The Road to Here Part I: Escape from the Country
New family, Successful 20 year banking career, 40 yrs old... what better time to pack it all in and go on a family adventure !
Early in my life I found a job that would allow me to afford the cars and bikes that I wanted.
Original stable mates
Through a lot of hard work, the career grew as did my passion. I met many great people through the job and one in particular now has the pleasure of being my wife. In 2015 my son was born and with him came a change of perspective. At the time of his first birthday the global political and economical landscapes had started to show great uncertainty, the equilibrium of the past was becoming difficult to sustain. This accelerated my desire to change. In recent years I had been working all the hours yet for less reward, seeing less of my family and friends which for me was not acceptable, time was slipping by. For me its all about time. We never get time back, life is not a dress rehearsal. I will never get another chance to see my son grow up, may never get another opportunity to set up a website, do the things I want to do and spend time with my new family. After a long, and I mean long (a year) debate, the career not showing any sign of improvement and then facing an ultimatum with our accommodation we decided to extract ourselves from the imbalance that comes with living and working in London. We decided to take time back and live in the places we have enjoyed visiting and see what else we could do.
Work life balance
Italy is one such place, I like it because it embraces beauty and emotion. The country is not hung up on commerce, it does not have Christmas trees in the stores in October telling you to buy stuff, if you don't pick up your car from the garage by 6pm then you will have to wait until the next day, not everything is available on the internet, shops close for lunch. It is absolutely alien to the anonymous gluttony that is available in London and other metropolitan centers. I love London but its a shame that you cannot live affordably in the center or nearby when you have a family and if you can shoehorn in a family you have to work 16 hours a day to afford it. Back to Italy. Its no surprise that I love it not just for the food and the relaxed lifestyle but of course for the passionate motoring connection. Some of the most famous names hil form the country some of the biggest manufacturers of bikes and cars. There is motor valley in Emilia Romana which you can spend months visiting. There are four Grand Prix Circuits in close proximity (Monza, Mugello, Imola and Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli) Of course there is the ordinary everyday fun too, the lawless driving in the cities, the endless curves of the country roads and then there's the 150kph ballet that is the Autostrada. All good fun then.
Room for a little one ?
As we wanted to be in Italy for as long as possible we needed a car and whilst still connected to the EU and freely allowed to move around we decided to drive our 2009 LandRover Freelander TD4 HSE all the way. We packed it to the gills with loads of things that we didn't need and left London one Spring morning in 2017. With a 2 year old on board there was to be no Blitzkrieg across Europe, instead the plan was an assured drive to the in-laws home in Central France, decompress for two weeks then onto Italy through either the Frejus or Mont Blanc tunnel and to our first Italian residence in Siena. This has the makings of an epic car ride, despite being laden to the hilt and in a 2.2 diesel, you can make it interesting and with the routes available it was certainly going to be a scenic one too.
Juicy...or is it ?
Using the same car in London the average MPG had dropped to 26.9 and with the odometer reading 68k miles at the time of departure, I was keen to get the mpg back to near 30 and where better to start than the endlessly empty French Autoroute network. After a cheeky stop in Rouen we arrived at the in-laws remote hideout in central France, the mpg now at 27.5. French driving is pretty monotonous given the speed control, and most local people driving to the letter of the law. Minimal expression here, very functional. Now there's a thing, there are very few non French cars out in the countryside, oddly so. In each town there are Renault or Peugeot service garages which cater for the tides of Clios and 208's and in bigger towns you can find a dealership, quite the thorough network. Clearly non-French cars are more expensive and given the fact that national pride has kept foreign manufacturers at arms length, things are not about to change, Also it is a ball ache to buy a second hand car therefore there is no liquidity on the second hand market. At this time the National Election in France was reaching its climax so my fears of popularism taking hold in mainland Europe are not being helped with this observation!
With the right man getting the top job in Paris, it was time for a look at the maps with my father in law and plan the next stage of our journey.
This man knows
This was a beautiful experience, bonding over a a well used set of out of date paper maps and a glass of fizz. I can stare at a map for ages, nothing beats the folding paper version and a bit of common sense. OK maybe a map app is more handy but it does not provide the same level of satisfaction. Originally I had planned to go to the south coast of France and take the coast road to Italy. However given we had stayed an extra few days in France to accommodate birthdays, doing the whole coast was out of the question. We decided to take the quickest route, past Lyon and stay over night in Chambery before going through the Frejus tunnel into Italy. With the Land Rover packed again we hit the road. Standard French Autoroute up until Lyon where it got all a bit narrow and add in a few heavy downpours to make the drive quite demanding. We arrived in Chambery with a few hours before my son Duke's bed time so we enjoyed the town and for reasons known only to parents, I had to stay on the hotel room balcony for two hours whilst Duke went to sleep. Fortunately we had wifi, champagne and some of the best chocolates. I love France. The next day, with goodies from the hotel breakfast stuffed in our bag we headed up into the mountains.
These motorways are beautiful, surrounded by alpine scenery, industry and very little traffic. I am a big fan of the mountains and I stand by the fact that you do not feel free'er than when in the company of these giants. The Frejus tunnel was pretty clear and 40 Euro later we were in the staggered pattern to proceed through to Italy. Out the other side we decided not to go to Turin and Milan on the A1/E35 but to go to the coastal route via Genoa as it promised a lot of character with tunnels, viaducts and vistas. It was clear we were now in Italy as everything looked beautiful, the road workers were at lunch and there was a Fiat van packed full of people right up my bumper. Benvenuti !!!
Yep he's mine