Follow Sagar’s adventures as he hangs around the Netherlands in the days leading up to the Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge .

The trip to NL started getting eventful even before I boarded the flight. We reached Arlanda a bit later than I had expected, courtesy bus 40 not turning up, but once we had checked in, Simon suggested lunch at a good restaurant he knew in the airport premises. We ordered a ‘Burger tallrik’ at a steakhouse, settled down and started digging in before a cursory glance at the time led to the revealation that we had either 5 minutes to finish the food, or miss the flight (in which case we had indefinite time to eat). Simon is a magician in more ways than one and the way he made the food disappear was truly astonishing. In 4 minutes he had licked the entire plate clean, including the fries, salad and burger. Not me..I am a champion of the slow food movement and had wisely started with the advice an old buddy gave me, “When in a hurry, first finish the meat.” (Hey Fotis! 🙂) And I can declare with a certain satisfaction that I actually managed to eat most of the burger meat in those 4 minutes (sans the bread, of course). At 169 SEK, that was the costliest burger I have ever not eaten.

On board the flight, I was sandwiched between two elderly women.. a Swede to the left and a Dutch to the right. By a remarkable coincidence, it was the first flight for both of them and as the plane started accelerating down the runway, I felt each of my arms gripped in pincer like fingers as the scared ladies looked for support. Never underestimate the power of a frantic old woman. My attempt to enlighten the Dutch woman with, “You know, you are safer on a plane than a public street.” was met with an uncomprehending glare and a tighter grip on my arm. I swear if I roll up my shirt sleeves, I’ll see two matching sets of red-blue marks on each forearm.

Did I mention that I had suited up for the journey? With the possibility of formal dinners during the stay in NL, I had decided that wearing the suit was the more preferable alternative to rolling it up in my soft-luggage. So there I was, jacket, pants, tie, light blue shirt and the slight smirk I can’t avoid when wearing a suit. Well, the sartorial Gods can’t resist a good joke and I was the Chosen One for the day. “Chosen for what?” I should have asked, but rueing is an activity I can’t be bothered with. Anyway, the long and short of it was that as I was zipping up after the post-flight pee, the zipper actually broke off and came into my hands.. including that thing through which the two individual serrated edged pass. One long minute passed while I stared downwards in consternation, cursing under my breath while people looked at me in the, “These funny foreign guys” manner. But despite being a funny foreign guy, I decided not to walk around in a posh suit with my fly open. Fortunately, I had a pair of jeans but you don’t wear a suit jacket on top of that. This prompted a complete dressing transformation inside a toilet stall whose automatic flush operated every time I bent down.

The signboard showing departing trains had an interesting way of doing so. In most places around the world, if the destination is stated as ‘Eindhoven’, then it is reasonable to assume that the train goes to Eindhoven. But not so fast! What is that last column titled “Change at”. Turns out that the destination is Eindhoven but the train goes to Nijmegen and in order to go to Eindhoven, you need to change at Utrecht, which was mentioned under the “Change at” column. Well, everybody knows that foreigners have weird systems. That is why traveling is so much fun. It exposes you to foreign weirdness and thus broadens your mind..unless you are too narrow minded to allow that to happen.

So now, I am on the train to Eindhoven, from Utrecht. The next step is to find the car rental place which Jonas assures me is within 1km of Eindhoven train station. Just that he hasn’t mentioned along which direction, so in theory I have 360 options to choose from (assuming the degree is the least count here..)

–time passes as Sagar travels to Eindhoven–

So we eventually managed to find the right heading and reach Europcar’s rental office. There was a big van waiting for us and after some deliberation over whether my Indian driving license was valid or not, I was handed the keys. The rental office did not have a GPS, so we got some preliminary directions to the Hotel in Geldorp and set off..

The human brain is so amazing at following directions. “Go left as soon as you exit the parking.” was the first direction given to us. So as soon as we reached the exit, the following conversation naturally ensued:* “Did he say left?” “No, I think he said straight.” “I’m sure he said left.. ahh what the heck”* and we drove on straight. Needless to say, in a few minutes we were completely lost. When Simon brought down the roof and stuck his head out making comments like, *“The Sun is over there, so that must be West and we need to go East, so let’s take the next right turn” I decided to enable the roaming data services on my smartphone (costs be damned, the Boss will understand..) got a GPS fix, entered the address in Google maps and got a route that enabled us to reach the hotel. Of course, following a map is not an easy task and we had some scenic detours along the way. “Drive straight..” “Dude, the road goes either to the left or right.” “We need to find a way to go, look at the map.” Or, *“Right, go right” “Dude, the only turning is to the left.” “Ah yes, I was holding the phone upside down.”

After checking in at the Hotel, we drove down to TNO in Helmond and had a rather interesting experience on the way. I was waiting for a traffic light to go green, but the light seemed to have other thoughts and stubbornly stayed Red. A solid 5 minutes passed, the cursing started, and there were more than 10 cars queued up behind us. The damn light still refused to turn green. After staying in that situation for a few more minutes, we considered breaking through when the guy from the car behind us walked up and told us to move ahead a few centimeters. Turns out that there was a strip of paint just before the traffic light and unless a car came right up to it, the “intelligent” traffic light decided that there were no vehicles waiting and so stayed Red. Technology fail! I had to drive so close to it, that I couldn’t even see the traffic light through the windscreen anymore. Had to stick my neck out of the window to see if it had gone green. Of course, we got lost on the way to TNO too, and again had to resort to the GPS on the phone to guide us. Where would we be without technology? Lost! Literally as well as figuratively.

TNO VeHIL is a basically a huge warehouse like building. Its inside is probably bigger than a football field and we had a corner pit where we parked the truck. Tomorrow, morning work starts at 8am and we will put the truck through its preliminary checks and prepare for some of the initial qualification tests.