The days that lead up to my road trip from Amsterdam to Aprilia, Italy were hectic and incredibly fun. I was very proud of myself for remembering to make a second set of bike keys before I left and get myself some insurance. Insurance in the Netherlands is easy and cheap, if you do it through your bank - or at least it was for me, I never know if these things are generally easy or if I just keep getting lucky. I ran into ABN AMRO on Friday afternoon at 4.30pm, and I left at 5pm with liability, travel, and apartment (renters) insurance. Basically, my apartment can burn down or get robbed, I can run over someone on my bike and injure them drastically, and I can lose my laptop and camera and all my clothes while I'm traveling and I'll be totally covered, all for about 10 Euros a month. Amazing! All that combined with the fact that I have health insurance makes me feel like the safest person in the world.
Anyway, I had fun saying goodbye to Amsterdam. Even though I've been thinking for a while now that I really wanted to get out of the city (just because it had been a while since my last trip), the fact is, I always have such a good time being in Amsterdam that forcing myself away from the city doesn't seem that urgent. However, after a few hours of sleep, I woke up on the 21st of December (a Sunday) to leave for a fabulous road trip to Italy. Joining me were three other great people I met through Couch Surfing, all of us on a mission to take V's car back to its home in Aprilia (about 50 km south of Rome). So what's one of the least fun ways to start a sunday morning road trip? Finding out the car you're planning to take has been broken into! As far as breakins go, this was a "lucky" one. Someone had smashed the drivers side window and messed with the lock, but they didn't actually take anything or mess with the car beyond that - and for once it didn't rain, so the car was dry on the inside.
But obviously, it's hard to feel lucky when you're looking at a car that has a 1500 km trip ahead, in December, through Germany and Switzerland, and there's no window.
That's where our good friend plastic came in. We were all determined to go, window or no window, so we taped up some plastic to where the window had once been, the glass was cleaned up, and off we went. We all knew that the fact that it was Sunday was going to make getting the window fixed more difficult, and the fact that the car was insured in Italy and not the Netherlands made things even more complected, and of course the owner of the car didn't have time to make a police report. After I finally managed to get a cup of coffee (the fact that I even left the house that morning without coffee was a very rare thing for me to do) and could start thinking clearly, I made a few calls and we all started to work together to call service agencies and emergency roadside repair places. I know a lot more about how to fix a car in the Netherlands on a Sunday now than I ever knew I would, so let me share a piece of information: it's really expensive if you're not insured in the Netherlands. If you are insured here, then you're in good shape, because someone will come out and fix your car without a problem and it won't cost you anything (I'm taking about a broken window of course, that's where my experience begins and ends). But if you don't have Dutch insurance, a temporary window - really just some hard plastic - will cost you €185 if it's a Sunday. That's a lot of money.
To make a long story short, we drove all the way to Freiburg, Germany with plastic on the window. And honestly, it wasn't really that bad. We weren't cold, it didn't rain, and the only annoying thing was the noise. But no one pulled us over and the plastic held strong the entire way. The four of us switched around a lot in the car, except for me - since I don't have an EU driver license, I was really only a "last resort" driver. I had a good time the entire way, but of course we were all happy to arrive at our destination for the night and meet up with our CS hosts. A dinner party was thrown together, wine was opened, and within 5 minutes we were all laughing and joking around and having a good time. I went to sleep that night in a comfortable bed and felt amazingly lucky and content.
After sharing a really nice breakfast with our hosts the next morning (Monday, the 22nd), the 4 of us gathered together again to head out for the day with a little bit of a delay. See, we had all assumed that Germany would be the answer to our car problems. I mean, it's Germany! Germans love cars, they're efficient, and they know how to fix things. But the first 3 places my friends tried didn't work and they all sent us in the direction of a repair place a bit outside the city. The good news, when we got to that place, was that they could fix it, and fix it properly and perfectly. The bad news was that it would take a few hours - but all things considered, that wasn't so bad. The owner of the car was happy that her window would get fixed the right way, not just with a temporary solution. We had food, we all had books and computers, and there was a really comfortable waiting area. When we were asked if we wanted coffee, we all enthusiastically said yes - and about 10 minutes later, a wonderful angel from German Car Repair Heaven bought out 4 real cups of coffee (I was expecting something instant) with real milk and sugar and cookies and cakes. I have to say, that small gesture completely made our morning. Everything was fixed and ready to go by about 3pm, and we were back on the road. Fortunately, we had just enough daylight left to see some beautiful parts of Switzerland. The sunset was beautiful, the Alps are spectacular, and seeing a landscape that is the total opposite of Holland felt really special.
We had to drop one of our travelers off near Milan, and I was sad to see him go. When you spend 2 days in a car with someone, you do get this bond to them - I felt like we had all become a little international family (we came from the US, Brazil, the UK, and Italy). He headed off to Genoa and me and my two friends drove the rest of the night to our destination, arriving around 3.30am. I slept like a rock until 12.30pm the next day, and woke up to a beautiful lunch being served by my host. I was drinking wine before I even had a sip of coffee and I saw palm trees and sunshine when I started my day. I mean, if those two things aren't the sign of a good holiday, I don't know what is.
There where three specific things I wanted to note down that happened as soon as we arrived in Italy: everyone started to drive like a lunatic, a very thick fog surrounded us for hours and hours, and the food instantly became incredible. Honestly, a highway rest stop in Italy could be a fancy restaurant in a different country. We stopped a few times for coffee along the way and I give a lot of credit to the drivers of the car, because the fog was really, really intense for a really long time.
It's Christmas Eve now (actually, Christmas day), and I feel completely at home in my friends apartment in Rome. I'm hoping to keep this blog pretty well updated during my trip, so I'll leave this post off here for now. Happy holidays!