To Four countries. By Four friends. On Four wheels. For Four thousand kilometers.
It’s been quite a while since I wrote a travelogue or travelled for that matter. Life has been hard and testing, so we could grow old. You know!! These days work life is just too good to leave the office and push out the fun of being alive at times. This trip was very special. It took us 12 years to get back together and that too on a road trip. Friends have been an integral part of my life, though numbers were very minimal. After planning for the past 5 years, It took us about five months to decide on the travel dates. I made 6 different drafts for separate countries. But weather was not favorable for a road trip, and I never back down on a travel plan! Spent weeks looking for routes on google maps and tourism sites… Then came the plan! and it turned out to be perfect 😉
Italy – Switzerland – Germany – Austria has some of the greatest roads to drive on. Though we are not sponsored as TopGear with fancy cars; we were actually excited about the roads, mountains, scenic drives and most importantly the journey together.
Let’s do it in a camper van this time. Flexibility and feel of being on the road are the major factors that put us in the camper van. We started looking around in the world wide web for a camper van. And I found one at Indiecampers, a VolksWagen California Coast; which would fit the four of us to sleep in, without loosing it’s shape on the road.
Day - 0 : Milan
It’s hard to sink in…. especially on the very first day. Boarded the flight, still thinking .. Seriously!! It is hard to put in words the feeling of actualization. Landing in Milan was another realization of luxury we have in the middle east. Nido n Henz, who had reached earlier, came to pick us up from the airport. Reached the hotel in 5 minutes and were excited to even start the trip the same day. Somehow managed to control the excitement and took turns to try a hand on our ride – The Cali.
The left-hand manual gear was not for everyone, but we were so happy to see ‘Cali’. It was a highly functional, well equipped, no nonsense vehicle from Volkswagen. Freshened up, and headed out for dinner. Taro, the one who had connectivity in his phone was our official navigator. The direction disaster!! Lol! Thanks to him, we took a wrong turn and reached an unmanned fuel station, next to it was a local restaurant. After filling the fuel tank, we went inside the restaurant. The host was so warm and pleasing, he recommended us their best pizza and dish of the day ‘deep fried baby crabs’. For starters they served bread, cheese and chili olive oil. The combination was pure divine and crab was delicious. After thanking the guys at the restaurant for their hospitality, we returned to hotel.
Day - 1 : Milan - Baveno - Visp - Tasch - Zermatt - Goppenstein - Kanderstag - Lake Thun
After a good night’s sleep and a normal breakfast from Holiday Inn, we were off to Zermatt by 8:30am. On the way we took a detour to visit Baveno, on the banks of Lago Maggiore. Maggiore was a pristine lake with clear water and mountains in the backdrop. After parking Cali, we found a narrow path between the fences towards the lake. The view of an island in the middle of the lake was beautiful. After a brief photo session we continued our drive to Zermatt.
The Simplonpass (mountain pass) was covered in a blanket of snow, which was actually thicker than the height of Cali, at some point. All these stops were taking time, but no one cared as long as we are enjoying it. It is always the journey that matters, destination comes later, at least in our trip.
After reaching Täsch we were wondering if we should take a train to Zermatt. While Nido n Taro was checking the options at the train station, a local guy approached me and offered a round trip to Zermatt for €8 per head, with free parking for our camper. We discussed and took that option. It was a taxi shuttle service operated locally. After a 10 minute drive up the narrow road, the taxi driver dropped us at Zermatt taxi station. Streets of Zermatt was amazing, just like most of the places in Switzerland. Due to heavy fog up the mountain, the sighting of the mighty Matterhorn never happened that day. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the small things we found on those narrow streets. Ice cream is something we can’t keep our hands off. We tried locally made ice creams. It was fun.
