Spargel… get your Spargel!

Chris JonesI’m on a flight across North America right now, the second of three legs of my trip home from our recent European tour. This seemed like a good time to write this column, because for one thing the deadline is almost here, and for another, I sometimes find the creative juices flow pretty well when I’m in a jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, just-watched-three-movies-and-can’t-tell-you-what-they-were stupor. I was in this very same kind of stupor when I wrote the song Banks of the Ohio, Part II, in which the girl turns out not to have drowned, comes crawling back out of the river, beats Willie with a stick, ties him up, and makes him listen while she reads the entire Cincinnati phone book cover to cover.

It was a really good tour, and I’ve had enough European tours go the other way, that I can definitely tell the difference. Thanks to all of our hosts along the way, and thanks to my band members for being such excellent and non-whiny travellers. Good thing they also can play musical instruments, a real bonus.

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers at the Bühl Bluegrass Festival in Germany

I thought I’d jot down a few observations from the last two weeks, closing with my favorite food photo of the tour (the food is the real reason we do these tours, after all):

Prague is as beautiful as ever. Some of the deeper subway stations have the only high-speed escalators I’ve ever seen. A great idea, unless you have a fear of escalators.

I’ve been a critic of GPS at times, ever since I read that it actually shrinks a part of your brain (coincidentally, the same part of the brain that can distinguish Pat Boone from Muddy Waters), but I have to say that GPS in Prague is a beautiful thing.

Chris Jones jamming with some fine Prague grassersPrague is full of very good bluegrass musicians, both traditional and progressive. As in Nashville, they tend to circulate among different bands. Sometimes the bands dissolve, then new ones form out of the ashes, as good or better than the old ones.

The relaxed or completely open European borders now make the U.S./Canada border seem like “Checkpoint Charlie” (“Sir, we found a Kinder Surprise Egg in your luggage. I’m afraid  we’ll have to detain you for up to 24 hours.”)

It may be possible to live on Swiss chocolate, cheese and strong coffee for several years. I think they combine to form a complete amino acid chain or an antioxidant cocktail or something. This diet is healthier, though, if it’s accompanied by brisk walks up and down steep alpine hills. We didn’t have time to work that in.

If you’re going 150 km/hour and you’re with the flow of traffic, you’re either on a German autobahn or you’re in Montana.

Not the wurst I've ever hadSpeaking of German autobahns, the men’s rooms at every rest stop could almost be called beautiful, an adjective that has never been used to describe a men’s room anywhere in the history of the world. Mind you, they cost money, though it’s really more of a deposit, since you get a coupon back which you can then use towards the purchase of an illegal Kinder egg or other delectable item.

We’ll have a thorough review of Montana men’s rooms later this summer.

I had forgotten how beautiful the city of Munich is.

What rental car companies refer to as a “minvan” now is way more “mini” than “van,” especially in Europe. How you know your vehicle is too small: you actually say “We don’t have room for the fiddle,” and mean it.

The bread. How do they do it, and why can’t it be reproduced here? Maybe it’s similar to why real New York pizza can’t be made outside of New York. It may involve special dough fairies that aren’t permitted to travel.

I highly recommend The Simpsons dubbed in German.

A German word to know, especially this time of year: “Spargel.” Say it, order it, buy it, eat it in whatever form it’s in.

Mark Stoffel and Jon Weisberger at breakfast in Schaffhausen, SwitzerlandHotel breakfasts are not to be missed, no matter how late you were up the night before.

If you have a plane connection that’s under 40 minutes, you have about a 50/50 chance of making your next flight. A five-minute train connection in Switzerland is plenty of time.

Jet lag is definitely easier when you go west, which is why at this moment I have to say that I feel pretty g . . . zzzzzzzz.