Bernd Felsche writes about his 19 days on the ground (mostly) in Germany with a 2013 Polo Trendline 60, covering about 2300 km.
When I got to the counter, they wouldn't accept my VISA debit card as payment, without first paying the full CDW. This was slightly odd as the very same card had served me well in 2011 and VISA-branded debit cards still appear to be accepted by rental companies elsewhere. Still; it was quite a bit cheaper than the next deal. For additional entertainment value, the rental staff had over-exercised my debit card so I had to take it to a nearby ATM to pull the cash for the rental. Eventually it was all settled and I descended into the bowels of the terminal to pick up the car from the rental car park.
Locating the appropriate desk and slot for the rental company, I
handed over the paperwork, checked the existing damage list.
The car already had 50,110 km on the clock and plenty of prior damage
had been indicated on the condition report.
This car was the Polo Trendline with the least-powerful engine available in Germany; 60 horsepower or 44kW, out of 1.2 litre divided over 3 cylinders. Yes; 3 cylinders. No TSI. Just a naturally-aspirated, multi-point, indirect injection petrol engine. Under the bonnet, it looks like the old 1.6 litre engine with number 2 cylinder missing. The engine looks short thanks to the big gap between the wheel-well and the belt pulleys.
The engine starts easily cold or hot. It sounds somewhat rough due to the odd number of cylinders; tractor-like was the description my cousin applied. Nevertheless, there is no untoward vibration getting to the passenger compartment.
The 5-speed manual transmission is light and easy to use, even for somebody not accustomed to shifting gears with the right hand. Similarly, the clutch is light but the grab is somewhat wishy-washy, perhaps due to the low torque of the engine; or clutch wear before I got to the car. One does tempt to wind up the engine a bit too much on take-off to avoid stumbling into a stall.
Checking the spare tyre was difficult as there wasn't one; just a pump and a bottle of gunk. Still, that provides about 10 litres of additional space under the boot's floor. If all went reasonably well, I'd never have to deploy the repair kit; though I can't imagine its use being quicker than a change of wheels. Nor that a puncture repair would deal with e.g. a slashed side-wall.
My (80-litre) suitcase went about a third of the way to filling the boot area and I stowed my carry-on, insulated bag in the front passenger footwell to have everything within easy reach. The rear seat back folds as one piece, the split-seatbacks being an optional extra in the Trendline.
A consequence of the Trendline's lack of remote control of its central locking is that if one has stuff to put in the boot of the car from e.g. shopping, one must first unlock the driver's door, otherwise the hatchback won't unlatch. There's no concealed lock cylinder under the tilting badge to save the walk back and forth. It might save VW on an inventory item, but at the cost of inconvenience to tight-fisted customers.
The navigation system that I'd brought along fitted next to the A-pillar at the driver's side of the screen and its the power cable draped over the steering column to the power socket in the centre console. My mobile phone found a place in the cubby-hole immediately below the radio, in the centre of the dashboard. There are two drink holders in the front of the centre console and one at the back, behind the handbrake lever. Another small "bin" is in front of the two drink holder and there are recesses either side of the handbrake lever for pens, etc. All 4 doors have bins, with the front ones each providing enough space for a large bottle. Very accommodating.
Indeed, the Trendline doesn't skimp on storage compartments, including even an "organizer" of sorts in the glove compartment to hold pens, etc.
The driver's seat adjusted for height and the usual back-forth as well as backrest tilt. The steering wheel, which is hard to the touch, is also adjustable for height and reach. Adjustment of the side mirrors is manual; with joysticks on each door, so adjusting the one on the passenger side takes a couple of tries.
Electric windows at the front are controlled by switches on the doors. Rear passengers have to get cranky, but at least their windows wind up and down without the ignition having been on.
The ignition key in the Trendline is a straight key, no switch-blade
fob with remote control buttons, because there is no remote control.
The key seems to be (RFID) chipped so that the immobiliser will only
let an authorised key drive the car away.
Turning on the ignition lights up the multi-function display panel
between the larger dials for engine speed and road speed.
A fuel-level indicator is visible in the bottom of the display panel, below odometer, trip meter, external temperature indication and clock. The fuel gauge lights up in 10 segments so you won't notice any fuel consumption until the "top" 5 litres or so has been consumed. Fortunately, the last quarter of the fuel gauge is also divided in 4 segments so getting to empty should not become a surprise.
