Saturday, June 24, 2006

Nurnberg, Germany

Friends: One hundred miles into Germany and I have yet to be reprimanded or castigated by an irate motorist for intruding upon his roadway, as happened all too often two years ago when I made a run up the country´s western edge. But only a few of the miles I have ridden have had an accompanying bike path in this eastern sector of the country and there has been so little traffic, these country roads have been virtual bike paths.

It could be the Germans are on their best behavior as hosts of the World Cup, and in a good mood, to boot, with their team doing so well. There is most visible Soccer fever here. Ever since the Czech border town of Cheb, many cars with the D, for Deutschland, on their license plates, have been flying one or two of the black, red and golden striped German flags on little antennae attached to the driver´s and/or passenger´s windows, just like collegiate sport fans back in America.

Nurnberg is one of the dozen or so German cities with a stadium large enough to host the games. Portugal plays the Netherlands here tomorrow. The Portuguese are already aswarm on the downtown streets in their colors, waving their flag and chanting and cheering. No Dutch to speak of yet. With Germany playing Sweden today in Munich, the German fans are out and about as well, with painted faces and bottles of beer in hand, rowdy and rambunctious.

One can´t get within a half mile of the stadium here, even today, with auxiliary fences and guards all around it. Still, there were site-seers flocking to it to give it a look. I´m at an Internet cafe at the local train station, which is resounding with the clamor of arriving fans, banging their drums, tooting their horns and cheering.

I spent an hour or so trolling the downtown streets on my bike looking for a used book store. The people at the tourist office only knew of one new book store. It had no books in English and knew of no used book stores. I´m down to the last 50 pages in the last of the five books I brought along. Only in Serbia did I stumble upon a used book store where I was able to supplement my stock with a real oddity--a collection of Rex Reed profiles published in 1968. It had probably been sitting in that store for 30 years. It was surprisingly interesting with stories on Warren Beatty before "Bonnie and Clyde," Peter Fonda before "Easy Rider," Barbara Streisand before "Funny Girl," and Lester Maddox as governor of Georgia. They were all written in the mid-´60s, many for "Esquire," back when Dr. Pepper was the hot new drink and air-conditioning was so rare it merited mention when he sat in an air-conditioned office or car and pierced-ears were
a new novelty.

I failed to find a decent used bookstore in Budapest, Prague or Karlovy Vary. I never felt desperate knowing a large city that attracted international travelers was just ahead that I felt certain would have a worthy used book store with English titles. But now I was desperate. An English language school was finally able to direct me to a used book store which had eight shelves of English books. Three of the shelves were newer books going for five euros each. In the basement, however, were five shelves of books priced at five euros per kilo. I found four books of some interest totaling over 1,000 pages for less than a kilo that ought to hold me for a couple of weeks. That was probably a better bargain than anything I would have found in Eastern Europe. The best bargain over there was the Internet, never more than one and a half euros per hour, about a third of what it is here and will be in France. So my expenses return to ten dollars a day after three weeks of five dollars a day.

I thought I´d have an easy time finding English books in the Czech Republic when on my first full day there in a smaller city I came upon a store advertising "Second Hand Books in German and English." Unfortunately it was a Sunday morning and not open. For the rest of my time there I frequently saw "Second Hand" stores, but they were all devoted to clothes, and usually fancy clothes for women. The young women of the Czech Republic did like to dress up. One of the odder sites was seeing young teen-aged girls in small towns strolling along in stylish clothes and a pouty look, as if they were walking down a run-way with cameras flashing.

I spent the last of my non-euro currency on peanut butter at the Wal-Mart of Eastern Europe, Tesco, at the border town of Cheb. As I walked into the mega-store a couple of Germans were jauntily leaving with a shopping cart full of cases of the energy drink Red Bull. It has certainly gained a foothold over here.

I was always happy to come upon a Tesco, as they had little-used public washrooms, just what I needed. In addition to a communal set of urinals and toilets and sinks, there was always a separate toilet for the handicapped that I could appropriate for all my washing needs--socks and underwear, eating utensils and assorted body parts. The washrooms were a genuine luxury even my Western European standards.

Besides the Germans at the Tesco and all the stores offering change, another indication that Cheb was a border town were the women along the road on the outskirts of the town, with a fair amount of skin on display and a cigarette in hand, trying to look more attractive than they were.

The Germans at the border wanted to see a passport, but when they saw it had USA on it, they didn't even open it up. Its just a week until the Tour and I ought to arrive in Strasbourg a couple of days early.

Later, George

No comments: