The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour 29 – Autostrade

Today we drove from Venice to Zoagli on the Laguria coast, via Verona. Caroline wanted to have a look around Verona because it’s featured in the movie Letters To Juliet.

This was my first time driving on the right hand side of the road, and it was the thing I’d been most worried about prior to the trip. Up to this point we’ve used public transport – buses and trains – or walked.

Well, we made it OK. Here is our car parked in Verona.

No dents!

Verona is as busy as any of the other cities we’ve been to, especially in the town square, and parking is hard to find anywhere. I also managed to navigate the narrow streets OK with on-coming traffic on my left. So the photo above is in the ‘achievement unlocked’ category. (For those interested in such things the car is an Audi A6. Dime a dozen over here.)

We got to Verona on the Autostrade – a privately owned toll road – and this cost us €8.50. In many places the speed limit is 130 km/h but I stuck to 100-110 most of the way while getting used to driving on the left side of the car.

My initial strategy of ‘keep right’ all the time turned out to be flawed because you still  have to keep the car centered in its lane. The natural inclination for those who drive on the left is to move the car so your body on the right side of the lane. After a while things felt a bit more natural, and I started to think more about where the car was in the lane.

Once we left Verona it was back on the Autostrade. When entering the toll road you get a ticket from a machine at the toll booth, and when you exit the Autostrade system – many of these roads link up allowing you to go vast distances – you pay at whatever point you exist, based on the distance travelled. The trip from Verona to the Liguria Coast was €30 and it took 3.5 hours. We changed roads three times, and it was funny to hear the GPS navigator say, ‘continue along this road for 100 kilometres’. Along the way there are exits with toll booths, and also refreshment places every once in a while.

The Autostrade are very straight, very flat and very well maintained. On this second leg of the trip I spent some time traveling at 130 km/h. At one stage a group of about 10 motorcycles zoomed by. Another time an Porche zipped by an was gone in the blink of an eye. I’d say he was doing 160+.

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The speed limit
Even when there are hills and valleys the Autostrade just goes straight through. At one stage of the trip was had tunnel (1700m), bridge (500m), tunnel (350m), bridge (700m), tunnel (1350m). The length of tunnels and bridges are always marked. Driving through a road-tunnel that is 1.7 kms long at 110 km/h and have cars sailing by is an experience to be sure.

Here is one of the large bridges.

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And here is an entrance to a tunnel.

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In case you didn’t notice, there is no on-coming traffic. There are two (or three lanes) going one way, and a separate set of lanes going the other – and they always have seperate bridges and tunnels.

Once off the Autostrade, we drove to our apartment. The place we are staying at in Zoagli has a road to it much like the narrow Eastbourne roads on Wellington, for this who know them – steep and some very sharp corners. I made it up without a scratch.

Some of you will be asking what Italian drivers are like. Before I arrived I’d read online that they are ‘aggressive’ but so far that has not been my experience. I have seen the odd frustrated look, but the’ve been more ‘idiot’ than the agro you get in New Zealand. People will let you in, but you have to push. I found indicating helped a bit, but perhaps that is a signal that announces to local drivers: ‘tourist’. I did not see a lot of people indicating when changing lanes on the Autostrade.

While driving around in the Genoa I let cars in, and got a thank you wave a couple of times. Basically,  as I mentioned in a previous post, cars (and scooters) just seem to co-exist with pedestrians in the cities, and the unwritten rule is ‘we are all trying to get somewhere, so lets just get on with it’.

Roundabouts were relatively easy – look left before entering, keep right and leave on the right side. Intersections are the same – turning right, keep right, turning left go far right.

I’d got used to looking left already crossing roads, but I am still checking all angles of an intersection and mapping my way through before taking action. Following the course of other vehicles is helping.

The most hair-raising experience I had was while leaving Genoa during rush hour. I could not see the lane markings because of the number of cars on the road, and a few times I ended up going the wrong way because I was on the wrong lane. Seeing that the GPS is recalculating the route based on my stuff-ups was the most reassuring part of that trip.

We did visit the cinque terre today, and I may do a post on that tomorrow.

 

Tomorrow it is back to Genoa to return the car and hop on a train to Nice, France. From there we pick up another car and drive to province for five days. We are both looking forward to exploring the smaller villages of Luberon such are La Coste and Bonnieux. We will be staying in a 12 century priory, but more on that in a future post.

 

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