I’m addicted to taking photographs from our speeding car. There’s something about out-of-focus grass on the verge of the highway, the slight blur of near objects and clear focus of far that is exhilerating. Sometimes the Captain, a patient soul, stops so I can take ‘real’ pictures, but usually when we travel I shoot through the windshield, bugs and all.
Last weekend we drove in the rain up to Piemonte (about which more in a later post) via the A26, part of Italy’s magnificent and over-crowded highway system. The A26 is one of the newer highways and features some graceful bridges and many, many tunnels. The autostrada system was one of the first highway systems in the world, and the Italians are justifiably proud of it. Its only problems are that there are too many trucks, too much traffic in general and too few lanes… especially when many a driver wants to take his lane from the middle of the road.
In ‘Rice Fields’ under the Photograph links to the right you can see some ‘moving pictures’ of this journey taken through a rain-spattered windshield. The Ligurian autostradas are peppered with tunnels – we went through 54 on our way home from Piemonte; the shortest was only 40 meters, the longest (Monte Castellano) was 2010 meters. At the entry to each tunnel is a little sign which gives the name of the tunnel and its length.
Our route took us through Genova, through the many tunnels and over the graceful bridges of the A26 as it navigates the Apenines, and then onto the flat plain of the Po river with mile after mile of rice fields. The fields are at their most beautiful now, still flooded with the broad expanses of water reflecting the trees along the edges. In many the pale green rice is already above the water. It is a shade of green that can only be described as ‘new’. (The Captain tells me that the irrigation system still in use for the rice fields was designed by Da Vinci). If you make this trip on a clear day you will have a dramatic view of the snow-topped Alps reaching into the sky behind the fields.
The first time we approached the town of Arborio some years ago I was thrilled, imagining a small boutique village with little restaurants serving risotto in its many delicious forms. But no. Arborio is a very workaday looking farming town, plain to a fault. The highway now bypasses the town altogether. Arborio gives its name to the most commonly available rice used for the dish in the U.S. Many Italians prefer the carnaroli variety of rice for risotto.
As we drove through the countryside we encountered a first-time sight: storks in Italy. They are not uncommon, we are told, but we had never seen one in countless trips along these same roads. Perhaps the high platforms built for nests attracted them. They are big (this has been Big Bird month for us) and strange looking. The picture of the stork landing in its nest was from the moving car; the other when we stopped to look and wonder at the unusual sight.
You can’t make a long trip on the Autostrada without stopping at a – YUM – Autogrill. These come in various sizes, from very small, serving only panini, to very large with sit-down restaurants. Each also has a retail section, usually featuring specialties of the region. For me the Autogrill stops are one of the best parts of a Road Trip.
Enjoy the photos!