Getting Around

In case you’ve been wondering lately why I called the blog ‘Loving Italy’s Gardens’ (I’ve definitely been wondering about it), I have just the thing to make amends for the dearth of things horticultural in the last few posts.  The most remarkable private garden I’ve visited in Italy or France.  But first, I want to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to Sicily.  And by elephant I don’t mean the Mafia.  The taboo about talking about that aspect of Sicilian life has been shattered by all the courageous individuals and organizations who for some time now have been openly campaigning against it.  I saw many encouraging, and heartbreaking signs of this throughout my trip, from the banner in southern Sicily in memory of the Mafia’s innocent victims (‘Realistic and Not Realistic’, July 19, 2017) to a banner in the island’s capital, Palermo, in the north.

In Italy the bride and groom are married twice. In church and at city hall. One afternoon I came across a wedding party celebrating after the civil ceremony in the town hall of Palermo.

As I stood there watching the happy group, a bit of wind lifted the flags over the entrance. On the banner was a powerful message. PALERMO STA CON DI MATTEO E IL POOL ANTIMAFIA. (Palermo is with Di Matteo (the chief prosecutor) and the Antifmafia ‘Pool’)

No, the elephant I’d like to talk about has to do with the nuts and bolts of getting to the island’s fabulous sites.  If, like me,  you are genetically unsuitable for group tours, you’ve essentially got two options –  i mezzi pubblici (public transit) or drive.  (A third possible option is to hire a driver, but that is exorbitantly expensive, so doesn’t count.  At least not in my books.)  In some regions of Italy, public transit is a viable option.  Sicily is not one of them.

However, there are a couple of places where, even if you have a car, you’re best off parking it and taking the mezzi pubblici. Taormina is one of them.

Take for example, getting to the Castle of Donnafugata (previous post).  Italian and foreign visitors alike warn against using public transit.  As one Italian put it, non consentono in pratica di raggiungere questo monumento.  (They do not, in actual practice, allow one to reach the site.)  An English visitor was less diplomatic, describing the bus timetable from Ragusa as ‘a work of fiction’.

Palermo is another. When the owner of the agriturismo learned I would be heading to Palermo she looked at me in alarm. ‘Signora, she warned me, quando si ha guidato a Palermo, non si è più lo stesso. Once you’ve driven in Palermo you’ll never be the same.

That leaves the car, which in the case of the castle meant a rather uninspiring, but absolutely straightforward drive.  (I was surprised to read one online commentator complaining it was tricky to find.  As far as I’m concerned, their biggest problem was their reliance on their ‘Sat Nav’, which in this case refused to take them where they wanted to go.)

Ciò nonostante (choe-no-no-stan-tay) – a lovely term which gives ‘however’ the full gravitas it really requires – despite my strong endorsement of renting a car, it does have its challenges.  So, since un uomo avvisato è mezzo salvato – in Italian, instead of being forearmed, one is ‘half saved’ when forewarned – here are a few of the things you need to be prepared for if you want to enjoy, rather than hate every minute of your Sicilian adventure al volante. At the flying thing, or as we so prosaically put it, behind the wheel.

One of the most important has to do with unexpected encounters on the road.  And I’m not even talking about the ones involving humans.  After the flight from Toronto to Rome – as usual I hadn’t slept – then the connecting flight to Palermo, then making my way through security and the mysteries of the baggage claim system, then locating the rental car office, and finally the lot where the cars are, I managed to drive all the way to the historic centre of Trapani and was looking forward to a nice little nap in the B&B when all of a sudden the cars in front of me came to a halt.

Not what I thought would be the first photo from this trip.  The goats took their time – notice the ones checking out the store on the left.

There was a long line-up of vehicles, but I didn’t hear one horn honking. Welcome to Sicily!

The goats in Trapani were not an isolated incident.  One day I set out for a village in the area close to the Madonie Mountains.  The road was pretty rough and as I had learned on my previous trip to the area (‘One Thing Leads to Another’, Sept. 13, 2015), could get even rougher with little in the way of warning signs. So I was driving quite slowly when I came to the curve below.  As it turned out, although the road beyond the curve was fine, it was a good thing I was going slowly.

