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Life is a Highway

The road from Lucerne towards the Italian border winds around snow-capped peaks and through numerous tunnels up to 10 miles long. The rain was non- stop, making visibility interesting and driving conditions hazardous. Knowing we had to eat some miles, we pressed on to the Italian border and beyond.

Four days, four countries. That got me thinking about the fast roads in each of those countries, and about the different attitudes to driving. Now I know I shouldn’t generalise, but I’m going to anyway! Take the UK. Why do we all hog the middle lane or use the outside lane as a speedway track, leaving the inside lane clear?  Our service stations (a grand misnomer) are faceless with fare that is not for the faint hearted. The fast food emporia that clog our high streets (you know who they are) have annexed the food outlets, leaving a miasma of grease hanging in the air. But, on the positive side, our road signs are clear and we are generally polite to other drivers. And so to France. Most of the major roads have just 2 lanes, but the outside lane is only used for overtaking! The traffic is considerably lighter than in the UK, which is just as well as there are many French drivers who insist on driving with the spare arm that isn’t needed for steering hanging out of the window. Road signs are good, other than they rarely display the mileage to any destination; keeps you guessing. And the service stations are clean, bright and have very good food. Even salads. Over the border to Switzerland where the driving is precise and polite. Speed limits are respected and seemingly rarely exceeded. Finally, crossing the Italian border requires sharpened senses. Drivers give no quarter and are oblivious to speed limits or rules of the road. At one toll station my car almost became a Fiat sandwich as cars on both sides sped towards me in an attempt to appropriate the lanes in the name of Italy. It felt like survival of the fittest. Service stations were grubby and the food poor. Road signs were so cluttered that it was difficult  to pick out destinations. And the road surfaces have similar characteristics to the surface of the moon.

Back to the journey; Italy at last. We cheered as we crossed the border! Past the northern lakes, around Milan, beyond Bologna….that was hair-raising. Off the main road to look for a hotel for the night. As luck would have it, we ended up in Imola and found a small, clean hotel close to the surprisingly pretty old town with its grand colonnaded square; delightful. If you think the name is familiar, in 80 AD it boasted a Roman amphitheatre where 2-horse chariots would race. You probably won’t remember that, but for more than 50 years, the Enzo & Dinosaur Ferrari International Racetrack has hosted renowned motor races. On 1 May 1994, the Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna made his final high-speed exit when he crashed into the Tamburello curve at the Imola circuit, on the same weekend that race goers had witnessed the death of Roland Ratzenberger. Mio marito was highly impressed with the action shots of motorbike racing in the hotel, and took to reminiscing about his youth. 

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

The lakeside city of Lucerne is compact and easy to navigate on foot. The dominant feature is the extensive lake, misty today with the mountains barely visible.

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The Dying Lion of Lucerne was carved in 1792 into the rock beside a tranquil pool to commemorate the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution. Mark Twain described it as “the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world”. Mio marito thought it was sentimental trash. But look at the lion’s little face…!

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The wooden Chapel Bridge with its octagonal water tower is rumoured to be the most photographed view in Switzerland. Built in the 14th century as part of the city’s defences, it has a series of 17th century paintings under its roof, though many were destroyed by fire in 1993; blackened timbers are still in evidence. In the squares of the Old Town the buildings have richly painted facades. It is rather like being in a Hans Anderson fairy tale!

The Needle Dam, constructed in the 19th century, manually regulates the water level of the lake by raising or lowering the wooden “needles”. We climbed to the ancient ramparts with its 9 towers, all of which was largely intact.

This man is no Banksy!

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River Deep, Mountain High

After the flat plains of yesterday, today we have driven through some spectacular scenery, through the verdant, round-topped Vosges Mountains and over rivers on high viaducts. Entering Switzerland at Basle, there were a few tricky manoeuvres before we cleared the city and were once again treated to lush green pastures. Then the Alps hoved into view; magnificent peaks still covered in snow, picture postcard perfect at every turn. In Lucerne we found a hotel straight out of the Grand Tour right on the shore of the lake. Junior suite, balcony overlooking the lake….didn’t take much persuading to settle in for 2 nights, but I did negotiate the price down of course. 

Going Underground

Eurotunnel rocks! Or rather it doesn’t. Such a smooth, easy way to travel from England to France. Yesterday was a long day, and we ended up in a soulless Ibis hotel after a long search to find somewhere to lay our tired heads. Best sight of the day was a flock of cranes feeding on the ground in woodland. Weather sunny all day – it’s just like being on holiday!

Ticket to Ride

The bags are packed. Just enough stuff to pack the Mini to capacity, so difficult choices have been made about what is important and what can be left behind. Farewells have been said and last suppers eaten (several times).

The plan is this:

20 March: leave home, overnight stay in Kent.  21 March: Eurotunnel to France. Drive through France, Switzerland and Italy. Not all in a day of course. Overnight stops will be made as necessary.  25 March: Arrive in Spello, Umbria. Magic Spello. At least we are hoping it will be magic.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Go forward and make your dreams come true.” That’s a good start.