Here it is, the last part (I promise) of our incredible road trip through Europe.
As we left Nice, we followed the same highway along the coast, only this time in the opposite direction. Back over all those bridges and through all those tunnels, saying a bittersweet goodbye to the gorgeous sea below us. Then we turned north towards Milan and drove directly to Lake Como, approximately a 4.5 hour drive. Lake Como is a funny looking lake, if you ask me. It is very narrow and bifurcated, shaped like an upside-down “Y”. Our destination was the town of Bellagio, located at the point of the bifurcation and flanked by both the east and west forks of the lake.
Remember when I said how our car was too large for Florence? Well, it wasn’t made for the tiny road that runs alongside Lake Como either! There wasn’t much room for error – you had the choice of either running head on into the oncoming car or barreling down the cliff and swimming with the fishes. That was a harrowing drive (poor Ross!), but if you don’t have to keep your eyes on the road, you can enjoy the beautiful views of all the tiny lakeside towns that dot the water’s edge.
Our hotel, the Locanda della Maria, is actually situated in a hamlet (small settlement) adjacent to Bellagio called San Giovanni. The hotel is owned and operated by a very nice and friendly family who will do their best to make sure your stay is comfortable and enjoyable. Our rooms were very spacious and a continental breakfast is served with the best coffee – from a self-serve machine! Usually the cappuccinos from those push-button gadgets aren’t that great, but the stuff coming out of this machine was delicious. So I was well-caffeinated.
The thing to do while in Lake Como is, well, nothing. This place is all about slow-paced relaxation and I think it was what we all needed at this point in the trip. We ate by the lake, we window-shopped, we took the ferry boat around – and that was pretty much it. Ross and Barry decided against riding their bikes, the roads were just too narrow with no sidewalks or shoulders, so it seemed a bit dangerous. I kept hoping to see a glimpse of George Clooney (“I know he has a house here somewhere!”), but my fantasy of him inviting us to his Italian villa for a spur-of-the-moment party fell flat – no George. Oh well, maybe next time. I guess I’ll just have to settle for these views instead…
After a couple of days of recuperation, we drove to our next destination – Salzburg, Austria! This segment of the journey was the longest as far as drive time, but also the most dramatic and beautiful. Our course took us through Switzerland, along the border of a tiny little country called Liechtenstein, and finally into Austria. Word to the wise: the food in Switzerland is crazy expensive! We stopped for lunch in an unassuming Swiss town (can’t remember the name) and ate at this casual cafe. No biggie. Well, the bill was certainly a biggie! I don’t recall the exact amount, but you would have thought we just ate at a Michelin starred restaurant owned by a celebrity. So we weren’t too happy about that – we should have looked up the exchange rate between US dollars and Swiss francs, I guess. But despite that, the views along the Swiss highway were spectacular! Jagged snow-capped mountains, blue lakes, green grass and happy cows. It’s a country I would like to explore in the future – though I’m brown-bagging it for lunch next time
We arrived in Salzburg and drove straight to our hotel, which was the butt of many jokes the entire time because the hotel was called All You Need. I’m serious. It was in a great location, breakfast was decent, and the rooms were very basic and dormitory-like but perfectly comfortable. It really was all you need (but nothing more). My only complaint was that they did not have wireless internet in the rooms, so I had to go downstairs to the lobby to get on my laptop – which is really annoying in this day and age. So the hotel should be called “All You Need In The Year 2001”. I don’t mean to bash the hotel, it was perfectly fine if you don’t care about internet. Besides, most of us probably need to unplug more often anyways.
So far we had been incredibly lucky with fantastic weather, until now. The weather was beautiful the first day, but after that it turned misty with a gentle rain. But we didn’t mind too much. I just didn’t get a chance to take too many photos due to the rain and we did end up huddling somewhere to stay dry for a lot of the time. I had really wanted to do the Sound of Music Tour, but it just didn’t happen due to the weather. We still had a great time – the best part was sitting at the communal tables in the restaurants and getting to chat with the other people at our table. I love meeting folks on their travels, learning where they’re from, where they’ve been, and where they’re going – you learn a lot about the world that way.
On our first day in Salzburg, when the weather was good, we decided to go check out the Eagle’s Nest – the mountain home of Adolf Hitler that is located at a lofty 6,000 feet. At the base of the mountain is the Documentation Center, a museum that tells the story of how Hitler came to power and identifies all the other players in the hierarchy of the Nazi Party. This center is located on top of a vast bunker that you can walk around in – it’s quite eerie. We actually never got up to the Eagle’s Nest – you have to take a bus up there and they turned it into a restaurant, which we found kind of strange. I’m sure the views are spectacular, but we just decided to skip it.
Now, at long last, our final destination – Hallstatt, Austria! This town is dear to my heart and if you recall, it is the place I chose to go on my first solo trip back in April. I really wanted to show it off to Ross, Barry and Joan. Unfortunately the weather was not great, the same rain and mist as in Salzburg, with many of the surrounding mountains covered in fog. We did get to spend a couple of hours strolling through the town, I took them to my favorite restaurant, and showed them the little bone chapel. Ross and his dad really wanted cycling to be a big part of this trip and I knew Hallstatt would be the perfect place for this activity, since I went on my own cycling adventure the last time I was here. But alas, the rain kept us inside. I think I was more bummed about it than they were – that ride was so amazing and I was looking forward to them getting to experience it too.
But that was really the only disappointment, at least for me, on the entire trip. We had such a fabulous time! We got to see so many stunning places, eat good food, chat with people from all over and I learned how to hold my own with Ross’ family in cards – no easy feat, let me tell ya. 🙂
I’m also shocked that we arrived back in Budapest completely unscathed. You’d think after three weeks, four countries, seven cities, and 1,930 miles, something is bound to go wrong! But nothing did – no flat tires, we didn’t get lost, and no spouses at any point in the trip felt like throwing the other spouse out the window.
Now that’s what I call a road trip miracle!