During a recent trip to Milan from Turkey, I made a point of hitting up as many Autogrill locations along the A4 Autostrada as I possibly could–there are 500 in Italy alone. For the uninitiated, Autogrill is a ubiquitous roadside eatery, gas station, and mini-mart. Tourists and writers alike marvel and rave about this place, even a writer from the New York Times, whose story compelled me to experience it. Their exuberance for this joint was hard for me to understand…at first. My initial encounter was one of disappointment, as I thought I would be experiencing an authentic and gritty, yet epicurean feast. The sort that excites in my journeys around Turkey. Instead, I was treated to bland sterility, and large displays for global candy and cookie corporations. Even the cold panini sandwiches awaiting the grill looked uniformly anemic. In a nutshell, the truck-stop looked like the Hallmark channel’s version of Italian food and culture. A perfect looking image, sort of like how Whole Foods attempts to create a European indoor bazaar vibe. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Turkey for 7 years; treated daily to the intoxicating sight, smell, and taste of uncertainty; objects with flaws. It’s why traveling inside other cultures is so exhilarating, because people in real life have wholly unique and quirky ways of doing the exact same thing. Overall, I preferred the Hermes truck stop outside Bolzano, Italy. The ambiance was cozy but brisk, and rough around the edges. It felt like this was an actual local stopover for truckers and people who work hard for a living. The fridge was stocked with local beer, not just international brands, They had magnets for sale in a corner, but instead of “Mustafa” “Ali” and “Yagmur”, it was “Antonio” and “Isabella”. The panini were not at factory proportions, the grill wasn’t sterile, and there was a plethora of things you wouldn’t find in an Autogrill…refreshingly smaller brands lacking a slick marketing engine behind them. However, Autogrill should be given the credit it deserves for exemplifying traits the American culture prize, such as consistency, uniformity, and automation. Autogrill’s business model works.