A gear-shift indicator is visible to the right of the digital clock once the car is moving, showing recommended up-/down-shifts or simply the currently-engaged gear. Gear shifts are suggested for "economic" driving though I found the indicated up-shift indication would result in a slow-revving engine being heavily loaded; I could almost hear the big-end bearings complaining. Besides which, those early shifts wouldn't be friendly to other road users.
Yep. There's no engine temperature gauge. I even checked in the glove compartment!
Still, the engine does warm up quickly; even on the cold morning (less than 10°C) in Frankfurt.
Just a reminder; the steering wheel is on the left!
(NB: No tips for the people washing the rental cars.
They didn't even take a clean rag to wipe down the door frames,
jambs and sills while the car was still wet from the wash.)
The seats seem hard but quickly become comfortable. After carefully negotiating my way out through the underground carpark of the airport; past the 30,000 concrete pillars and walls, I got to see some sky again after more than one and a half hours inside the terminal building.
The navigation system's GPS also saw sky and was able to show my location on its screen. I'd loaded the European maps and programmed major destinations before leaving Australia so that morning's major decision was which direction to take for an initial shopping stop.
With less than 5 minutes on the Autobahn, a truck changed lanes in front of me and there was a loud bang. I expected the windscreen to crack. But nothing happened.
A small town called Raunheim, near the airport, was fortunate to have me visit their shopping facilities. I purchased some pre-paid credits for my German mobile phone network SIM, some drinks and toiletries which are too much trouble to pack, etc when travelling a long way by air. With my mobile phone topped up, I made a round of phone calls to warn the locals that I was on the way, and to send an SMS back to Australia to quell the fears of the worriers.
Although I had all day to get to my destination a little over 200 km up the road, I didn't want to push it, given that I'd just put about 30 hours of travel behind me, without a night's sleep. And besides, with temperatures quickly getting up to 20°C under sunny skies, it was perfect for a drive, just enjoying the drive and the scenery, stopping when and where the mood strikes.
A year earlier, on the same day of the year, I'd have been struggling through snow, ice and slush in temperature below zero. Let's say that I wasn't disappointed to miss that experience. The car was still on winter tyres (on 14" steel wheels) which were still required because the weather could still "turn" at short notice, it being an unseasonably-early spring.
Coffee consumed and calls made; it was time to dawdle my way northwards. The navigation system showed the way but I had my own mind as to diversions.
The first stretch of non-urban Autobahn gave me a chance to check
what the Polo could do at speed.
It'd been adequate for the slow bits around the airport but even the
process of merging onto the faster sections of Autobahn turned out
to require far more preparation than that to which I was
Volkswagen says that such a car takes 16.1 seconds to reach
from a stand-still; so a very long run-up along the on-ramp is
called for to avoid holding up traffic in the "slow" lane; traffic
comprised mostly of semi-trailers and similar heavy vehicles.
They will not slow to let you in so one must accelerate hard
and early to match speeds with the flow of traffic.
Fortunately, the suspension is well sorted and the tyres hang on, if somewhat noisily, in the tightest curves of most on-ramps. There's no over-steer worth mentioning, perhaps in part due to the light engine. Backing off will only slightly tighten the turn; as will a judicious yank on the hand-brake lever. The engine doesn't have enough power for neutral drive braking through bends; where one applies both throttle and just enough braking for no nett torque at the front drive wheels, but a braking and therefore tendency to slip sideways at the back wheels.
What must also be considered is that the Polo's speedometer is woefully inaccurate. Only just legal, it would appear. Comparing GPS speed to speedometer, with the speedometer at 100 km/h, the true road speed is only about 91 km/h; which can cause inadvertent aggravation to other road users with a speedometer not as prone to exaggeration. Although one is thusly "protected" from getting a speeding ticket, the objective (and obligation under German traffic regulations) is to be observant, considerate and not to impede others more than is necessary.
Once on the 'bahn, the Polo picks up speed gradually, eventually finding a sweet spot in the power curve at about 4000 rpm. That corresponds to a road speed, in 5th gear, well above that permitted in most of Australia; about 140 km/h. A speed that is suited for ducking into the quicker lanes of the Autobahn when traffic is flowing freely.
The penalty for losing too much speed from that sweet spot is severe. A long uphill stretch "off the cam" will rapidly wipe off speed. It takes a long time to get it back again so a large gap in traffic is required. Drop below 120 km/h and acceleration in top gear becomes lethargic. And it's not much help changing down because above about 4500 rpm, the engine becomes relatively breathless and sounds tortured, despite maximum power being delivered at 5200 rpm. It's a small engine and miracles require artificial respiration.
