05/04/03-05/16/03 Driving trip in Europe. The idea was simple - rent an Elise in Germany, drive it around the Alps and on some other fun European roads, and hopefully the Nurburgring. That was the dream. The reality follows:
Day 1 - Getting There.
Well, it was more like 2 days. Since I knew that immediately after arrival in Frankfurt I would have to drive 700 kilometers to Italy, I wanted to make sure I'd get some sleep on the plane - which I normally have trouble doing. So my bright idea was to get up at 3AM on the day of departure so that I would be very tired and hopefully sleep. Didn't work. The flight was cramped, the German guy in the seat next to me was snoring, some stupid baby was screaming half the flight, and I got zero sleep. So I arrived at the car rental place in Frankfurt having gotten only 5 hours of sleep in the previous 48 and having been up for 21 hours. With what I was guessing to be 9 more to go on the autobahn and alpine passes. Peachy.
Immediately, the surprises started. Turns out the price is €300 more because insurance is mandatory, which I was not told. To top it off, the insurance has a €3,000 deductible! And not only that, but they actually charge the deductible on my card (not just an authorization, but an actual charge with a promise to refund it). Ditto for the rental fee. They also made me sign a paper saying that I wouldn't drive on the Nurburgring, which was supposed to be a highlight of the trip. But I was there, the car was there, and so I decided to make the best of it and sort things out later.
Luggage space is quite limited so it's basically one bag and then either a passenger or another bag...
The Elise I got is a brand new one (2,500 kilometers). Still smelling of curing fiberglass, like mine did for the first year. The paint is a light metallic blue with 'race tech' package in the interior. Not the best color for it I must say, although I got used to it as the day wore on. It even looked quite nice among fields of yellow dandelions along the way.
First impressions of the car - it feels wider than mine. I think this is because the sharper creased fenders stick out more in the field of vision. Ride quality is about the same as my S190 and in fact I think my car handles sharp pavement imperfections better. This is surprising because my car is supposed to be the 'race' version. Another note is that I prefer the old interior to the new one. It was more interesting and functional. Other little items - the rearview mirror vibrates like mad. The shiny radio antenna on the engine lid reflects the sun and keeps flashing in the vibrating mirror. At first I thought I was being pulled over by the cops, and since the mirror was completely a blur it took a bit to figure it out. The side mirrors work very well though.
The car is not happy on the autobahn. Too darty and noisy. It was a hot day (75-80 degrees F it seemed) and of course the ventilation in the car does not do much other than make noise, by design. So I used the door windows, balancing the amount of thermal discomfort with that of aural discomfort. Engine note is not particularly pleasant either, and the gearbox whines on overrun just like the first one in my car did. So it's true, they all do that, except in a road car it is much more noticeable because the exhaust is much quieter... Anyway, I could not find it in me to push the car much beyond 180kph. The Ford Fiesta I rented four years ago was much happier at those speeds. I did run the Elise up to 205 kph briefly. It seemed pretty close to redline in 5th and there was little enjoyment in it, so I backed off to 160kph (100mph) where the car is content to cruise, albeit loudly.
All my experiments with speed burned up a ton of fuel, and as a result it cost me €30 to go the first 300 or so kilometers. This works out to significantly less than 20 mpg. Along the way saw one accident being cleaned up, and came upon a half-dozen different repair crews fixing the armco. Mortality check. Eased off to 140 kph later in the day as I got more tired.
So it may seem like the trip didn't start out all that well... Which is not the case. I refused to let the little stuff get me down and once I got to the Alps the Elise became much happier, playing in the curves which are clearly its element. I took it quite easy given my jetlagged state, but still enjoyed the car and the twisties immensely. Pretty much passed everyone, as always. At some point a blonde in an SLK AMG was keeping up with me so I let her by assuming she knows the road better. It was fun for a few kilometers as there was no traffic ahead. Then she turned off, and in a couple more turns I came up on a line of slower cars. Which turned out to be a blessing, since half a kilometer further on there were two Austrian cops standing by the side of the road pointing radar at me. Ha. Not this time, gentlemen (I do need to watch for that though). Through the alpine passes the traffic was occasionally held up by trucks, including one that broke down and required the biggest tow truck I've ever seen to get it removed.