When the sun went down, we decided to descend. On the way, we got down to have doner teller from Visp for dinner. We took the route via Kandersteg without knowing that we were in for a huge shock. After driving for around 1 hour through winding roads and many hairpin bends we reached to a point where there is no road. Yes! We could see a tunnel as per google maps, but that was for railway. On that shocking realization that there is no road ahead, and having to drive back all the way to Visp to continue; we took a U turn and noticed Goppenstein railway station. Me n Nido went to the railway station to check if anyone could help. Sadly, there was nobody!! Sigh! Then we saw couple of cars driving through a gate to the other side of the station. We took a chance and approached the gate. The lady at the counter asked where we are heading to. When we said we are on our way to Interlaken, she gave us a ticket to board the car in the train!! Pheww!!!Wow! Excited and relieved at the same time. Otherwise it would have been a 200km detour. Railway stewards guided us to the train carriage. We just drove the car right through the open carriages until we reached the car before us. I ventured out of the camper in the dark with the GoPro to capture the route, but the train took us through a cold and dark tunnel. When my fingers started to go numb, I got back in. After 15 kms of dark tunnel, we disembarked at Kandersteg station and continued our drive to lake Thun. I had an idea about where the Manor Park camping site would be, and headed straight to the spot. There was no one at the reception as we reached very late. There was a notice board for late comers ;). As mentioned on the notice board, we parked our camper in a vacant camping spot. It was close to the lake and the view was amazing, even in the middle of the night. We lifted the roof and made room for sleeping. It was warm and comfortable inside the van. Yes, it was our first night.. inside the Cali.
Day - 2 : Lake Thun - Beatenberg - Lauterbrunnen - Murren - Grindelwald - Interlaken - Rhine Falls
In the morning, Lake Thun was still cold n moody, as it takes time for the sun to peep over the mountain to warmup the lake. The facilities were really good at Manor Park, with hot shower, restaurant, grey water disposal etc. We all freshened up and went to the reception for checkout. It costed around 50 francs.
It was breakfast time. We took the road towards Beaten-berg caves and found a perfect place to park, and prepared our breakfast by the side of lake Thun. A group of scuba divers were testing out their equipments in the lake, which happened to be a decent spectacle from our breakfast balcony. After breakfast we explored the high land lake side road and it’s tunnels with a brief photo session.
Lauterbrunnen was our next location; the home of waterfalls. Standing in the middle of the valley, it feels as if the earth moved to either sides to make a valley in between for the water to fall. We walked to Staubbach waterfalls. Maybe by looking at our camera gear, we soon became the public photographers of Staubbach.
On the way to Trummelbach, there was an abandoned barn where we parked Cali and got out to feel the water stream. It was clear n cold. We enjoyed cold water splash on our faces. Took cable car to the village of Murren. The cable car to Schilthorn was suspended due to heavy wind. So we quickly returned back and drove to Grindelwald.
We spent a brief period in that insanely beautiful place. As we couldn’t find a decent place to have a very late lunch, we decided to look around in Interlaken.
Again doner kebab was the order of the day and a quick souvenir shopping summed up our time in Interlaken. We decided to push on and reach Rhine falls to crash for the day.
It was a long haul, still we made it. Wild camping was always on the cards and it happened that day. Took our chance in an open parking space close to the Rhine falls.
Day - 3 : Rhine Falls - Schaffhausen - Krai Woog Gumpen - Black Forest - Titisee
Rhine falls, is the largest waterfalls in Europe. Even though it is not the most beautiful, yet it has a charm. After our morning karmas we went in to experience Rhine falls. When I say experience, it was indeed a tranquil one. We could actually get really close to the waterfall and literally touch it. As Nido mentioned, The majestic view of white water roaring down and the feel of cold mist on our face, leaves us in a state of trance. The rainbow adds a special touch to the overall ambience.
After spending quality time around the falls, we went out and explored the souvenir shop at the entrance. Sudden hunger pang took us to the closest township of Schaffhausen. While roaming around the high street, Nido reminded us of replenishing the grocery stock. After lunch, we went to Coop and purchased all we needed for the next 2-3 days.