At this point I would like to invite readers to consider that a 1200 Beetle wasn't be able to reach anything like those speeds when new, given an engine with barely more than half that power. And a Beetle would guzzle far more fuel than a modern Polo, despite the Polo being much heavier and somewhat larger, especially inside. VW have come a long way; though not all of it has been forward.
I briefly ducked off the Autobahn at Bad Camberg, in part because I was curious as to how the town looked "normally", but also to buy some cold drinks and a few bananas (€0.59/kg) for the road. Most of the drinks I dropped into the "cellar"; the room left under the boot's floor for the spare wheel. With a wetter whistle, I thought I'd take some of the lesser highways for part of the route, via the hills to the West of the Autobahn. All the while, the navigation system was suggesting that I go another way.
The Polo handled those lesser roads very well. It had ample power, braking and cornering capacity; except that there wasn't enough power to overtake other cars in the dash between towns. Although slowing down for towns wasn't exactly welcome, speed limits in most places seemed to suit the conditions. Roads in general were narrow, with few opportunities to stop safely at the side of the road, especially as the roadside vegetation had bounced back vigorously during the very mild winter months. I returned to the A3 Autobahn near Limburg, having become bored with the frequent speed cycles.
The fuel gauge still showed "full" at the first proper rest stop, after nearly 120 km of mixed driving. Fuel consumption was in the back of my mind, with the price of premium ("Super") in Germany being around 1.50 Euros/litre (AUD$2.25) and the alcohol-tainted E10 is not much cheaper. It'd be a while before I'd driven far enough to make it worthwhile to top up for a "proper" check on fuel consumption.
That rest also gave me a chance to finish the first bottle of drink while planning for the next diversion; and to put the empty in the boot of the car. (Deposit on even the small PET bottle was €0.25, so well worth saving.)
A diversion to a cake shop was on the agenda as it was my friend's birthday the next day. Siegburg seemed like a good place to stop, about half-way to my destination. I only had to find a cake shop with a nice view of the town. As it turned out, I didn't find both in the one place. Though I did find a car park from where a good view was walkable, a view of the abbey almost as good as from the road approaching town. And a cake shop with free parking, free samples and an interesting selection of goodies for the cellar.
Relaxed and refreshed, I stumbled into the afternoon traffic, arriving at my destination in Herne with only a few, short traffic delays. It seemed that there were, at the time, few commuters travelling in the direction that I was going; for most of the way.
Parked and unpacked, I left the Polo to while away the hours at the roadside while I caught up with my friends. In fact, it got about 2 days of rest before I moved to the next port(s) of call, to the East.
Eastward Ho!Sunday, late in the morning, I loaded up my kit, said my goodbyes and cranked up the Polo for the next leg of the journey to Germany's equivalent of Ayres Rock. :-)
Sunday traffic on the Autobahn is usually quite light, given that most heavy vehicles are banned from the roads on Sundays. But I had only a short trip planned anyway, about 150 km taking around one and a half hours; two-thirds of the distance on Autobahn. The weather was playing nice. Although it was mostly overcast, it wasn't really cold; getting up towards 10°C. I managed to gradually bring the Polo's speed beyond 140 km/h (measured by GPS) where conditions allowed, At times, briefly past 160 on the speedometer, above the car's maximum speed; in theory. It was still rock-steady on the road.
Then it was time to leave the Autobahn and to take about 30 km of (mostly) highway to my lunchtime appointment. The flat terrain was punctuated only by a few lines of forests and drainage canals. The highway diverted around the larger towns so there wasn't too much slowing down and speeding up again. My progress was however impeded somewhat by what seemed to be a clapped-out Alfa-Romeo causing a tail-back of up to 20 cars on that very highway in front of me. Instead of pulling over to let others pass on the quicker sections of road, the driver struggled along at no more than about 70 km/h. Well, at least I found out that such a low speed is perfectly OK in top gear for the Polo.
Lunch was had and merry hours were passed as we swapped stories before I had to continue onto my next port of call in Schlangen where I and the Polo would be spending a few nights. It was less than 20 km of mostly highway so the drive was quick and uneventful.
After greeting my hosts, I unpacked my luggage and tucked the Polo
into the small-ish garage at the end of a tricky approach.
