Italy – Part Two

So after a nice night of wine in Rome, it was time to head for a week in Tuscany! We woke early, got ready and after our last cappuccino and croissant, the woman returned to take the key and a driver showed up to drive us to the airport to pick up our rental car.

It was an uneventful trip but after the driver dropped us off, it was rather confusing where to go. We saw the sign for our rental company (Europcar), I asked the person in a booth and he said go into the other building, go up one floor and turn left. We did. It wasn’t there. Just cars, but not the place we sign in. So we asked at this kiosk and they said to go down one floor, turn left and down to the end. Left again?? But it was right this time.

We arrived, got in a long line and waited, and waited. Finally reaching a few from the front, given a form to fill out, then with form in hand finally reached a person who signed me in then handed the form back to me and said to wait for someone to call me.

I must say for my part I wasn’t thinking straight. Clearly. Because at this point, I had it in my head that I had to stand somewhere and wait for my name to be called. I was mad and wondered why. I waited, and waited. Finally I asked why I had to wait and she said why did you step out of line? Wait here for the next person. After a hard face slap, cause you know, I suffered a serious brain fart! A short wait I was called over to sign up.

In our overabundance of luggage, I knew the Alfa Romeo would be too small. I asked for an upgrade and was given an Audi Q3. Nice. Though now we hit another snag. When they tried to process my visa, it kept rejecting it. We tried my wife’s and it was rejected. We had to end up phoning Visa to find out what was going on. They said the limit wasn’t there (we purposefully keep a low credit card limit and only add money when we need it), and that I didn’t tell them I’d be in Italy. Although I did – two times by phone and once at the bank till months before we left! I was pissed! We sorted things out and finally were on our way to the car. Nice car too!

Audi Q3

On a side note, in hindsight, don’t rent too large a car. Ninety-eight percent of Italian roads are very narrow and though a Q3 is the smallest of the Audi SUV’s, it’s HUGE compared to most cars on the road. Yes the Autostrade (their major highway) and similar major roads are nice and wide, all other roads are narrow and many a single lane.

Don’t know how I got the car out of the rental parking spot, or how they got it in for that matter without scraping it. I was really nervous about that. Almost every car I saw in Rome so far (and really on the entire trip) had scrapes all around, by, I imagine, all the tight places they’d always have to squeeze through.

Tiny!!
Tiny!!

 

This Q3 had little mileage on it and was immaculate! Oh well, had to pull it out to put in the luggage never mind just getting in!

Off! Again, having an iPad with a chip and Google maps was a lifesaver! Plugged in the address of the Tuscan villa and away we go!

On driving in Italy. I was given many instructions on where to park, the rules of the road, etc.. Many warned us about how crazy it would be. Especially on the Autostrade as one has to stay in the right line, as the left lane, titled the Mercedes lane, is where cars would be breaking the sound barrier at any moment. Apparently one should only go into the left lane to pass. Also, when someone is passing you, they’d come within a foot of your bumper and then fly around you! All true. Then there was Rome, I didn’t understand why they painted lines on the road as they’d ignore them, and often drive in the middle of two lanes. That I couldn’t figure out. They’d just meander in the middle of lanes. And those on Vespas! Well mopeds of all sizes and types really. They have no rules, no matter what lane you’d be in they’d pass, whether in the opposite lane or on the sidewalk. And at insane speeds! Brave and crazy!

Then how polite were the police on the Autostrade! First you’d see a sign of an officer pointing down at the road; this was a warning that a photo radar booth is ahead. Soon there’d be another sign of an officer pointing down, and this time at the photo radar booth! So, this would happen: people would be driving as fast as the car would go, at sight of the first sign, everyone would slow to the posted limit, then after passing the booth, off to the races again!

All that being said… I LOVED driving in Italy! While where there rules, it was so freeing! To change lanes without signaling, driving in any old lane you want, and at crazy speeds was fun! Mind you, not for my wife, I didn’t blame her for often reminding me of the speed limit. Mind you, on the Autostrade the limits were around 130 Km. And, I kept up with the flying Mercedes I’ll tell you. On my return home I found the stringent rules and “stay in your own lane” anger so depressing. One more thing, the use of the horn. In Italy when someone uses their horn, it was an “I’m here!” kind of thing and not the usual “what the hell are you doing you idiot!” you get here in Canada.

So, it was 3.5 hours to Panzano in Chianti. Another thing about the Autostrade, when entering it, you’d get a ticket, like one you’d get entering a parking lot, then wherever you exit, you’d have to pay. Once off the Autrostrade it was into the looping, barely two-lane roads of Tuscany. Oh how it was Tuscany! Hilly, expansive, vineyards and olive groves around every turn! Through Greve then to the tiny village of Panzano in Chianti.

villa-directions

We stayed at the Villa Pecille on the edge of the village that is a 17th century fully restored villa split into five suites. It’s owned by the Manetti family who own the Fontodi winery, and they own nearly the entire valley below the villa called the Conca d’Oro (Golden Shell) valley.  We stayed in the top suite of the villa.

The Tuscan Villa
The Tuscan Villa
villa view
View from our bedroom window!
villa view-03
The Conca d’Oro (Golden Shell) valley below the villa!

We couldn’t stop pinching ourselves that we were in Tuscony! Then we found out it was the enormous horseflies that were pinching us. Yes, horseflies. I’m sure they called it something else in Italy, but in my experience of Albertan entomology, I know my horseflies. HUGE ones too. And mosquitoes. It was rather disappointing as we couldn’t sit by the pool or go for walks in the vineyards. The concierge at the villa noted this was something new, but I’m sure he meant it was the time of the year for them. I went for a few early morning walks in the vineyard…

vinyard-01

 

vinyard-02

…but over all we had to stay away from the farms and stick to the villages where the bugs were few.

Panzano in Chianti was enchanting:

Panzano-01

 

Panzano-06

The people were friends and welcoming. So many nights we’d sit in the square and have wine and then there was the restaurant Oltre il Giardino. The food was wonderful and the view of the valley breathtaking! A few nights were spend there with wine, food and my love.

View from Oltre il Giardino
View from Oltre il Giardino

While in Rome we found the best pizza, in Panzano in Chianti, at the Café La Curva (where we’d get our morning coffee), we found the best ice cream! Wonderful, rich, and we had it far too often. But what the hell, we’re on vacation.

panz-ice-cream

A sample of some excursions were: Pisa…

pisa-01

pisa-02

pisa-04

pisa-06

…Florence…

florance-04

florance-02

florance-03

…and the wine festival in Greve.

wine-fest-03

wine-fest-02

We did some simple driving about in the countryside. It was a lesson in patience as the roads are narrow and weave about like a corkscrew. I likened it to driving Hana Road in Maui. Narrow and stomach churning in their constant turning. Beautiful yes, mind numbing also yes!

It was heart breaking to have to finally leave Tuscany, but alas, it was time to move on… more later…

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