Finally, after some seven hours of driving I found the road leading up to the hotel. And what a road! Very twisty, only 1.5 lanes wide, with lots of blind corners. And regular bus traffic, as I found out. Not small busses, either, but huge tour-bus sized monsters that run regularly scheduled service in these parts. After a bit I got the technique down (expect the bus at every corner and you won't get surprised). Also there are convex mirrors around some corners if you know where to look for them. A VW Lupo caught up with me when I stopped to let a bus through in the other direction, and decided to try and keep up with me afterwards. So I stepped it up a bit, still mindful of my partial incapacitation, but just enough to clear my mirrors of the pesky hatchback - a VERY fun finale to the day :)
Upon locating the hotel and checking in, I found it to be the best I've ever stayed in, regardless of price. And at €75/night it is an amazing bargain. Check it out on the web at www.hotelturm.it - HIGHLY recommended. Down pillows and comforters, robe/slippers, and even chocolates on the pillow. After the long, hot, noisy and stressful trip it was one of those times when a shower feels like heaven. I forced myself to stay awake until 8 pm local time and then passed out....
My sleep strategy worked better this time and I woke up just before 5 am feeling refreshed and not a trace of jetlag. Cool.
Started the day with a hike up the nearby mountain. Quite a workout. When I finally got to the top of the trail I decided not to follow another one a further kilometer higher in elevation - just didn't have it in me. The hotel was a tiny spot far below (about 2000 feet below to be exact). So I started back down and due to the steepness of the slope the descent was as much work as the climb. It is a beautiful place. The whole hike took 4 hours at a deliberate pace. Then a much needed shower, after which I borrowed a chamois and a bucket from the hotel staff to wash the thick layer of bugs off the car, and set out to explore some local roads for the afternoon.
Found a loop on the map that looked very interesting so decided to go check it out. The Elise loves the turns and feels great through them. Not so with occasional patches of rough pavement but those weren't too frequent - this Elise has already acquired the traditional loud bodywork squeak where the back clamshell meets the center section, and combined with rather industrial note from the engine and gearbox the soundtrack leaves more than a bit to be desired. Oh well, can't have it all I guess...
The roads leading up to the loop were certainly fun, but the loop itself is absolutely incredible. I'm thinking of setting up the camera in the car and taping some of that. The still pictures don't really do it justice... Of course the monster busses were ever-present, but generally I did not have a problem spotting them just in time coming the other way, and getting around them when they were taking up the road in the same direction. One such time I got a bit exuberant with power on a switchback immediately after passing a bus and got the tail way out. I guess the driver and everyone on the left side of the bus got a bit of a show :) On many switchbacks you can see around the corner if you take the effort to look, and if the road is clear it is possible to take the fast line through them. FUN. On a sobering note, came upon an accident where a Ducati got squashed underneath a truck. The ambulance was just leaving the scene and the police were measuring distances with a tape. Don't know the fate of the rider but hope he made it.
Got back to the hotel at 6 pm and checked out some more of the facility. It is truly great. The spa seems especially nice and after all the physical stress lately a massage sounds quite appealing...
The restaurant in the hotel is also very good and quite reasonable. A full four-course meal for €22. Great food but a bit too much - next time I'll just do a-la-carte. For the most part though I exist on Balance bars and water. Takes a major cost and hassle out of travel - basic fuel and nutrition are taken care of for the duration, and any actual meals that I have are more for the experience than sustenance.