In the distance, Castiglione di Sicilia.

Maybe I should have rented a more substantial car. A free-spirit that size could do a lot of damage to my little Ypsilon.

Instead it  began – rather daintily – to cross the road.

And then proceeded to make its way, slowly, down the middle of the road.

I really did not want to get T-boned in the middle of nowhere by a rogue cow or bull, or whatever it was, but after a while of inching along the road, even a cautious female driver of a certain age will get fed up. When I saw a bit of straight road, I gunned it.

Of course not all your unexpected encounters will involve animals.

On the way to a vineyard I kept well behind this truck.  One bump taken just a bit too fast and I could see those rocks come flying at me.

I don’t care if the locals do it all the time. I am not going to pass any vehicle, even a hay wagon, on a blind curve.

Instead I pulled over to wait until he went by. This strategy has the added benefit of allowing the driver to admire the scenery.

Signs are another unexpected challenge.  The owner of the agriturismo I was staying at had given me directions to the summer pastures.  When I got to the ‘T’ at the end of the long road up to the agriturismo all I had to do was follow the sign for Collesano.

I parked the car and walked over to get a closer look at the sign. In the end I figured that because the right end of the uppermost sign, obviously for Palermo, was straight, that meant that the broken off end would have been triangular, which meant that Palermo was to the left, which meant that for Collesano I had to turn right.

The vaguely arrow-shaped black bits at the left end of the middle sign almost led me the wrong way.

Some signs aren’t missing vital parts, they’re just hard to see behind all the foliage.

Somewhere in there was the sign for the winery I wanted to visit.

Sometimes the signs are so unobtrusive and/or weather-worn you’ll only see them once you’ve found your destination and are walking along the road.

One of my favourites. Normally a warning against falling rocks, but with the cow on top…

More often however, when it comes to signs, it’s the lack of encounters that is unexpected. And molto scocciante (skoch-chan-tay)  Annoying.

One day I came the closest I’ve ever been to thinking about not doing any more driving trips.  What happened is exactly as follows, but I’ve been careful not to reveal the identity of the location or the owner of the B&B for reasons that will become obvious.  Since I can’t use any photos of that experience, I’ve interspersed the story with shots from another outing.

On my way to one of Sicily’s ‘Most Beautiful Villages” I was delighted to come across one of the island’s iconic animals – l’asino – on the proper side of a somewhat sturdy fence.

Things got off to a good start.  The exit I was supposed to take off the highway was well signed and I continued along a quiet, country road following the signs for the village the B&B was in.  Until the signs petered out. I knew I was close – it was becoming a pattern – but the village was nowhere in sight. I decided to stop and ask at a fruttivendolo (froo-tee-ven-doh-low).  I approached a young fellow who was working on a huge pile of rapini.  He pointed to a fellow by the cash register.  Yes, of course, the boss knew the village I was trying to get to.  It was vicinissimo!  (vee-chee-nees-see-moh).  Very close.  I already knew that. He also knew the B&B which, I was happy to hear, was molto bello.  As for explaining how to get there…

A bit further along the road I was even more delighted when I saw a bunch of humpy things.

Pecore! (pay-coh-ray) I’d been hearing their bells for days, but hadn’t been able to spot any.

The wind turbines made for an odd sight, but the sheep seemed oblivious .

He pulled out his cellulare (chell-loo-lah-ray) and started tapping.  As the minutes went by, I began to get a strong feeling that directions were beyond his cellphone skills. Finally, after a great deal of tapping and ‘oofing’ and frowning at the little screen, he put the phone back in his pocket.  What I needed to do, he said with a confidence that belied what I’d just watched, was rifare la strada alberata.  Did I know the road with the trees on both sides?  Yes, I did, having driven up and down it several times before finally stopping at his store.  Poi (poy), he continued, when I reached the end of that road, I needed to ask for the directions from there.

