It took only fifty-five minutes to fly the short distance and land at Kahlrsrue-Baden Airpark at nine-thirty in the evening and after quickly clearing immigration and customs we were soon at the Hertz desk to pick up our hire car. Following our snow experience last year and the protracted and painful debate about winter tyres, this year I had ordered them in advance so without a discussion with the clerk on duty about whether these were really necessary, on this occasion I just paid the exorbitant additional charge of €55 and very quickly we had taken possession of a royal blue Ford Fiesta and the car hire company winter tyres sting was complete.
I say ‘sting’ because this is an additional charge trick that Ryanair themselves would be proud of because at €13.45 a day I calculate that if they are on the car for a third of the year that is an extra €1,600 or €400 a tyre and I cannot believe that they can be that much more expensive than a regular tyre. And of course they are not because I have checked and they can be bought for as little as €40 each. The reason that this year I had given in so easily was that last year we experienced four days of blizzard conditions, sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall.
Since May 2006 German motorists have been required by law to use the most appropriate tyres for the weather conditions and that driving on snow covered roads is permitted only if a car is equipped with winter tyres. Motorists are obliged to make sure they have correct tyres to suit the winter weather conditions because if a vehicle becomes stuck because the tyres are unsuitable drivers are liable to an on the spot fine, and further more if the vehicle causes an obstruction or aggravation to other traffic, the fine may be doubled.
Winter tyres use a tread rubber compound and block pattern specifically designed to retain flexibility in low temperatures and give good braking and traction performance on snow and ice covered roads so I thought it would be a good idea to have them fitted again this time.
Unfortunately we had no real need of the winter tyres tonight because the roads were dry and the temperature was hovering around 5º centigrade so there was no danger of sliding on ice of running into snow drifts.
Driving to the Rammersweier Hoff hotel on the outskirts of the city of Offenburg should have been really straight-forward, after all we had been there before so should have known the way, but additionally on this occasion we had the support of a Nuvi-Garmin satnav so we were confident that we could be there and in the bar with a jug of wine and a glass of cold Pils lager easily within an hour.
Things went well at first and we followed the instructions of the lady navigator and although I had lost all sense of direction in the dark I had no reason to suspect that there was trouble ahead. This came when we reached the entrance to the A5 motorway and it was closed with two large no entry signs that really couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. Still taking instructions from the little black box I foolishly ignored these and drove through only to find that I had put us in a dangerous situation going the wrong way against oncoming traffic. I quickly turned the car around and the lady became confused.
I followed the diversion sign and clearly she must have wondered what on earth I was doing and kept trying to persuade me to turn around and return to the closed motorway junction. After fifteen minutes we were in a real tangle, going around in circle, becoming more and more confused and completely unaware of where we are. We found ourselves lost on the back roads driving through small villages and searching for clues from the occasional unhelpful road signs and ignoring the instructions to turn around and go back. Even the traditional paper map didn’t help because although Kim has improved recently as a navigator she was off duty tonight so we just had to keep going and trusting in our natural sense of direction.
Eventually, after several detours and a heated argument with the satnav lady, we reached the motorway and then the right exit and then after only one more mistaken wrong turning which we quickly corrected found the Rammersweier Hoff hotel without any difficulty at all. It was nearly eleven o’clock and the forty-kilometre journey had taken us nearly two hours! Fortunately the bar was still open so after inspecting our room and throwing down the bags we were able to unwind for an hour with that jug of wine and a couple of German lagers.