls, meats and cheese in the hotel, I was off. I called in at a supermarket to buy SOTA rations (fruit, diet coke, biscuits, rolls and cheese) and followed the very strict headmistress voice coming out of the dashboard. (She did get annoyed when you ignored her directions!) SHe guided me straight to my parking place at the start of the trail. In the UK I use OS maps at 1:25000 and they are fabulously detailed and cost real money to buy. For everywhere else I use OSM data which with the cycling layers enabled, have excellent information regarding footpaths etc. These showed a parking place and a variety of tracks to the summit. As usual they were completely accurate. For offline use, I use Vectorial Map View on my Win10 tablet and Oruxmaps on my Android phone.

Boots on, bag contents checked (radio, cables, battery, pole, antenna) and I was off. It was mild and overcast. And quite steep luckily I had a lightweight walking pole with me to help. Er no, it was 90mis drive away back at the hotel! Damn! The route is trivial, obvious paths with signs and markers. I stopped to chat to a family who spoke excellent English. Their heads collectively imploded trying to understand why someone had come from Scotland to Berlin then to their local hill. I showed them the map of OK with all the SOTA summits overlayed and there was a further implosion. Why would someone come so far for such a nondescript hill walk. I left them trying to fix their heads.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how popular getting out in the countryside is in Czech Republic (or Poland). Soon there were lots of people going up and coming down. It was like Piccadilly Circus. I had to get off the true summit to get away from the people and to find suitable ground for some tent pegs. I ended up on a steep bank which had it not been hazy would have had a great view.

Looking North East from Klíc OK/LI-020

It was a pleasant walk up, just a little bit of exertion needed. I had my vertical antenna I’ve been using for some years now, both in the UK and over Europe and Africa. Radio conditions were not brilliant but I was able to work 11 stations on 20m and then another 7 on 30m. I worked a good number of stations in the UK on 20m which was nice. What was hard was sending OK/M0FMF/P all the time. I had forgotten to program my keyer with a suitable message. Worse it’s a pig to program and I wasn’t attempting that away from home. I was on the air for a total of 1hr40. I was planning another summit so as it started to spot with rain I decided to pack up. By the time I got back to the car it wasn’t spots of rain but very heavy rain which was not forecast. I had some rolls and cheese and programmed up the next summit.

Looking East, the country around here is full of these small hills, old volcanos?

Luz OK/LI-057

This is not far from Klíc, probably 15mins to people familiar with the roads. It took me nearer 30mins. There is a huge carpark and mountain restaurant here. It was packed with people eating and drinking and the car park was busy too. The rain came down hard and I expected Noah to come along with his Ark. My mobile phone provider (Three) has recently extended the countries were I can use my UK calls and data as I was at home to now include Germany, Czech Repblic and Poland. So I spent 25mins on the phone talking to Brian G4ZRP filling him in on the summit plans. By the time we finished the rain had stopped. Again OSM data was blob on and I followed the path to the summit. This was through lovely forest for 1.5km then it climbed up an easy zig-zag path to emerge on the summit. The database calls the Luz but German / Czech borer straddles the summit. The German name Lausche. There were lots of people, many Germans walking here and I knew I’d have to keep out of the way with the antenna. I’d thought about sitting in Germany so I could sign DL/M0FMF/P whilst activating OK/LI-057 but I knew that would only lead to confusion. So I sat on a bench in the Czech side and lashed the pole to the bench.

Operating position on OK/LI-057. The WX improved after the heavy rain and it was quite sunny and warm. T-shirt weather in fact.

Operating was on 20m with 19 worked including N4DA, N1GB and N4EX and 7 on 30m. Conditions seemed not too bad. Of course, this was the second time on the air in OK so I didn’t know what to expect when it came to chasers. I know what I’m likely to work from GM on 20m as lot of the first skip zone is wet. Things seemed maybe quiet but I suppose there may not be the chaser density in the landed areas in my skip zone here. Hey 26 with a compromise antenna with an approaching solar minimum was fine. It was warm and sunny too!

It started to get cooler and after 1hr on the air I had worked everyone who could hear me. I packed up and returned the same way, programmed the GPS and the lady said I needed a toll sticker. Hmmmm, I changed the route to go via Löbau as I knew the road to there was toll free and set off. Road works in Löbau confused me and the GPS but after going round in circles for 20mins I was on the way to the hotel.

No RF problems at all from the many transmitters on the summit. Still hazy but quite sunny.

Looking at three countries at once. The immediate foreground is Czech Republic. The right hand distance is Poland (there’s a large power station just visible) and the left hand distance is Germany (Saxony)

There are plenty of summits around here, I picked these because of documented paths and the fact I wouldn’t be in the trees at the summit. Czech drink drive laws are strict so I was not able to stop and sample the exquisite beers they have here. However, the small glimpse I got of the Czech Republic makes me want to come back and explore much more. I also know how many tourists must feel on reaching Wales and wondering how the hell you pronounce the names. Well it was the same for me in Czech Republic!

