On the road in Tuscany
To celebrate what will probably be our last new car, my wife and I drove down to Tuscany early in September, conscious not only that there would be no more new cars but also that this would be our last long driving holiday. Having spent so much of our adult lives overseas, and almost none of it in Europe, we had never before been to Tuscany, apart from a week in Florence soon after retirement. I know it’s generally thought rather passÃ© to holiday in Tuscany, unless of course you’re a Blair and can stay with Mr Berlusconi, but it was certainly worth the visit, as they say in Michelin, and would have been worth the dÃ©tour if we hadn’t been going there anyway. Wonderful countryside, food and wine, fabulous churches and museums and galleries everywhere, everything just as claimed by the travel agents and guide-books. We were even converted to frescoes depicting religious subjects, often in entertainingly gory detail. But it did involve an awful lot of driving. It was noticeable that drivers on the French autoroutes were generally highly disciplined, driving in the near lane except to overtake and, having overtaken, returning immediately to the ‘slow’ lane; and on the whole their speeds were high but not excessive. By contrast we found most of the Italian autostrada a near-nightmare: maniacs in the fast lane screaming along at 160 or 180 kph, halogen headlights blazing, not slowing down for anything or anyone, tailgating and harassing mercilessly; terrible road surfaces, throwing the car about at or even a bit below the speed limits and often making steering problematical; idiosyncratic signposting, showing where the exits lead to but often no indication of where you’re going or the number of the road you’re on for miles between exits; innumerable dark tunnels from which you emerge, still at speed, into blazing sunshine that sends the pupils dilating and contracting like strobe lights so that your eyes are just beginning to adapt to the light when you plunge into another dim tunnel. But it was all worth it just for Siena and San Gimignano. Fortunately we had foreseen that driving all the way back to Calais would be burdensome after the long outward journey and local touring, so we had arranged to drive on our last day of holiday from just outside San Gimignano, where we had been staying, to Nice where we would put the car on the French motorail overnight to Calais, from which it would be a short drive to the tunnel. This worked well, although our sleeping compartment was the tiniest we had ever encountered, there was no restaurant car on the train for supper (forewarned, we took bulging baguette sandwiches, fruit and a bottle of wine on board with us), and when we reached Calais at nearly 10 a.m. next morning, it was more than two hours before they drove our car off the train and we could get away. But the views of the Riviera coast as we sped along in the train from Nice to Marseilles were stunning. A good way to go. And if you haven’t been to Tuscany, go now, before you’re too old (like us).
8 October 2004