A Road Trip From Hell
This is what happens when you follow Google Maps
The quickest route back from Munich to the UK by road is quite possibly one of the dullest, scariest and most excruciating drives you would ever have the misfortune to experience in your life. Google maps suggests a route roughly taking in Stuttgart – Dortmund – Belgium – Calais – UK. Anyone insane enough to take the search engine’s advice will surely be forgiven for believing they must have died and gone to one of the innermost circles of hell.
Part one: Bavaria
There are two main drawbacks to driving here. First is the tractors. They travel at 25 kilometers and hour and are driven by ruddy cheeked, lederhosen-wearing sausage munchers who will do anything to get that pile of precariously topplable logs from one place to another. If you thought leather shorts and green hats with feathers in were only a fancy dress costume worn at Oktoberfest, you were wrong. They are the look of choice for any self respecting German farmer.
The German farmer’s wife, however, is perhaps an even worse creature to encounter on your voyage through hell. She takes her sartorial advice from old newsreels of Russian peasants and spends all day wearing a headscarf and sweeping the pavement with a broom. Not a sweeping brush, mind, but a traditional straw broom like in Harry Potter, but without the quidditch. If you have the audacity to drive through her street, you can expect a piercing glare at best, or for her to keel over and die from the shock of seeing an Auslander in a right hand drive vehicle at worst.
Part Two: The Autobahn
The Germans are proud, staunch supporters of the lack of speed limit on their autobahns. In the closeted Catholic world of South Germany, it is one of life’s few freedoms.
There are two ways to drive on the autobahn. The first is to drive in the slow lane at 60mph, sandwiched between enormous lorries (usually laden with the aforementioned precarious piles of topplable logs). The second option is to drive in the fast lane, for there are only two lanes. This lane is populated by maniacal, arrogant Audi and BMW drivers who think that two inches is a reasonable stopping distance at 150mph. Drive for more than ten minutes on any autobahn and you will see burned-out Citroens littering the hard shoulder who have had to push their car way beyond its mechanical limit to avoid the hooting and flashing of an impatient Mercedes owner.
Part Three: The Ruhrgebiet
The Danube and the Rhine were the information superhighways of the middle ages, with people, goods and ideas travelling by boat across Europe. Along the Rhine sprang up mighty cities, which in time industrialised and became the powerhouses of German industry. The northernmost edge of this region is called the Ruhrgebiet. To drive through the Ruhrgebiet is to experience the very depths of humanity. Faceless concrete, billowing industrial smog and lashing horizontal rain await the intrepid motorist as she crawls through endless snarls of choked-up motorways.
Part Four: Belgium
Belgium is perhaps the most geographically unlucky place on the planet. Trapped between the channel ports and the rest of Europe, it is a thoroughfare for every conceivable type of truck, lorry, articulated freight vehicle, refrigerated lorry and delivery van ever. And we all know how awful these drivers are. Is there anything worse than the self satisfied, overweight, dirty fingernailed long-distance haulage driver whose only joys in life are king size Mars Bars and onanism?
If there is anything worse, it’s the Belgian road system itself. The potholed and cracked roads buckle under the strain of being the gateway to Europe. And for some inexplicable reason, the slow lane on the motorway turns into the slip road at EVERY exit, meaning you have to dart into the fast lane at every junction, lest ye be whisked off to Liege.
Part Five: Calais
Calais was owned by the English until 1558 and, dear God, it shows. Go to any town in France – and I mean any town – and you can expect a relatively pleasant town square, pavement cafes with dismissive waiters, a pretty church. Not in Calais. 500 years under the English yoke has had such a detrimental effect on the Calais-dwellers’ psyche that they seem to be modelling their town on either post-war Coventry or the slums of Glasgow circa 1935. Listless would-be-asylum-seekers pace around the town centre, awaiting the great voyage to the UK in the deluded belief it’s somehow better there than France. Gangs of sullen youths loiter in the train station, waiting for a train to anywhere except here.
Part Six: England
So you’ve made it back to Dover in one piece. Back in good old Blighty, with its considerate drivers, friendly policemen and polite pedestrians. After spending so long on the continent, your chances of a) Getting in the correct lane, b) Not undertaking on the motorway, or c) Remembering which way round a roundabout goes are about zilch. Good luck with that.