While returning to the other side of the Rhine falls, Taro again tried to put up a wrong turn 😛 . After entering the paid parking, we parked our van in the middle of the lot where the van is visible from every angle. We found a trail through the woods to the river and it was quite beautiful. It gave us an entirely different angle of the Rhine falls. Captured my first ever 4K video with my dslr.. and I must say it turned out to be ‘not bad’!!
The other three had never heard of the location – Krai woog gumpen. I had to repeat the name a couple of times for them to have it registered. Their faith in me led the way through some of the beautiful villages to this very spot known as Krai woog gumpen.
Navigation for Taro was not easy, as the mobile data coverage in the rural areas were poor. And to add to the pain, we were going into the black forest region. I had to stop the van for around 10 minutes to figure out the route using the offline map. We were at the verge of giving up, when Me n Taro figured out a route and it turned out to be the right way. It was dark because of the thick woods. Nevertheless, the place was worth the effort, for us. Henz was really pumped as he would always be in the woods, and kept a look out for bears, wolves or any interesting form of wildlife.
After a brief exploration of that area, we continued our journey towards north. This time Taro suggested the location – Titisee. Why not!! Let’s go there then. The drive to Titisee was scenic and we felt as if we were driving through the ‘Windows’ wallpapers.
We were almost there at Titisee lake, when we took a stopover at a hotel to check if we could find a place to crash. The hotelier was not so interested in accommodating us, but we are not going empty handed. We made him cut a beautiful black forest cake and took two big pieces to try ‘Black forest in Black forest’ literally. It was yummmm.
A bit of walking around by the end of the day for camp sites became a norm for us. After the quota for that day we settled in a campsite, which had pretty good facilities. We found a perfect spot next to the lake and Henz parked Cali in an unconventional way for us to have space and privacy. Master chef Taro started cooking in no time, and I started copying all the photos and videos to the backup hard drive. Homely dinner was not enough to keep us warm that night. The temperature dropped to ‘-5’ degree celsius after midnight and it was drizzling.
Day - 4 : Titisee - Black Forest - Meersburg - Fussen
It was that lazy day with a cold morning. We never pushed ourselves that morning and were understandably slow to complete our morning karmas. We were all set by 12pm, and Nido got us espresso from the coffee shop to kick start the half-day.
After around an hours drive, Henz spotted an abandoned road through the woods. It looked as if it really goes deep inside the woods. Our dudo spirit kicked in and we went in. We drove for couple of kilometers and got out to take photos. We couldn’t have asked more for experiencing Black Forest. Henz was in the zone and told me about it later “Experiencing & understanding own fantasies are sometimes entertaining, distracting & even frightening. Feeling the presence of a bear in those woods didn’t allowed me to share my state of déjà vu to you guys. I just indulged the moment of being in the woods, with all of us”
We drove to Meersburg. It was such a beautiful town and the high street was very lively. Finally, we had our nostalgic fish n chips from the local restaurant. Delicious!! No one seemed full, yet we enjoyed every bit of the meal. When Nido n Henz were out for window shopping, Me n Taro were catching up after a very long time. Meersburg was a very warm n welcoming place. We finished our tour of the town with desserts – Cheese cake, Tiramisu, Spaghetti ice cream and Stracciatella ice cream. Don’t mind the names, it was all sensationally delicious.
From Meersburg, we took the road towards Fussen. First exit itself was a wrong turn. But we managed to return back to the original route, somehow. We took some de-tours in between and was very much worth it.
Against the odds, this time we reached early at Fussen by 8pm and the camping sites were just about to close. Checked out three of them, but didn’t impress us much. In search of wild camping, we ended up in a 5 star camping site – Camping Hopfensee. We couldn’t believe it at first. We found a spot to park and quickly settled into cooking mode. Our chefs Taro n Nido were having a diplomatic duel on how to cook the chicken. Lol.
Finally they ended up making the best dinner of the trip. Salt pepper salsa bbq chicken with Quesadilla. It was a delightful dinner.
