May 11th: Off to Italy
Tuesday. Time to head off for Lago di Garda, Italy to a small hotel that Christine had recommended because of the "beautiful mountain driving". I packed up, had breakfast and then walked over to the Welt to get the car. So far so good. It was sitting there so new and shiney. I played around with the adjustments for awhile, got the radio going and then drove out of the garage. But not before brushing my mirror on the ticket machine. Oh for fuck sake. Got to get over this nervous bullshit.
Drove over to the hotel and navigated one of those stupid multi-level circular ramps to get to the front doors. I hate them. Especially these skinny euro ramps made for little euro cars. And the hood bulge on the M3 doesn't do much for your perception of what's in front of the car. And the ramp had just enough of a spiraling curb to do damage to the rims if you hit them. And those tires on the front of the competition rims are way too skinny to avoid any kind of rim damage if you did brush against something. The back ones are a bit better but BMW should have put something wider on them. Oh well, I handled the ramp just fine, loaded the car, had one last cup of expresso and then programmed the Navi for my destination. Wow, it worked!! Told me I had just over 400 kms to go and 4.5 hrs to do it in. How very optimistic!! Stopped for gas real quickly to top up the tank (the Welt only puts about 1/4 gas into the car for ED, much less to combust I'm told with the hundreds of cars they have stored there waiting for delivery). 98 octane x 43 litres = 65 euros. Yikes!!! Oh well, none of us bought an M3 for gas mileage did we.
65 euros poorer, off I went, through Munich and onto my first autobahn. The car, the gearbox and that motor was just fantastic. I quickly turned off the radio so that I could hear the engine and it was a nice enough day to drive around town with the windows down. Before I go on, I committed myself to following the break-in limits....which I did. And after having completed the trip I can't think of a better way to have broken the car in mechanically than a European tour which has a perfect mix of extreme city and extreme highway (i.e. quick) driving.
I played with the rev range while in town and then got onto the autobahn heading towards Austria. Man what a car!!! What a motor!!! The sounds were intoxicating even keeping the 5500 rev limit in check. Good old Rolph Raffelsieper had explained the road signs, changing speed limits and all that shit to me when he drove me from the airport to my hotel on the first day. So I anxiously awaited the "unlimited" speed areas and was rewarded fairly quickly. I took advantage of my 170 km/h speed limit and for my first time on a public road at this speed, my average of between 130 and 170 was just fine. The German roads are beautiful, well marked (you can see what the speed signs look like in Pic 1) and FREE. They don't have any tolls....or none that I had to pay anyways. Wow. Very impressive.
Had a quick stop at a rest area when I entered Austria (Pic 2). Throughout Europe there are hundreds, probably thousands of these stops that seem to pop up every 5 or 10 minutes. It's incredible. And most of them look like little parks. They sure take care of drivers over there. And then there were the autoroute restaurant & gas stops, about one every 20 or 30 minutes. I hit my first one for lunch in Austria. The best ones are called "Autogrill" and they're everywhere, in most of Western Europe anyways. What fabulous fast food they have. I was really hesitant to eat there but their deli-style stuff is regional and fresh....and reasonably priced (3-4 euros for a decent sized bun, french stick, panini, chiabatta or whatever else you want depending on what country you're in). And double expressos were just as good as any fancy restaurant would offer and only 2.50 euros. These Europeans sure know how to live on the road.
So back onto the road after food, lunch and gas (about 40 euros to top up and my gas gauge was just a little above half) and then into Italy and their autoroute system at about 4 p.m. I was taking my time because I'm a smoker and took advantage of the rest stops every hour or so. Broke up the driving nicely and allowed me to go from "0 to whatever" a whole bunch of times during the day. Windows open of course.
With Italy came some more money grabbing, this time for autoroute tolls. Fuck me, they're expensive. Combined with gas prices I was spending about 120 euros per travelling day. Every time I got to one of those stupid automated gates - with no consideration for english instructions by the way - I'd be paying another 10, 20 or 30 euros depending on my distances. Yikes!!! I had really good intentions to keep track of my gas and toll costs but it got so damned expensive that I gave up and just didn't give a shit anymore. So much for budgeting!!
But I plugged along, paying no consideration to Italy's 130 km/h speed limit like every other Italian that was on the road. Didn't see any police either and their radar traps every once in awhile are well advertised. It rained a bit then cleared. The car was filthy and I was starting to have my anxiety attacks again about the paint getting ruined. I finally saw a large gas station with a sign that said "lave.." something and maybe "agua" and prayed for a self serve car wash. My lucky day. Just had to figure out how to use it, once again no english instructions but I managed to spray her down (but no wiping, I'd also committed to NO WIPING for the whole trip because I didn't have my full wash kit with me. Only used my towel for the glass. All of this was painful but I didn't want any swirl marks...or at least wanted to keep them to a minimum.
I reached my destination town at about 6 p.m. Lago di Garda is a resort area (Pic 3), lots of little towns surrounding a very large lake and completely surrounded by mountains and cliffs. Looks like it might have been some huge volcano thousands of years ago. The roads at the base of the lake are beautiful, the little towns are beautiful and overall the scenery is just amazing. But this is where I started to encounter roundabouts, lots of them from town to town. And tunnels....skinny tunnels, lots of them too (Pic 4) Apparently my problems with roundabouts was due to the fact that I couldn't count the number of exits that they each had. After about 10 of them....and constant re-routing by the Navi lady, I learned to pay attention. The tunnels were neat because of course you can listen to the engine doing what it does best!!!
I finally came to my exit road to head up this exciting "mountain road" that Christine had described. The incline looked to be pretty good and the sign for Tremosine said 15 km. So up I went onto this very skinny one lane road towards the top. It was just beautiful and I thought to myself "how nice, a one way road". But I wondered where the downbound road was. Hmmmm.
Well how fucking stupid was I. After about 10 blind curves on my "one way" road I came face to face with another car...with only room for one of course and thankfully with enough room between us for both to stop. Well how the hell do you do this??? Who backs up (I later learned that the upbound cars are supposed to back up) and where do you back up to??? The curves were a bit wider and there were a few places where the road widened (sort of dug into the mountain sides) but overall, this was starting to suck. So I got by the first car finally and my anxiety level was now at an all time high. How many more km's of this did I have to endure?? (Pic 5)
Long story short, it was a slow climb for the rest of the way and I hated every second of it. And to add insult to injury, this little town at the top of the mountain has similarly styled streets (if you could call them that, (Pic 6) and most of them were marked with "Pedestrians Only" (in Italian of course). I got frustrated, parked the car and walked to the hotel. The owner was nice, told me to disregard those signs 'cause everyone else did, and to drive up and park in this hellish little lot that was further up a hill and into some trees - surrounded by rocks of course with access no wider than the car. Oh for fuck sake, how many more days of this did I sign up for??? My first encounter with perils.
But one of the best meals I've ever eaten made up for this last hour of hell. And of course, lots of cocktails. I may have even exceeded my "5" limit this night. Beautiful views (and a not so beautiful stupid bell tower right beside my window that went off every fucking hour, Pic 7) and pleasant people who ran the hotel made things a bit better. I didn't even think about having to head back down that stupid mountain the next day.
Last edited by Mark's M; 05-22-2010 at 10:23 AM.