A group of my friends, who I had met in China, were planning a European reunion. I live in Nice and two of them live in Bologna and Firenze in Italy. Because of this, we decided that it would be a good idea to meet in Bologna in the spring and then perhaps in Nice during the hotter summer months. So, I got onto Google Maps and plotted my route through Northern Italy. As I did this, my girlfriend decided that she would like to visit the city as it "looked lovely" and was "perfect for taking photos". She also decided that it would be a good idea to take one of her friends with us. This is how I came to be driving to Bologna with two Bulgarian ladies in the pouring rain.
Google maps told me that it should take roughly four and a half hours to reach Bologna, I presumed that that figure would eventually be a little higher as we would need to stop en route for a few breaks as only I had a driver’s license and insurance coverage. However, I had no idea what kind of nightmare I would face on the way and how stressful the drive would prove to be. Were Bologna not so beautiful and my friends so cool, I would have very much regretted my decision to go there.
I will begin my tale by describing the route from nice to Bologna. I would split it into three distinct stages. The first leg of the journey on the A8 in France and the A10 in Italy blends mountains and coastline – the Southeast region of France is often called Alpes-Maritime because the mountains come almost to the shoreline. From there on the A26 and A7 in Italy, the road winds through the mountains before reaching flat ground in the centre of the country.
The first leg of the journey is magnificent. It combines a series of high viaducts that run over extremely deep valleys (both in France and in Italy) and long tunnels that cut through the mountains. The views from the viaducts are breathtaking. In one swish of the head you can often take in snow-covered peaks, mountain-top villages, clear blue seas and inviting beaches. The tunnels are also tremendous fun as they genuinely feel like you are in a science fiction movie or computer game and are driving towards the centre of the earth.
As we turned North and inland, the landscape changed; The sea disappeared and the mountains got larger. This meant that the tunnels grew longer and steeper. Ordinarily, the scenery would have been magnificent. However, as the day we had chosen to travel was extremely wet, the mountain highways proved extremely treacherous. At one point, as we headed uphill, the stream of water flowing down was like a small river and the car was barely making any progress. It was all rather frightening stuff, especially as most Italian drivers saw no reason at all to slow down in such hazardous conditions.
Finally, we turned onto the A1, which is the highway that operates down the centre of Italy calling at Bologna, Firenze and eventually Rome. By this point, the mountains had flattened out and it allowed me to catch up some time lost in the mountains. However, because of the conditions, it still took over seven hours to reach Bologna.