So it’s not touring France, but yes, we’re in Germany now. The countryside is beautiful, fields looking colourful with crops being harvested, large patches of forest, tractors with trailers of grain driving through the main streets of the villages & small towns – a bucolic scene. But travelling here is not that easy!
We like to keep off the autobahns if possible – too many large trucks, cars travelling at impossible speeds, you have to travel at up to 150 kms per hour just to keep up & to keep out of the way of the trucks. Needless to say, there are no speed limits on most of the autobahns! But travelling off them is not easy, there are so many road works, especially in holiday time, so detours (“Umleitung” – when we travelled here with our children 36 years ago, we were very surprised to see so many towns called Umleitung!) are everywhere. The GPS often can’t cope – if you don’t have “Traffic” loaded – so a road map is also a necessity, & you need to know that “U1″ or 2 or 3 or whichever number applies to your detour is actually your designated route. It can add quite a bit of time to your journey. On the other hand, there are very frequent traffic jams (“Stau”) on the autobahns, sometimes 20 kms long & lasting for hours. The “Traffic” programme breaks into your radio transmission & also your cd player, with information about which autobahns have traffic jams, how long they will last, how far the traffic is backed up … but you need to understand German! We like to use the eco route option on the GPS, or even more often, the no motorway option – can take longer but is definitely more interesting.
We also like to stay away from the big cities, so some of the problems we encounter are probably because of this choice.
# Many small hotels and bed & breakfasts don’t answer their phone during the day, and don’t have answerphones.
# Signage to tourist sites are often contradictory or non-existent
# Bars/cafes where one can get a coffee en route are very difficult to find. (We travelled from Frankfurt to a town near Hanover on a Saturday just after midday and found NOWHERE to have a lunch or even a coffee, short of going into the heart of the town where we may have found something.) No little roadside cafes, though sometimes there is an Imbiss, a sort of bar in a shed or caravan. Bottled water & pretzels for lunch!
# Cigarette vending machines everywhere – no wonder so many of the young people smoke.
# And the very worst thing for us was that many places don’t take credit cards – unless they are German. So you have to travel with a wad of euros with you all the time. Many tourist sites will only take cash, including the famous castles on the Rhine. Also cafes, restaurants, and worst of all, doctors, chemists, and hospitals. We had the experience of one of us being in hospital for 3 days, money up front was required, in cash, per day! Even with a French bank account, in euros, we couldn’t use our card.
# Food – schnitzel, schnitzel, schnitzel! Chips, sausages, potatoes baked in foil (pretty nice, actually!), & lashings of whipped cream on desserts, even when you ask for no cream. The accompanying salads are usually chopped lettuce, grated carrot, sliced onions, tomato, cucumber, and salad cream. Pizzas everywhere, good ones. However, if you go to a nice restaurant the food is very good, wine can be expensive, but beer is cheaper & very good (so I’m told by one who knows!) There’s good non-alcoholic beer too, often more on the drinks menu than regular beer. Best place to eat? With friends!
So Germany is a place of contrasts. If you stick to the regular tourist sites, cities,
and good restaurants you probably won’t have problems. If you’re more adventurous & want to experience real German life, be prepared to cope with all of the above. It can be fun!