Day - 5 : Fussen - Neuschwanstein Castle - Salzburg
I woke up fully energized and excited about the hike planned for that day. After the morning karmas, Me n Henz went to check out the lake side. We were awestruck by the beauty of the place. Soon the other two joined us to enjoy the view; followed by an unavoidable photo session. To add to the icing, the camping site didn’t charge us much as were having a small van and were not spending a whole lot of time in there.
The hype of the 4hr hike had made a huge impact on my buddies. They were skeptical about reaching the top but was not going to give up. We started early to Neuschwanstein Castle. After parking ‘Cali’ we checked the local map to find the right hiking trail. The trail starts from right behind the parking area. The climb was steep and was taking us time to adjust with each other’s speed.
There were horse carts taking people to and from the castle entrance. After reaching the castle entrance I noticed one board saying that the trail is closed. However, we were having a good time at the souvenir shop and the local food stall. We continued our hike to the Marienbridge, from where the actual hiking trail starts.
There was one view point from where we can see two lakes and a castle on top of a mountain in between the lakes. I remember what Taro told that time ‘Man!! I had an imagination about how heaven would be. Looking at this beautiful place, now I can’t reimagine what can actually be in heaven”. Sometimes even I feel we are in heaven, and we are not realizing it enough in the right sense.
Marienbridge gave us the best view possible that day of the Neuschwanstein Castle. Waaaww!! How can they make such structures at those times when they never had any heavy machinery to lift those huge weights so high up on to those mountains.
Sadly, We turned back from Marienbridge as the hiking trail was closed due to maintenance work. To keep up the spirit and for the fun of it, Nido n Henz led us through a narrow trail through the woods. None of us knew where it was going. The only thing we knew was the trail is going down the hill. It was fun.
We ended up close to the castle which we saw from the viewpoint. From there we enjoyed an ice cream and we walked back to Cali.
It was time for us to say adios to Germany and halla to Austria. From Fussen to Salzburg it took around 2 hours drive. This time we enjoyed the autobahn and Cali clocked 170kms/hr. And I must say it never lost its balance even at that speed. In Salzburg, we decided to pamper ourselves and booked a quadruple room. Salzburg was warm compared to the temperatures of the places that we have been so far in this trip. Taro managed to get two table top fans for our room. We decided to step out for dinner. The hotelier suggested one Italian restaurant around the corner. We went there and placed the typical order. Pizza, Pasta and desserts. Table fans helped us to get some good sleep that night, much needed one actually.
Day - 6 : Salzburg - Eisriesenwelt caves - Werfen - Hallstatt
After coming all the way to Salzburg, we can’t afford to ignore the history of Mozart. We visited the places where Mozart lived and the theatre where he used to perform. Walking through the narrow streets of Salzburg’s old town area was very interesting.
There is always a reason for everything that happens, and we couldn’t agree more on this occasion. As per the ideal driving time and our itinerary we were supposed to go first to Hallstatt. In the thick of the things, we started off to Eisriesenwelt caves; which was initially planned to be after Hallstatt. Nevertheless, we continued to the caves. Even though I had done my research while planning this cave in our itinerary, I actually forgot it was an Ice cave and the hike involved in exploring the cave!!
At the reception, they explained to Nido and Taro the route. “20 minutes hike to the cable car. 5 minutes journey in the cable car and another 20 minutes hike to reach the cave entrance.” Finally they said, the last group will go in to the cave in 45 minutes. Man!! That was cruel. Taro was unsure and asked me should we return to Hallstatt. I said, we reached so far, let’s just go for it. I never had a doubt. Neither did Henz or Nido. Taro quickly pulled out his thermals and warm jackets from the bag; and was ready in 2 minutes. That’s my bro. We were literally behind the schedule and then came the strategy. Nido, the lean n mean in the group climbed quickly before me, to hold the cable car for us. I was just calling the other two lagging behind me to pump it up. And pushing them saying ‘almost there’. It wasn’t easy for me as well. We were all panting like crazy by the time we reached the cable car. Cable car gave us sometime to catch our breath. Once cable car reached the bay, we started our second leg of the hike. The view so beautiful, it was meant to take the steps slowly. I was telling myself not to stop now for any photography, I’ll be coming back the same way. Nido reached the top and the tour guide who would take us inside the cave saw a blue jacket (which was me) on the trail coming up and advised others to stay put until I reach, to go in together. Luckily, we all made it just in time.
