Thursday, March 26, 2015

A drive through Tuscany- Italy trip Day 4

A few weeks before we left for Italy Mike went ahead and got his international driver's license. After many days of assuring me that he was completely capable of driving in Italy I gave in and agreed to renting a car for a day trip out of Rome.

Every article I've ever read about driving in Italy pretty much says not to. And after the vespa tour and 3 days of taxi rides, I understand why. Yes, there are painted lanes in Rome but no, they are not used. Everyone goes in whatever lane they want, sometimes driving 3 cars wide on a 2 lane road.

Sort of like New York except one BIG one is angry about being cut off. There is no honking, no flicking of middle fingers. People just merge and do their best not to hit any people. It's all very fluid once you stop covering your eyes with your hands and your Xanax kicks in! It works for them.

Once again, Mike assures me that it's no big deal, he drove here when he lived here. I am in charge of putting in the destinations into our GPS and of telling him when I want to pull over to take a picture. I was instructed to look down at my lap or out the window at the Tuscan hillside instead of the 130km cars whizzing by us (or us by them as it would turn out). I did what I was told and I'm happy to report that no divorces were caused during this 12 hour road trip.

Our rental chariot...
 And our route:

Point A: Ciampiano Airport/Hertz rental agency. Point B is Civita di Bagnoregio. Point C is Montepulciano and Point D is Siena.

We left the Hertz office at around 9:00am. It took us about an hour to get through the paperwork and the craziness of them not having the car I paid 30 Euros extra to reserve (a Fiat 500L...I mean, come on! We are in Italy, I wanted a Fiat!!!). Once again, those Italians laid on the charm and upgraded us to the Jeep Renegade, a model not available in the US so we at least felt like we weren't cheating. We had heavy traffic getting around Rome but as soon as we got on the Autostrade, we were burning rubber. We exited the A1 at Orte and got to really start seeing some typical Tuscan landscapes. The skies were pretty dreary but the grass was emerald green!

The little town of Bagnoregio was small and narrow but it was just a through way to get to the big prize. Rick Steve's favorite place in Italy, Civita di Bagnoregio!

We pulled into this empty parking lot with this as our view. Even the picture doesn't do it justice. 

 We were still quite far away at this point but we didn't see any signs leading us any closer. Mike saw a mail women delivering mail and asked her if she knew of a way to get closer in our car. She told him there is a parking lot right at the base of the bridge but there are only a few spaces and normally it's full but we could try (or at least this is what he told me how the convo went...very frustrating not knowing what they are chatting and laughing about, lol). We followed her directions and found the lot completely empty!!! The whole time we were here, we only saw one other family. I could even set up my tripod and grab a family picture!

Can you tell that the hill is steep? I was out of breath by the time I made it to the top. Not a good sign since hiking Machu Pichu is on the bucket list! Bella thought it would be fun to run the whole way. Ahhh, to be 11 again! This little town used to be connected to Bagnoregio but years of wind and erosion have put this place in jeopardy. As you get closer to the top you can see the layers of soil exposed on the sides. The drop is instant and massive.

 Once inside the city, the only residence we see are the local cats. They seem to run the place. They were everywhere. The only noises we heard the entire time we were here were meows...and two cats fighting. Nothing could have made my kids happier than this discovery. It was straight out of a storybook. There is nothing touristy to do here, just walk around and imagine what it must be like to live on this crumbling mountain surrounded by cats.

We make the trek back to the car and as we are pulling away a huge group of school aged kids on a field trip pull in. We count ourselves lucky at the good fortune to have had Civita di Bagnoregio all to ourselves for the morning.

Our next stop is the town of Montepulciano. I read good reviews for a little cafe so we make it our lunch destination. Here it is on our way in.
Mike had me put the exact address for the cafe in the GPS and what do you know, it took us right to the back door and an available parking space. Lady luck strikes again!

When we go inside Caffe Poliziano we are the only ones there besides the waiters and a hostess. Mike asks where everyone is and she tells him that they are a summer town for tourists, only the locals are here now. Then she takes us into the main dining room and tells us to pick any seat & enjoy the view!

We are pretty hungry so we each order a meal and also get a cheese & meat plate to split. Mike had Tuscana soup (he says very different from Olive Garden's, lol). Preston got a pasta dish with breadcrumbs and cheese. I had pasta with boar ragu (on my list of must tries while I was here). Bella had a salad...she's my veggie eater.

Bella also had a hot chocolate, European style...thick as pudding.

The cafe had a pastry shop in the front, decorated for Easter. I wish we could have somehow smuggled one of those huge chocolate eggs back to the US! We grabbed a little tart for everyone to snack on in the car then headed back on the road.

 Sometimes I had Mike pull over just to take it all in.

Around 4:00 we arrived at our final destination, Siena. The Cathedral we wanted to visit closed at 5:00 so we had to hustle to get there and get our tickets in case there was a long line. HAHAHA, once again, a town void of tourists!!! The only mistake we made was we grabbed the first parking spot we came to. It was on the outskirts of the town and we had to walk all the way to the other side to get to the Duomo. It was about a 20 minute walk through winding streets. The smells of pizza filled the air. We were able to walk right up and get our tickets then head straight inside.

I've read that this is the prettiest church in all of Italy...I haven't been to them all but I can't imagine there is a prettier one. I was even more impressed with these ceilings than I was with the Sistine Chapel ceilings! And black & white horizontal stripes??? The mosaic floors??? I mean, come on!!!

 Do you see all those faces looking down at you??

We then walked next door to the museum and found out that our passes included being able to go up to the roof for a birds eye view over all of Siena!

We go back down and stroll towards the central piazza, il Campo. We grab a slice of pizza & a soda and park it right in the square. We rest our feet for a while, just people watching & talking about our day. Of course we finish with a gelato for the long walk back to the car. You should never go a whole day in Italy without eating gelato.

We take the Autostrade the whole way back and it only takes us 2 1/2 hours. Glad to be back in our apartment but tomorrow we have to get up at 5am to catch the speed train to Venice!!!

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