J’aime l’autoroute française!

We checked out of our hotel at Reims around 10:00 and headed towards our final destination, Calais. The city was 274km away and A26 would take us there.

I must say, driving on the French motorway was a pleasure…

You see what I mean?

Especially, the landscape around Arras, was very flat and open. The scenery may have lacked the grandeur of the Alpine region with the rugged peaks and winding roads, but I preferred the calm and predictable vista on A26 after the continuous driving of the past nine days.

There was just a blue sky and golden crop fields on the both sides of the motorway…

Another thing I liked more about driving on the French motorway than on the German equivalent, was there was hardly no bullies behind their high-powered wheels. I really was fed up with those German drivers who tailgated my car and pressurised me to move to a slower lane despite my speed was nearly 90mph while we were in Bavaria.

The French autoroute was all calm and civilised…

As we got closer to Calais, we started to see more cars with the British number plates. ‘What shall we do at Calais?’ We would have more than six hours to kill before boarding a train home…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Snowball in June

No, it was not a real snowball but a pastry named as Schneeball (snowball), which was the most famous sweet in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. And I forgot to taste it!

I blame the heat wave, which was upon us throughout our road trip, for making me to miss out on this local delicacy. It was simply too hot to have any appetite for a fist-size fat-fried donut with sugar. Instead, I craved for ice cream (and beer).

Awww, Scheebälle! I want you now…

Are they like Krispy Kreme?

The history of these pastries is very long – they have been known to exist for at least 300 years. They were meant to be served on special occasions such as weddings, however, they became famed local delicacies and started to be available throughout the year.

The main ingredients are flour, eggs, sugar, butter, cream and plum schnapps. In order to form a distinctive shape of Schneeball, the dough is first rolled out and cut into even strips with a special rake-like cutter. The dough is cut as such that the top and bottom are left intact. Then, partially cut dough is loosely assembled and placed in a “Scheeballeneisen” – metal tongs with hollowed globes on the both ends. Finally, the scheeballeneisen with the dough inside is inserted into a deep-fryer, and voila, a golden brown Schneeball is born! Obviously, it has to resemble the real thing, therefore, it is dusted with confectioner’s sugar while warm.

Nowadays, Schneeball comes in many varieties of flavour, such as dark chocolate, white chocolate, mocha, almond, marzipan, vanilla, etc.

When mum and I were peering into a show window of Cafe Walter Friedel, a man standing nearby turned and asked if we were Japanese.

‘They are Schneebälle, did you know?’ He smiled. He was a Japanese tourist and visiting the town which was a part of the package holiday. ‘We came by a tour bus. How did you two get here?’

He was very much surprised when I told him that I drove from London. His eyes twinkled with excitement. ‘Oh wow! Really? I’d love to drive on a world famous autobahn too!’, he gushed. Apparently, he loved fast cars and driving a car in general. He confided to us that a driving holiday in Europe, especially hiring a BMW in Germany and driving it on autobahn, was his lifelong dream.

Our conversation returned to the Schneebälle in the window, and we asked him if he tried them already. He replied yes and told us what he thought about them.

‘They were very sweet and rather greasy.’

Oh, I see. Mum and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing. Are they going to be as anticlimactic as Kendel Mint Cake or Grasmere Gingerbread?

Anyway, the man and we parted shortly afterward, wishing each other a safe journey home.

Next day, we did have a chance to explore the town, but we completely forgot about the pastries because our attention was all focused on the Rothenburg’s famed Christmas shops.

As I write this post, I have come across a German confectionary shop Walter Friedel, and they are happy to ship their Schneeball to anywhere in the world as long as the order is more than €18.00! I am going to ask Hubbie if he wants to try them. So watch this space…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Rotten Apple (Maps)

It was supposed to take only 40 munites. Instead we spent more than four hours on the road to reach Rothenburg ob der Tauber, thanks to stupid and useless Apple Maps! I wish if I could send them an invoice for the extra fuel I had to spend and clain conpensation for the unecessary, anxiety-ridden and unpleasant time mum and I had to endure.

Up until then, the app was working impeccably, directing us to the addresses in Reims, Strasbourg and Würzburg without any hitch. However this time, it made a monumental error. When I asked a route to Rothenburg, the app led us to Frankfurt Airport and beyond instead!

You may say that I should have consulted a map properly and grasped geographical bearings instead of setting off in an unfamiliar country with satnav alone. Yes, my shortcoming was obvious in hindsight but it was not at all obvious at the time.

When I consulted the app, it directed us to a northbound A3. Even though mum and I found the instruction a bit odd because the town we meant to go was in the south, we convinced ourselves that using the autobahn was the fastest route. We carried on like this for another two hours. Then, we saw a jumbo jet flying over us and realised something was seriously wrong. We were fast approaching Frankfurt Airport. Why are we here? Why are we in Frankfurt?? Then, it dawned on me, ‘Are we a victim of the notorious Apple Maps’ error?’

At first, I was in the state of disbelief, and then I became very very angry. Because of some idiot in Apple programmed a wrong coordinate while creating Apple Maps, not only I wasted my time and effort but also was abandoned in a Frankfurt suburb!

‘Mum, we have to U-turn and head back to Würzburg!’ I instructed mum to retrieve a paper map from the rear seat as I made a three point turn. We were definitely not in the mood to trust any satnav, Apple or Google.

We managed to find signs for the autobahn fairly soon and we were on our way back to where we started. However, a return journey to Würzburg, using A3, was far from smooth.

