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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 23 of 30: May 31 (continued) - Passau

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breakfast room of the biker's motel

Her name is Diana and she works at the Republic State Bank on Euclid Avenue in Lexington Kentucky. I would like to publicly thank her! Before leaving Lexington I gave her our itinerary and told her that if I had banking problems I would send her an email. And I did. When we left the ATM machine we immediately headed for an Internet café. They are everywhere in Europe. You pay one or two euros for an hour or so on a good machine. I told her the banks were spitting our cards back at us. Was there some problem with the account back home? After sending the message we decided to try one more time and only ask for €60. It worked! Fantastic! I seem to remember that we had this problem in a little town in Italy once before. Maybe small towns are just less willing to give large sums of money. Diana will know.

Stopped at “Subway” and bought a veggie delight. It tasted exactly the same as in the states, even including the iceberg lettuce (ick) and the tasteless olives. What gives? Surely they could have better veggies produced close to home. We also noticed that there seemed to be a large number of chubby teenagers here in Passau. And there seemed to be more fast-food and “snack” outlets here than in the bigger cities. At least more per capita. They seem to be super-sizing themselves just as in the states. Oh, the boredom of teenage years and the lure of sugary and salty “foods.”

Consumerist culture is penetrating the backwoods of Europe. We saw huge advertising campaigns for bikini tops in Zurich, Salzburg, Vienna, and even little Wels and Passau. Perhaps a consumerist culture is especially penetrating in the backwoods of Europe, just as drug abuse seems more rampant in the backwoods of Kentucky. In the small towns, boredom is especially hard on the young. They feel like they are missing out on what everyone else is enjoying.

It’s a lie, of course, but then advertisers have never been particularly interested in telling potential customers “the truth.” “These cigarettes are poison.” “These potato chips taste great but will clog up your arteries.” “These clothes are going to look ridiculous on you.” “These shoes are going to give you bunions.” “You won’t be any more popular when you drink this carbonated sugar water and you will get cavities to boot.” McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway restaurants are everywhere. Haven’t seen a Wal-Marts, but Wolfgang (on the train) told us that Hofers, Aldi and Billa are using American-style commercial tactics to drive prices down, forcing suppliers to meet their prices or be blackballed. These artificially low prices are killing the small shops that were once the backbone of Europe’s food economy. We may be among the last travelers to be able to revel in the wonderfully made breads, artisan cheeses, olives, and fruits.

But then, many years ago I remember reading a story called “Quality,” about two cobbler brothers and their custom-made shoes and boots. The customer would stand bare-foot on a piece of leather and the brothers would get down on their hands and knees and trace the exact shape of the foot. That led to absolutely perfectly fitting boots and shoes that would wear almost forever. One faithful customer, pressed for time, went and bought a pair of “ready-mades” instead, and when they wore out bought another pair, etc. And then one day he realized it had been years since he had seen the brothers. He decided to stop and say “hi.” As he entered the shop the friendly smell of fresh leather and shoe wax greeted him like an old friend. But he wasn’t a friend, he had betrayed the brothers. One of them had died and as the other got down on his hands and knees to measure his foot, he said with a hint of sadness: “These are not our shoes.” “No,” the man said with some embarrassment and tried to make an excuse. The old man held up his hand, “No matter. Your boots will be ready in one month.”

And they were, but when he came to pick them up the shop had changed. There were now ready-made shoes in the window and a young man stood behind the counter. “Where is Herr Muller?” the man asked. “Herr Muller has died, I’m afraid, but I’m his nephew.” “You are going to sell ready-mades?” “Oh yes,” the young man said, “My poor uncles, they never could keep up with the times.”

The man left with his precious package. These would be the last pair of custom-made shoes he would ever have. They were warm brown riding boots, as supple as a pair of fine kid gloves. The soles were firm, but flexible, and he knew that they would fit perfectly. And he knew in his heart that it wasn’t his fault the world had lost another fine craftsman, but then why did he feel so bad?

It’s not just food of course. Consumerist culture is so popular everywhere. The entire world seems to have a love/hate relationship with it. I think that’s one of the reasons the disputes are so sharp right now between the Muslim world and the West. So many Muslims now live in the west and the Internet has brought western culture into every backwater and village on the planet. I heard a father in Tehran explain to an interviewer why Iran hated us so much: “We don’t want our daughters to be like Brittany Spears.” I don’t think he realizes that I don’t want that either and neither do the other American fathers I know.

As if these thoughts weren’t gloomy enough what should we see but two young fresh-faced, and well-clad young Mormons pushing bikes along the pedestrian walkway. As we watched, they stopped a group of young men and women heavily tattooed, dressed in black leather and multi-studded. America’s custom-made “non-conformists” being proselytized by America’s custom-made “religion.” In the backwoods of Bavaria. Sigh.

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