Traveling is a Metaphor for Life
Traveling is a Metaphor for Life
Sometimes travel is easy, sometimes it is hard, but always it seems to be a metaphor and a mirror of life. Zoé-Pascale once again had her fall or Toussaint vacation also known as All Saints vacation this past two weeks. As a rule, we therefore must have a vacation. Why not!
Wanting to continue our travel to places we have not been before (or in a very long time) we decided to make the trek by car to Tuscany. A few days before our trip Jean had an interview with a professor in Switzerland and so we detoured through Switzerland on the way to Italy. Isn’t Europe wonderful how the detours to another country seem so simple?
Lesson One: If you start late you always seem to continue to be late.
Our plans to leave in the morning to get to Switzerland by dusk were derailed as Zoé-Pascale had to stay for her school photo to be taken at 2pm. This small change in plans was only difficult in trying to find the hotel we booked outside of Montreux (as we were on a budget) in the dark. Finally arriving at 11pm we made rolled into the village up the mountain and hit the sack for the night. From then on however hard we tried we seemed to find ourselves arriving into each new city as the sun was setting at 5:30 and in commuter traffic. Jean vows to never arrive in a city during 5:00 rush hour in the dark again. A major lesson in stress reduction.
Lesson Two: Expect the Unexpected
Driving through the mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy were beautiful and treacherous as we soon found out. Driving along through a two kilometer tunnel our car bumped up against a huge plate awkwardly placed on the road for the workers. Hitting it at an awkward angle, our tires slowly began to wobble and we knew we had a blow out.
“I’m not stopping.” Jean said. “I’m not getting stuck in a tunnel miles away from a captivity.”
Twenty minutes later we bobbled and hobbled into a gas station at 12:30 pm. Of course, it was lunch time and the station wouldn’t open until 2:30 pm, two hours later. To our advantage right next door was a wonderful little workman’s café which served a four course menu with a carafe of wine. Three hours later we are still occupying the table, but have cleared it except for the carafe of wine a jug of water and Zoé’s school books. With the extra time on our hands we all decided it was a good time to do her devoir . The word devoir translated into English is Homework. In French it literally means “to must do.” No time like the present.
Lesson Three: Be Extra Careful
With our car dilemma solved we stayed overnight in a nearby town, Aosta and drove the rest of the way to Florence the next day. About an hour outside of Florence we stopped on the highway for gas and a quick sandwich emporter. Fifteen minutes later I found myself shaking and yelling in the cafeteria
“Someone took my wallet.”
Everyone looked my way, but wanted nothing to do with me as they could all be under suspect. I had just paid for the sandwiches and am sure someone watched me put the wallet in my purse backpack. My stupidity was putting it on my back. I loved my new red leather purse, but its hazard was bigger than its beauty. The next hour we called credit card companies and cancelled the cards then hit the road grateful that Jean had separate credit cards we could use.
Later we were told by our policewoman friend to separate cash from credit cards into two different wallets/ pockets and only take out the credit cards when you need them. Then hide them in a deep zipper in your purse or pocket. Most often they want the cash and throw away the rest. In addition, the fact that Jean and I had separate credit cards that could be used came in extremely handy.
We also realized that as a tourist we are always a target whether we want to believe so or not. There are always people who want to take advantage whether we want to believe it or not and that in some countries this is even more true than others. Moral of the story, Be extra careful.
Lesson Four: Don’t Arrive in a City at rush hour
Arriving into Florence at 5pm with dusk fast approaching is Jean’s worse nightmare. Not being able to read street signs with the low light, fast moving cars, thousands of motos and millions of bicycles made it impossible to change lanes. Finally after some cursing (we decided to try to contain ourselves with Zoé in the car) we found our bed and breakfast. A great little find on the internet, newly remodeled Locanda dei Poeti with a room big enough for three and a television with cable (a love of Jean and Zoé’s).
Lesson Five: Walk As Much As You Can
European cities unlike most in America are made for walking - not just around our neighborhood, but everywhere. Life would be so much more enjoyable if we could all walk more easily from one place to another... Well at least we can try. Meanwhile, the joys of European cities can only be seen from a foot.
While in Florence, the car stayed parked in a garage (21euro a day) and we walked the city, visited the museums, fell in love with Michaelangelo’s David once again, and ate the great Italian food.
Even in October the streets were crowded with tourists from around the world and the Italians who came into Florence for shopping on the weekend. If it was this crowded in October we couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the summer. Not having to fight the crowds via a car, bike, or bus, our feet lead us down the cobblestone streets to great cafe's, restaurants, and museums. Just basking in the art, culture, and air you began to feel more artistic like yourself.
See more photos of Florence in the Photo Gallery
Lesson Six: Sometimes things turn out better than you think
Upon arriving at our next destination in Tuscany, we came to find out our hotel we reserved was closing the next day and we had to find other accommodations. Being the fall many country hotels were closing, the pools were empty and no meals were being served. As a result we decided to find a hotel in the village of San Gimignano and so we did. A great room with a view.
