Postcards from a Peugeot: Part 3

[singlepic id=3243 w=720 float=] Another morning, another amazing view. Through the morning haze we could make out the purplish hues of the German Alps. We had been flanked by valley sides for much of our drive from Austria the previous night, it was so dark that mountains merged with sky, but occasionally the lights of buildings high on the hillside had given away the topography. Needless to say, Southern Germany is home to some very big scenery. After our Burger King last night we went minimalist for breakfast, but made good use of the excellent Sanifair facilities to re-humanize us for another day of touring. For the uninitiated, Sanifair are a company who look after the toilet areas of a growing number of service areas across Europe, and how I wish they’d take over duties in England. A session in a Sanifair bog might cost half a Euro, but you receive immaculate surroundings, piped relax-o-muzak, a choice of three wiping materials, and a toilet that cleans its own seat after every visitor. And you get a voucher for your money back afterwards! Nicola and I combined our vouchers to gain a Euro’s worth of discount on a bottle of water in the sensationally overpriced shop; no matter, we were refreshed, and clean, and ready to throw ourselves at our next port of call. [singlepic id=3237 w=720 float=] Munich was reasonably easy to navigate to, which made a change. I had a momentary fumble at a slightly confusing junction on the way in to the city, but we soon made it into the centre and safe parking in the Schrannenhall concert hall car park. How nice it was to drive in a city where parking was properly signposted. Very efficient. Very German. Nicola and I loved Munich. From the get-go, as we walked through a food and flower-market all the way through the pedestrianised city centre, all was clean and welcoming, and even the architecture had a warmth that I didn’t expect to see in Germany. We felt safe, and that the city wanted us to be there. Indeed, the slogan we found on our town map was “Munich loves you”, which, sentimental as it sounds, seemed appropriate. Furthermore, we were served Cappuccino in Starbucks by a transsexual! Not one of the convincing, gender dysphoric sorts in their early twenties, but by a somewhat more Lily Savage-esque example, possibly called Jurgenita (ok, I’m clutching at straws here). The most hilarious part was how she announced the order “Zwei cappuccinos!” in a voice sounding every bit like a Monty Python sketch. After spending a pleasant hour walking through the leafy English Garden, and pausing for an authentic Bratwurst at the food market, we made for the car feeling fulfilled and with a sudden bout of Germania. And I had a further treat in store, for Nicola was letting me visit BMW World. Not knowing the exact whereabouts of BMWs global headquarters we had to do a fair bit of navigational guesswork, and the ring roads of Munich caught us out a few times, but when we finally arrived we knew we were somewhere very, very special, even for those unenlightened souls without petrol fever. [singlepic id=3241 w=720 float=] A while ago I spent two years, fresh out of university, as a BMW salesman. Of course, the whole sales thing is a riot of highs and lows, but from out of all the chaos I still carry with me a strange emotional attachment to the brand. There is something about a BMW that I specifically like, and I’ve never been quite able to pinpoint it. I still can’t today. But today, parking in the spotless underground car park of BMW World, taking the stainless steel elevator up to roof level and casting my stare in awe at the BMW world statement, I suddenly felt like grabbing a phone and badgering some of my old customers. The BMW headquarters in Munich has two visitor areas, BMW World and BMW Museum. The Museum is a lavishly considered, money-no-object exercise in demonstrating where BMW have come from, and where they’re heading. Historic models from the lineage are presented either as the focus in display rooms, or in some cases hung in vertical stacks. You can then see every car from differing angles as you walk an informal spiral through BMWs history, charting milestone developments and taking in the motorsport that so heavily influences BMW designs. [singlepic id=3242 w=720 float=] A biography of the BMW motorcycle range lines one wall, with every significant bike since manufacture began being wall-mounted in shimmering glass cases. There was also a BMW M Sport exhibit with the various engines used in M Cars through the years, along with high quality sound recordings of the engines themselves that you could take in through Sennheiser headphones. Everything pointed to the fact that BMW really care about how cars make you feel. All too often car museums are stuffy or anorak-inclined; here, though, the information is made available only if you want it. You