The Plan (the whole Plan)
Day 2 : Wed 23 May : Longish first-day drive, to Parma, as a reasonably-central base for exploring more than a destination in itself
A day of tunnels, tolls and TomTom.
Today was the first of the long drives - a 500km-plus run to Italy, shared among three of us. We started the day by booking the hotel at the other end of the route on the internet, bought the ingredients for a picnic, and were off.
The motorway journey is pretty expensive once you take all the tolls into account. We went the pretty way, skirting the Alps and finally going under them using a series of tunnels including the 10km-long Tunnel de Fréjus. Some not-entirely-successful attempts to take a dramatic picture of the tunnel interior were made - here's the best of an indifferent lot.
Oh, all right, here's a picture looking the other way.
Thence a long and fairly dull afternoon's drive to Parma. We had chosen Parma as our base as it was more-or-less equidistant from the places we wanted to visit, and also small enough to be a base from which to go elsewhere (if you see what we mean). And we chose the Holiday Inn as it seemed reliable if uninteresting, and within striking distance of town. And here's where the problems started.
Parma, we discovered, is being extensively rebuilt. ("Lovely old town, be marvellous when it's finished...") So first, the street name we had been given for the hotel was not one whose existence was yet acknowledged by TomTom, our hitherto-reliable GPS navigator (or, we subsequently discovered, any maps of the area). So we did some websearching from the roadside to try to sort out the approximate geography so we could navigate by dead reckoning.
Second, the street layout has changed dramatically so TomTom kept sending us down closed roads, into building sites, and would probably have ended up ditching us into the river had we not finally spotted the sign for the hotel. Third, we found that the manageable-looking walking route into town no longer existed and ended up taking a detour of about 2km to find a restaurant.
Never mind. We had arrived. Mark struggled manfully with his limited linguistic skills ("Er .. um .. hanno due camere ... um ... sul Internet prenotata...") before the reception staff took pity on him and addressed him in English. We set up Geek Central in one of the bedrooms again (see picture below). We had a light meal of local snacks in the centre of town, once we had found the only restaurant in town that wasn't showing Liverpool v. AC Milan (it was showing a rather ropey version of Il Corsaro with hilariously-badly translated English subtitles). And we rather astonished a waitress with the amount of wine we included with the order.
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