It’s almost 10pm when Andrea and I stop at a Penny supermarket a little off the German autobahn somewhere around Frankfurt. We’ve been driving the entire afternoon after meeting at the infamous Liège train station, where Andrea managed to free some space in the passenger seat of her chock-full Renault Twingo. Andrea is Italian, and driving back home to Bologna with a car filled with 5 years worth of memories from the Netherlands. She’s quit her corporate job to follow her dream to become a yoga instructor and climbing guide in Vietnam, and I’ve quit my job to travel to Iran over land and to the rest of the world afterwards. Despite having just met the hours passed quickly, both of us talking animatedly about the various reasons and motivations to follow our hearts to the other side of the world, and we slowly got to know one another better while cruising through the north of Germany. She’s got to drop off all her stuff at home in Italy before catching a flight to Hanoi, and I need a ride in the same direction. Now we’re picnicking in the obscure parking lot of a rainy Penny market somewhere in Germany. Baguettes, cheese, a tomato and some vegan salad she likes. A dinner of champions. Or that’s how it feels. The most difficult part, leaving, is behind us.
The next evening we arrive at Selva di Val Gardena, a tiny skiing village in the beautiful Dolomites mountains just across the Italian border. We’ve driven the whole day after wild camping somewhere in the woods around Stuttgart. The night was cold and rainy, and although my loyal tent did the job I was happy when dawn came and I could get back in the car to continue on our way south. Andrea, who somehow managed to dig a hole in the pile of her worldly belongings in the back of the car to get some shuteye, shared my feelings. We put on the heating and hit the road again after a refreshing cup of coffee in a service station, singing along to the music on a USB stick that had been a going away gift from her former flatmate. Taking turns at the wheel the day had flown by. Sun in Munich, rain in Austria and a thick layer of fog on the Brenner pass. A late arrival at Selva, pizza in the local tavern and a nice conversation with an Israeli family on holiday there. Now we’re hosted by Hannes, a friend of a friend of Andrea who lives next to the ski lift in this beautiful little town. A beer at Hannes’ incredible house, an acro yoga initiation by Andrea, then a nice good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.
The next day we awake with the magnificent view of a nearby mountain, perfectly illuminated by the low-angled morning sun. Framed in the centre of the window, the scene looks like a painting, a masterpiece hung at exactly the right place to be the first thing we see after waking up and to motivate us to get out of bed and into the mountains. We want to do some hiking today, and Hannes decides to take the day off and guide us to the top of the very peak that is visible from the bedroom window. It is a great hike, across the typical Seiser Alm meadows and undulating landscape that characterises this region. All the way up we go, with a well deserved lunch of sausage and beer in the little cafe hut at the top. Then a descent through sudden fog, wind and the first snow of the season. Not a trace of the wolf that has been killing sheep over the past few weeks and is the talk of the town. I had anticipated to stay in the Dolomites for a week to do some more hiking and camping in these beautiful surroundings, but at night the mid-September temperatures are flirting with the freezing point already and I’m just not prepared for such a cold. After all I’m on my way south. Not very keen on running into the wolf either, to be honest. I decide to stick with Andrea a little longer. A nice shower and the paralysing indecision wether or not to continue to the Garda lake the same evening. We flip a coin. Tails, we go. Garda lake it is. Day 3 and my whole plan changes. And not for the last time.