Figured out how to install the video camera in the car (helmetcam with velcro on the left a-pillar) and went for some taping runs on the roads. Unfortunately traffic was fairly heavy but I did get a few open stretches that were entertaining. Also got some video on the Autostrada on the way back. Hopefully out of one hour of video I'll get enough interesting footage for a two-minute clip... I've learned that just because something FEELS fun doesn't mean it will look exciting on tape. I generally do all of the passing on the roads, although I did let a fast motorcycle by just to watch him through the curves for a while. He turned off a couple kilometers later but it was fun while it lasted.
Is it possible to OD on twisty roads? I'm starting to think maybe yes... So back to the hotel and off on another hike in the surrounding mountains. There are some numbered footpaths that are shown on a local map, and which have direction signs on them. Also countless small shrines along the way. There are many small farms scattered on the slopes. Some cattle and what looks like apple orchards. Architecture is a mix of German and Italian, and craftsmanship appears excellent even on minor structures. From my short time in the region it seems South Tyrol is a pleasant mix of German and Italian influences, taking German cleanliness and precision and adding Italian warmth and flair. Perhaps the best of both worlds....
A leisurely exploratory drive, this time to the west. Checked out a lake which seemed to be well below its maximum water level. Not a person around except for the proprietors of small chalet at the bottom of a long, one-lane road down the slopes. Via the usual mixture of gestures and the few German words I know, I obtained a bottle of mineral water and then sat on the lakeshore for a while enjoying the quiet. Then back up the narrow first-gear road and down the valley on a flowing two-lane highway. A similar highway runs parallel to the autostrada back north so I took that instead of paying the toll. A small Renault Clio decided to hang with me so we had quite a bit of fun passing trucks and other slower traffic. The Elise does quite well at this, and acceleration is adequate if not stellar (my other vehicles have definitely spoiled me). The Clio driver must have been working that thing pretty hard to keep up like that unless it was one of the hotter versions.
I found a road on the map that I wanted to take bypassing a major town. After finding it on the ground, then second-guessing myself, then asking for directions only to 'find' it again, I started on the way up. The mountain looks completely impassable from below, and it is hard to imagine how a road can make its way up. But that it does - one lane wide, countless blind turns and switchbacks. I was apprehensive about what would happen if a car came the other way, but when a couple eventually did it somehow worked out with both parties squeezing off to the side and mirrors passing an inch or so apart. The surface was not always great but OK overall, and I kept up a brisk pace through sections where I could see what's ahead. Came up on a couple slower cars and was all but resigned to a crawl only to have them let me by a few turns later. Cool.
The Elise certainly turns heads - literally. On a few occasions kids gathered by the side of the road waved and even screamed. Also got the usual share of 'nice car' comments and 'what is it/how fast does it go' questions whenever I'd stop for gas or to ask directions. Typically this is the first Elise most people have seen and they usually assume it's a Ferrari despite the big LOTUS inscription on the back. Ah well, I guess the public at large is not very Lotus-informed even in Europe.
Then back to the hotel, after filling up the car and buying a sponge to wash all the dirt from the day's drive, which I then accomplished in the hotel garage. Tomorrow I'm off to Switzerland so will just relax the rest of the day.
The dinner was not as good this time - something about it being the chef's day off. Oh well, can't have it all I suppose. The last time I met a nice older German couple with whom I tried to converse in a mixture of broken German on my part and broken English on theirs. This time they invited me to sit at their table and we had further attempts at conversation. Really wish I had put more effort into learning German. Although I get the feeling that if I lived here for a month I'd do OK. Even made a hotel reservation in Germany for later in the trip, and successfully resolved such issues as secure parking and time to drive to Frankfurt airport. I think.
Transit to Switzerland. Descended from the Alps into foggy and humid Venetto plain then headed west. Stopped for gas and the attendant tried to charge me EU20 more than the cost of fuel. Having resolved that issue I continued on only to have my credit card declined by the autostrada toll booth. Wonder if they did anything weird with the card? I'll sort it out later. Driving into Milano I hit some nasty traffic and the Elise did OK in it save for lack of air conditioning. The engine cooling fan worked. I stopped in Milano to have lunch with a group of Italian lotus enthusiasts whom I had met on the Internet - www.cinghialoni.org. We were originally hoping to organize a drive in the Alps but scheduling issues prevented it, so lunch was all we could manage. Still, it was an excellent lunch and perhaps the best Tiramisu I've ever had. Thank you Max and Luca!
