This post will remain at the head of the blog for the duration of my current road trip. You can track my tour map here.
Please chip in with suggestions for things to see, people to meet and diversions to make.
My fellow-students took a bus from Vienna to Prague yesterday. Having bought yet another "vignette" to drive on the Czech "motorways", I met them at the lunch (and photo shoot) stop in the UNESCO world heritage city of Telc. Speranza performed patiently at the slower pace of motorised Czech life, but we had some "Ferrari moments" passing the many trucks that suggest Czech trade is booming.
One of my fellow-students, a charming lady from New York, hitched a ride from Telc to Prague and the time flew by as we chatted about this and that. Once again this proved that I would be far more comfortable as an American. The political views that terrify fellow dinner party guests in London went down perfectly well with her.
We had a sunset shoot in the Old Town and - having done the whole tourist thing many times before - I amused myself by photograping photographers making clichéd Prague photos. I call it paraphotography.
Grüß Gott! I had a splendid run through Germany to the Austrian border this morning. I left Nuremberg at 0700 so had a quiet hour or so before traffic built up and was able to improve on yesterday's speed. Bear in mind that's still short of Speranza's maximum by some 26kph. So there's still something to shoot for on my runs to and from Berlin.
Weather and road conditions were generally good but there were quite a few roadworks to spoil the fun. As I neared Austria, the weather turned bad and I was reduced to positioning myself behind proper cars, rather than the trucks and "mommy vans" people inexplicably favour. A regular saloon doesn't throw up blinding spray onto the windscreen of a chap in a Grand Tourer. If you must drive trucks, people (and I can't imagine why, when I so rarely see them loaded) please fit them courteously with mudguards!
I met my friend - let's call him Forrest - after he had completed his section of the Vienna Marathon. You see him here with the Q (whom some may remember from the Great River Road section of my American Road Trip 2013) and the Q's son and heir.
I joined the whole relay team (from various Central & Eastern European offices of my old law firm) for lunch afterwards. It was hot, brown and tasty but not helpful to my weight loss campaign.
Especially as, after the initial briefing for the photography course I am attending, the 16 participants, trailing spouses and faculty went out for another Austrian meal. I shall walk it off tomorrow though as street shoots are good exercise.
The Q pointed out something I had never noticed on many previous visits; that Austria is one of the last countries to retain the hammer and sickle - if not in quite the classic Soviet form - in its national heraldry. Here's the proof.
I note the imagery of the broken bonds but have to say (despite my retirement from political blogging) that those tools forged more chains in their day than they ever broke.
The sun shone. I drove on unrestricted autobahns with the roof down at some speed. My Dunhill flat cap puzzled German motorists by not flying off. It's a matter of aerodynamics. My football team won at home, which means "the great escape" from relegation is still on. And I made some new friends.
I did not come anywhere near to maxing Speranza out today. It's the beginning of the school holidays and the autobahns were packed. I enjoyed the instant separation of cavaliers and roundheads when the magic road sign appeared. Even more so as I was able to lead the cavaliers' charge. Still, I never had long enough to get to top speed before reaching the back of the next queue.
I did pass two police cars at 243kph - just in excess of 150mph. Every instinct screamed to brake at the sight of them. The thrill of not doing so was terrific. Thank you, Germany, for treating your citizens as adults in at least this one respect.
My average speed reveals many quieter patches. There was a frustrating forty minutes or so stuck in traffic on an unrestricted section. What a waste.
On arrival in Nuremberg I did a few circuits of the beautiful city centre before finding my way into the the narrow one-way lane my hotel is in. When I drove past the castle at the top of the town I actually drew applause from a party of young tifosi. I gave them the royal wave and they cheered me on. The receptionist took a look at Speranza through the window and decided she was not going to make it down to the basement garage. So she is wedged diagonally into an archway out front.
It was while parking her there that I made new friends. A young boy was photographing Speranza and I invited him over, with his Mum's permission, to be photographed in the driving seat. The small boy in me knew exactly what that would mean to the small boy in him. I did it many times on my American tour and it always went down well.
When I was out on my photo-walk later the boy's grandmother called me over as I was about to sit down in a sidewalk café. She invited me to join the family at their table. Theo, the paterfamilias, grew up in Nuremberg but emigrated in 1960 to Denmark, where he married his Danish wife. They had come back to visit in a three car convoy with their children, their children's spouses and their grandchildren - all thoroughly Danish. As is Theo himself now. He passed my World Cup-based variant of the "Tebbit test" without hesitation. He also chose my food and my beer so that I could have the authentic Nuremberg experience. I had a very pleasant time and he even insisted on picking up the tab.
The charm of Speranza strikes again.
After dinner Theo and his wife took me on a guided walking tour to see what I had missed. This is a beautiful city and well worth a visit. There is far more to see than I could in the time available.
The problem with the French language is that everything - for example the word for a tax expert (fiscaliste) - sounds glamorous, whereas - even in le monde francophone - everything isn't. The name of my overnight stop for this evening - Verviers, in the French-speaking part of Belgium - sounds delightful but is a bit of a dump.
The hotel is clean and comfortable, despite a large party going on for a Belgian hipster clientele. In fairness, a group of young party-goers who were parked next to Speranza - a crowd climbing into a tiny Toyota as if it were a Tardis - were very careful not to bang their doors against her when they left. Judging by appearances, I would never have expected such consideration. Let that be a lesson to me.
I took a stroll through the town earlier to qualify the impression formed by the concrete elevated highway I can see from my bedroom window. There is a actually a faded grandeur to it. All I knew of the Ardennes was paté de campagne and the Battle of the Bulge. It seems it was also - in the 18th and 19th Centuries - the second most industrialised place on Earth after the satanic mills of England.
Gentrification in progress
Verviers was, like several cities in Northern England now in a similar state, a textile town. Some of the old industrialists' houses still stand, providing - for example - the most stunning surgery for a vet I have ever seen. And my hotel was once the Customs House for a larger railway station than the place needs now. I did note the influence of the original and best Tom Paine in this unlikely spot. There is a roundabout named after his "Rights of Man".
A very smart veterinarian's surgery
I guess I was expecting an Ardennes idyll but got a Belgian Bradford. Yesterday, the mention of Belgium would only have evoked luxurious chocolates and superb restaurants for me. That impression was of Brussels. Now I have a more nuanced view of this little country. Though I am still amused that its two most famous citizens - Tintin and Poirot - are fictional.