I love Auto Grill. The charming, single bar and tavola calda, you know, the first Auto Grill you tend to stop at just because you wanted to get petrol and you can't believe how damn cute it is. The fancy over-the-autostrada Auto Grill ponte that you find after driving an hour or so outside of the city. You can have cafe from either of the bars that service both directions of traffic, have a full meal watching the cars pass underneath, or just shop for a belated gift in the mega-bottegaccia in the bottom. And the rare Auto Grill motel (cafe, tavola calda and motel)-- the Auto Grill that you can't believe exists and if it weren't for the fact that you had to be home (the boyfriend just returned back from the US), you would stay over night and perhaps buy an Auto Grill tee-shirt to sleep in-- for ever.

I love the yellow and red colors, and the orangey red signage that tells you where you can go. Each time I am served an espresso in the clear glass with the Autogrill symbol, I am happy. I can't wait to walk around the Bottegaccia , perusing the salami sales (all divided by region), likewise the wines and cheeses. I love the seasonal specials: dark chocolate Easter eggs( packet of 6, each its own color, roughly 4 euros); Olympics 2006 giandiuotto tins (20 well spent euro), and Natale candles.

The Panini are dreamy--
The Icaro-- from Rome to Milano.
The Alpinella-- from Torino to Genova

Every now and then, on the exit into the Auto Grill area, I think about the film The Vanishing (original version). You know, the girlfriend disappears in the autostop parking lot, while her boyfriend is "freshening" up-- she is gone for good, and he spends the next few YEARS looking for her. I happily reassure myself that they didn't stop at an Auto Grill, they stopped at one of those no-name joints that only sell maps and doesn't even have Fonzis.

Nothing bad can happen at the Auto Grill. The worst I have seen is a bathroom attendant charge 15 Chinese tourists 1 euro per person to use the facilities-- just outside of Rome, of course.

On the way to Ancona from Pescara, at 3 am, I found a re-print of the Italian 1900 almanac. I use it when I want to compare 1900 Italy with 1583 Italy from La Galleria delle Carte, in the Vatican museums. In Torino, I found a chocolate olympic 2006 gold medal. The stradale always seem to be better at Auto Grills. The books are up-to-date with their English language contemporaries.

And the magazine section is divine....From Rome to Milan, I usually update myself with gossip rags (2 at each stop) so that I know who is who as I walk via Napoleone. The boyfriend always grabs Panorama and three newspapers.

Fashion? I almost bought Bella her Juventus jersey outside of La Spezia on a foggy evening. Unfortunately, they had just run out of mini sizes. At 6 a.m., (and 1 celsius) outside of Milan, I auto-grilled in pajamas with a woman in business dress, high heels (bright green opened toed) and very well-coiffed hair, we watched the weather report about the recent chill. At 3 pm, in the rain by Bologna, I met a man with a braid down to the nape of his back who told me about the infamous Bologna traffic.

Basically, the Auto Grill is my utopia. A world where things can only be good, where I will always be happy. An open and always abundant treasure chest.