Highway 9(Barnaby Bright) - Cruisin' the Old Roman Road the SS 9 ,Italy - 24th May 2016


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Europe » Italy » Lombardy
May 24th 2016
Published: May 29th 2016
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There had been some rain overnight following the brief thunderstorm that had driven us inside during pre dinner drinks. What we awoke to this morning was the usual panoramic view over the valley although now there were pockets of low clouds left hanging in mid air over the town.

The clouds created an eerily view of Poppi Castle and it took the rising sun to warm the morning and burn the clouds off to return the valley to full view again.

We were sad to have to pack up and move on as we have had a wonderful relaxing five nights here as the countryside had enveloped itself around us.

Frederico and Rossana came down to farewell us and as with their welcome it was a warm arrivederci with hugs and then kisses on both cheeks.

We had checked out several potential routes to our destination in the middle of Lombardy province at Gazzuolo but whatever we chose it was going to be a reasonably long day.

Like New Zealand, Italy has a spine of mountains down the middle of the country and most principal roads in Tuscany run west to east and we had decided that our best option was to drive towards the east coast before turning north.

Our drive took us up the same road as yesterday when we visited the monastery in the forest except this time we didn’t turn off the main road but kept on going up to just on 1000 metres above sea level at the Passo Mandrioli.

It was a narrow road but reasonably well maintained and it was exciting to drive as it twisted and turned ever upwards. What made the adrenalin run a bit more than usual was not knowing whether we would meet one of the many large trucks that for some reason were using this mountain pass road.

Signs on the road above the 800 metre mark showed it was sometimes closed for snow and yet near the top of the pass there was a small town with a good range of shops. What people did for a job up here wasn’t clear and it seemed like a long way to drive to work each day if they worked down in the Casentino Valley.

Driving down the eastern side of the pass we followed a truck which wasn’t a bad option as it meant he would encounter trucks coming up first and give us a bit of warning.

We left the SS71 near Bagno di Romagna and joined the 4 lane E45 which had come north from Perugia.

Traffic volumes built up and although there were 2 lanes going our way you had to pick a path carefully as the road had not been well maintained and had a line of potholes and depressions from the path that the big trucks took.

Our lunchtime stop was at Mercato Saraceno where we had baguette with salami and cheese alongside the river. We had found a small pasticceria and purchased the bread and sweet treats which were pastry horns filled with a rather sweet concoction that we thought was going to be chocolate and coconut but turned out to be too pale for chocolate. We couldn’t make up our minds what the flavour was except that there was coconut in there somewhere.

The Italians love building tunnels and other road constructions and although there wasn’t any tunnels on this flat valley down to the coast there were plenty of low viaducts.

To keep the road relatively straight even though the contour of the land beneath the road wasn’t there were numerous viaducts to carry the road. These weren’t like others we have travelled on or seen on the Autostrada many metres high but low and close to the ground perhaps only 5 or 120 metres high. But they certainly had the effect of making the pathway relatively straight. They came in all lengths with the longest being 1.8km long.

At Cesana we entered a spaghetti junction to get onto the SS9, an old Roman road that runs these days from Milan in the north to Rimini just south of where we joined it a distance of over 300 km.

When you look at the road on an atlas you can see it has the characteristic of a Roman road which were famed for being built as straight as possible. The main kinks in the road these days were around towns where virtual ring roads made sure you avoided the centre of town.

We were now on the vast flat plain to the east of the mountain spine down the middle of the country. Everywhere you looked in the fields was a different crop well underway after spring planting. This is a hugely productive area in terms of market garden type crops.

We made a steady pace in moderate traffic just slowing down a bit more every now and then as we drove the ring roads of the towns that were on the SS9.

Most of the towns had more apartment buildings than stand alone houses and this was particularly the case at Imola which is the home of the Ferrari motor car. We guessed that apartments were an easier and more economical way of housing the workers that the manufacturing plants needed in their workforce.