Luca, who is the Italian distributor for Westfield, met me in his Megabusa and led me to the restaurant. It was great to see a Megabusa on the road and follow it through traffic. Wish the Elise sounded like that! This one is set up differently from mine, with no windshield and all kinds of carbon bits. Very cool. Luca is a brave man to drive it with no windshield on the street. They had a track day at Imola coming up on Sunday but sadly I had to sign a paper that the Elise would not be taken on a track and I didn't want to risk it - I'd probably have to buy the whole car if anything happened and certainly lose my €3,000 deposit. It also wouldn't surprise me if there is some kind of GPS logging device in the car somewhere. Haven't looked for one yet.
After lunch, onward through St. Bernard pass and into Switzerland. On the approach to the pass I encountered the first rain on the trip. The Elise does not leak (in fact at speed the rain stays out even with an open window). The cooler air was a welcome relief. The Swiss border guards spent a lot of time asking me questions and scanning my passport and driver's license. I guess an American arriving from Italy in a rented Lotus with German plates is not something they see every day. After that, a VERY long tunnel and a descent into the valley. Some guy in a Golf GTI thought he could stay ahead of me and was taking up two lanes in the turns. Passed him anyway. Wimp. I wasn't even trying that hard. A few kilometers later when I hit a long line of traffic he caught up and was riding my bumper for a while at 40 kph. Whatever.
The Elise is a collection of squeaks in the turns and rattles on broken pavement - this with only 4,000 kilometers on the clock - although on good surfaces it still feels solid and is rattle-free. I must say that perhaps Lotus was wise not to bring this version to the States. If I had paid $40K for THIS car I'd be disappointed. My S190 is one thing - it's a race car and lack of refinement is expected, compensated for by sheer thrill when used with vigor. Somewhat lacking in the latter, it is harder to come up with an excuse for the former in the standard car. Certainly hope the drivetrain is more exciting both viscerally and aurally in the US version. It's not that I'm not enjoying the experience, but I wanted to be overwhelmed. And I'm not. In fact I suspect I'd enjoy this more in a Cooper S...
Finally, arriving at my mother's place in Leysin felt almost like coming home - at least it was familiar territory. Turns out I'll have a separate apartment to stay in, too, which is cool. A bright double rainbow greeted my arrival. Time to take a small break from all the driving.
Spent the day with my mother. Very little driving, except to take her shopping in Vevey. She bravely endured my driving style. The Elise can actually carry a little bit of stuff and the snug trunk is an advantage in not having the things fly around back there in turns. One could comfortably carry a week's forth of groceries for one or two people back there. As long as there's no ice cream.
Also in Vevey for the first time on this trip encountered another Elise (also an S2). A dark blue one. Darker colors definitely suit the car better. We waved to each other and went our separate ways.
The Elise has an oil leak. Oil is pooled on the undertray and is spraying out the back at speed, at first left side only then both. Just like mine did (I never traced my leak and it eventually went away, or so it seems). After discovering the problem I checked the oil level and it appears OK. Can't tell where it's coming from. I thought maybe the gearbox but it doesn't have the distinctive gear oil smell. I'll just have to keep an eye on it.
Waving goodbye to mother on Mother's day, I continued on to Luxembourg. An uneventful trip overall, save for a few anxious moments where the fuel was getting unpleasantly low and no gas stations in sight. Finally found one only a few kilometers from my destination, and probably 20 or so kilometers from running out. The toughest part ended up being the search for the hotel. Luxembourg is a city of confusion for me, for some reason. I did not have a real map, just an approximate sketch printed from the hotel's Internet site. I just kept driving in seemingly one general direction and ending up at the same place every time. Asked for directions several times and finally saw the hotel in front of me, when I wasn't expecting. Later when I went for a walk about town I realized that I came within two blocks of the place on the first try but second-guessed myself and spent literally another hour driving around. My walk, despite being armed with a real map, echoed the same theme - seeing the same places over and over.
