The organisers made a video slideshow of the best work of the participants in last week's Joe McNally photographic course in Vienna & Prague. It was only temporarily available to us for download but I asked for permission to host it here permanently.
How does such an orderly and compliant society as Germany come to be the last one to allow its citzens to use their intelligence to decide how fast to drive? It was an extraordinary feeling to be free, just for a while and in one small respect, from the State and its sociopathic desire for control. Today it's back to being strangled by my Mother Country's apron strings.
I am sorry to leave my cute one-night residence in the Netherlands. I recommend it to anyone visiting - or passing through - Eindhoven.
I left my hotel in Prague on Sunday morning and after a few confused circuits of the city centre escaped north to get some value from my Czech motorway "vignette". I drove to Usti nad Labem (Usti on the Elbe) to have tea and buns with blogger, journalist and businessman Tim Worstall, who is spending some time there on business.
My friend in Germany had already advised travelling via Usti and Dresden to add some picturesque interest to my journey north. The weather was perfect so I enjoyed the scenery with the roof down and arrived in a very jolly mood.
I rolled into the square where we had agreed to meet and was promptly greeted by Tim who had heard Speranza coming. She is not suitable for stealth work but sometimes that comes in handy. We didn't even need to use the self-descriptions we had emailed to identify each other.
Tim and I knew each other only from our blogs. Our business histories are very different, but occurred in some of the same places so we had a lot to talk about. Our paths probably did cross - literally - from time to time, but never figuratively.
Had I not retired from political blogging, it would have been a great opportunity to get tips from a master of the genre. As it was, I just enjoyed chatting with him in the Czech sunshine. He's a nice guy as well as - as I already knew from his blog - a wise one.
Then it was on to Dresden, a city I had never seen before. I had been strongly advised to talk a walk by the river, so I did. It was the wrong time of day for photography but I had distance to cover between these pleasurable episodes so could not wait for better light.
It's a beautiful city in a distinctive Germanic way and I think I might have liked it as much as Nuremberg, if I had time to get to know it. I liked the modern architecture too, though I am sure the Dresdeners wish that room had not been made for it in RAF Bomber Command's drastic way.
Then it was on to Berlin, where I was to stay at the house of an old friend and former client I had not seen for a decade. He and his Polish girlfriend, whom I also knew from our Warsaw days, made me very welcome in their home on the South-East side of the city. It's an area formerly populated by the elite of the East German Communist Party and the Stasi. They are in the process of moving house to another such area and we drove over there to take a look. Each is on a different lake and surrounded by forest. Both had a very country feel and reminded me of Konstancin, near Warsaw, where some of the Polish Communist elite had their homes. Say what you like about those equality-mongers, they knew how to live.
After a couple of nights in this Soviet-era rural idyll, I set off this morning for a long - and as it turned out - tedious drive. It's hard to be bored when driving Speranza. She is excitement on wheels. But so far from maxing her out at 312kph on the autobahns today, I spent hours in traffic jams, threading my way through multiple sets of major roadworks or dodging the spray thrown up in heavy rain. Not quite the fun I had hoped for, but I have now arrived safely at my overnight stop in Eindhoven. I am staying in a B&B attached to a horse riding school. It is a converted stable with the original stone floor and wooden partitions - and my wash basin is an old water trough. it's quirky and fun and I like it.
All the pictures of my tour so far can be found here. I have dispensed with the Tom Paine Flickr account as - now that I don't have to worry about offending certain of my old firm's clients - I have no reason to conceal (not that it was ever concealed from anyone who asked) my real identity.
My photo course is over and the farewells said. We had a celebration dinner this evening in a restaurant by the river with a wonderful view of Prague Castle. A slide show of the participant's best efforts has been prepared by the organisers and I hope to post it here in the next few days, once I have been able to download it and host it here.
Tomorrow (Sunday) I shall drive to Berlin via Usti Nad Labem in the Czech Republic and (if I have time) Dresden. My first stop is for tea and buns with Tim Worstall, the author of one of my favourite blogs. The second would be just to see a city I have never visited before.
The most delicate operation of the day is to reverse Speranza out of a very narrow entrance to the hotel car park. She has been accorded pride of place at the upper level to avoid the need to descend a ramp that might have been too steep for her road clearance. This secure billet has no room for a three-point turn however! Should be fun. The fans she has made among the hotel staff will no doubt help me.
Prague is much-photographed. I had many shots of it in already. We brought the Misses Paine here from our then home in Warsaw when they were young. I visited many times on business. On one memorable occasion, I led an entire Czech beer hall in singing the Welsh national anthem - in Welsh. They set to with a will. In my memory (probably made unreliable by vocal-chord lubrication) their rendition would not have disgraced the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.
This week, however, we "serious" photographers were on a quest for the picture that millions of visitors to this beautiful place had not found. I am not sure I pulled it off, but it was fun trying. It was also fun watching the public's puzzlement at my odd antics.
