|The steepness of Engelberg|
The first road that I can remember vividly is the road up the mountainside to Engelberg, Switzerland. This sleepy town of under 4,000 permanent residents is in the center of Switzerland; it is known for being a plush town with abundant ski resorts for the wealthy. To me, it was a typical European fairy-tale oasis tucked into the mountainside littered with small flowers and green grass (I expected Maria from the Sound of Music to come skipping out at any time). However, when my family and I were driving up the road to get there, it was gray outside and downright alarming. We were just one mistaken turn away from plummeting thousands of feet down the side of a mountain (the guardrails were very scant). I visited Switzerland in July of 2007 (I was 10 years old) because we have family friends that actually live on a mountain in Engelberg. During this trip, my family and I were lucky enough to travel to England, Germany, France, and Austria as well. Here is an excerpt from a journal entry my 10 year old self wrote while driving in Switzerland: “We are so high up that we are in the clouds. Going up the roads is scary! We’ve only seen five living people so far….we had to pay 30 euros to come here!”
The second memorable (I mean downright terrifying) road I have traveled on was the miniscule one leading to Lake Como, a lakeside town on the border between Italy and Switzerland. My father drives on all trips in Europe because he lived in England for around twenty years and is accustomed to small, narrow roads. This one was particularly inconvenient because it was plainly meant for one car (or in older days, for horse and buggies). I felt like I was transported to a pre-WWI Italy in which all roads are cobblestoned and claustrophobic because the buildings are literally right on the road. There is no separation between edifice and street, not even a measly sidewalk. Although most of the Italians zooming by us were riding laughable yet efficient scooters, our rental car was rather large (we had four people plus luggage for two weeks). To make matters worse, many tour buses were barreling their way down to Lake Como and taking up the whole road for themselves. To this day, I am still surprised that we did not crash or at least scratch the gray car. The kicker is that the roads were so slim and treacherous that we decided to turn back around towards Italy. Braving the death-trap thoroughfares once more, the four of us left Lake Como and drove the sketchy stick shift to another town in Switzerland: Lugano. This beautiful town, equipped with an azure lake and McDonalds, was picturesque and tucked away into the mountains as well. Because I am American, I stopped by McDonalds to consume a Big Mac, but unfortunately, it was around $18 (Switzerland is extremely expensive. I looked online and many houses were around $4 million). I was in this part of Switzerland in 2011; on this trip, I traveled to Italy, the Vatican, and England as well.
Finally, the most stunning and potentially dangerous road that my tiny rental car has ever driven on was the dirt path hugging the French Riviera and the coast of Spain. I traversed this serpentine road in July of 2013 with my parents and sister; this vacation, we explored Spain, London, and a tiny strip of the beautiful Cote d’Azur (French Riviera). We were originally planning on driving to Andorra, a miniature country with extremely wealthy inhabitants situated on the border between Spain and France. However, we only had time to drive up and down the French coast because our apartment in Barcelona was waiting for us. This coast was absolutely breathtaking because (1) we were looking at the bluest waters of the Mediterranean Sea on one side, and (2) we drunk in the view of perfect vineyards loaded bruised-purple grapes on the other side. I have never seen anything like it before (except maybe the vineyards in Germany), and I will certainly not forget the little road-side bakeries with succulent chocolate croissants and small wineries that offered wine made ten feet away. The road that unfurled up the coast and back down was dodgy because it was extremely narrow and twisting. On one side, overhanging cliffs dotted with precarious rocks threatened to rain down on the car, and on the other side, the tan cliffs plummeted down to the Mediterranean Sea with razor sharp rocks on the shoreline. Although from a safety perspective it was a lose-lose situation, from a travel and wanderlust perspective, it was pure bliss.
I like to think that I have traveled the most thrilling and exotic of roads, but in reality, most of Europe has tiny, cramped ones that were built during the 18th and 19th centuries. These relics of time past weren’t made for loud, automatic SUV’s or completely irrational four wheelers. These cobblestoned gems were made for walking, horses, and wagons. I love small and treacherous roads because they are a throwback in time and a welcome change from the wide, seven lane highways in America with cars taller than houses. They are enchanting and wonderful, even though they scream DANGER.