I began my trip by waking up a bit too early, it was raining and I didn't have to drive; it was wonderful. My flight wasn't for a few hours and I got through security relatively quickly. So there's free WIFI at Logan which is awesome but only for a limited time. I paid the small fee for extra WIFI and continued to brag online about my predestined epic adventures that I was about to have. One of my favorite parts about being at an airport is Chinese food. Its the perfect airport food, lots of rice, some sugary sauced meats and soy sauce with a nice big diet coke. Basically my Chinese food lunch or breakfast is a prescription for a long nap once on the plane, it also gives me something to focus on while sitting in an airport alone.
So jumping ahead in time from my initial departure, i'm in Rome, Italy now. I navigate throughout the airport hunting for people that were around me on the plane so I don't lose my way. I make my way to the baggage claim area and collect my things. Now that I have my giant Pelican case and backpack I wander around the airport looking for the car rental. So my next hurdle that I find out is my lack of packing a credit card. Bringing plenty of cash and also a debit card with a more than impressive balance left me disadvantaged while renting a car. I visited three car rental places each with a sizable line, on the final rental booth I found that I could leave a large deposit. A call to my parents back home to make sure I had some backed cash in case I ran low now. So with my car keys in hand I am feeling a bit happier as I navigate through the moving sidewalk maze of Rome's airport. My car is a Fiat 500 L, a diesel which gets around 70mpg which is very helpful with the amount of driving I will be doing.
I don't even have to look at a map at this point in my journey, the only thing I have to focus on is putting distance between me and the airport. I am drawn right into downtown Rome with my tiny car, on the hunt for a parking spot. I circle around the various blocks and sections of the city finding the familiar blue P for parking signs everywhere. I round about to the parking sections and each time find that they are for scooters only, this is getting a bit stressful. So while I'm relearning how to drive in Europe and getting acclimated with unfamiliar symbols and words on signs, i'm driving mirror to mirror with scooters rushing in-between as the cars slowly edge back and fourth into each other like icebergs. The most logical option I found was to get the hell outta Rome. I drove up through Italy and followed signs to Pisa, on the way encountering Ikea and I almost stopped my trip for some Swedish meatballs and endless wandering in the maze which is Ikea.
Following the signs into Pisa I quickly found a parking spot on the street by the leaning tower, this proved too easy for a reason. African immigrants were plentiful and parading around the streets with knock off souvenirs and umbrellas, one stood by my car as I parked; I do have to mention that he did point to where I was parking as I pulled into the spot. This man stood by my car as I covered up my valuables and pretended that he did not exist. He finally knocked on my window and asked if I would buy a souvenir to which I declined, he looked puzzled and then asked for euros to protect my car to which I declined again. The frustrated man walked away a few feet and started talking about me with his compatriots and I knew I had made a grave mistake. I called him over and gave him a single euro to watch my car, he look at me and scoffed "one euro!" to which I replied "yes, one euro for free". I walked away and kept glancing back over my shoulder to see if my car was going to get damaged in some way, imagining pee in my gas tank or keyed across the side or simply my laptop stolen.
I wandered around the leaning tower of Pisa with the rest of the herd and marveled at the lack of bathrooms. I found one located close by after exploring around the interior of the surrounding buildings. So you had to pay to pee here in Pisa, I was more than happy to. After freshening up I decided to take a few photos and then make my way back to my car or what was left of it. I walked faster and faster, wondering if I would catch the man in the act. I scanned the immigrants walking around the streets to spot him, he was nowhere in sight which was not a good sign. If he was still there then I would imagine my car would be fine, if he wasn't then he had fled the seen of a crime. I threw my bag into the back seat and took inventory of my belongings, all there! I started up the car and noticed I had something brand new, a check engine light; pee I tell you, pee!. I drove down the road feeling every rumble of the engine as a sign that urine was now powering this diesel car. I drove ahead and found a safe place to park without leaving the street yet. I popped the hood of the car because obviously any internal damage can be seen in a topical way on the engine. I circled the car, checking tires, paint and for residue on or around the gas tank. I revved the engine hoping to burn off whatever the check engine light was acknowledging. I started and restarted my car three times and by the miracle of luck the check engine light disappeared. I was now en-route to Switzerland.
