Summer vacation starts — and ends — in the car


As I’ve often remarked, one of the things I love about being here is the faithful return of certain events — moments — throughout the year.  Of course there are events everywhere upon which one may confidently depend — tax deadline day comes to mind — but I’m talking about here.

One occurrence which is so predictable that I don’t even have read the paper, much less even wake up, to recognize it is the double-edged event known as THE EXODUS.

Trieste is only 7 km/4 miles from the Croatian border. From then on, time and distance take on new meanings.

No, it has no Biblical overtones, unless one is thinking of the famous Plagues. In fact, now that I think about it, this could possibly be a worthy candidate to join the frogs and the flies that afflicted Pharaoh.  But since we’re living in a democracy, this little plague afflicts everybody going on vacation. And everybody goes in August.

So the first weekend of August inevitably sees an outbound migration  of massive proportions clogging the highways — The Exodus.  On the last weekend of August, there is the equally appalling Return Exodus.

This is what Croatia looks like from the Italian side of the border. You can be sitting and looking at this for quite a while. But of course, you're not seeing this, you're seeing what it represents: Fabulous beaches, great food, maybe even no people.

We could call it the Plague of Traffic.  Or, if you’re sitting on the highway in a monster backup, the Plague of Everybody Else on Earth.  And the only thing that changes from one year to the next is the length — from unbearable to inconceivable — of the backups at the Italian borders and Alpine tunnels.  Last Saturday the backup at the border dividing Slovenia from Croatia reached about 40 km/25 miles.  Ah yes, Croatia: Gorgeous! Near! Irresistible! Cheap! Also: Small! Mountainous! Not Many Roads!

This Exodus traffic is funny to people who aren’t there, like me, and to people who are funny wherever they are, like Lino Toffolo.

Lino Toffolo is an actor/standup comic  from Murano who writes a column every Sunday in the Gazzettino.  He’s usually right on top of the main subject of the day, which last Sunday was The Exodus.

Here is what he wrote (translated by me):

Instead of facing the usual five kilometers of tailback [in Italian, merely “tail”] to go to Jesolo, why don’t we go to Croatia or Dalmatia or along down there, where there are bound to be fewer people?

Perfect idea!  Let’s go!  40 kilometers of continuous tailback!  Basically, when the last person gets there he just turns around because his vacation is over.

Every year, right on schedule, other than the drama of the “checking the stomach on the beach I swear I’m never eating again” is the  one — unsolvable — of “where to go” and above all, “when to leave.”

The imagination is unchained!  At night, at dawn, at mealtimes like telephone calls [local people scribbling ads often say “call at mealtimes”].  Every so often somebody has the idea of the “intelligent departure,” which they reveal only to their friends who — as with all true secrets — they pass along to one friend at a time, even on Facebook.

The result: Everybody is stuck in the backup, everybody is complaining.

Grandpa Tony thinks that the laborers working on the highway are tourists who just got bored sitting still and figure this way they can at least be doing something…. Sometimes you can watch plants growing.  

“But — it is obligatory for us to do this?”  “No!  That’s exactly why we’re doing it!  If it were obligatory, we’d all stay home!”  

And the Croatians?  Where do they go?  Italy? Gorgeous!  Near! Irresistible! Expensive!

This is a glimpse of the Croatian coast. Worth the voyage, as the Michelin Guide might put it.


This is the Italian coast in Puglia.




Italy. The only difference I can see that might make it worthwhile to sit in a car for hours to get to one instead of the other would be that Croatia is currently a hot destination, while Puglia has always just been there.







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  1. Lisa Gordon says:

    Well said! I like the idea of traffic as a plague. It gives the right weight to contemplating trips into Southern California and other car-cursed destinations. It makes me glad we don’t all go on vacation at the same time, though I suppose if you’re stuck in traffic it will always feel like it!

  2. Lucio Zinato ( venetians) says:

    Hi..nice theme…!

    But a lot of working people come back at their house or family, too.

    Serbians, bosnians, rumenians and others ….and this is the only, “fastest” and old road to the east europe……

    As latin saw ” NEMO PROFHETA IN PATRIAE” and i love spend my holidays on greece from other twenty years..

    Why ?


    Lucio Zinato

  3. Bruce Miller says:

    Several years ago we began our travel in Italy with a drive to Todi- a beautiful small town in the mouuntains of Umbria. On our return north to Venice we encouuntered the EXODUS that Earla speaks of. I did not bring my portable GPS because I did not want to pay $80 for a Europe chip. So the first horror was finding myself in a left lane when the sign for the right turn to Venice told me it was 1K ahead. There was no way I would be able to cross four lanes of autos hell-bent on getting north. The best option so far as I could figure was to take the left turn toward Milano. I figured I would hit an exit in 15 mins or so and turn back east to Venice. It was not to be I did 30 mins each way!! Then half the population of Roma was in line to pay fees to get off the main highway and conntinue noth to the moutains and cool air or head east to Croatio for cheap housing, food and drink.

  4. The south Italian coast in Puglia is fabulous, one of the best places that i have seen is Porto Cesareo.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Nice to know about, thanks. I’ve heard lots of people rave about Puglia. Maybe going to Croatia is a northeastern thing. It’s closer, anyway.

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