hen we landed in Amsterdam, we were all set. We got a rental car, we got a map, we had Mapquest directions galore. We, however, decided not to bring the map that Mapquest printed out to accompany our directions from Amsterdam to Aachen. They displayed a large overview of Europe, with tiny little dots labeled “start” and “finish” over the approximate areas of the Netherlands and Germany. Thanks for that! That’ll clear it right up!!
Nevertheless, we were on our way. But trust me, even though Germans drive on the same side of the road as we do in America, the rest of the rules are very different! We were zooming along (at what speed we weren’t sure—that whole kilometers per hour thing is very ambiguous. And you can go as fast as you want in Germany, right?). We made it from the Netherlands to Germany in good time, anticipating getting to our hotel in time to view some naked strangers (see earlier blog!).
But when we came to the lovely tiny town of Breinig, Germany–where we were supposed to turn right “at the brown sign” according to the delightfully vague printed directions from our hotel website—we hit a roadblock. Literally. A big, road-crossing block, complete with a big red circle. Unsure of what to do, we turned around. And saw what was impeding our progress. A bicycle race. With lots of cyclists. Whizzing their way up the very road that led to our hotel. A road which was cordoned off very firmly.
Interesting development for three slightly punchy journalists. We decided to drive down a road parallel to the main road, and look for a right turn which would lead us in the same direction as our intended road. And we ended up smack dab in the middle of some delightfully picturesque German countryside, complete with cows, verdant pastures, and sheep. But no turns to the right.
Back to Breinig, where we parked (probably illegally) on a very narrow back street, and called the hotel. After being passed off to various people who spoke questionable English, we finally reached our savior, Melanie. A few very confused conversational exchanges later, and she understood our predicament. She got us to what seems to be a central Breinig spot—the bakery (the Bäckerei). And took us on a tortuous route through the back streets of the town. She also informed us that all those big orange signs that read “Umleitung” were indicating a detour. Oops.
Now, ancient German villages, with their imposing stone buildings and cobbled sidewalks, are wonderfully quaint. But their streets are narrow. Very narrow. And Germans seem to be the most efficient, opportunistic parkers anywhere. They’ll park anywhere—on a sidewalk, in a corner, and yes, on the side of a very narrow street. Granted, they give a slight nod to expedience, and manage to park every few cars on alternating sides, so it’s like a very slim slalom course down hills over cobblestone. With oncoming traffic. Oncoming traffic driven by Germans experienced and very aggressive at this lovely game of chicken. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time cowering behind parked cars, waiting for a moment to nose out into the thoroughfare and dart down the street until another opponent came barrelling toward me, and I would quickly duck out of the way again.
Because of our lack of directional assurance, and my lack of desire to careen headlong down these slalom courses, we ended up not making many German friends driving behind us. Germans aren’t afraid to honk, let’s just say.
Melanie finally got us out of Breinig, and on a winding country road that she assured would bring us to Zwiefall, the town the hotel was in, after, and I quote this ever-so-helpful fraulien, “going up a hill, and down a hill, and up a hill and down a hill…”
We finally found Zwiefall, which made Breinig look like a booming city. And were so very pleased to see Melanie at the front desk, whose fluency in English was infinitely surpassed by her patience in dealing with stupid, lost Americans. She greeted us—before we’d introduced ourselves—with “Ah, you finally found us.” We must have looked just as lost, American, and frazzled as we’d felt.
We’d arrived, but trust me, our journey had just begun!