It was a beautiful, sunny Thursday morning. The cavernous boot of our white Mitsubishi ASX4 generously accepted our massive, re-packed suitcases and tempted us to pack even more back there. The four of us went over the game plan again, recounting the best laid plans of mice as it were, in a subconscious stall tactic. As excited as we were for the next leg of the journey, we did not want to part ways with our new friends.
Today we would be dropping off the ASX, collecting a less exciting rental car at Gatwick, taking a ferry across the English Channel to France, then driving through Belgium and the Netherlands en route to our hotel in Essen, Germany, approximately halfway to ElbeTreffen, the biggest Mitsubishi meet in Germany.
Cat would be coordinating our boat ride, but how? The reservation process requires make, model, and registration number of the vehicle being loaded onto the ferry. We wouldn’t know these details for at least two hours, and our phones were useless without wifi (we didn’t get them unlocked before we left the States). Cat to the rescue once again. She charged up an old pre-paid Virgin Mobile phone she had lying around and tested it out to make sure it still worked.
We gave Cat Vanessa’s credit card info, she gave us the pre-paid Samsung. Once we picked up the rental, we would send her a text with details – make, model, color, registration (license plate). She would then contact her travel agent friend to get us booked on the next convenient ferry, and text us back our confirmation number. Brilliant.
After a couple beauty shots of our prized ASX (superior to its Outlander Sport cousin in the States) on the abbey grounds, we made our way to Gatwick Mitsubishi, with a brief pit stop to top off the tank with diesel, where we would say goodbye to yet another English friend.
I pulled into the tiny dealership lot, which was larger than SMC in Hillingdon, but still minuscule by comparison to even the smallest American dealership, snaked the ASX ’round back, where I hoped my improvised parking spot didn’t terribly interfere with operations in the service bay.
There’s something to be said about walking into a dealership and telling the receptionist, “Hi. We’re from another country. Mitsubishi has been letting us drive this wonderful new ASX, but we need to return it now. Whom do we speak to about that, and could we trouble anyone for a lift to the airport?”
Caught up in the moment, I neglected to get the guy’s name who drove us – in the ASX – to Gatwick, and helped us unload our things. I want to say it was Jeff or James, but without that clever poster in the lobby showing all their staff members and where they were from (all over the world, really), I’m at a loss. Bags unloaded, pleasantries exchanged, we rolled our luggage into the Avis office.
And it’s all gone wrong.
We had booked (and paid for) our rental car in advance. Now we were at the Avis counter to pick up our wheels. The lady behind the counter was very nice. They had everything ready to go. All she needed was my Arizona driver’s license and to see the credit card used to pay for the reservation.
Shit. They were both stolen nearly a week ago. Now what.
No worries! We would simply change the reservation into Vanessa’s name, use her credit card, and simply add me as a driver (V can’t drive stick, at least not well enough to do so on the far side of the world). We had pre-paid for the damage waiver insurance, as well the supplemental insurance required to take the vehicle out of the UK. Adding a second driver, however, was a small, additional charge – like US$60 or so for the week. V handed over her credit card.
Which was denied. Are you effing kidding me. Apparently, when I called Chase before we left to let them know WE would be traveling in Europe during specific dates, they didn’t extend that notice to BOTH our credit cards. Well, maybe they did, as V’s worked in ATMs and restaurants and petrol stations all week, but now they were denying a charge because it was at the airport. Ugh.
The lady at Avis simply pulled out her Blackberry, dialed Chase for us, and handed the phone to V, who then spent ten minutes or so confirming her identity and getting things resolved. Before letting the Chase rep off the hook, V asked the Avis lady to run the charge again, which immediately went through. We got our revised paperwork, our proof of insurance cover, and our key.
A dowdy Vee-dub
Coming from the spotless, brand new Mitsubishi ASX, our easily pushing-two-years-old Volkswagen Golf TDI looked bland. Water spots from a hasty pressure washing and soggy towel wipe-down streaked across its generally grit-swirled, black exterior. The spartan, grey interior was a mix of familiar VW/Audi trim and industrial cleaning supplies. We rolled the windows down and set about programming the GPS/SatNav rental we’d brought with us from home.
After what seemed like a hundred roundabouts and curves, we pulled into a rest stop on the edge of the motorway to get something to eat and track down some more caffeine. (Adrenaline crashes are brutal.) That’s when I spotted this contraption.