Fortunately for me, the Polo is almost exactly the same size as a
Mk2 Golf and the driver's position isn't that different, relative to
Early one fine morning, under blue skies, I took the Polo out for a local run, taking the long way to get there because the weather was so nice, if somewhat chilly. The car started quickly in temperatures below 5°C and there was some heat coming out of the vents by the time I'd carefully reversed out of the garage. A minute later, after programming my first destination into the navigation system, the interior of the car was already becoming comfortable.
Once on the road, I decided to go the wrong way to get a few scenic views as long as the weather was clear. I spotted some rabbits on the side of the road between the fields and, it being not so long before Easter, I decided to take some care to avoid the pests. The navigation system continued to give me advice about where I should be turning which, once I was amidst the forests, was desperately poor advice as it would've led me down forestry tracks which were still blocked by winter-felled trees. Puzzled; I verified that I hadn't accidentally set the navigation system to Dakar Mode.
Using a novel navigation technique of reading the road signs I easily found my way to the Externsteine, a rock formation that is quite unlike Ayres Rock geologically, but nevertheless also surrounded in myths and legends. There was only one other car in the huge car park, unsurprising because it was still early in the morning, quite chilly and a weekday. It was warm enough out in the sun, but once I took to the shaded paths on the ridgeline from which the rocks sprout, I deeply regretted leaving my gloves in the car as my fingers chilled to the bone every time I took out a camera to take a picture. Nevertheless, here's a nice panorama shot of the hills behind the rocks taken along the way. Note the comfy lounges provided for weary hikers.
I returned to the car after about 7 km of hiking and it was still nice and warm in the car. Clouds were starting to drift in from the South-West so a visit to the town of Detmold, with the possibility of shelter from the worst of the weather was on the cards.
The drive into town was short and I quickly found a parking spot near the corner of Hermann and Bismark Streets. Well, that was easy for me to remember. I paid the ticket fee for the maximum of 2 hours and went walking around the centre of town under increasingly leaden skies. It was market day and I treated myself to a sausage; as one does in Germany. A few knick-knacks were bought but most of the time was spent gathering impressions.
With my feet weary, I started to head back to the car, but before I got half-way ice-rain started to fall. Some of the icicles down the back of my neck. Fortunately, I'd bought a brolly in Herne and was able to dodge the worst of it by staying close to the walls of buildings on the way back to the car.
A servo' on the road out of town caught my attention with its low price for super; 1.509€/litre. It took 31.87 litres to fill the tank and the trip meter indicated 477 km travelled since I picked up the car, with notionally a full tank. That means an average of 6.68 l/100km; which is on the thirsty side in my book. It could be that the tank wasn't really full when I picked up the car or perhaps that the previous rental driver or company had filled up with alcohol-tainted fuel (E10). I suspect the latter because I noticed the engine being more responsive once I was back on the highway. The fresh fuel made a super difference.
The next port of call beckoned the following day, requiring mostly 200 km of driving along rural highways as taking the Autobahn would have taken me about 100 km out of the way and saved no time at all. The destination was almost due East, with the newer highways through smaller towns. Despite the need to watch speed limits, rapid progress was made and I stopped about mid-way for a break, near the "crossing" of an Autobahn, which was undergoing major roadworks.
|Roadworks are the bane of Autobahn drivers. Autobahn roadworks are tolerated in Germany because they are completed fairly quickly, mostly on time and sometimes even ahead of schedule if weather is favourable. However, roadworks ruin travel schedules and to make things worse when they look abandoned they can harbour speed traps. The speed limit through roadworks is usually 80 km/h or 60 km/h with rare exceptions being as slow as 30 km/h. 10 km of A7 Autobahn took 20 minutes of driving because of the severe congestion. I could have taken a highway turnoff instead of the Autobahn but didn't get timely traffic information. Not until it was too late.|
Eventually, I found myself on a restricted access highway (German: Kraftfahrstrasse) that's not officially an Autobahn; the B6n. As I understand it, as it's a divided road (with central barrier) and at least 2 lanes in either direction, there's default speed limit of 130. A real limit, not an advisory one like on an Autobahn. I heeded the speed limits, took it easy and enjoyed the view of the Brocken mountain and the Harz mountains, leaving the passing lane to those who can afford speeding tickets.
