Too quick for me, Maya is this week’s photo challenge subject of Blur. Little Maya was too excited to keep still for long. We thought she would insist on being the wedding celebrant but she reluctantly decided to let her grandfather conduct the ceremony before taking her seat.
He has a new girlfriend and she communicates to him via a little box plugged into the cigarette lighter. My services such as they were are no longer required.
I sit with the road atlas on my lap, ready to catch her out and just as I’m nodding off her strident voice alerting himself to an autoroute exit brings me round with a start.
After some initial teething problems in the relationship – a 20 mile detour on a ten mile journey close to home, probably operator error – I have been forsaken. I can’t argue with her, touch her or question her judgment. Her clipped British accent and penchant for being right is getting on my nerves. She is even correcting my pronunciation of French villages and towns.
I hate her.
Now and again, clearly enunciating her t’s she says, “Lost satellite reception.” Not so clever then is she? I know exactly where we are and where we’re going but if he wants to dally with her he can suffer the consequences.
The fact that he is carrying on with her right under my nose and in my car is just too much.
He thinks it’s funny.
If we weren’t in France and in my car I’d get out and leave them to it.
However . . . .
She didn’t cover herself in glory in Italy. As we approached the French/Italian border I made a show of closing the French road atlas and slipping it beside my seat.
“You’re on your own now, matey, you and your new girlfriend.” Himself looked alarmed. Though he’d been taking directions from her exclusively she obviously didn’t inspire him with confidence.
A spectacular journey through the Alps and under Mt. Blanc – a 7 mile tunnel in a series of 17 tunnels – came as a major surprise as no route planning had taken place.
Then she really messed with him.
She insisted he come off the autostrade, go in circles, make several u-turns, attempt some mountain climbing, pass under the same cable car three times and pay two unnecessary eight euro tolls, robbing us of all our coins.
Just as we were both feeling quite frantic – we’d many more miles to go but which way now? – I pulled out my secret weapon, a map of Italy, and resumed my relationship with my husband. I’d had my doubts all along about the two of them and had highlighted our route on the map before leaving home.
We zig-zagged back down the mountain, where we’d had a nice view of the autostade below, and headed east once more.
I turned the stupid woman off and stuffed her in the glove box.
I didn’t gloat. That’s unlike me but himself was looking strained and it seemed only fair to keep my mouth shut.
At our final destination, the seaside resort of Porto Sant’Elpidio, I was forced to make up with her in an effort to find our hotel. She invited us to complete our journey at a derelict building and was banished once more to the glove box.
On the return journey she “lost satellite reception” in Bologna, a city of 400,000, all seemingly on our stretch of road and fighting for space in our lane. Several major roads intersect in Bologna and they are designated by international, national and local numbers which quickly become meaningless when panicked. The only way to find our way through was to look for major cities on our route, all of which were on the other side of the fold on the map.
Have you ever opened a full-size country map in the passenger seat of a compact car? It blocked out the sun and the road ahead and terminated the peaceful spell in the car.
GPS – Gloriously Pointless System
We made it back to the EuroTunnel but I lost my dog.
Our first toll of the day was €4.10. Take a ticket; drive until a toll booth appears; pay for the kilometers traveled.
Of the dozen or so booths, some had a red X over them and some were for the prepaid Telepass. Others only take a carte – never a good option as you can’t be sure what your credit card will be charged and receipts are unpredictable. That leaves cash only, denoted by a picture of coins and notes – 12 lanes of traffic – quick make a choice!
“Look for an arm,” I pleaded with himself, meaning I wouldn’t have to deal with the automated toll horror. I pushed a €5 note towards a human and received my change.
I felt pleased with myself, but we’d only been on the road 15 minutes.
Several miles later we drove to a barrier to pick up the next ticket. Except the barrier was up and there was no ticket. I pressed a red button. Still no ticket. I pressed the assistance button but was secretly pleased no one answered. No parlo italiano was all I could say. What good would that do?
Traffic was piling up behind us so himself pulled off the road the other side of the barrier and stopped.
“We have to have a ticket,” I said unhelpfully.
Himself stared stoically ahead.
“If we don’t have a ticket we’ll be charged the maximum amount.” My hand twitched towards the door handle. The next booth over was dispensing tickets and I contemplated sprinting across two lanes of traffic and assaulting that machine.
