Somewhere betwixt Germany and Vienna the boys learn the true significance of a mother who is a hamster and a father who smells of elderberries.

YAPC::EU 2007: Vienna: Day Two

27th August: Koblenz, Germany to Vienna Austria

We viewed south-east Germany from the monotonous luxury of an Autobahn and this was a shame as the countryside looked magnificent. The route we took took us through vast rolling forests that tumbled over gentle slopes. The road takes in some excellent vistas as you climb the low hills and an occasional village can be seen sprawled lazily in the many river valleys. There is a certain romantic charm to these villages and as you come ever closer to the Austrian border the influence of an old Roman Catholic society is ever more present in the number of churches. Even to this day their is a strong Christian influence in the region with truck drivers displaying crosses in their cab windows and the advertisments for religios meetings and thoughts posted in the service stations.

View from a service station

The service station food deserves a special mention. In the UK the food served at service station is of a general middle-of-the-road quality. It isn't actually bad, it is just often tasteless and over-cooked. Mostly it has been left to warm under hot lamps or on a gridle plate for far too long, there is also an over-powering evidence of stodge and grease. The stations in Germany seem quite different. For one thing the food seems a little fresher, perhaps it is refreshed more often, but I would hazard a guess that it is the lower quantity of grease and the evidence that it is less-often over-cooked. You can for an equivalent price to the UK get a very passable lunch which really helps on those long car journeys.

By mid-afternoon we had entered Austria after switching drivers and started the haul across the country (almost its full width) to Vienna. The towns were mostly the same to those in east Germany, if a little more architecturally altered. Their is a feeling of several different cultural influences, it might be the large bilboards and signs, including the worlds largest chair next to a sign that declared XXX visible for miles down the highway. It was only when you got close that you noticed the sign actually said XXXLinz and was a post declaring 'over-sized furniture'. This casual manipulation of expectation is interesting and certainly attention grabbing, but its display on a tall sign post next to a huge chair reminded me of the strip malls and shopping districts of middle and southern USA.

The big giant chair

The route to Vienna from Litz passes through some fantastic country as you virtually mirror the course of the Danube. A large part of me wanted to pull off the main highway and to go wandering cross-country to see more of this staggering landscape. But the constraints of time were to be against any such desires.

By the time the sun had begun to set and an orange-moon was paterning the low horizon we had entered more hilly country. The road seemed to now be blighted by roadwork section following roadwork section and this seemed to dampen our spirits. As we approached a major undertaking (of 8km in length as it declared on the signs) where our speed would be reduced to the almost crawl of 80kph we grew a little irked. Thankfully the Austrians seem to understasnd this feeling too.

In the UK if one comes across a long stretch of roadworks you are informed of the length and the expected time of completion, a date usually some weeks before your actual date of travelling. At the end of the roadworks you are given a cursory "Sorry for any Inconvenience" which actually translates to "we have to do it, you cannot do anything so piss off, what are you going to do about it, take a train?". In Austria as we entered this long stretch of roadworks we glimpsed a green face which looked upset on a roadsign. We uttered cries of:
1: Look at that, what does that sign mean?
2: Where, ha...
3: What the hell was that?
2: Looked like a depressed gooseberry
1: It was seriously unimpressed
3: Maybe it was an unhappy Vogon.
We debated wether it was vandalism or some sign that we had got wrong or mis-seen. Except at the six kilometre mark was another green face, this one looking just irritated with a slight line of a face. We knew then that the local authorities were having a bit of fun. At 4km the green gooseberry was smiling and at 2km the face had a huge cheesy grin that made the entire car erupt with laughter.

In retrospect such a small piece of fun and our reaction to it may seem sad and just a little (maybe a lot) silly. But what they had achieved was to make us look for the next sign and the expression on its face rather than get annoyed at the long works section. It is something that was simple yet the effect was tremendous and really changed the perceptions of all of us in the car. We left a section of roadworks happier than when we entered it, which is a rare occurance in my experience.

We finally arrived in Vienna at around 9.30 and afterr a little initial confusion about the route through this old and twisty city we eventually found our apartment and finished part one of our European road trip. on the whole it was a lot more fun than expected and had the advantage of no internet connection to distract us into a cyber-world enabling us to enjoy the journey and each others company.