Its not everyday you get a phone call asking you to pick clients up in AUSTRIA!
Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, a day like any other day in the world of A52 Executive cars. I had a few local East Midlands Airport Chauffeur runs in and a Birmingham Airport that afternoon for a regular business traveller but after that i had a few days clear. It wasn’t as busy as usual but it was nice relaxing at home with the family for once.
It was about 10am that morning when i had a phone call from a colleague who I work closely with, Kev at Posh Cars in Long Eaton.
“Are you sitting down?” he asked “You know you said you were’t busy over the next few days”, “err yess” i replied cautiously; “Well how do you fancy driving to Austria to pick up some clients of mine?”
Obviosuly i thought he was joking, but it transpired he wasn’t! Apparently he had a couple of clients stranded in Kitzbuhel, Austria who need driving back to Chilwell. Kev didn’t feel he was up to driving that distance and knew i was confident with driving in Europe as i had done it several times on family holidays. We discussed price and let the clients in Austria know the cost, obviously thinking that would be the last we would hear of it. An hour later kev called again in shock
“THEY WANT IT! The clients are happy with the price and will leave it you to sort out when you will pick them up”
I had already had a quick look at the route and the time it would take so we decided to tell the clients I would pick them up on the morning of Thursday, July 4th.
And so the planning of a Chauffeur drive of a lifetime began. 950 miles, 15 hours and 6 countries … and back, in just over 2 days.
First things first, I phoned my insurance company up to make sure i was legal to drive for hire and reward on the continent, thankfully i was otherwise the plan would have been dead and buried before i began.
Next on the list was to book a hotel in Kitzbuhel for the following night. Thanks to wonders of the internet i was able to do that easily and cheaply. All the hotels in the area were in the style of a typical Alpine picture postcard and i settled on the Hotel Resch on the outskirts of the town. It was cheap enough, had breakfast included and beautiful views of the hills.
I then turned my attention to how i was going to get across that bit of water that separates the UK from France. After much deliberation, taking into account, ease, cost and time, it was decided that the Ferry from Calais would be the best option. The Channel Tunnel would have been quicker and slightly easier but gave no movement in your booking so you had to make the train you were booked on otherwise you would have to pay again. The sealink ferry on the other hand allowed a 3 hour window so if you arrived at the port early or late you could simply get on the next available ferry. I also thought it would be beneficial to have a little time away from the car where i could have a nap, get a meal or stretch my legs.
Finally, after a quick jaunt to asda to get a few Euros in case they were needed, I sorted out the few jobs I had in over the next couple of days with my drivers and went back to bed!
Let the Journey Commence
I woke up 22:00, had a hearty meal, loaded my luggage into the car and left Spondon, Derby at midnight on the 2nd July with the aim of getting the 04:20am ferry from Dover to Calais. Miracoulously i encountered no road closures or serious hold ups on the journey down the M1, M25 and M20 and got to Dover an hour earlier than i was expecting. Fortunately i got bumped onto the earlier ferry so by 3:30am i was sitting on board “The Spirit of Calais” excitedly awaiting the long drive ahead. The crossing took 90 minutes or so and i think i managed about 15 minutes sleep in between browsing the awful duty free shop and drinking over priced coffee. The crossing was nice and calm though so that was a bonus.
By 6am (French time) i was driving off the ferry and getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunatly its quite simple as you are taken straight onto the motorway system from the ferry so there is no chance of going around a round-a-bout the wrong way or ending up driving where you shouldn’t.
I had planned to spend the day driving slowly south through Europe avoiding the French Toll Roads and scooting through Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany before making my way into Austria. It wasn’t the price of the tolls that bothered me, more that the road system through Northern Belgium and Luxemburg was beautiful. Rolling roads through alpine forests and valleys seemed very appealing at 6am in the morning. I just hadn’t realised that to get to them i would be driving the outskirts of Brussels at rush hour! One thing that the French toll roads do help you avoid is traffic and I should have really factored that into my planning. At times I thought I was back on the M25 it was that busy.
By late morning I had made it through Belgium and into Luxemburg where I stopped to fill up with fuel and get a bite to eat. I think its safe to say that Luxemburg has the cheapest fuel in Europe, even on the motorways it was less than a euro a litre. Other than that there isn’t a lot to say about the small principality, or certainly not a lot to say about the parts of it I saw today. I have visited in the past, and the capital, Luxemburg City is well worth your time if you ever get the chance to visit it.
With Luxemburg out of the way it only left Germany and Austria to go. I was looking forward to driving these road as one, I’ve never driven in either country before, and two, Its Germany isn’t it, the Autobahn is legendary!
The autobahn is also SCARY !! – It doesn’t matter what speed you are going there is always somebody who wants to pass you and its usually a beaten up Opel that has no rights to be going the speed it is.
At one point, I was driving along, minding my own business when I spied a Porsche Cabriolet in my rear view mirror flashing his lights madly and making gestures with his arms that obviously mean something in German! I looked down at my speedo and i was doing a rather reasonable 150kmh ! I moved over and he passed me with ease and before you could say “Nice mullet and ‘tashe mate” he was a mere speck in the distance.