Not far from the sheep I saw some more humpy things. Much larger humpy things. On the road. Coming towards me.

In the end I stopped at a panificio (bread store), a garden supply store, and the local vigili, whose combined directions left me totally disoriented and heading for the entrance ramp to the highway I’d got off an hour earlier There are a lot of Italian expressions for situations like this, but I like to keep my posts civilized so I’ll spare you my thoughts as I approached the ramp.  The Fates, as it turned out, are not totally without mercy.  Just before I would be forced back on to the highway heading in the direction I’d come from, there was a huge open area on the left side of the road. Filled with cars.  It was a used car dealership. People in car dealerships drive.  They know the roads.

I watched in disbelief as they came closer and closer.

Except for two fellows sitting at a desk in the shade of a huge canopy, there was no-one around. I parked and walked over to them.  Buon giorno, mi displace disturbarLe…    Sorry to bother you… (There were no customers, but I am very fond of this phrase; it has worked wonders for me over the years.)  When I finished explaining my sad little tale, the older fellow – the owner – looked around, tapped the table and then announced, Le faccio da guida.  Se no, non lo trova.  (I’ll take you there.  Otherwise you won’t find it.)   I stared at him, sbalordita.  Aghast, dumbfounded. Off balance.

Like the white cow earlier, the leader moved over to the side to pass by my car.  As I sat there taking photos it occurred to me that having the window down might not be a good idea. Look at those horns.

But the ones behind him did not exactly go in single file.

For the record, I would like it to be known that I am not one of those women who go to Italy in search of searing avventure amorose (I don’t think it’s necessary to translate.  I think you know what I mean.)  I do not enjoy putting myself at the mercy of strangers, even handsome, promising-looking ones.  On the contrary, I take all sorts of cautions to ensure I won’t have to.  I stay at places that don’t involve driving at night along dark, country roads where I could easily take a wrong turn.  I fill up the tank long before it gets close to empty. I keep my passport and money VERY close to me.  Etc.  But it was broad daylight and even though it felt like the middle of nowhere, I knew it wasn’t.

This one was it for me. I closed the window.

I sputtered troppo gentile (too kind) and many mille grazie.  As I followed him in my car – his gallant offer included driving at a speed even I could easily keep up with – I softened the edges of my discomfort with the thought of the grande piacere (great pleasure) he would no doubt have that evening as he told his buddies at the bar how he had rescued the lost straniera.

I took a few photos through the  windshield until I finally saw the ‘shepherd’.

My galantuomo was right.  I would never have found the B&B on my own.  In addition to a tricky turn, there was also the fact that there was no sign – none – at the road, which was more of a lane than a road, that led to the B&B.  What kind of a B&B doesn’t even put up a sign so tourists can find it? Maybe one that doesn’t want tourists to find it?  This was Sicily after all.  I didn’t have time to get too nervous before I reached the gate.

Even though I know not one of the huge creatures touched the car, not even a swish of a tail, I can’t help wincing when I look at some of the photos.

Later, as I was chatting with the owner, who was as delightful as the B&B, I couldn’t resist mentioning how hard it had been for me to find it.  I don’t like complaining, but really!  Couldn’t they at least put up a sign at the end of the lane?! (And also for the record, I didn’t put it quite like that.)

Ah signora, he sighed, ha ragione.   He had put up a sign – a couple of them in fact – after, si capisce, obtaining the obligatory permesso from the local authorities.  He had put them up on a Friday.  The following Sunday they were gone.  Disappeared.  He found out, much later, that the Carabinieri had taken them.  And were keeping them in their possession. Somewhere.  An action usually known as rubare (roo-bah-ray).  Stealing.  The Carabinieri is the generally much-maligned military force charged with police duties under the authority of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of the Interior.  You need only watch a couple of episodes of Detective Montalbano to get a sense of its poor public image.  And if you google ‘carabinieri‘ one of the first recommended sites that pop up is ‘carabinieri jokes’.  There are apparently thousands of them, all on the same theme.  For example – Su una porta di una caserma c’è un foglio con scritto “Questa caserma è aperta 24 ore su 24 dalle 8 di mattina fino alle 8 di sera!”  (On a barrack door is a sign – ‘This barrack is open 24 hours a day, from 8 in the morning until 8 at night’.)