There were certainly plenty of car dealers along the SS9 and most of them not actually in a town but out on the open road. You would have thought being out of town that they would have enough room to demonstrate what they had for sale in a yard you could walk around. But no most of the buildings were two storied and the showroom was on the upper floor! Cars in windows on upper floors of buildings, whatever next?

Probably the second biggest challenge of the drive today, after the trucks on the mountain pass, was how to get around the large city of Bologna as quickly as possible.

There was only one thing for it and that was to join the toll road, the Autostrada that had been running alongside the SS9 since we turned left at Cesena.

We picked the last on ramp before the city started and joined the considerable number of cars and trucks with the best speed we could manage given the volume of traffic. It wasn’t that the traffic wasn’t flowing it just wasn’t doing much more than 80kph which is what we were doing on the provincial SS9.

It was now mid afternoon and the outside car temperature was reading a toasty 27C although our 21C inside controlled by the air conditioner was keeping us cool.

We must say that trucks in Italy do obey their speed restrictions very well and on the Autostrada they kept to the right hand lane lumbering along at 70 to 80kph.As there was often convoys of trucks the best plan was to get into the left hand lane for as long as possible transferring back to the right when the trucks were on their own.

The Autostrada was a virtual ring road and from where we joined it we changed directions three times and avoided the city well. In fact we saw very little of the city from the elevated roadway and before we knew it we had cleared the built up area and were looking for an exit ramp thinking that the GPS might take us in a more northerly direction towards Gazzuolo.

Instead, after we exited the Autostrada,€3.40 poorer but less stressed without having to deal with city traffic, Gina took us back onto the good old SS9 still heading in that near straight line towards Milan.

We stuck with the SS9 skirting Modena,Reggio nell Emilia and at Parma we turned right and headed due north on the SS343 which then became the SS420.

We were still travelling over the flat plain that we had been on since way back at Cesana and still the local land owners were growing the wide variety of crops we had been noticing all day. We wonder just how much food surplus Italy produces for the rest of Europe where the land is not so fertile.

The SS343 and SS420 were nearly as busy with cars and trucks as the SS9 with the major difference being the width of the road and again the rut that trucks had made down a line about a metre in from the side of the road which also had little or no shoulder.

All this made for some careful driving which wasn’t helped from time to time coming across slow vehicles.

We had previously discovered the lack of engine power that the tree wheeled Piaggio has and today that vehicle was joined on the most ‘unwanted’ list by the Fiat Punto, a vehicle that seemingly is so underpowered that it is lucky if its top speed was 50kph.And it seemed like the locals think the Fiat Punto is a handy car for local excursions. In the last 30 odd kilometres to Gazzuolo we must have got stuck behind at least 3 of these menaces of the road.

Our overnight accommodation had been described as one reviewer on booking.com as being ‘in the middle of a barn’. And while there were farm barns on the property and adjacent to the building that the 3 rooms of the Agriturisimo B&B were housed in, it was definitely a building in its own right and had never, as far as we could tell, housed animals or stored bales of hay.

Our room was a generous size with a bathroom almost as big as the bedroom and a small balcony large enough for one person with the other person perched in the opening of the French doors for pre dinner drinks.

Dinner was at a fancy restaurant which seemed rather out of place in this small rural village. White table clothes and a maitre‘d who presented himself very well gave the place the air of ‘this is going to be a costly meal out’. The wine list was extensive and expensive and we thought that we might get moved to some other part of the restaurant for not spending enough when we ordered a pizza and a dish of black spaghetti with scampi, both of which were delicious. We redeemed ourselves by choosing a desert each which is a bit of a rarity for the BBA V3 travellers as we usually buy a gelato on the way home.

Tomorrow it’s onto Lake Maggiore and 4 nights at what looks to be another place with stunning views only this time of a lake rather than a Tuscany valley.

PS: enjoy the video on YouTube.Sure we know the song isn't about the old Roman Road the SS9 but the title fitted with where we spent most of our day.And it is catchy music.

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