The tour guide gave us a brief before entering the cave. The cave is 42 kms long, and is the largest in the world. However we will be seeing only the first kilometer, which is covered in ice. Then came the shocker of the day. About 134 altitude meters to be traversed during the tour of this ice cave and it includes 1400 steps. Oh yes!! Equivalent to 40 storey building. Before entering the cave, every third person was given a lantern. The cave was pitch dark and had no natural light coming in. The only light source were the lanterns that the visitors would be given to carry with them. As warned by our tour guide, there has been a 100km speed gush of wind when the wooden door to the cave opened. It happens due to the temperature differences. Depending on the outside climate, the temperature inside the mountain is either cooler or warmer, causing an air draft from top to bottom or vice versa due to the specific weight differences of the air. Magnesium lighting used by our tour guide highlighted the ice sculptures brilliantly. Every time he lights the magnesium sticks, it was undoubtedly a ’wow’ moment. It was literally freezing cold inside the cave. Cave can get a bit tight at some areas and you have to mind your head if you have average height. Sadly photography and videography is not allowed inside the cave, for organizational reasons. To be honest, it makes sense. After around 1 hour and 15 minutes, we completed our tour. At the entrance we all sat down and took in the amazing view. We ascended from 1000m to 1700m in a matter of 2 hours.
Feeling so content, about the hike and the cave experience, we realized why we were on the way to the cave instead of Hallstatt. To add more to our experience, then came the drive to Hallstatt. I can only express it as magical. The scenic beauty of Austria came alive, with fog and occasional drizzle. While driving, I was breathing in nature and its freshness. I was living the moment, that I have been dreaming for long.
Hallstatt is a small town. We had to settle in the one and only pizzeria for dinner, that was open at that time. We searched around a bit for a camping site to crash at, but the camping site host was so accommodative that he asked us to come in the morning after 8am. Seriously!! We needed a place for the night. Maybe our English or Spanish proficiency were not that good for him to understand that. We even tried our luck in Bad Ausee. It didn’t take us much time to decide on returning to Hallstatt. We found a free parking lot on the way and camped there for the night.
Day - 7 : Hallstatt - Zell Am See - Grossglockner - Dolomites - Venice
I woke up early that day for no reason. The place we had parked was next to a camping site. We went there to check if they could accommodate us, so that we could use their facilities to freshen up. The side gate was open and there was no sign boards on anything of those sorts on the opening hours. So we decided to walk in and see if anyone could help us. Suddenly one angry man (we believe he is the property owner) came out and asked us to leave the property ‘immediately’. We tried to explain why we were there, but he was fuming and didn’t want to listen to anything that we had to say. I doubt if that was actually a place for tourists to come and stay, because no-one who runs a tourist accommodation would treat a tourist like that. He even came till the gate to note down ‘Cali’s plate number. Lol, he couldn’t even understand the plate number, as it was registered in Spain.
We drove to the town centre, to see if we could find any alternative. We all deserved a hot shower after last day’s hike. Nido found Nadia, a hotelier, who agreed to rent out a room for an hour to freshen up. Nadia, was running a homely B&B. It is normally an expensive place, but she was very considerate and charged us only for an hour. She was like a God sent, especially after meeting the Mr. ’immediately’ in the camping site. Nadia offered us breakfast as well included in the agreed room rate. It was like seeing the two sides of the coin in the same morning. Grumpy old angry man vs Well mannered beautiful lady. We thanked Nadia for her hospitality and took the map from her to explore Hallstatt.
If you search Hallstatt in google, the most number of photos would be having the same frame of the lake with a cathedral on the right side. We walked through the beautiful narrow streets to reach the cathedral; which has lots of history.
