From Neuschwanstein, our plan was to head to Vienna the same evening. It was the fourth day in Europe since we landed in Frankfurt. The first two days we spent driving from Frankfurt to Stuttgart and visiting family in Stuttgart. We were visiting Rama’s niece’s two year old daughter. That was one of the main reasons for the trip to Europe. Both Rama and my son were so fond of her that my son’s first choice for his birthday celebration was to be with her as well as a visit to Paris. We had long thought about a visit to Paris with him ever since he started learning French as a subject in High School. Now six years later, that wish materialized.
The drive from Neuschwanstein to Vienna was about 485 kilometers. Before I started on the trip, I had purchased the latest version of European maps for my Garmin Nuvi. The Nuvi said a travel time of 5.5 hours – that would be less than 100 km/hr which isn’t much speed at all at about 55 mph. As we started on our way to Vienna, I realized that there was no expressway in sight. It took nearly 200 kilometers of driving to get to the autobahn. But the drive was just fantastic. Curvy, single-lane roads winding through small, charming towns filled with red-tiled roofs with an invariable church steeple jutting out. All this surrounded by lush green farmlands. It was tempting to just park the car in one of these towns and take a walk, but we didn’t have the luxury of time on our side as we had a lot of ground to cover.
There was this occasional farm tractor slowing down traffic, but these were gracious enough to pull onto a side at the first opportunity. Never did I see anyone tailgate a slower driver. The distance was always maintained without any pressure. For those us used to driving in the US, this was a welcome sign. As we drove through these picturesque roads, it brought to my mind the picture of a luxury automobile advertisement on television as I saw cars zipping by. The one noticeable thing was that I rarely saw an older car – maybe none at all. We had to get to Prague for some of these.
Four hours into the drive, we took our first break at a lovely rest-station as it was called. The store was actually a full-fledged grocery store with a great variety of fruits, vegetable, pastries and coffee apart from the rest. By this time, we were used to paying to use restrooms. The advantage of paying is it builds a sense of responsibility in keeping down the abuse and keeping up the cleanliness. But at these rest-stations, restrooms were free. But we had already crossed the border into Austria and maybe it was different in there. It was twilight at around 9:15 in the evening. As we drove further, the darkening skies opened up a vista of the night skies. The sight was breathtaking – at least this is what the passengers narrated! My son’s described it as the best night sky he had seen outside of the dark roads and woods deep in Yosemite.
I had a general idea that driving in Europe was very similar to driving in the US as far as rules were concerned. But you do get that occasional sign which keeps you guessing. One such sign was that on the road itself near the right edge where you would see a jutting-out with 60 kmph marked. I later realized this was a sign to alert the driver to slow down as we would pass through some sort of scanner. In Austria, the laws are very green-friendly and every vehicle needs to have an environmental tag on it. This is a way to pay for the upkeep of the roads, much like tolls. Before we entered Austria, we were aware of the need to buy such a tag – essentially a sticker that you put onto the windshield. Without such a tag, the fines could be heavy. The tag itself was just about 10 Euros.
Austria takes a lot of pride in its natural resources and beauty. It has supposedly the largest natural spring water sources on the planet. With a population of about 8.5 million people for the entire country, which is less than the population of the city of Bangalore, one can imagine the quality of life available there. Austria is also a center for western music with Mozart being the most famous of them. This particular charm was what drove us to visit Vienna apart from its renowned architectural displays. My dream was to watch an opera or attend an orchestra in Vienna. I chose Austria over Switzerland though the drive from Germany was far more than to Switzerland. Someone had remarked that if one had seen an Yash Chopra movie, then you would have seen Switzerland and that stuck. Also I have some reservations against the country as it’s bank harbor some of the largest hordes of black money from developing and underdeveloped countries. In this sense, I feel the government is encouraging corruption indirectly.