I am conscious that it has taken a while to update following our little European road trip – suffice to say: 10 hours in the car with 3 young boys – it takes a moment or two to recover from that. Actually, the boys weren’t bad considering we only stopped briefly twice on the way for fuel and a stretch of the legs. I should probably commend Nick as well given that I drove the 10 miles or so to Dover to catch the ferry, and Nick, well, he did the rest! I had intended to do a bit more; perhaps in Belgium or Holland, but the road just keeps going with no borders as such, so it didn’t make sense to stop.
In my mind I think I was expecting checkpoints or some other indication that a change of country was imminent rather than a single, quite unassuming road sign that you miss if you happen to be looking the other way. At least when you drive into Wales there is a big bridge to highlight that you are both leaving the South of England and making your way into the land of the dragon: You can prepare for that; dig around and find your camera, remove the lens cap and still have time to get a nice picture of all the welcome signs inviting your warmly into Wales – instead of picture of the road, a mile past the invisible border!
Not to worry, who needs a picture of the border anyway? The roads themselves were excellent and we drove all the way from Calais to Nuremberg without encountering a single roundabout. Not one. So my main justification for not being confident enough to drive turned out to be totally unfounded – oops! We could have been on any dual carriageway in the UK for most of the journey, except that, in Germany the roads were in noticeably better condition and, where there were roadworks, the traffic continued far more efficiently than any time I have ever been on the M25.
By the time we got down as far as Cologne Nick was getting a bit bored with driving, so it worked out well that a few miles later he realised the speed on the Autobahn was unrestricted for several sections. I need to make a plea now, to my parents and to Nick’s, and to anyone else with an attachment to our children – please look away and skip the rest of this entry. It turns out, that downhill, with the wind behind us, our little Mazda can manage 121 mph. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. Although the top speed on the speedometer suggests the car will manage closer to 150 mph; I can confirm that at 6 years old, the vehicle starts to shudder and make the kind of noises you might expect from an historic building with plumbing problems, when you approach the 120 mph mark. Thankfully the boys were either asleep or too absorbed in Stephen Fry’s delivery of The Enormous Crocodile to notice. After a couple of miles my stomach had a few plumbing problems of its own and, since the power of speech had deserted me somewhere just north of 105 mph, I managed to hand signal to Nick that it might be time to try the local services.
And what a revelation they were!
Initially, I felt a bit affronted at the 70 cents charge to use the motorway facilities, but they were immaculate and well worth the fee, not least because of the revolving toilet seats that are sanitised after each flush – positively Japanese! The boys and I all flushed at least twice to enjoy the spectacle but I think the lady in the cubicle next to me must have leant back on the automatic flush before she meant to and probably found the seat attempting to move under her, judging by the muffled shout of panic! It was only once we were on our way home and stopped at the services in Belgium, which are free of charge and much more like one might expect in the UK, that I realised how much I appreciated the German approach.
In fact, that might have been the start of my love affair with Germany as, repeatedly, I found my expectations of Nuremberg and the whole country exceeded in the most positive ways. I confess to a few preconceptions which were quickly put to bed and soon realised that there is a lot we could learn from the German way of life, about which I’ll say more in the next post.