This was association #14 on Mountain Explorer quest, 1 association away from gold level.

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#Day 2 Sunday 16-Oct-2016

Krzyzna Góra SP/SZ-010

Poland was about 3km from my hotel in the other half of the city. Gorlitz used to be just one city but after the war was split into Gorlitz and Zgorzelec. Crossing into Poland and the change was obvious. Apart from even harder to pronounce words than in Czech Rebpublic, there was an obvious difference to the buildings. Maybe because I was near the old part of Gorlitz which has Medieval buildings and lots of Gründerzeit buildings and everything in Zgorzelec seemed to be from the 70’s. Anyway it again seemed a not too bad day for the WX but as I drove into Poland it got darker and darker and then the rain started.

I’d done the same for Poland as Czech Republic and had a few SZ summits and BP-007 down as targets. The rain was not forecast though. It was not terribly heavy but it was incessant and continuous. I did think I would not be able to activate. Also I’d developed a cold and was not feeling top of the world. After passing Jelenia Gora I was minutes from my target and I stopped to sneeze and blew my nose. Had I spent money and come this far to give up just because it was raining? I had walking clothes with me so if I got wet I could change to normal clothes to drive back. And you can only get so wet before it doesn’t matter. What I hadn’t spotted was there was no wind at all and the rain fell vertically. Perfect for an umbrella and I had a small one with me. (Seriously, did you expect someone from the UK not to be prepared for some rain?).

There is a rough forest track to a car park and mountain hut at the start of this summit. Much Googling found the website for the hut and more Googling got it translated to English. “Take care on the track and drive slow”. I did as I was in a hire car! The GPS lady was concerned I was driving off a digitised road. I punched the mute button :slight_smile: I only scraped the exhaust on a rock at one point and got to the car park. Again 20+ cars and huge crowds of people. Ah, car parking was 5Zl and I only had Euros.

I needed 2 things, a car park ticket and coffee so I squeezed into the hut which was bursting because of the rain. The nice man serving spoke no English or German. Or French. I was gubbed. I said “Coffee and pointed” and he knew what I wanted and I held out a handful of Euro coins and said “Euros OK?”. He scratched his chin and said “OK” and took a 2 Euro coin and gave me a nice coffee. I held up the car keys and said “Car park” and pointed to the Euros. He smiled and shook his hands and said “Parking OK”. Hey, job done. I had learnt the Polish for “Thank you” which I said but I cannot remember that now!

One coffee later I was changed and with my fine umbrella held proud I was off. Again it was simplicity to follow the tracks and OSM data. I had my walking pole this time which helped on the slippy bits. And it rained. And rained. But my brolly did the business. In no time I was at the top. Now I knew there was a cross and steps and some railings so I was planing on lashing the pole to the railings. I had not considered rain, the tiny summit and the sheer number of people. Plan B was put into action. I climbed to the cross and checked the height on the phone GPS then went to the bottom of the steps and was 4m inside the AZ still. I setup near the bottom of the steps. But sadly in the middle of the trees.

The mountain hut with crowds outside, you could hardly get inside. There was a big crowd stoking up the fire and lighting BBQs.

The view from the summit cross looking down the steps. Very slippy in the rain.

I knew being in the trees would affect propagation and it did with only 9 stations worked on 20m and none on 30m. Although I don’t know how overall propagation was. But I was able to stay dry which was a huge benefit. I met a German family who spoke good English and they were fascinated by this mad guy from the UK sat in the rain with wires sending Morse. Hey, it takes all sorts.

The view from my position to the steps. You can see how wet it was. It was obvious after 35mins I was not working any more stations so I packed up and walked out now in quite gentle drizzle and I didn’t need the umbrella. I got the car down the track without bottoming out and set off in the general direction of another summit and / or home. I was not feeling 100% and it started to rain again hard so I decided I had got to 15 associations so I was at gold level and could go home. Of course by the time I was back in Gorlitz I felt much better and it was sunny but that’s life.

And if I could count I’d know I got to 15 associations when I activated OK the day before. So now I’m at 16 and on the way to platinum!

I didn’t see much of Poland due to the WX but that will need to be fixed next time. Oh and diesel was £0.87 a litre which made me feel better. :slight_smile:

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Hi Andy,

Enjoyed your story, maybe it will encourage others to do something similar. After all this site has all the good gen on antennas, masts, rigs, batteries. And if you are from the UK a little rain is not a show stopper.

Congratulations on Gold.

73

Ron
VK3AFW

Great story Andy, I really enjoyed reading about the fun you had. Well done on achieving the gold standard Mountain Explorer Award and experiencing the joys of a solo SOTA Tour in foreign lands, where you overcame several problems extremely well!

