A road-sign depicting a herd of antique tractors had just rushed by.
My wife ignored me. On this trip, she was doing that more than usual. She was the registered driver of our rental car and the German Autobahn was all she could handle.
A half mile back, a Mercedes SUV flicked its headlights. It would be on our bumper in milliseconds and the rules of the autobahn dictate that we get out of its way – but there was no where to go, a lumbering parade of soft-sided trucks blocked the slow lane.
“A sign said there was a tractor museum,” I said, “and I want to see it.”
“Does it have a free restroom?” she asked. Note to travelers, all the rest stops in Germany charge a Euro to pee.
“Yes.” I said. I lied.
Several things then happened at once.
Twenty-five trucks locked their brakes and smoked their tires. My wife was cursed in twenty-nine languages. The driver of a Mercedes SUV expressed his appreciation for sole possession of the fast lane by flipping us the Euro-bird. We exited the autobahn.
At the top of the ramp, we rocked to a stop.
“Where’s the museum?” she asked.
To our left, a road no wider than our driveway emerged from between two lush hills, it curved past us and vanished between two more lush green hills. Other than a few cows there was nothing, and no indication of where the museum and its coveted free restroom might be.
The cows blinked at us in wonder. Apparently, not a lot of cars used that ramp.
“Where to now, smarty-pants.”
“I’ll ask Tom-Tom.”
My wife groaned. Tom-Tom was the notoriously unreliable navigation system that Avis charged us a small fortune for.
“Let’s get back on the road,” she said, “I’d rather pay to pee than get lost.”
“C’mon, isn’t getting lost half the fun of it?”
“Not when you have to pee.”
My wife’s idea of travel differs radically from mine. She is a sight-seer, a tourist who bags attractions like trophies. I prefer to settle in a small place and remain there until the clerk at the bakery knows me by name – and there is no better way to find such a place than to get lost.
As we bickered, I fumbled with Tom-Tom’s point-of-interest feature, selecting “museums”.
Unfortunately, even though our Tom-Tom was configured for English, all the place names are in German, a language of which I cannot read a syllable.
So I did the logical thing. Germans have the delightful habit of stringing words together, thus the more complicated the topic, the longer the word, so I set our destination to the longest, most complicated name.
The route guidance then began: “Turn left and follow the road for thirty-two kilometers.”
My wife groaned again. Like I said, she did that a lot on this trip.
“Don’t worry,” I told her, “we’ll find a bar or a restaurant where you can use the restroom.”
“I’ll wait until we get to the museum,” she said.
Our Tom-Tom may have been unreliable but it chose a beautiful route. We meandered along a valley between tall hills where dark pines brooded on the high slopes. Below, on the valley floor, sheep grazed belly deep in lush grass without a care in the world. Every few kilometers, a village straddled the road, it’s church steeple poking through a canopy of trees.
“When we get to the tractor museum. You have half an hour to gawk,” my wife announced.
She knows I can get transfixed on anything mechanical. I once spent two hours studying a steam engine on our honeymoon – but I knew this was a negotiation.
“How about two hours?” I countered.
“One hour and that’s my final offer.”
“Okay then,” I said, happy to have an hour to geek out.
A half hour later, Tom-Tom announced, “Your destination is in 200 meters on your right. Route guidance has ended.”
This did not seem right. The nav-system had led us into a small-town and onto a main street lined by cramped store-fronts. I saw nothing that looked like a tractor museum.
“What was the name of the place,” my wife asked.
I held up the nav-system to show her the name I selected.
“There it is,” she said, pointing to the tiniest store-front on the street, then she cracked up.
Her eyes are better than mine and I didn’t realize what an awful mistake I made until we pulled up to it and parked.
“It’s Teddy-bear museum,” she announced, “and yes, we are going in – for a full hour – and mister, they better have a restroom like you promised.”