In Luxembourg I am meeting with another car enthusiast whom I know through the Internet. We are traveling to the Nurburgring Monday morning. Ed is an American who has been living abroad for a while. After calling him from the hotel we realize that I'm only a couple blocks from his house. We decide to solve my Nurburgring dilemma by renting a car at the airport so that both of us can drive it on the ring since I can't take the Elise on the track.
The hotel is pretty nice but no match for hotel Turm in Tyrol where I spent the first part of the trip. It is also 50% more money.
Luxembourg is a very neat town. It is built on what is essentially a flat plain that is carved up by several narrow valleys several hundred feet deep. The city center is very compact and sits on an 'island' surrounded by said valleys. It consists of many pedestrian streets and squares, filled with street performers, sidewalk cafes and lined with shops of all kinds. The entire center is encircled by mostly one-way main traffic arteries (which is what I think led to my confusion). It is connected to the world by several arched stone bridges and a tunnel. The city is very international and I heard French, Italian, German, English, Russian and something that is similar to German but isn't, which I assume is the local language. Unfortunately I forgot my camera when I embarked on the walk and therefore have no pictures.
Within the first half hour of the walk I saw an S1 Elise (it does look more authentic than the S2), an Opel Speedster (OK for a GM car but no Elise), a Z3 Coupe, a Smart Roadster, a '65 Mustang and a 70's Vette with side pipes. Also lots of bikes. In fact there is an entire square in city center dedicated to motorcycle parking.
Yep, this is one of the relatively few places where I think I could live....
THE RING. Met Ed in the morning and we drove to the airport to procure the victim rentacar. Found a Peugeot 307 hatchback with a 1.6L motor. Not too terrible. So we set out towards the Nurburgring, a short hour or so drive away. It turns out Ed used to race back in the States and has driven over 200 laps on the Nordschleife. He even has an full year pass. Cool!
We arrived a bit early and checked out the surroundings. Very nice area. The countryside is beautiful with rolling hills and nice roads. The local gas station has an incredible array of model cars for sale (several rooms' worth), including a very large and detailed model of a GT40 that costs almost $1,000. Back at the Ring a few cars and bikes were starting to arrive at the parking lot. Saw three M Coupes, a couple Elises, Ferraris, etc. As the opening time drew near we decided that Ed would do the first few laps and then I'll give it a shot. At this point I still didn't quite know what to expect....
Then they remove the barricade that blocks the entrance, we roll up to the gate, and we are the first car out on the track. The first couple of turns are easy enough and then a hard right-hander. Which is where I discover that this is going to be a WILD ride. What Ed is doing with this rentacar is amazing. Hopping the curbs (the 'rentacar line' as he calls it), kicking the tail out, drifting around blind turns. The car sticks well and is quite forgiving. Ed is able to bring it back from the brink several times. We are flying. It takes me a few laps to get used to the track and to the unexpected speed. Ed knows the rack really well and his commentary on the lines is very helpful. Especially when later it's my turn to drive.
At first I just bought tickets for two laps to see how it goes. The track is very long with countless turns and large elevation changes. Being told where to be and what to expect as I blast along is invaluable and increases the enjoyment considerably. After two laps of introduction to driving the track myself, it's Ed's turn again. And he goes FASTER YET. Whew. I've ridden in many cars on the track, occasionally with very experienced drivers. But I've never experienced anything like this ride in a lowly rentmobile. We are passing Porsches and bikes, and almost keeping up with a highly modified M1 (on R tires) and an RS4 - definitely not on the uphill bits but downhill and in the corners they don't get any farther ahead. Some faster bikes fly by at incredible speeds on the straights but only pull away quite slowly in the corners. The Ring Taxi goes by with a flamboyant sideways show in every turn. I now feel a bit more at ease on the track, although I still have no idea where it goes, but at least some corners start looking familiar. According to Ed, video cameras are not allowed but I sneak mine in anyway. Only to run out of battery half-way through a lap. Oh well, at least I got SOME footage (sorry, the video quality is pretty poor due to handheld camera).
