November 8, 2014
On our 6th day of our Euro trip, we rented a car and took our adventure on the road! We rented a car via Hertz from CDG airport. We were originally suppose to leave the hotel at 6:00am to pick up the car by 7:00am but we decided to sleep in and didn’t pick up the car until 7:00am and left the Hertz lot around 8:30am.
Originally when we booked our car reservation, we had chosen a compact car. Upon arrival they had told us we were getting a Fiat! I was so excited because prior to the trip I had really wanted to get a Fiat as a daily driver but Anthony wasn’t too keen on the idea stating it was too small, not practical and yada yada. Anyway so after I found out about the Fiat, I asked him which model it was. To my surprise it was an old Fiat probably from the late 1990’s to the early 2000’s….He said if we wanted to upgrade for $100USD we could get a new Fiat. I declined since I’m cheap and wanted to save money….We should have though.
Since I planned most of our trip itinerary, I asked Anthony if there was anything he wanted to do or see. After researching he chose to visit a famous race track in Francorchamps, Belgium called Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. From the airport it was a drive that took about 4 hours. The drive itself was fairly scenic. We got to see the countryside of France & Belgium. As we got into Belgium and approached the first sign for Spa & Francorchamps we got a little lost because the direction signs stopped appearing. Stopping by in a little town of what I think was Spa to get gas, we asked the cashier for directions. He wasn’t sure where Circuit de Spa Francorchamps was so after stocking up on drinks, snacks and petrol we were back on the road. At the roundabout where we had turned in to the gas station there was a sign that said Spa-Francorchamps. We followed the town and drove through a cute little town via a very windy road. There was not a single soul on the road or walking around so we got nervous. The road kept winding and winding and winding and winding and….after going through the last turn WE FINALLY SAW THE ENTRANCE! There was still no sign of civilization though.
We drove into the entrance and once through we came across a huge parking lot for visitors and attendees and a ticket booth that had the parking barrier up. The lot was completely empty except for our 1997 Fiat. Still nervous about being in a ghost town we parked the car and started to think. Prior to the trip we had been in contact with the manager of the track who gave us permission to stop by. We signed up for a tour of the track and also asked about any events going on the day we arrived. He told us about 1 racing event. Why wasn’t anyone there when we arrived? No spectators, no cars, nothing!
We drove back to the entrance and stopped by the official Spa-Fran office to see if we could talk to someone. Of course the office was CLOSED. We did not just drive 4 hours from France to Belgium, through a windy road to lead us to nothing. We went back through the entrance to the parking lot and drove up to the ticket booth. Not realizing the first time we went here there was actually someone manning the booth! He told us to park and walk which we didn’t really understand but followed orders. We went through a dark and shady looking tunnel, up the hill and looked out at the track. Still nothing.
No cars or people. We continued to hike up the hill and saw a sign for a restaurant. Heading up toward the restaurant we looked out again at the track and it was silent. Still confused we stood there looking at each other thinking how unbelievable this was. Finally, we heard a car engine going brrrrrr-brrrr-brrrrrrr on the track, followed by 1-2-3-4-5-6 more race cars! We kept walking toward the restaurant and ended up going through the pits and car garages. We saw people fixing up their cars, wearing race suits, holding helmets and watching people drive the track.
We stopped to talk to the race marshall and he had said there were no public events going on. Only a private practice race. He was so kind to let us stick around, go into the pits, take pictures and talk to the racers. Anthony was in heaven the entire time we were there. I let him do his thing and was patient. We had fun taking video footage, photos, admiring the beautiful cars and spectating while in Belgium!
It was surreal being on the same track where racing legend Ayrton Senna once raced! He is one of many legends who raced at Spa-Francorchamps so I can see why Anthony wanted to visit so bad.
After spending a good 3-4 hours here, we decided it was time to head out. It was getting chilly and it started to sprinkle a little. With a 4 hour drive ahead of us to go back to Paris we didn’t want to leave too late. We got back into our old school Fiat and we were back on the freeway. Deciding to live life on the edge a little, Anthony decided we could still stop by Lille on the way back. That morning we had planned to make a stop in Lille but decided to leave it as a tentative plan depending on time & weather. It was only 3-ish when we left Spa-Fran.
After about 1.5 hours on the road headed toward Lille, it started to get gray with thick clouds. It rained. Then it poured. Then there was thunder. People on the road were driving at the speed limit under these terrible conditions and the car was shaking from the rain/thunder and wind. It felt unstable and pour Anthony was on alert the entire time. Wanting to turn back we decided we would have to pass on Lille even though we had gone too far to turn back. It took awhile to find an exit (they were miles and miles apart) and when we finally did there was nowhere to go and ask for directions. A little scared and nervous we went back on the Freeway to look for signs to Paris. We kept driving and luckily we were somehow able to find our way in the right direction half an hour later. 4 more hours on top of the 2 hours we were already on the road and we were back at CDG!
We had wanted to get rid of our old Fiat once and for all. After passing out during the car ride back, Anthony had told me how difficult it was to drive in a car not so sturdy under harsh conditions and with crazy drivers on the road. What relief after we returned the car to Hertz. We vowed to never rent a car in France again.
We will never forget this day or the model of the Fiat we rented. The track was one of the nicest ones I’ve seen and the drivers and people there were so incredibly friendly. Will I ever rent a car to go back to Spa-Francorchamps? Who knows….I am marrying a car enthusiast in September so who knows if we will end up here again. What I do know is that after this trip, Anthony has compiled a list of famous tracks he would like to hit up if we are ever in the same or neighboring country. Oh lucky me! 😉 JK. I enjoy going to these tracks and it’s nice that we can do it together. Until next time Belgium!
One last item to note: we shouldn’t have cheaped out and upgraded to the newer Fiat. No wonder he offered us the chance to get the newer car….You live and learn.