Sunday - September 4
As a rule, Dick and I much prefer to travel on our own, at our own pace, and on our own schedule. We don't want to be on a tour that tells us what time to meet, what time to eat, and what time to leave the museum or interesting sight. Having said that, at the end of today my email to friends and family was, "Oh, to be on a tour where they drop you off at the door and take care of all your needs."
The family from Venezuela had been to Assisi a couple days ago and highly recommended the trip. They told us the best place to park and how lovely the Basilica is. One of their teen age daughters just raved about how beautiful the frescos were. Excited to explore this town on our own we headed off. We had no problem with the drive or finding the correct parking lot. The parking lot was perfect - you could actually see the Basilica up on the hill, not too far away. As we started driving down the ramp into the underground parking lot, several cars, obviously in a wedding party and in a celebratory mood, met us on the ramp going up. In their horn tooting and exuberant driving manner they forced us into the railing. Scrape, bump, what happened? We limped into the garage area and found a parking place. We got out and explored the damage - indeed, we had a flat tire. Not to fear, Dick is a good tire changer. Oops, where is the spare tire? Looking inside and underneath the car we determined that they had no spare tire. Thank goodness Alex had given us a cell phone to use during our visit with his number programmed into it. I went up to the parking lot level and first tried to talk to the parking attendant. That didn't do any good. He didn't speak English and wasn't the least bit interested in helping us out. I got Alex on the phone and explained our problem. He said there has to be a spare tire - that is the law in Italy. Dick went back down into the garage to look again and came back with the news that there was no (expletive) spare tire. Alex got the rental car company on the phone and at one time was talking to them on one phone and to us on another phone. He explained the plan to us. They were sending a tow truck for the car, the driver would take us to a nearby town, where we would catch a train. We were to take the train to one town, change trains and take it on to another town. There we would get a taxi which would bring us back to the farm. Ok, now picture this. The parking lot is large and has no shade. It's very hot. We had no idea how long this tow truck was going to take. Should we walk up the hill and visit the Basilica? No, we probably don't have time for that. We also couldn't count on even one hour for a decent lunch. There was a hot dog stand within sight so we opted for a hot dog and a coke and kept our eye out for the tow truck. Within an hour he showed up. We are still not clear on why the car rental company didn't just send someone with a spare tire, but they didn't. Instead Dick had to drive the car out of the parking lot on the wheel rim and up onto this huge truck. We then piled into the front seat of the truck and drove away. I looked back at the Basilica and said, "Well, St. Francis, I guess we'll have to visit you on some other trip, because I don't think I'll be ready to try this again for awhile." Truthfully, our driver was a super nice friendly man. He spoke no English, but somehow we managed to communicate and even share some laughs. Here we have arrived at the Spello train station where we sat for almost two hours.
We had to track down the conductor on the train in order to buy our ticket because the machine at the train station wasn't working and there was no attendant. We took the train to Cortona where we waited for another half hour or so and then went on to Chiusi. Here we called Alex again and he talked to the taxi driver and told him how to come the back (shorter) way to the farm. We finally arrived back in our apartment about 7:45 P.M. and promptly opened up a bottle of wine. Luckily we had plenty of leftovers for supper. We had steak, chicken and even a bit of Alex's rice salad. Grapes and peaches were for dessert and when we finished off the first bottle of wine there was another one. Honestly, though, we didn't get too far into the second bottle. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Monday - September 5
We thought we had gotten everything out of the car before we left it, but realized after we got home that we had left Dick's International Drivers License in the glove compartment. Alex called the tow truck driver and he found it and is going to mail it to Alex's address. I hope it gets here before we leave. Alex has also been in touch with the car rental place and they will have a car available at 1:00 P.M., but will be closed until 3:00 for lunch. Hmmm. It seems there is some logic missing there; but, it's not for me to question, just pick up the car after 3.
We had plenty of food for breakfast this morning and for lunch we had egg sandwiches. However, we do need to visit the grocery store soon. The morning hours were spent doing laundry. It's very breezy today, so the clothes will dry quickly.
Shortly after 3:00P.M. Alex, Dick and I left for Chiusi to pick up the car. Alex went into the car rental place with us and talked for some time with the manager. I have no idea what was being said. There were lots of words and hand motions and eventually Alex told us they were not going to charge us for the tire. Perhaps it's because they were skirting the law by not having a spare available, but I really don't know. I just know that as of today no extra charge has appeared on our credit card. Finally Alex was satisfied they were going to treat us well and he left. The manager got busy and we had to sit around waiting some more until he presented us with new papers to sign, new car keys and showed us the new car and we were back in business.
