As we approach the end of our time here in Germany, I feel compelled to chronicle the more mundane parts of our life, since it is so different from the typical American experience. Case in point: our recent road trip to Playmobil Fun Park and parts beyond (posts on Garmisch, Berchtesgaden and Nuremburg yet to come.)
It had been a long time since we had a road trip. The Autobahn, for most, is synonymous for unlimited speed. Yes, there are portions of the highway which do not have a speed limit, but this isn’t the always the case. There is a suggested speed limit of 130 km/hour (that is approximately 80 mph.) Incidentally, we recently learned that the Autobahn was a public works project promoted by der Führer, Adolf Hitler, who saw the network of highways as an opportunity to reduce the nation’s unemployment. Part of the master plan was also to build rest areas along the way - more on those in a bit - to provide even more opportunities for employment.
Despite this opportunity to drive fast, the Autobahn is not always as efficient as we would hope. The Autobahn is also famous for horrible Verkehrsstau, also known as Staus, or traffic jams. We encountered this terrible stau in our recent travels. We spent 1 hour and 40 minutes sitting in nearly stand-still traffic, and only covered a distance of 4 miles. That is a speed of 2.4 mph, which is far from unlimited. This stau was caused by a construction zone.
When nature calls there are a few options. The American stand-by, McDonald’s, is generally not among them. The first option is a parking area, designated by a sign with a P on it. Many people (mostly men) take that sign literally, as any parking area usually has plenty of people standing either behind some flora or in plain view, heeding nature’s call.
One step up from the parking area is the WC option. While there may be indoor facilities, these types of rest areas may not have the usual comforts found in one’s home, including running water, paper products, cleaning staff or deodorizers.
The best (read: most civil or cleanest) option is the Rastplatz or Rasthof. However, there is a catch: use of these facilities isn’t free. Some locations have a woman of a certain age who serves are restroom monitor. She will sit by a table with a plate full of coins on it, indicating the suggested price of a visit to the facilities. However, the more advanced rest areas are automated, as shown above. It is 70 Euro cents admission to the ladies’ or men’s room. That is why we keep plenty of change handy in the car.
What do we get for 70 cents? Generally, a very clean restroom. At this recent stop there was a self-cleaning toilet. An arm descended after every flush and the toilet seat rotated so that it is fresh and sanitized (supposedly!) for the next visitor. Once I saw a restroom monitor cleaning the ceiling – with a toothbrush. Lots of people complain about having to pay for the restrooms, but I honestly don’t mind. For those who want to save a Euro or two, feel free to stop at the Parking Area or the WC. You get what you pay for.
The rest areas managed by the Sanifair corporation have a bit of a reward program going. After paying our entry fee, we are presented with a wert-bon, or coupon, for 50 cents off any item in the snack bar, restaurant, or gift shop. They are good at any Sanifair establishment. We call these little bonuses Something Awesome Coupons, a name created by a friend’s daughters, who would save their coupons until they had enough to buy something awesome. We had accumulated a large stack and used some to pay for dinner. The boys used theirs to buy ice cream and KinderEggs. Awesome, right?
It seems a little awkward to jump from toilets to food, but I’m going there anyhow…
Another difference between American road trips and German road trips is finding lodging. When we’ve traveled in the U.S. we rarely make hotel reservations. We usually just drive until we’re feeling tired, then look for a billboard that advertises a nearby hotel/motel and stop there for a room. I may be out of touch with expenses, but I remember we could typically get a night at a decent motel for around $80 a night, give or take. (I’m not talking about the Hilton here, just a Holiday Inn.) Along the Autobahn there are rarely billboards, and most hotels are small family-run establishments so we have to make reservations in advance. (Thank you, Booking.com.) There isn’t really a “standard” type of room – we’ve had all sizes and layouts. The price is much higher (I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a room for less than 100€, and typically we pay more like 120€, which is about $160 or more) but usually this includes a yummy breakfast.
Although some members of the family are quite disappointed that Froot Loops are rarely on the menu, I really enjoy the typical European breakfast. There is always an assortment of bread and other carbohydrates. My favorite are the Brotchen.
Cheese and meat are usually offered for those who like a little protein in the morning.
Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are also pretty standard fare.
Cereals are usually wholesome, like müslix or corn flakes. Yogurt is often eaten with müslix on top. There are a variety of jams and jellies, butter, spreadable cheeses, and always Nutella. Apples and oranges were on the menu, and prunes.
This chicken is not just decor – she’s keeping soft boiled eggs warm. There are special egg cups and egg spoons for their consumption.
I usually wash it all down with a nice strong cup of coffee, served in my own personal coffee pot.
Then it is time to hit the road and continue on our adventures. Keep some change handy though – after that coffee I may need to make a stop.