Thursday, August 16, 2012

Italy - The Start of Our Trip

As we drove back from Matt & Ashley's house, in the midst of thanksgiving, my mind was racing, planning out in great detail all the things I would need to do before our trip on Sunday. I was thankful that I booked our flights for Sunday, not Saturday or I would be panicked.

Friday would be 100% work, finishing up everything that I needed to do. Saturday would be spent packing and doing anything that I needed to do before we left on Sunday. I had already decided that we  (I) needed to pack much lighter than we did when we went to Paris two years earlier. In many ways that took the pressure off to pack much in the way of clothing. It took the pressure off, too, of thinking of much in the way of things that I needed to buy.

After a whirlwind two days, we found ourselves on the freeway bound for LAX. I was both excited and nervous. We were changing planes in Chicago so the first flight was quick and easy. The second flight was much longer, but it helped to be working on Aurora's stocking. At long last and with unbelievably, no flight delays, we landed in Roma and our adventure was in full swing.

The plan was to rent a car and drive to Tuscany to the farmhouse/villa/apartment I had rented. As we made our way from the terminal to the car rental area, my anxiety grew. I had read so much about driving in Italy that I was apprehensive. On one hand, I read that Italian's were impatient, horn-honking, tail-gating aggressive drivers. That made me nervous. On the other hand, I read that the aggressiveness of the Italian drivers was largely over exaggerated. That made me more confident. That and the fact that I drove successfully in France without anywhere close to 20/20 vision. Yes, they might be crazier drivers, but I could see much better. I had also convinced myself that any article in which I read that the driving was horrendous was written by someone living in the rural area of someplace such as Idaho, Iowa or Nebraska. If I could drive in downtown LA, I could drive anywhere.

Before I knew it, I was declining the GPS device being offered to me (we had maps and I had my navigator...Liz) and we were loading our bags into the BMW station wagon, thankful that everyone followed the mandate to pack lighter. If anyone had had a larger bag, we would have needed a bigger car.

As we drove out of the parking lot and made our way to the highway, my confidence rose. After all it only less than 5 minutes without turning around before we were on the A1 heading North. Things were looking good. No sooner than I commented that this was much better than France then we came to a section of the freeway where we had no clue really what we were supposed to do. Thankfully, it was one of those forks in the road in which they both led to the same place. Luckily there were a fair number of throughout Italy. And if we happened to go the wrong way, more often enough there was a roundabout which made turnaround very easy.

As we cruised north on the A1, I settled in. Like France, Italy had combination gas station with mini mart rest stops right off the highway. It made asking for directions, stopping for gas, bathroom breaks or refreshments very easy. I also quickly learned that there were very specific rules of the road in Italy and as long as you abided by them, things would be okay. Rule one...only get in the left lane if you wanted to pass a car on the right or if you were willing to drive at the speed of sound. If you wanted to go at any reasonable or slow speed stay on the right lane and no one bothers you...ever...even if you're only going 40 km/hr.

As we got closer to Toscana, I began to get nervous again. As expected, we got a little lost which cost us almost 45 minutes. Later I realized our mistake. In the states, the off ramps are ordered such that the next off ramp is listed at the top of the list. In Italy, the next off ramp is listed at the bottom of the list. One moment the exit we needed was coming up in the next three exits and then it was never to be seen again.

After three stops for directions, we finally saw the signs for our Castel. We were given instructions that prepared us for a steep, narrow, winding road to the top of a hill. As we drove up a little road wedged between two vineyards, I was on sensory overload. The last part of our journey was just as promised...steep, narrow (but not horribly so) and windy. My foot was light on the pedal as I familiarized myself with the surroundings. Good thing because as we came around one corner, a little car was speeding down the hill, whizzing by us as we gasped in astonishment.

Towards the top of the hill, our eyes came upon some stone buildings just as they appeared in the pictures of the website where I booked our castel. This would be our home for the next 6 nights. We got out into a dream. Everything was just as I imagined, only better. The grounds were larger, there was a beautiful pool, we looked down upon a valley of vineyards from all directions.

We were escorted to the farmhouse, built in the 1400's where our apartment awaited. First we walked past a little courtyard, then up a few little flights of stairs, to a little wooden door.

The apartment wasn't a deluxe hotel room by any means, but it was quaint and comfortable with all the amenities we could ask, fireplace (which we, unfortunately, didn't need), dining table, and windows that opened up to breathtaking views of the valley. I was in heaven.

We were reasonably tired, after all, we had been traveling for over 24-hours by then with very little sleep. We agreed that a nap was in order and soon everyone was asleep. Except for me. We were in the hills of Tuscany, in a farmhouse build in the 1400's, surrounded by vineyards, how could I sleep?

I wandered the grounds of the estates for over an hour, taking in my surroundings, snapping pictures, praying, thanking God.

Tomorrow...venturing into town.

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