Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Day 1

"Bloody hell! Is that the time?" Okay, so I overslept. It didn't stop me being ready in about 30 minutes flat, though. Piss...two, three, four, dump...two, three, four, teeth...two, three, four etc. etc. etc.

I was also ready way in front of the pub sign - that's the Frog and Dragon to the uninitiated - and was sat ready to roll in the new wheels while Zsuzsi went through the checklist for the zillionth time. "Yes, dear. I have turned off the gas...I do have the passports...no, I haven't forgotten your miraculous slimming pills...get in the fucking car please, light of my life."

So, the promised 8 o'clock start morphed into something approaching 11 before I could point the Octavia in an Austrian direction and it was only by a deliberate forgetfulness regarding Hungarian speed limits that I managed to arrive at the border only two hours behind schedule.

Pausing only to have to have the usual, "This isn't your car, is it, sir?" conversation with the intellectually challenged border guards, we drove, turbo engaged, into biscuit box country. Now, I should make it absolutely clear at this point that I really, deeply, abidingly and with a passion, hate fucking Austria. The country is nothing less than a gazillion trillion piece jigsaw puzzle. Wild is having a single flower out of alignment in one's window box. Whatsisname...Manley-Hopkins maybe...would have loved it. "Landscape plotted and pieced..." Now it may be that 'pretty pretty' does indeed push all your buttons. All it induces in me is an urge to stop the car and take a spectacular dump in the middle of the first town square we pass through.

Anyway, this assault on my aesthetics eased a little as we hit the motorway into Graz. A moment later and I almost hit the central reservation as I tried to place the motorway toll sticker on the windscreen.

Ah. At last. My favourite bit of Austria, the twenty-odd kilometre stretch of tunnel under Graz closely followed by my least favourite, the row of toll booths where they extract an extra tunnel surcharge from us.

Ease onto motorway to Salzburg. Well, actually, in the interests of accuracy that should read 'in the direction of' as the Austrian Alps appear to have placed themselves, rather impertinently in my opinion, across the line of my intended route. This necessitates a cross country drive along a two lane highway at speeds of 90, 70 and mostly 50 kph through ski-resorts like Schladming, more chocolate box scenery and guest houses and an absolute profusion of bloody window boxes.

Eventually we rejoin the motorway to Salzburg and it is here that the journey, after almost five hours, really starts. From Salzburg, into Germany, through München and all the way to Stuttgart is one Autobahn, every Autobahnhof and Tankstelle of which is as familiar to me now as any MOL petrol station here in Nagykanizsa, so often have I made this trip.

As always, it is on this stretch of the route that I am hit by the desire to one day make a longer journey of it. Rather than concentrating on reaching our destination in as short a time as is possible, maybe it would be nice to spend a bit of time here and follow those road signs to Berchtesgaden, Dachau, Nürnberg and Chiemsee. But as ever, the lure of home and the restrictions imposed by finances prove stronger and it's pedal to the metal time again.

Or at least it would have been were it not for the roadworks scattered at depressingly regular intervals along the way involving terribly complicated contraflow systems and causing much frustration in yours truly. And even on those stretches of road where no roadworks exist, the motorway is for some part two by two lanes only and every time one HGV overtakes another, backlogs of traffic build up such that it is impossible to generate a healthy head of steam. I issue thanks to the gods that I decided to travel back over this section on a Sunday when traffic should be negligible.

So, after Stuttgart, Karlsruhe and then cross country for the last section of non-motorway driving before leaving the A1 at Stamford. In the direction of Saarbrücken through hills and forest and some of the best scenery of the whole journey. Inbetween Landau and Pirmasens there is a small village in which lies a wonderful little family guesthouse/bar/restaurant by the name of 'Am Teufelstisch' named after a rather unusually shaped outcrop of rock which overlooks it from its perch on top of a nearby hill. Ideally situated at 1000kms from Nagykanizsa, I have used it on almost every occasion I have made this journey.

This day, we arrived at 11.30 and Frau Meyer had locked up and buggered off home. Bollocks.

I had been feeling pretty tired round about Karlsruhe time but right now I was in a pretty clear space. The Frog and Dragon were asleep in the back and I decided to head on for a nice inexpensive motel I know. The only problem with this was that it is in Arlon, just over the Belgian border nearly 200 kilometres away. Oh well.

So, with a pause to fill up with diesel in Luxembourg, and at less than 50p a litre you'd be a fool not to, I pulled into the AC Hotel Arlux on Rue de Lorraine at some time after 1 o'clock in the morning.

Remembering Jess's advice to hollow the tongue on the grave accents, I headed into reception and, in flawless French, informed the woman therein that I could neither speak French nor Flemish and gave her a choice of English, German or Hungarian. She looked at me a bit askance as I suppose one would if a foreigner in England told one in a perfect Yorkshire accent that they had, "bugger all grasp o' t' English language."

Anyway, she chose English and then proceeded not to understand a word I said. Again, bollocks.

There was nothing else for it really. I slipped into my very-early-in-the-bloody-morning-without-the-lubricative-benefit-of-any-alcohol French and after handing over my credit card number, received a room key in return. Sorted.

Return to car, wake the Frog and Dragon, herd them into room...they were v. groggy you understand...empty the minibar in seconds flat of all beer related comestibles, leave family comatose in bed, return to reception where I persuaded said receptionist to re-open the bar. Result. Several echte draught Stella later, I wobbled off to the room followed by a collapse of stout party. To sleep, perchance to dream...

Monday, August 30, 2004


Yup. Amstelladagain is open for business once more. There has been no expensive time-consuming refurbishment a la Shoe and my sidebar is as stable as ever, unlike the Shrub's. My bizarre animations and silly games count will remain minute in comparison to the recently re-opened Packet (whose mastery of the apostrophe is as dodgy as ever was, judging by his guest spot on the Shoe...speaking of which, you Southern strumpet, I am still awaiting my invite!)...in short, visitors may expect pretty much the same fare as was on offer prior to my sabbatical. Parental supervision is advised.