Here's the story of my first road trip through Europe, but it definitely won't be my last. It's VERY pic-heavy, so I'll only copy a bit of it on here. The rest you can read here.
I'd appreciate any recommendations or criticism, constructive or destructive. Thanks!
Here's an excerpt:
I'm not a rich guy. I spend more time looking at sub-$1000 cars on
craigslist than I should, and I consistently undervalue my time when
work is concerned. However, I'm a huge believer in the idea that if you
skimp on a quality experience in life, the regret of not doing it will
cost exponentially more than any initial cost you would've had to pay.
Buying something inspirational you'll remember for the rest of your life
is way better than saving your money and having a head full of "What
So that's why I bought first-class tickets to Europe for an experience that lasted a little over 2 weeks, stopping in 4 countries and 10 hotels in between. And I'd be driving nearly the entire way.
Part 1: Leaving Home
If there's anything that I can recommend to someone as a shining nugget of wisdom, it's to always get the premium version of whatever you're doing if you're forced to do it for an uncomfortably long time. Don't cheap out on your mattress, don't buy a base model car, and don't fly economy on transatlantic flights. It's worth it in the value of food alone. Having a seat that folds into a bed at the touch of a button really helps alleviate the stresses of flying, and I'll be damned if I wasn't feeling refreshed and ready for the day by the end of the flight, while my planemates in coach looked like they'd been lost at sea for a month and mildly relieved that they could finally stop drinking their own urine. OK, maybe not that bad, but 9/10ths that. If you can't afford it, save more money. It's 3 times the price for 20 times the experience.
A slight upgrade to the sardine can known as Economy.
Part 2: Little car, big Paris. | Miles Traveled: 0
I landed in Paris and spent a few days on foot, taking in the scenery and doing the usual touristy things because I had apparently forgotten what I'd written in the introduction to this article. Paris was, as I can best describe, familiarly alien, if only for the fact that I studied French for 4 years and was a huge Top Gear fan. I'll explain that last one - For years, Top Gear referenced European car manufacturers that we didn't have in the States - makers like Citroen, Peugeot, Renault, Seat, and Alfa Romeo (your dad's '85 Spider doesn't count!), and I knew all of them, despite never having seen any before I arrived.
Hipster Citroen was stanced before it was cool.
For some reason, the main streets were packed with tourists and locals, but nearly all the shops were closed, so there were pockets of complete isolation. I'm not saying it looked post-apocalyptic, but if you wanted to play a prank on tourists by having everyone dress up like zombies, you'd get a lot of Americans soiling their cargo shorts.
Days since last incident: 0. Where the hell is everyone?
Oh, there they are.
After a few days of tooling around the town fueled by overpriced bottled water (REALLY, $5.20 FOR WATER?!) and pastries, it was time to get something that ran on actual fuel.
I also found JF Musial's chubby French doppelganger.
I went to the Gare St-Lazare train station to get my rental car, and after about an hour trying to find the rental kiosk, which was in the 3rd subterranean level (it might as well have been in the 3rd pit of hell), I got my car. I'll preface this by saying that I am very picky when it comes to rental cars. I knew I was going to do a lot of driving, and I was traveling with a companion, so I needed something that was fuel efficient, yet had handling that could...um...handle the winding roads I was inevitably going to throw at it. When ordering, I had the option of a Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, or Citroen DS3. I hoped to high heaven it was the Mini Cooper, as I wanted the best handling for my Euro. Turns out fate has a hell of a way to show you that you're dead wrong.
I got the Citroen, and at first glance, it wasn't so bad. It was adequately spacious inside, had an agressive look to it, and it was a 5-speed manual, which was a plus if I was going to whip this thing like a frappucino topping. It had a 1.6l, 89hp diesel engine with 170 lb-ft of torque. I actually had to double-check those figures right now because those numbers seem extraordinarily for the performance this car had. It wasn't quick by any stretch of the imagination, but it made up for it by being chuckable and tiny. Because Europe was established before the invention of horses, the concept of a street that actually led somewhere was relatively new, so driving through European towns involved a lot of doubling back and threading impossible needles with motor vehicles. People that think New York City is cramped would have a claustrophobic episode if they drove through France.
"If you can park 'er, you can keep 'er"
Before leaving Paris for the long journey ahead, I stopped at the Arc de Triomphe for some quick pictures and was quite amazed at the amount of included features in my plucky rental. Backup sensors, navigation, bluetooth audio and phone support, and one hell of a great lookin on the interior. Even though this car was on the cheaper side, the interior materials had an extraordinary fit and finish. The gloss black center trim was a welcome addition, but it did get a bit troublesome because fingerprints showed up so easily. The car also had a stop-start system that turned off the car if you came to a stop in neutral, and turned it back on seamlessly when you pressed the clutch in and put it in gear. It took a little getting used to because all my years as a gearhead told me that this was the wrong thing to happen at a stoplight.
As soon as I stocked up with expensive and weird European snacks, I was on my way.