07-Jan-2001 -- When I received an e-mail from my friend in
Amsterdam (Etienne Posthumus) informing me of the Confluence
Project, I sent a message straight back to him saying:
"You really should not have sent this to me....REALLY!!!
I have too few hours in the day as it is!" :-(((
Yes, I admit it, I'm a compulsive person, and I just could not resist the
temptation of becoming involved in this project!
Some background first. My name is Mark Pautz. My wife, Debra Childs, and
I are South Africans who have been living and working in Prague in the Czech
Republic for over five years now. We are travel junkies, and get on the road as
much as our tight work schedules permit. I bought a Garmin GPS III over three
years ago, and it goes wherever we go. Forget the mobile phone, all I need is my
Straight after receiving Etienne’s message on Friday night I toggled around the
GPS screen and found the confluence of N 50º and E 14º. Great, it was just to the
west of Prague, and only 33.2 km from our apartment, as the (sober) crow flies.
Saturday was a sleep-in day as the weather was cold, wet and miserable. When I
woke at about 11h00 on Sunday, January 7, 2001, the weather (through the
skylight above our bed) looked a little better -- grey, but at least it was not raining!
We hit the road after lunch, electing to try and get directly to N50E1 -- without
looking at a map. We eventually got there, but kicked ourselves when we did as this
was an area we visit quite frequently on our motorcycle, and we could have got
there in less than half the time on the highway! The village is called Nižbor and it is
on the Berounka River just to the south east of one of our favourite local destinations,
Křivoklát Castle. It’s a pretty spot, and an area where many people come to swim,
suntan and barbeque in the summer.
This was going to be easy! The spot was just 120 metres away, across the main
bridge in Nižbor and just up the slope on the other side. No problem? Ha!! Okay, so it
had been raining and the slope was steep and very slippery. Contingency plan -- we
drove to the top of the hill to see if there was an easier approach from that side. We
were in luck, as a small track took us into the grounds of an old chateau, and to within
80 metres of N50E14. The "Zámek Nižbor" (or Nižbor Chateau, I believe) was
built in 1720 on the site of a fortification that had first been erected in 1425. It must once
have been a magnificent complex, on the most inaccessible (and thus defensible) vantage
point in the area but now, although still occupied, is looking very run down. The legacy of
WW-II followed by 50 years of Communism I guess. The chateau must have had some
strategic significance as it lies directly on the route between Křivoklát Castle and
Karlštejn Castle (to the south east) -- all three lie on the Berounka River.
Now, as much as I love my GPS, these useful little devices have their limitations.
Firstly they have to be moving to activate the moving map and to direct the user to the
selected waypoint. Secondly they need to have an open sky, disliking the interference of
trees and buildings. Yeah -- fine! Here we were creeping around the back of a crumbling
chateau, on a slippery, muddy track right against the high wall of the chateau, on a
densely wooded slope. The GPS was not really co-operating!
After much pacing up and down, a few futile attempts at climbing the slope and a
number of hair-raising (and muddy) down hill slides, we got as close as humanly
possible to N50E14. As luck would have it, where did the magical spot fall? Yes,
you've guessed it, on a crumbling and inaccessible section of the slope behind the
chateau -- at the very spot where the chateau's free-flow drainage pipe dumped its
noxious waste! Aaargh!! We hoped and trusted that the toilets were not connected
to this outlet pipe as well!
I can confirm that the magical 50º00’00.0 E14º00’00.0 did flash onto the screen
of the GPS twice but, by the time I had readied the digital camera, the waypoint had
shifted slightly and I was getting decimal places! Damn! We tested our patience (and
our tolerance for cold and mud) for about an hour, until I settled for the best possible reading:
50º00’00.0 E14º00’00.3 This was not just a matter of walking down a path and waiting
for the most accurate reading! I had my feet braced against a root and was leaning
forward into an abyss, with Debra hanging on to the waistband of my Levis lest I slip
once again! It was comical, great fun, and REALLY the best we could do! I could
maybe get just that one metre closer in summer, but certainly not in winter!!
I have used "Panorama Factory" to stitch some panoramic shots together.
Photo #1: The back of Nižbor Chateau showing the drain pipe that cuts through
N50 E14. The steep, wet terrain made it impossible to actually reach the pipe.
Photo #2: Six shots exposed at a focal length of 36mm showing the waste pipe coming
out of the back of the Nižbor Chateau. Viewed from left to right, you are actually looking at the
vertical drop from top to bottom! N50E14 is close to the pipe support in the centre of the picture,
but towards the photographer.
Photo #3: Six shots exposed at a focal length of 36mm showing the GPS on N50E14
and panning around 180 degrees to show Debra on the path
behind me. The Berounka River is visible through the trees as is the town of Nižbor.
Photo #4: A view of Zámek Nižbor from the bridge over the Berounka River in Nižbor.
N50E14 is on the slope below the building with the red roof.
Photo #5: The entrance to Nižbor Chateau from the top of the hill. We took the path to
the right of the picture and along the brick wall. At the end of the building we then turned
left and onto the narrow, slippery path on the slope of the hill facing the river.
Photo #6: That’s me, Mark Pautz, at the closest possible point to N50E14. I leaned out
and placed the GPS as close as I could to the confluence, with Debra
hanging on to the back of my Levis just in case I slipped in the mud!
Photo #7: Although the GPS twice displayed the magical 50º00’00.0 E14º00’00.0, I
was too slow with the camera, and missed it! After patiently waiting for an hour, this was
the best reading photographed on the day: 50º00’00.0 E14º00’00.3.
Thanks for the challenge. You’ll be hearing from us again!