are free to “look at the pictures” rather than digesting the entire BMW history word by word. This has been achieved by making everything interactive. There are terminals throughout the display areas which can be interrogated for as much information as you like. One exhibit charting the history of each of the individual BMW plants, offers information from interactive books, where every turn of the page is accompanied by a friendly voice expanding on the content you were reading. It was all very, very clever. And just as the BMW Museum serves as a glorious epitaph to the past, just across the road BMW World is a fitting expression of how BMW sees themselves today. Every model from the range is showcased on motorshow style themed areas that the public are able to browse freely, without fear of a salesman pouncing upon them if ever they happen to stop moving for a nanosecond. The building itself could have been a stark, practical oblong, but no. This building is an event in itself, the outside made from geodesic shapes forming curves far too organic looking to have been just “built”, but somehow managing without completely distracting interest from the shining new cars within. [singlepic id=3240 w=720 float=] We sat on the roof terrace overlooking this fantastic structure, both enjoying a crisp, cold beer (Paulaner) at the evocatively named M1 bar. The BMW brand building exercise was clearly working, in my head I was having BMW ownership fantasies. BMW World is where the lucky customer who opted for factory collection would take delivery of their new car, and would get to drive it down the long spiral ramp inside that incredible building and onto the German road network outside. And then the lucky sods would get to embark on their own special road trip back to England. Not bad for a maiden voyage. In a bizarre way, it was with some pride that we rejoined the Peugeot deep in the bowels of the underground car park. No, it was no M6, but this little car which, in the 1500 miles we had covered so far on this trip hadn’t put a wheel wrong, deserved every bit as much worship as all those posh fantasy-mobiles upstairs, and hey, they were all just hunks of metal, waiting to be recycled. A car needs to have a proper life, like our Pug was having, before you can properly respect it. Once back on the road, and with gushing sentimentality out of the way, it was time to address more pressing issues. We needed to buy supplies, mainly drinking water, but a trip around a German supermarket wouldn’t go amiss. And could we find one? Could we buggery. The only method we could think of was to set the Garmin to find Grocery shops. The big problem here being that we wanted a nice big out-of-town megastore to browse round, and surely there had to be one somewhere in a country as big as Germany. But all the Garmin could offer us were little grocers shops on busy high streets. As it grew dark, and as a long evening of driving beckoned, our searching went up a gear and twice we made forays into towns to find supermarkets. Firstly we visited Pforzheim, a town I know only because they have a famous Transport Design degree course at the Art School there. Alas, any supermarket remained undiscovered and we gave up after directing ourselves into first a military complex, and then an endless residential area. “If we go just a bit further…” was the approach we used, just knowing that the next corner would yield some multi-aisled shoppers paradise, but to no avail. Eventually Stuttgart came to our rescue, where from a traffic jam we saw the distinctive illuminated sign of Lidl.  Pretty close to the bottom of the barrel supermarket-wise but at five minutes to closing time, we had no alternative. We bought bratwursts and bottled water from the surly tillkeeper, and got back to mile munching. I must be the only car enthusiast in the world to have visited Stuttgart and only seen a branch of Lidl. We had worn the day out by now, and resigned ourselves to covering as many miles as we could before fatigue got the better of us. The Autobahn traffic was the usual mix of HGVs and flying Deutchmen, giving us a choice of either sitting at sixty with the Scanias, or trying to join the fast lane at ninety, not all that easy in a heavily laden 306. Overall, though fast, the German drivers seemed well behaved, despite obvious temptations when the unrestricted sections came up. It is a shame to compare and contrast with the drivers at home who, I fear, are dangerous at any speed with the craze for sudden lane changes, tailgaiting and undertaking which is currently sweeping the nation. German drivers believe in stopping distances, and extend their courtesy if you act likewise. [singlepic id=3244 w=720 float=] A rastplatz several miles outside Saarbrucken was the only place we felt any real unease throughout our time in Germany. The rest area itself was fine, slightly dowdier