Nice thing about being in a foreign country where everyone pretty much speaks the same language you do, you can walk up to just about anyone and ask them if they’d mind you taking a picture of their home made motorcycle-trike-type thing. This machine was entirely home made. That’s a 2.0L, carbureted Ford 4-banger between the handlebars and seat. It’s got an automatic transmission (see the skull shifter). It’s rough, but it’s one-of-a-kind and it’s awesome.
Would we miss the boat?
As we arrive at the Port of Dover, white cliffs all around, I can’t help but notice the lack of traffic headed our direction. We’ve probably missed our ferry and will have to sit here for another hour or so, which will push our arrival in Essen back even further, and I really wanted to hit Bruges on the way.
Acres of pavement, no other inbound traffic, we pull up to the ticket booth. Oddly enough, the guy is sitting on the left side of the car, but he greets us by name. “Mr. and Mrs. Driggs, I presume?” A camera has already scanned our front license plate, pulled up our reservation, and he simply needs to see our passports. He directs us to lane 67 or such, and we drive past 66 other lines of various sized vehicles before taking our spot at the end of 67.
I’m on a boat.
That joke is still not old in my book. I live in a desert. I spend so little time on boats, it’s always novel. We pulled onto the biggest boat I’ve ever seen, “The Spirit of Britain”, which is the largest ferry on the Channel these days. If you took all the vehicles it can carry in a single trip and put them into one line, that line would be over 3 miles (4.9km) long. Huge.
Cat pointed out that, if we took a different route (thus blowing off the biggest Mitsubishi meet in Germany) we could attend Le Mans, as it was the same weekend and we would be “so close” when we disembarked from the ferry in Calais. Seeing all the people with 24 Heures du Mans livery on their vehicles ensured I didn’t forget the biggest motorsport event going on that weekend.
Still, we were headed to ElbeTreffen in Germany, so we once the boat landed in Calais, France, we made a B-line for Essen, Germany, our stop for the night, halfway there.
Less than an hour later, we were out of France and into Belgium, where the speed limits and signage all changed a bit. We also got off the motorway in the small town of Adenkirk, where we hope to find an ATM to get some Euros. We didn’t find an ATM, but we did find an amusement park called “Plopsaland.” Lowbrow, poo humor would ensue for the duration of the trip. Google that shit. LOL.
After a failed attempt at a quick stop in Bruges, our SatNav got all confused, routing us down narrow, cobblestone roads through tiny villages and Belgian countryside. It was all beautiful, and I could totally see myself living there (my partner in GBXM might actually be buying a house there), but we were getting hungry. We stopped at a bank with an ATM, but the ATM was behind locked doors. FAIL.
We ended up stopping at a convenience store to buy some lunchmeat, cheese, and chips because V was hungry. (To her credit, it had been about six hours since we’d had anything substantive, back in England.) This was pretty stressful, as V doesn’t like to eat crap and that’s all they had at this place.
We had been on the road for what seemed like an eternity. It was getting dark (which meant it was pushing 11PM). The gas station fare wasn’t cutting it and we were starting to argue with each other. Life on the road was getting to us. She was crying. I didn’t care. And where the bloody hell were we?
I spotted a sign – a familiar sign – it would restore our faith and save our marriage on the far side of the world. It was a BURGER KING. We pulled into the parking lot, made amends, and ordered up a couple Whoppers. Turns out they didn’t take credit cards without chips (European credit cards all have SIM chips in them for security. American cards do not. Way to innovate.) All we had was a 10 Euro note Cat gave us just in case.
We pared back our order, the girl behind the counter gave us some seriously steep discounts, and we found a table in a corner to hide our shame.
I’m pretty sure this was in Venlo, the Netherlands, which still felt like it was forever away from our hotel in Germany (where I could at least cludge my way through the language barrier). Turns out we were checking into our hotel in Essen less than an hour later. Hot showers and comfy beds made a world of difference, and Friday would be a new day.
Friday would turn out to be an adventure in and of itself. Accidents on the Autobahn, the scenic route from hell, and driving into the biggest Mitsubishi meet in Germany… in a Volkswagen. Get ready, Mitsubishi friends. Next up – ELBETREFFEN.