I buy a 5-lap pass and step it up a bit. Towards the last lap I'm getting some degree of comfort, although I still rely on Ed's reminders on the line and when to shift - the car is so quiet it's hard to know when you're approaching the 6K RPM redline. While I'm traveling at nowhere near Ed's pace, I do manage to reel in and pass a few slower bikes, a WRX, a couple Porsches and an MGF, not to mention a bunch of rather more pedestrian machinery. Not too bad for a first-timer in a lowly 1.6L hatchback. Of course about just as often faster people go by me instead. No surprise there. But I was able to keep the M1 in sight for a number of turns... An interesting thing we notice is that under hard braking or cornering the car turns its emergency blinkers on, then turns them off a short time later. Guess it's not used to this kind of driving ;)
Around 5 PM more people start rolling in and I'm getting a bit tired - so I say goodbye and many thanks to Ed and head out in search of my next hotel a couple hours away. It's just as well that I didn't drive the Elise on the Ring. It is not a terribly forgiving car, and the Ring is a very unforgiving place. Also, the oil leak continues although the engine oil level is still OK.... My recommendation to anyone who wants to drive there is to fly into Frankfurt or Luxembourg, rent something simple though preferably with a 1.8 or larger motor, and enjoy. It takes dozens of laps before one can become comfortable enough with the track to be able to usefully exploit a performance car here, and you can actually go faster sooner in a more forgiving and less powerful car. Just don't ever mention the Nurburging to the rental company and make sure their contract does not call it out by name either. It is a public road so all insurance applies, but some companies specifically exclude Ring usage.
I located the hotel without much difficulty. It is an interesting place - but more on that tomorrow. My room is pretty small and a bit musty, but it's clean, relatively inexpensive (same as hotel Turm which by being a good deal nicer gets the top lodging bargain crown for this trp). A quick stroll into town then a vodka at the bar and back to the room to type up the day's experiences while they are still fresh. The Nurburgring was definitely the climax of the trip, so the remaining 3 days here I will just unwind and explore the nearby countryside....
This hotel is a 'health farm', and seems to be mostly populated by older couples. The town it's in is very small, and though parts of it are charming there is not much here to do. So I set out exploring the local side roads.
The countryside is very scenic, as are the roads that wind through it - sometimes in long sweeping curves and sometimes climbing up and down hillsides in tight coils. Surfaces on main roads are excellent, which cannot be said about the smaller ones. The Elise is not happy on broken pavement and the gearbox sounds pretty horrible. Can't tell if it got worse or I'm just more annoyed by it now that the novelty has worn off.
Saw quite a few cops, and got pulled over once by one standing by the side of the road. Rather than try to explain to me in English what the issue was, he just said 'keine problem' and let me go. Was I speeding? Not sure. Speed limit changes constantly along the back roads and it's possible to miss the signs - anything between 120 and 50 kph.
The weather has cooled down quite a bit, with intermittent rain and sunshine with faint rainbows. Glad it didn't rain yesterday for my Ring outing.
Eventually in my meandering I found myself in the neighborhood of the Nurburgring again. So I stopped by the museum there - not very big but has some neat cars, including a couple recent F1 machines which are cool to see up-close.
Upon return to the parking lot found an S1 Elise parked nearby, so took some pictures of them side-by-side. Yep, I still like the S1 styling better.
On the way back I stopped at a parking area overlooking the track. A bunch of motorcycle cops were hanging out and watching cars going through the curves. On most weekdays the ring is used by various manufacturers for testing. I saw a few new 5-series scream by, followed by a VW Eurovan driven at ridiculous speed. Next were Cayenne, X5 and Touareg squealing through the turns nose to tail. Pigs on the wing? Also saw a disguised Mercedes prototype which looked like a small SL - probably the next SLK.
