Subject: Re: Tuscany information (Italian autostrada)
I'm going to 3rd that. Follow the rules below and you will have no trouble. Yes, you will be stunned the first time a Mercedes comes barreling at over 100mph with lights flashing. Just stay to the right except to pass. I actually have much admiration for the autostradi. They are very efficient and a marvel of construction in the mountains. Here in the US we use a cut and fill method of road construction: cut the hills off and fill in the valleys. In Italy, they are much more gentle on the environment. They bore and bridge. You will go through many, many tunnels only to emerge on a bridge connecting to the next tunnel. Very cool.

And then there are the road stops. Some of them have amazingly good food and excellent stores for things like cheese and salamis. There is one in the mountains north of Florence with a tavola calda that is truly unlike anything that HoJo offers. One caution: do not leave anything visible in the parking lot of the stops. They are worked aggressively by thieves.

Oh, and whatever you do, take a ticket from the machine when you get on the autostrada. A brief story that is cause for much amusement now, mostly because I can enjoy the funny parts and forget the extreme stress it caused. On one of our trips, our trunk was jimmied open in Milan and our important documents and traveler's checks were stolen (including our airline tickets home). There is a lot to this story here, but I'll leave most for another opportunity. Leaving Milan with our exchanged rental car (after paying fees for repairing the trunk), we got on the autostrada totally fuged-out and mistook the ticket machines for commuter lanes and didn't take a ticket! Don't ever do this!!

When we arrived at our destination in Piedmontia, not terribly far away, we waited in line with nothing but belching trucks to go through the exit booth. When I told the guy that I didn't have a ticket (by now I had figured out my mistake), he went into one of the most amazing routines I have ever experienced. Non biglietto?, he repeated. Si, dispache, non biglietto. Dove va? Where are you going, he demanded. I told him the name of the village and he said. Ha! Non questa uscita. I was sure that this was the correct exit, but he persisted saying over and over again non questa uscita. and assured me that I should go the next exit and it would be better. He then got out of his booth and made this big line of trucks behind me back up, and helped me make a U-turn to go on to the next exit.

The next exit was a lonely spot where we were the only one in sight. When I told this guy non biglietto, he got annoyed just like the first one, but preceded to deal with the considerable and very time consuming red tape for a vehicle without a ticket---- and then I knew why the first guy used the ploy to get me to go on to the next exit. Truly amazing.

The red tape was the easy part. When he finished the paperwork, he demanded 50,000 lire, the fee for traveling to this spot from the furthest spot on any autostrada! Well, I had just been robbed and that was about all the money I had! A very ugly episode ensued which we can leave for another story. Moral: always take a ticket when getting on an autostrada.

Howard San Francisco