This old matriarch – or maybe with those horns it’s a patriarch – was not going to be rushed. Even when the ‘shepherd’ leaned on his horn.

And why would the Carabinieri have rubato (roo-bah-toe) a couple of signs indicating the way to a B&B?  The answer is mired in the layers and layers of bureaucracy and jostling for power and status that we tourists are usually blissfully unaware of.  The local vigili had not notified the local carabinieri of the permesso.  So now, sighed the owner again, what was he supposed to do?  Sue the carabinieri for theft?

Finally the herd continued on its way and so did I.

There is one more thing you need to be aware of if you want your driving experience in Sicily to be a happy one.  Space.  If you are used to the broad streets and open areas of North America you may never have thought much about space before and will be surprised to discover that it is a relative concept.

Sometimes even the locals struggle. Historic centre of Randazzo.

So save yourself a lot of grief, pack lightly and rent the smallest car you and your stuff can fit into.

This lane into a B&B near the Valley of Temples is two-way.  I only had to back up a couple of times during my stay.

Luckily, Sicily offers a cornucopia of spectacular and fascinating sites that will make all your white-knuckle experiences absolutely worth it in the end.

All thoughts of the drive into the B&B will vanish when you sit down on the terrace, a glass of the strong, local wine in hand, to watch the sun set over the Temple of Concordia.

Next – One Woman’s Dream Garden

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Floors and a Staircase with Flare and a UNESCO Warranty – Part I, Getting There

If there is one thing I really don’t like – what an odd phrase – anyway, if there is one thing I don’t like about travelling solo it’s not so much getting lost – an annoying, but not unexpected experience in a country where the placement of any road signs that would be at all useful to visitors is often, to put it diplomatically, random.  No, what is guaranteed to turn my usually buon umore into a molto cattivo mood (and in case you aren’t sure, cattivo means ‘bad’) it’s having to turn around and drive back along the same wretched road that got me lost in the first place.  Yet, after two days in the B&B overlooking the Valley of the Temples, I got back on the SS115 and retraced my steps.  On purpose.

There were two more ‘must-see’ sites in the area and I was hoping that the drive to these sites from an agriturismo east of Agrigento would be a little less stressful than from the otherwise delightful Villa San Marco.  (As to why I didn’t stay at the agriturismo first and then continue west to the B&B, that, like the real name of the Temple of Concord, is lost in the mists of time.)

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No temples, but also no screeching peacocks and a view that made retracing my steps worth it.

It was late in the afternoon when I arrived.  I was tempted to go for a swim right away.  The problem with that plan was I had a feeling that after the swim I might be in the mood for a bit of the local white while I dried off and gazed out over the countryside and before I knew it, it would be time to get changed for dinner and I wouldn’t have seen anything of the property.  So instead, I went exploring first.

Unlike at Il Limoneto (the agriturismo I stayed in at the beginning of this trip), where the agri part of their activities was focused on one crop – citrus fruits – here things were much more diversified.  Wine, olive oil, grains and various fruits – but surprisingly, no citruses.   Looking over the railing that surrounded the pool terrace, I saw a dirt lane that led into the fields.

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Olive trees, then the wire hoops of the greenhouses and beyond them, vineyards.

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As it had been at Agrigento, the ginepre was in full bloom, like bursts of sunshine against the clear blue skies.

But it was the agave that really stole the show for me.

But it was the agave that really stole the show for me.

Rising out of the tangled mess of leaves, the giant asparagus-like spears of the agave flower.

Rising out of the tangled mess of leaves, the giant asparagus-like spears of the agave flower.

Close by a that had gone to seed. Odd to think that these black seed pods were the end of the life cycle of the enormous white flower.

