After Cologne, I had been hoping to say goodbye to my mindless motorway riding days. But the weather had other plans for me. There was a storm coming from the west which I needed to escape. And there weren’t very many cool small roads to ride through in the part of Italy surrounding the Milano area. So motorway it was. My destination for the day was Padova. It was far enough from Milan, close enough to to Venice to take a train there, and south of the Dolomites, should I decide to ride north through them to Slovenia.
I steeled myself against the long, boring journey and hoped that the horror stories I had heard about the Italian autostrade were just hearsay.
Once again I (illegally) took the motorway in Switzerland out of Bellinzona until I crossed the border into Italy. The motorways in Italy do not require a vignettes, rather they are a series of toll roads owned by different companies. I had vivid memories of the toll booths in Boston and New Jersey from last year, and how much I had loathed the stop-go traffic for miles to go through them. There was nothing to be done though and I had to suffer through it. The first couple of booths I encountered were confusing. I hadn’t gone through anything where I could get a ticket to show where I had started from, so I wasn’t sure how they would know how much to charge. Turns out it was a flat rate for that section of road, although I realized that only in hindsight. The toll collectors didn’t speak a word of English, so any attempt at communication was futile. The tickets were usually inexpensive, in the neighborhood of 1.80 euros each for motorcycles. The last couple of hundred kilometres did require me to pick up a ticket, which they ran through a machine at a later point to find the total amount I needed to pay. I think I overall spent less than 15 euros for the entire distance.
While I was aimed for Padova, I couldn’t resist getting off the road when I saw signs for Verona. Shakespeare-land! Memories of reading the Bard’s famous plays when I was little swept through my head and with a vicarious thrill, I pointed the bike towards the center of Verona. I didn’t stay for very long because I kept missing turns and got warmer and warmer. It was the kind of city best explored on foot anyway, not in full gear on a hot day. At first glance, it looked very old and dusty, with crumbling buildings lining crowded streets. I found a gas station to fuel up and took off.
Riding on the Autostrade was fine. Better than fine actually. Once again I admired how traffic flowed smoothly on the German and Italian freeways. People strictly adhered to the rule of “keep right except to pass”, unlike in the United States where people just camp in the left lane. In Europe, I also didn’t encounter any of the passive aggressiveness that I’m so used to at home. If you turn on your indicators to pass someone, they yield. Overall I felt really safe on the freeways here even at speeds as high as 140 kmph. That’s the highest that I think I went because that’s the most both my bike and I were able to handle. It was about on par with most of the other vehicles on the road, although occassionally you got people going 200 on the German autobahns.
The only downside to riding in this part of Italy was the air quality. I don’t know if this area is more industrial, but it felt extremely polluted, to the point where the humidity and pollution made me feel like I was back in Bombay again. Towards the end of the ride, I could feel my eyes stinging.
Padova came up around 2:00 in the afternoon. I rode through a series of cobblestone streets – these were different from the ones I had ridden over in other countries. I bet they got really slippery after it rained. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck behind a car going extremely slow. it was a lot easier to ride over this surface at a spirited pace, rather than 10 kmph.
I found the hostel easily enough. My heart sank when I saw that the checkin time was 4:00PM, but luckily they let me in and allowed me to put my stuff away in the storage room. I took off my gear, changed into walking shoes and packed my small backpack to head into town.
Walking through the streets of Padova felt like I was in an episode of Doctor Who. I had the strange feeling of having been transported into another time and era. The streets were deserted as I walked past a small river and crossed a bridge along more cobblestone paths. The buildings were like the ones in verona had been – old and crumbling, almost ancient.
There was not a soul on the road – I realized later that it was siesta time. Everything shut down in the afternoons. Most shops were closed – completely unheard of back home! I was starving by now, so the charm of this phenomenon wasn’t completely endearing right at that moment. I went to a couple of cafes and managed to find some small sandwiches to eat. I realized more and more that communication was going to be a real problem, because unlike in Germany and Switzerland, nobody here spoke English. I was left with communicating purely in sign language. It was a little more isolating than I had thought it would be.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and trying to keep cool. The head and humidity tired me out rapidly and I finally staggered back to the hostel to take a long nap. When I woke up, it was 9:00PM. I realized with a shock that once again I had to go hunt for food and be back soon. For some arcane reason, this hostel closed its gates at 11:30PM, but didn’t give me a key, so I had to be back by then. Fortunately, I found a good restaurant close by, where I got some pasta and a mojito. The cold drink was perfect for the weather and I felt considerably more refreshed afterwards.
When I returned to the hostel, I made plans for the next day. I would ride the train to venice. By the very nature of the city, no vehicles can go into the city, so it didn’t make sense to ride the motorcycle there. I would spend the day there and ride the train back in the evening. It seemed like a good plan.