Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Autostrada

Woke up this morning to clearer skies, but much nastier seas. Pack pack pack, a quick breakfast, a return to the little shop for some more pesto to take home. Then off to the train to La Spezia.

Sidenote- it is amazing how some locals will walk past tourists and know what language to greet them in. An 11 year old girl walked past us, said hello, walked past the next people said ciao. We get hello a lot. Walk in a store, 10 other customers get Buon Giorno, we get Hello. (I think Kitty’s side pony or my overalls gives it away).

Took the 10 minute ride through the mountains from Cinque Terra to the “big” city of LA Spezia. Taxi through La Spezia to the car rental agency. Had a fun conversation with our cab driver. (He spoke mostly Italian so we got to try out about as much Italian as we knew, it’s fun when they at least pretend that it’s fun for them too.)

Our car is a Fiat Panda. (Dear Panda- we thought you’d like that we got a car in your honor.) I think it is a pretty big family sedan over here, but we filled the trunk with 3 bags and put the rest in the back seat. It is a 4 door dream and we are going to see if we can bring one over to the states for Camden when she can drive (actually, I think the Fiat 500 would be a great car for Camden. If it’s priced by the pound or by size, it can’t be too expensive. Camden, you should start saving now). We can’t even imagine having a Suburban over here. We would only be able to drive on the Sutostradas and not into any town centers. And we definitely could not pull the extremely illegal u-turn on the Autostrada like Ian did today.

So those first few moments of freedom our car provided us soon turned to panic as we headed on the freeway and tried to figure out what all the strange signs mean and where in the freak we were going. We learned, Ian especially, from our stressful start on the scooter to take deep breaths and just go with the flow. And the flow on Italy’s toll-freeway is fast and furious. They tailgate like they were born to do it and pass where American’s are taught to wait. So Ian pretty much fit right in. Except we are in a tin can that feels like the tires are going to fall off while taking some of the turns at 130km/h.

I couldn’t believe the cars/people I was getting passed by. In addition to the sports cars you’d expect, I got passed (but not just passed, they blew by me) by delivery trucks and plenty of elderly people who could barely see over the steering wheel.

With God, and Rick Steve, guiding our way, we made it to Pisa without a problem. We both looked at each other in shock- “How did that just happen? That was way to easy!” We had been well prepped that the Field of Miracles was pretty much all you wanted to see in Pisa, and then get out of town. So we pretty much did just that.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is seriously leaning. IT is crazy. And it started to lean pretty soon after construction began. But they kept on going. And stopping and going and stopping and 200 years later they had a permanent tourist attraction that makes the dingy city of Pisa lots of money. We refrained from climbing this though because Ian said it made him uncomfortable. We checked out the interior of the Cathedral and went into the baptistry, which is leaning too – not as much as the tower and in the opposite direction.

And then we each paid .30 Euro to use the W.C., but it was well worth it because I have had it with crazy public bathrooms in Italy. I have peed on myself more than all my babies peed on me over the last 11.5 years. And the worst part is AFTER the bladder has already stared to spastically empty, only THEN do I realize not an ounce of wiping material exists. Like toilet seats, toilet paper is almost always missing. I just now why I a girl was handing out tissues to her friends going in to use a public restroom. Basically that .30 Euro was the best spent on this trip! (I don’t know what Kitty is complaining about, public restrooms work just fine for me.)

Some take away lunch and we were back in the Panda trying to find our way onto the Autostrada so we could drive off into the Tuscan sun. If only it was that easy. Rick Steves had abandoned us, but God saved our lives when Ian made a u-turn on an Autostrada exit – something that couldn’t be done in the USA, suburban or not. And now we have a 58 euro souvenir to show for it.

Apparently going back out the way we came in isn’t an option for the toll road, so the pay-machine read our ticket and charged us 58 euros, we kept hitting the Assistance button, and eventually it printed some bill and lifted the gate (cars had been piling up behind us). If we don’t plan on coming back to Italy soon, do we have to pay the fine?

