I’m on my third language in three weeks!
Just as I’d got to grips with speaking French without peppering it with Italiano, we crossed the Rhine in Strasbourg and entered Germany. On our radar were the historic cities of Würzburg and Bamberg, which were recommendations from our last trip to Germany.
Exactly like our previous visit, as we left France and reached the far side of the river, we joined the end of a traffic jam.
It was familiar territory. The huge infrastructure projects were still under way, which meant that we spent a good proportion of our journey in traffic jams, crawling through roadworks. Outside of the roadworks, we had to endure an inside lane filled with nose-to-tail lorries, while Porsches, BMWs and one McLaren flashed past us at an unexaggerated hundred miles an hour.
It is not an urban myth that there is no speed limit on most of Germany’s Autobahn network. The fastest speed recorded on an Autobahn under non-test conditions is 236mph (381kph). That was in daylight with other cars on the road, but thankfully not Big Blue and Caravan Kismet!
I was delighted to see a new innovation – an Autobahnkirche – a motorway church in one of the service stations. Mark and I wondered whether they worshiped the god of Tarmacadam, or Vin Diesel.
Our campsite, Katzenkopf (Cat’s Head) was within walking distance of Sommerach, a pretty village right in the centre of the Frankish wine area. The campsite is enormous, but divided into three, which makes it manageable. The staff were really lovely. My sketchy command of German, muffled by a face mask, got me through check in and I was delighted to be given a pitch right on the banks of the river Main.
There was no room to manoeuvre or drive on to our pitch. We wanted to face the water, so we had to pull Kismet by hand. It was flat, so it was no problem for Mark and myself, but once again we suffered the scourge of, “Here. Let me help you!” but in German, which made it difficult to repel.
The chap opposite came to assist, which was really kind, but really unnecessary and really counterproductive. He was pushing when we wanted to pull, then started to drag caravan Kismet along by the lever which engages the AL-KO stabiliser; a device which prevents the caravan from going into a dangerous snake while being towed. Thankfully, he didn’t break it off.
Despite the quick leaf through my old friend, ‘German in Three Months’ en route, I had no idea how to vocalise, “Please don’t drag a 1.5 tonne caravan along by a lever designed solely to engage a critical piece of safety equipment!”
Unlike port, our neighbours on the starboard side were very friendly. Jens and his daughter Mara came to say hello to the dogs. Jens made a polite enquiry
“Do you have any Scotch?”
We had to reply that sadly, we had polished off our supplies during lockdown. It was Jens’ birthday, so we gave him a bottle of Weissbier with an apology,
“We’re sorry we drank all your whiskey!”
I needed more sunscreen and wanted to fulfil a long-standing desire for a new pair of exceedingly comfortable Reef ‘Fanning’ flip flops. My last pair disappeared mysteriously in the Auvergne and my sore and blistered feet were missing them! Surfing the wave of a previous German online ordering success (emergency replacement Merrell walking sandals in Hohnstein three years ago) I placed an order on Amazon.de. My free, temporary Prime membership assured me of a two-day delivery.
Besides footwear and sunscreen, our third shortage was dog food. People often ask what we do about food for the dogs while travelling. For our first year on the road, we carted 100kg of dog food around with us. Quickly, we realised that people in France do have dogs and you can usually buy most of the major brands in supermarkets. However, we have found the most convenient solution is to get a delivery from Zooplus by agreement with campsite reception. That way, we get The Fab Four’s favourite brands and Zooplus is usually considerably cheaper than the supermarket.
Unfortunately, Zooplus is less straightforward in Germany, where they require payment by bank transfer rather than a credit card. This would not be a problem, except when you factor in couriers and the high likelihood of requiring a refund for non-delivery. One of the major sources of entertainment during our Italian lockdown was playing hide-and-seek with deliveries. Our packages could end up more or less anywhere in the village; from the adjacent hotel to some undefined location in the three-storey underground car park, but never with Luisa, a 24-7 presence in the reception of our apartment block.
Overnight, we heard a sound that was very familiar from our last trip to Germany; rain battering down on the caravan. In the middle of the night, we had to get up and close the roof hatches.