I continued to drive up through Italy into the Appalachian Mountains, passing through valleys and making a slow but steady climb. I stopped every few hours at a rest stop to fill up the tank, purchase large quantities of junk off and search for tacky souvenirs. I hadn't started taking any photos to the degree I wanted yet, I wanted to wander and explore before I pulled out all of my equipment. I had the perfect plan for this trip across Europe, no plans. If I didn't have any plans it would be easy to go anywhere and do anything. The idea of it all though was to visit as many countries as I could and one way to do that was no hotels, hostels or bed and breakfasts, I made my home in the car.
I found it much easier driving in the nighttime, less cars, easier to drive at my own speed to read signs and navigate. I made my way up to the border crossing of Switzerland and found that many of the lanes for crossing into the country were shut down. I didn't spend much time trying to figure out how to get across, it was getting late and I really wanted to rest after such a long day traveling. I back tracked to a rest stop I had previously stopped, not a very nice one this time though. I parked and started to reorganize the contents of my Fiat, refolding any clothes and throwing away trash. Now it was dinner time, cheese and meat stick with soda and candy was the best ever. I found that my car's top glove compartment was none than a small refrigerator. The glove compartment had a small hole in the rear of it which piped in cold air, very jealous that I won't have this when I go back home. I laid down in the back seat with my travel pillow and a bath towel as my blanket, it was easy to fall asleep. I realized that a blanket was in order if this is how I was going to be sleeping every night.
Waking up at rest stops isn't as scary as it may sound, these rest stops aren't hole in the wall places; most have gas, food and lodging with lots of lights and lots of people. I parked among a group of tractor trailers and when I woke up most of them had left already. I got out, stretched and double checked where I put everything the night before in the car. I cleaned up in the bathroom and started my ride into Switzerland. So again, the best part of not having a plan is the lack of maps and navigation needed at times; I literally follow any signs to anywhere that looks interesting.
Driving through the alps is scenic but also involves long straight tunnels as well as the occasional curve. This isn't a simple tunnel though, there are rules. Don't follow too close to the person in front of you, there are markers on the walls as well as cameras to catch you if you do. This sounds a little weird and ignorance is bliss right, wrong; you get your own information leaflet before entering into the alps. So in-between the tunnels was open sky, mountains and lots of space, occasionally a large shoulder was available to park and observe the beauty.
When I finally felt like I was in Switzerland it was painfully obvious. Pulling out of the tunnel system you were driving alongside a cliff that gave way to valleys and cutting across the sky above the valley were the tallest highways i've ever seen. There was no place to stop here and believe me, I wanted to get photos of this! On the way towards Geneva I stopped at a gas station and made a purchase I never though I would make at a gas station; a blanket. I bought a beige fleece blanket just large enough for me and it became my go to bedtime item for the rest of my trip.
It's almost noon now and i'm driving through Geneva, my only goal is to find what looks like the center or heart of the city and park. I found that parking is pretty expensive for a few hours in a garage. It cost around $20 US to park for half the day in a garage. I packed some of my gear into a bag and headed out into the city. One of my favorite parts about exploring in Europe was having my phone with me. I regularly called my friends and family to brag, you would too I hope.
While wandering I was looking for places to take photos and iconic Swiss monuments and buildings. No souvenirs but photos and no weird t-shirts saying corny phrases about Switzerland. The one stop I made in the city was to pick up some chocolate, one being a orange chocolate and the other a chili lime chocolate. I immediately called my mother to tell her what I was doing while she had just arrived at work. I took lots of photos but eventually put away my camera because of the rain. Theres only so much you can do when it rains and the only thing you really want to do is wander.
I navigated back to the garage using my phone, took awhile to get back actually; chocolate, junk food and wandering got me far away from the heart of the city. So I had figured out a system to never lose my car, there was no way I would remember streets and places. I would drop a PIN in maps app on my phone and name the location and later be able to find my way back. This proved very effective and simple, I would also take a photo of the area where my car was just in case as well as check in at whatever location I stopped.
