Twelve days and almost 2500km later, I have arrived back in Florence. I’m in the lounge at the top of the Hilton Metropole, feet up, looking out the window towards the Duomo where the last of the daylight is hitting it’s western side. As I watch, a little parakeet jumps out of the bushes and looks around nervously.
I have just completed a road trip from Barcelona to Florence, with sidetrips to Lake Como and Rome, in my old 1999 Peugot 106. I’ve driven for probably 40 hours in the course of this adventure. Quite a feat.
How do I feel? Relaxed. Tired. Accomplished. And…a bit lonely.
I’ve spent the last eight days with one of my good friends from high school. Her flight from Rome to home was early this morning. Almost immediately upon returning to the hotel, I could feel a hole where she had been. It is difficult to spend so much time with someone you know well and then return to your normal existence. It is the same feeling I have everytime a water polo tournament ends.
Yesterday, my friend and I took the A1 from Florence to Rome. While it spends a lot of time in the valley, it closes down to a two lane road and winds through the hills right before it drops down into Rome.
Throughout this road trip, I didn’t feel comfortable driving my car more than 100 km/hr. The speed limit on the Autostrade in Italy? 130 km/hr. It isn’t so bad when you are driving in the valleys, where the cars are spread out and there are often three lanes, but in that last leg to Rome? Not so fun.
There are always semis, but in that section they tend to pile up. They don’t go much faster than I am comfortable going, so it is easy to cruise behind them, or pass them when they are going a bit slower than I want to go. This easily allows everyone else to pass us on the left.
In the hills, though, I couldn’t easily pass the trucks. Not only was it difficult for my car to speed up around them going uphill, in the left lane there was an almost never-ending line of cars speeding past us. Getting in front of an Italian driver who wants to go much faster than you is never a good idea.
The turns are tight and the barricades tall. Semis in front and in back of you and cars wizzing by the left. Passing us were Audi after Audi, the Alfa-Romeo Giulietta (the only Alfa-Romeo we saw), and many other cars (VWs, Fiats, Range Rovers, Citroens), but none nearly as old as my car. It’s as if I shouldn’t have been allowed to drive there. Next time, however, I’ll be in an Audi or a Mercedes or even a Lambourghini, and I’ll get to experience the fun of driving in the midst of all that confinement.
Due to my friend’s departure, I decided to take the coastal route back to Florence. I debated for a while. Maybe the coastal route won’t be as nice if I happen to break down. Maybe it will be less scary because the speed limits will be slower. On the A1 I could stop at some interesting towns I’ve never seen. On the coastal road, what is there?
When I finally realized what I wanted to do, I looked up the route to Florence on the E80/SS1 and got on my way.
Driving can be quite a meditative experience. As a child, it was in the car that I most easily fell asleep. As an adult, it is one of the times where I can find peace and silence for real thinking. It is one of those sacred places where your deepest self is allowed to make itself known.
Yesterday on the A1, I didn’t get this experience. Today, I did. The speed limit for the first part of the journey was 90 km/hr. Sometimes it dropped down into just a two lane road, and other times it became four and large barricades were placed between the opposing traffic. Here, I found not only the right frame of mind, but “my own” people. Here were cars older than mine going slower than me and not a semi in sight.
Though I was unable to get a good view on either road due to the high barricades and the “low-ness” of my car, the scenery was more vegetative, the roadside stops less commercial, and the pace much more in tune with my thoughts. I was finally able to comtemplate our trip and all of our experiences and what comes after tomorrow.
I’d wanted to blog about our trip from the first night, but I was stopped by not just time constraints. My own mind was stopping me. Writing a blog, like anything, takes time to develop. Writers always have to find their “voice,” and a blog in particular needs a purpose. What’s the purpose of mine? To inform? To describe? To entertain? Can it be all three?
In the eighth grade, supposedly I “learned” how to write. What I think really happened was that a certain format was drilled into my head. That of essays and research papers, facts and logical progressions. This was the way to success in school. No other. So I, like many other kids, forgot the fun writing and learned the rote writing. Can I undo that tragedy? Can I forget a skill that serves no purpose to me since I am not in accedemia? I think so. And I believe that the trip and today’s drive showed me how.