22nd of May.
The 22nd of May was somewhat of a turning point in the trip and I do not have a single image to accompany this particular day but I hope it will serve to explain the (many) journal / blog entries that follow this.
I make no secret of the fact that I am here in the undoubtedly forlorn hope of ever creating a decent website as one of the many refugees from the late and much lamented Virtual Tourist which many of my few trusty “followers” were members of.
One of the highlights of the VT calendar was the annual Euromeet which was held in a different town or city every year and was organised entirely by one or more members. Whilst the meets were not officially sanctioned by VT (I suspect for legal reasons more than anything else) they were hugely supportive and used to send the organisers large boxes of “swag” i.e. promotional items to be distributed amongst the attendees. Additionally, one of the members of staff usually attended and I had met and got to know several of them personally over the years. I count the last two CEO’s of VT, Giampiero (G) and Kimberly as personal friends. It really was that kind of site which makes it’s loss, especially the circumstances of that loss, all the greater.
This year’s meet had been in the planning for some time and was scheduled for a town called Kempten in Allgau in Bayern (Bavaria) in Southern Germany. It was being organised by a German member called Christian who had already done an awful lot of legwork and booked coaches, restaurants etc. which must have left him in an awful position when they pulled the rug out from under us.
Needless to say there was much discussion as to whether it would go on or not but the overwhelming consensus was that it should for a number of reasons. Obviously, nobody wanted poor Christian to be out of pocket nor for all his hard work to be wasted. Also, there was an element of defiance that we weren’t going to let the “bar stewards” grind us down and if we wanted to have a meet then we were going to have one, website or no. Perhaps most importantly, a number of very firm personal friendships had been formed over the years and people go to the meets as much for the incredibly sociable atmosphere as for the excellent activities and meals that the organisers consistently arrange.
I had more or less decided that I wasn’t going to go this year although I had initially signed up as I thought it would be something of a wake with everyone sitting around moping over the loss of something we all held so dear. However, as the date drew ever nearer I was increasingly thinking that if I did not attend then I would regret it forever. I will give full details of the meet itself in future journal entries. I have mentioned before that I had made my mind up I didn’t want to fly if I didn’t have to and so I booked an overnight bus (coach) from Lyon to Memmingen which is very close to Kempten. I knew if I headed off the next night I would have a day to spare and so I might as well take in another location.
I “booked passage” with a company called Flixbus on the night bus the following evening and I must have spent the rest of the day toiling over a hot keyboard as I do not have a single image of that daytime as I mentioned at the top of this piece which is unusual for me. Don’t worry, there are plenty more to come.
After the supper of the night before it was a miracle I slept at all but I did. The idea of consuming a whole beautifully over-ripe French cheese along with some more Crement d’Alsace (which is really champagne but they cannot call it that due to where it is made) I suspect would not be recommended by a sleep expert, especially for one with my sleep disorders. I should explain that I deliberately leave cheeses in my fridge at home for a month or two past their sell-by dates just to mature. They have not killed me yet.
I knew I had to keep myself fairly well in check that day for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I did not want to miss my bus (coach) and secondly, I know that the “facilities” on such vehicles can be a touch unsavoury to say the least so the less need to use them the better. The day, therefore, was spent going round one or two of the local establishments of alcoholic refreshment I had taken to frequenting and drinking small beers which caused some confusion as that is not my normal way. I was bid some very genuine and hearty “Bon voyages” (I am not sure if I should pluralize that or not so apologies if I have it wrong).
Not least of these fond farewells was in the hostel of which, yet again, I cannot speak highly enough. The staff had taken to calling me by my name and would invite me to sit with them when they were having their coffee breaks etc. for a chat. Despite the fact that I was easily old enough to be the Father of anyone there and probably biologically even Grandfather to some, I never felt anything less than most welcome there. I know I was most happy in le Flaneur and it was certainly a far better experience than sitting alone in a room or soulless hotel bar in any place I could afford in the city. I’d never have found a guitar!
I shall publish a little collage of images of the hostel on another page here.
I kept myself fairly straight and, with a final pat on the “head” of R2D2 (does R2D2 have a head?), I was off in plenty of time to get to the station, maybe even slip in a quick beer before the off. Wrong. Once again I relied on technology and once again it failed me. Using the appalling Google maps I walked and I walked and when I had done that I walked some more! Eventually I resorted to tried and trusted tactics, asked a passerby, got proper directions and arrived with about five minutes to spare, sweating like the proverbial pig although I am sure I have read that pigs do not actually sweat as I mentioned before but who knows? What I do know is that I could have wrung out my bandanna and I was very grateful for having worn it. I thoroughly recommend one for travellers of either gender, especially if you have a bit of hair.
