Sunday, March 10, 2013

Driving in Europe

I bought my first car (yes, a Volkswagen Beetle) when I lived in Europe. I was studying in Italy, but to get the Beetle I had to go to Germany, to Mahag, a dealer in Munich. Mahag had a program designed for expats where you bought the car, drove it around for a while, then shipped it to North America.
Buying the car was easy, everything was done with German efficiency, but getting it home was a little harder. It meant driving through the Brenner Pass in April in the snow, surrounded on all sides by large trucks. Luckily my friend Eleanor, who was very brave, had come with me so I didn't have to do it alone.
At that time I wasn't sure whether I would ever be able to return to Europe, so I wanted to see as much as possible before going back to the U.S. After the term had ended I headed, with my friend Dorrie, across the St. Bernard Pass to Switzerland. I didn't see any of the famous dogs, unfortunately, and the only adventure was being able to answer correctly in German when the border guard asked whether I had bought the car in Germany. Actually, it would have been pretty hard to deny that, since I had oval-shaped Zollfrei plates and a big D for Deutshcland on the back of the car.
 We stayed near Geneva for a few days with a friend of Dorrie's who was living in a house on Lac Leman. Then Dorrie left for France, and after an abortive attempt at summer glacier skiing at Les Diablerets, I headed off alone toward the Spanish border.
I stopped for the night at a small inn and made the mistake of ordering steak tartare, which I liked at that time. There must have been something wrong with it, because the next day when I reached Carcasonne I felt very sick. I spent a day or two in my room at a motel before I was able to explore Carcasonne, the magnificent walled city reconstructed in the 19th century.
Then I made for the Spanish border, driving along mostly deserted roads through the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussilon. I was determined not to get off the road, because there were signs warning that this was a military zone for equipment testing. Since France's military equipment then and now includes nuclear weapons, I didn't want to take any chances.
I crossed the Spanish border with no problems, and marvelled at the elaborate blasck and white costumes of the handsome guards. I believe they were part of Franco's feared Guardia Civila, but they were very civil to me. The next destination was Tossa de Mar, a beach resort on the Costa Brava. That was were my trip and my life came close to ending early, but that is a story for another day.


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