This post is brought to you by Boyfriend and I. He was trying to name this collaboration ‘Freelance Journalism’ in order to apply as ‘F’ in our Alphabet Project, but I’m not too sure about that.
I’ll hand you over to him, he’ll be bold and I’m normal;
“normal” she says….(Great start). Anyway I’d just like to point out that is has taken several hours of arguments (I can even see her looking at her watch now as I type) to get to this first sentence of our joint blog post.
So this is the story of what happens, when you take a shy and home loving classic Mini Cooper halfway across the world.. (well, halfway across europe).
This is that car, 9048 ft up on the border of Italy and Switzerland, having no idea what it’s doing there.
We drove to London, then to the Eurotunnel, then to Dusseldorf, Germany to reach this train. It would take us through the Alps down to Italy.
We shared our six bed carriage with three Germans; a couple and an older lady who didn’t know each other. At first we thought this would be awkward, but little did we know how much worse this could get in such a short space of time. The carriage next to ours was empty, so after maybe 45 minutes of being sat with the Germans (who all spoke English but chose not to) we decided to move next door with our many bags. By this point we had already ordered breakfast for the following morning with the guard. After maybe 5 minutes in our new home, he came in and asked us what we wanted for breakfast. “Oh we’ve ordered, thank you” we said in a calm manner before being told in quite a frank and abrupt way that we had to use the carriage next door that we had a ticket for, with the Germans. Our return was excruciatingly painful. At this point, they dropped any pretence of friendliness. We read our books, and ate our snacks, slightly overshadowed by their wild party which now involved alcohol. Just as we were hoping to start getting ready for bed, this requiring bunks being set up and blankets tucked in, as well as awkward changing and brushing of teeth, they bought a bottle of wine. Their party continued. Eventually we were allowed to sleep, after the passenger section had been reversed and uncoupled from the car section, and driven and recoupled for a few hours- what wonderful in-train entertainment; wondering why whether we’d still have a car when we woke up in the morning. But we made it, into the 30 degree heat, where they pulled and pushed our cars passed us a few times until finally an hour or so later we were allowed to drive them off. Annoyingly at this point we discovered that the Germans too had a lovely classic car (they keep all the cool cars together on the train for some reason in a strangely methodical and serious loading process) and we had a genuine cheery goodbye as our car passed theirs.
Hotels were very interesting throughout our stay. Rates appeared to be very reasonable indeed, although to get the true figure for your overnight stay, generally you would add a zero to the end of the advertised price. This included a random ‘city tax’, which varied from place to place – anywhere from €1 to €17.
Passo dello Stelvio
With this supposedly remarkable road, featured on Top Gear, we planned our route so as to gently climb up, then reach the top and proceed to go down it at a steep angle- figuring this would be the kindest thing for our fussy vehicle. This wasn’t to be. Turns out, yes the descent is steep but the ascent is just as much so- this wasn’t ‘driving down the Stelvio’ it was ‘driving over the Stelvio’. Top Gear had of course taken supercars which were designed for such daunting tasks. Our car on the other hand was designed in the 1950s to go to the supermarket and back, not up mountains in 30 degrees heat. As we climbed, I was preparing myself for the photos we would be getting at the top but I couldn’t help but watch the temperature gauge as the car frantically tried to work out if it was hot or cold. We didn’t know either. The 30 degrees in the morning had quickly turned into 5 degrees with a biting wind, as we got higher. We made it, got some epic photos, and lived to tell the tale. The climb was stressful but was one of the most fantastic memories I have.
The following day, after having an emergency stay in a hotel- as we’d planned to stay in a hotel but as you can see it wasn’t the most hospitable environment, we found the roads to Switzerland were even more beautiful. We in fact noticed a large number of classic cars around us, with numbers on them. We were in the middle of a classic car rally and we fitted right in. Somewhere in the world, there is a video of us driving along, surrounded by beautiful pine-type trees and great cars, pretending we were part of the race. I’d like to point out I wasn’t pretending I was part of the race, we just looked that good that it was difficult not to fit in.
This feeling was not dimmed by the fact that when we got to the Swiss-Italian border, we were let off the compulsory road toll tax because of this conversation, and most likely because of the car. ‘Where are you going?’ In unison- “To England” (no, I said that) Some discussion, then, “OK you may go”. Simple as that.
Unwise Culinary Exploits
Ham sandwiches appeared to be the standard meal throughout our journey (despite my protests), and pizza of varying quality. On the one occasion we decided to really push the boat out, we picked up a saucepan in a supermarket, bought some pasta and a jar of sauce and a few days later we tried to cook it over a disposable barbecue in the howling wind at a layby, but I was determined to continue. I ate some of the congealed mess before we drove on in search of another emergency hotel and some proper food.
It wasn’t all bad though. Here’s a picture of us enjoying some watermelon by a lake in Italy shortly before dropping it on the floor and having to use the plastic cutlery to cut away the gravel-covered parts.
After a successful first nights camping (although the last time I woke up that cold I was wearing camouflage and sleeping under a tank that night) we thought we’d try and save some cash and give it a second go a few days later. We managed to get some internet and pick what appeared to be a reasonable looking camping ground with decent prices (without random taxes because we spoke English). After first analysis we thought it was shut (I wrote shit then by mistake, but that’s also accurate), and after maybe 20 seconds or so with our loud car wondering why we weren’t moving anymore a strange looking man with a bike walked up to us. After some very strained conversation we managed to get over to this chap that we had wanted to stay the night in exchange for money in the traditional campsite fashion. They did not take cards here though, we needed cash, which we of course didn’t have (we’d probably spent it on ham, or bread perhaps). He decided to let us pay later, and made us follow him in our car as he peddled along on his bike, past what can only be described as a refugee village. Concerned for our safety we considered staying in a hotel, until we were guided into a beautiful spot slightly tucked away from the riff raff (/homeless people?). Here we had a beautiful view of a little castle on a hill whilst the sun set. It was the perfect backdrop for that evenings ham sandwich, followed by tinned peaches and chocolate. Actually while we went to get cash from about 3 miles back the way we’d come, we DID still try to book into a hotel or three but they were extortionate and unpleasant looking.
During my student years in Sheffield I had occasionally seen the odd ‘Lady of the Night’ whilst walking home at stupid o’clock from the studio. The very first time I stayed with him was also my first time seeing one of these lovely ladies waiting beside a lamp post- what a romantic evening. Never before though had I gone to a very lovely looking hotel and been spoken to in the street about parking issues from what can only be described as a ‘Lady of the Day’. Regardless, everyone was very helpful and kind, and the hotel was pleasant and we were allowed to park for free. We were surprised to see no change in the number of ladies waiting on the street at 7am the next morning when we left to drive back to England. It was a lovely farewell to Europe.
So goodbye from me, perhaps I’ll do a guest post all on my own one day. Yes please!