ROAD TRIP TO THE RENAISSANCE
Although people may think that we are on a permanent vacation, let me assure you that our home free life is not a task-free life. Living in rented apartments we have all the same boring chores anyone at home does. No matter where we are we must plan meals, shop for groceries and sundries, do our laundry, cook meals and clean up afterwards. Granted, all of the above is more interesting to us in Paris than it is in Paso Robles, but even so it becomes tiresome. Ridiculous as it sounds under the circumstances, we sometimes need a holiday, too. We love something involving a lot of restaurant dining and people whose job it is to make us comfortable!
This is why, whenever possible we try to schedule a short road trip between places where we will stay for a month or two. This time our companion Veronica, the unflappable GPS maven led us from Paris to Vezeley, France, and like all tourists, we explored the countryside nearby. Semur-en-Auxios, one of those drop-dead walled French towns on a gorgeous river turned what we thought would be a five minute stop into a two hour revel in 13th century beauty.
The French countryside floored us again. There were endless fields of sunflowers below mountain tops, small fields outlined with ancient trees, spectacular cloud formations, and those gorgeous cattle, all the delights the impressionists showed us on their canvasses.
Then came the Alps. We made several stop-and-gawk pauses and were gasping at their majesty while we dug around looking for jackets. Of course it rained a LOT in the mountains and there seemed to be 10,000 tunnels, not the best thing for claustrophobic Tim. The French, whom we view as orderly people, have installed blue lights in the tunnels at regular distances from one another. The idea is that if you stay a blue light length away from the car ahead, a horrible accident can be circumvented. This is a really good idea when the tunnel is several miles long. The Italians do not hold with such strict rules, so there’s a lot of terrifying tail gaiting going on in their tunnels. Some are in such a hurry that they actually pass in a tunnel. I closed my eyes a lot. We were soon to discover that Italians drive just as they speak – too fast and too close. We were really happy when our spry little Peugot delivered us safely through the mountains to Santa Margherita a lovely beach town near Portofino, with not an Alp in sight!
We adored our room, with the sea sparkling below our comfortable balcony and a little town glittering on the other side of the bay. The buzz of Vespas zooming up and down the coast road provided background music.
Next morning we discovered that Portofino is where the truly wealthy hang out in that part of Italy. There had to be a billion dollars worth of boats snuggled in that little harbor. The beautiful people must have been ensconced in their magnificent manses that day because the only people we saw were hundreds of other tourists who were as jealous as we were!
Veronica purred us down the coast to Livorno, whichis an industrial town offering only one surprisingly elegant hotel. The NH Grand Palazzo is wonderfully restored and our huge room had every amenity a vacationer could require. The star of the show was the glass infinity pool on the roof. Hanging onto the thick glass edge of a pool while gazing out at the Mediterranean Sea was a sensation we aren’t likely to forget. We dined on the terrace with the forever sea view and blazing sunset and I instantly acquired a passion for octopus salad. I ordered it at every opportunity from then on. Tim averted his eyes every single time it was served.
The next day, we faced what would be the first of hundreds of encounters with Florence’s hysterical traffic. In retrospect, I have no idea how we managed to reach our new home that day. Located on one of Florence’s storied hillsides, the villa can only be reached by navigating a hairpin turn so sharp that Tim only managed to make it in one go twice in the entire time we were there. The other hundred or so times, he would have to stop, back up, and try from another angle, while keeping a sharp eye for vehicles and scooters which were coming from both directions. After completing that feat and before making the next blind turn, he had to hit the horn to prevent someone from carooming down the impossibly narrow street, killing everyone involved. Italian’s, like the Irish, drive as if they have a strong conviction about the existence of an afterlife
We were met by barking dogs, our host and hostess, the gardener, the maid and a neighbor who was passing by. Everyone helped us drag our suitcases up a steep hill to our gate. The villa sprawls over many acres and has four separate entrance gates facing the street.
The apartment was HUGE by our standards, and every room offered views of vineyards, other villas, gorgeous churches or the beautiful pool which belongs to the property. Francesco, our host, gave us a tour of the apartment; he saved the terrace for last. We caught our breath as we saw red tiled roofs stepping down the hill, punctuaed by olive and Italian cypress trees. We could see most of Florence with its centerpiece, the unparalleled Duomo gleaming in the afternoon sun.
That evening Martha and Francesco, our friends and landlords, entertained us on their terrace at a dinner party of twelve friends. We felt as if we had landed in a Sunset Magazine photo spread – you know the kind, with lots of glamorous people surrounding a colorfully laid table with candlelight, great food and many bottles of good wine abundantly displayed. Stories in several languages and laughter (which sounds just the same in Italian, French or Croation), carried through the hillsides.
If we were going back to our real life living, this was going to be a fantastic way to do it!