Homage to Autogrill, Sarni, Fini and other rest areas on the autostrada in Italy.
A couple of years’ ago, I had an Italian pop tune on the brain and stopping for a break on the autostrada in Italy, I asked the woman in charge of the espresso machine, if she knew a song with the words “rosso relativo senza macchia…” Seconds later the entire staff from the overweight pizza baker to the cashier joined in the chorus, and the woman took a few dancing steps in her red cap and apron between isles and islands of special offers, before she produced an old Tizziano Ferro CD. Sometimes poetry strikes in weird places.
Over the past decade, rest areas on Italian motorways have developed from primitive quick stops to compact shopping malls. Today most of the old bars and coffee shacks from Brennero to Brindisi and from San Bernado to Reggio have been or are being replaced by air conditioned restaurants, cafes and shops where you can buy local delicacies like ham, sausage, cheese, pasta, olive oil and preserves along with newspapers, magazines, books, music, maps, mineral water, saints, sunglasses, toys, batteries, biscuits, bread and tooth paste at reasonable prices. Competition between leading food travel chains, like Autogrill, Sarni, and Fini, is fierce.
All corporations constantly try out new concepts, though the chaotic walking lines within the cafe-restaurant-shops remain the same. In Italy it is considered bad style (and inferior hygiene) for one person to handle money and food alternately. When you enter the shop, you therefore have to go to the food counter to decide what kind of sandwich, drink or meal, you would like to order. Then you walk back to the checkout, while you try to remember and pronounce strange sandwich names like fatti furbo, gustosello and rustichella; pay for the food you want; and return with your receipt to the food counter, where someone will eventually hand you something to eat and drink. Along the way back and forth you will have plenty of opportunity to bump into strangers, and the chance reoccurs when you try to balance coke, coffee and pizza slices to one of a total of three very popular stand-up tables.
Still, the food is great and the service is moody and unpredictable, but once in a blue moon you can actually make the stressed staff sing.
More on the autostrada in Italy and other traffic matters