Tag Archives: continental driving

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. 

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