#RoadTrip à Rome: Première Partie

28 March, 2018

Posted at 05:55h in Uncategorised

My S80 odometer

As a proud member of the Volvo High mileage Club my S80 has certainly racked up some miles under its belts. Mind you, I’ll need a few more road trips to achieve the sort of mileage that will get me into the Gold members’ enclosure. Top mileage and top marks currently go to Irv Gordon of New York USA for a 1966 1800s with an amazing 3,000,000 on the clock. In second is the UK’s Big Bawi also in a 1966 1800s with an equally incredible odometer reading 1,980,897 miles.

Admittedly I’ll need to circumnavigate Earth 72 times or equivalent to get into second place but I’m up for the challenge and I change the engine oil every 5,000 miles…

A road trip to Rome was an idea that had first surfaced after a red wine fuelled bucket list discussion a few years ago and then a while later the notion uncharacteristically became an actual plan. A suitable vehicle was needed possessing the optimum combination of comfort, storage space, style and economy. Being a tall chap, most cars I’d ever been in had never felt particularly spacious but more importantly the backseat would be where I experience half the road trip with my wife, while my good friend John was to share the driving on alternate days accompanied by his wife. While travelling on the backseat of a car for fun may not be anything out of the ordinary for most people, my susceptibility to motion sickness had meant a shared driving road trip was off limits for me…until the discovery that is now known as TravelShades

My search began in earnest. I sat in many cars on many garage forecourts even ones out of my price range and they all fell short of the mark until one day when I first entered my shiny black Volvo S80 and it was love at first sit.

Under the Millau Sky Bridge

Crucially, the S80 rear windows have no quarter lights so visibility from the back seat is superb and I can easily get in and out of a back door without dislocating my knees. For me, the driving position feels like a whole body glove and many years of Volvo bods labouring to perfect the ergonomic characteristics of the cabin design mean I can even wear a hat! Its sleek black lines remain a joy for my eyes and bring a smile to my face. The thing is, in a world of pod-like futuristic vehicles, the S80 actually looks like a car. Yes, you could say I quite like it…

To Rome then. The Chunnel got us swiftly to (and through) French soil and quickly immersed in the fascinating joy of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Actually, some pre-trip online Continental Highway Code brushing up was invaluable. The key is adjusting your mindset. I had previously driven to Paris and enjoyed orbiting the Arc de Triomphe many times much to my wife’s closed-eyes consternation. My Google groundwork had revealed the oddities of continental driving so I was prepared and in particular for the yellow diamond signage informing the status of Priorité à droite (priority to the right) an archaic French driving tradition whereby other drivers can pull out of a side road in front of you and it will be your fault if you hit them.

In my experience, I’ve never found this quirky road law to be a problem but it serves to remind that without groundwork before driving abroad you are a danger to yourself and others.  As with driving anywhere, anticipation and observation are key to safe driving along with remembering which country you are in and their highway lore. When following other traffic it is simple enough to remember your whereabouts but when driving along country lanes at night it is not always so easy.

With France being more than twice the land area of the UK but with similar population figures the sparse traffic was pleasantly noticeable and somewhat surprising considering France is consistently top of the charts for the most visited country in the world.  More than 7,000 miles of Autoroutes stretch over the horizon and are great for quickly covering distance albeit with 76% of them being toll roads. The French along with other European countries certainly encourage tourism with the provision of countless free overnight stopover points for motorhomes called Aires and which are great for coffee and sarnie breaks for fellow road trip travellers.

Beside Claude Monet’s actual water lilies

Our road trip committee had decided to head south to the awesome Millau Sky Bridge stopping enroute at a few places of mutual interest. Claude Monet’s stunning garden at Giverny was predictably marvellous as was the intriguing Troglodyte Village of Madeleine to the north of Les Eyzies.

I had first seen the Millau Sky Bridge on TV’s Top Gear and it immediately went on my bucket list. Aka The Millau Viaduct, it is an engineering and architectural marvel constructed in three years and completed in 2004. It is the remarkable sum of a Franco-British partnership being designed by the English architect Sir Norman Foster and French structural engineer Michel Virogeux.  At its highest point, the bridge soars 343 meters (1,125 ft) above ground which is 19 meters (62 ft) taller than the Eiffel Tower!

Me and chums at the Millau Sky Bridge

The tallest bridge in the world did not disappoint. In fact after we had crossed it with me at the steering wheel we circled round and under it, picked up some French pâté of unknown origin and drove over the bridge again this time with John driving. Unlike the Top Gear feature there were no clouds for us to drive above but this meant the view was absolutely superb. Big bucket list ticks then.

So now just 150 miles from the Spanish border we take to the open road heading east to the South of France. The balmy Mediterranean waters are waiting. Monte Carlo or bust!

Windows down on the S80, hair blowing in the warm breeze, The Sound of Music blasting from the CD player, and a big lump of strange but delightful pâté. What more could anyone want…

Happy travels

Tim Flaxman