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.
I have checked the traffic regulations and the paraphernalia required to be carried onboard by the busybodies of six European nations. I have everything apart from my Austrian motorway sticker and apparently I can pick that up at the border. Speranza is looking and sounding good. I am looking forward to being back on Kerouac's 'holy road'.
My hotel in Prague has responded to my enquiry about parking. We have agreed that she will stand out front under 24/7 supervision as their garage is down too steep a ramp for her road clearance. My hotel in Vienna has, surprisingly, not responded yet so my remaining task for tomorrow (apart from packing for 12 days on the road) is to chase that up.
In Berlin I will be staying at a friend's house on a road named after Ethel and Julius Rosenberg - two American traitors who spied for the Soviet Union. He tells me that the district is still mostly occupied by former aparatchiks of the East German Communist Party so there's no demand to change the name. His German Shepherd will guard Speranza and - as the Communist elites never stinted themselves - I am sure she will be in good automotive company too.
It's interesting that Germany isn't embarrassed about continuing to honour America's enemies in such a way. But then the USA doesn't seem very embarrassed about having listened in on Chancellor Merkel's phone calls! There are allies and then there are allies, I guess. But that's getting dangerously close to the political blogging I have forsworn so I shall say no more.
I am driving on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and hope to be in Vienna in time for the finish of the local marathon on Sunday. It's odd that they hold it on the same day as the London Marathon. It's also symbolic of my odd personal history that I have friends to cheer on in Vienna not London.
I collected Speranza from Joe Macari in Wandsworth yesterday. The team did a terrific job repairing some small damage I had done in the South of France. They service and maintain modern Ferraris and Maseratis but they are really specialists in rebuilding and/or restoring classics. Not only do their skills with carrosserie reflect that specialisation, they actually brought the job in below the agreed budget. Thank you, guys.
They were also a great help with the Great American Road Trip of 2013. Not only did they fettle Speranza, but they recommended the company that shipped her to the States and back and the broker who organised her insurance. Mr Macari himself, a veteran of the Gumball Rally, also helped by coaching me how to deal properly with an American State Trooper. I met a few of those guys and they all seemed to appreciate his work. I certainly parted friends with all of them, which I have never yet achieved with a British policeman.
When I picked her up there was a nice example of my previous car parked nearby, a Maserati Granturismo. As I move my registration plate from car to car I thought for a while that it might actually be Vittoria herself. On closer inspection, I realised the red seats had black stitching, not Vittoria's more elegant white. Still it was nice to have the chance to take a photo I missed at the time.
I have done my route planning for our next tour. I am going to drive Speranza to Vienna. I plan to arrive there on April 13 for a photography course with Joe McNally. We will cross to the Continent via the Eurotunnel on the morning of April 11 and drive on to Verviers in Belgium. On April 12 we will drive to Nuremberg and on April 13 we will drive to Vienna.
The course moves from Vienna to Prague on April 16 and ends on April 20. I will then drive on to Berlin to spend a couple of days with an old friend before returning to England on April 22/23, overnighting in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
It's not quite as ambitious as the American tour, but it should be fun. Especially on the unrestricted autobahns in Germany where we may actually be able to reach her maximum speed of 194mph. My friend in Berlin has kindly sent me a "speed limit map" of Germany for planning purposes.
Three friends and I were on a "boys' week out" in Las Vegas last week. I was able to repair one of the omissions from the Great American Road Trip of 2013 when we visited Death Valley. This must be one of the most photogenic places on Earth.
Photographer at work
The long and winding road
Tourists at the lowest point on the American continents - Badwater
I drove from London to the Cote d'Azur and back two weeks ago, staying with friends in one of my favourite villages in the world, Mougins. I met up with other friends at the international real estate event called MIPIM, which takes place every year in Cannes.
Dining in Burgundy on the way south
Auribeau sur Siagne
Work/Life balance in Cannes
In my friends' Mougins garden
Speranza resting in another Burgundy chateau on our way home