Position: 43 30′ 10″ north, 16 26′ 53″ east
Distance from Sydney: 16,221 km
Travelling does strange things to the passage of time (no, no, this isn’t an elaborate excuse around why it’s been two weeks before an update from the road). Travel speeds time, but at the same time compresses. We’ve been travelling two weeks now, and on the one hand those two weeks have gone so quickly. But when I think back to everything that has happened, it feels like we’ve been travelling for two months, not two weeks.
I’m sitting on the patio of the Park Hotel in Split, Croatia. It’s 8:45pm, and 31 degrees. Cicadas are hammering away like maniacs in the trees above, and I can here the screaming of kids from the beach nearby. My Mojito seems to have evaporated in the warmth. Again. Tomorrow is our first “me” day, where Andres and I have a day off from travelling, and each other, and do
whatever we want to do. But before that, it’s time for a recap since the ferry across the channel.
Our route has taken us via Paris, through Champage, northern Germany to Berlin, then south to Prague, Munich, into the Austrian Alps for some hiking, Italy, before heading to Slovenia, and into Croatia, where we are now. We’ve covered about 4,000kms, and I’m as proud as a dad to report that Magda hasn’t missed a beat so far (apart from the morning when I accidentally flattened the main battery because I wanted my breakfast milk super chilled, but that’s hardly Magda’s fault).
Paris was the first test of driving a right hand side (in a right hand drive vehicle) but apart from roundabouts (where chaos truely reigns) it’s all been good. With the Australian plates, I’ve been on a mission to collect parking fines in every country, however that plan ground to a halt when we failed to get any in Paris, or Berlin (or in fact any city since then. Euro spoil sports).
From Paris we headed east via Champagne towards Berlin, and stopped in at the Nurburg Ring. For the petrol heads amongst you, this will need no explanation. For the others, the Nurburg Ring is a 25km circuit in the hills of northern Germany, where anyone can take their car on the track at certain times, and lap. Many of the car manufacturers do their testing and development of
cars here. Doing a few laps of the ‘ring’ is one of those things on my bucket list, and to the bemusement of Andres, we arrived at a company that rents fast cars for laps of the circuit.
They offered me a “stage 2″ hot hatch (I had no real idea what a “stage 2″ car was, but I knew it was better than stage 1, and that appealed to my competitive side.) A detailed briefing was given, explaining everything from emergency procedures, avoiding crashes, rev limits on the car, and gentle reminders of the cost of crashing the vehicle. It would be safe to suggest I was
feeling a little uneasy about the whole thing at this point. However not one to back down, we headed towards the track.
The first lap was a tip toe around, nervously watching the flying Porsches and BMWs as they flew past. However confidence increased rapidly, and soon all four wheels were squealing in excitement on the corners, and we sweated as we flew through the twists and turns. Anyone who knows me will know I have a vicous competitive streak, and I wasn’t happy with overtaking a few
BMW sedans. As we started the last lap I caught a glipse of the target: An identical “stage 2″ (whatever) hot hatch from the same company.
We slowly gained, Andres muttering about feeling car sick, but I was determined. We slowly reeled him in and found ourselves on the back bumper, flying along between 150 and 200kms an hour (mum close your eyes). Outbraking him on the corner we pulled in front and were away! In my head I was like Michael Schumacher (avoiding the fact we were in a hotted up Suzuki
Swift…). Two final turns past a group of people watching from the bank saw the wheels squeal a little too loudly and scare the *&^* out of ourselves, but we were champions. Filled with adrenalin and excitement I chattered like a child on too much sugar all the way to the campsite that evening.
Ahhh camping. We were both keen to test out the camping. I had only picked up the roof tent in the UK, and much of the gear had been purchased while Magda was in transit between Australia and the UK. The plan was to test it out well before we were depending on the gear and test for accommodation. I was excited to try it out, and fresh from our racing triumph I had found a
campsite nearby, next to a lake. However, despite my denial, I was coming down with a 48 hour fever. I had chills and then sweats, and in the supermarket my teeth chattered. Andres (ever the sensible one) wondered aloud whether it was a smart choice to camp this evening, but I (ever the stubborn one) insisted. We setup camp, tent up, table fitted, and I pulled out the stove to
cook up a rice and chicken extravaganza!
