Thoughts about mountains and roads while driving through europe

Jul 15 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

Miscellaneous thoughts from my journal.

The mountains: some people say that people either love mountains or oceans. I love both, because what I love, what speaks to me in a way I cannot describe is the water with both. Mountain streams, rivers, waterfalls  are as beautiful and compelling to me as the ocean, if not more so. So far these mountains are at a distance. We are getting there. The drive is much stop and go. This is, after all, MittleEuropa, and has been settled for centuries, if not millenia (plural). The roads are narrow, and congested. Single lane highways as the major thoroughfares between northern and southern Poland. One of Eisenhower's geniuses was the Interstate Highway system. In my experience my European friends and colleagues fail to appreciate what they mean. Yes, they are hideously ugly to travel on. Yes, speed come at a cost. For all that they are a scar, they are hairline scars, finely etched over a much larger body.  What they have done is given a unity within America, that the EU is still struggling with. Yes, Europe has a magnificent train system, but we are in a bus, not on trains as we go across five, six countries of Europe. Here is a question: absent highways and the car, would America have split into multiple countries? Or is the post-civil war Federal inertia enough to hang it together. Do the people of America perceive something that they can see and visit and therefore feel differently? It is impossible to know except by going and asking.

We are now more into countryside, but still long chains of trucks and cars and busses on the narrow highway. Small farms, villages line the sides of the road. Some are what would be called picturesque, but I mostly find them an ugly conglomeration of bright primary colored signs, and ersatz something or other. It would be good to drive through the forest.

5 responses so far

  • imager says:

    Depends where you are I guess. There are e.g. major highways crossing the Alps. Beautiful drive into northern Italy.

  • sel says:

    I drove across the US a couple times last year. When you're driving those distances on major highways, a lot of the time (such as middle of the day on week days on a major highway in the middle of nowhere), it's just you and a LOT of 18-wheelers. It makes you realize that you're driving on the arteries of commerce. This feeling is enhanced when the highway runs parallel to major train tracks and you see train after train hauling dozens of freight cars and coal cars and oil cars.

    It really made me aware that the country is a system, and the highways are indeed pretty crucial to making it run.

  • Ola says:

    I'm in 2 minds about the Eisenhower interstate system. On the good side are all the things you mention - connecting the country, etc. However, the down-sides are numerous....

    Firstly the way in which the interstates within large cities were used to carve up neighborhoods and enforce racial and economic segregation. Many cities are still suffering from the blight created by making entire neighborhoods "on the wrong side of the tracks".

    Second is the environmental cost of encouraging freight to be put on roads instead of trains. It is simply far more efficient (fuel cost and carbon cost) to move freight by rail, but the confluence of big oil and government ensures that we will continue to burn more of their product than we really should, doing it the inefficient way. We are the most car-dependent and gasoline dependent nation on earth, and the interstate system must take some of the blame in bringing us to this point.

    Third is the environmental cost associated with suburban/exurban sprawl. From the early design stage, a completely unanticipated consequence of having interstates go all the way into major cities, was that people might actually use them to live further out and commute into work. As a result, we have cities like Atlanta, which are not really cities at all, just loose collections of ugly sprawl facilitated by wide roads. The living hell that is commuting in a city like LA or Houston, is a legacy of the interstate highway system.

    Also the combination of 1 and 3, in which newly available residences in the suburbs facilitated the "white flight" from inner cities, further enhancing segregation. If you haven't read James Howard Kunstler's diatribes on this topic, do so! (

    • potnia theron says:

      you are right about the "carving up the inner city", but this has been aided and abetted by so many other (negative, racist) factors supporting white flight.

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