Defeated And Dented

Guess where we are tonight. No, don’t bother; I’ll tell you. Amsterdam. Yes, home. 2979 km later.

For the first time ever, we threw in the towel on a holiday and turned around.

Waking up to another day of rain in Riomaggiore was the straw that broke this camel’s back. Well, that and when the children started acting up again.

We were set to drive to Venice yesterday, but after checking the weather forecast in our hotel’s reception area and seeing that Venice, too, was expecting rain for the next five days, I couldn’t be arsed to continue. Sarah reluctantly agreed, leaving us with a 1300+ km drive to sink our teeth into. Obviously, we weren’t going to make all of that in one day, so we’d set off and see how far we got.

Well, our start was delayed, because it turned out that Sarah’s foot well was flooded with water. One (or maybe even both) of the sunroof drains was clogged and, given that our car had been parked on a surface that wasn’t level, this had been the only route for the rain to flow away from the sill of the sunroof. Because it was blocked, the rain instead filled the sill and then poured into the interior of the car, via the overhead upholstery on the passenger side.

We lost a lot of time to mopping up the water, but at least the electronics hadn’t been destroyed, the way they had when the same thing happened last year on the driver’s side. If they had, we would have had no sat-nav to guide us back home: not a disaster, but it would have added to the misery, not to mention expense of getting the problem fixed.

So, we got a late start, at about 12:30, and subsequently hit heavy traffic in the north of Italy, heading towards the Swiss border. There was a lot of stop-start revving and braking. A couple of times, I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front.

Unfortunately, one of those times, the driver behind me wasn’t so lucky. As I slammed on the brakes to avoid the vehicle in front of me, he failed to stop in time and shunted us rather hard, giving everyone in the car a rather nasty fright.

If I believed in fate, I’d say that the forces of nature didn’t want us to go on that holiday, but that they were now even more eager to stop us from getting home.

The next hour and a half were lost on the hard shoulder, filling in an accident report for the insurance company, dealing with the police and talking to the paramedics. No-one was hurt, it was all just routine, but the approach of wailing sirens and the sight of ambulance men brought home how much worse it could have been.

The police and ambulance men didn’t speak any English, and my Italian flows like molasses. Thankfully, we’d been hit by a nice young man with good English, which was a godsend in a dramatic enough situation. There we were, filling out my Dutch language forms in Dutch and English, while he spoke Italian to the police and I spoke English to him.

At the end of the day, any accident you can walk away from is a pretty good one. If you can drive away from it, you’ve been even luckier; and we could. The back of our car took quite a hit and is badly damaged. I’m sure it will cost several thousand euros to repair it, which should be just a matter for the insurance companies to work out between themselves, with a bit of luck. We were able to continue on our way, however, once a mechanic had given the car a quick check.

The other party wasn’t as lucky. Both of his front air-bags had deployed and the front of his car was completely smashed in. He was barely able to move it over onto the hard shoulder. His — or rather, his mother’s — vehicle would have to be towed away.

With that excitement out of the way, we continued our journey, reminded — not that any such reminder were needed — once again of how dangerous travel by road is.

Crossing into Switzerland at Chiasso was as much fun as crossing into it at Basel had been on the way down. Only one lane was open for cars at the border and progress was tedious, to say the least.

After that, we made good progress, but finally had to leave the motorway after the Gotthard Tunnel, as the evening was now upon us and we still had to find a bed for the night.

Said bed was eventually found in the small town of Flüelen, smack dab in the centre of Switzerland and surrounded by stunningly beautiful, snow-capped mountains. Not a bad setting to spend the night. We found a hotel, checked in, dumped our stuff and went out to a local restaurant for dinner.

To add insult to injury, we hadn’t seen a drop of rain during the entire drive, once we’d left Riomaggiore.

Not having made as much progress as we would have liked, that left an imposing 860+ km to drive today. Thankfully, much of that was through Germany, which afforded me plenty of opportunities to get up in the 180 – 200 kmh range, which is about as much as the busy autobahn would allow. Nevertheless, it was still a very long drive, through mostly uninteresting countryside. Once you get out of central Switzerland, it’s all very dull, especially if you’ve driven those roads before.

We had plenty of stops, of course: eating, peeing, nappy changes, leg-stretching, refuelling… it all adds up. The children mercifully slept for a large chunk of Germany, putting us back in the Netherlands around dinner time when they finally woke up. We stopped for dinner at a motorway restaurant and finally made it back to the house at around 20:45.

Venice is still showing a lousy weather forecast, but had no rain today and only 1 mm yesterday. Hmm.

I’m not sure we made the right decision in coming home. It’s good to be back, but we’ve missed Venice now and probably forfeited the price of the first night in the hotel, anyway. Maybe we should have gritted our teeth and stuck it out. Certainly, it doesn’t feel good to have admitted defeat and thrown in the towel on a holiday for the first time in my life. I also know that Sarah, left to her own devices, would have pressed on, so that, too, makes me feel like a miserable failure; more so, considering that I’ve curtailed both her and the children’s holiday.

First thing in the morning, I have to file the insurance claim on the car and get a quote for the repairs. There are lots of other chores to be done, so it will be a full day. Still, at least Eloïse’s off school this week, so we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn.

And to think I missed the Giro d’Italia in my home town for this.

Well, it wasn’t all bad. We had one nice day in and around Bellagio, good fun at the aquarium in Genoa and a nice day of hiking around Riomaggiore and Manarola.

It’s time to go away now, analyse what went wrong (not just the weather, but how we dealt with the children when things didn’t go according to plan) and figure out how we can avoid some of these problems in the future.

Certainly, there was nothing wrong with our (read: Sarah’s) chosen destination. Italy is beautiful; stunning, in fact. I can’t wait to return in better weather, perhaps as soon as this summer.

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