The other thing they don’t tell you about German roads is that they are full of roadworks, miles and miles of them with stationary traffic to match. Overall I would estimate the Roadworks around Stuttgart and Munich added at least three hours to my journey time. Having said that, the beautiful countryside and some of the mad architecture I could see from the roads made up for the traffic and driving right past the Allianz Arena (Bayern Munichs football ground) was quite cool. In Germany I drove down high-speed Autobahns, over huge viaducts, through towns that looked like the filming location for the 1970’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and alongside beautiful rivers.
It was definitely a drive worth experiencing and i’ll return at some point in the future when i have a little more than a few hours to see it all.
Austria – WOW – that’s all their really is to say. If you take your thoughts of what you imagine Austria to be like then its pretty much spot on. Winding alpine roads through pine forests and mountains, Cows grazing in field with bells around their necks, Heidi (yes i know she was Swiss but it’s very similar lol), Ski Chalets, Bavarian style hostelries and lederhosen. I know i’m going down the path of cliches but the bit of Austria I saw really was picture postcard perfect.
First port of call in Austria was to stop and buy an Austrian Road Tax Vignette. It’s only €9 for 10 days but if you get caught without one its an on the spot fine of €120. I’m glad I made the stop to get one as the following day on the return the Police were stopping vehicles to check!
The next 25 miles or so were motorway then it was off onto the local roads to begin the drive up to Kitzbuhel. This was my favourite part of the whole 950 miles, small winding roads through forests and small villages. It was a beautiful drive as the sun started to set and I can only imagine that the beauty is increased tenfold once the snow of winter has fallen.
I finally arrived at my hotel for the night in Kitzbuhel at 19:00. After checking in and having a quick refresh I headed out to the town to get some food. Kitzbuhel is definitely geared towards winter past times but in the height of summer its full of tourists who come to do hill walking or watersports on the local lake. The town was buzzing with people and despite their being a great choice of restaurants and depsite the fact I really fancied a huge steak I settled for a burger followed by a couple of large gins followed by an early night, after all, I had to do the whole journey in reverse the following day!
Blighty Bound. The return journey starts with clients onboard
The following morning, Thursday, 4th July i think (i’d lost all notion of time by this point), I woke as fresh as a daisy. After a lovely continetal breakfast at the hotel, I had a quick scout around Kitzbuhel to find a car wash and then headed to the Alpen Hotel where my passengers were waiting. It was only a short drive, past the lake and down a lovely tree lined driveway. My clients were ready and waiting and after a quick introduction, we were back on the road by just gone 9am.
So then, what kind of person books a chauffeur to drive from Derby to Austria to take them home? As it happens they were absolutely lovely and perfect travel companions for such a long journey. If truth be told, I had been dreading the drive back. On the journey to Austria Id been wearing jeans and a t-shirt, playing music loudly and singing badly, stopping when i wanted to and phoning the wife etc. For the return, I had to be on my best behaviour and be suited and booted. Its not the end of the world if you don’t hit it off with a client on a two and a half hour trip from Derby to Heathrow airport, 15 plus hours in a car with someone you dont click with is a different kettle of fish though.
It transpired that one of my passengers had suffered a huge anxiety attack whilst on holiday in Kitzbuhel which had set off a bout of claustrophobic type symptoms. We had previously suggested they took a train and we would pick them up in London, though having heard the reason why they wouldn’t get on a plane i can understand why the train wasn’t really an option.
The drive back was great, lots of chat and joking, lots of stories and gassing. My clients certainly had enough stories to write a book about their times and travels.
I had chosen to utilise France’s toll road system a litle more on the return journey but we still had to Navigate Germany first. The traffic was slightly better heading north but not a great deal and I hold my hands up, we took a wrong turning on a couple of occasions. We had plenty of drink, food and “stretch your legs” stops on the journey to Calais and my passengers were overjoyed with the comfort of the Mercedes S Class which allowed them to adjust and recline the individual rear seats exactly as they wanted and set their own individual air conditioning from the rear of the car.
Despite the payment of Tolls on the french roads we still encountered our fair share of hold-ups along the way. The Ferry was booked for 21:55 and it soon became evident we would miss it by minutes. We pulled into Calais port with half an hour to spare and then got hopelessly lost on the Ports roads which could have been disastrous had it not been for the fact our Ferry was delayed. We made it on board with minutes to spare and after a 12-hour drive we were finally approching the final leg of the journey. The drive from Dover back up to Chilwell went smoothly enough despite a few roadworks on the M20 and I finally dropped my happy clients at home at 2am on Friday 5th July, 16 hours after I had picked them up in Austria
So, would I do it again?
Yes, yes, YES!
It was tiring and expensive (just under £500 in expenses). It took me a good couple of days to get over it and catch up with sleep, which meant I gave a another couple of jobs away. At times on the drive down, whilst sat in stationary traffic I questioned my own sanity, but, by ‘eck, it was a great adventure!
If this kind of opportunity ever comes up again I think I would try and get a full days rest at the pickup location. It would have been great to have stayed a day, explored the area and generally relax a little more before the journey back but beggars can’t be choosers as they say.
Finally, Thanks to Kev at Posh Cars for trusting me to pick up his clients, and thanks to Mr & Mrs Straw for booking the job and giving me a great experience and an enjoyable drive back from Austria.