European Vacation Outtake #1: Thanks Brendan and William; And The Showdown On Stelvio Pass

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We got back last night from our trip to Austria and Italy, and what a memorable time we had. Before I explain this little encounter we had in a tunnel on the Stelvio Pass, let me first thank Brendan and William, who have kept CC rolling along at full speed while I was gone, along with a heaping dose of help from Gerardo and the other Contributors. It has been hard to get fully away from CC since its birth almost five years ago, so this vacation was a bit overdue. Thanks, guys!

I’ll start posting some of my experiences and finds soon, but this was one of the more memorable ones. We were returning from Italy (Piedmont region), and I picked the famous Stelvio Pass to make the drive back into Tyrol a bit more memorable. This is a view down of just one portion of it that I shot on the south side. There was still a whole other steep stretch ahead, which unfortunately was partially in the clouds on this unsettled day. And then of course there is the almost-equally dramatic drive down the other side.

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In the stretch of the road below these serpentine curves, there are two or three modest-length tunnels. I entered one, right below the white arrow, that was (barely) two lanes wide. After a couple of hundred yards, the tunnel suddenly narrowed, into an older rough-hewn section, and strictly one-car wide only. Wow! No warning signs or lights before entering; fortunately, traffic was rather light that day. Hope nobody is coming the other way!

Sure enough, as I entered a mild curve in that narrow tube, suddenly I saw headlights on the walls. I slowed down, and found myself face-to-face with a Land Rover with Italian plates. By then I could see that he was only about three car lengths in from the end of the tunnel, so naturally I assumed he would back up to let me by, since the other end was a few hundred yards back, and there might well be other cars heading in behind me by now. I was not about to back up that far.

But I was wrong: he wouldn’t budge and gestured to me to back up. Um; no. You back up! I told Stephanie to get a shot of it, and just when she took it, a motorcycle came around the LR, on the wrong side.

By this time, two more cars had entered and stopped behind the Landy. I got annoyed, and honked, and opened my window to gesture to him to back up. After what seemed like way too long, he finally put it in reverse, and the cars behind him got the message and all three finally backed out. As I eased by him, he let lose a barrage of Italian; not complementary, I assume.

This scenario is actually rather representative of driving in Europe generally, at least in Austria and Germany. Despite the EU having the rep of being “nanny states”, the signage on roads there are very much less than in the US. If this tunnel had been in the US, especially on a famous and major pass road, there would have been several warning signs, and a signal system, or even flag men. There’s no way they would have just left it to motorists to figure out.

This example is a bit extreme, but in general, I rather prefer the lower level of signage, both in cities and on the highways. Europe assumes that motorists are capable of figuring things out, with a minimum of intervention. And it’s been shown that the more signs there are, the less drivers pay attention to them.

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Here in Eugene, signage inflation continues unchecked, with this fairly recent absurd addition in my neighborhood being a graphic example. You won’t find any signs like this on Stelvio Pass, especially one that states the obvious like “Hill”, or “Curves Ahead”, never mind even “Tunnel Decreases To Single Lane”.