Took the back roads on the return trip to the hotel. For my 11 days rental I get 3,150 kilometers after which each additional one costs 34 cents. I've already driven 3,020 kilometers and it's about 90 to the rentacar place from the hotel. I considered returning the car early but upon re-reading the contract realized that it would be cheaper to just park it for a couple of days and hike around or just relax.
The dinner at the restaurant was quite good. However all the gray hair around me is starting to make me feel very much out of place...
OK, maybe this is TOO peaceful. I can't relax here. Rather I feel like I'm going to go nuts. So I decided to return the Lotus early, checked out and headed back to Frankfurt. The return went without issues and all in all it ended up costing me €1,287 for 9 days and 3,100 kilometers. Well, that and about 10 tankfuls of gas at €30 each. I've seen and experienced so much already on this trip that I'm a bit Euro'd out. Took a train to the airport to see if I could come back early. No flights today but maybe I can get on the morning flight tomorrow - will have to just show up and hope they have space. Several of the local hotels were full, but the Marriot Courtyard had space - so I called their shuttle and they picked me up. The only non-smoking rooms were 'deluxe' at €120 a night but at this point I just wanted to have no stress and went for the 'deluxe' room. There is something to be said for the sterile comfort of American chain hotels.
Decided to go into Frankfurt for a few hours. Traveled by bus, train and streetcar. In European cities it's easy to be carless. Weather is fairly nice with mostly sunshine and occasional torrential downpour. Frankfurt is a mix of old and new, mostly the latter. The walk along the river is scenic with several pedestrian bridges across. Relaxed by the river for a while. Cool. Much of the center away from the river is taken up by a gigantic shopping area many blocks long. Looked for souvenirs to take home but found nothing of interest. Kinda sad, amidst literally thousands of stores there's nothing for me to buy.
After a couple hours in town I've had enough and caught the train and then a bus back to the hotel. Have to get up early tomorrow anyway, so might as well just vegetate for a bit. The room is on the 11th floor and even has a bit of a view.
Got to the airport only to discover that there is no way to get out today. Mileage reward tickets just don't have much flexibility. So I rented a VW Lupo and decided to go visit my ex in Brussels - haven't seen her in years. A fairly quick 3-hour drive. The Lupo is very floaty and strangely feels wider than the Elise (even though it definitely isn't) because I can't place it with nearly as much precision. You more guide it than steer it. So passing trucks in the numerous construction zones, where lanes are only 7 feet wide, became a bit of a white-knuckle affair. In the Lotus I used to just breeze through those spots without a second thought. Same goes for undulating pavement at 160 kph. But the VW is much more comfortable, quieter, has ventilation and climate control that work, and gets better gas mileage. It can even do 170 kph downhill and 140 kph uphill. I get passed a lot.
Brussels to me seems like a pretty large town, perhaps because it is mostly old construction and very dense in the center. Navigating it without a map takes a bit of guesswork but eventually I park and after looking at the maps posted on some major corners I more or less get my bearings. Didn't take the camera on my walks, although some parts of the city are very picturesque. Finally got to see our cats whom I haven't seen in over 4 years. They still look and act the same. Hard to tell if they recognized me. Cats are like that. Then a late dinner and even later drinks with the ex and her boyfriend - till 2:30 am. Then up at 4:30 am for the 3 hour drive back to Frankfurt. Overall a nice visit and I'm glad I drove up instead of hanging around Frankfurt for another day. I like my travels to have a bit of a surreal 'strobe light' feel to them and this picked things up nicely just when the trip was starting to drag a bit. With these final 760 kilometers I ended up driving a total of nearly 4,000 in 11 days, visiting 6 countries. Back at the airport, checked in and switched myself into long-flight mode for the journey home. Infinite patience, easy smile, just relax and let the vast travel machinery carry me as it may. Sometimes it's nice to not be the one driving....