than we had seen but still pretty good for free. But what could have been improved was the lighting; it made us wonder what, or whom was concealed in the shadows. There was a moment where Nicola felt that a man was lurking in the vicinity of our car while she was alone, only to scarper as soon as I returned from the toilets. I have long been suspicious that these places are favourite haunts of certain, less favourable elements of society, and to stay there overnight in anything less than a secure articulated lorry needs some consideration. Nicola knew that I had no problem with us finding somewhere else if she liked, but we were too tired and frankly weren’t going anywhere. And then we had to deal with the cataclysmic news that we had bought fizzy water by mistake in that doomed visit to Lidl. Happily, though, we discovered that Coffee made with boiled carbonated water seems to taste marginally nicer than that made with the ordinary stuff. We quickly realised that this made no sense whatsoever, and that we were being hysterical and hurriedly went to sleep. Then, later than night…. “Oh, my god..” I thought, from deep inside my sleeping bag, “have we been robbed?” Nicola was agitatedly rustling through the contents of the car “I can’t find it…” she continued searching. “Find what?” “The map” “What map?” “The map you just asked me for.” At that point waves of relief rushed over me, releasing calming hormones into my blood. Everything was OK, Nicola had just gone mental. “Go back to sleep.” At that, and after a quick confused glance over to me, put her head down and regained unconsciousness. At some point she had clearly dreamt that I’d asked for the map, she had then woken and confused her dream with reality. She had then got really annoyed when I no longer wanted the map she was looking for, the map that she had dreamt I wanted. But she soon got back to sleep, and we emerged unscathed from sleeping in this somewhat dubious roadside rest area. Breakfast and, as it turned out, the sausages were bloody horrible. On our way through Germany we had stopped at the only supermarket we came across, a branch of Lidl in Stuttgart, to pick up a few essential provisions. We had already discovered that the water we had picked up had turned out to be fizzy, which annoyed us royally. And now, as we cooked the sausages for what should have been a thoroughly excellent, authentic German breakfast, our hopes were dashed as fat kept oozing out of them. No matter how many times we pierced the skin, or how many times we flipped them over to a hotter part of the pan, the sausages were coated in a thick, white fat with the consistency of yoghurt. Eventually they showed all the signs of being cooked through, were hot to the core and had been on the gas for an age. So we divided them up and put them on plates. Nicola was the first to give up, after eating half a sausage. Myself, I was clearly in denial, clearing one and a half sausages and only becoming nauseous with half a sausage left on my plate, still with fat oozing from them. The taste was actually pretty good, but the thought of that fat is enough to have me considering vegetarianism slightly. Another fizzy coffee later and we were ready to roll again. We had already dispatched much of West Germany and were soon bearing down on Luxembourg, our next target. The scenery grew greener as we approached the border, the hills became more rolling and the roads, if anything, became smoother. It was tricky to see where Germany ended and Luxembourg began but soon the signs showed we had made it into our fifth principality of the trip. [singlepic id=3236 w=720 float=] We entered Luxembourg completely unarmed with information or any great game plan. The first objective was to find somewhere to park, and there were many dot-matrix signposts denoting plentiful parking places and how many spaces they had remaining. So we chose one that sounded fairly central and started to pursue the signs around the city. Before long we started to see the same buildings again, and realised that the sign we had been following was for city centre parking as a whole and not any specific car park. As a consequence we had just been on a tour of the entire city ring road. More upsetting was that we hadn’t been too enamoured with anything we had seen, and were unsure whether we could eke a days entertainment out of it. Once we found a car park in a quiet officey kind of area, we headed by foot to the station, which we assumed would be somewhere near the city centre. We walked down a long, straight high street, looking for all the world like Ipswich. Not all that inspiring. Only when we reached the station and got our hands on a city map, did we realise that we had headed in entirely the wrong direction. Our pointless walking was well rewarded though. We found a huge, historic park built in the former river bed, literally yards