|No, no -- it's dawdling BY the Danube, not IN it!|
This book made me nostalgic for the days when we read guide books, consulted the helpful people in various tourism boards, and visited the travel agency to buy our tickets. What's more, we could still hope to go places that few other foreign travellers visited. Mr. Enfield asked the advice of the German Tourist Board staff, and they mapped out an itinerary for him, travelling along the 'Romantische Strasse' between Würzburg and Füssen, recommending routes, restaurants and sights and making hotel reservations for him. Already this very human mode of travel planning seems like a quaint relic now, when most people have taken to booking their own travel using internet resources like TripAdvisor. And off the beaten track? Forget about it! You can find reviews of Antarctica lodging on TripAdvisor today.
In 1997, however, it's unlikely that Mr. Enfield carried a mobile phone with him as he cycled through Bavaria, leaving him totally free to absorb the beauties and quirks of the German countryside. Serendipity was with him when he arrived at Mad King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein castle late in the day, and the guard let him amble around inside after nearly all other tourists had left. (Ludwig wasn't entirely mad, he insists, just very eccentric and with a poor sense of budgets. His castle-building spree decimated the Bavarian Treasury.)
The section on Mr. Enfield's Polish cycling trip was no less enjoyable. As I would expect him to do, he always bought the Berlitz tapes to learn at least some rudimentary phrases of the appropriate foreign language before he left home. Polish, however, completely thwarted him: "It was the most difficult language with which I had ever meddled!" He grumbled that the written words often bore little resemblance to the spoken ones, and many phonemes simply eluded his pronunciation. (By contrast, he did quite well with the German umlauts.) The Poles seemed nonetheless delighted to see him, sometimes cycling alongside him and talking up a storm, seemingly indifferent to the fact that he understood none of it. He described horse-drawn carts full of potatoes, women wearing white head-scarves, and the dolour of Communist-era apartment blocks.
This is not an account of high adventure, or wildly exotic locations, but it's a tremendously pleasant bit of armchair travel.