At the end of the previous part of this tale of travel and cars I was being dunk around the heavy waves of the azure variety against the hard stones of the Med coast near Nice, France. The next stop was a wild card before going to Venice and so a small hotel was chosen high above a mountain lake in northern Italy. This meant that the whole day was to be spent crossing the top of Italy from Med to Alps. Italy has very nice paid motorway system that makes crossing large distances easy, but not really cheap. One larger drive cost just over 40€ alone. But there are benefits - the speed is nice (not autobahn-nice, but still) and there is also the amazing thing called AutoGrill this looked like just a regular road-side fast food joint, but that was until we looked closer. There was a wide selection of nice salads, there was a freshly grilled meat pepared per order lots of wine by glass and a huge selection of Italian wines and pasta to buy. It was amazing. Maybe because our expectations were rather low, but it was truly good food. We saw many AutoGrills after that, even outside of Italy, but the ones outside of Italy were not as great.
Going back into Alps was a great idea. The views along the road were good, but the view out of our hotel window was just majestic. Both during the day and at night as well.The hotel rooms even have balconies where you can sit in the evening with a blanket, a glass of local wine and a book. And in the morning .. imagine going out into a sunny and warm morning with a full plate of fresh breakfast food in one hand and cup of coffee in another, crossing the surprisingly active mountain street and sitting down in the shade of the tent pitched on an outcrop from the cliff of the mountain with the fantastic view of the amazing lake and the mountains that contain it. As you eat your morning meal an occasional Fiat is barreling by the narrow twisting road at approximately 100 kmh and others slow down to 80 kmh before taking a blind downward 60 degree turn into a diving side street that is even narrower. And you realise then and there that life is amazing and every moment matters.
That is the perfect mindset to have when going to Venice. Which we did. After a short drive we arrived at a very cheap "hotel" near Venice (Camping Village Jolly). It was actually a permanent camping ground. There was a swimming pool, restaurant and an administration building that is surrounded by several hundreds of permanently parked trailers. You could rent parking space for your own trailer or a tent place or you could rent a "room" which is basically one of those trailers. Each of them has 2-3 cot type beds, bathroom with a tiny shower and an air conditioning unit. It was perfectly serviceable and much cheaper than all the normal hotels in the area. It was a half an hour of walking to the train station to get to actual Venice, but that was not too bad either. The camp "bus to Venice" was not a great choice as it arrives to a segregated section of Venice where you need to use some other (expensive) transport to get to the actual city. It was a better idea to use a local regular bus route 6 to get straight to the bus station.
Venice is a very cool city. At first you enter it and are surrounded by thousands and thousands of tourists all running the same routes to the same places. But it only takes a few minutes to loose the crowd and dive into smaller side streets and wander away to nearly empty streets where only the locals walk around. Even with millions of tourists every year, still Venice has a lot of spaces where tourists do not go and where locals dominate the scene. There are streets with multiple restaurants where you hear no English and all the locals eat their meals and drink their wine. Some streets end in a dead end into a canal where you can step down and check out the fishes. And the locals do love their fishes. Every street looks amazing in Venice. And the large scale architecture in between the tight old building is astonishing in the way it stands out. And every house could be a ancient castle of a wealthy family. The touristy places look very impressive, but other places look even better with a bit of a look. And there are no hawkers of the shiny flying things in the less touristy places. You can even chill in one of many tiny parks where locals come together to chill, play with their dogs and drink more wine. Venice was also the place where we had the most amazing meal of the trip. There was a restoraunt that was so popular that it had tables outside, but not just outside, they had tables right by the edge of the canal. You could literally not move one of the chairs back with the risk of falling into the water. A docking boat actually reached for an anchor point that was between the chair legs. But the food was amazing with some great house wine as well. We spent two full days in Venice. It was just scratching the surface not even entering any buildings really, but the place still left a very strong impression of an ancient and content power on me. A fun stat that I remember from a "No Reservacions" episode about Venice was that, despite being a huge tourist attraction, people living in Venice make just as much money from logistics and fishing as from tourism. It is not a one trick town and it shows in places where tourists don't go.