We called it time for pushing on to our next location. Zell am see was our next stop for lunch. From there we drove to the Grossglockner alpine road. However, google map and tom-tom took us to Grossglockner wildlife reserve.
By the time we realized that the alpine road is on the other side of Grossglockner, it was too late. We tried calling the Grossglockner ticketing station, but they said the weather is not great and visibility is poor. That didn’t stop us, but when they mentioned that the road is too dangerous today and they would close the road in another hour; we realised that we couldn’t make it by that time anyway. Then it was a decision of whether to stay there for the night and have a go at Alpine road tomorrow morning. Or make use of the remaining day to reach Venice and explore the place early morning. As we had time limitation and lot more to explore in Italy, we decide to move towards Venice. We stopped in for a coffee + gossip break. Once again the drive through the Austrian alps was ‘Magical’. On the way we passed through this breathtakingly beautiful place which moved me the most; “Calmness of the valley, clarity of the chirping birds, freshness of the mist touching the woods, smell of the rain touching the earth and the small lake reflecting the extra dimension to the serenity; I lived the moment!!”. Photos couldn’t do any justice to the beauty of that place. I believe it was the case mostly for the whole trip.
On the way we booked a room at Vienna hotel. It was a disaster. Smelly rooms and shabby washrooms. The worst stay of our trip. Horrible!!
Day - 8 : Venice - Siena - Monteriggioni
In the morning, we just wanted to get out of that hotel. Initially we thought we could park Cali in the hotel premises as we had already paid for it. However I was not feeling comfortable to leave Cali behind. So we decided to go with Cali and park anywhere possible, even though we knew that it would be expensive.
Venice was always there in my wishlist. Many people who had gone there have told me that it is just an overrated place. Still I felt it has a unique charm. After finding the cheapest parking for Cali, which costed us €29 for the whole day, we set out to explore Venice on foot, though it was not the best option. We took the ferry from Ferreira station to San Marco station. It took around 40 minutes to reach San Marco.
We went to the St Mark’s square and it was crowded like crazy. Still it was an enjoyable outing. The inner streets were narrow and the views that led to was unique.
After a late brunch, we decided to return back to Cali. Took the same San Marco to Ferreira boat ride on the way back. Before climbing the 10 floors to reach the parking lot, we grabbed a thick milkshake to cool down a bit.
At that very moment we witnessed the law enforcement officers bringing down four guys who were in their shorts alone, and made them wear t-shirts. In Venice, it is against the rule to just be in a beach wear or in any other inappropriate dress. We headed to the most anticipated destination in Italy, Tuscany!! It was a long drive. Our hotel was booked in the town of Siena. Hotel Moderna. Every time we check in to a hotel, they were trying to sell us something which is much lower in value than what we had booked for. Taro really took care of such situations. We had to talk this time as well, finally we got a better room. After a short while, Taro was fully charged up and wanted to go out. I had told them to wake up early tomorrow by 4 am so that we could be in Val D’Orcia before the sunrise. However, when Taro showed the energy, we all got pulled into it and set off to Monteriggioni. Taro came in with his navigation skills, to guide us more than 5 kms to take a U-turn and drive back the same way. Point to be noted is that we could have taken a free right instead of this U-turn, from where we started!! I felt google map was playing mind games with Taro! We drove the same way we came from Venice for 20 kms and took the exit to Monteriggioni. At the exit itself we happened to see a baby deer. It kept us going. Monteriggioni was an old fort, which was kept in pristine condition but it has been converted into small restaurants and shops. We all walked around the fort and explored it in its own glory. We even checked out the restaurant menus, being too picky on eatables myself, we thought of getting something from Siena.
Dinner happened to be fast food that night. After that we didn’t waste much time to get to bed, as we are going to have a long day tomorrow. It will be an early one as well.
