Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back to Tuscany

Sorry, I got sidetracked there with my French class.  I was going to give you some more scoopage about Tuscany, since approximately 95% of you will, some day, want to visit there.  After we woke up in Granny’s hotel there in Castelfiorentina, with aching backs from the concrete bed and being diligent not to flush too vigorously lest we violate the plumbing protocol, we crept downstairs and snuck out without breakfast.  We were convinced that if La Familia had seen us, we would have been forced to consume vast quantities of oatmeal and unidentified pork products.

So, we run to the car, complaining all across the plaza about our stupid backs and how it sucks getting old, scoop the map up off the floor and zoom out of Castelfiorentina in a very stealthy and sneaky manner.  Did you miss the part where I scooped up the PAPER map?

The men who are reading this are saying, “what, is Mr. Big some sort of Neanderthal?  Has he never heard of GPS?”  In Europe, never, ever, ever trust a GPS.  Yes, it is correct about 80% of the time, but it is that other 20% of the time which causes divorce proceedings to begin.  I cannot tell you how many times the woman on the GPS, with whom I am convinced that my husband is secretly in love,  says “take the second exit in the roundabout and continue 8 kilometers”.

Dutifully, like the robotic GPS follower that he is, Mr. Big takes the second exit on the roundabout and trundles on down the road, never stopping to wonder why THE ACTUAL ROAD SIGNS in the roundabout did not correspond to his desired course.  

Eight kilometers later, down the wrong road, (which I knew was the wrong road 8 km ago but have been biting my tongue),  we are invited by Mr. Big’s secret GPS lover to “please make a U-turn as soon as possible”.  THIS is when I subtly shake out the REAL map and find an alternate route.  Ladies, pay attention.  This is never a good time to pour salt in the wound.  No “I told you so”, no “well, if you had only listened to your wife instead of blindly following that godforsaken GPS”, etc.   I have learned through many a screaming match that it is just not worth the lung expansion.  Here are some key phrases you must master when trying to get a tried-and-true GPS follower to abandon his beloved device and take direction from you and your (correct) Michelin paper map:

*Oh, honey, the GPS must just be out of sync/confused.  (Never say the GPS is wrong.  To men, the GPS is never wrong.  Ever.)

*Well, honey, you might try this little road here.  I’m not sure if it is right, but it is going in the right direction.  (Of course, you know that it is right.)

*Gosh, sweetie, I get confused too when your GPS girl says “haaalf left” or “haaalf right”.  Who wouldn’t, snookums?  Let’s just try taking that little road right there, shall we?

***All of the above must be delivered in HONEST TO GOD sincere tones with big, big eyes.  Y’all know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

Trust me, girls.  If you are going to Europe, get yourself a Michelin map and spot check everything your man’s GPS is telling you to do.  Follow the actual, real road signs, not the Garmins.  Europe, (well, except for Ireland, but that is another story) is well marked with directional signs.  Trust the signs!  They have been correct for 1,000 years!    The villages have not moved since William the Conqueror came and conquered!  If you are in a roundabout and trying to get to Small Village A, follow the signs to Small Village A, not the Garmin which is trying to get you to take the exit for Big Town.  GPS’s are programmed to always try to get you out to a big freeway, even if it means travelling many, many kilometers out of your way.  OK, enough.  Back to Tuscany.

Oh, wait.  My favorite Europe—Garmin story.  Some couple, NOT US, were driving to the island of Capri in Italy.  Hubby types “Carpi” into the Garmin by mistake.  Of course, they wind up in Carpi, Italy, which is about 500 kilometers away from their destination.  They go to the tourist information office in CARPI and ask where they might find their hotel.  Well.  You know the rest of the story.  The dude in the CARPI information center asks them why THEY DID NOT NOTICE that they never crossed A LARGE BODY OF WATER en route because CAPRI is an island.  They made the BBC news, the idiots.  Would have never happened if that wife had had a Michelin map.  I’m just sayin’.  True story, swear to God.

The area in Tuscany where they make Chianti wine is beautiful.  The villages like Castellina in Chianti, Panzano, and Radda in Chianti are all very picturesque.  The vineyards are open for tastings, but you really don’t even need to drive out to the vineyards.  Each village has local wine stores where you can taste and sample to your heart’s content.  (It’s all pretty much all red wine all the time, though, I’m just warning you!) 

We learned that REAL Chianti Classico from the region will always have a paper band around the top of the bottle with a rooster on it.  Who knew?

But the cutest town of all was Greve in Chianti.  And, the best hotel location in the village is the Albergo Del Chianti.    Here is the website:

Stay there.  You won’t regret it.  It’s right in the main plaza and it has a pool and a fabulous backyard bar/outdoor space.  Really nice.  We, of course, did not arrive in Greve in Chianti at an opportune hour to stay the night there.  We arrived at lunchtime where we enjoyed a delicious Italian 2-hour meal at the Ristorante Verrazzano.  For you history buffs, the man who discovered the Hudson Bay area in the 1500’s and after whom the famous NYC Verrazano-Narrows bridge is named after, was born in Greve.  Cool, huh?  Although, the Americans apparently screwed up the true spelling of his actual name because the MAN has two z’s, but the bridge only has one.  Sorry, dude!  Sorry, Italy!  Here is the website to the restaurant/hotel where we had lunch:

On we proceeded, using the paper map all the while, over hill and dale, on tiny dirt roads, through glorious scenery and impossibly quaint small villages, to Siena.  I would consider Siena the crown jewel of the places that we went in Tuscany.  This is rather a large city, but the quaint part is all happening perched up on the top of the hill in the really old part of the village located within the medieval walls.  I’m warning you right now, there are only 2 or 3 hotels up in this historic, quaint part.  Book early if you want to stay up the hill in the cool part!  Luckily, the NH Excelsior, right in the center had a room left and we took it, gladly.  NH hotels are a dime-a-dozen all over Europe.  Some are just OK, some are really nice, (comparable to Radissons or Sheratons).  Here’s the link:

Folks, Siena has great shopping, especially for leather products like shoes or bags.  (It also has fabulous old churches and buildings, etc., but I live in Europe and I’m getting used to that stuff!)  I bought a beautiful pair of leather riding boots for (compared to Switzerland) a good price, even though the only riding I do is on the number 9 bus.  But still.  Nice boots.

So, all around, a great weekend in Tuscany, if one doesn’t count the concrete bed.  On the way home we did stop in Parma (home of the famous Italian ham) for lunch and it, also, is a happening, upscale town.  Some of the others, out there in the “flatlands”, uh, not so much.  And, incredibly, we did drive through Carpi.  It’s no Capri, I can tell you that much.  Poor saps.

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