Italian Highways and Tourism

On The Road Travel Essays

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Italian Highways and Tourism

(COURIER: This is an all-purpose section, to be used at any time along the way when there's not too much going on outside the bus: no dramatic landscape, no famous cities to comment on.)

Italian superhighways are the marvel of Europe, especially the modern Autostrada del Sole, which runs from Milan down past Florence and into Rome. The name means "Highway of the Sun," since the sun is mainly what you feel when traveling on a hot summer day. These highways make travel swift and easy, and they're engineering triumphs in their own right. The Autostrada makes you feel at home, save for the Italian road signs: stazione (toll station), uscita (exit), alt (stop), etc. Like their U.S. counterparts, the Italian Autostrada have Howard Johnson-looking service centers along the way. The biggest of the highway restaurant chains is "Pavesi". Several Pavesi restaurants are built right over the highway. Inside is more than a restaurant: there are candy shops, drug stores, magazine racks, and sometimes miniature department stores. Another big chain is "Motta": especially good for candy and other sweets. Motta is one of the biggest candy manufacturers in Italy. Since the onrush of tourism in Italy, the Italian government has speeded up the pace of its highway construction. The network of superhighways is almost complete, and has transformed tourist traffic overnight. (It's hard to imagine covering the distance we have on Italy's secondary roads!) The Italian highway system was begun in the late 1950's, and had to overcome all the difficulties posed by the uneven Italian terrain.

Agip  The most common gasoline station is Agip, which is owned by the Italian government. Unlike most government-run establishments, the Agip stations are kept new and clean. Agip has been a very successful operation in Italy and in other parts of Europe; Italy has put Agip stations all around Africa and the Middle East. Italians are proud of Agip: it has become a symbol of their international economic influence. There are other brands of gasoline, of course, including the familiar American ones.

Tourism in Italy  Italy is first in the world in this business — 30 million visitors a year. Many tourists to Italy are Germans, whose VW's and Mercedes are visible on the highways. Most, however, are Americans; and since Americans come a longer distance and usually have budgeted more for their trip, they're the most prized by local entrepreneurs. The second country for tourism is Spain (or was, up until the post-Franco difficulties), with 25 million. France was at one time first in tourism, but its popularity has slipped.


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