from where we had originally parked. Once the other side of the park, after very carefully climbing the moss-covered and steep masonry steps, we found our way into the city centre, which was a lot more picturesque than we would have given it credit for. The shopping streets are nothing special, much like any other city, but the view across the city is something to behold. [singlepic id=3239 w=720 float=] Luxembourg is a city straddling several valleys and this lends it a peculiar, layered topography. From some viewpoints it can seem as if you’re looking down onto an exquisitely detailed model village. We spent some time taking in these views and walking the many narrow cobbled streets, and explored some of the old defensive structures (all without spending the several Euros to visit the museum). Luxembourg had proven to offer far more than we had imagined, and we would have great pleasure in returning in the future, on a less pressing schedule. By now mid afternoon it was time to start moving. We retraced our steps out of the city centre and back on the road out of Luxembourg City. Time not being particularly of the essence, and being keen to explore a bit more of this tiny country, I took us off the beaten track and into the town of Wasserbillig. I had no basis whatsoever for this choice, but the signpost and name of the town intimated that there might be a nice riverside area to walk around. We proceeded into the town, but, put off by heavy traffic we soon did an about turn and headed back from whence we came, except we had seen a supermarket on the way in, and decided to stop there for more provisions. This turned out to be a brilliant decision for several reasons: Firstly, and I didn’t realise until we had already parked, I was in desperate need of a crap. Finding the entrance to the supermarket, necessitating a walk right around the building, past the car park and the DIY department, was absolute agony. Then the bathroom itself was deep within the building, past the restaurant, and Nicola could see me accelerating as I walked, willing there to be no “out of order” sign, or worse still, no loo paper. As luck would have it, all was fine and I had a pristine white bowl into which to post my probably Lidl Bratwurst influenced motion. I had an improbably broad grin on my face when I had finished. [singlepic id=3238 w=720 float=] Our main reason to visit the supermarket was to re-stock on Cherry Coke, which had become our official soft drink of the trip. At first we couldn’t find a single non-alcoholic beverage in the entire building. A big supermarket, groaning with every possible delicacy or household sundry and no squash, pop, fizz or juice. And then, suddenly, we suddenly found the second reason we made the right decision to stop here: A small, hand written cardboard sign proclaimed “drinks>”. And there, in a temporary lean-to extension, was the motherlode. We had inadvertently stumbled upon quite the largest room full of coffee we had ever seen, and we like coffee rather a lot. It was a crying shame that, apart from loving the stuff, we know next to nothing about it. A massive variety of varieties, all available by the sack if required, and we couldn’t really do anything about it. After doing some research, we vow one day to return, by Transit perhaps, and gather from this amazing resource; for now, we made do with a big bag of coffee pods, to hopefully aid us in our portable brewing. We also picked up a few cans of Passion Fruit Rubicon; we hold the Lychee flavour in particularly high esteem, and can you find it in some of the larger branches of Tesco, bizarrely in the ethnic foods section. We gave Cherry Coke a miss this time, and got ourselves back on the road. Feeling a little worn out, for a moment we rested in a service area and both had a little snooze to ready ourselves for another stretch of night driving. The services we stopped had had a terrific view right over the valley we had just visited, and watching the lorries and coaches hauling themselves up the hill before us had a strangely hypnotic effect on me. Half an hour of stolen kip went down very well. It was on the edge of darkness by the time we were on the road properly, and we were very soon back on German soil, by now counting down the miles until a proper rest opportunity. We were aiming for a proper service area this time, ideally one with the miraculous Sanifair facilities. I vowed to not take Nicola to another Rastplatz quite like we experienced last night. In return she promised not to wake me up by panicking about any non-existent maps I had demanded from her. Roadwork demonstrates his schizophrenia by sometimes using the moniker Rust-MyEnemy, though the authorities hunt him down under the name of Chris Haining. Those of a less demanding bent might enjoy his tawdry, sordid little ‘blog.  

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