‘Gee, why is the traffic so slow?’ The traffic was very heavy on A3. The three lanes motorway was reduced to two lanes with a 80kph (50mph) speed restriction. But the average speed of the traffic was less than 40kph. Ugh! We’ve got to get back to Würzburg on the double!!

Then, another concern surfaced. Petrol!

We had already driven extra 105km (65miles) so far, therefore, the amount of fuel left in the tank was not enough before reaching Rothemburg. Early on, we saw a broken-down car being pulled into the lay-by with a girl shouting into her mobile phone. Oh god, we can’t share the same fate on this Autobahn, mum and I both shuddered. Could I arrange a recovery or a repair over the phone in the middle of traffic jam in Germany on Sunday? The prospect was too scary to contemplate.

Eventually, a sign for the service station came up and we had a sigh of relief. ‘Let’s fill up the tank and also buy some bottled water.’ We also used their loo and came back to our car. Then, another problem surfaced. We found the traffic on A3 almost standstill!

It took us ages to rejoin the autobahn from the slip road as the queue on the road was solid. The pace of the traffic was crawling and it carried on like this for a good hour. Then, two lanes was reduced to one lane! Why? Any accident ahead?

Yes, there was. A cab of the HGV was about to be transferred onto a recovery vehicle when we drove by. The front of the cab was completely caved in like being punch by a fist of a giant! We guessed that the lorry must have rammed into the back of another lorry. The way the window was smashed, the driver must have got hurt badly too.

After passing through the restricted area of the autobahn, the traffic gradually gained its normal pace, and we arrived at our starting point, Würzburg, around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

By the way, mum proved to be a very able navigator through this unplanned detour. She read the map and directed me towards Rothenburg. How reassured I felt by it, glancing at her chubby finger time to time, tracing the Michelin route map on her lap!

I turned on Apple Maps again to see if it behaved any better when we reached to a fringe of Rothenburg.

The stupid app still asking me to go back to Frankfurt!

I lost faith in Apple Maps completely. I will never use it as long as I live, I swore.

Then, I turned on Google Map and it took us to our hotel in Rothenburg in no time. Oh how I wished if I used Google in the first place! We didn’t have to spend 4 hours on a bloody autobahn!!! And I had no idea how I managed if I didn’t have mum helping me…

You, damn, stupid, useless, Apple Maps! I hate you FOREVER!!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Angel on Autobahn 81

Bonjour, Strasbourg!

A view from the breakfast room of Hôtel Cathédrale…

We could see the square slowly getting ready to receive another tide of visitors…

From Strasbourg to Würzburg, our next destination, it was estimated to be a 3 to 4 hour drive, covering 286km (178mls). Autoroute 35 would become Autobahn 9 automatically once we crossed a border between France and Germany. I had visited Germany a few times in the past and had been on their famous Autobahn – a motorway system famous for having no speed limit, as a passenger but never driven on it. You can imagine how nervous I was at first. Mum stopped being chirpy and I couldn’t help noticing my palms became slightly clammy over the steering wheel.

Autobahn 9 ran northward parallel to River Rhine. Even though we didn’t see the great river itself, there were numerous ponds and streams which were outlets of it often filled our view.

At Speyer, we changed to A61, and then again at Hockenheim, we took A6 towards Heilbronn.

‘Shall we have a break since we have almost reached the halfway point of our journey today?’ We decided to stop at a service station at Sinsheim.

An airy and bright service station cafe…

My mum had her very first Gugelhupf…

Over the cake and latte, I recounted to her how my first homemade Matcha gugelhupf was a total disaster. I didn’t mix the dough well enough for fear of the sponge turning overall pale green, as a result, my gugelhupf turned out to be a ring consisted of a layer of plain yellow sponge on top of the very green and bitter sponge. It did not make any marble pattern at all.

Maybe for this Christmas, I may try to bake another gugelhupf since I still have a pan somewhere…

By the way, our first day on German motorway didn’t end without a drama. And I didn’t know what I would have done without help from a total stranger at a Grünsfeld service station.

I wanted to readjust a satnav before approaching Würzburg city centre so we decided to stop at the service station. The parking area had a slight slant, therefore, I pulled up a hand brake harder than normal. Once I sorted out the satnav and was ready to start the car, I noticed the hand brake was stuck and refused to release itself! I struggled with it for a while but it was of little avail. ‘Mum, stay here with the car. I’m gonna go and get some help.’

‘Sprechen Sie Englisch?’ I approached a man standing by his car and smoking a cigarette. He replied ‘Nein’ but understood somehow that I had a problem with my car so he followed me. I pointed at the hand brake and gestured to him the best I could to express what was wrong with it. He sat in the seat and tried to push the lever down. However the brake didn’t budge so he left, shrugging his shoulders.

Undeterred, I walked to the petrol station and asked a motorcyclist by the pump if he spoke English. He shook his head apologetically. Oh, what am I gonna do?! I have a European breakdown cover with me but how am I gonna arrange an assistance or a recovery on Sunday in Germany?! I became increasingly desperate.

Then, I found my angel!

A man in an orange t-shirt was queuing by the till and I asked him if he spoke my language and he replied ‘Yes.’ I was overjoyed! ‘I’ll be with you once I’ve paid for the petrol and coffee.’

I showed him where my car was and he reappeared shortly afterward with a cup of coffee in his hand.

My angel with no name…

He sat in my seat and after some manipulation, managed to free my hand brake. Yay! ‘Don’t apply it too hard. Just a click will be sufficient.’ He advised me.

Why did he speak English fluently? He explained that he was German but lived in Canada for a long time. He was happened to be in the area because he was visiting his mum. What a good luck I had that day!

I wished if I was calm enough to ask his name and contact detail so I could send him a thank you note…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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