COAL: Fiat 500L – Give It Credit, Part Two

When we last left off, we had departed Florence and headed to Lucerne. We decided to take a little detour along the way, to see Lake Como.

Lake Como was beautiful, as you can see. Our time was limited, unfortunately, so all we could do was stop at a little waterfront park and walk around a bit. We were running quite low on diesel, as the last time I tried to fill up, I was flummoxed by the pumps. I don’t recall now what the exact issue was, but I couldn’t get the automated credit card pump to work.

We stopped at a little station near Lake Como, and it all worked fine. We wanted a bite to eat, and I didn’t see anywhere to park except some extra space there at that gas station. I asked him if I could park there briefly while we ate, using gestures to illustrate my spoken request.

He said “Sure, no problem. Take your time!” He spoke better English than I did.

Shortly after leaving Lake Como, we crossed into Switzerland.

You have to have a “vignette” to drive on Swiss highways. It was about $50 as I recall. If you rent a car in Switzerland, it’s probably on the windshield already. Since our Fiat was from Italy, we did not have one and stopped at the border station to get one. It seemed like a waste for a quick drive through the country, but we weren’t looking for trouble either.

A Skoda Superb, not quite as intimidating in the rear view mirror as a Charger

Glad we did, as around the next bend or two, there were police everywhere, pulling people over. I assume lack of a vignette was probably a leading cause, as the curves and hills we were climbing left little chance of speeding.

Beckenreid, on the way to Lucerne

It was less than three hours to Lucerne, with lots of tunnels involved! It was a fun drive, that we really didn’t want to end. Beautiful scenery and quaint buildings, along the miles of water we passed. The Fiat was challenged with the hills, but did just fine with some downshifting.

In Lucerne, we stayed at the appropriately named Tourist Hotel at 12 St. Karliquai. It was billed as modest, budget rooms and we weren’t sure what we were getting. They told us we could leave the 500L on the curb in front of the building, which was convenient.

We did book a “family suite” which greatly exceeded expectations! We had two real bedrooms, a kitchenette, sitting area, and a very nice bathroom. It was the nicest place we had stayed, overall. There was a commercial washer and dryer that wasn’t really for guest use, as it turns out, but they happily let us do our laundry anyway.

And we had one of the balconies you see here, with quite a view! It was June, and there was no air conditioning. It was a little warm inside from the sun streaming in all day, but cool outside. I took a pillow and sofa cushions outside, and slept on the balcony. A great sleeping porch!

The next day, we walked inside the Death Bridge visible from our room, and

along the top of the entire wall which enclosed the old city. You could climb to the top of the guard towers too.

We had to see the lion monument, of course, and eat some local food.

My oldest son, then about 13, went in the restroom door at lunch marked “Damen”. The Men, he thought it said. Given the choice in doors, it was a reasonable guess. He quickly realized his error.

We left Lucerne for Lauterbrunnen,

to take the Jundfrau Railway to Jungfraujoch, the highest point in Europe. We were getting into some serious hills, and postcard perfect scenery!

Jungfraujoch was something else, a frozen tundra in the middle of summer. This is the visitor center/observation deck/restaurant at the top. We were somewhat prepared clothing wise, more so than the tourists in shorts and t-shirts! The kids snow tubed for what seemed like hours, while we drank coffee and tried to stay warm.

We left the next day for Stuttgart. We decided at the last minute to detour through the Black Forest, and stopped at Triberg for lunch. We browsed the stores and picked out a cuckoo clock as a family, and had it shipped home. And yes, we usually leave the sounds turned off!

As with most places we had been, it was parallel parking only, and Triberg has some steep streets too! The stubbiness of the 500L was quite handy.

On to Stuttgart, which was the most American style driving we had seen up to that point. Really, for the entire trip, it was the most familiar. I couldn’t understand a damn thing on the signs, but the streets were well marked and everyone rigorously obeyed the rules of the road.

We only had one night, so we made the most of it by staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Stuttgart, which was across the street from

the Mercedes Museum! We only had a couple of hours until closing time, which of course was enough just to run through. We spent hours that night, though, walking on the grounds where all kinds of new models we don’t get here were parked. I surmise it was also a dealership of some sorts. Maybe it was a press pool? Maybe one of you know and can tell us.

We also walked around the factory grounds, which were adjacent to the Museum. There were gates of course and you couldn’t go deep into the complex, but we saw what we could.

The next day, we had a long drive to Paris. My wife had booked a nice apartment through AirBnB, but had a hunch that the owner was not reliable. After the reservation was made and deposit paid, he was slow to respond to further follow up emails.

Sure enough, when we arrived at the address in the above building, he was nowhere to be found. After many calls and emails went unanswered, we went to the backup hotel reservation she had made, just in case. And that was probably just as well, as I never found parking around the AirBnB. We just circled over and over while trying to get up with him.

The backup plan, the Novotel Les Halles, directed us to a parking deck a few blocks away, which worked just fine. We stayed four days and therefore drove quite a bit in Paris, more than I planned on.

We drove to tour the Eiffel Tower,

and around the Arc de Triomphe. It worked well and was easy to get around. The 500L of course was in its element in the tight city streets.

We drove out to Versailles Palace one day and spent the day touring the area, and the palace itself.

Our time with the 500L was drawing to a close. After about 1,500 uneventful miles, we were leaving Paris to take the Eurostar to London. As you might imagine, we planned to all five take the same train and arrive together, but it didn’t work out that way! The tight scheduling we had adhered to with success so far, would cause us problems when leaving Paris.

I dropped the wife and kids off at the front door of the Paris Gard du Nord train station, and then went to return the car to Hertz. Hertz was located somewhere there at the station, but it took me several tries to find a very hidden entrance. And then I had to park a few stories underground. My cell didn’t have a good signal, so my wife and I couldn’t communicate.

The Hertz desk seemed completely blown away when I announced I was returning a 500L rented in Rome. They told me to have a seat, as that would involve paperwork they weren’t familiar with. Then, they wanted to inspect the car with a fine tooth comb back in the underground deck, while I became more and more anxious.

There was a good star crack in the windshield, which I admitted happened on my watch. There was also a cracked taillight, which I had never noticed. I explained to them that no one in Rome inspected the car with me, and it was backed in when I got it. I couldn’t say whether it was there for sure, or not.

I knew the train was about to leave with my wife and kids, but without me. I finally got a text to go through, telling them I’d be on the next train. My wife’s text reply was “no you won’t they are all sold out”.

Stay tuned!