13 November 2012

A Rigid Itinerary

It's been a while since I've written here, and my big adventure is coming to an end.  In 2 weeks, I return to Toronto upon the conclusion of my visa. 

With my time in Europe (at least on this journey) coming to an end, I wanted to get to Amsterdam to visit friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in over 3 years, since the last time I was there.

So, I booked my train tickets and got ready for a weekend of friend-seeing in Amsterdam.  Except I did a bone-headed thing and mistook my departure date when I booked the (non-refundable) tickets.  Only realizing this fact after the train had left without me on Thursday, I scrambled to find another way to get to Amsterdam on Friday. 

Thanks to the mitfahrgelegenheit.de website, I found a guy who seemed decent that was heading to Amsterdam and only asking for 35 Euros for the trip.  He drives frequently to Holland for business and had been using mitfahrgelegenheit for about a year and a half.  Now, for the uninitiated, mitfahrgelegenheit literally means "drive-with opportunity" and is a common way for Germans to travel in between cities cheaper than going by rail or plane. 

On Friday morning, I met M.* at the rendez-vous point at the appointed time and we met in person.  I was told that we were waiting for a Polish girl and we'd be on our way.  Unfortunately (as we would discover), this wasn't to be our day, and Polish Girl couldn't be reached by phone, and apparently, her boyfriend wasn't much help when he was reached either.  After thirty minutes, we left without her and proceeded out of town.  M. made a bone-head move of his own and took the wrong direction on the ring around the city and ended up heading south towards Munich instead of west.  After about 30 km or so, he realized this, and got off the Autobahn, turned around and burned rubber like hell to make up the lost time.

Now, I've been driven on German Autobahns.  They say that there's no speed limit, and that's true in some sense.  In some areas, there are indeed speed limits, and where there aren't, they recommend driving at 130km/h.  Well, M. (driving a nice Mercedes C class) was not interested in "recommended" speed limits and drove, at some points, as fast as 220 km/h.  Strangely, it honestly didn't seem that fast, given that people were driving very fast around us. 

Finally, we got on the right highway and M. kept booking along at high speeds wherever possible as we bolted for the Dutch border.  As we reached and crossed the border, M. noticed that a police car had pulled in front of us, turned on it's flashing light and had a "Police - Follow" sign in the rear window.  M. followed and pulled off the highway to a stop.

The two cops came out and asked for our IDs and asked why we were going to the Netherlands.  Apparently, it seemed like a random stop of travelers over the border.  They ran our names through their computer and apparently, there was a problem.  As I mentioned, there were 2 officers, one was Dutch and one was German.  Originally, they seemed very nice and calm, but the German guy came over to the driver's window and began to speak very forcefully. 

Basically, he told M. that he had outstanding speeding tickets in the Netherlands and he had to pay.  M. didn't have the money.  They asked if I did.  I controlled my urge to burst out laughing.  If M. couldn't pay, they had to lead us to the police station and figure out a way to pay.  We followed.

First of all, I have to say that M. was very adamant that they shouldn't be asking me for any money.  He could have tried to stick me with the bill, but he was definitely not trying to screw me over.  When we reached the station in Enschede, they sat us down (they still had our IDs, including my passport) and brought out the paperwork.  M. owed 616.90 Euros for 13 outstanding speeding tickets dating back to 2008.  Apparently, the system is much like photo radar -- they have officers taking photos or radar readings and chalking the bill up to the license plate of the car.  The driver isn't stopped.  The Dutch officer read off dates and by how much M. had been caught speeding by 4, 5, 7, 9 km/h over the speed limit.  Hardly what I could have told them about how fast he was driving in Germany!  Basically, he was caught speeding and fined, without being pulled over, for exceeding the speed limit by amounts that wouldn't even cause a cop in Ontario to put down his cup of Timmy's.

Unfortunately for M., he just didn't have the money and had to figure out a way to get it by 8pm or else they would tow the car (another 230 Euros) and because it was Friday, it would be impounded until Monday, costing him an additional 60 Euros.  Eventually, he got a hold of his son, who lived in Western Germany, and would have the money in 2 hours. 

I spoke to the officer, got my passport back and asked them to call a cab for me.  I ended up cabbing it into town, getting on a train for Amsterdam and finally reaching my friend's apartment at about 9:30pm (after leaving at 9:30am to get to the rendez-vous with M.).

It was a long and weird day.


* As you'll see if you keep reading, I think that it's wise that I decided to not reveal my driver's name. 

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