Day 19 Ė Master of Roundabouts

Everyone knows the English drive on the left contrary to the rest of the world but that is only the most well known of differences between us and Europeans. Although not unheard of back in the states in Europe youíre toast if you canít figure out in a hurry the system of roundabouts which double for our ordinary intersections. Iím going to venture a guess and say that roundabouts save Europeans on the electric bill for making do without stop lights when two or more roads meet. And itís probably necessary in any case because while weíre used to towns layed out in grid arrays the old world was built on snaking, haphazard city plans whose streets several of which might at any point join at a confluence. Ergo the roundabouts. Well, so whatís the big deal? The big deal is that for those who arenít used to them they can be pretty hairy to manage.

You are coming into a roundabout with a ďtargetĒ of getting to the other side. Meanwhile thereís a crazy number of cars coming in and out of the entrances without slowing down as if in some carefully choreographed dance you were never taught the steps to. Do it wrong and you risk a pileup and it really can be intimidating plowing in not knowing if itís your turn or not. But itís not that hard. At least not in Italy. All you do is close your eyes, give a quick praise to God almighty and just floor it and 9 out of 10 times it works.

Just kidding. Your odds are more like nine-point-nine out of ten if you keep your eyes open ;-)

Today I woke up to heavy snow. It caught me by surprise. Just yesterday it was in the sixties, sunny and beautiful. Now itís 8 AM and itís a winter wonderland out there. That would be great assuming I could kick back and watch the show from the comfort of my room, perhaps with some hot cocoa for effect. But I gotta drive. And something tells me in San Marino they donít have snow ploughs. And remember all those 90 degree switchbacks and Iím at the top of a mountain. This could be messy.

I packed up quick and wiped the heavy wet snow with my hands Ė the perfect kind for making a snow man Ė and started the engine to get going right away. The car is nice enough to not get stuck in the three inches or so already on the ground and without much ado I manage to start my climb down the narrow streets and by the time I hit the main road out of town the snow has turned to rain. It will rain for the rest of the day.

I head to Ravenna which had been yesterdayís tentative goal. I paid a visit to a 6th century church and a mausoleum, snap my pictures and am happy to be on my way again. Itís noonish by now and my next stop after that was supposed to be Padua, about 50 miles to the northwest but as I got closer to the city and the rain didnít let up I became increasingly unmotivated to want to deal with the mess of traffic. I talked myself out of the visit to that city and headed again for the rural roads.

Northern Italy is different, I am beginning to notice, than central and south Italy. The terrain is flat so there are no hilltop towns. The architecture is also different, more modern comparatively speaking. The farm houses are made of brick and are more often than not in decay. The roofs caved in, vines reclaiming untended sides and so on. But they are not fully abandoned. You can always make out little tractors and tool sheds that are stored in the parts not yet collapsed.

Having stayed the previous night in a hotel itís a turn in the car and for that I begin the somewhat stressful process of looking for a suitably out of the way place for me to park for the night. Itís not that easy in Italy because there is hardly such a thing as ďout of the wayĒ. Everywhere you look there are homes and farms. I donít feel comfortable just pulling off the road anywhere. I need some privacy mostly because I donít want to draw attention to myself. Luckily I found some hills and as the roads again narrowed there were more little nooks and crannies where one could be more or less inconspicuous.

I settled off to the side of one such abandoned farmhouse and though a little creepy this would have to do. Creepy because the place was locked up and full of rubble within and there were signs of recent people partying or who knows what. No one bothered me and I was able to get some sleep though my most uncomfortable night so far because of the cold and the fact that I was on a slight incline.

Day 20