Travel Date : 22nd June 2013
Location: Mestre, Venice, Italy
(You may find our experiences and advices on self-driving in Europe as a foreign driver here)
[ The Why ]
When we were deciding on countries to go in Europe, scanning the nearby countries around Germany, we zoomed in on Italy and decided it might just be possible to spend a weekend there. However, we had to think hard as we had only 48 hours. How were we to do it? Fly? Drive?
One place we would really have liked to visit in Italy would be the Colosseum in Rome but we had to give it a miss because it was way too far from where we were. Instead, we found an alternative in Venice and decided to take a risk. It was the nearest well-known city in Italy and a place we had always dreamed of going. As one of his colleagues was also interested in going to Venice, we made an adventurous decision to DRIVE all the way there from Burghausen, Germany. It helped that we were located at the border so we didn’t need to drive across Germany to go ‘down’ to Venice.
Over a short few days, I was up late at night finding the available hotels in the historical center of Venice. I soon realised disappointedly that due to Summer, almost all the hotels within our budget and which fit our criteria of four people in a room, was booked. The rest was overly expensive for a night.
I checked the forums and got an idea to book a hotel in Mestre, which was a city also in the province of Venice but on the mainland. It would take about 10 minutes on a bus travelling on the road bridge to reach the historical center.
[ The How ]
After settling on a four persons’ room in Hotel San Carlo where free round-trip bus rides tickets was provided, we began planning the ‘how’. It was the FIRST time we are driving across countries and the first time we would be doing a driving trip for at least 5-6 hours. It was decided that Vin and his colleague would switch with each other when they are tired after 2-3 hours of driving. We would also rest at highway stops to take mini-breaks if we want.
The car was rented from Hertz at a subsidised rate due to affiliations with Vin’s company. We manage to borrow a child-seat for Dar and a GPS from his company. We packed a small luggage for the weekend and bought along some food and drinks.
As we were not going to have Internet on the road, we took precautions by
- Saving the Google directions on my phone as images. (Screen-capture)
- Check out the look of the hotel and the surrounding buildings using Google directions.The webcam was terrific in showing us how the hotel looked and was really helpful later when we reached.
- Screen-capture a few webpages of places to eat in Venice and sight-seeing venues.
- Screen-capture in my phone, a map of Venice. (In case no walking map later)
[ On The Road-Trip ]
We decided to wake up very early at 5am for the trip so we could make it by noon at Venice City. There was no time for breakfast and we were still groggy, so I boiled some eggs to put into an air-tight container, grab the loaf of bread we bought yesterday evening, a bread knife and a can of tuna for the filings. These had often been our breakfast or lunch when we were sight-seeing in Europe and there was no time for fancy eating. Other times, we had used a bottle of sausages and sandwiched them between the bread.
We crossed the bridge at Burghausen to Austria and went merrily towards the Austria highway. I felt too excited to sleep again and nervously watched the ‘driver’ who was Vin’s colleague, YX. It helped that the male voice from the GPS was telling the driver where to go but we still had to be alert to look out for road-signs. I do not want to trust the GPS wholly.
It was actually crazy and risky because, both of them are not seasoned drivers. Both of them do not own a car in Singapore and only drove when they are overseas. They have to get used to driving on the right-side of the road when locally, they drive on the left. Both of them has not driven for a while. Vin last drove in a year or more after we stopped renting cars. Yet, it was also because they were not experienced that they quickly got used to the right-side.
We really wanted so much to go to Venice and this was the only way we could go there without wasting lots of time and spending too much.
After almost two hours, we reached a rest station on the Austrian Highway which was high on a mountain and took our toilet break. There was a breakfast restaurant but we didn’t want to spend too much on food. I churned out sandwiches from the food I packed earlier, spreading the fillings while seated in the car. Dar played at the playground while Vin and his colleague looked on. The backdrop of the Alps with the snow visible and the cool windy air was amazing. It made us excited to continue our journey onward to Italy.
It was a driver’s dream to drive at high speed on a highway not obstructed by cars. The GPS was reliable in saying his directions but we kept getting warnings when a certain speed is exceeded. As it was so smooth, we unconsciously sometimes went up to 150km/hr!
I sat in the backseat keeping an eye on the traffic and admired the scenery as it was really beautiful. The mountains towered at both sides of the road with neatly grown trees and we could see the Alps in the far distance.
Little houses scattered on the mountain slopes with no sign of a cemented road. We wondered how the residents get to somewhere else. We also marveled at the amount of effort and work needed to burrow a well-built tunnel highway into the mountains. For this work, we paid the toll gladly as it saved us so much time crossing through the highway to Italy.
We soon reached Mestre after 5.5 hours.
“There, there!” We pointed to the building excitedly as we entered the area. There was no clear directions to the hotel as it was located at the side of the road together with a few buildings.
All thanks to Google webcam, we recognised the look of the hotel and the surroundings immediately and proceeded to park at its dedicated outdoor car park just beside the hotel. One of the reasons we chose this hotel was due to its car park which is under surveillance. We certainly do not want our rented vehicle to be stolen when we are in an unfamiliar place, so far away from our temporary home!
[ Accommodation ]
Location : Hotel San Carlo
Choice due to: Proximity to Venice Islands, Room for 4 people, dedicated car park for free, free round-trip bus rides to the islands.
Costs: 3 beds for 4 people; Breakfast for four at 160 Euro/night.
The room was large and simple. There was a double bed and two single beds at another corner. In between, there was a table and chairs for us to eat. We opened the full-glass door and stepped out into the nice balcony overlooking a river with boats.
The air-conditioning was welcoming for the day as it was hot in Italy. However, the temperature dropped very much at night and I woke up freezing. We found out there were thick comforters in the cupboard and grabbed them to cover up. The toilet design was strange however, as the toilet bowl directly faced the small shower area so we have to place our feet on the wet tiles. The drainage was poor and there was no window so the floor remained wet until the next morning.
The breakfast was the usual fare but not very tasty to us after we had been through so many breakfasts in Germany and Austria. We didn’t enjoy the taste of their hams, cornflakes or sausages. Vin like their croissants however.
Next Post: Day In Water City Venice
Summary Europe Experience: Summing-Up 7 weeks in Europe