Thursday, July 3, 2008

First Leg

Our sturdy Renault 21, now named Leo by his three fearless conductors, has hurled us over 2,000 kilometers to just outside of Zurich, Switzerland. As soon as our boy, Kerry, with Geico insurance emailed us our contract, we slammed it through the printer and took off without a second thought. Those second thoughts arose as Maite, my host sister, dropped us off at the car, quizzing us on European road signs. We hopped in, however, and after finding ourselves going the wrong direction, we turned the jalopy and headed south, toward Barcelona.
green shade, originally uploaded by wanders.
After a bit of car trouble, we cleared things up, bought a European road atlas - Google Maps directions in Spanish are confusing - filled the tank at nearly seven dollars a gallon, and sped off, paying toll after toll after toll. As the sun set on the wind turbine littered horizon, we decided not to pull into Barcelona, where we knew of no couches or hostels, and instead pulled off the side of the toll road and slept in the car, near two other people on the ground in sleeping bags. Worst night of sleep ever. We have checked that off the to-do list and plan on strictly camping in our future.
Barcelona without a map or guide book was impressive, bustling with tourists and markets (this was a Saturday) and we left our free parking space at the end of the day loaded with groceries and pictures of the city and its many McDonalds (we managed to find every three of the Gaudy pieces in the city on accident). This time we asked around for sleep arrangements, only to find that the Spanish definition of camping, is a field to park and sleep in, accessorized with a pool, tennis court, gazeebos and French maids (maybe a little exaggerated) which exceeded our financial constraints (due to our car costs, living expenses must remain below 23€ a day). Finally we landed at the Alberg, asking about rooms, and eventually pleading to let us stay on their land. The woman at the desk eventually took us as her illigetimate children, letting us eat dinner, breakfast, and stay for free. I guess dishevelled is not always a bad look?
The next day we wound through the Pyrenees some more, stopping once to get an intense speedy video shot of us barelling back down the mountain at 25 mph. We crossed into Andorra, a made up country between Spain and France designed exclusively for cheap commerce in the summer (and skiing in the winter) and loaded up on Nutella, winning a free Simpsons watch in the process. After getting stuck with a flooded engine at a weird pull off full of friendly horses (we still have horse drool on our window) we rolled downhill, roared Leo up and started coasting back down these Pyrenees and out of Andorra. A sketchier night in France included avoiding camping costs by hiking up a trail and pitching our Walmart tent a kilometer from town.

On a fine Monday morning, our jalopy roared down non-toll roads, averaging around 40 mph, but saving us oodles of money. We arrived in Grenoble, a climbing hub we heard about in the Basque Country, and found a parking spot, while I bet James that by the third person I asked, I could discern the location of a climbing store. As soon as I placed our payed parking ticket in the windshield, I turned to find a man walking with climbing shoes hanging off his backpack. Who knew he'd speak wonderful English and direct us to the store, internet, and a grocery store? This town was full of beautiful and friendly people. Are you entitled to be mean if you're French and attractive? Grenoble say "NO MONSIEUR!" We eventually found the store, with a little more help, got directions to some bouldering nearby, overheated Leo for a sec and were off, cruising the countryside of the French Alps, looking for our gravel road turn off. An amazing waterfall, some boulders and one jug of wine later, we left Grenoble rejuvenated and ready to conquer the Swiss autobahns. Story shortened, we ate lunch in Geneva, jumped on the highway, and pushed Leo up to 120 kmh to find Fabio outside of Zurich in his house with electricity, water, television, internet and cold beer. A gracious gracious host, including his father Thomas and his incredible help with the car and terrific meals, and his mother Antonia, baking and driving us around with Italian gusto.
Two police confrontations, seat-belt-less in the car, sorted out by Fabio's smooth talking, and crossing the Swiss-German border to see a beautiful lake at Konstanz, and we found our gruff appearance disadvantageous. New plan - shave to mislead the officials into believing we might just be upstanding European citizens. We all took different approaches to this facial hair conundrum, all arriving at a solution involving a moustache, much to eachother's amusement. The result, as you see is an unstoppable set of disguises that should allow us to sneak across to Eastern Europe.
Next stop: Praga and the fourth of July!!


Shawbee said...

I hope the cherries are still in season in Czech. If you drive the smallest roads, they are lined (half the time) with cherry trees.

Very tasty

LaMonita said...

hey - if I had a mustache I could perhaps pass for French? Wait - no I don't want a mustache...Definitely czech on the cherry situation. Of course, I'll be checking out the backyard where I conveniently have a Bing cherry tree that appears to be impersonation a red-covered weeping willow. Not having seedless cherries is the PITS!!! Good luck passing yourselves off as Euros!

Dakota said...

You probably should have taken one of the drooling horses with you - judging by the sound of it, by the time you get to Russia, Leo is gonna need some help! At least you can get training in mustache grooming along the way.

Keep on rocking it!