We disembarked at 08.00 local time and were on the road by 08.30. On the way out to Malmo, we’d decided to split the journey to into two four-hour trips on Day 1 and Day 2, and a shorter, hour and a half trip, on Day 3. On the way back, we planned to do the whole journey over two days. Our destination on Day 1 was Bremen, in northern Germany.
We hadn’t anticipated how difficult the first morning was going to be. Be warned, the area around the Hook of Holland and Rotterdam is incredibly busy, especially during rush hour. Negotiating congested, fast-flowing, four-lane motorways with multiple consecutive complex interchanges and exits on both sides, while adjusting to driving on the right, proved to be too big a challenge for us. We ended up missing a turning and were forced to abandon our planned scenic route and just follow the satnav.
However, once we got out of the Rotterdam area, things improved considerably, and we made good progress. We followed the A12 that skirts south of Utrecht and joined the E30 just after Apeldoorn. We crossed The Netherlands in about three hours stopping only once for lunch at a service station.
Driving in The Netherlands was straightforward. Good roads, courteous fellow drivers and plenty of good quality stopping places. This was the first time we noticed some driving practices that, we later realised, seemed to be commonplace across northern Europe. In particular, was the strict adherence to the principal of only moving into a faster lane to overtake. Very rarely did we come across middle lane “hogging” and it contributed to the overall enjoyment of the driving experience.
Services were generally good, but we would definitely recommend La Place, if you see one. Good quality fresh food, spotlessly clean, comfy furniture, log fires, magazines … honestly, well worth seeking out. A complete contrast to the typical motorway service station.
We crossed the border into Germany just after lunch. The 150 miles or so between the border and Bremen is quite remote and rural with very few places that warranted a stop, so we headed straight for our destination, arriving in the early afternoon. We’d booked into Motel One in the centre of the town within walking distance of all the main attractions. We parked up the street in a public car park at a cost of about £20 for 24 hours. The hotel is modern, clean and comfortable with small but very stylish rooms and does a great breakfast. At £76 we felt this represented great value for money.
We made the most the weather and of our limited time in Bremen by heading straight out to find a biergarten on the riverside. Paulaner’s an der Schlachte was a good choice. Nice beer in a lovely location. Suitably refreshed, we took a stroll down the river to the old town where we explored Schnoorvietel, the historic district that dates back to the 15th century. Narrow, cobbled streets are crammed with restaurants, cafes and craft and souvenir shops. We were drawn to Hegarty’s Irish Pub, not by the lure of the Guinness, but by the availability of an outdoor seat in the sunshine in a pretty little square.
From there we wandered up to the main square, or Marketplatz. A wide square, typical of many European cities, overlooked by the town hall, the cathedral, the parliament building and a series of tall gabled houses. At the centre of the square is a statue of Roland, a nephew of Charlemagne, who was a key influencer in the political autonomy that Bremen enjoyed in the 15th century.
It was here in Marketplatz that we first encountered the Bremen town Musicians. The musicians were a donkey, a dog, a cat and a cockerel, all characters from a fairy-tale by the Brothers Grimm, in which they trekked to Bremen together to escape a lifetime of drudgery and neglect. They are represented in a sculpture in Marketplatz, standing on atop of one another in a pyramid formation.
We enjoyed a small carafe of wine in one of the many large outside cafes in the square, before looking for somewhere to eat. Having been distinctly uninspired by any of the German restaurants we found (sorry Bremen!), we decided to have a curry in Restaurant Shalimar, right next door to our hotel. We’d spotted it when we arrived and joked about having a German curry, never imaging that’s where we’d actually end up.
It was good though. Poppadoms and pakora to start, followed by Lamb Saag for me and Lamb Biryani for Mike. I’m a sucker for anything Indian with spinach in it, and Mike gauges the quality of an Indian restaurant by the quality of the biryani. It passed! Our only mistake was chatting to the owner about where we were from. Turns out his brother owns a restaurant on the Foleshill Road in Coventry, close to where Mike grew up, and everybody knows that Birmingham, where we live now, is world famous for the Balti. European curries, in our experience, are often quite mild, to allow for the chilli intolerant European palate, and we did ask him to make sure it was spicy. However, we felt he had overcompensated a tad when our food was served eye-wateringly hot. Nevertheless, true Brummies that we are, we thoroughly enjoyed it! So, if you’re ever in Bremen and fancy a curry (unlikely I know) definitely seek out Restaurant Shalimar, but don’t ask them to spice up your food!
We fell into bed around ten, tired, tipsy, totally stuffed and ready for a good night’s sleep before Day 2, Bremen to Odense, the home of Hans Christian Andersen.