Close by, a relative of the agave, a Yucca filamentosa aka Adam’s Needle, covered in seed pods. Odd to think that only a short while ago the funereal-looking pods had been spectacular creamy-white flowers.

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From a distance I thought the trees in the greenhouses were peach trees, but instead it was the much more delicate albicocca (apricot).

I was surprised at all the apricots lying on the ground.  They looked fine, but thinking that maybe there were worm holes or rot or some other problem I couldn’t see I picked up a few.  They looked perfect to me.  Later I asked the manager why so many had been left on the ground.   He sighed.  The company that bought the apricots had very high standards.  Even the smallest imperfection meant rejection.  The sight of all those perfectly good apricots lying on the ground reminded me of the ‘Gardens of the Seven Deadly Sins’ I’d seen at Chaumont-sur-Loire the year before.  (July 20, 2014)

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‘Imperfect’ apricots, lying discarded on the ground.  A symbol of pride?  Or maybe gluttony.  Definitely of sinful waste.

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Next to the greenhouses, recently harvested wheat fields and beyond them rows and rows of vitis vinifera.

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By August many of these little green nodules will be plump grapes ready for harvesting.

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On the way back to the pool more agave stand sentinel-like as if guarding the fruit trees behind them.

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The broom grows wild, but the variegated yucca would have planted. Did the gardeners know what a fabulous combo the two would make?

Early the next morning I set off to visit the two sites that had drawn me to this location.  The first was Villa Romana del Casale, a luxurious Roman villa built at the beginning of the 4th century, which turned out to be bad timing given that the Roman Empire would fall, officially, in 476 A.D, only a century later.

The villa was built as a magnificent country retreat for a powerful Roman, who was a member of the senatorial class or perhaps the Imperial family, but nowadays it is best known for its mosaics, the largest and best preserved collection in the world.  Its remarkable state of preservation is mostly due to an otherwise catastrophic natural disaster – an earthquake/mudslide in the 12th century that ended up burying most of it.  This might well have been the rather ignominious end of the once luxurious villa, but for a farmer, who, in the early 1800’s had the misfortune to find a few pieces of mosaic while tending his crop.

The closest town is Piazza Armerina, 3 km away, which is where the survivors of the 12th century mudslide resettled.   Piazza Armerina is 60 km from Campobello di Licata, the town closest to the agriturismo.   A usually reliable website gives the time to cover those 60 km as 1h23m.  A rather long time.  But not as long as it took me – almost 2 1/2 hours.  And I only got lost – or rather, thought I was lost – a couple of times.

To give you an idea of what is involved in getting to some of these places – including UNESCO World Heritage Sites – I thought I’d share with you the directions I optimistically printed out before leaving home.  I say ‘optimistically’ because the road signs were so few and far between, most of the time I just headed in what I thought was the right direction, using the sun as my guide. (Cloudy days are right up there with retracing my steps.)

From Campobello di Licata I was to head north on the SS557, which for some unknown reason, after a few kilometres becomes the SS644; turn right onto the SS190 which heads south-east; turn left at a T – keep a sharp eye out for this because it won’t look like  a ‘T’ from your point of approach; continue north-east along the SS626 – even after it becomes the SP27, which, in a kind of manic equal opportunity event for numbers, morphs into the SS191, then the SP13, then the Sp26, and finally the SP169 which at a ‘Y’ joins up with the numerically senior SP15, and continue along what is now the SP15 into Piazza Armerina. At this point, whether you’ve been driving or trying to follow the directions – or worse, both – you’re probably in the mood for a (large) glass of the local white.  Instead, I (uncharacteristically) recommend a cappuccino or even an espresso.  You’re not at the villa yet.

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View of the countryside surrounding Villa Romana del Casale.

Once you’re in Piazza Armerina, don’t drive past Via Roma as I did on the first go, thinking there was no way a road so narrow and so steep could possibly be the main road to a UNESCO site.  Instead turn left and continue driving.  Don’t bother looking for a sign, if you haven’t already given up on that approach, because Via Roma ends at the town limits and you’ll be on the SP89a.  After a while of driving along this narrow, country road you’ll feel like you have covered a lot more than 3 km, and although you may see a sign informing you that you are now on the SP15 again, you won’t see anything that would encourage you to think you’re still on the right road.  Anything that is, except the line of cars ahead of you that have appeared seemingly out of nowhere – all bearing foreign licence plates.

