En route vers Cinque Terre

To get from Nice to Cinque Terre last Monday, we hugged the coast and headed east on the A8, which became the A10 in Italy, and then we took the A12 in Genova all the way to La Spezia. But I wasn’t doing any of the driving—Stephanie’s mom’s car was a manual, so it was between her and her mom to get us to Italy. It’s worth pointing out that the Mediterranean coast of northern Italy is very mountainous, so the entire autoroute/autostrade was essentially a continuous series of tunnels and bridges.

Nice, France to Cinque Terre, Italy

Where things got interesting was just east of Genova, at about the half way point. Stephanie had been driving thus far, and there had been multiple signs warning of a possible traffic slowdown due to an accident east of Genova. We’d been warned so far in advance, we figured the problem would be cleared by the time we got there. We were wrong.

In the tunnel just before the Genova East exit, we saw traffic slowing down. And then it stopped. Completely. In the middle of a 1.7km long tunnel, just wide enough to fit two lanes traveling in the same direction. Some of the cars and trucks in front of us had turned off their engines. Some people were standing outside of their cars. We couldn’t see the end of the tunnel in front of us. I thought to check the time. It was 14:30. I snapped a blurry photo of our predicament.

Stuck in a tunnel east of Genova, Italy
Stuck in a tunnel east of Genova

At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that Stephanie doesn’t like tight spaces. Especially when they’re filled with lots of other people (like crowded concerts, backs of airplanes, tight elevators, etc). Initially she seemed ok, but fifteen minutes later she was feeling pretty claustrophobic. She did not want to be stuck in the car in the tunnel any longer. I opened my door and could see the end of the tunnel in the distance between the two lanes of stopped traffic. I’ll admit I didn’t like being stuck there either.

In retrospect, I wish I’d just suggested she do the same: get out of the car and glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. But we had no idea we’d be stuck for so long, and the tunnel air was full of exhaust fumes, so we didn’t want to open the doors. Instead I suggested we walk out of the tunnel. Stephanie’s mom was feeling fine, and said she’d just pick us up somewhere at the end. Stephanie agreed, so we started walking out. Immediately I could see she her feeling better. And we could both see the end getting closer (though you couldn’t tell that from the picture I took below).

Walking out of stopped traffic in tunnel east of Genova, Italy
Walking out of the tunnel

Not more than 5 or 6 minutes into our walk the cars in front of us started moving. And then the traffic completely cleared out in front of us! Behind us people were getting back into their cars, turning them on, and slowly accelerating out of the tunnel. We happened to be standing next to a crossover tunnel between the two tunnels that made up the freeway, so we waited there, hoping Stephanie’s mom would see us with enough time to pull over and pick us up.

I have to admit I was a little nervous. We were on the left hand side of the road, safe from the traffic, but we’d told Stephanie’s mom to pick us up on the right. As fate would have it, she was in the right lane, surrounded by cars and unable to stop when she reached us. We saw her drive by, and she saw us, and then she continued out of sight.

So now it was up to us to get out of the tunnel. When the cars were stopped we could walk on the road, but now we were trudging through the slippery muck in the nonexistent shoulder between the round tunnel wall on one side and the moving traffic on the other. And we still had a ways to go.

Finally we emerged from the tunnel, shaken but unscathed, only to face another obstacle. Inside the tunnel we had at least a foot or two of margin between us and the traffic, but outside there was a grassy divider between the two sides of the freeway surrounded by a metal barrier with less than a foot between it and the lane. We were still on the left side of the road, and we could see Stephanie’s mom parked on the right side margin three hundred feet in front of us. So we hopped over the metal barrier and hiked closer to her through the thigh high grass.

We walked until we were just across the highway from the car. Between us was the metal barrier, and two lanes of evenly dispersed highway traffic. Luckily we had time. No sense in risking our lives at this point. As I was psyching up Stephanie (and myself) to run across the highway, I looked back at the tunnel and noticed there was a gap in the cars. “Ok, now, go go!” I said, surprising Stephanie.

We scrambled over the barrier and ran across the road as fast as we could, opened the doors and jumped back into the car. I checked the time again, it was 15:06, almost 40 minutes after we’d first stopped.

A few hours later we arrived in Riomaggiore, the southernmost of the 5 villages that make up Cinque Terre. Here’s our first view from the terrace outside the apartment we’d rented for two nights. Well earned, I’d say.

View from apartment in Riomaggiore
View from our apartment in Riomaggiore

Continue reading: Cinque Terre!


Yeah, that was one of the scariest moments I’ve had in a very long time… wishing I just would get over feeling stuck and without air (knowing it’ll pass and I could breathe) and just be patient inside the car. Not knowing how long we were going to be there made me unable to get over the feeling of being stuck and intoxicated.

What is the average life span at the edge of a freeway again? 20 minutes? I think we were there for 18. Pheww!! I should really work on overcoming my claustrophobic feelings, to avoid putting our lives in danger again.
But it was great team work and I am endlessly grateful that you stuck with me the whole time. I owe you a huge one. Grazie mille!!

Man I just saw the last pic with the view from your apartment in Riomaggiore. You are really giving me the itch to go on vacation.

Man, everybody should take vacations, if only for the chance to step outside your life for a little bit. And perhaps to walk through a freeway tunnel in Italy.


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