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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Driving from Munich to Lucca - and back

I'm out of practice. I rarely drive in Europe. Buses, subways, and trains are cheap and convenient, whereas a car is sometimes more of a liability than an asset. Gas is expensive, parking is a hassle, the rules of the road are sometimes different (priority on the right), and other drivers are aggressive and undisciplined. That said, there are some places that you just can't get to without driving. And having a friend to share the expense and the adventure makes it more fun. I was looking forward to my road trip in Germany and Italy with Tracy. It brought back memories of an epic road trip that I took with my friend Inge back in 1972.

I was excited about our rental car, but, truth be known, just a little apprehensive about driving. It was reminiscent of my apprehensiveness in Ravenna getting back on a bicycle after a long absence. The reflexes come back, don't they?

I drove the first day and quickly overcame my nervousness. The car was fun to drive! Tracy was tired from an overnight flight where she didn't get much sleep, but the next morning she was ready to take over the wheel.

"Can you really drive as fast as you want on the German autobahn?" Tracy asked. Yes, the suggested speed limit is 130 km/h (~80 mph) but cars were passing us going much faster. I was a little nervous the first night she drove on the autobahn. It was her first time behind the wheel of this car, and 130 km/h seemed plenty fast to me after dark.

Later in the trip, Tracy admitted to nosing up to 150 km/h when I wasn't paying attention. She clearly could have gone much faster - after all, the speedometer of our sporty convertible went up to 250 km/h. It was obvious that Tracy enjoyed driving more than I did, and after the first day I turned over the keys and picked up the maps as navigator. I also explained the international signs and rules of the road when driving in Europe. "Aaack! Stop!! No, no, no! You can't make a right turn on red!"

"Oh really?" Tracy calmly responded. "One 'No' is enough."

We developed a wonderful rapport with her driving and me riding shotgun. I tried to refrain from too much backseat driving.

Tracy was awesome - not just on the autobahn going flat out; she also managed to navigate the narrow pedestrian alleys in Lucca. "What?! You drove the car all the way to the hotel?" Dee was incredulous. "You're not supposed to drive inside the walls of Lucca."

We just shrugged. We called the hotel the day we arrived in the rain and Paolo gave us driving directions to the front door. We made many wrong turns and circled around several times before finally finding the Piccolo Hotel Puccini. The streets are so narrow that pedestrians have to press against the wall as you pass. Bikes calmly moved out of the way, and no one, police included, seemed to be the slightest bit annoyed. Apparently, there's nothing illegal about driving in the pedestrian areas. Imagine doing that on the Pearl St. Mall!

However, there isn't any parking inside the walls, and Paolo directed us to a parking lot outside the walls - where the car sat for the remainder of our Lucca visit.

Now it was time to return the car to Munich - by myself. Tracy was returning to the U.S. from Pisa and I didn't really relish the idea of driving all the way back to Munich. But the cost of renting the car in Germany and then dropping it off in Italy would have doubled the already extravagant expense.

The weather was beautiful the day I left Lucca. Top up or top down? Why did I hesitate? My practical, conservative nature perhaps? Maybe I'm not a frivolous, convertible type? Krreeeeek - the envelope stretches a bit. Well, why not?? I get out the map and examine the routes to my destination. Munich is ~700 kms north as the crow flies. I can either take the autostrada (high speed tollway) east to Florence and then through Bologna, or take the scenic route straight north to Modena - through the Garfagnana. I've heard that the Garfagnana is pretty - maybe I'll go that way.

My map is not very detailed and I worry about getting lost. At one point, I reach a Y in the road and both arms have signs pointing to Modena. Which one to choose? I pick the one on the left. Does it seem just a little bit wider than the one on the right? Mind you, both branches are narrow country roads. There is no other traffic, and no one to ask. It is a gorgeous day. I should be enjoying this drive. Why is my stomach in a knot? My mouth is dry and my fingers are clutching the steering wheel. Why am I so nervous? Well, 65 miles worth of hairpin curves might have something to do with it. I've gained over 4000 feet in altitude, and I haven't seen any other traffic. It's slow, and I have a long way to drive today. Is this even the right route??

I stop along the way to calm my nerves and take a few pictures to remind myself how beautiful it is up here. I wish I could relax and enjoy it.

I finally arrive at the summit of the Passo delle Radici. What a relief. I get out, stretch my legs and buy some water. The Garfagnana is known for its porcinis and they sell permits to collect them here.

The only thing I like better than eating mushrooms is hunting for them. Too bad I don't have time. I need to be in Munich by 9 am the following day and I've only covered 65 of the 700 kms to get there. It's noon, and there are mushrooms on the menu. I'm in a hurry! But I'm talked into a quick snack of fried porcinis before putting the top up and getting serious about the road ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! A pleasure to read. I'm glad you found some porcinis to fortify you for the road!