Day - 9 : Siena - Pisa - Cinque Terre - Rapallo
We all got up early and by 4:30am we started. It was too foggy for our liking. But we never stopped enjoying the nature. Open windows brought in the smell of mud and rain. Tuscany is a region, with wide open fields and vineyards. The drive was once again beautiful, Rain made all the difference for me. It was beautiful.
We drove to the end of the road to Val D Orcia. We reached to a vantage point, in an old town known as Monticchiello. It was foggy, so we planned to have black tea out in the open. Taro took off to the old town to explore the place. Henz took a stroll down the road. I was just waiting for the fog to clear out a bit to give me some magical moments. And it happened.
Then I went in to the old town to look for Taro n Nido.
They were having a great time mingling with local people. They even got invited for breakfast. Talking about breakfast, we had to drive back for our breakfast at our hotel. Reached our hotel just in time to gobble up on omelettes, cakes and pastries. Tuscany is a vast region, with amazing landscape. We will never have enough time to explore it completely.
After checking out, we headed out to Pisa. The leaning tower of Pisa is definitely leaning towards its side, don’t know which side. It was great fun walking around the tower and watching people doing crazy poses, as everyone was trying to support the leaning tower with all their might!! LOL!! Taro tried his part as well.
From nowhere an old asian man approached us with a leaflet. It was the menu of a Bangladeshi restaurant close by. When we went through the menu, halal chicken biryani caught our eye. Taro was convinced and we all decided to give it a try. The restaurant was okay, we saw couple of families in there as well. Biryani was also okay, but wouldn’t recommend to anyone, unless you are craving for some rice. The pickpocket signs are everywhere in Italy, so if you are traveling to these places, please take necessary precautions. We never had any instances in any of the places. We always covered the windows with the built in blinds and made sure they are locked each and every time. Then we drove to Via Del Molo. Took a short break at the top of the mountain with the view of Via Del Molo port. From there we headed to Cinque Terre. As always the google maps and tom-tom navigation was not giving the accurate route. It took us through the winding roads steeply descending to the small coastal township. It was a tricky road to tackle which was narrow and the edges were falling apart. We could only reach to a point where we had to park and walk 1 km to the township. We actually lost hope looking around the area, as it felt like we are in rural India, very quiet, no people around. Once we took the final turn to reach the township, it was bustling with life. Felt like taken from an animation movie, we pass through a dark cave and suddenly there is this colourful world of exotic things. We were rejuvenated and excited after that sudden change in atmosphere. There was no beach, but a breakwater with lots of small boats. Lots of restaurants on the water edge. It didn’t take us much time to own the place. We were everywhere, helping people taking photographs, taking photos ourselves, running around and simply chilling at the water edge, feeling the wind on our face, was amazing. Even though I already realized it was not Cinque Terre, but Vernazza; we were actually enjoying the place.
It is not a must visit place but a nice place to be at the sunset, especially if you have company. We checked if we could find a place to stay there, seemed it was fully occupied. The biryani was still intact in our tummies, yet we managed to squeeze in a double scoop ice cream on our walk back to Cali. From Vernazza to Genova was a rollercoaster ride in the middle of the night. It was the craziest drive of the trip. In the map the route looked like spaghetti. It was dark, no streetlights and at times we were going through the narrowest road possible. We even felt like we were going through a deep forest, but our forest ranger was sleeping like a baby at that time. I tried waking him up a couple of times. Luckily we never had any opposite traffic, otherwise it would have been a comedy. In a crossroad we found three roads going towards Genova. Me n Taro was pulling each others hair out saying this is the way; pointing to different directions. Crazy!! lol!! We stuck with Taro and google maps, and it took us to the motor way finally. The drive from Vernazza, through the villages of Vernazzola, Fornacchi, Drignana, Pignone, Catornola, Faggiona, Borgetto di Vara was epic. That stretch took us around 90 minutes to cover. From there we pushed on to Genova, but as we felt more tired on the way, we stopped at Rapallo. Even though we checked some of the camping sites, as usual we were late and ended up wild camping in the parking lot close to one of the camping site. In 5 minutes, we were all sound asleep.
