Lost on the Autostrada (on the first day!)
We finally got the motorcycles back from the Ducati Dealer in Bologna at 7:00 pm. They had worked on both bikes, installing on mine the top luggage ("top box"), raising the handlebars a bit higher (via putting in something called "Helibars,") and installing the luggage rack on Eric's bike. We kept visiting in the back of the shop where the mechanic was working, and we then moved back out of the way.
Christian was the sales manager and the only one who spoke a bit of English. He was very helpful
Pulling out of the dealership at 7:30 pm, it was just starting to get dark, with a gorgeous full moon right in front of us. The 85-degree day had cooled to a most pleasant 70. What could be more wonderful, with brand new bikes, a nice hotel room with a hot shower waiting.
Going back to the hotel was an easy trip; we just retraced the route that the taxi had taken us that morning -- hop on the autostrada (expressway) at exit 13 and get off at exit 2.
Until…. Allan, with his supposedly great sense of direction, hopped on the autostrada…in the wrong direction.
Instead of going back toward the center Bologna, we were heading OUT of Bologna toward Ancona, on the Adriatic coast some 70 or so miles away. This first sign of concern was immediately followed by our pulling up to a tollbooth heading west, which took only biglietti (tickets); no manual booth for change. Of course we had no tickets.
We pulled up short of the tollbooths and pondered what to do. Then we saw an attendant servicing one of the automatic booths. We rode up to him and said, "We're trying to get BACK to Bologna but it looks like we're headed away from the city. Plus we've got to ticket to get through the tollgate. Can you help us?"
He spoke very little English, of course, but understood "Bologna that way" (with pointing) and "No biglietti." He let us through the toll gate after issuing us a free ticket. He assured us that there would be an exit shortly ahead at which we could get off, come around and head back in.
A bit of context here. One of my most uncomfortable situations has always been driving on unfamiliar high-speed roads at night. This, in a car, mind you. I had been telling myself and whoever would listen to me that one of the goals of this trip was to stay off the main highways - especially at night -- get on the secondary roads and into the small towns. Especially in Italy, with its reputation for daredevil drivers on the autostrada, I was extremely wary of getting on these roads. Extremely wary is not strong enough. Can you spell "petrified?"
So…here we were, in the dark, heading west away from Bologna in a three-lane expressway on brand new motorcycles, with people passing us at 90 or 100 mph. The "quick exit and turn-around" appeared…nowhere. Five miles passed, then ten, then fifteen -- all in the right lane, behind slow trucks, while fast trucks passed me ten feet away from my left wheel, and faster cars passing another lane over. I scanned every single highway sign in hopeful anticipation: "Minimum speed 60 mph…Lodgings 40 km ahead…High-speed traffic stay left, slow-speed traffic stay right." Not ONE stinkin' exit anywhere. The lyrics to "Charlie on the MTA riding the streets of Boston" forever began running through my mind. I took deep breaths and willed myself to stay calm. I had no choice.
But it was only a restaurant "oasis," not a real exit. We took it anyway, just for a break. We stopped two men coming out of the restaurant. They, too, spoke no English (what is with these people, anyway?) but understand the situation immediately when we said "Bologna?" and pointed back towards the direction we had come. They pointed the other way and said something like "Prima uscita" which I understood correctly as "First exit." But how far was this "first exit?" They didn't say.
We pushed on into the night. Thoughts of Joseph Conrad and the The Heart of Darkness began intruding on my thoughts. Also, more than once, "AM I OUT OF MY FRICKIN' MIND TO BE DOING THIS?"
Finally, "La prima uscita!" We pulled off to the right, expecting a cloverleaf or a T-Exit where we could turn left and come back around. But we found…more tollbooths and the road continuing on past the tollbooths.
We were getting desperate. Then I looked around to the left and saw a sign that said "BOLOGNA" going back the other way. YES!!!!! All it required to go that way was to cut across five lanes of traffic coming to the tollbooths. Fortunately, traffic was sporadic at that hour, so right in front of the tollbooths we made a U-turn and found the entrance ramp to the expressway going back to town. To anybody watching, it would have looked like two fugitives or drug runners.
A great sense of relief flooded over me, tempered by the fact that there was still 25 miles of expressway night riding still ahead of us.
But we made it back safe and sound to the hotel around 9:30 pm. Not like I had expected a wonderful day to end up, believe me. But if I could survive this, I'd be in good shape for the rest of the trip.
However, my T-shirt that says, "Real Men Don't Ask Directions" -- maybe I won't wear it for a while.