I made it to the bus station and not a problem as the baggage loader / conductor seemed in no rush so I joined him for a smoke and a chat. I asked about seats and was told they were not allocated and to sit where I wanted. Great stuff and I knew where I was headed. The bus was about half full and I spied my seat immediately. If i can I always take the middle seat of five in the back row as it offers just about unlimited legroom and I am 6’5″ (194 in metric?, I am not sure) so that was me. Happy days with happier to come as nobody else apparently wanted to sit in the back row. Whether this was due to me being there I cannot say but the upshot was that I had five seats to myself and whilst not the most comfortable bunk in the world at least it was a lie down. I knew it was going to be a long night but a sleeper on the train was going to be ludicrously expensive and take me on a most circuitous route with not a lot of time saved by doing that.
A short time after the appointed hour off we went and I settled down with a decent book, a very interesting military biography of a chap called George Alexander (Sandy) Forsyth who fought for the Union in the American Civil War and then spent years fighting the “Indians” in what was still then very much the “Wild West”. He fought with Custer and “little” Phil Sheridan, whose most trusted lieutenant he was, before organising buffalo hunting parties for Russian nobility and a whole lot more. The book is called “The Hero of Beecher Island” by a very eminent American military historian called David Dixon and I do recommend it.
Night had fallen and there wasn’t much to look at anyway as it was purely motorway (autoroute) driving which is never too exciting at the best of times so I thought I would try for an hour or two of a kip. Boots off and a bit of judicious positioning of the seatbelt anchor points and I made a half-decent “basha” (Army term deriving from the Hindi in the days of the Raj). OK, there was not much chance of a decent sleep as the bus would stop every couple of hours or so at some major settlement to let people on and off. Still, it was a smoke break and there was an interesting interlude at one point when the conductor politely asked me to stand five metres away from the bus whilst smoking. Some stupid regulation from the detested EU. He gave me this instruction standing right at the door chatting to the driver! One law for some and one for the rest as they say.
Being half asleep most of the time I had sort of lost track of what countries I had even travelled through as border controls are just about non-existent on these borders although this was to change during the course of my trip due to the completely insupportable amount of economic migrants from sub-Sharan Africa particularly to Italy and now Spain. These are UN figures and not any sort of xenophobia of mine and were to dominate the newspapers in Italy when I eventually got there (trust me, I shall write about it eventually!) Seven out of ten of the supposed refugees landing or being rescued from the seas by the totally overstretched Italian and Spanish authorities are UN designated as economic migrants and not refugees but as soon as they hit Lampedusa or Sicily or get pulled out of the sea then they have reached the “promised land”. Why else would they risk such a hazardous crossing? I know that I was later to sail through Brenner on the Austrian / Italian border without even having a passport check and yet a couple of weeks later the Austrians had effectively closed that crossing point but more of that later.
On this journey I think I probably went through about four countries although, as I say, I was half asleep or reading most of the way. I know I was in Geneva just before midnight which was the first time I had ever been in Switzerland (who can afford that place?) but I am never going to “claim” it as a destination I have been to as a jump out the door for ten minutes and a smoke hardly constitutes “visiting” a country. That being said, I can quite honestly say that I have set foot on Swiss soil.
Onward, ever onward and I cannot say it was the most pleasant journey I have ever been on albeit I knew what to expect and wasn’t at all misled by Flixbus. They are a cheap option and you get what you pay for. The “excitement” came at one pickup / drop off / smoke break / leg stretch stop and by this stage I genuinely did not even know what country I was in. There was a police van waiting and I worked out from the plates that I was no longer in France or Switzerland but rather I had somehow ended up in Germany in the delightful town of Lindau which I was to revisit and thoroughly enjoy later.
We stopped at a car park in town to set down, pick up and have a smoke for those of us that did but not so quick Fergy, my lad. I pulled the boots on and down the steps for a smoke only to be ushered quickly back on board by the conductor with the brusque phrase “police check”. OK, fair enough, I have nothing to hide and there then ensued a complete performance by two armed police officers, one male and one female who went through the pantomime of checking everyone’s ID. Again, no problem for me and I was asked a couple of cursory questions but it was so obvious they were acting “on information received” as I believe the cop term is and looking for someone in particular.
There was a youngish female sitting a few rows in front of me and I was privy to the conversation which was conducted in English as the only common language between her and the female officer. It turned out she was Macedonian, had a scant few € on her, no credit cards and apparently little idea where she was going or where she was going to stay. She was to be picked up at the bus station by someone of whom she had no details. At a guess I would think she was being trafficked for prostitution. Last I saw of her she was being put in the back of the police van and I have no idea what happened to her after that but it merely extended an already long and tiresome journey by over an hour. Deep joy!
I have no problem with any country protecting it’s borders and, grateful as I am that we never joined Schengen, I shall be even happier when we finally leave the Federal States of E (aka the EU) and regain proper control of ours.
In due course we reached Memmingen where I alighted in the early(ish) morning and that will have to wait for the next edition of this journal / blog but at least I had got there.
Stay tuned and spread the word and there will be images of Lindau in a future entry I promise.