As we woke to a wet morning and a wet forecast, we resigned ourselves to a slack day and yet another shortage; we had run out of data. Just when we needed an afternoon of Netflix! It faired up just before lunch, so we made a dash for Würzburg. On the way there, I saw a sliver of blue sky and promised Mark,
“It will be burning your eyeballs out by the time we get there!”
Although it had been recommended to us, Würzburg left us underwhelmed. It seems to be an ordinary town with some nice buildings. It does have a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest stone bridge in Germany, allegedly, although it was not a completely wasted trip.
For me, the stop to buy dog food at Kölle Zoo, next to Ikea, was probably the highlight. It was a proper pet shop. You know, like the ones that your mum used to take you to for a day out! A full wall covered with fluorescing tanks of tropical fish, all kinds of small furry creatures and open crates of chewy treats. The Fab Four raced around on sensory overload.
Another frequent question about our lifestyle is, “How do you get internet abroad?”
The answer is, we use our mobile phone as an mobile hotspot to which we tether our computers. We have the 20GB ‘fair usage abroad’ allowance on our ‘unlimited’ U.K. contract, but buy extra with a Pay-As-You-Go data SIM card in the country we’re visiting. In Italy, we got 60GB for €12.99 per month, although Romania retains the record with 150GB for €9 per month. Smug people have been known to say,
“Well. It’s OK so long as it works!”
Let me tell you that Romania is justifiably proud of her superfast 4G network, which worked perfectly everywhere we went, no matter how remote. I can vouch both first hand and with local confirmation that this is a claim that absolutely does not apply to the advanced, industrialised nation known as Germany, even in cities!
We found the Vodafone and O2 shops, but our enquiries revealed that buying a data SIM in Germany was not a feasible solution to our Giga-blight. The best deal was around €65 for a paltry 2.5GB per month! €40 to buy the SIM then €15 for enough data to send a brief email. For our short stay in Germany, it would be cheaper to pay the extortionate cost of exceeding the data limit on our Three U.K. SIM and hope that Poland, our next stop, might offer deals similar to Romania.
The coronavirus precautions in different countries have been very varied. Italy has learned her lesson, and is very fastidious about social distancing and mask-wearing. France was typically laissez-faire – wear a mask if you want but it’s not compulsory. However, in Germany, we stopped for coffee and a cake at a pavement café and they took our name, address and telephone number.
“It’s so we can contact you if there is an outbreak.”
Masks were compulsory everywhere and unlike in Italy and France, there were hand gel bottles at the entrance to every premises and not one was empty.
In the café, the choice of cakes was overwhelming – I studied the menu but didn’t know what any of them were. They had ten different kinds of strudel! I just panicked and stuck with what I know; apple strudel and coffee. I made a bold attempt at a flat white or latte, but got a filter coffee with a plastic pot of milk; very 1970s. As we left the change from a €20 note as a tip, wondering how you could charge so much for so little, we were caught in a biblical downpour. Even under the umbrellas, we got absolutely soaked. Plastic milk pots and other pieces of café detritus started to float past us on the cobbles.
“I told you it would be burning your eyeballs out once we got there!” I gloated.
When it cleared, we walked to the bridge. Another black cloud loomed in the not-so-distant distance, so we decided to make a dash back to Big Blue, parked somewhere on the street on the far side the park. We were not sure how easily we would find our way back through the labyrinth of streets around the university and through the park, but miraculously, we got straight back and didn’t get wet.
Although it is the first stop on the Romantische Straße – Germany’s Romantic Road, personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see Würzburg. Perhaps it was the weather, but we didn’t feel that it had the charm of some of other places that we have visited.
“It’s not Rothenburg ob der Tauber,” we agreed.
That pesky culture of comparison that we’d first noticed in Cluny had raised its head for the second time…
If you would like to read more about our previous German adventures, they are immortalised in my book, Dog on the Rhine – From Rat Race to Road Trip, which has 5* reviews and has crept occasionally into the Amazon Bestseller list! To purchase from Amazon.co.uk click here, for rest of the world, click here.
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