Wednesday, November 29, 2006

American Weekend In Europe: Nine Countries On A Weekend

American tourists in Europe are so often pressed for time, it seems many can but resort to country- hopping. We have one American in our two-man team so it only took us to rent an unlimited mileage car to embark on a Yankee-does-Europe tour. Thanks to a Yankee company, Hertz, it is not just possible but very affordable.

When you want to bag so many countries in such a short time you need to choose the smallest ones. One such place within a one-day driving range from Amsterdam is Liechtenstein. It
is what Floyd calls a fake country: a nominal principality whose major purpose of existence is to help the rich people of Europe keep their incomes unshared with the rest of the population. Russia's national carrier Aeroflot should be more properly called Air Liechtenstein as it is in fact conveniently registered here. So here starts the tally.

Country 1: Holland. Since neither of us is native here, it counts. To keep it real, we make a quick stop after Utrecht to pee in the bush, to mark our track.

Country 2: Germany. German autobahns are the quickest way to travel around. They give Floyd a child-like glee because he can use the cruise control here most of time. You don't get to see much when driving so you really need to know what exit to get off to something nice.

Country 3: Switzerland. On the Swiss border a jolly customs officer checks our passports. He refers to our home town (i.e., Amsterdam) as the Sodom and Gomorra of Europe. His wistful tone and a sad sigh shows just how much he would love to trade his Swiss hicks for our hotbed of sin.

Country 4: Liechtenstein. We miss it twice. If you miss the highway exit you just whiz by, the princedom is just 26 kilometres long. From the balcony of our hotel you can see the Rhine. We drive higher and higher until we end up in a cul-de-sac on some abandoned ski resort and what do we see here? A car with a Dutch licence plate! The Ghost of the Driving Dutchman haunts you everywhere!

Country 5: Austria. We just walk over the border. This province, Vorarlberg, wanted to join Switzerland when after WWI Austro-Hungary was broken down in pieces but eventually it stayed Austrian.

Country 6: Italy. Driving in the Italian- speaking part of Switzerland, we happen upon Ascona (named after the Ford Ascona from the 70s, not!) - a stunningly picturesque hangout of the super-rich on the Lake Maggiore. We keep following the lovely scenery until a bunch of Italian carabinieri waves us through the border. Whoops, we're in Italy.

Cannobio is a beautiful Italian town right next to the Swiss border. It's convivial and colourful, a true eye-candy after the clean and efficient Teutonic drab. The fresh mountain coolness here is tempered by the proximity of the lake: the climate has a slight greenhouse quality. Throngs of Swiss tourists come to enjoy here delicious six-euro pizzas and spectacular lake views from the welcoming terrazzas. We follow the suit to a great acclaim.

Country 7: France. After exploring Lenin's place in Switzerland: Luzern, Zurich and Basel we cross into France. A white guy and a black guy on a Dutch car, what could they be up to? Of course, drug-trafficking, decide the French border police. We are subjected to thorough frisking, our dirty laundry gets extracted and exposed. Then a woman officer makes a blunder. She opens Floyd's filofax and starts asking about his appointments there. Something audibly snaps and the Angry Black Man makes a quick cameo appearance. We are hastily dismissed among profuse apologies. Les bastardes.

To make good for the nasty experience we follow the Alsace Wine Route. Fortified villages rich from their wine trade are gorgeously colourful even on a cloudy day. In a restaurant in Riquewihr we are treated to an exquisite Alsatian diner for mere 45 Euro for two with wine and dessert! The Riesling tastes like blueberry nectar, the lowly sauercraut, potatoes ans pork made into a sheer objet d'art gastronomique.

Country 8: Belgium. Our favourite drive-over destination, how can we ever miss it unless our car learns to skip real far.

Country 9: Luxemburg. Huh, great place to tank up.Well to give the due credit, the baguette is great here, it's a Gallic zone after all, so we stuff a dozen in the trunk.

The rain starts pouring, the traffic gets heavy, the speed limit low, flash cameras everywhere - Nederland, sweet home, we love you!


The twee town of Haarlem - a tourist's must! Once a major trading port, now it's a cutesy weeny town, a fragment of goode ole Holland as it used to be before all those allochtonen descended.


Last month's post: Autumn in Russia

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