I arrived in Halberstadt late in the afternoon and parked the Polo in its "reserved" spot. Again, the car would spend most of its time resting, while I caught up with relatives and friends, partied and took in the local sights. As one does when celebrating 50th and 25th wedding anniversaries.
A few busy days for me and only a few short runs into town for the Polo. I got more comfortable parking the car and squeezing into tight spaces. Parking got tight in the city, despite a declining population and old blocks of flats being torn down because they're empty. Many people seem to prefer to build new houses on the outskirts of town. Not that so many still find work in town, with investment into industry falling outside of the district, so the whole town has become something of a dormitory for surrounding areas.
Local government tries to look after everybody and everything, which could be part of the problem as the population is, since 1990, no longer required to comply with all of the planning by authorities. There's grand expenditure on grand plans which turn out to have little tangible value for the town's folk even if it makes them feel good for a little while. The situation is, as far as I can gather, far from unique throughout Germany, not just the East.
Leaving fairly early is a good idea if 9 hours of travel are required, even if the days are long.
My planned route would take in fresh views for me, travelling
initially to the East of the Harz mountains, hooking up with the
northern end of the A71 Autobahn and following it to its southern
end outside of Schweinfurt.
Through the depths of Thuringia, almost literally because that
Autobahn has some of Germany's longest road tunnels.
(Listed at the right in order of length.)
And I survived travelling through all of them. Speed limits are severely reduced and policed by speed cameras on the approaches to the tunnels. Upon exiting, de-restriction applies almost immediately, but in a couple of cases, the next tunnel is only a minute further up the road so there's not much point in accelerating hard just to have to slow to 80 km/h or less.
The eight kilometres of tunnel at 60 km/h can be a bit unnerving because it never seems to end. If one is lucky, there are other vehicles to keep one company. Only a few radio stations are relayed into the tunnel; signs on the side of the road before the tunnel to indicate the frequencies but I wonder if it's wise to be twiddling the radio dial on approaching a traffic hazard. Especially the hazard that takes your photo if you're going a bit too fast. Indeed, one is encouraged to switch on the radio because warnings and alerts are broadcast into the tunnel using those radio frequencies.
After Schweinfurt, the fuel gauge showed that it was about time to
fill up the car again with super.
Rest stops directly on the Autobahn usually sell fuel at premium
Ducking off at a junction and heading to the outskirts of an
adjacent town can lead to the discovery of a cheap servo.
On the other hand, the off-Autobahn Autohof facilities have
workshops for major repairs and serve the needs of long-distance
I found a Autohof Werneck off the A70 in the short section that joins the A71 to the A7. 37.51 litres ran through the pump and my trip meter showed that I'd travelled 641 km since filling up in Detmold; yielding an average fuel consumption of 5.85 l/100km. Not so bad. Even better; the fuel was even cheaper at 1.489 €/litre. ("Cheaper" is relative to other prices in Germany.)
Once on the A7, I managed to get the speed up to 160 on the speedometer a few times (actually 147 km/h according to the GPS.) Clearly, anything faster than that wasn't going to do my wallet any good next time I filled up so I reserved that privilege for the downhill runs when it was safe to do so because of the traffic.
The Polo lost momentum a few times, notably when trucks moved from the right hand lane into the next one in order to "overtake" at a nett speed of perhaps 3 km/h; so the lane was restricted to 100 km/h for about a minute every time that that happened. If there wasn't a faster lane, or if the faster lane was too full to merge safely, then the Polo had to lose speed to match that of the trucks ahead.
Then it was just a matter of navigating further along the narrow country lanes, through the boom gates that protect the migrating amphibians after nightfall (would I make that up?) and down through the twisty maze of passages until I parked the Polo neatly in a parking spot. My host was sprucing up the garden as I arrived and welcomed me with open arms, coffee and cake.
It seems however that the city has become somewhat Disneyfied; a stereotypical olde German towne. The "conservation" work, although necessary to prevent the whole place turning to rubble, seems focused on making the it attractive to tourists. Tourism is of course the life-blood of many cities in post-industrial Germany. That is not to say that Ravensburg doesn't have industry. It's just far away from the guided tourist stops.
We'd arranged to meet up for lunch with another conspirator but it seemed that she was running late and we decided to make good use of the waiting time by relocating to the site of the Veitsburg which overlooks Ravensburg and has for the convenience of travellers, a youth hostel for cheap accommodation, as well as a pub/restaurant with a nice, panoramic view of the city.
