Saturday, February 21, 2009

Getting To The City

For those of you moving in or out of Germany, let me recommend a site called MyHammer. You register (free), post your job, and sit back while the bids come in. (They also do this for craftsmen, if you're needing wiring or plumbing or stuff like this). I was astonished at how many bids I got, and one firm, in particular, was quite anxious to get my money. This was because it was a father-and-son team who specialize in sun protection and roll-up shades, who'd taken on a job in Ibiza and were about to drive down there empty to do it. Going down a couple of days early with my stuff, stopping in Montpellier to unload it, then heading to Spain meant extra profit. And so it was that much of my stuff got loaded into this unwieldy setup:

(That's the son standing in front of the rig for scale). 

In addition, I rented a small station wagon, which I intended to fill with the more fragile items, as well as the stuff I wasn't going to entrust to strangers. In the middle of the loading, I had to go to the Hertz office to pick this up, and when I returned, I found the movers ready to go. There was, as far as I could tell, room for more, but they were adamant that they were full. I looked upstairs and saw that a bunch of stuff still needed to be packed. They were gone, so it got wedged into the station wagon, or, in some cases, left behind. 

I'd planned things so that the trip would take three days, three easy drives, with opportunities for relaxation and sightseeing on my two stops. Ha. The first night's stop was to be in Schwäbisch Hall, reputed to be a delightful little medieval village with good food. Not only did I not get out of Berlin at 1pm, as I'd hoped, but I missed a turnoff to the road out and circled the city once before I found it. A sign with a very low mileage number to Munich alerted me around 9 that I'd missed an important turnoff, and the trip back to it took another hour. Schwäbisch Hall turned out not to be as close to the highway as I'd thought, and I arrived just as the bars were letting out. I couldn't see a sign for my hotel anywhere, and drove and drove around the narrow streets looking for it. 45 minutes later, by sheer chance, I discovered why I couldn't find it: it wasn't in town. It was somewhere on a ridge above the town. I straggled in at 2:30, bone-weary, but hoping I could at least get a beer to celebrate the escape from Berlin. "Sure," the desk-clerk said. "There's a mini-bar in the room." Well, that was good news. But the bad news was that there was a hole where the mini-bar had been, and a sign saying that they'd taken it away because it was so impersonal, and the personal touch of delivery to your room via room service was as close as your phone. Room service, of course, had stopped at midnight. It was time to hit the sack. 

There may well be good food in Schwäbisch Hall, but I never got any. Instead, I gobbled down a standard German breakfast and hit the road. Tonight's stop would be Mâcon, a wine-making center, and, no doubt, another place I could get a good meal. I regretted not having a valedictory good beer in Germany, though; the French are not exactly noted for good beer. 

Again, the confusing highway signs made me miss a turnoff, but this time I was close enough to an alternate route that I just crawled north on the German-French border and crossed somewhere near Saarbrücken. Contrary to all logic, once I was in France, I never had a moment's confusion as to which road I should take. 

Mâcon lies on the shores of a river, the Saône, and so it was easy enough to drive along there, find the hotel, and check in. But the place looked pretty deserted, and the woman at the desk confirmed that most of the restaurants in town were closed. A quick walk confirmed that she was right, but the operative word was "most." Still, I didn't want kebabs or (shudder) "Chinese" food; I wanted French. And, sure enough, here was a place open. I went in for the worst meal I have ever paid for in France. Memory has drawn a blessed curtain over the exact details, but I was almost alone in a grotesquely overdecorated dining room, with some tables so covered with horrible ceramic Pierrots and dogs that they couldn't be used for dining. The bill, which included half a bottle of the worst wine I've ever had in a French restaurant, was €41, which I think is the most I've ever paid for a meal in France -- at least recently. I crawled back to the hotel and crashed. 

My next day's goal was to get to Montpellier in time to have lunch at the Bar Vert Anglais, which I at least knew would be good. I started driving under grey skies, which occasionally let loose with a small shower. This slowed me down, but then came an omen: right at the sign welcoming me to Provence, there was a line in the sky. On one side was the cloudy mess I'd just spent a few hours driving through, and on the other side was clear blue sky. It was like Provence had some kind of contract with the weatherman or something. And that sky stayed with me straight through to Montpellier. And, although driving in the center city is difficult, I somehow managed to slide straight into the parking lot below the Ibis Hotel, where I had a reservation for three days, in case the Germans were late. 

I was here! And, right on schedule, so was my stuff. The Germans called, and they were lost. I'd managed to get a permit to get them into the pedestrianized zone (much of the centre ville is closed to cars and trucks), and we somehow managed to get in, although the guy's son and I had to push the loaded truck uphill on rue Voltaire at one point. Finally, they began to unload, grousing that they had a ferry to get to in Barcelona and they were going to leave when it was time to get there, no matter what. Eventually, they just started unloading into the street and leaving the stuff there. This was insane: I couldn't hump this stuff up the stairs by myself. I'd really started feeling my age when I was packing, and here I had one additional flight of stairs -- narrower than in Berlin -- to negotiate. I was despairing when the guy who runs the Lebanese snack bar in front of the building walked over and asked -- in English! -- if I needed help. Yes, I told him. And I could pay, although my cash supply was getting lower and lower. He flipped open his portable and called a number. "My friend Ali is coming," he said. 

Boy, was I disapointed: Ali was tiny! But he looked at the pile of boxes in the street and picked one up like it was nothing and headed up the stairs. In a couple of hours, everything that fit was inside the apartment. Sadly, the huge, comfortable, fake leather couch I'd had in Berlin, the best couch I've ever had, was a casualty of the narrowness of the hall and the tininess of the apartment. It was gone so quickly, though, that I'm sure there are students enjoying it at this very moment. I paid Ali every cent I had in my pockets, reserving €20 so I could get dinner, and closed the door. I was in. Of course, there were a couple of problems. For one thing, the living room was sort of crammed with boxes and nearly impossible to walk through:

Once I had found an apartment, I had to move into it, and this required me to get all my stuff out of my place in Berlin, arrange for movers, and then get myself to Montpellier before they arrived there.

And another thing was, the kitchen was something of a disappointment. I'd seen it before it was renovated, and was assured I'd have a full range and a new oven. The oven was there, and it looked good. The range, on the other hand, was not at all what I was expecting. 

Although you can't tell it from this picture, even with the piece of silverware there for scale, it's almost impossible to use both these burners at once unless one of your pots or pans is considerably smaller than the other. 

Still, I was here. I had to let the refrigerator sit for 48 hours before I could turn it on, so after a quick shower, I headed up the hill to the Bar Vert Anglais to see if any of the folks I knew there would be interested in a drink before dinner -- or even dinner itself, since the drink was pretty much a given. 


  1. I had that kind of burner setup in Cairo. REALLY annoying.

  2. Ooops: I meant "pic" (ie, your dating profile, upper right)


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