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Motor Mouth articles 2011

Long-distance travel – it’s what planes are for

The view ahead: so boring

WE have just got home after a 1,700-mile, four-day drive from the heel of Italy. It was amazingly, spectacularly, extraordinarily . . . boring!

It wasn’t the first time Mrs Mouth and I have completed this particular odyssey and it certainly wasn’t the worst. But it was the last time because we have decided that life is too short to spend so much of it staring at tarmac.

Oh, I know the idea of cruising around Europe’s open roads is nice and romantic and sounds quite glamorous, but that’s an image drawn largely from 1950s movies featuring toothy film stars, Mediterranean sunshine and traffic-free highways.

The reality in 21st century Europe is somewhat different. Yes, we saw eye-catching landscapes – ancient olive trees in Italy’s deep south, dramatic countryside in the country’s central swathe, the alpine beauty of the north, the vast greenness of France.

But mostly we saw tarmac. Hundreds of miles, squillions of tons of tarmac, at first pitted with potholes and strewn with litter, later smooth and white-lined. We saw cars and trucks, in front of us, beside us, behind us. Mile after mile, hour after brain-numbing hour, for the best part of four days. Even sharing the driving burden with Mrs Mouth made little difference – the view from the passenger seat is much the same.

Mostly we saw good driving; a bit crazy on the Italian side of the Frejus Tunnel, much more courteous and sensible on the French bit. We saw fog almost all the way from southern France to Dorset.

We stayed once with friends and then in two French hotels, one only semi-expensive but appalling, the other quite splendid but eye-wateringly dear. We enjoyed decent food, especially in Italy, and brought eat-in-the-car food back with us on the ferry – anything to avoid buying or consuming something at an English motorway services.

We were aboard Mrs Mouth’s 13-year-old Toyota RAV4, who performed every bit as magnificently as she assured me he would, equally as capable in the heat, wind and humidity of Puglia, through tempest and lightning and rain that seemed to signal the end of the world, through dense fog and M25 traffic.

We had done the journey many times before but have now agreed that we won’t do it again. We may venture across the Channel but it will be for leisurely touring of our closest neighbour, which usually is France.

A 1,700-mile trip spread over, say, a month would average around 50 miles a day. That’s quite enough if we want to appreciate our surroundings. And if we want to go further south, we’ll check out the flights. Long-distance travel is why aeroplanes were invented.

At the end of this latest expedition, we felt positively jetlagged, something of an unusual condition after road and sea travel. Perhaps we’ve invented a new affliction or maybe it’s an age thing.

Still, on the plus side, we are now well qualified to write a lavatory guide of Europe. It’s good to be home, though.

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