Calling my day victorious I leave Geneva but not before stopping at my favorite European restaurant, McDonalds. So over here they have McCafe which is almost a Starbucks like attachment. I sat outside a McDonalds pilfering the WIFI and then had dinner. After dinner I realized I wanted to stay connected a bit longer with friends and family back home so I stayed for cappuccinos and French macaroons. I made my way out of the city as it was starting to downpour. I only made it several hours towards my next destination before I called it a night at a cozy rest stop with WIFI. I only mention the WIFI because I was on a limited data plan while traveling and free WIFI is often hard to come by in Europe, even at McDonalds or Starbucks.
So waking up at a rest stop has it's rituals for me while here in Europe. First thing I do is clean up the car, organize, refold and hide the expensive stuff. I don't want to park somewhere in a city and have people watch me as I tuck my laptop under the seat and adjust the contents of my pelican case in the trunk. The next act is an act of triage, can my clothes last another day? I've packed enough for most of the trip but i'm allowing space for some clothes from H&M or another GAP like store. So my clothes either get refolded or they go in a bag. Everything getting refolded every day gives me a very strong mental list of my wardrobe. Breakfast is often cheese and chocolate and some car side stretching.
So I am a few hours outside of Barcelona, Spain. I've been driving south for a long time now, the scenery changes quite quickly. Rest stops become a very welcomed waypoint throughout my trip. It's a chance to explore and take a few photos as well as bathrooms. I find a rest stop on a hill overlooking the highway. Campers, cars and trucks are parked in what is a small field shaded by perfectly spaced out trees. Families, friends and travelers lay on blankets and sit in lawn chairs relaxing. I take out my new blanket and make a larger makeshift pillow, I get to stretch out and nap; a luxury on my trip.
I move on thru Spain, upon actually entering into Spain I am confronted with an eight lane gateway into the country with cars jamming into place trying to maneuver across the threshold.I am so close to one car that he reaches out and slaps my fender. While we don't speak the same language we both understand each other perfectly. I continue on my push through the herd and win the battle. Driving through Spain is like driving through parts of America's west, parts because where I am there is no huge mountains but just arid landscape at times scorched from mini wildfires. You can smell where the wildfires have been even if they aren't exactly in sight yet.
It's pretty hot out at this point and i'm considering driving to the coast to go swimming, what better way to rub it in to everyone what I'm doing. I get lazy and end up moving through the country into the city. I never make plans for where i'm going to end up in the city. I'm hunting for free parking or relatively inexpensive parking. The free parking can come later, a twenty euro fee is simply a day pass to explore the city as far as i'm concerned. I park in a garage which is below a line of palm trees and a corridor through a part of the city. Roller skating, biking and general lounging is abound topside.
What accompanies me is heavy because it's the most valuable things I have, my camera and computer. I don't care if my socks and t-shirts are stolen, in fact I welcome that in the worst circumstance. I have no idea where I am in the city so I just start exploring. I take photos and stalk interesting people to capture their portraits. One of my favorite things though is to visit camera stores and clothing stores, souvenirs that I will actually take home. I will confess I am a magnet whore. Magnets are the poor man's trophy of vacation and destination conquests.
After a few hours canvasing the city I decide I want to see more and I need to relax and stay in one place.
One of my passions is traveling, exploring and of course taking photos. The summer of 2014 I decided to take a two week trip across Europe. I told my friends and family my plans and everyone told me that it was too much and that I shouldn't do it. So what I heard was a dare to do it, I did it. I rented a car and drove from country to country, sleeping in my car and hostels. I spent my days walking around a city and by two or three o'clock I would head to the next country. My general rule was once it got dark to start driving. Driving and figuring out the signs and navigate was much easier with less cars on the road. I have lots of stories to share and sometime soon I will post a small essay about my trip. Enjoy my photos for the time being.
I've visited the following places so far:
Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria, Italy, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Canada