It was a nice, sunny day to be sitting outside, enjoying the last piece of poppy seed cake on the mountain with a cup of coffee or two while we waited for our co-luncher. She arrived famished, having tried to knock off from work on time but was delayed by those who needed to ask stupid questions.
The illusion in the multimedia show at the start of the guided tour is convincing and almost worth the admission fee by itself.
My hosts suggested a bit of a walk in the afternoon, only a few kilometres through along the ridgeline above the lake near Sipplingen. Hiking trails are well marked in Germany, with names and distances. However, when you've been following the trail for almost a kilometre (I count paces, instinctively) and the signs still say Haldenhof 4,3 km, one ought to be suspicious. This was obviously the silly walk.
We did make it, having walked for almost two and a half hours. The consolation prize was a panoramic view of the upper lake as it reaches into the main one.
A delicious dinner at a swish restaurant was enjoyed with the whole lakeside clan, apparently on the occasion of my all too brief visit.
There'd been talk about my host's older Škoda Fabia TDI needing expensive repairs because of a "broken suspension" and that car needed a driver back from the restaurant. I stepped into the Fabia took off in pursuit of the first car of the convoy, it not only being dark, but also in want of maps or navigation system. The 74kW TDI provided ample propulsion for the Polo-sized Fabia. And, after a few gingerly direction changes, I became convinced that the suspension noise was only due to a worn top strut mount bearing; a cheap fix.
That'd be good news under other circumstances. In this case, because it was an older diesel, it was penalised heavily every year due to it notionally having "dirty" emissions and it couldn't be driven into several towns and cities because they're afraid of stuff that they can't see that some people have told them will damage their health. Financially, the best option was to fix the strut bearing (plus a few other small things), clean up the car and put it up for sale to somebody who needs a cheap car to drive more than a few thousand kilometres a year.
I delivered my synopsis to my hosts that evening which seemed to take a load off their minds.
It was Friday the next morning.
A cousin, who lives a veritable Aussie stone's throw away (less than
150 km) had invited me for the weekend, the last days before my
return flight back to Perth.
But first, there was a whole day of sightseeing planned with the Polo, around Lake Constance, which was on my way westwards to Dirlewang. So with my stuff packed into the back of the Polo, we took the winding road to Langenargen where we'd meet the last member of our troop after she finished work at a site nearby. Well, it was a Friday.
While we waited, we took in the sights on the shore, including the very low water level which'd exposed "beaches" around just about all the lake. There was the folly of Schloss Montford with thankfully very few tourists at this time of year, and the harbour with an amazing array of different boats and yachts, presumably all quite expensive.
A phone call came and we duly made up a convoy of two, wending our way past a construction site that was previously a shipyard; to be converted into premium villas; fully occupied for perhaps 6 weeks a year.
Our objective was the Pfänder mountain, just across the border in Austria. Just before the border, everybody piled into the Polo, which made it 4-up plus my travelling luggage. i.e. Almost full. A bit of a test of the car's ability to drag us all the way up the mountain; well, about 500 metres of altitude, given that Lake Constance's level is at near-enough 400 metres and the last few metres to the peak cannot be driven by ordinary folk.
The twisty mountain road, just over one lane wide for the most part,
with 2-way traffic was negotiated mostly in second and third gear.
There was a speed limit of 40 km/h but that was largely
academic due to the prospect of oncoming traffic; just around the next
Once we reached the top, as far as the main traffic roads permitted, there were rumblings of dissent amongst the group. They wanted something to eat and drink. The "usual" place hadn't been found on the way up, so after a brief scout around the top roads finding nothing that took their fancy as they wanted to eat with a view, the Polo carried us back down to find the missing guest house and café.
Remaining in second gear all the way down the twisty roads, and after stopping to enquire, we got some directions from a local. The "usual" place was being "renovated" and upgraded to a health spa of sorts, but a temporary facility had been set up on the opposite side of the road, with a nice terrace overlooking Lake Constance from its eastern point.
With thirst stilled and stomach rumblings settled, we, one by one,
wandered across the road to get a clearer view of the lake and the
Austrian town of Bregenz below.
I got there just in time to snap a paraglider and Zeppelin in flight
OK, you have to look hard to see the Zeppelin in the picture.
Here's a wider, top panoramic view, a little later. The centre of the panoramas show the moles either side of the Rhine river as it flows into Lake Constance.
