This past weekend, my buddies and I embarked on our second road trip (with a car) of the year. The last one saw us drive from western Germany to France, this one had us driving from Western Germany to northern Germany so to date, I have driven the total length of Germany both north, south, east, and west. I figured since we had so much trouble with our last rental that this time would go off with out a hitch. Needless to say that it’s a safe bet to assume that every road trip we take together will always start with a debacle at the rental place. This time, we got some excuse about GPS compatibility and renting a class of car instead of reserving the actual car. The car issue got fixed and we come to find out that we have to put 5 full grown men and luggage into a Ford Fusion, not too bad except it was rocking a powerful 1.4L 80 Hp engine; not exactly ideal for the Autobahn when 3 of the 5 passengers are weighing in excess of 200 lbs (yes that’s me included). To make matters worse, I was 2 hours late getting picked up because of the weather, so we didn’t get to Stuttgart to pick up the other passengers until nearly 1030. After a short coffee break in Stuttgart we continue traveling north; suddenly our GPS tells us to get off the Autobahn. We start to follow these back roads for about an hour. I don’t think I have to tell you that we all had a puzzled look on our face when we were told to do this. I was lucky enough have printed out the Google directions just incase something went wacky with the GPS, but these instructions were following the GPS. So after being lost in the backwoods of Germany we finally make it back to the Autobahn; one hour later we find our selves off the Autobahn again and this time not only dodging deer that are crossing mountain roads but at one time, we actually made a left turn directed by Helen (we named the GPS) and ended up going down a mountain road that was nothing but gravel and no wider than our Fusion. We pull over to the side of the road and decide to reset the GPS and see what happens. I would put the time at about 2am in the morning, as I am resetting Helen, Francesco our Italian friend suggests we go knock on the door of the house next to the road because the lights were still on and ask for directions. We all looked at him and in a friendly manner verbally abuse him as only friends can for even suggesting this. I think we all could see us getting shot by a crazy German for trespassing. We finally get Helen figured out and back on the road. I know you are wondering why we are calling our GPS Helen. I don’t really know but at some point someone in the car yelled out “F’n Helen” when we got bad directions and I think it was because he had an ex-girlfriend named Helen who would give crappy directions. We finally arrive in Rheine at about 4am after 7 hours of driving; 3 more hours than it should have been.
The next morning we had to return our car and pick up our new one, the car rental place was inside a Mercedes Dealership so things were not looking that bad. Lucky for me I drug my ass out of bed so I could be listed as a car driver because waiting for us was a year old Mercedes E class Kompressor. So we took the car home loaded it up and headed to Amsterdam, needless to say that the people who didn’t drag their asses out of bed were jealous that I would be driving the Mercedes later that day. We arrived in Amsterdam with no problems thanks to Heidi (the new name of our new GPS) and checked into our Hotel. We were staying in a hotel that was run by students as part of their curriculum. Apparently, Amsterdam has the number 5 ranked school for Hospitality Management in the world and is a partner university of Cornell (which has the top in the US and of Lucerne). We were able to get hooked up because our Dutch friend Rogier has some child hood friends who are in the program. Not only that, but they were to be our tour guides of the city while we were there. Before we met up with them, I saw a two story bicycle parking garage, the largest in Europe. Got my picture taken in a wooden shoe, and did a little grocery shopping where I was able to pick up some amazing cheese and horse meat. Before you get too freaked out, the Dutch eat horse because it is super cheap and I am sure that the one horse I did see pulling a carriage (the only one I saw) was thankful that he had a job! We met up with Pimm and Jan later in the evening and they showed us around the glorious city. With all the canals, it is really a vibrant beautiful city. He took us on a tour of coffee shops and pointed out the most famous and historically significant ones, we took a walk down to Vongel park and relaxed in the sun for a few hours and then we ate at this little hole in the wall that we would have never found if it wasn’t for them and feasted on croquettes. Basically horse meat and some sort of mashed potato deep friend; I finally know where Rogier gets his love for fried food, its basically in his genes. After walking around the city for what I thought was at least 5 hours we make it back to our hotel and rest up for the evening festivities. We got a late start, somewhere around midnight and met up down in the red light district where we proceeded to be guided by Pimm down the various ally ways and sex shows. Growing board of the red light district we bellied up to a bar in the district and begin to drink. To help pass the time we count the number of time Brits and or Americans freshly graduated from high school or college go passing by us and take bets on the finishing time of those seeking company across the street. Letting the time slip by, we try to find some bars to go into, but it is too late and they wont let us in. However we are convinced that these are Dutch only bars and they don’t want any American tourist in them even though Pimm and Rogier tell us that is not the case. We reluctantly go home at 5am and prepare for the ride home.