We drove back to Montipulciano where we parked in the pay lot at the bottom of the hill into town. Perhaps a little bit about parking in Tuscany is important here. Pay lots are lined with blue parking places. There will be a machine close by. You pay there first and then put the ticket on your dashboard. Yellow lined spaces are for residents. Do not park there. White lines are free parking, but more on that later. After putting the ticket on our dashboard we walked up into town for a little while and looked in some stores. We had some ice cream and then went back to the car. We drove down around the corner and went to the free parking lot, where the parking lines are painted white, across from the grocery store and went in there for about 20 minutes to replenish a few items. When we came back we had a ticket on the windshield. What is this all about?? Of course, we can't read the Italian and don't have any idea what we did wrong now. Upon returning to the farm we showed Alex our ticket and he said he would check on it tomorrow. Alex is being very kind and understanding, but I'm sure he is wondering if we are worth all this trouble. It turns out that while we parked in the free lot, there is a time limit of one hour parking there. Who knew? Well, the locals know. In order to check on how long people are parked, you have a little cardboard clock on the front windshield that you are supposed to set to the time you are leaving the car. Then when the police come around, it you are past the hour you get a ticket. Well, we didn't have any idea what the little cardboard clock was for (so didn't set it) and didn't even realize there was a time limit in the small parking lot. That little error cost us 39 euros or close to $50. If we didn't have Alex I don't know how we would have even figured out how or where to pay the fee.
For dinner tonight we went back to the restaurant in Montipulciano that we had visited our first night there, Trattoria Diva E. Maceo. It's a delightful little place where lots of locals eat. It is reasonably priced and the wait staff is very friendly. One of the young ladies noticed Dick's last name on his credit card. She is from Poland so a discussion of Poland and his Polish ancestry ensued. It's also located not too far up the hill on the left side of the street. We shared a bruschetta to start and then shared three big raviolis stuffed with mushrooms and cheese with olive oil and crushed walnuts on top. It was super good. We also shared an order of lamb chops (two each, small ones). They are grilled and highly recommended. We shared a tiramisu for dessert and, of course, had wine and water.
Tuesday - September 6
We are back exploring Tuscany today with a car. We drove to Arezzo without any problems, but then came the challenge of finding a parking place. Alex had suggested that we park in or near the train station, but that was impossible. We drove up and down several busy streets until we finally came upon a parking lot where you pay as you leave. They had a "you are here" map posted at the exit and we figured out how to get to town. We weren't really very far and it wasn't uphill. We walked through a park and up a couple blocks of the modern city until we came to banners showing the old city. Turning there we wandered around some of the old medieval streets. The city is known for its antique markets every month with about 500 vendors present. They also hold Giostra del Saracino (a jousting tournament) on the 1st Sundays in June and September. We had talked about coming to it last Sunday, but after seeing the plaza, I'm glad we didn't try to fight the crowds, although I'm sure it would be very interesting. These are some of the buildings that surround the Piazza Grande where they hold the markets and the jousting tournaments. They were in the process of taking down grandstands that had been set up for the tournaments and you could still see dirt in between the brick pavers where they had obviously dumped tons of soil for the horses.
For lunch we found a place with outdoor seating that overlooked this plaza. We shared a tomato and mozzarella anti-pasta, and then I ordered a pasta with pesto sauce and Dick had spaghetti with tomato and basil. We each had a coke and the usual water to drink.
After lunch we explored the shops that were surrounding the plaza. They seemed to be mostly antiques that are interesting, but I'm not interested in buying anything like that. I liked the signs that were on all of the buildings walls. I don't know if they are always there or if it is part of the decorations for the past Sunday's tournament. I also found a movie advertisement poster showing that the movie "Life is Beautiful" with Roberto Benigni as the star was filmed in this square in 1997. Apparently Benigni is a native of this area. I remember when he won the Oscar and was so excited that he climbed all over the backs of the seats to get up to the stage.
We then came across the San Francesco Church with its famous frescos by Piero Della Francesca. "The Legend of the True Cross" is considered to be his masterpiece. You can see some of his frescos from inside the church, but to get a close up look you must buy a ticket and enter from the lower level. There were no large columns inside the church, but the wooden rafters on the ceiling were decorated very nicely.
After touring the church we walked on down towards the Roman Amphitheatre. There really wasn't much left of it and after seeing the theatre in Orange, France and Epidaurus in Greece this was a bit of a disappointment. Attached to the Amphitheatre is an archeological museum which is very nicely done. We spent about an hour viewing their exhibits before leaving to go back to the parking lot and heading for home.
We are always pleased when we find the correct route out of town and don't make too many wrong turns. This was one of those days when we were very proud of ourselves.
Upon reaching the apartment we settled in for a bit of a rest and relaxing time before going out again for dinner. Tonight we went back to the Chinese restaurant in Montipulciano. I don't think Alex likes this restaurant, but we found it tasty and the people were very friendly. It's also easy to find.