I woke up all excited. Today was the day that I was going to drive over the Alps. It was a bright but crisp morning and I enjoyed the red hot shower and a breakfast of nuts and coffee. The tent was packed up in no time at all and I was back on the road, deliberately looking left all the way so that I wouldn’t realise that I was driving PAST a theme park at 9.30 on a Saturday morning.
The sun quickly burnt through the clouds and it turned into a glorious morning as I passed through little German villages, each of them looking more idyllic than the next. It was Saturday morning and everywhere I passed through, people were heading to their local butchers, bakers and, probably, candlestick makers. There were very few major supermarkets, it all seemed very old fashioned but beautiful to see. Parents with kids on the back of bikes, or older kids on their little bikes peddling away like mad to keep up, but all on very safe and very well respected cycle lanes at the side of the road.
I say well respected. I stopped at a little supermarket to pick up some bread, more nuts and some jam for lunch but as I pulled out of the car park my warning lights started flashing on the dashboard as my boot was still open.
I quickly pulled across to the side of the road as I was convinced that my tent and the rest of my gear was going to fly out across the street. I pulled right in front of a guy on a bike that was, understandably, furious with me for pulling such a stupid manoeuvre and his mood wasn’t improved as, not realising at that point what I had done, I opened my door and nearly wiped him out a second time.
I learned a few new words in German, none of which I would like to try and repeat in polite company. Poor fella.
I had passed through Mindenheim, Mindelweg, Kaufbeuren, Marktoberdorf and a town called Roßhaupten when I started to feel a bit peckish as it crept towards lunchtime. I turned the corner and a beautiful scene unfolded in front of me. Lake Forggensee looked like it was the equivalent of the Lake District as there were lots of walkers, cyclist and day trippers floating around and loads of water sports taking place on the lake. It turns out that it was manmade, formed by damming the River Lech to better control the melt water coming off the Alps, but it was a beautiful spot.
It looked very much as if the flat lands were now over and I was about to start my trip up into the Alps. As the scenery panned out in front of me it looked like I was travelling from the centre of a very large plate pie and I was just coming up to the built up crust round the edges, all jagged and angry.
The backdrop was stunning and I was very excited as I ate my bread and jam and let the warm sun kiss my face. I was surrounded by maybe 50 people sunbathing and playing around in the water and it all felt very out of place seeing this with snow and mountains in the background.
I set off again, full and happy, and headed towards what I had been looking forward to for longer than I could remember. My trip over the Alps; winding roads and stunning views. This was it!
Maybe I was tired, maybe I was over excited, it’s hard to say, but the next few hours were really disappointing. Rather than the tight hairpins and fantastic scenery I had in my mind’s eye, I sat on a motorway through mountains with high barriers and pretty dull views. I made my way through Austria and stopped for petrol at a place called Fernpasse Rast. It looked like a Bavarian hostel and all the staff were wearing traditional dress. Again, maybe it was just my mood but it felt like hell. There were about half a dozen trip buses, and about 250 Chinese and Indian tourists dismounted, each with a selfie stick in one hand and some seriously strong cigarettes in the other, and filled the toilets and shops with stink and excited chatter.
I pushed on to the Brenner pass and jumped over the border into Italy. This part of the trip wasn’t what I had hoped for and I was starting to feel glum and then I remembered that it was Saturday. Champions League final Saturday!
I quickly tried to recall who was playing and remembered that it was Juventus playing Real Madrid. I would be able to watch an Italian team in the Champions League final in their home country. Suddenly, my zest was back. I parked up and had a quick review of the maps and realised that I could probably make Milan in time to get showered, booted and suited in time for the game. Maybe wear a crisp white shirt and have some pasta made by a 95-year-old grandma that would welcome me into her kitchen to watch the game with her family?
I felt like I had passed over an imaginary line from Northern to Southern Europe. Suddenly, the clean perfection of Germany and Austria was replaced by scatty looking buildings, graffiti all over and a general feel of everything being half finished, or maybe half started. Everything looked grim including the vehicles around me.
It felt like every 20 minutes I passed a pay station for the motorway. I don’t even know how much I was charged at each station as the shame of having to get out of my car, run around to the passenger side to pay and then run back to jump in before the barrier came down was too much for me! It blows my mind that the rest of Europe still drive on the wrong side of the road 🙂
Lots of angry drivers and 4 hours later, I was near Milan. I was tired, it was raining and I felt miserable. I felt as if I had made the wrong choice and should have headed any other direction except Italy. I didn’t want to fight my way into the centre of a town, never mind a city the size of Milan. The driving was crazy and aggressive on the motorways and the city would have been a million times worse. I felt like I wanted out of Italy and wanted to be close to the way out when I set off.
I pulled off the motorway and pulled up at a motel AS Cambiago. I could pretty much park my car inside the bedside table and was happy to be in a bad and limitless hot shower. I was washed and refreshed and my towel was on the bathroom drier faster than you could say ‘Forza Juve’.
I walked down to the bar, was served an ice cold Peroni and picked my seat for the match just as the teams were lining up for the anthems. Perfect timing. I exchanged nods and tuts with an Italian chap who was clearly a huge Juve fan and watched the first half happy that I was getting in the vibe with the locals.
Ronaldo scored on 20 minutes and it looked like it was going to be a horrible night but then Mandzukic scored an unbelievable goal to level it up and set up the second half to be a real spectacle. I asked my new friend, let’s call him Mario, if he wanted a beer and he happily nodded his agreement. I then spent the entire half time break and the first five minutes of the second half waiting to get served.
Let me be clear, there was just me stood at the bar. There was no crowd and no fight to get to the front of a queue, just me, standing there with a 20 Euro note wafting it to show I intended to spend it. The barman filled up peanut bowls, he wiped glasses clean, he moved papers around, he did anything he could find other than to serve the only customer he had.
I was starting to fall out of love with Italy.
Eventually I was served, gave Mario his beer but he was too engrossed in the football to thank me I think. As Real Madrid slotted in a second, third and fourth goal without response in the second half I think Mario also forgot how to get the rounds in and say goodbye to me as he just got up and walked off never to be seen again.
Maybe he wasn’t a true friend after all? That’s why I don’t feel too bad about naming him Mario.