 

Finalmente!

Finalmente!

TBC

 

Back in Tuscany

It’s been two whole days without even the slightest hint of a snowflake, so I think it’s safe to leave Southern Italy – for now – and head back north to continue exploring the gardens of Tuscany.

The enchantingly beautiful landscapes that have put “Renting a villa in Tuscany” on so many bucket lists begin just outside the south walls of Florence. View from the Boboli Gardens

From Florence it’s just a short drive south to the Chianti region.  We all know what that region is famous for.  What many people may not know is how many beautiful and interesting gardens there are in the area – all of which we’ll be visiting.  But before the wine lovers among you despair, not to worry, we’ll visit a few vineyards along the way.  In fact, some of the best wineries have the most beautiful gardens.  And some of the vineyards are so beautiful, they’re almost gardens all on their own.

the vintner’s canary in the mine; roses are susceptible to many of the same diseases that attack vitis vinifera, so first sign of disease in roses alerts the vintner to take necessary steps to protect the vines

The rose is the vintner’s canary in the mine. It is susceptible to many of the same diseases that attack the grape vine.
The first sign of disease in the rose alerts the vintner that something is amiss in the vineyard.

Vineyards and olive groves near Panzano.

The Chianti. A beautiful region no matter what time of year. Vineyards and olive groves near Panzano. Late May.

Vineyards near San Gusmè in late fall.

Vineyards near San Gusmè. October.

But before we head out, a few words about the nitty gritty of getting to all these gardens and wineries.  Unless you’re on a tour or have hired a private driver, someone you know – maybe you – is going to have to get behind the wheel.  In Italian – al volante – ‘at the flying thing’.

Driving In some places is more about pazienza than flying.

Sometimes of course, driving is more about pazienza than flying. Sirmione, Lake Garda.

First of all, there’s the issue of the GPS.  To take or not to take.  My advice.  Don’t.

When I tell people that I never use a GPS when travelling around Italy, the polite ones at least make an effort at curiosity.  “Wouldn’t it make life a lot easier? – more relaxing?”  I don’t know whether they actually listen to me or not, but I tell them about some or all of the following in an effort to throw some light on my seemingly Luddite position.

I once came across a group of young Americans in Montepulciano.  Like all the charming hilltop villages in Tuscany, the centro storico (historic centre) is on the small side. Yet, despite being armed with several computers and a GPS, they had still managed to get themselves totally lost.

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In the centro storico of Montepulciano

Another evening, after a hard day of touring the Tuscan countryside, I was relaxing in the lounge of Villa Marsili in Cortona – the village Francis Mayes made famous with her memoir, “Under the Tuscan Sun” – enjoying a glass of the grappa-based punch from the aperitivo table that the hotel sets out each evening.  After a while a couple from Canada joined me.  (In case you’re wondering, unless I’m speaking with hotel staff, I drop my “no-English rule” in hotels.)

It may look like a pitcher of OJ ...

It’s not OJ in that innocent-looking pitcher.

As we were exchanging stories about the sites we’d seen that day, this being Italy, the challenges of navigating the roads to these places inevitably came up.  When I mentioned my decision to travel GPS-free, they confessed that on the way to the hotel – which, by the way, is not actually in the town, but just outside – their GPS had taken them along the narrow cobblestone alleys of the town right into the centro storico, a feat which, in addition to being illegal and could have netted them a huge fine, they had found not at all relaxing.

A street in Cortona.

Give yourself a break. Don’t even think of driving in Cortona. No matter what your GPS tells you to do.

One of my favourite agriturismi  (Bed & Breakfast) in Tuscany is Guardastelle (Watching the Stars).  At breakfast an exasperated American couple described problems they were having with “Emily”.  Emily was the guide on the GPS that came with the car they had picked up a few days earlier at the airport.  The problem was that Emily refused to speak English to them and they spoke no German.   Eventually they solved the problem.  They turned off the volume.

