1272 km, 6 countries, 13 hours

Here comes a post with s slight delay. It has (almost) no relation to politics, but describes my drive from Brussels to Å empeter pri Gorici, my little hometown in Slovenia. So, for those that dislike driving and descriptive comments: skip this post.

There are few things that hold about me. One of them is that I love driving. Many of my friends could confirm this…My car has seen Catania, Napoli, Genoa, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Antwerp, Bonn, Budapest and Brussels obviously. I still think that spending hours in the car is not utter madness and waste of time, but time for self-reflection and observation. Plus, it’s a convenient way of travelling, sometimes…

This time the trip started on Saturday 24th of February when I left Brussels at around 9am. I have covered the first 400 km (pass Maastricht, Aachen, Bonn and Frankfurt am Main – already covering 3 different countries) in rain, many times feeling helpless on the road, surrounded by large trucks and wondering why on earth we still transport so many goods on roads (44 % of the goods in the EU are still moved by trucks), instead of rail. As I have learned a while ago, the Austrians have done a good job, learning from the Swiss, to shift most of the goods from roads to rail – and it simply pays off in terms of air quality, reduced number of traffic accidents, preservation of roads…It’s also an issue discussed in academia (see example here), but the main point is that on longer distances it absolutely makes sense, keeping only the local delivery of goods to trucks…The EU policy on intermodal transport already reflects this, let’s see how it works out in practice.
I moved on then towards Nuremeberg after approximatell 600 km, which was about half the way. The sun started to shine and I had a very pleasant drive through a relatively green part of Germany. Much more pleasant than the road I previously used to take via Karlsruhe and Stuttgart. One thing worth mentioning is that the myth of the German autobahn as no-limits speedways, with crazy Porsche drivers perhaps exists only in car magazines. On the road, you actually hit speed limits of 100 km/h very often, driving relatively slowly for large parts of the journey. But still, there are many black/grey BMW, Audi and Mercedes monsters passing by at impressive speeds. I wonder why so many people invest their money in fuel-overconsuming and large, city-unfriendly SUVs.

I noticed along the way that there were many Dutch drivers on the road. Probably because of school holidays in some European countries, that in most cases mean skiing in some Austrian ski resort. Since they were present all the way until Salzburg I guess I’m right.

Anyway, after some 9 hours of driving (not to worry, I had my rest on the way, also had to re-fill three times already) I reach Munich. One striking thing about this city is its size of course. I remember driving on the highway for around 20 minutes and the city was still there. With its surroundings it holds together some 2.7 million people. Besides being the economic house of Bavaria, it also hosts an impressive stadium – Allianz Arena, home to FC Bayern and TSV 1860 München. Now, the stadium is just off the highway and passing it in the afternoon light, was really something to witness. I learned later that its structure turns red when FC Bayern plays, blue when TSV 1860 München plays and white when the German national team plays (see picture here).

The drive from Munich to Salzburg is normally the part I dislike most. The highway is always packed, there are 4 lanes and several junctions. Luckily this time it was not snowing, something I was quite afraid of. I had to stop to buy the famous Vignette – the Austrian road-tax that you stick to the front window of your car. After crossing three countries that do not levy road-tax for cars directly at all (Germany does for trucks) I had to give a thought about why the Austrians decided to go for it…It appears to be from the start quite an unfair system of taxing drivers, since I can do only 10 km of highways and pay the same amount as someone that would make 2000 km. As long as this stays in the frame of time prescribed on the Vignette (as a minimum 10 days). This system applies for cars and motorcycles, while the trucks pay according to the mileage they do in Austria. All quite interesting, something worth discussing. I have recently come across articles reporting that Belgium would like to introduce the same system, but delayed the decision, because the Dutch drivers protested (see Wikipedia on this). They all have to cross Belgium in the summer to reach their summer houses:)

Once in Austria (4th country of the day), the driving suddenly changes. The roads are free of trucks, the speed limit is constant and the roads are nicely curved, so the driving is really enjoyable. Pity it was night, and I couldn’t see all the landscape. Besides the Vignette the Austrians charge for their tunnels as well. But of course, this allows you to cross this Alpine country in 2 hours instead of 8 probably. The view when entering the Tauern Tunnel was spectacular – everything dark, but the entrance to the tunnel in strong lights, that spread on the high peaks around it. It gives you the feeling that the tunnel interferes with nature, but it also shows the power of mankind – the tunnel is more than 6 km long. In general the drive through the western part of Austria is a pleasure – something I would highly recommend to everyone that likes driving…

I entered Italy (5th country of the day) at about 7:30pm with around 100 km to go, when my father called me and asked me to skip the classic espresso on the Italian Autogrill and instead head straight home for a freshly baked strudel that my mum prepared. The descent from Tarvisio to Udine is almost as nice as the drive through Austria. Empty roads, plenty of tunnels and bridges. The only difference is that here you pay per km. Once in Udine the real face of Italy starts showing. It’s something past 8pm on Saturday and the driving is stressful. Full of speeding cars, blinking and trying to pass at any price, it also starts to rain again. I really wonder if I would manage a 10 hours drive through Italy as easily as through Germany and Austria.

At 9pm I cross the border in Vrtojba, enter Slovenia (6th country of the day) and re-fill for the last time. After 1272 km I reach my parents place. You might call it madness, but I would do it again tomorrow. With some concern for environment and usefulness of this kind of travel of course. I could have done the same trip for around 80 EUR with a Ryanair flight from Charleroi to Treviso. But it would probably have taken me the same amount of time.

NOTE: I used ViaMichelin to plan my trip, you can find the map of the whole journey here.

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