This evening (Good Friday) we were set the task of photographing "a face in a place"; a local person in their work context. I went to a bar and drank myself brave; after seven or eight pilseners finally broaching the subject with the barman.
An assistant credit should go to my new friend, Joe - an American engineer working at his company's head office in Germany. Not only did he lend moral support but he held the off-camera flash just out of shot.
My fellow-students took a bus from Vienna to Prague yesterday. Having bought yet another "vignette" to drive on the Czech "motorways", I met them at the lunch (and photo shoot) stop in the UNESCO world heritage city of Telc. Speranza performed patiently at the slower pace of motorised Czech life, but we had some "Ferrari moments" passing the many trucks that suggest Czech trade is booming.
One of my fellow-students, a charming lady from New York, hitched a ride from Telc to Prague and the time flew by as we chatted about this and that. Once again this proved that I would be far more comfortable as an American. The political views that terrify fellow dinner party guests in London went down perfectly well with her.
We had a sunset shoot in the Old Town and - having done the whole tourist thing many times before - I amused myself by photograping photographers making clichéd Prague photos. I call it paraphotography.
Grüß Gott! I had a splendid run through Germany to the Austrian border this morning. I left Nuremberg at 0700 so had a quiet hour or so before traffic built up and was able to improve on yesterday's speed. Bear in mind that's still short of Speranza's maximum by some 26kph. So there's still something to shoot for on my runs to and from Berlin.
Weather and road conditions were generally good but there were quite a few roadworks to spoil the fun. As I neared Austria, the weather turned bad and I was reduced to positioning myself behind proper cars, rather than the trucks and "mommy vans" people inexplicably favour. A regular saloon doesn't throw up blinding spray onto the windscreen of a chap in a Grand Tourer. If you must drive trucks, people (and I can't imagine why, when I so rarely see them loaded) please fit them courteously with mudguards!
I met my friend - let's call him Forrest - after he had completed his section of the Vienna Marathon. You see him here with the Q (whom some may remember from the Great River Road section of my American Road Trip 2013) and the Q's son and heir.
I joined the whole relay team (from various Central & Eastern European offices of my old law firm) for lunch afterwards. It was hot, brown and tasty but not helpful to my weight loss campaign.
Especially as, after the initial briefing for the photography course I am attending, the 16 participants, trailing spouses and faculty went out for another Austrian meal. I shall walk it off tomorrow though as street shoots are good exercise.
The Q pointed out something I had never noticed on many previous visits; that Austria is one of the last countries to retain the hammer and sickle - if not in quite the classic Soviet form - in its national heraldry. Here's the proof.
I note the imagery of the broken bonds but have to say (despite my retirement from political blogging) that those tools forged more chains in their day than they ever broke.
The sun shone. I drove on unrestricted autobahns with the roof down at some speed. My Dunhill flat cap puzzled German motorists by not flying off. It's a matter of aerodynamics. My football team won at home, which means "the great escape" from relegation is still on. And I made some new friends.
I did not come anywhere near to maxing Speranza out today. It's the beginning of the school holidays and the autobahns were packed. I enjoyed the instant separation of cavaliers and roundheads when the magic road sign appeared. Even more so as I was able to lead the cavaliers' charge. Still, I never had long enough to get to top speed before reaching the back of the next queue.
I did pass two police cars at 243kph - just in excess of 150mph. Every instinct screamed to brake at the sight of them. The thrill of not doing so was terrific. Thank you, Germany, for treating your citizens as adults in at least this one respect.
My average speed reveals many quieter patches. There was a frustrating forty minutes or so stuck in traffic on an unrestricted section. What a waste.
On arrival in Nuremberg I did a few circuits of the beautiful city centre before finding my way into the the narrow one-way lane my hotel is in. When I drove past the castle at the top of the town I actually drew applause from a party of young tifosi. I gave them the royal wave and they cheered me on. The receptionist took a look at Speranza through the window and decided she was not going to make it down to the basement garage. So she is wedged diagonally into an archway out front.
It was while parking her there that I made new friends. A young boy was photographing Speranza and I invited him over, with his Mum's permission, to be photographed in the driving seat. The small boy in me knew exactly what that would mean to the small boy in him. I did it many times on my American tour and it always went down well.
When I was out on my photo-walk later the boy's grandmother called me over as I was about to sit down in a sidewalk café. She invited me to join the family at their table. Theo, the paterfamilias, grew up in Nuremberg but emigrated in 1960 to Denmark, where he married his Danish wife. They had come back to visit in a three car convoy with their children, their children's spouses and their grandchildren - all thoroughly Danish. As is Theo himself now. He passed my World Cup-based variant of the "Tebbit test" without hesitation. He also chose my food and my beer so that I could have the authentic Nuremberg experience. I had a very pleasant time and he even insisted on picking up the tab.
The charm of Speranza strikes again.
After dinner Theo and his wife took me on a guided walking tour to see what I had missed. This is a beautiful city and well worth a visit. There is far more to see than I could in the time available.