Last week I had to go to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany for a few days for work. Normally, I would jump at the chance to take a business trip up there, as I absolutely love driving up through the Alps - especially when it's on the government's dime. I've made the trip probably a couple dozen times in the last 5 years or so, and I never get tired of it. As road trips go, it's one of the better ones, and so I always look forward to it. Except for this time. I only had to go up for one day, which meant that I would spend one day driving up there, the next day "TCB" (taking care of business), then spend another day driving back. I usually like to have at least a week up there when I have to drive so far. But hell, I figured I would still enjoy it.
From the get go a lot of little factors kept trying to combine to drag the trip down. First thing was the rental car. The gov't always pays for a rental car when I go up there and just about everytime, I've gotten something nice like a Passat or a Volvo, and they seldom have more than 5,000 kilometers on them which means they're clean and they run nice. So I was dismayed to find that I was given an Opel Vectra that had 50,000 kilometers on it. By itself, this wouldn't be too bad but it had other problems such as the seat riding too high and controls that were impossible to figure out. And the worst part was the radio which sounded terrible. I even considered taking Old Triple Seven (for those of you who don't know, Old Triple Seven is the name of my new Passat...it's a long story), but I figured what the hell, the rental was paid for, so I might as well take it. As it turned out, it had one redeeming feature - gas mileage (it was a diesel).
The next thing was the weather. For those who are not living in Central Europe, we had a lot of snow last week. As soon as I hit Bergamo (just outside Milan), I ran right into a blizzard. It actually took me an hour just to get through the 10 kilometer stretch around Milan. Once I got into Switzerland it started tapering off until finally stopping just north of Lugano. From there it was smooth sailing. However, on the way back, it snowed like a sonofabitch.
So I get to Germany. I stayed at the Hotel Europe in Ramstein which was pretty nice. I was desparate for a schnitzel, so LTC Larson and I go into town looking for a good restaurant. We eventually ended up at the Alt Landstuhl where I had one of the best schnitzels I've ever had, accompanied by the ubiquitous pils. LTC Larson had to get home (he didn't get the kitchen pass), so I made my way to the Irish Pub in town. My friend Alexis was supposed to meet me but she pulled a Marsha Brady ("something suddenly came up!") so I had to fly solo. B-O-R-I-N-G! I ended up playing the video trivia, chatting with the waitress and taking a cab back to the hotel (I feel compelled to mention, by the way, that I played three games of video trivia and now hold the all-time top 3 scores. I got game.). Under different circumstances, I might have done something different, but the next day was too important to do much else.
The next day was pretty long. I spent most of it coordinating stuff and running around. Ramstein is a great place to shop, so I did some of that during lunch. I ended up picking up a few CDs for the long drive home. One was a Hip Hop sampler and the other one was "The Annual Ministry of Sound 2005 Limited Edition Box Set". This turned out to be a great purchase as I listened to it all the way home. For the uninitiated, Ministry of Sound is one of the most famous dance clubs in the world, located in London. If you like clubbing or dance music, I highly recommend this CD box set. The standout tracks are:
Call On Me (Eric Prydz)
Every Little Time (Onyx feat. Gemma)
MyMyMy (Armand van Helden)
Back For Me (Candee Jay)
The road trip would have been a lot more boring had I not found this CD. The other ones I listened to included L'il Jon's "Crunk Juice", Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet", Johnny Cash's Greatest Hits, as well as a few others. The right music is very important on a road trip, but we'll cover that in a future post.
On the way home, I was planning on spending the night in Lausanne, Switzerland for some sightseeing and nightlife sampling but my plans were waylaid by the weather. As I approached the autobahn split, I was prepared to take the one that goes through Bern en route to Lausanne, but apparently there was an accident or something and the traffic was backed all the way up. It was snowing pretty hard and I'd already spent one hour in traffic alternating between crawling and stopping. So I called my friends who live outside Lausanne and told them I wouldn't be coming after all. They were of course disappointed, but we made tentative plans for me to go back maybe sometime in April while Virginia and the X Man are in the Philippines and Hong Kong. Hopefully it'll work out.
It had cleared up by the time I hit the 17 kilometer long tunnel at St. Gottard (that's right, 17 kilometers, not for the claustrophobic). I got to Milan fine, then I made absolutely fantastic time from there to Vicenza. I was able to do about 180k most of the way so I made it from Milan to Vicenza in just under an hour and a half, one of my better times.
I finally arrived home on Saturday evening around 1700 and took Virginia out for dinner to celebrate my successful trip that night. I was only gone a few days but man, did that Italian food taste good. We're planning on having Virginia and the X Man fly meet some friends in Germany later this month and fly with them from Munich to Hong Kong, so it looks like I might be doing the road trip through the Alps all over again later this month. At least the weather will be better, and I'll probably stay a night or two in either Lausanne or Geneva so it'll be a better trip all around.
Overall, I'll rate this road trip as a 6. It would have been a 5, but the Ministry of Sound CD brought it up a bit...