Day 1

Monday, 17 August 2015
Start: Luxembourg (L) 15:00
Arrival: Unna (D) 20:30
Total: 410 km

That Monday, I had to work until 3 PM, so my sister came to pick me up at my workplace and we set out for our great Northern adventure. We had two weeks and 8000 kilometers in front of us, and were looking forward to every moment of it.
We decided to start it slow and easy. Some hundred kilometers into Germany, we made a little detour to visit a favourite fast-food restaurant of ours, which had become a tradition for us on the road to Berlin. Bellies filled, we headed due north, towards the motorway that would bring us into the Ruhr.
Unfortunately, our "slow and easy" approach was not appreciated by the local police. Near Rennerod, a bright flash nearly blinded me. A speed camera had caught me ... speeding. Oh, so I was supposed to be doing no more than 50 here? Strange, I was sure the sign had said 70, and I was barely going faster than that. Two weeks later, back home, I would find out that the speed limit had indeed been 70 and that, apparently, I had been doing about 80. A bit picky, aren't they? In any case, it had not seemed that fast to me. But we paid the 20 euro fine and filed the speeding ticket under "souvenirs". The powers that be had even sent a grainy black-and-white picture of me looking silly behind the wheel. What more can you ask for 20 euros?
But back to our first day on the road. It took longer than expected to reach the motorway. But finally there it was, almost within our reach. I say almost, because the road leading up to the entrance was blocked by a road block. There seemed to have been some accident and a helpful officer informed us that the section should open again in half an hour or so. Alternatively, we could find our way through the little villages to the next entrance ramp a few kilometers south. Anything was better than waiting, so we turned around and headed in the direction he had indicated.
Fifteen minutes later, we were finally on the as-fast-as-your-car-goes Autobahn. I put my foot down, not metaphorically, but quite physically. In one hour, we would be relaxing in our hotel just north of the Ruhr. But the God of Thunder, or whoever holds the reins up there, had other plans. A little drizzle soon turned into a full-fledged downpour. The wind rattled our car about and the windshield wipers hopelessly lost their battle against the rain. All the cars slowed down to a crawl, then to a halt. As we slowly edged on, the reason for the gridlock became apparent: a car was standing in the left lane, with its front turned to us. Had it completely turned around, sliding on the water? I felt sorry for the driver who was standing at the side, soaking wet but otherwise unharmed. As we speeded up again, we recalled the events of the last few hours: a speed camera, a road block and a traffic jam. And all this on our first 300 kilometers! Were we even meant to ever reach the Barents Sea? [... Spoiler alert: we were. :) ]
With the last rays of daylight, we reached our hotel in Unna. I hate driving after nightfall, so I was very happy that we had made it in time. We quickly freshened up and headed down to the bar for a nightcap (the non-alcoholic version). It was very quiet in the hotel lobby, and the waitress took her sweet time to return with our hot chocolates. After about 20 minutes and three crossword puzzles (what better way to settle down after a stressful day), she returned to our table, saying that it would take some more time as the coffee machine was just being cleaned. Thinking it an odd time to clean a coffee machine, we nevertheless were happy to assure her that we were tourists on the first day of our holidays and not at all in a hurry.
Twenty minutes later, the brew finally arrived. Suspicious, I took a tiny sip. Did this taste of detergent? No, it didn't. It tasted of water, a tiny bit of fat foam and lots and lots of sugar. Oh, and there seemed to be the odd molecule of cacao aroma in it, too. Longingly thinking back to the wonderful, thick creamy hot cacao that you get in the tiniest roadside café on the Balkans, we sipped about half of the beverage and then called it a night.
But not before carefully placing a book that we had brought on the table. Sonia and I are avid readers and members of the Bookcrossing movement. We take the books that we probably won't read again with us on our travels and set them out in the wild, or in this case, in the café lounge. A large note on the book cover tells the finder that they are welcome to take the book with them, read it and set it out again. So we left the book and paid for the sugarwater. The bill was slightly higher than what was stated on the menu card, but hey, we were on holiday and wouldn't argue about a few cents. Besides, the waitress didn't seem too bright, but not really mean either.
Then we headed up to our room. Halfway up, the waitress called after us. Had she noticed that she had charged us too much? No, there she stood, waving our book with the large letters "Take it, we don't want it anymore" (or words to that effect) at us. She meant well, and we were too tired to explain the bookcrossing concept to her, so we took the book back, said our thanks, and ran for our beds. Enough adventure for the first day!


Day 2