Day 2: Germany, Austria & nearly dead

On the wireless:

  • Dierks Bentley - country yee'ha
  • This Week in Tech podcast
  • Eva and the Heartmakers - proper indie pop
  • Santana's new latin opus
  • the Kermode and Mayo film review podcast.

I've made a point of not booking any chain hotels on the trip and last night's was a restaurant with some rooms above which described itself as a 'pension' but the only 'pension' thing about it was the no-cards-taken and cash only payment. The staff there were extremely friendly, to the extent that one insisted on explaining exactly how to get from Newel to Villach and, in a proper Germanic way, looked a little concerned when I told him my route as it wasn't efficient or the fastest way. Then, as I left in the morning the manager said a cheery 'goodbye, have a nice trip', to which I came over all stumblingly British and replied, 'thanks, you too' and left him looking puzzled at this response... Clearly I can never go there again now out of sheer embarrassment as my name is probably emblazoned all over their 'moron guests' wall out the back somewhere.

The German autobahn is a slightly odd place for a Brit and cars reach speeds you would otherwise think impossible. I was happily trundling along at about 75 or so, keeping out of the way of the multitude of German-made cars doing a good 130+ in the outside lane, when a Fiesta that was at least 14 years old shot past me like I was crawling along. Now, Good Lady Wife #1 is the proud owner of a Fiesta of just that vintage and I know how fast it goes - speedy though it is it can only dream of the velocities being reached by that German one. The driver must have had his foot nailed to the floor for a good 100 miles, downhill, with a tailwind to reach that speed, and I also know a 14 year old fiesta's brakes aren't that hot either. He's probably dead now.

The autobahn has the same little break places that the French main routes do, basically a picnic area with a loo. In the UK we all know how any roadside public loo soon looks - a refuge for diseases which the world thought were now extinct, along with messages written on the wall from lonely truck drivers offering a bit of 'in-cab entertainment'. German loos are equally rancid I'm happy to report, no 'they're all so perfect and better than Britain' here, but in place of the trucker's invitation you get this: 


I'm not overly sure what that is all about, but it does encourage you not to hang about.

The autobhan is largely dull and unexciting, kind of like driving up the M1 and claiming to have seen England I guess. I did get a little concerned at one point when I saw a column of army vehicles heading east, with several big military planes overhead. With the benefit of hindsight we all know how things end up when Germans start rolling east, so I was mightily relieved to then see a road sign for Ramstein where our Yankee cousins have their massive base so presumably it was the Americans out playing soldier rather than the Germans. Not that this is any less of a cause for concern these days! And I have noticed that on the derestricted parts of the road your average German driver either does 70 to 80mph or so, or achieves a velocity high enough to escape the Earth's gravity and there is nothing in between. Also, in roadworks the workers are wearing jeans and a t-shirt instead of the high-vis romper suit, hard hat and boots they're all dressed up in at home, and I didn't see a single German worker looking dead or decapitated despite this.

As you approach Austria you are still in fairly flat farmlands which look very French but then you round a corner and there are the Alps and meadows and everything and very stunning it is too.

Austrian alps

One of the notes I had was that for Austria and Slovenia you need to stop and buy a tax vignette thing so you can use the major roads. Getting these things was extremely easy - as I drove along the motorway, petrol stations started having little 'vignette' signs next to the list of services they offer so I stopped at one and handily they sold them for both Austria and Slovenia. 23 Euros for the pair, versus 300 euros fine for not having them - no contest really!

At some point I crossed from Germany to Austria but I can't honestly say where - the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire is more clearly marked than the border between these two.

Rather than go the faster route down the motorway from Saltzburg to Villach where my next overnight stop was, I had seen the town of Kitzbuhel mentioned on the map. Kitzbuhel is somewhere I remember as a kid from those quiet Sunday evenings when there was nothing on TV so you ended up watching Ski Sunday which was very exotic to a lad in 1980s Wigan. I have dim memories of a chap called Franz Klammer, and possibly a couple of British chaps called Bell? Anyway, that always seemed to be from Kitzbuhel so I decided to detour that way, then a route right down through the Alps on small roads. Kitzbuhel itself is OK, although I have to say it was a tad moist there - one minute bright sunshine, then the next this:

Kitzbuhel was not how I remembered it on Ski Sunday!

Kitzbuhel was not how I remembered it on Ski Sunday!

It was like someone had climbed onto the roof of the car and was just directing a fire hose down the windscreen, accompanied by thunder and lightning.

From there is was three hours of pure fun driving - tight twisty roads up passes, through tunnels and round hairpins and I was having a great old time. Anyone with a motorbike needs to go and drive around here - they would be grinning for weeks afterwards. I did make one slight mistake though. When I say 'slight' I mean 'nearly dead'.... I'd gone through a long tunnel, paid the toll and was descending a series of tight hairpins when I came across seven or eight cars parked at the side of the road. No problem, I'd just overtake them all as there was nothing coming, which is precisely what I did to then find myself on a single-track road and as I went around the corner found myself face to face with several cars coming in the opposite direction and closing the gap quickly. Thankfully there was some scrubland off to one side so I drove off the road onto that to let them past, and it seems Mr. Austrian can get very angry when his life is threatened by some dozy Brit. What I'd missed was that this section of road is traffic light controlled, with five minutes or so in one direction, then it is switched to the other direction, and the parked cars I'd shot past were waiting for their turn to go. Oops...

While I think about it as it was pretty cold up here (the snow is always a give-away!), an admission of guilt is needed for Good Lady Wife #1. My version of packing was to grab whatever was on the top of my t-shirt pile and count that as done. She questioned the lack of anything warmer and I confidently told her that I was driving south and therefore it would be hot. She, very patiently it has to be said, pointed out that yes, I was going south but was also going high up and it is cold high up. I grumbled and begrudgingly threw a thick shirt in as well. She was right...

So, 537 miles and 11 hours of driving today and as a final note, although I am not religious I would like to ask anyone reading this to take a moment and give quiet thanks and praise to the god Imodium, without protection from whom today could have been a very different story...

Next is Austria - Slovenia - Croatia. So far photo opportunities have been limited as I'd have needed an underwater camera in Austria, but hopefully the coast should fix that!

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