Australians in Europe get pretty excited over the same thing - how close everything is. Just this week I was talking to an Aussie girlfriend about her visit with me later in the year. We get a little crazy about all of the 'possibilities'. Already on our to do list is to visit a German Christmas Market (after all, it's only just over an hour to the border...), and we have had the Paris discussion also (there's a sign as you leave Amsterdam showing Paris a mere 492km away). "It's closer than Sydney," we enthuse. "It's just like driving down to Byron!" we note, conveniently forgetting that we very rarely actually drive to Sydney. Because it's a bloody long way away!
So, with this as our context, my Dutchman and I prepared for the big drive from Amsterdam to Croatia - the same distance as Brisbane to Melbourne, FYI. Hindered at the start with a flat battery, but saved by Sander’s Aunt Olga and her jumper-cables, we had to make an unscheduled sleepover at Sander's parents' house where Hans fitted a new battery for us, and then we were on our way early Thursday morning...
|Such a beautiful, blurry castle.|
Further to the centre of the country more and more of the village roofs sport shiny solar-panels; an interesting twist of modernity that I really enjoyed. Then, towards the south and the Austrian border the houses get bigger and bigger, less villages and more farms and their dominating farmhouses. These dwellings, although much larger, are no less picturesque. Three storeys high, with white render and exposed dark-wood beams, they are mostly thatched and have cute wooden shutters on either side of small windows fringed with lace curtains. This tradition carries into Austria, and we got to stay in one for the night - much nicer than a concrete road-side motel. But I’m a few hours ahead of myself, as our accommodation was right at the bottom of the country and we had a few hours of Austria to drive through before reaching it...
|The 'A' in the circle stands for Austria, the 'I' for Italy.|
It took about eight hours to drive through Germany, and when we reached Austria I was once again surprised by just how different each country was. Austria grows mountains on its mountains, and, thanks to the rain, we didn’t see the mountains until we had crossed our last German pasture and were right at their feet. Huge! Gigantic! Like the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland, except instead of seeing these from a distance we drove right at their base and, at times, through them. The longest tunnel was over seven kilometres. At other times we crossed elegant bridges spanning deep ravines (spotting a waterfall or two). Really, the country is impossibly mountainous, with cows grazing on vertical fields, and houses having straight roofs but angled bases. It was here in Austria that I entertained Sander with the complete Sound of Music songbook. How could I help myself? The hills were alive! And right in front of me! I didn’t find out until the return trip that my Dutchman has never actually seen The Sound of Music, and so my half-remembered and mostly off-key rendition of Climb Every Mountain may have seemed a bit strange. PS - I’m downloading the film as I type.
|This Slovenian petrol station chain is called 'Hip Hop', |
which helps when you're paying stupid prices for fuel.
|Beautiful Croatia. No bathing-suits in this pic...|
In summation (and I know, as an English teacher, how wrong it is to begin a conclusion as such), it was wonderful. I’m looking forward to doing the whole drive again, only this time we’ll have some more time, and we’ll spend it by taking each and every highway exit that interests us. Oh, and do you know the German word for highway exit? Ausfarht. Hee hee! Imagine seeing that every few kilometres. I giggled inside each time...
NL - Netherlands, D - Germany (Deutschland), B - Begium, I - Italy, F - France, RO - Romania, SLO - Slovenia, BG - Bulgaria, DK - Denmark, EST - Estonia, A - Austria, CZ - Czech Republic, H - Hungary, L - Luxembourg, PL - Poland, SK - Slovakia, S - Sweden and the non-union HR - Croatia (Hrvatska), BIH - Bosnia and Herzegovina