There is an old joke about the perfect Europe and the imperfect Europe. I am sure all the do-gooders will write in and complain about stereotyping (and blah-di-blah…) but it makes those who travel a lot smile, even in the homogenous Europe that some seek to create. The perfect Europe would have the Germans running the trains, the British running the government, the French doing the cooking and the Italians being the lovers. The imperfect Europe would have the Italians running the trains, the French the government, the Germans being the lovers and the English doing the cooking…
Given that the French railways have been on strike for nearly a fortnight and the English are now besotted with celebrity chefs and gastro-pubs perhaps things are changing… Soon it will be tough to find fried bread, pork scratchings and other great British institutions. The reason I write this is that I am currently picking my way through the usual Germanic fare: a lovely oily Wiener Schnitzel mit frites und salat and I find the traditional tinned green beans (always hidden under the lettuce) to be flavoured with a hint of curry and (OMG) fancy patterns on the plate make with balsamic vinegar. Whatever next?
I’m sitting in a biergarten right by the Neckar and things are as they should be. There are blue and white poles with flags of various breweries and red and white chequered table cloths. But if it wasn’t for the folks muttering “stimmt” and “genau” one might imagine oneself in England on a warm spring evening. There is someone with a ridiculous laugh in the corner; a college professor type with his wife and bicycle. There’s a man with impressive tattoos who would not be out if place in any English pub and the Germanic taste for silly facial hair (think Dieter Zetsche) is still lurking in the shadows, although the Italian chin beard seems to be all the rage these days in Middle Germany. Everyone is very jolly because tomorrow is a national holiday. There are small German flags being flown on many cars (just as is happening in France and England) in support (one hopes) of World Cup squads, but there’s obviously no match on tonight because everyone is too relaxed and there are people on the streets. If there was football afoot, it would be quieter than Dodge City at high noon.
This is a pleasant land of old castles and vineyards and June is a great time to see Europe. The gasthof has window boxes filled with pink geraniums and the Internet works. To add a little flavour there’s an old chain ferry clunking backwards and forwards across the Neckar, costing the princely sum of €2.30 for a man and his car.
Today was a pleasant enough drive from Paris, a nice easy 600km, with nothing to worry about apart from roadworks everywhere. In France one has the modern paranoia about speeding but it us obviously not working as all day the radio was reporting the shocking news that French road deaths are up 15 percent this year. Jean Todt and the boys need to work harder. Once across the border no one seems on the least interested in speed limits at all. You have to watch out for sudden slowdowns where there has been a bingle but otherwise Germans are still going hell for leather in all directions.
My route took me by way of Reims and the Argonne (the hills before Verdun, where they held races way back when) to Hockenheim and not far down the road the splendid town of Sinsheim where one is greeted by the site of Concorde and Concordski on the roof of the museum of all things mechanical.
These two day trips to Grands Prix are fun, but they do have a pretty major impact on the working hours which one cannot really afford in the modern Internet era. Ten years ago it would have been easier because there was less writing to do. Still, it’s a nice change to another sweaty airport.