73 Phil

#Day 3 Monday 17-Oct-2016

#Papstein DM/SX-045

I felt much better this morning. I spent Sunday afternoon at a cafe drinking coffee and reviewing a suitable summit for today. Again the requirements were obvious parking and no trees on the summit. I was also leaving SE Germany and return to Berlin for the flight home. Papstein SX-045 looked to be the best option. I had all day to activate it and drive to Berlin which made things easy. I entered “Bad Schandau” into the GPS and let the nice lady navigate me there. It was an easy drive, occasionally sunny, quite mild but there was low cloud when I got into the mountains.

There is a large car park for Papstein and it’s another popular destination. Parking was 3EU. From there you cross the road and climb the steps. The steps run nearly to the summit. It was nice and easy. Again the views would be really good if it hadn’t been so misty. Bah! Finally you pop out by a restaurant/cafe and then there are more steps to the actual summit. There’s a large fire tower/observation tower topped with phone antennas. There’s also a cable car to the top but it wasn’t running to day. I don’t think it too 15mins to get from the car to the top.

Whilst there was some open space and railings etc. again there were lots of people milling about. Back in the UK I’d have no issues setting up in such a place ensuring the wires were not a trip hazard etc. But I was a guest here and can’t really speak sufficient German to explain what I’m doing and argue my case for not moving! It was easier to get a bit off the main path and setup albeit in amongst trees again. I knew this would affect performance and it was a Monday morning so those 2 things would force the chaser QSO count down. In the end it was 4 on 20m and 8 on 30m. SA4BLM was a h.u.g.e. signal on 30m however. There were spells of deep QSB too.

Interesting rock formations on the way up to Papstein summit. You can see how misty it is.

Operating position in the trees. Trees do kill the signal but sometimes there is nowhere better to set up.

Pack up and back down to the car in moments. The drive back was via Pirna then the outskirts of Desden and onto the autobahn back to Berlin for one more night and then my flight on Tuesday.

#Essential things

I’ve done this a few times now, SOTApedtions tagged onto some other travel. Either business or typically Friedrichshafen rally visits. Planning is key. You need to have your target summits and you need alternates because you can’t get to where you want, or the weather is bad or there’s something you didn’t know. For OK and SP I think I had about 8 summits in each country. You need to check the equipment is all in perfect condition before leaving as you wont have much chance to fix it. You’ll need printouts of IATA battery info, CAA battery info, your airline’s battery info so you can get the gear on the plane, your amateur license info, TR6101 and the DVLA driving license info that no foreign car hire company knows of or cares about. Plus yourself, passport, driving licence and the radio and antenna.

MAKE A CHECKLIST! Then you can tick stuff off as you prepare it and pack it.

I have been using hotels.com & booking.com websites to find hotels around the UK and Europe the last 2 years. They’re easy to use and make booking easy. In addition I’ve found the website descriptions to be accurate as are the user reviews. If you have 100 reviews of a hotel, there will be 5 people who write “I’ll never stay here again… avoid”. If 80% of the reviews are positive then the you should be fine. Also companies like hotel.com will drop any hotel like a stone if they start getting lots of negative reviews. Use your common sense!

Enterprise Car Hire self selected itself by offering cheap deals when I went to Avignon last year. Then I discovered how excellent their staff were. Since then I go to them first. I’d much rather use a tier 1 car hire company and pay a bit more than some unknown mob and have issues. Every time I’ve used Enterprise, their customer service has gone way beyond what I’d expect. Also, I keep upgraded to better cars than I booked or getting freebies like free GPS etc. The prices are competitive and the service is supreme, nothing to dislike!

The SOTA mapping web site run by Rob DM1CM is essential. It makes planning these trips significantly simpler. You could do it without using Rob’s site but it would be hard work. No, Rob’s site is simply mandatory in planning. Also pick the OSM cycle map option to see lots of footpaths etc. not shown on the Google view. OpenStreetMaps map data is excellent and free (you can donate to help) and Oruxmaps is essential for Android owners. I have the maps for my target countries downloaded so I do not need an internet connection to get down to street level mapping and have that with me at all times. Google Streetview is a god send where available (not Germany, Switzerland).

A phone contract with Three. Their “Feel at home” package enables me to use my monthly minutes/text and data allowances in most of Europe with no roaming charges. This makes life simple as my phone just works. I was wondering about buying a local SIM for my phone when I got to Germany but read in the in-flight magazine that this had been extended to Germany, Czech Repbulic and Poland at the start of October. Bonus! Most other service providers have some kind of cheaper roaming package which you should know how to obtain before you travel. But just having the phone work without doing anything is brilliant.

Most importantly is to have fun! Mountain Explorer Gold… I should send Barry some cash and order the certificate!

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