Transcontinental marathon

I was reminded recently of an interesting dilemma from a few years back. I was sitting with a colleague in Pisa airport after a press launch waiting for our flight to the UK to be called. It was mid afternoon and I was really tired. The thought of returning home to a good night’s sleep was extremely appealing.

Unexpectedly I am presented with the dilemma. We could board the plane and head home the fast way. Or, we could take the keys of a Mercedes-Benz E-Class and find our way back to the UK.

It is one of those opportunities where your head says to be sensible and take the easy option. But your heart realises that there is life out there to be experienced and only one opportunity to seize. I had never driven from Italy back to Britain, so today was going to be the day!

It was as we navigated our way out of Pisa onto the autostrade that I began to realise the enormity of the journey we were about to undertake. Ahead of us was a journey of 2,755 kilometres (1,711 miles) and our plan was to be home by Sunday morning. This was Friday evening!

Mercedes-Benz E Class

Pouring over the maps there was some feverish navigation to be done. The shortest route looked to be to keep left of Switzerland and travel north through France. But the other option, through the Brenner Pass to Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and France to the Channel Tunnel might be quicker.

We chose the Brenner Pass and headed north through the supercar territory of Modena on the autoroute.

As the borders of Austria loomed, I started to get concerned about the possibility of a toll. All we had to offer were, Italian autostrade cards, credit cards, or assorted Scottish bank notes. With trepidation we pulled up at the toll barrier.

I tried the autostrade cards first. The shake of the head said it all. Mastercard? Visa? Neither were acceptable. With more desperation than hope, I fished out a Royal Bank of Scotland £20 note. Another shake of the head. We responded to this with another internationally understood gesture, a shrug of the shoulder.

There followed something of a stand-off. The toll keeper waiting for us to tender some real money. Us waiting for him to tell us what was the motorway equivalent of doing the dishes when you can’t pay the bill in a restaurant?

Suddenly, I realised the tollkeeper was shouting “Schottishe” and beckoning the note again. He grabbed it, clicked away at some keys and handed us back our change and a receipt for “Sch pounds”. Phew!

After an evening meal and clambering over the Austrian mountains we joined the German autobahns and made good progress to near Stuttgart close to midnight where we found rooms for the night.

The next day we picked up the autobahns westwards marvelling at how, with our cruise control set to 120 mph on the de-restricted sections, there were still Porsches and BMWs whinging past as though we were almost stationery.

Our only mishap on this epic drive was a tyre blowout on a Belgian autoroute as we headed towards the Channel Tunnel.

We were home and, as evening fell on the second day, we headed round London to the Dartford Tunnel. As we stopped to pay our toll, we mused on what would happen if we had turned up there with some less common foreign currency. I bet they would not have been as accommodation as the tollkeeper on the Brenner Pass!

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