Monday, 5 August 2013

Ridiculously super awesome European driving adventure – Italy and the expensive motorways

July 11-15

I like surprising people. It’s been done to great effect at home and abroad, and always worth catching on camera. It turns out other people enjoy doing this as well. We consequently decided to leave Germany and head south. A long way south.

Hannah’s sister was studying in Perugia, a small city in the heart of Italy. To do this would take the best part of two days and many miles in the car. It would also introduce us to the various challenges associated with driving in Italy.

To get from Germany to Italy, you have to drive through another country. We actually drove through two, but I’ll talk about the smaller state next time. It was a great shame that we didn’t have the time (let alone the Francs) needed to stop for longer in Switzerland. Goodness gracious me, what a beautiful country to drive through. Turquoise lagoons relax under the gaze of the Alps. Motoring is at its zenith here; from the precarious cliff-top hairpins to the smooth streets zipping through gnome-protected chateaus, it is breathlessly distracting.

We entered an entirely different atmosphere in the early afternoon. It seemed…muggier. That intense heat one often associates with southern Europe and siestas. Italy.

We took a short break at nearby Lake Como before continuing our journey. Our target was to find a campsite near Genova, a coastal city in the north. Similarly to Liege, I’m sure it would have left a more favourable impression if we had spent longer in the area. However, I don’t have many kind words for Genova due to the following circumstances:

        1)      The number of scooters, which I now think of as mosquitoes driven by humans

        2)      The fact that you have to pay to use the motorways, which we were unaware of

        3)      We couldn’t find anywhere to camp and got stuck in the complex city centre

        4)      It is actually quite an eyesore to drive through

You could legitimately argue that we wouldn’t have had to deal with points 2 and 3 if we had researched thoroughly, but this was a spontaneous adventure. We didn’t have time – or the internet – to learn about the issue of toll roads. As for scooters…I would ban them. Failing that, at least put some muffling device on them to alter that awful buzzing racket emanating from them.

We eventually found one of the more eccentric campsite locations of our trip – sat on the edge of a cliff which had naturally carved itself into a zigzag where people pitched their tents. A lot of fizzy wine, some pasta, and a rough night’s sleep – out at 7am. Next stop: Perugia.

It was unfortunate that we had to use at least one ‘A’ road in order to get there during daylight. One hour on that cost us an eye-watering €14, and led us to Pisa. How the tower is still standing is one of the world’s great puzzles. To me, at least. I teach Maths to 11-year-olds, not the folks at MENSA. It’s really funny to watch people doing the ‘Pisa pose’ from a different angle, by the way.

I’m not going to dwell on the Leaning Tower as a) I’ve been before, b) we were only there for 15 minutes before dashing back to the car for fear of getting a parking ticket, and c) we didn’t go up it (and why would you? You’re going up the thing you want to see, and it’s not that high). Above all else, however, there is much more to cover in this blog.

Some backgrounds and hair-raising overtaking manoeuvres later, we were at Perugia’s train station, waiting for Lucy’s boyfriend Daniel – who was also in on the surprise – to bring the unsuspecting lady into our trap. This is what happened…

Great success. Once the inevitable shock had dissipated into the warm air, we set about enjoying a lovely weekend in Umbria, the province which Perugia belongs to. Many of us will only think of Amanda Knox when the city’s name is mentioned, which is most unfortunate.

A lively jazz festival was drawing to a close the very weekend that we so abruptly turned upon, meaning that the main piazza was always heaving with vibrancy. Throngs of people of all ages were strolling along with dripping gelato in their hands, hungrily slurping in the culture even in the black of night.

We had many gelato experiences. The most lavish was at the bottom of the hill which the city was built upon. The actually pour liquid chocolate into the cone. Delicious.

Italy is of course famous for its cuisine, and we sampled plenty of it. From huge slices of pizza to a smorgasbord of meats, with the inevitably tasty pasta, it is certainly a world away from German food.

The time at which you enjoy your food and your daily routine is also rather different. We were having an aperitivo – drinks and nibbles, essentially – at a time when we would have had to have eaten our evening meal in Köln. It’s amazing to see children up so late, in the company of their parents no less.

As for the city itself, Perugia is pleasantly small and filled with bumpy, narrow alleys ready for exploration. It possesses an old aqueduct which now passes for a thin bridge, in addition to the countless churches you would expect in an Italian stronghold. And gelato.

Just outside Perugia there is a lake called Trasimero, an area which has plenty of as yet untapped tourism potential. Italy does have more famous lakes than this, but I can’t imagine a better feeling than running into the refreshing water on a hot summer’s day.

It was a great shame that, due to the spontaneous nature of the adventure, we had to hotfoot it back to Germany so soon after arriving in Perugia. But a bit of Italian certainly added a bit of spice and variety to our driving extravaganza, and the driving certainly helped to vary my heart rate.

Love you all


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