Finally headed in the right direction, we amazingly found our way to the Medieval town of San Gimignano. This hilltop town is a rustic-bread-charming as is gets. It is so well preserved because in the 1300’s the Black Death made a visit and took the town from 13,000 residents to 4,000. To add insult to injury the town was taken off the trade route and never recovered. So that is why it is so preserved and popular today. Take that, bubonic plague.

Of course we had to keep the gelato string alive by trying some here. We are doing our best to try different flavors (terra de sienna, stratecellia, acchogis) and both thought it was delicious, but still think the gelato we had in Milan was the best. (It’s getting hard for me to keep the different flavors and locations straight anymore.)

More driving through the beautiful countryside of Tuscay. It really is a complete feast for the eyes in all directions. Even better than I had imagined it would look. I totally understand why people come here and stay for good. And even though was didn’t get much of the Tuscan sun, the Tuscan clouds with scattered rain showers treated us pretty good.

Driving into the walled city of Sienna was flat out scary. We drove through the arch in the ancient wall surrounding the city and that is when it all got black and crazy! IT is really hard to retell this story in written words that my children will read, so let us just sum it up this way – turn onto on way road, stop in middle of intersection, stuck, yelling, yelled at in Italian, continue on curvy one way screaming “WE’RE GONNA DIE!!!” didn’t die, and ended up right in front of our hotel. What the?!? (again, I don't know what she's talking about, my superior driving and navigation skills just came through again.)

Checked into our room at a 500 year old pensione, that loves its aristocratic self way too much. But once we saw the view of the Tuscan hills beyond, we understand why it’s such a snob. Of course we have the view of the street. (some 800 year old street with a bunch of old stuff, like cathedrals and towers, in the way of our view).

Although it was definitely time to find some dinner, we just didn’t have it in us to eat, because we felt like we already had all of Italy’s food in us. So we went our for a night walk through Sienna’s cobble-stoned, crooked little roads. Saw their duomo and the Il Campo by night. (we found some more young guitarists playing and singing in the Il Campo, but it’s just not the same when they’re singing Guns N Roses and “Lean on me”). No crowds, no lines, no sirens, no dinner. We loved it all. Couple of power bars and a blood orange to share and it was lights out for me. Then Ian stayed up another 2 hours working (first loading pictures to the blog at a painfully slow rate, then a little work. This has been the most work-free trip I’ve ever taken). Technology really is amazing - even in Italy!

Love to you all!!

Ciao Ciao

The Loader

The Washer


Marian said...

So happy you dropped the Secret for God, it took awhile, but Autostrada did the job. I remember the, "WE'RE GONNA DIE" thing when Stephanie drove off the 1-15 freeway driving 70mph. Those are the very words I repeated over and over, along with a few expletives. But the Lord saved us, I hadn't watched the Secret yet.

Chris said...

Mom Dad really good blog. Hope you are having fun. I'm glad that you are save.

love you
and miss you


Chris said...

So, wait, were you going the WRONG way on the one way street when you entered the old city? Love your crazy adventures. Especially since you're alive to tell. Quincee used her 20 min. nightly reading time this evening to read your blogs. OK, you Vances have got me now. Is it totally embarrassing that I have no clue what the "Secret" is? (sounds vaguely familiar)

Amy Carter said...

everything looks so beautiful, wherever you go! i am very (very)envious. and i also love that i get to avoid working every morning, so that i can read your blog.

i don't know what the Secret is either. although i have heard of it. also still wondering what kitty's chemical body experience was all about. you'll have to explain that when you get back.

Molly said...

You're killing me with the pictures of the gelato. I might have to go find some soft-serve ice cream on campus. Mmmmm. Ice cream...

The Secret us just a basic concept that some lady used to make a TON of money with a book about it. Pretty much the idea that if you are positive about something and believe it will happen, you will find a way to make it happen. Positive thinking. Oprah recommended the book and it exploded. :)

I obviously didn't read the book. Perhaps someone who did can make it sound more exciting than that.

JoMama said...

So what part of the tower "made him uncomfortable?" Isn't climbing the tower almost the entire point of going? Sheesh! What a wuss!

The Carters said...

JoMama - Why would anyone climb a building that's already falling over. Just because it's falling slowly doesn't make it any better. Kind of like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.