Motorhoming around Europe always seemed like a very romantic and exotic thing to do, and for the most part it really is. The one caveat is bathroom-related, and there’s little romance to be had there. Seven-or-so days without the opportunity to empty the chemical toilet left a big impression on us when we started driving, and…sloshing. It was time to open the windows wide and breathe through our mouths only. I was just grateful the weather had turned and most drivers had their windows up.
So, suffice to say our departure from Paris was less than comfortable, and after a couple of false starts and an awkward attempt in French to request access to a locked outside bathroom at a petrol station (Non, non, non, c’est fermer!), we found a public bathroom to empty at; the less said about that experience, the better.
Able to breathe again, we continued on down the motorway. We stopped for lunch at a little town along the way, all narrow lanes with very old-looking buildings, surrounded by farmland. After lunch, once the shops had re-opened, we walked down to the boulangerie (bakery) to get a baguette and same bread, and had a very satisfying French language encounter with the lovely woman working the counter.
Onwards, regretfully taking the toll roads as we were in a hurry, and the alternative non-toll route would’ve been nearly double the time, an extra 7 hours driving over a couple of days, and not feasible. We slept the night in a quite lovely aire just off the motorway, and pressed onwards the next day.
Stopped in a lay-by with a petrol station, restaurant and supermarket, and I made a rather elaborate dal for lunch that turned out to be awesome. We stopped at a McDonalds to work through our separate to-do lists using their wifi (from Nettle, parked outside), each of which was very, very long. Four exhausting hours later, we were hungry and very ready to stop for the night, but we had to drive for quite a while before we found anywhere to park — a rather charmless petrol station/diner lay-by, but it didn’t matter!
Another day, another novel bathroom experience — the toilets in the rest stops here are just trays with two slightly raised treads to squat on. Unfortunately, however, the moment one attempts said squat, the flush sensor at the back of the stall is triggered and water (in the best case scenario) splashes over your feet — unless you jump out of the way first. I had repeated this careful lowering followed by a leap out of the way of the torrent several times before I gave up. There must be some trick to it, but I don’t know what it is!
We filled up with water (a rather frustrating bit of communication to determine whether the petrol station’s tap had drinkable water), did some hand-washing of laundry, then headed onwards. A few hours later, with the scenery getting ever-prettier, we caught a flash of blue through the trees beside the motorway — it was a turquoise-coloured lake, Lac d’Aiguebelette in the Massif region. We left the motorway and took a closer look on foot. When the sun shone, the blue of the lake was breathtaking.
A little further down the motorway, we started seeing mountains on the horizon, then we were in the Alps! Breathtakingly enormous mountains, often with beautiful little villages tucked into the sides, or perched atop outcrops.
Then before we know it, while passing through a long tunnel that, incidentally, cost us about $70 to in tolls to pass through, we passed a tiny blue sign with a ring of stars on it and the word “Italia” — we were in Italy!
Things got rapidly less attractive, unfortunately, as we headed through Torino, and after many hours of hoping to find somewhere to stop for the night, we settled for another car park in a service area beside the motorway.
The next day, we drove on, fuelled up, and then caught our first view of the coast, from a part of the motorway high on the mountains above the sea, crossing a high bridge and moving on into towns packed to the gills with ochre-coloured high-rise apartments. Quite spectacular, in an icky way. The motorway wove through this landscape, sweeping over and under other lesser roads, like a huge roller-coaster.
Finally, Nigel told us to take an exit, and we passed through the final toll booth (about AU$270 of tolls all up!) and onto extremely windy roads switchbacking down steep mountainsides above azure sea, into villages of B&Bs, ramshackle buildings, bicycles, grape vines and decrepit farm machinery. We had arrived.