Day - 10 : Rapallo - Milan - Duomo
We woke up to the traffic noise. Decided to move towards Milan. While passing the toll, the gate was open and we passed through without taking a ticket. When the alarm went off we realized, something was wrong. We turned back to the gate and explained the situation and the checker gave us a 79.80 euro fine and asked us to go to PuntoBlu. The inspector at PuntoBlu somehow understood the situation and agreed to cancel the fine. Thanks to Nido’s Spanish proficiency. Instead of continuing to Genova, we decided to drive to Milan, as Nido had to catch an early flight tomorrow morning and we had to return ‘Cali’. Henry seemed disappointed when we took the turn away from beach side. I felt a bit sad as well, I couldn’t frame a photograph with Cali at the water front, as a parting picture. We were all in a sad state, suddenly a silence crept in. We checked in at Inn perfect villa. Soon we started cleaning up Cali for returning it. By the time we got out to have lunch it was already 3pm. We managed to find a neat place to eat, but nothing great. Most places closes for midday break, so we had very limited options. Got back to the hotel and took Cali to the Indiecampers warehouse. It was a special moment for me to say adios to Cali. Andre from Indiecampers dropped us at the railway station. We took a train to Cadorna station and walked to Duomo. Duomo was a nice experience. The square was very lively, still peaceful. We went around window shopping, took photos and finally we went to have dinner at cafe Dante to celebrate the achievement of getting out for our dream road trip!! Yes!! We did it.
While walking back to the Metro station and we started feeling the vacuum left by our ‘Cali’. Local police guided us to get to the right Metro station. At the hotel we just checked the expenses incurred and kilometers covered. We were well within the expected expenditure.
Day - 11 : Milan - Lake Como - Malpensa
Final day of the trip. Nido left to airport by 6:30am. It was a casual bye-bye ceremony for our Mexican amigo, at least we kept it that way. We packed our stuff and checked out by 10am and walked to Centrale FS to keep our baggage and rushed to Garibaldi station to catch the train to Lake Como. We ran around platforms for around 30 mins to finally board the train. It never felt the same without Nido; and Cali was missed. Train route was via Monza and Seregno. I got to see a more urban and highly populated view of Milan. Graffiti was everywhere and I felt bad for the community as it simply dissolved the authentic look of the Italian architecture. After reaching Como S Giovanni station, we grabbed a local map and walked towards the lake. On the way we had doner and sheesh tawook from a Turkish restaurant. After lunch we checked on the fast ferries to Bellagio. However, the time to return was a concern and we didn’t take a chance. While roaming around in the lake side park, we enjoyed the open view of the Lake Como.
Henz had to catch the flight 3 hours earlier than Me n Taro, So we strolled back to the Como railway station. From there on it was so mechanical, that we reached the railway station, collected our luggage, took a bus to the airport, checked in, and in no time we were waiting to board the flight back home.
While I was sitting there, memories rolled back to the stage where we were planning for this trip. Most of us never thought this trip would ever happen, for endless reasons. No one had experience with a left-hand drive manual gear. We had no prior bookings for our stay in any camping sites. We had no hard locked destinations, not for everyday at least. Still we happened to make the most out of every day, every moment, every location. It was incredible. Lastly, I must say ‘Cali’ was one of the best thing that happened to us in this trip. I just loved it!! It was just flawless across 4000 kilometers in 10 days, through all sorts of terrain, altitudes and weather. Hats off buddy!! Respect!! Life has taught us great lessons and to never back down on our dreams. Always try, keep trying. For me, being to all those places that we went and all those experiences we shared was incredibly overwhelming. My buddies would’ve felt the same, I’m sure!! To Four countries by Four friends on Four wheels for Four thousand kilometers; would be a decent title for this travelogue. We know we just touched those countries and has lot more to explore in each country. Better late than never and its never too late, right?!! it goes well together, for me!! In a matter of hours, rest of us were on our flights back to our families; feeling content and accomplished; also determined to continue our quest to travel the world.