Wednesday 14 August 2013

Roaming across Europe

Well, a little bit of it, anyway.

Five of us - three adults and two children - have stuffed our gear into a VW wagon and made our way from France to Germany, via Italy and Austria.

The highway system that links these countries is consistently excellent, though expensive in places.

At one of the toll stops, where we had pulled over to assemble the correct change for the booth, another car pulled up behind us and the driver got out to tap on our window.

He told our driver (who shall remain anonymous) that they had been wandering too close to the middle of the road, and perhaps we would all die in a fireball if this continued.

He politely made his point and went back to his vehicle. A far cry from the extended middle finger and cry of "get off the road ya fuckwit!" that I'd expect from Australians in similar circumstances.

Along the coast, Italy is mountainous and beautiful. There are endless villages strung out along the mountain ridges, with farms perched precariously on the slopes and huge greenhouses on every flat surface.

Then we turned inland, where it becomes rather monotonous. Flat and full of corn.

Our overnight stop was at the Garda Lake, which happens to be next to Italy's answer to Disneyland - Gardaland.

We didn't go there, but our hotel was clearly set up to cater for families that do. It had a massive buffet and some language-free entertainment for kids (magic and mime) after dinner.

The next day we continued towards Germany. The landscape became gorgeously mountainous again as we drifted through Austria.

You could tell it wasn't Italy any more, as everything that wasn't a mountain was perfectly mowed. Not a speck of grass out of place.

We stopped at a little inn for lunch, which was a lovely place to refill the vomit glands of one of the kids, who was terribly car-sick.

I went to their public toilet, which smelled more like flowers than the garden outside did. I have never been such a clean bathroom, and I have cleaned bathrooms for money.

Austria became Germany, where the verges remain unmowed for weeks at a time. Weeks! I'm sure the Austrians look at German roadsides the same way that conservative parents used to look at the Beatles' haircuts.

We stayed for a few nights at Lake Hopfen, because our young son wanted to see the Disney castle.

Walt took the design from Neuschwanstein, which was the summer shack of mad King Ludwig.

We lined up for two hours just to get tickets for the tour. But it was well worth while, as the place is quite spectacular.

Inside, where cameras are verboten, it's even more amazing - painted and carved like Liberace's place, but not quite as tasteful.

After a couple of days touring around and swimming in pristine lakes...

...we made our way to Berlin.

We got some great views of the city at the Reichstag (their Parliament building) as well as the TV tower in town.

But my highlights were the Natural History Museum, which has the biggest dinosaur skeleton in the world - a brachiosaurus.

It also has the original archaeopteryx fossil. This amazing specimen cemented the relationship between reptiles and birds.

A foody friend recommended the best kebab joint in the city. For a place with such a large Turkish population, that's a very big call, but it was certainly the most delicious kebab I've ever eaten.

We also visited Legoland, which was way cool. I was pooped on by a Lego bat!

The main display was a very accurate model of Berlin... which was being invaded by Star Wars!

After a few days in Berlin, we made our way to Celle, which is where my wife grew up and went to school.

We'll be spending the next two weeks here, visiting her parents in a tiny hamlet just outside of town.

It's not a terribly exciting place, but with Oma's 80th birthday this week, it's definitely the place we have to be.

Next, some observations on German culture.

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