Autostradabahn

Our short stay in Brussels complete, we made our way back to Germany. We decided somewhat last-minute to take a few extra days on the end of Tiff’s business trip to spend some time together in the mountains, and what better place to do that than Bavaria! Tiff booked four nights at a beautiful hotel on a lake outside of Salzburg, in Austria.

Rather than flying in to Salzburg directly, we flew to Munich and picked up a rental car. The process was pretty much like how it would be in the US.

It's hard not to read this and think "meatwagon", and that's a pretty grim thought.
It’s hard not to read this and think “meat wagon”, and that’s a pretty grim thought.

However, when booking the cheapest rate available through a name-brand service (Hertz, in this case), rather than getting a rent-three-wheels-get-the-fourth-one-free Fiat, we got this:

Dun dun DUNNNNNNN...
Dun dun DUNNNNNNN…

We’re all familiar with the soccer-mom-mobile XC-90 in the US, so I’ll skip the usual car overview, other than to say that this one came with heated leather seats, a sunroof, navigation, and pretty much everything else you could want.

Not bad for Impala money.

It also came with a Saturn-V sized diesel engine, which makes this the fastest brick house I’ve ever driven. Once we found our way out of the parking lot, I “accidentally” gave it a little push. I was not disappointed.

The navigation system turned out to be well appreciated. I’m not sure what our plan was, what with the lack of a data plan on our phone and the German language’s preference for mouthfuls of consonants. Let’s just say that most road signs were long gone by the time I could sound out their contents.

The rental company had been kind enough to set up the GPS in English. If you’ve ever listened to the audio books for Harry Potter, then you would recognize the GPS’s voice (as I did) to be astonishingly like Jim Dale’s. The entire drive I kept expecting it to shout out “But Harreeeeeeeeee!” if I ever missed a turn. It was fun, and more importantly, it gave a name to our guide.

Jim guided us out of the Munich airport, and soon we were on the highway. Initially I was very cautious; my first time driving in this country, I had no idea what is possible to get away with. I stayed in the slow lane and observed those around me.

I quickly realized something: everybody was driving a brand-new German car. They were all spotlessly clean, most of them dark colors, and not a bumper sticker anywhere to be seen. It was as if Audi, BMW, and Mercedes had all agreed to sell new cars by sushi conveyor, only this one is as big as the autostrada.

Autobahn! It hit me just then. Holy crap, I’m driving on the autobahn! I panicked for a split second, but realized that everything was fine, there was none of the usual insanity involved in driving on the autostrada back in Sicily.

In fact, it was all very easy. The same rules applied for the most part. Still absolutely no passing on the right, still getting out of the way of the fast-movers coming up behind you, still driving with your lights on. By all accounts, easier than driving on a freeway in Southern California.

Traffic wasn’t even moving that fast. The autobahn has electric speed limit signs every few kilometers, which they can change to suit the traffic levels, the weather, and so on. Most of the time we were limited to 120 km/h, normal freeway speeds. As we left Munich and headed towards Salzburg however, the traffic lightened up and the speed limits increased. Until one set of signs, where the speed limit was gone entirely.

I didn’t catch the implication of a blank speed-limit sign at first, but it didn’t take long, as all the other cars around me made the jump to hyperspace. I gave Tiff a look that said, “well, here goes,” and issued the order for HMS Cinderblock to go full steam ahead.

We found the Hertz-supplied limit to be at 210 km/h. That they put a limiter on it is probably good, because, although the scenery was passing by very quickly, the car itself handled as if it were planted to the road. An odd combination of reassuring and terrifying. I kept my eyes flicking up to the rear-view mirror though, because even at this speed, I was still being passed more often than I expected.

Our speed run was ended as quickly as it had begun as we approached the border with Austria. It seemed as if Austria believed in more conventional traffic management, as their EU-standard speed signs lacked any and all of the engineering flair displayed by the Germans. We were stuck at 120 (km/h) for the rest of the drive.

That speed was more than enough though, because the scenery was amazing. Rolling green hills covered in little yellow flowers, big chalet-looking farm houses with flowers spilling out of the window boxes, the happiest cows I’ve ever seen grazing in the fields.

"What'cha doin' there, mister?"
“What’cha doin’ there, mister?”
Emerald lakes
Emerald lakes

And nary a scenic viewpoint in sight, which is why we won’t be enjoying many photographs of this drive. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Every turn was heartbreakingly beautiful; these pictures don’t do it justice. Watch The Sound of Music… yes, it really does look just like that. The German half of my DNA was yodeling for the hills.  This is a truly beautiful place.

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