Only to find that the gas bottles I’d bought were the wrong type and didn’t fit. Andres had a cheese sandwich and I had chocolate mousse with rasberries (which I might add was excellent). The next day we pressed on to Berlin and while not 100% the fever was largely gone, and never seen again. The search for the right gas bottles took until Austria to solve.
Over the next few days we hung with Andres’ friend Ingrid, who acted as hotel, tour guide and entertainment in Berlin all in one. There was no such thing as hyperbole with Ingrid, everything was “super” cool, or “super” good, “super” full (as opposed to just full), and from time to time there was a little “super super” cool. It was super funny.
We pressed on to Prague, a spectacular city. On the outskirts we had our first brush with road scam however, when a car started flashing us urgently on the highway, and signalling to pull over. Unsure whether it was an unmarked police car, I was also uneasy that perhaps something was loose with the roof tent, or spare wheel, and so I fell for the trick, and we pulled over.
A pudgy man arrived at the window, and thrusted a laminated business card into my hand, as he explained his was “the director of volkswagen passats in Germany”, and that he’d lost his wallet, and just needed 100 euro for fuel until tomorrow. (I held back from pointing out that tearing around the auto-bahn like an idiot was perhaps not the best way to save fuel if he was low). As security he proffered a chunky gold wedding ring.
Being the polite Australian I listened all the way through the story with a faintly curious look on my face (ok it was naivety). Once he finished, I demurred, and looked over at Andres. The look on Andres face and a roll of the eyes put me back into reality. We wriggled out of his story, and pulled away, having the start driving with the guy clinging on to the side of Magda.
Nothing bad happened but it was a wake up call for the road ahead where the people who try to pull you over might not have something as harmless as a fake gold ring.
As we travelled we had been making plans to meet my friend Mark, who wanted to hike the Austrian Alps with us. Picking him up in Munich we headed to Seefeld, near Innsbruck. In my mind I had had images of hiking through fields of buttercups, with cow bells ringing, and arriving to a log cabin and eating Toblerone and Fondue (I don’t even like Fondue, but it seems the appropriate thing to do).
Not being entirely sure what we should carry, we erred on the side of cautiousness, carrying sleeping bags, lunch, water, thermals and spare clothes. In a burst of enthusiasm Mark decided to carry two bottles of wine, but we managed to coax him back to one. Marvelling at the steepness of the mountains from the bottom, I wondered where we would be hiking, ruling out the
horrific steepness of what confronted us, in the same way an ostrich buries its head in the sand.
Hours later, as my boots bit my heels and we sweated our way up 3,000 feet of ascent, I wanted to hate the mountain and the dumb idea to stay in a mountain lodge. But to be honest, I loved it. As we arrived, the rumble of thunder as a summer storm wandered around the peaks added to the spectacular scenery. But I was even more gleeful as I watched Mark, who had hauled his
bottle of cheap wine to the top, notice the drink board on the outside of our hut, with 6 different types of beer, wine, coffee, and others.
We had the whole mountain lodge to ourselves that evening, complete with three staff (including real deal leather short wearing guy). Super cool, as Ingrid would say.
From Austria we headed south into the Dolomites, another camping night by a lake, and I have to say that the Euro-Camps don’t appeal to us hugely. The looks from the speedo and croc-clad euro campers as they clack past from their Fiat Campervans to the toilet blocks are ones of unconcealed curiousity at Magda and our setup. But no one ever dares strike up conversation, or
question. The screaming childeren are the final straw. We are looking forward to getting off the beaten track a little more.
In Lubjiana, Slovenia we said farewell to Mark, who had travelled with us for a week, and headed for the Croatian border, our first “real” border crossing as we left the EU. The hours that followed proved the biggest emotional rollercoaster of the trip to date, as the next update will explain…