Saturday, February 21, 2009

Frontier Post

A post about Frontiers.

When we moved to 'The Continent' in 1977, there were borders, frontier posts, customs officials, cute currencies, exchange offices & queues everywhere.

This was quaint at first, but a nuisance afterwards.

Going 'home' meant queuing at the French/Luxembourg border, first on the French side to make sure you weren't taking out too much money or works of art, then on the Luxembourg side to make sure you weren't bringing in hand grenades or ham sandwiches.
Each time facing the icy stare of armed border guards & with the very real possibility of having your car & belongings stripped in public if any of the kids made a silly comment or especially if you happened to have a beard &/or sunglasses at the time.
Repeat performance at the Luxembourg/Belgian border.
Then at the Belgian/French border.
Then at Calais.
And in Dover.

As far as I recall, England/Scotland was not a problem then, but maybe soon...

Similarly, going skiing to La Plagne (in France!) involved customs posts at Strasbourg/Kehl then a notorious tailback on the A5 autobahn for customs Germany/Switzerland at Basle then re-customs Switzerland/France in Geneva.

We used to have a drawer full of jam jars, each stuffed with left-over currency for different destinations & transit countries.
Before a projected trip, we had to see what was left in the jam jars, estimate what we might need for the trip & order the difference from the bank.
We had Belgian Francs, Luxembourg Francs (you could use Belgian in Luxembourg, but not vice-versa) Deutschmarks, Swiss Franks, Austrian Schillings, Italian Liras, Danish Kroners, Dutch Guilders, Swedish Kronor, Spanish Pesetas and something or other for Yugoslavia.
On the day, we needed to carefully select the right jars & stuff the right cash into many-pocketed purses, not to be lost sight of or mixed up on route.
For longer holidays, we had to order & pay for Travellers' Cheques to avoid carrying too much cash.

Today these borders & customs posts have either disappeared or are empty hulks waiting to be recycled.
Except Dover, of course!
OK, you may get stopped by a smiling Gendarmette going into Switzerland if you have
n't thought to buy your annual Autoroute Vignette on Internet first, but that's about it.

We recently visited Krakow (future article...) going via Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Austria & Switzerland, without stopping for any border. Of course we stopped for all the wonderful things to see en route.
Thanks to Euros, Credit Cards & Cash Machines, we didn't need to juggle with the jam jars either, though we still have several, including Sterling & Swiss Francs.

A great symbol of the disappearance of frontiers is the graceful new 'Mimram' pedestrian/cyclist bridge over the Rhine between Strasbourg & Kehl.
Here you can (& many do) stroll casually between one-time enemies France & Germany, with no sign whatever of any barrier or difference as you do so.

Of course nothing is perfect - on the photograph you can see work in progress to protect the cables of the new bridge.
As I heard it, either to meet the budget or the opening date or both, it was decided to put the bridge up first, then protect the cables from corrosion later...
They are very proud of their newly developed technique, with a special machine which slowly climbs up each cable (complete with daring jockey) automatically wrapping giant handlebar tape round the cable as it goes.
Not sure whether this actually protects the cables from rust or just hides rust from dubious eyes. Time will tell…

Parting thot: "To make enemies - put up fences; To make friends - start talking to your enemies..."

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