|Farewell to the villa
Today was the day to say farewell to our villa and the Tuscan hills. And I have to say that it was quite impressive that all twelve of us made it out of the house, with all our possessions (as far as I know), well before 10 am. I’d told all three girls the night before that they should get dressed and packed up as soon as they woke up, since they’re prone to morning lounging. Nevertheless I was surprised to awaken at 7 am to Nadia standing by the side of my bed, to tell me that she was dressed and packed and could she go out and play with the dogs? This is not the way that school mornings go at home. I think she’s been sneaking some of Chris’s high-test Italian coffee.
The Brookses somehow mustered up the will to get back on their bikes and headed off down the very steep driveway, while we and Stefano took plenty of pictures. When we headed out in our car a little while later, we were surprised at how far they’d gotten. (Though they were already taking a coffee break.)
Our plan was to spend a few hours in Florence en route to Venice, and things went well initially. We found signs for the (free) parking area we were looking for, and actually made it there with little difficulty. Unfortunately, it was overrun with people and cars and our chances of finding a spot seemed slim to none. With no Plan B, we had to revert to our “follow the Centro signs” strategy, which definitely failed us. (I had several maps, but all of them were completely unhelpful for one reason or another.) Also, Florence has a “restricted zone” that we were afraid of inadvertently blundering into, and very confusing parking rules. At one point we found a spot on the street (whether near the center or not, we had no idea) with no signs indicating we couldn’t park there. But the lack of meters and the fact that every other car had some kind of permit displayed made us suspicious. Eventually I found some information on one of the pamphlets Wendy gave me that indicated only residents are allowed to park in spaces marked with white paint. Tourists spaces are in blue. How they expect people to know this is beyond me, but we were happy that we’d avoided a repeat of ourDC experience
|Ponte Vecchio in Florence
By the time we’d found a legal place to park, and walked the substantial distance from there to the center, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to do anything. We strolled around, looked at the famous Ponte Vecchio and the outsides of a few buildings, had a quick lunch (and of course, gelato) and then it was time for the long walk back to the car. So, we’ll have to come back to Florence again someday.
It really, really appeared that the trip to Venice would be smooth. Almost the whole route was on the autostrada. We didn’t take any wrong turns despite a couple of near misses. We actually GOT TO VENICE, within a couple of blocks of where we had to drop off our rental car.
And then we were foiled by gas stations.
I will not bore you with the details of our quest for gas, but suffice it to say that gas stations are one area in which THE U.S. KICKS ITALY’S BUTT. That’s right, Italy. You may win on food, history, art, community, driving skills, and gelato, but WE WIN ON GAS STATIONS. For example, you would not usually find the following in the U.S.:
– Gas stations closed indefinitely for “change of staff” (with no staff evident)
– Gas stations closed indefinitely for “the pause” (afternoon siesta) or for no apparent reason
– Gas stations whose only payment option is feeding bills into a machine that does not give change, so if you happen to need to fill your car you need to keep putting 20 euro notes in and seeing how far you get
– Gas stations where the only exit option is to take a right turn which will take you off the island you’re on and back to the mainland several kilometers away.
But eventually arriving in Venice, leaving the car behind, and hopping on the vaporetto (water bus) into the city proper was magical. Our apartment is right in the middle of things, but in a quiet alley so street noise doesn’t keep us up. We took a stroll around the city, found a produce market and a bread seller, and made ourselves a very nice pasta dinner with lemon garlic sauce. It was Saturday night, and the city was hopping. Bob and I threw open all the windows and listened to laughter and accordion music drifting up from the streets below before going to bed.
Grandma has commented to us that people are going to think we’re millionaires because of our Italian trip. We are doing several things to make things not so expensive – our accommodations, while awesome, are not particularly dear. Split between two families, the villa was very reasonable, particularly since this is the off season. In a few months, it would have cost twice as much as it did.
|Dinner prep was a group effort. Except for Bob who
fell asleep. But he did have the heaviest bags to carry
up to the third floor.
Our place in Venice is really nice. It has a kitchen, a bedroom, a loft and a pull-out couch. It’s about as expensive as a hotel room would be, but we’re not all squished up on top of one another. Also, the kitchen lets us cook some of our meals, which probably saves us some money. Jen should share in this blog how she came across this place so other people can do the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with the Internet. This is a great place to stay – just the right size, and it’s right in the middle of things.
That being said, this is still an expensive trip. The prices seem reasonable, and maybe they are, but we have to mentally tack 25 percent on everything because it’s in Euros and not dollars. Also, they keep sticking us with hidden fees – restaurants charge a seating fee (though we’ve stopped tipping, so that evens out a little); there’s a three-percent surcharge on credit card purchases; and who knows how much the banks are charging for ATM withdrawals. It’s really tough on us tightwads. Today we found that the car rental company wanted us to leave our car in a parking garage and that we have to pay the night’s parking because they won’t come get the car until tomorrow.
|The shop windows in Venice were VERY enticing. On our
second day I gave in to temptation and bought us a
selection of desserts from the bakery above.
Then again, the car was pretty good. I got my Charles Reid vibe going while driving around the A4. Plus it was a diesel. We started with 18 kilometers on the odometer and put on more than 1,000 km over our travels from Rome to Venice. Many were tough miles, too, up and down the twisty roads of Tuscany. I still can believe we returned it without a scratch. It even rained today during the drive, washing off all the dust from the villa’s driveway. And yet there was no appreciative Europcar official to hand the keys off to. That was a little disappointing. I’ll just have to imagine them appreciating my diving tomorrow morning.
But, yeah, this place is pretty expensive – particularly Rome and Venice — and, Grandma has a point. Even though I’m saving the family lots of money by not ordering my own gelato and simply sampling everyone else’s Seriously. We get gelato a lot, and at two to four Euro a pop, it starts to add up.) The thought is that we won’t be coming back to Italy any time soon, so the expense is more like a novelty than a lifestyle direction.
If we were to come back, though, I wouldn’t mind coming here to Venice. The combination of car-less streets and viable public transportation over water give this city an otherworldly feel. The varied, mostly-ancient and slightly decaying architecture helps this, but it’s the car-lessness that really does it. Grammy and Grampy are in Hilton Head this week and they like to talk about car-free streets down there, but everyone drives around on golf carts, which is hardly any better. Half the cars in Rome are smaller than a golf cart, and still they make a commotion when they turn down one of the small side streets where people are walking. No golf carts here. No Segways. The Brookses couldn’t even bring their bikes into Venice. They had to stay on Lido, which is an entirely different island.
Most of the commercial transportation here takes place by boat. Jen says if we look closely we may see brown and yellow UPS boats zipping around. Already I’ve seen water ambulances and fire boats. On the streets, large boxes are hauled by hand dolly. Men wheel them around calling out “Attenti
!” to get pedestrians to move out of the way. It’s odd to think that every trinket and every expensive watch and every suit and every piece of women’s underwear on display in all the stores here had to be carried in by hand. Not to mention all the pizza.