BACKROAD COL­UMN

The Grande Tour

Road Trip - - CONTENTS - Wayne Batty

Pre­par­ing for our first Euro­pean road-trip in­volves a fran­tic search for dis­counted plane tick­ets and blind faith in Book­ing.com. Five days, four nights equals hand lug­gage for me, but wife and daugh­ter ap­pear ready to em­i­grate. I re­mind them that our Ro­man char­iot is a Mini. Im­ages of Mr Bean cir­cling the Colos­seum with suit­cases tied to the roof en­cour­age lighter pack­ing. They do not need to know it is a Coun­try­man, the largest Mini this side of a Dakar spe­cial.

De­par­ture day ar­rives and two of us are ex­cited. My wife is an ab­sent flyer – she would pre­fer to have her fin­ger nails pulled than be cooped up in a space not much big­ger than the 125 ml tooth­paste tube she had ‘lost’ back at se­cu­rity. I call the near­est air ste­ward and whis­per: “Bring her ALL the wine”.

We land in Mu­nich and bun­dle our­selves into a cream Mercedes-benz taxi. My wal­let is 45 Euros lighter, but my mood bright­ens when I see how lit­tle Tetris is re­quired to pack two large suit­cases and cabin lug­gage into the boot of a Coun­try­man. The girls are not amused.

What a joy to drive where fel­low road users un­der­stand lane dis­ci­pline and courtesy – re­mem­ber that? And, do I need to men­tion what an un­re­stricted Au­to­bahn can do to an ETA? Just two hours in and we have blasted through Ger­many, skipped across Austria and are bar­rel­ing down the A22 mo­tor­way in Italy to­wards Verona when a black Brabus Smart Fortwo ap­pears in the mir­rors.

Game on! The grip and torque of the Mini en­ables punchy corner ex­its, but our young fe­male pur­suer is hang­ing on like a sui­ci­dal rodeo rider, the wider-than-itis-long Brabus con­tin­u­ally threat­en­ing to pivot her into an olive grove. With sus­pen­sion stiffer than Hugh Heffner (RIP), we have ‘a mo­ment’ our­selves, hitting a mon­ster ex­pan­sion joint on a curved bridge: It is time to let the ban­shee pass.

One night in an in­dus­trial zone on the out­skirts of Verona proves less ro­man­tic than the website sug­gested. We had planned to take more ru­ral roads to Rome but the sat-nav says 14 hours if we avoid mo­tor­ways so its back onto the A22 to­wards Florence for lunch.

A ter­ri­bly Bri­tish ac­cent di­rects us to the cen­tre of Fire-and-zee (Firenze, aka Florence). Squeez­ing through the nar­row streets of the old city, tak­ing two stabs at cor­ners filled with volatile Ital­ian pedes­tri­ans is not fun. Find­ing park­ing even less so. Mini, my ass.

I spot a hand-painted P on a wall and dive down into what ap­pears to be a dingy, makeshift un­der­ground park­ing lot. No of­fice, no ticket; just hand the keys over to a man in over­alls who promptly drives off into the dark­ness. Okay then. We find a pro­duce mar­ket and eat like lo­cals, all the while won­der­ing if we will ever see the Mini again.

We do, and so it is on­wards to Rome and two nights in a new ho­tel along­side the ware­house of a whole­saler. A short walk to the train sta­tion means no park­ing woes for the Mini as we box-tick the Colos­seum, Fo­rum, and Vat­i­can City.

Next stop is Venice, where we check into a slick new ho­tel in the heart of the pre-owned car dealer dis­trict. The sink­ing city is all crowded wa­ter buses, con artists, and graf­fiti. Who would have guessed we would be more ex­cited about crunch­ing the miles back to Mu­nich the next day? But hey, we are al­ready plan­ning our next ad­ven­ture, this time armed with Google Street View.

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