Next few weeks I’m going to get some sun light and heat in Spain. I’m first going to stay for a few days at Christian del Rosso’s place in Madrid. Christian’s my neighbour here in Helsinki and he is currently in Madrid together with his wife and little son Emilio doing an MBA. Last time I was in Madrid, I didn’t have much time for sightseeing so this time I will take some time to do that.
From Saturday, I’m renting a car and will be doing my usual neurotic routine of driving too much and seeing too little. The record still stands at around 4000 km in 3 weeks. That was on a trip to Spain where I visited Castilla y Leon and Extremadura. The goal of this trip is to go there again and this time visit all the stuff I somehow missed the last time, which is quite a lot.
I’ve spent the morning packing and (mostly) doing a bit of reconnaisance on Google. A few weeks ago I was considering to buy a travel guide when it occured to me that the lonely planet I have for Spain is mostly fluffy text and really thin on things like what are good places to see and stay. Sure it will cover the big attractions but the interesting stuff where I’m going is small villages and towns. I actually prefer staying in medium sized towns where parking is doable. My requirements are very simple: decent place to sleep, stuff to see, and lots of places to eat & drink. The average Spanish town has a plaza mayor, with a few bars and hotels around it and usually a parking garage nearby.
So that’s easy. So the algorithm is roughly: select town, drive to it, park on or near Plaza Mayor and try a few hostels/hotels. Never takes more than two or three attempts to find a decent place to sleep. Anyway, Google is good to that stuff so I spend the morning copy pasting together my own travelguide. I’ve a top five list of towns I’m probably going to stay in: Zamora, Segovia, Trujillo, Badajoz, Salamanca and maybe Leon again (depending on weather). I also have a few backup options and a long list of stuff to see and do. In the unlikely event I get bored with the area, I have Portugal and Andalucia within a few hours drive.
OK, I’m back again. I spent the last three weeks driving around in France and Italy with a rental car. The first week was nice and relaxing. I stayed at my parents’ new summer home in Saint Quentin la Poterie, about 50 km from Avignon in the Gard departement in the south of France. Nice place to visit my parents and there’s a pool too! During the mornings I visited such nice places as Arles, Avignon and Nimes and I spent the afternoons swimming, reading and drinking beer.
The two weeks after that I drove off to see more of the Provence east of the Rohne (i.e. Aix en Provence; Marseille, Toulon and Cannes). Then I drove into Italy where I spent a few days in Cremona (near Milan) where I also visited Parma. Then I moved south to Pistoia (close to Florence) and visited Florence, Pisa and Lucca. Then I moved back north Asti and visited Turin. Yesterday I drove back to Aix en Provence and stopped for coffee and a piss at the casino in Monte Carlo. I flew back to Helsinki today.
Up until entering Italy, driving had been straightforward. France is a civilized country with slightly better roads than Spain and Portugal where I’ve spent my previous holidays. Italy is more challenging. A few factors contribute to the fact that driving in Italy is considerably more dangerous than in the rest of southern europe:
- The roads are bad. There’s holes, missing markings, etc. Evidently, the EU has not financed road maintenance in Italy to the extent that it has in Portugal and Spain where the highways and main roads are generally excellent.
- The roads are narrow and winding. At least on the coastal road along the Italian riviera and the many country roads I drove on.
- The roads are weird. The must be some psychotic people in charge at the Italian trafic ministry. First of all the signing is verbose, misleading and sometimes incorrect. Secondly, there are large amount of weird crossings, roundabouts, exits etc. Roads just split into two without much warning. You will likely end up on the wrong one the first time.
- Italian drivers transform into suicidal & homicidal maniacs when put behind the wheel of a car.
So here’s some of my observed unofficial trafic rules in Italy:
- Your driving speed is the maximum allowed speed on the given road type + 30 + X. Where X is essentially constrained by your manlyness.
- An exception to the above rule is when turns, road maintenance etc leads to signs stating reduced maximum speeds. Ignore such signs under all circumstances. 60 really means 140+ on a two lane 110 km/h road.
- Use the brake to adjust speed. When not braking apply full throttle.
- Always drive on the left most lane (if more than two).
- When driving on the left most lane keep your left indicator light blinking so trafic in front of you know they must move to the right to make room for you.
- When they don’t do that promptly flash your lights, honk and wave your fist at the sissy in the other car.
- If they still don’t move over, rapidly move to approximately 20cm from the bumper of the guy in front of you whilst adjusting your speed with the break at the last possible moment. Stay there until the guy moves over.
- On two lane roads drive with one wheel in the lane with oncoming trafic and move right at the last possible moment if the other guy does not move right first.
- Ignore the uninterrupted line on two lane roads, you must overtake any trafic in front of you. Especially in case of queues resulting from slow trafic you must move to the front of the queue by overtaking the cars in the queueu one at the time and squezing back in when on coming trafic forces you to do so.
- Ignore stop signs. If the trafic has room enough to stop in time: go ahead and move onto the road.
- If you drive a truck, it is ok to overtake trucks in front of you. There is no need to check mirrors or use indicator light as you are likely much bigger than the traffic coming from behind.
Sadly the above is not a joke. Italians really drive this way. Adjusting to this style of driving is quite easy but requires some discipline. Doing the same as they is definately dangerous but so is sticking to the official rules. Adjusting speed upwards in combination with keeping distance and not occupying the left lane too long seems to be a good strategy. Pay attention when overtaking trucks because they may move left for no reason whatsoever.
Anyway, Italy is a great country otherwise. Great food and nice cities. I have about 400 photos to edit which will be due in a couple of weeks probably.