On our way home, we make a stop in Haarlem (sound familiar, it should there is one in NYC) and visit Rogier’s mom and boyfriend for a few hours. After the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam this was a perfect way to relax, sitting on the canal drinking coffee and visiting. Prior to going back to the house we make a quick stop in the farmers market where we are able to pick up some amazing cheese at half of the price. I’m here to tell you that the Dutch cheese is amazing and I picked up quite a bit of the aged gouda, nothing like an old Dutch man wearing wooden shoes, wielding a machete ( ok so I exaggerated, it was one of those crazy cheese cutters that look like a ninja weapon) cutting cheese directly from the wheel. I take the obligatory B&W photo that has become an obsession of mine and we head back to the house for some cheese, herring, and horse. (Sounds like a bad joke doesn’t it?) We all pretty much decided that we would like to retire to Haarlem, or at least abandon Germany and move to the Netherlands. I think it is for various reasons, the women were absolutely beautiful, (Amazonian without being so Amazonian if that makes any sense) generally happy and always smiling (because they were stoned perhaps?) and the vibe was something that is hard to describe just really positive and friendly unlike Germany. We head back to Rheine and on the way pick up some Belgium beer which is a welcomed change from the German beer and cook dinner. After a wild and ridiculous night at a club just out side if Rheine (it has the largest ice bar in Europe and I believe why there is no Air conditioning in this country, it all goes to keeping that place freaking cold) You would actually never imagine a really nice nite club being here, you would expect something out of the movie “Road House or Porky’s”.
We find our selves sitting on the balcony the next morning enjoying the sun eating breakfast in our boxers. Come to think of it, all of the meals we ate in Rheine involved the balcony and no pants. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought. The moment I had been dreading finally arrived and it is my turn to dive us back to Germany. Let me just say that it had been over a year since I had driven and I was feeling nervous since it was the fabled “Autobahn”. With Heidi programmed, we set off for the return trip.
Here is the down and dirty on the Autobahn, yes it is true, there are no speed limits, however there are sections where there are speed limits which range from an average of 120K/hr to 80 depending on the construction and what not. People really don’t obey the speed limits or so I found and always kept it at a constant 130 unless there were signs posted for the speed cameras. There are parts that have no speed limits, but most of the cars, like our Ford of earlier, are not designed for such high speeds. On the Autobahn, you only drive in the left hand lane if you are passing a slower car, the way it should be. The only problem is that you have to keep on out for a truck that thinks he can pass and then jumps into your lane, more times than not you have to slow down and you may never regain speed (especially if you are in a Ford Fusion). I would estimate that the most of the time, we were cruising at about 140 Km/hr which is a good speed and quite comfortable in the Mercedes since it is designed to be a cruiser. I decide that since this the only time I will actually be driving on the autobahn and in a Mercedes no less I will push it and take it up to 210 and give myself an early birthday present. To quote Meg Ryan in To Gun, “You won’t be happy unless you are going Mach 2 with your hair on fire”. Let me tell you, cruising at that speed you begin to wonder if it is such a bright idea. Especially when there is a big sticker in the car that says do not go faster than 240. There is no bigger “Oh shit” moment in your life (unless you count getting a girl pregnant as number one) than when you look in your rear view mirror and see nothing behind you only to have a Porsche suddenly appear out of nowhere going about 250 275. Needless to say I quickly got over, took it back down to a reasonable speed and began to wonder if I could ever afford a Mercedes like the one I was driving in the future.
Looking back on our little adventure and trying to sum it up is difficult but a general consensus was met during one of our many pantless meals on the patio, “Fellas, we did not go on an adventure this weekend, we went on a vision quest.” This quote looking back is a truism that will hold up for some time. It was a weekend of many firsts, but it will also be remembered as the last time the “dirty half dozen” sat around on the patio, wind blowing through our undercarriages, drinking beer and telling fart and dick jokes.