After Venice started the return part of the trip. The plan here was simple - go a *long* distance every day with minimal stops for food and sleep. It was a bit tiresome, but it was not too hard on me. When you have cruise control and some music loaded into your phone the hours and the kilometers just melt away on the great highways of Italy, Austria, Slovakia and Poland. The days melded together in my mind, so I had to use Google Location History to reconstruct them. Crossing the Alps via highways is fast and easy, but not really much fun. Both Austria and Slovakia required me to buy and stick into the window a vignette sticker to be able to drive on their roads. The stickers cost less than what I paid for the roads on the vignette-less Italy, so that was actually a welcome change at this point. In one day of driving I went from Venice to Vienna. Surprisingly the Vienna was the place where we had the best sushi of the trip. They had amazing melt-on-your-tongue tuna and the rise was best I've had outside of Japan. Vienna also was the place where we saw this nice, if expensive piece of art. It also had an exhibition at the time about the fate of the Eastern Europe in the Soviet hands with the texts and photos from Poland, Baltics and Ukraine. The information was accurate and the emotional impact was quite nice to see.
The next day the trip home continued with another long stretch from Vienna to Lodz in Poland. This leg was not a long as it could be because someone in the car had not been to IKEA before and I simply had to enlighten the poor individual about the health and mental benefits of swedish meatballs while also picking up a few trinkets for home. It was amazing as always. IKEA is a house of fun and fantasy. Well maybe that was just the trip fatigue talking from hours of sitting that a walk through a colorful showroom with all kinds of funky almost-useful stuff was a refreshing change. Polish highways were a pleasant surprise after all the horror stories that people have been telling about them. But the Poland changed with the EU - there is a huge number of new motorways constructed with a bunch of bridges in all the possible colors crossing them. The designs of the bridges does not change much, but the color does. It's the little things that you notice after 6 hours on the road. Lodz met us with some post-soviet road layout and even more post-soviet style of hotel that looked like the typical upscale communist party regional hotel, but cleaned up with some marble columns and refreshed power sockets. It felt like this was a soviet hotel a long time ago, but the hotel had clearly moved on. Nothing said this more than the episode in the morning in the lobby of the hotel - a woman was explaining to the young girl in reception that she left a cooling block from a car refrigerator in the hotel freezer and that she wanted it back now. The girl did not understand her. She understood basic russian, but the word for refrigerator - she just did not know it. I had to translate russian to english, so that the woman could get what she needed in a hotel of a rather large city in Poland. The english of the service personnel was perfect. That is something that we are going to as well.
Final day was a bit of a hell. I did 11 hours of pure driving from Lodz straight to Riga. We only stopped for a lunch at a random roadside polish tavern "Under the Black Boar" for a quick, but solid meal and then for another meal in Panevezys where we tried to find the only 7+ rated restaurant in the city that Foursquare knew about, but it was closed and there was a new place there called Pizza di Napoli. We were just from Italy here eating pizza in Lithuania. And it was a very solid and fresh pizza. Latvia met us with an amazing contrast of deep fog and shining full moon. There was no way to photograph that, but it looked amazing and it felt like home.
In the end the full trip took 4803 km driven in 61 hours and 35 minutes giving the average speed of 78 km/h and the average fuel consumption of 5.5l per 100 km. The numbers of the car computer matched almost perfectly with the numbers that my fuel tracking application showed for the trip. I filled the tank before the trip and after the above picture was taken. In total I used 264 liters of diesel fuel for the whole trip. Some of that fuel was bought for around 1€ per liter, but some of it cost as much as 1.7€ in one of the full service refueling stations in Italy. The hotels were around 60€ per night. Food expenses were on the high side with around 50-60€ per person per day. The pay roads and vignettes cost nearly 100€ in total and there was around 30€ spent on parking fees. The initial ferry trip cost 170€ (almost cheaper than fuel+hotel+food for the drive).
This was an amazing and basically life changing experience. This trip was the principal reason why I bought a car. It did not disappoint. Neither the trip, nor the car.
(to be continued with the experience of buying and owning a lightly used Mercedes C class)