Travels in Europe

If we leave at daybreak we can be in Trier for dinner, my optimistic husband informed me. How far is it exactly was my suspicious response. Andrew loves driving, endlessly, across Europe. A ten hour drive is the perfect day out for him. That’s not my idea of heaven. So, still waiting for an answer on the distance involved, I persisted. Just how far is it EXACTLY? It is 700 kilometres, he said, that’s about 450 miles, roughly an eight hour drive. So if we leave home at 9 am we’ll be there in time for dinner.

A few days later we were on the road, leaving a snowy and ice-covered Oxford behind. We headed south through the Chiltern Hills to the M25 and the motorway around London. Next it was a brisk drive through Kent, where the motorway was packed with lorries waiting to cross the English Channel. Then the highly organised but totally soulless Channel Tunnel terminal where endless lanes of traffic queue to board the next train for the 35 minute journey under the water to Northern France. The trains are like extra-terrestrial beings, huge, earth-coloured contraptions. Giant worms that burrow their way through the ground from England to France. You can drive your car, van or motorhome straight on board through vast, garage-style doors. Some of the trains can accommodate lorries, even massive 18-wheelers.

I’ve always much preferred the ferry crossing from Dover to Calais, on an old fashioned ship, you can stand on deck and watch the White Cliffs of Dover fading from view. However the trains which run under the Channel at 15 minute intervals are a much quicker alternative. Just over half an hour and we’re in France. You don’t even get out of the car. As we emerge into the daylight on the other side of the English Channel it’s time to drive off the train and head for the autoroutes of Northern France.

Once in France we Brits have to remember to drive on the right, whilst at home we drive on the left. A strange idiosyncracy! The motorways are generally quieter than in England, so it’s an easy drive towards Dunkirk, then south through Belgium towards Luxembourg. Luxembourg is a small independent duchy, with a Duke as it’s head of state. The Grand Duke Henri in fact. In the old days much of Central Europe was made up of small independent states, ruled over by a Prince or Duke. Now just a handful remain.

We stopped at a motorway services, where I was delighted to use my French to order lunch and have a brief chat with the lady serving the food. I understood everything she was saying. I was reminded how much I like being in ‘Europe’ travelling from country to country, generally able to communicate with the locals. After all people are just people wherever you may be.

By now it was early afternoon and we’d travelled through three countries – England, France and Belgium. We were well on our way. A quick circumnavigation of Luxembourg and we crossed the border into Germany. The land of the autobahn, these are the German motorways with no speed limit. Within minutes our sedate British driving style of 80 miles an hour meant that we were being overtaken frequently by Audi, BMW and Mercedes cars – all travelling very much faster than us.

As the sun began to sink in the west our drive was coming to an end. The vineyards that line the valley of the River Moselle, dotted the landscape. We left the autobahn and dropped down a steep hillside to the banks of the river. It was raining heavily and I noticed that there was a viewing area lined with the city shields of towns from neighbouring countries Metz (France) Ascoli Piceno (Italy) Gloucester(England) and ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Holland). Towns twinned with Trier I reasoned. The town of Trier lay before us on the opposite bank of the river, rising from the mist and rain.

We crossed the Kaiser Wilhelm Bridge, seeing the swollen waters below swirling and rushing on their relentless journey to the sea. An island in the middle of the river was completely submerged, just the tops of a handful of trees visible. Large river cruisers, popular for boat rides in the summer months, were moored for the winter on the river bank. Just five minutes to our hotel now, passing the spectacular Porta Nigra, the old Roman entrance to the city. I’m reminded that Trier was an important Roman town. The locals say it’s the oldest town in Germany.

The city of Trier is fully decorated for Christmas and the Christmas markets are in full swing. Numerous timber chalets fill the square, each decorated with lights, decorations and seasonal gifts and snacks. These stalls sell jewellery, sparkling crystals, hats, scarves, cuckoo clock. I buy a small wooden Christmas tree, painted in red, green and silver. A stall that catches my eye is selling delicious chocolate fashioned in the shape of traditional tools, hammers, spanners and pliers. I can’t resist buying a selection for my dad, they come in a small wooden workmen’s tool box. They are whimsical and beautiful – works of art!

Next we meet up with our daughter Lucy. She’s working in Trier for a year, as a teaching assistant. She helps teach the children English and in the evenings teaches some adult students too. It’s a joy to see her comfortable and settled in this delightful town.

Dinner is at an Italian restaurant, recommended by a local person. Our waiter looks Italian but in fact he’s Greek, from Athens. So Lucy from England speaks to him in German, even though he’s Greek! This is what I love about Europe – it’s just so cosmopolitan. People and languages mix daily in interesting and unexpected ways. My great-grandfather was a Greek, and although I don’t speak Greek I have a real affinity with Greece and all things Greek.

So in the last 18 hours we’ve travelled from England to France. Driven through Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Spent time with our English daughter who is working in Germany for a year. Then for the icing on the cake, a Greek waiter in an Italian restaurant speaking in German. This is Europe in the 21st century, all nationalities, travelling and working and co-operating together. Let’s collectively ignore the politicians – they don’t know anything about real life and real people in Britain and in mainland Europe today.

This Christmas time – from Europe with love xxxxx

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