As the northern side of the Alps had missed out on a lot of snow during the very mild winter, there wasn't much water flowing in from the Rhine and the lake was several metres below its usual level for the time of year as evident from the exposed beaches at the shoreline. There was still a little snow on the Pfänder in the northern gullies, but the flowers were in bloom on the southern slopes, responding to the spring weather, even if it was a month early.
The Polo carried all four of us back to up the mountain. My "rallye-driving" skills became a point of discussion as we ascended. :-) I suppose it might be slightly disconcerting if one isn't at the wheel and instead looking at a 100+ metre drop on one's side of the car.
But it was all too brief as I soon found a spot in the public car park. Feet carried us the last few hundred metres (on a map) up to the peak of the mountain from where the view towards the lake wasn't quite as grand. At least TV reception should be good.
I'd locked my mobile onto my German carrier after reaching Lake Constance a few days earlier to avoid expensive roaming charges if I inadvertently made calls using Swiss or Austrian carriers across the water; which often gave a stronger signal than the German one.
Sights-satiated and the clock showing that I'd better shake a leg if I was arrive in Dirlewang at a reasonable hour, we made our way back to the Polo for the controlled coast down the mountain to the lake road, out of Austria. I made an effort not to drive too much like Carlos inSainz.
Before we crossed the border back into Germany
I topped up the Polo with 28.03 litres of super, costing
1.389 €/litre, which for 483 km works out at
Pretty good seeing that about 20 km of it was going up a
mountain, fully loaded; and a fair whack of it at high speeds on
the Autobahn during the long haul to the lake.
Some might feel guilty about minimising their taxes by filling up across the border, but none volunteered. Instead, the driver of the second car, parked just a few km into Germany said she'd be driving back home via Austria to fill up with the petrol at least 10 (Euro) cents per litre cheaper than in Germany.
Stopped at the side of the road in Germany, I farewelled my passengers as they transferred to the other car, parked on the other side of the road. Then poked my finger at the navigation system, selecting the previously-set destination in Dirlewang and watched for a gap in the seemingly interminable queue of traffic on the Seestraße (Lake Road).
Soon, I was merging with traffic on the A96 Autobahn which ends in Lindau, effectively at the border with Austria. The other end goes all the way to Munich. I was following it for about 90 km; as far as the Mindelheim exit.
Alas, it was already early evening on a Friday and there was quite a
bit of congestion over the first 30 km.
Not a traffic jam like one has on Perth's freeways, just a bit of
slowing down, bunching up a bit.
Rarely coming to a complete stop.
But it ate up the first half hour of the journey, getting me only
about half as far as I wanted in the same time.
Traffic cleared again quickly and there was a good run for the next half hour. But I was still running late so I pulled into a lay-by and phoned ahead with my revised ETA. A venison dinner was being ordered.
After about an hour on the road, we arrived at the outskirts of the city with lots of traffic, predominately black- and charcoal- coloured cars that'd filled many of the inner-city parking lots. Quite unlike the behaviour of drivers pretty much everywhere else in Germany, the local drivers were competitively aggressive. At one stage, I made the mistake of indicating my intention to change lanes which seems to have been interpreted by another driver as an invitation to speed up and to close the gap. Metal didn't meet but it was quite clear from the other driver's gestures that they were in an agitated state. I don't do road rage.
The only lightly coloured cars in the city seemed to be taxis, which are the same ivory colour throughout Germany. While waiting to turn into a parking lot with cars already queued at its entrance across the intersection, the lights turned green and the taxi driver directly behind me was leaning on his horn. Obviously, I couldn't go because there was nowhere for me to go; especially not from the left-turn-only lane. When there was a break in the traffic in the adjacent lane to go straight ahead, I snuck into that to look for a space to park elsewhere.
Obviously, not all drivers in Ulm are arrogant, self-centred psychopaths. There are some visitors who may find themselves mixing it with the locals.
Having parked the car in an older city quarter, we did took a walk on the top of the wall along the Danube. The opposite side was distinctly more modern; but that was in another city and another state.
My cousin gave me the 20-cent tour of the inner city including the Minster and the surrounding market. After a cup of coffee, we retrieved the Polo and headed back to Dirlewang.
The following day was rest day for the Polo while we escaped the local drizzle with a day trip to Kempten to visit a few local museums and to have a bit of sticky beak. The weather was much brighter and welcoming in Kempten. Despite its predominately modern looks, Kempten is one of Germany's oldest cities; or more accurately, the city with the longest historical record that goes back to 15 BC; and disputable mentions to 50 BC.
