Stet by Ria Bacon

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Last exit for Italy

Last exit for Italy

Someone once wrote that war was composed of long periods of utter boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. That pretty much sums up my trip north from Rome to Friesland. The moments of terror came when an overloaded and swaying lorry suddenly swung out in front of me to overtake another slow-moving lorry. I can sympathize with the lorry drivers, however. I’d go stir crazy if I had to sit behind another lorry for hours at a time.

I hadn’t imagined my trip would be so boring. I had images of road trippin’ with Neal Cassady, Bird blasting from the dashboard. I guess the main reason was that I was doing it alone.

So by the time I’d hit Umbria, I was already yawning and wishing I was anywhere else but there.

Tuscany … ahhh, what can I say about dear Tuscany that hasn’t already been said? How about BORING BORING VERY VERY BORING. Florence? Ugly sprawl of warehouses and 70s apartment blocks.

I thought as a symbol of my blasé-ness and of the tedium of the scenery, I’d photograph road signs of the illustrious places I passed by. However, I was too bored for even that, so there are big gaps between Florence and Germany.

Road sign - FlorenceRoad sign - GenovaRoad sign - KarlsruheRoad sign - FrankfurtRoad sign - KolnRoad sign - Arnheim

I used to drive quite tensed on highways, never moving my head, gripping the wheel with both hands, in the textbook 10 to 2 position. Although in central Rome I drove with one hand always on the gear stick, ready to flick gears and zip into a crack in the gridlock. Roman drivers abhor free space in traffic.

Not long into this trip, I was slumped back, my right arm stretched across the back of the passenger seat and steering with two fingers and thumb loosely hooked round the wheel. My left foot was completely redundant, since I hardly ever needed to change gear. And not a single traffic light for most of the 1700 km.

I was happy to note that Padre Pio was still beating off the soft porn on Italian lorries (read previous post on Pio).
Just after Florence, I got caught in a torrential downpour and could barely see where I was going. Hell, I’ve driven in worse in West Africa. It’s best not to pull over in case you get washed away – just slow down and follow the white centre line.

Rain

Shortly after that, I was brought to a standstill for two and a half hours when a lorry carrying pallets overturned and caught fire. Commendable blitz spirit was shown by all. I finished the last of my water and wondered where I could pee.

Traffic jam

I didn’t have a map with me, and as the night was drawing in, I wanted to see how far I’d got. At a Modena service station (Tip: the best balsamic vinegar is from Modena), the only maps available were of Milan and Parma, the two nearest towns. Further proof that Italians don’t travel far. Unlike the Dutch, who formed a constant stream of caravans and campers heading north.

I spent the night just south of Milan, having done less than 500 km. The next day I did 1200 km, crossing four countries.

Switzerland, also boring

In Germany, I passed the time by playing word games with licence plates. German plates are the most generatively heuristic. Favourites were BOT FK 26 and FFS GO 54.

Thinking ahead to the end of the trip, I imagine I’ll have to be levered out of my seat with a pole, I feel bloated and pasty. The long-distance driving diet is very poor in protein and fibre and high in those hard-to-cut-out carbs, while the sugars are off the charts.

As I neared the Dutch border, I smiled to see the Dutch drivers enjoy their last burst of speed (200 km/hr) on the autobahn before going back home at half the speed.

I was struck too by the brilliant colours of the fields, proving that the grass really is greener on the other side of the border, the result, no doubt, of the liquid manure that Dutch farmers are so partial to.

The stench acts has the same effect as smelling salts and keeps me alert for the final two hours.

I use the image of a very top-heavy woman as a mnemonic for the last three highways to take: 50-28-32, until my headlights hit the sign in full beam:

Wolkom yn Fryslân