In Deutsch, bitte

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One of the reasons we went to Europe was to celebrate my sister's 30th birthday with her. We drove down to Deggendorf in Bavaria where my mom's boyfriend Uwe lives. We stayed at his house for a few days. This is my sister unwrapping presents.

The back of the house.

This is a "Kachelofen". It's woodfired from a fireplace in the basement. The heat goes into the thick clay structure which stores and radiates it very intensely.

The kitchen. Lots of wood, decoration, and the mandatory bierstein collection.

The bathroom. The bidet in the back right, which is common in German and French bathrooms, for a quick but thorough cleaning of ones private parts.

I saw this old film projector on a shelf in the house.

View from the balcony of the house. Germany and most of Europe is very, very green. Lots of forests, even in populated areas.

On the evening of my sister's birthday we went to a typical Bavarian place to celebrate. This was one of the party rooms, an old renovated barn, everything wood. The tables were set in preparation for watching the evening's soccer game on TV via the projector in the middle while drinking beer and eating good bavarian food. Tradition meets high-tech.

My sister got to tap the keg the traditional style.

The beer was good as you can tell.

And the food was awesome, too.

The waitress in a traditional outfit.

The menu for the evening. Everything was really good.

Lunch the next day, another traditional Bavarian meal: Weisswurst, pretzels, kraut, beer.

This is downtown Deggendorf, one of the many old, renovated buildings.

The main townsquare. There are cafes everywhere. Europeans are big into sitting outside drinking coffee or beer, eating icecream, etc.

The obligatory "Oh my gawd, look how fast I'm driving!" picture. 200 km/h is about 130 mph, a speed we often reached on the Autobahn, and then some.

To set the record straight about the speed limit on the Autobahn: There are many areas where there is no limit and you can indeed drive as fast as you can. However, there are many frequent areas where there is a speedlimit for a few kilometers, e.g. at an intersection of two freeways, a curvy stretch, a big bridge with strong winds, etc. That speed limit is usually 100 or 120 km/h (ca. 60 or 80 mph). In construction areas it's even lower, around 60-80 km/h (40-60 mph).

Unfortunately the Autobahn has completely lost its appeal. It's nothing like it was 15 years ago. To begin with, due to the development of the European union and opening of the borders to eastern Europe there are many, many more cars on the Autobahn than there were 15 years ago. Many stretches of the Autobahn are only two lanes each direction and cannot handle the volume well.

In addition, there are a shitload of trucks which can go only 60 - 70 mph. Now imagine a two-lane Autobahn, with trucks in the right lane, and then one truck trying to pass another truck going about 1.6 miles faster. Or one of those tiny putt-putt cars like the Ford Ka passing a truck going 80 mph. These situations are frequent as in every two miles and create a blockage which is extremely frustrating and kills any possible traffic flow. If you want to drive fast, you constantly have to slow down for these situations, then waste a ton of gas to get back up to 200 km/h, only to sharply decelerate again down to 100 km/h two miles later at the next block. This is extremely frustrating, wastes a shitload of gas, and puts a lot of strain on the engine and brakes.

Contributing to that are people from the Netherlands. Their national past time is to hook a camper to the back of their car and drive around the German Autobahn all summer long doing about 120 km/h, randomly passing trucks and cars, blocking the left lane any chance they get without showing any understanding of how traffic on the Autobahn works. Infuriating.

What makes it even worse is that in general drivers no longer obey the simple rules that used to make the Autobahn function well. The way it should work (and used to): Any time a slow car pulls into the left lane to pass, the driver first checks the rearview mirror to make sure s/he is not pulling into the path of somebody driving 200 km/h. As long as s/he is in the left lane, s/he continues to check the mirrors every two seconds. If s/he notices a fast car rapidly gaining from behind, s/he immediately moves to the right to let him pass. Not anymore. People no longer keep right, watch their 6, or pay any attention to what goes on around them. It makes driving fast nearly impossible.

Long story short: Driving on the Autobahn sucks big time. Gone are the days of the past of being able to enjoy driving fast for extended periods of time.

We did get lucky one Sunday evening driving back to Siegen. It was the evening of the European soccer championship finale and the streets were empty, including the Autobahn. I was able to drive around 200 km/h (130 mph) for most of the way.

It was interesting to see how driving differs in France and Italy though. A few days after my sister's birthday party Sandy and I drove from Germany to southern France (Cannes).

On a side note, to demonstrate how small Europe really is: we made the drive from Germany down to southern France in one day. On this day we had breakfast in Germany, a mid-morning snack in Austria, lunch at lake Garda in Italy, and dinner in France.

Anyway - in Italy and France the official speedlimit is 130 - everywhere. However, nobody cares, including the cops. The first few miles I was making a point to watch my speed, just to be passed by every other motorist on the freeway. I learned quickly by observing how the French and Italians drive and ended up adapting my driving accordingly, meaning disregarding pretty much any traffic rules there are and adhering to only one rule: Try not to hit other cars if possible.

The Germans are very precise and adhere to their rules. In contrast, the Italians and French don't give a shit. Traffic rules are only guidelines that don't really need to be followed. They drive like monkeys on crank. Driving down there was a blast. There was this road going down to Genova. Two windy narrow lanes going downhill with moderate traffic and every driver thinking he is Nikki Lauda. Constantly cutting corners, passing each other, pushing the limits of the car, sometimes only inches to spare - it was awesome! It's been a long time since I had so much fun driving. I just wish I had my Schnitzelrocket there.

However, driving like this is not for everybody. The dimensions down there are much smaller than in the States. Everything is narrow and tight. If you drive a SUV or minivan you won't be able to get to half the places, and forget about parking.

We were driving my sister's VW Golf she had loaned us. It was a turbo diesel which drove fine even though it had stock wheels and suspensions. Turbo diesel? Yes, in Europe the majority of cars have some form of diesel engine because they get much better mileage than regular gas engines, diesel fuel is cheaper than gas, and you get some kind of tax break.

One comment about driving in Italy and France: The freeways are of really good quality. Smooth blacktop, no potholes, well marked. However, they are toll roads and you pay through the nose for the priviledge of driving fast on smooth roads. We spent over 200 dollars in only one week of driving around Italy and France (about 2500 kilometers / 1600 miles). However, it was worth it. Much less traffic than in Germany and smooth driving.

A big compliments to the Italians and French for putting up signs. Everywhere are signs to everywhere. You hardly need a map or navigation system. They even put up signs to where all the hotels are. It's very easy to get around (as long as you don't get intimidated by the narrow windy streets and crazy driving).

I have two suggestions though for how the Italians and French can save themselves a shitload of money:

  1. Stop naming every single bridge and tunnel and putting up signs with those names.
  2. Stop putting turning signals on cars. Nobody uses them anyway

Ok, back to the pictures...

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