When we arrived in Kempten, the town looked abandoned but there was an annual half-marathon footrace in the city that day. Many shops are closed on Sundays but there were plenty of places to stop for coffee, snacks and ice cream.
A handy hint for travellers: Publically-run museums in Kempten have free admission on the first Sunday of the month.
In addition to many regional museums and attractions, Kempten has one
of the shortest Autobahns in the country.
At just a few kilometres length, the A980 is a vestige of the
still-born project to build the lower-alpine Autobahn A98 that was
to stretch from near Basel in the West to near Munich in the East.
(Stick diagram of the whole, planned route.)
There is also a fragment of the A98, named as such, to the West of Lake Constance. Local politics and access to land for the purpose of an Autobahn stopped the project from being realised. Which is the reason why traffic is so congested and slow, especially around Lake Constance.
We rounded off our visit to Kempten by dropping into the privately
run Burgenmuseum which has exhibits on the
background of fortifications and the lifestyles of the people who
sought protection in the castles.
An activities room has hands-on toys for young and old alike,
including working models of catapults and reproductions of body
There's also a nice view at the top of the old walls which now form
the backdrop for an open-air stage.
After about 250 km of Autobahn driving, some of it quite rapid and the Polo "running on empty" near Würzburg, I sought out a lower-priced service station off the Autobahn. My navigation system took me to an empty lot covered with fresh sand. I guessed that the station had been taken by aliens. Anything is possible when one is running low on fuel.
An alternative station was located and the Polo given a fresh drink. There was still about 150 km to go to the car rental station at the airport, so I've have to refuel once more before I returned the car.
I took the RENTAL CARS exit from the Autobahn off-ramp but didn't notice until it was too late that it was only for the rental cars to be returned to Terminal 1 (T1). The Polo was to be returned to T2. OOPS!
A little bit more excitement for the day. Weaving my way through the wrong rental agency terminals looking appropriately apologetic, I made it to the exit and found the temporary road leading to the rental car stations in Terminal 2. The car was signed back in at 13:20 following a fruitless search by rental company staff for new dents, scratches, etc, leaving me 2 hours to check in at the airline counter and to relax before the flight.
Fuel seems to be quite expensive in south-western Germany, relative
to prices elsewhere in Germany.
I slurped the last of my drinks while I crunched the numbers for the
fillups on the way to the airport, including the final fuel stop
about 20 km shy of the airport; to ensure that the gauge would
indicate "full" when returning the car at the rental station.
It took 47.51 litres for a total of 745 km at
1.609 €/litre (about AUD$2.40) for an average fuel
consumption of 6.37 l/100km.
Not too shabby given that it was predominately fast Autobahn driving.
There are a number of German web sites such as Tanke Günstig and Clever Tanken where you enter e.g. a postcode or the town, select the fuel type and search radius to look for the best prices. If you have the time and a fair Internet connection before departure, you can plan to save some money on fuel along the route. For the last fill, for example, I could have saved at most about €7 overall in fuel costs, if I'd not had to go too far off the planned route to take advantage of a lower price. A big if.
If one has a co-driver and mobile Internet, it might be worth the trouble and help to ward of co-driver boredom to try to go through the exercise of watching for the cheapest servo's near the Autobahn where one is travelling.
One can rent diesel cars but the initial rental is more expensive; about AUD$6/day on classes of cars where diesel is an option. But it's usually not an option on cars on Polo size. Even if a diesel-engined Polo had been available, it's unlikely that the fuel cost savings would have outweighed the additional rental costs. If one plans to drive long distances; averaging well over 100 per day with a couple of people and their luggage in the car, then a diesel option may begin pay for itself; keeping in mind that diesel fuel is at least 10 euro-cents per litre cheaper than the cheapest grade of petrol in most of Germany and that the smaller cars typically use at least 1 litre less diesel fuel per 100 km than their petrol-equivalent.
Some basic algebra can be applied to figure out which option will work out best for the circumstances. If you skipped algebra in school, then you might be paying the price.
The car might be big enough for three adults on a short trip of perhaps a week or perhaps 2 weeks in the height of summer, where not a lot is packed. There are various options for larger cars which are incrementally not much more expensive; a few dollars per day. Such extra cost (hopefully) buys more comfort and convenience through more interior space; which can be at a premium towards the end of a long day on the road.