It's déjà vu - again - on 'wrong' side of road to Poland


EURO 20120 ROADTRIP: DAY THREE:DESPITE BEING in the slow lane of a two-speed Euro trip, the Pedal-to-Poland cyclists were sweeping through Angela Merkel’s Germany yesterday in good shape.

The rain that had dogged the group earlier was for now behind them, and the balmy temperatures were what you’d expect in June.

But like the rest of us, they had heard tidings of the biblical weather affecting Ireland – the earthquakes, floods, blight warnings etc.

Which, in their case, aroused more than just concern about the relatives.

Fortunately or otherwise, the Atlantic front crossing Ireland was not likely to stop there. Chances are, it too was heading in the general direction of Poland: a thought to concentrate the minds of the peddlers as they tried to outrace it.

The rain belt is not the only thing expected to overtake them in the next day or two. So should another smaller team bound for Euro 2012 on two-wheeled transport: Robert Sheerin and his son David. Bikers also, after a fashion, but not the slow-lane kind.

In fact, despite leaving Dublin only yesterday via Holyhead, the pair have more than enough time to reach Poznan by Saturday, with an overnight stop in Magdeburg en route. This is because of the large amounts of horsepower under them, in the form of a Honda VFR and a Triumph Sprint motorcycle respectively.

A slight cause of concern, apart from the weather, is that, at 18 years old, the Honda is a veteran, so it has to be used sparingly.

Hence the stopover.

“We don’t want to run it into the ground,” explained Robert.

For similar and other reasons the bikes will definitely not be going to Ukraine even if Trapattoni’s Ireland do.

Those of us on four wheels, meanwhile, are proceeding with caution through Germany, making occasional visits into Merkel’s fast lane, while also staying in regular touch with the slow one.

The caution is advisable.

As I nudged gently out of the rental company’s forecourt on Wednesday, it struck me that, never having driven a six-berth camper-van before, or any kind of camper-van, a left-hand driver seat and the wrong side of the road were probably bad places to start.

Except for a rented 35ft Shannon cruiser once, this is easily the biggest vehicle I have commandeered – and the boat experience was not reassuring.

On that occasion, after a 20-minute demonstration, most of it instantly forgotten, we were let loose on Ireland’s inland waterways in a Force 6 gale.

I was vaguely astonished that people with no experience are allowed to borrow such very expensive pieces of equipment.

I still have mental scars from the mortification of trying to park the boat at various Shannon harbours in windy conditions, while the owners of the boats I was threatening to ram looked on with ill-concealed horror.

Thus, despite triple-checking beforehand that my normal Irish driving licence allowed me to do so, I half-expected the German camper van company – when they actually saw the document – to say that, no, it wasn’t enough.

After all, although the small print said it covered vehicles up to 3,500kg (the van is just under that), this was accompanied by a pictogram of a car, and the behemoth in the rental company forecourt looked nothing like a car.

But it was deja vu, again. Like the boat people, they gave me the keys with the same confidence as a librarian handing over a book.

In fairness, the instructions lasted at least 25 minutes, although the main technical point I remembered afterwards was that the vehicle had a “big backside”.

That apart, there was also a rather sobering moment when the instructor reminded me that, “if you come back”, the van should have the same amount of fuel as when it left.

When not apologising for his “bad English” the instructor had a lively sense of humour.

I’m not sure if his comment was a joke or a grammatical error but it helps explain why I’m proceeding with care through Germany.

Where yesterday evening we were en route to Hannover, scene of perhaps the greatest performance by Jack Charlton’s Ireland – the famous night in 1988 when they took on the mighty Soviet Union and hammered them 1-1.