Friday, December 27, 2013

4550 Kilometers

Written by Karen.
Our little guy, our little rental car Hyundai i20, sat dripping puddles of water in the self-serve car wash bay in the Tiergarten leafy neighborhood of Berlin.  The i20's gunmetal gray four doors and trunk were wide open as I carefully navigated the round air hose vacuum nozzle around the the inside of the car, picking up the last bits of the lint and detritus that had accumulated over the past three weeks.  

Adam has just left the car washing bay carrying our two backpacks and a variety of bulky bags filled with stuff that we somehow had picked up along the way.  I look around to see him carefully walking across the street trying to miss the growing puddles and towards the warmth of our hotel.  It is cold and rainy.  The heavy, leaden clouds hang low and ominously predict another long, cold day of rain and some dicey winterish weather ahead of us. 

But, despite the seemingly silly idea of washing a car in the middle of a serious rainstorm, that was precisely what we were doing. The dirt, sand and mud from the memories of the five different countries that we visited clung to the sides of i20 with ferocity, as if also reluctant to bid it - and our road trip - a fond farewell. Now with the grit washed off and the inside of the car clean and freshly vacuumed, i20 sparkled, waiting, it seemed to me, to be off on another road adventure soon.  I welcomed the chance to be alone for a few minutes.  I'm terrible at good-byes.  

Our time together with our little guy i20 was coming to an end.  Adam and I had just this morning completed a driving loop that began and ended in Berlin, Germany.  We drove from Berlin through Germany, passing through Austria up into the Italian lake district, over to Bologna, Italy, across Tuscany to La Spieza on the Italian coast, up the Italian coast and into the French Riviera, meandered slowly through Provence, France, briefly into Switzerland, then back to Berlin. A driving loop that totaled 4,550 kilometers.  

Somewhere along the way of whizzing miles and passing scenery, the i20 become a part of mine and Adam's team.  We no longer mocked the i20 as being a step up from a riding lawnmower as he screamed breathlessly for mercy on the open highway. Instead, to our surprise, once we got off the highway and onto the back roads, the i20 became the perfect car to slowly drive along those open tree-lined boulevards, narrow cobblestoned alleys, and winding hillside roads. In fact, we no longer saw the fire-breathing monsters that ruled the German autobahn on the non-toll, twisting two-lane back country roads that we traveled upon.  Instead, we saw cars that looked exactly like our car.  And, after awhile, I found myself liking the little guy.  

So despite the pouring rain and the thrashing wind that will make this thorough car wash obsolete in minutes, we are washing up our little i20 in order to return him clean and well-loved back to his rightful corporate owners. I stand back to take a long look at the i20, fondly remembering random moments from this road trip.  I nod appreciatively.  It was a good trip.  I close the doors, getting ready for Adam to return from across the street so we can make our car drop off deadline by 2:00 p.m. Take care little guy - it's been quite a ride!

Early into our road trip heading south through Germany on the Autobahn
Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Switzerland all posted large scenic and cultural signs along the highways.  Usually there was a graphic representation of what was being offered in the region.  We quickly pulled off the highway whenever we saw signs indicating glass blowing.  We eventually found two of these historic glass blowing towns: Glasshutte, Germany and Biot, France. Having only a very general sense of where we were headed provided us with the flexibility to exploring when something captured our interest.
Driving into Dresden, Germany during sunset
I was surprised by just how agricultural Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Switzerland are.  Shortly after we would leave a major city, we would begin to see miles and miles....err...kilometers and kilometers of corn, grass, vineyards...for as far as the eye could see.  It offers a very green landscape.
Entering northern Italy
Italy offered two highways: one a toll road and the other a non-toll road.  Often the highways would run side-by-side with each other.  Once we figured this out, we tried to drive on the non-toll roads.  This picture is of a toll road with a tunnel going through the hill.  The non-toll road had us going around the hill.
We wound up paying tolls in every country that we visited, except Germany.  Tolls varied in cost with Italy and France being the most costly.  The tolls also seemed to occur fairly frequently, which meant that your cruising speed (as it was with the little guy!) would be often interrupted as you waited in line to pay between 2.50 and 40 euros. When we first entered into Italy from Austria, we waited in a 15 mile backup that took nearly 3 hours to get through.  I was certain the reason for the delay was a major accident.  Nope, it was the wait to pay a toll!
The approaching Italian Alps as we drove through the outskirts of Milan.  We were headed to the Lake District - Lake Como and Bellagio specifically.
Overlook of Lake Como and the Italian Alps
We were on our way to Bellagio, Italy from Lake Como, Italy when it became clear that one of the posted arrow directional signs was missing.  Instead of turning left, we continued straight through town and headed up into the hills.  A friendly resident guided us out of the mountainous maze and back to the main two-lane road. These narrow one-lane roads were barely wide enough for our little guy to drive on.  I'm not sure any vehicle larger than our little i20 would have been able to drive down these country lane roads. Interestingly enough, the helpful neighbor drove the same type of car as we did!
Driving through a Tuscan neighborhood
Driving through a Proven├žal town 
Driving through backroads in Provence, France


Anonymous said...

Adam & Karen: Have a great New Year!!
Steve S.

Observers of Life said...

Thanks Steve!

We both wish you a wonderful new year as well!