Whew, that was a great time with them (and are so glad they came to visit!), but we’d like to think of this as a learning experience as well.
Here are the things we’ve learned. Comments are of course as always, very welcome.
Don’t drive in Italian cities.
Actually, that’s also valid for Austrian and European cities in general. Especially not with a rented SUV (great for luggage-hauling, not so good for parking). That could have saved us *so* much hassle. Our frustration was compounded by the less-than-optimal weather and other factors (keep reading), but not driving in downtown Verona would have saved us all (not just me, the driver) a lot of *angst*.
Print maps of everything — cross-check directions written by your host with all available sources (city maps, online mapping services, etc.).
Most importantly: never rely on the navigational device in your car alone. Our first rental car candidate only have mapping software for Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland installed. Not a lot of help for Austria and Italy. We didn’t discover this until after having left the rental car office. Our second rental car (which we ended up keeping for the duration of the trip) had many many more countries installed, including Austria and Italy, but only the major roads through them. We really needed specifics for downtown Innsbruck and the industrial area where our B&B was located, and our navi made only routes on the major roads available to us. That probably would have been enough for us, but had we known that our software was not going to be able to direct us around downtown Innsbruck, it would have saved us many stressful minutes wrestling with the software through the stereo.
Verify proximity and accessibility of the accomodations with relation to the attractions.
We loved our B&B and its host, but it was far from ideally situated for a short drive to the city of Verona or the shores of Lake Garda. Note well: this was our failure, not his. We should have paid more attention to location while choosing a B&B.
Traveling during Oktoberfest? Great — please fly in via Nuremberg or let’s arrange a car rental or shuttle service to pick you up.
We should have learned this a couple of years ago when Narg and Sam visited, but we must have forgotten what an utter *pain* it is to travel with loud, enthusiastic Oktoberfesters on the train with luggage. A Nuremberg arrival and departure is probably one of the easiest and cheapest ways to mitigate that problem. Plus, you don’t have to screw around with the bus from the Freising train station — the U-bahn stop at the Nuremberg airport makes for smoother travel to/from Regensburg.
United Airlines — is there anyone any worse than them?
As documented here, Brian and Mikey arrived safely, but in a state of irritation not fitting for the start of a European Extravaganza — the blame lies squarely on United Airlines. Air France was (according to them) much better, but their luggage still managed to get lost in the shuffle somewhere along the way. Amazingly, it was waiting for us when we arrived at the B&B in Italy (we were all shocked). Sarah and I are both pretty sure that we are not going to do any airport runs to pick you up if United Airlines is involved in your itinerary until we know for sure that you’ve landed in a nearby airport. We don’t care about your miles. We care about waiting around at airports all day when we could be doing… oh, I don’t know, pretty much anything else. Again, we’re not peeved at Brian and Mikey about this (we should have learned from our own crappy experiences with UA); we’re chalking it up to a learning experience.
Try not to front-load the trip.
More or less as soon as Brian and Mikey got here, they pretty much had to pack up their newly-bought clothes (thanks Air France) and resume their travels as we drove to Innsbruck. It would have been preferable to allow them a day of rest after all of that airport drama. Our itinerary for this trip was partially dictated by meetings at work I needed to attend (and the invitations to which I’d already accepted before we started planning our guests’ trip with them in earnest), but if we had to do it over again, I think a day of rest here in Regensburg would have been good prior to shoving off on the road trip part of the vacation for them.
Avoid the restaurants on the main tourist drag.
Now matter how tired, wet, hungry, or frustrated you feel, avoid the restaurants on the main drag. For Verona, that means pretty much anything under one of these awnings. Read our thoughts on one of these places and learn and save yourselves the anger. Please.
Where possible, plan your stops on the road trip portion.
We were going for flexibility, and not having driven through Austria before, we weren’t sure what to expect, so we didn’t structure our route very much. We stopped when nature called us to do so (which worked out great at the Gasthof Humler Hof along the Brenner Pass), and that worked out just fine I guess, but maybe there were more things we could have done along the way.
If you only have one driver, make sure he gets a chance to rest the day after the longest leg of the roadtrip.
We only had one driver — me (this was self-imposed in the interest of saving on rental car costs, so I’m certainly not complaining to/about my car-mates). The reason our return trip was the longest leg was that I had to get back to Regensburg for the afore-mentioned meetings the very next day after our return. The road trip plus the all-day meeting the next day just wore me out, and I desperately needed a nap the day after that. I was disappointed by that (and so was Sarah, I think) because I wanted to be spending time with our pals Brian and Mikey, showing them around Regensburg and the like. But I just couldn’t keep my eyes open come Thursday afternoon. So if your driver has put in ≥ 6 hours behind the wheel on the trip, make sure to give him a chance to catch up on sleep. Incidentally, if you’re wondering, I found Italian and Austrian highway driving to be very comfortable and generally agreeable — much like German highway driving, but slower (*je je je*). It’s just the European town driving that makes me tear my hair out.
So there you have it. We are both so pleased that Mikey and Brian came to visit, but this trip reminded us that though we live here now, we are far from native in terms of our comfort zones and navigational prowess. Thanks and sorry, guys.