Excuse the pun but the Netherlands fell flat. Amsterdam is not the best place in the world and our search must continue.
We boarded a bus early and watched out the window as the terrain developed before our eyes, converting infinite flatness, rows of precise cottages and clumps of thin, twiggy trees, into mildly undulating, rolling green pastures. The spring sun shone brightly through the cool chilly air. Abundance of life awaited, just around the corner, as we headed Eastbound and down.
Long rows of solar panels, pepper the countryside next to tall, vast, grey wind turbines. Carrying their product, pylons almost identical to the ones at home, except for strange football-like object that I named ‘transpondulators’, due to a lack of knowing what it’s actually called.
We stopped at a small, neat service station around lunchtime and I made a move towards the clinical looking toilets but too slowly and a line had formed. Right at the entrance door to the bathrooms in German service stations, is an honesty box asking for you to ‘spend a penny’ – or half a Euro, to be more accurate – before entering. I had to queue but used my time wisely, wondering if this was where USA rapper ‘50 cent’ had come about his name. I imagined Curtis James Jackson III both desperate to relieve himself of his non-gangstar sounding name and many liters of VitaminWater –the company he founded that made him a multi-millionaire when he sold his ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ style drinks business to Coca-Cola.
Thinking of this started to make me thirsty and I made to replenish the liquids I’d just lost, straight after investing to discard some. It was then I saw him. Coincidence? Maybe. My mind raced and a cold shiver came over me. My internal warning system was going off, as I glanced at him. This time, he wasn’t wearing a turtleneck but the same overcoat and fancy brown shoes confirmed it was him, just a couple of people in the coffee queue ahead of me.
Was I being followed? If so, by who? I decide to name my stalker, Hans. It seemed to fit him and after all, we are now in Germany.
I skipped the coffee and made my way back on to the bus. Sure enough, moments later he boarded and took up his seat, several rows back and on the other side of the bus.
“Hans on!” I disapprovingly muttered to myself, under my breath.
His arrival fed my paranoia, as I was unable to see what he was doing, without turning fully around and raising suspicions. I submitted to an uncomfortable journey, with only a few restrained fleeting glances, to renew my suspicions, as I went.
Read More: Scotland to Australia Part 1.
I have to admit that Frankfurt was never a likely candidate to be the ‘Nirvana’ that we were looking for but it was home to Kate’s brother and a family visit was certainly in order.
Family was one of the core reasons we were making our pilgrimage, from Scotland to Australia. To spend time living in Perth, surrounded by Kate’s family. To get to know them better from my point of view and to spend valuable time with them as a couple.
Unlike my family, the majority of Kate’s extended clan all live within the same city, which makes things neat. My family were well dispersed throughout the UK and as a result our meetups weren’t frequent. From my sister in the remote Highlands of Scotland, to Kate and I in the city Lowlands, to my dad in the Midlands of England and my Brother in the semi-rural South. I guess we each wanted different things from our living situations and that pulled us to a variety of points on the compass.
Frankfurt, as a hub for banker types and international conventions, doesn’t exactly set the world on fire. Sharp looking steel and glass skyscrapers dominate the skyline, as if to emphatically claim big business dominance of the city.
Buildings stand like huge trophies, celebrating victories of commerce. Bankers roll around in expensive cars with the kind of predatory animals that some of them like to shoot, on their bonnet badges. It can only be a matter of time before a luxury carmaker makes a model with a severed stags head, mounted on the bonnet.
Fast cars and modern architecture might sound good to some but it’s what these people have done to build their wealth that brings a sour taste to my mouth. Thankfully, the company of family, some on-point graffiti, a decent Bratwurst and a stein of beer are excellent antidotes, to wash it all away with.
In Glasgow, people often joke with their archrivals from Edinburgh on the East coast of Scotland, that “West is best”. Glasgow may not be the capital city, have as much pretty architecture, or attract as many tourists but it is the heart and soul of Scotland, not the skin-deep beauty.
On a grander, European scale, I’d doubt that same phrase could be applied. Sure, Western Europe is more prosperous but at what cost? The former colonial powers of the world, each have a dark history. From Britain’s role in the slave trade and exploitation of the Commonwealth; to the Dutch colonies of Africa and the Caribbean; to the German colonial empire, along with their role in creating fascistic World Wars. These chequered pasts continue to resonate to this day, as we dominate and monopolise the world of business.
So it is with an open mind and heart that we travel east tomorrow, to experience our first glimpse behind the (former) Iron Curtain. To understand the effects of the fascist Holocaust on Jewish, Soviet, Slavs, Roma, communists, disabled, gay and religiously dissident people. To see what effect the fall of authoritarian USSR and subsequent the birth of democracy has had. To look beneath the bonnet of it’s communist history, beyond the simpleton slander of the self-interested, oligarch run, Western media. To get hands on with East Europe.
Respect is vital, in all walks of life, including whilst on the road. To walk into another country with preconceived ideas, is to travel with your eyes closed. East Europe has a difficult and colorful past and it is a great thing that now, we are able to walk all the way through it, with nothing more than a flash of the passport and a smile at the gates.