Not just any view but a view worth paying for. It was magnificent and allowed us to walk everywhere in the village. A bit of a tourist town we still enjoyed it and walking through the countryside, listening to the harp player in the olive grove and participating in the activities of All Saints Day.
Overhearing an American couple talk, Jean interrupted them and asked. “Where did you say you had those delicious lamb chops for 7 Euro?”
“Our campground has the most amazing restaurant with a young chef. The food is unbelievable and the prices to match.”
That night Zoé begged us to go have lamb chops at the campground. After a 5 course meal of melted cheese and radicchio salad, grilled lamb chops, cheese, cheesecake for desert and wine we were satiated and smiling with a bill of 45 Euro for three people.
The country side of Tuscany is the most striking and picturesque scenery we have ever seen. The rolling green hills, yellow, lime, orange and red vineyards and tall evergreen trees seem to go on forever. I was so inspired I took out my sketch pad and pencil everywhere we went and began to draw the views, the buildings, and the people. To my delight Zoé began to draw right along side of me.
“I always draw in school but aren’t sure what it looks like. Now I can see what I’m drawing.”
It was wonderful to see her visualize the lines of the buildings and perspective from a delightful viewpoint. MORE PHOTOS IN THE PHOTO GALLERY
On All Saints Day they opened up a workshop like Gepito's workshop in which families could make objects out of wood. In watching the activity. I decided the Dad's were having more fun than the kids, but it was a great idea. Zoe ended up with a house and a bird house.
Lesson Six: In search of a Spa
Always in search of a water hole in the summer or a hot tub in the fall and winter we stumbled upon a newly remodeled spa in the country south of Sienna in Rapolano Therme. Six large sulpher pools flowed into each other from hot to warm, to cool to cooler. Empty lounge chairs and umbrellas went invited you to relax in the summer sun, but when unused as people stayed in the warm water protecting themselves from the November cold air. The blue skys and view of rolling hills and vineyards warmed your eyes as the water warmed your body.
A quick Visit to Pisa
By 4pm we left for Pisa to visit the famous Leaning tower of Pisa.
“It doesn’t lean as much as I thought.” Zoé said adding, “Let’s draw it.” We took out our drawing pad and pencils and stared at the 800 year old leaning tower trying to fit it’s height on our small pad. Fifteen minutes later we were done with a complete sketch of the tower and its details.
Lesson Seven: Driving
Driving in different countries following road signs that you are unfamiliar with and cars that cross lanes every which way, mopeds and millions of bicycles add a new level of anxiety and tension between the driver and navigator. Driving in a foreign country puts the ultimate test to a marriage. Arriving in Florence at dusk and during the five o’clock traffic is to be avoided at all costs. Something we didn’t do well. With the Road God on our shoulders we found the correct street that finally led us to our bed and breakfast. This was after stopping four times to ask for directions, something Jean usually refuses to do, being a man. Once there we were told where to park the car, driving backwards down the street to the garage. Safely tucked away we vowed never to drive into Florence again, but to take a train. It was hell!
Driving in Italy is different in many ways than France. On the highways instead of telling you the distance to the next town they would list the length of the Bridge or tunnel you were going through, like anyone would ever care? Unlike France where they believe in plenty of picnic aires and rest stops for travelers, Italy had no such thing. On one road of 400 kilometers between the Italian Alps and Florence there were no aires (rest stops) or hotels for hundreds of kilometers. We were warned to sleep over night in the nearby village of Aoust when our tires blew out before moving on and we were glad we took their advice. If not we would have been sleeping on the side of the road. What amazed us more bordering the highway in northern Italy wasn’t the countryside but the amount of light industry and hundreds of trucks accompanying us. Spread throughout this region is the vast majority of Italy’s small and medium enterprises that makeup a great deal of its economy.
Overnight an hour north of Nice.
Some friends had mentioned to us that they had visited the region an hour north of Nice in the lower Alps. Beautiful country and so different than the Cote Azure. Feeling spontaneous we drove up the windy country mountain road to St. Martin de Vesubie, a beautiful little mountain village in the Vallee de Vesubie. A summer and winter playground for outdoor enthusiasts and a village with a river running right through the main street. Never having been up in this area we were delightfully surprised by its charm and plan to go back to play. If you are ever in the area and want to get away try driving up to this hidden area.
Overall Suggestions in traveling in Italy
- Take the train to major cities such as Florence and then to minor ones such as Sienna and rent a car from there. Don’t try to drive in and out of Florence if you can help it.
- Fall is a beautiful time to travel but as a warning many hotels close November 1. We found at this time of year with hotels winding down, restaurants closing and pools emptied it is better to stay in the villages then out in the country. Renting a country Tuscan house is wonderful in the summer but not suggested in the fall.
- Check out the spas south of Sienna. There are numerous ones to stay in and use for day spas.
- Check out the campground restaurants for dinner. Ask someone who is camping for a suggestion. You may be surprised for a great inexpensive meal.
- Drink lots of Chianti it is fabulous!!!
See more photos of Italy under the Photo Gallery.