Trucks flew out from a blind bend and barreled through the booth we’d just come through. I thought better of offering up my life for a toll ticket. “One of us has to go and get a ticket,” I said, meaning not me. Both lanes had a solid stream of traffic.
Himself was looking over his shoulder by now. His hand moved towards the gear stick. He put the car into reverse and began backing up.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“Stop yelling at me!”
“I’M NOT YELLING AT YOU!” I yelled at him.
I dared look behind only once to see that the lane was clear before himself began a tenuous reverse chicane maneuver around some superfluous barriers on the wrong side of the lane.
He rounded the first barrier and snugged up between the two for a moment’s shelter from the fear of the trucks appearing and ramming us. He began to reverse around the second barrier and I remember thinking, pathetically, I hope he doesn’t take my wing mirror off by driving too close to the barrier. I mean, really, a) I know he’s a better driver than that, and b) with our lives at risk, who cares?
Miraculously, he reversed far enough to go through the booth spitting out tickets and I grabbed one and slunk down in my seat.
I’m not an alcoholic. I’m really not. I don’t drink in the mornings. I rarely have a glass of wine at lunchtime. I don’t even have a drink every evening. But I’m having one tonight!
My toes are cramping from curling them, my teeth are aching from clamping them and my stomach is in knots. I’ve given up with faux braking and am assuming the fetal position.
There is no need to seek out a theme park for a thrill ride. Any Italian road will do, whether on foot or in a car.
Boldly striped pedestrian crossings meant to give one the right of way appear to be optional for the motorist.
Once across the busy north/south road along the promenade in the seaside town it was tempting to let one’s guard down only to be taken out by a cyclist on the cycle path.
The promenade was no sanctuary for the unwary as cyclists sought their thrills weaving in and out of pedestrians or taking a high speed direct line to watch unsuspecting pedestrians leap left and right like a bowling ball down the middle of the pins for a strike.
We fared no better in my (new!) car. Himself braked for a cyclist who cut in front of him then he swerved as she proceeded in front of him completely oblivious while talking on her phone. When he swerved left to avoid her, a car came out from a side road on the left and having avoided that a whole family stepped out onto a pedestrian crossing in front of us.
I assumed the autostrade – being wider with no pedestrians and limited access – would be less nerve-wracking.
We watched a car full of young lads tailgate a motorcycle to within a meter of him. The motorcycle was boxed in with nowhere to go. As we were all doing 80 mph, we willed the motorcyclist to hold his nerve and not fall off.
The style of driving here is to stay as close as possible to the motor in front whether traveling at 15 mph or 80 mph. A 15 mph rear-ender would be annoying. At 80 mph it would be deadly.
The tailgaters on the autostrade – predominately BMWs, Mercedes and Audis – given an open road are easily motoring at 120 mph.
I’m going to close my eyes now and pretend I’m not in the car.
Okay. Awake now. We survived. Toll to be paid. Himself pulled up to an automated toll booth. Great. Cash only. Oh wonderful.
I inserted the ticket I’d taken at the start of the day (remember we are in a right-hand drive car in a country of left-hand drive cars so tackling tolls is my job – lucky me). The digital readout was €28.50. A ten and a twenty. That should be easy.
I tried to insert the ten. It wouldn’t go in. I turned it over. Nope. I turned it around. Nope. And over. Success!
The machine sucked in the bill, spat it out again and it blew away! I couldn’t open the door as himself had thoughtfully pulled up to the toll gubbins as close as he could so I could reach. He pulled forward at an angle so I could squeeze out of the door in my bare feet (no time to find flip-flops). In my panic I hit my head, knocking off my sunglasses (****!) then chased the bill down the road.
Back in the car:
“You have to! I can’t reach!”
“There’s a car behind me!”
“The barrier’s still down!”
He did back up. Now what?
We certainly didn’t have €28.50 in coins. I tried the ten again. The machine sucked it up and I slapped my hand over the slot. It didn’t reappear. I tried the twenty and slapped the machine again with more than necessary vigor. It disappeared too and change tinkled out.
I think the toll machine is related to our SatNav – another long tale of woe to follow.
The same three cars were still at the toll booth in the next lane as our barrier went up and we drew away.
So it’s not just me.
Or is it?
Where’s my sofa? I want to go home.
The photos in this post, taken in Numana, Italy, are completely irrelevant to the subject matter here and are purely to keep me in a calm frame of mind as I read and proofread the post.