Thursday, 7 April 2011

Saturday 2 April: Four Countries, a Mountain Range & a Wonky Steering Wheel

One thing's for sure, if you're going to drive 1200 miles to Italy you've got to (a) be rich and (b) do it in a decent car.  Neither of which apply to us.

Rosemary, bless her heart and we love her to bits, but she's not exactly built for speed, and nor should she be. The pure joy and whole point of driving a veedub is the being at one with the living the dream sort of existence.  Just trundling along country lanes without a single care and all the time in the world, is what its all about.  You're in your own little world listening to a few tunes, ideally with a surfing sort of vibe, and before you know it a chilled out, trippy sort of grin has crept up on you unannounced. You find yourself waving at other fellow veedubers sporting similar grins, at one and at peace with the world too.

But not when you need to floor it across four countries and a not insignificant mountain range.

Last year we took 2 months out to just travel and explore and we did the same distance in 2 weeks. This time in just over 2 days.  Poor, poor Rosemary.

We left yesterday morning in that Rosemary sort of mode, complete with the trippy grins on our faces.  We left half an hour late (not quite sure why it took us an hour and a half to get out of the door, but it did) and so we missed our tunnel crossing slot.  But, hey, no matter, we're chilled out trippy veedubbers.  Just park up, roll down the window, put the music on, your feet up on the dash, crack open the flask (of coffee) and sandwiches and just take it easy, man.

KP preparing for the Channel Tunnel
Our high spirits turned to high jinks as we finally rolled onto Le Shuttle, KP complete with the stowed away snorkel and visor he'd found hanging from the wooden clothes horse in the back.  I could barely drive.  The tears just rolled down my cheeks, I couldn't see and was bent double, gasping for air. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Eventually, we were driving up and out into France.  And that's when it became just one long slog.  We needed to get from A to B (B being).  And therein lies the mistake. You shouldn't have a plan or agenda when driving a Rosemary.  But we did it.

Our 5 star Strasbourg hotel

Eventually we reached Strasbourg after 12 hours on the road, and pretty wiped out.  We found a budget motel sort of place out in the suburbs, just a room with a bed and shower.  Tiny and hardly a Room with a View, but just fine.  Most importantly, however, there was a security guarded carpark.  Somewhat essential for helping Rosemary keep eye on all our wordly goods inside, and, of course, our coveted bikes on the back.

Food, wine, sleep was all we needed, and we were successful in all three.

The next day we were up and at 'em and rolling on our way once more.  Not exactly early, but we were on our way, the sun was shining and the skies were blue.  Next stop, Italy.


Switzerland, after the vast open spaces and, dare I say it, barren dullness of France, was sheer joy and absolute heaven.  The air was crystal clear and everything was so fresh and stylish and just beautiful.  Even down to the way their gas tanks were painted in swirls of ice blue and white and the way the Lindt bunnies were displayed in motorway service cafes.  Switzerland.  Not a single hair out of place.  And everyone did as they were told.  No crazy manoeuvres on the autostrades and all within the speed limit.  Almost robotic. But with absolute views to die for.

The Lindt Bunny Service Sation

The open road through the Alps

The last time we came over, it was dull, grey, drizzly and foggy.  This time it was brilliant spring sunshine.  The Alps just took my breath away.  They just went on and on and up and up.  Hour after hour of steady climbing, glistening snow and sharp, high peaks.  Stunning.  But poor Rosemary strained and groaned.  Boy, was I glad we took the grown up decision after our dummy run up Rusper hill to lighten her load a little.  Good move.  I think we may have been having a roadside car boot sale if not.

A welcome break before the final push to the top
Eventually, we reached the top and rolled on down all the way into Italy.  And promptly descended into chaos.  After the clinical roads (and drivers) of Switzerland, this was more like it!  Total madness.  Each man (or woman) to himself and anything goes.  There's no rhyme or reason to the road signs, designs or directions.  The Italians just don't give a monkeys.

But what fun.  Eventually we found ourselves in Parma and more than ready to stop. It was hot and we were tired, travel grimey and hungry.

Finding a hotel with somewhere for Rosemary too, wasn't easy.  City hotels have either on street parking or underground parking.  Neither of which were suitable.  Even if Rosemary could have ducked under the height bars she sure as hell wouldn't have made it down, or up, the entrance ramps.

So we had to plump for an ever so slightly out of town 4 star hotel, complete with massive bath, massive bed and mini bar.  Tough one, that.

Actually, it was.  It did rather prick my budget traveller minimal impact conscience.  But then, I guess, that's already been blown away by this trip. I've kept a tally of our costs so far, petrol, tolls and so on, and have been rocked to the core by the disparity between travelling this way and flying.  So far, our costs are way, way above the price of an airline ticket, and we're not even there yet.  How on earth can we be expected to reduce our travelling carbon footprint when the price of the Eurotunnel alone is far more costly than the price of a plane ticket? And don't even get me started on petrol prices.

Anyway, enough of that and back to Parma. Stunningly beautiful and elegant, exciting and vibrant. Grand, elaborate buildings, ancient architecture and a fabulous river running right through her, criss-crossed with bridges. Definitely one to return to another day and another time.

Parma - an absolute 'must visit' city
We had a fabulous evening exploring ancient streets and cloisters and eating amongst the locals in a little side street trattoria. Italian food, wine and coffee at last. Two very happy but very weary travellers.

And so to bed. We need an earlyish start tomorrow as KP has a steering wheel to secure before we're going anywhere.  But that's another story....

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