At Guardastelle you can stay in the main villa or your own little cottage.

At Guardastelle you can stay in the main villa or your own little cottage.

And then there was the Italian couple, who, having set out for a lovely holiday on the island of Capri, had ended up in northern Italy in what is described on Wikipedia as “a busy centre for industrial activities and commercial exchanges”.  They had entered Carpi in their GPS and somehow never thought to ask themselves why the landscape they were driving through was getting more and more industrialized.  I wonder if they decided to keep on going.  Venice was close by.

Capri, where the only industries are limoncello and sandals.

Capri, where the only industries are limoncello and sandals.

But maybe even more important than any of the above is the “use it or lose it” factor. People who put their fate into the hands of their GPS remind me of people who work out in the gym and then take the elevator to the second floor.   Travel gives you so many chances to give your brain a real workout. Forget about crosswords and Sudoko puzzles. If you want to keep your brain in shape, ward off dementia, how about trying to find your way to that charming hotel in the centro storico with only a map and your wits to guide you?  Go ahead.  Use your brain.  At the very worst you’ll get hopelessly lost and then what a great story you’ll have to tell when you get back home.

Now that I’ve said my bit about the GPS, a few comments about the signs you’ll come across.

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Strada dissestata – deformed road

At the risk of having my driver’s licence flagged next time I go to renew it, I confess that whenever I’m driving back home and come across a sign warning of some kind of hazard on the road ahead, I am more inclined to annoyance than vigilance.  It’s not just the ugly shade of orange they use for these things or the tax dollars involved.

How many times can one be expected to be go into high alert mode when the promised hazards keep failing to materialize?  How many times have I slowed down after coming across  “Bump ahead” and miles later have yet to encounter anything that remotely qualifies as a bump?  Or stopped at a “Road Closed” sign and sat there pondering my next move as the guy behind me drove right through?

Beginning of sterrato (literally "no earth") stretch.

Beginning of sterrato (literally “no earth”) stretch.

But in Italy it’s a whole different kettle of fish or, as Italians might put it, tutt’altra pasta (a whole different kind of pasta).  Here I’m often left wishing they’d put a few more signs out there. “Dangerous Curve Ahead” would be a good start.

I have no idea what this sign means.

I have no idea what this sign means. Of course I know what it means theoretically. The driver with the red arrow (me) is supposed to pull over/yield to the driver with the black arrow. But where exactly am I supposed to pull over to?

Maybe they’ve already thought of that and given up.  There are just too many curve pericolose.  And it’s not just the obvious ones.  You can be driving along a nice, peaceful country lane when all of a sudden  around a curve…

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I slammed on the brakes.  The driver started yelling at me “Avanti signora! Vada!”  He did use the formal, polite form of you, but there was no way I was going to “avanti” anything.

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The standoff

Finally, totally exasperated with me, he gave up and got back in his van…

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… and like little Bo Peep…

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When you come across a sign warning you to Procedere con la massima cautela, I highly recommend you take the advice and “proceed with the maximum caution”.  In fact, it might be a good idea even where there is no sign.

One more thing.  Did you notice the colour of the last road?  It’s bianco (white), like the roads you’ll eventually wind up driving along, especially if you want to taste some of that vino where it’s made.   I haven’t visited a vineyard yet which didn’t involve driving along a stretch of these dusty roads.

The strada bianca that leads to the Dievole vineyard.

The strada bianca into the Dievole vineyard.

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Helpfully, they’re even called strade bianche and are coloured white on maps.

One thing is certain.  No matter what colour car you started with, after a day spent touring the wineries, you’ll be driving back to your hotel in a macchina bianca.

No matter colour your car is, by the end of a day visiting vineyards, it will be una macchina bianca.

Now that we’ve got the ins and outs of being ‘at the flying thing’ out of the way, let’s go visit some gardens and vineyards.

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