Day 0 – Monday, May 15, 2006
Red-eye Montreal-London, depart on Air Canada at 7:30 PM, arrive London Heathrow 7:30 AM. Bleurgh. Hate red-eyes.
Day 1 – Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Depart London Heathrow on Alitalia at 10:30 AM, arrive Milan Malpensa 1:45 PM. Alitilia lost one piece of luggage. Drop off contact details with baggage handling. Pick up car from Hertz. Reserved Mazda Miata not available, upgraded to BMW Z4. Phew! Luggage all fits in trunk. Wipe sleep from eyes, put convertible roof down.
3:30 PM. Find A8 Autostrada. Follow signs for A1 Autostrada and Tangenziale around Milan to Bologna. Successfully locate A1 Autostrada without entering Milan. Fumble through toll booths. Freak out at number of trucks on roads. Italy must not transport freight by train. Wall-to-wall trucks in slow lane. Unlike North America, exhaust pipes not directed at sky, instead piped into faster lanes. Begin regretting top-down decision.
Follow A1 through Parma, Modena and Bologna. Stop for dry panini at roadside rest stop just outside Parma. Block of parmesan cheese at gas station for sale for 10 euros! Note that Italian version of dilapidated farm house is beautiful crumbling stone instead of grey, weathered wood. Witness two near accidents in fast lane, and one motorcyclist nearly get wiped from face of planet. Outside Firenze, terrain changes from flat agricultural plain to hilly. Autostrada begins to go through numerous tunnels.
Approaching Firenze, construction signs seem to imply our exit might be closed. Brief panic. Arrive at Firenze-Certosa exit to find it open. Exit A1 at Firenze-Certosa, enter Raccordo Siena-Firenze (SI-FI). Breath sigh of relief at lack of trucks.
Exit SI-FI at San Donato in Poggio. Begin adapting to roadsigns. Find well-marked turnoff for Canonica In Cortine. Arrive villa 8 PM. Room is beautiful, all tile and warm, waxed wood. Scrub diesel exhaust from hair. Dinner in San Donato 9 PM.
Day 2 – Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Follow our friends along SI-FI to Siena. Explore outdoor market, town and Duomo. Lunch in square (Il Campo). Return to Cortine via smaller road 222. Meet friends in Greve for dinner. Take tiny turnoff in Grignano back to Cortine.
Day 3 – Thursday, May 18, 2006
Head south from Cortine to Castellina in Chianti. Take route 429 and drive through Radda in Chianti. Turn south just past Villa to find gift shop recommended by friends in Meleto. Don’t buy anything. Go back up route 408 through Gaiole and stop in Badia Coltibuono. Lunch at the Badia. Head back towards Radda. Find small turnoff to north that takes us on backroads through Bugialla and Torsoli. Follow signs to Greve. Arrive Greve, explore town square with market, fantastic butcher shop with cheese cave, and the Enoteca (1500 wines for sale, 150 available for sampling). Head back to Cortine and make dinner of carbonara with pancetta purchased in Greve.
Day 4 – Friday, May 19, 2006
Cooking class in Tavarnelle (only 20 minute drive from Cortine). Mmmm. Get olive oil and wine lesson from Osteria owner. Relax poolside, then do 50 lengths of pool. It’s not a big pool. Dinner back at Cortine again.
Day 5 – Saturday, May 20, 2006
Take SI-FI to Poggibonsi, follow signs for San Gimigniano. Explore medieval walled town of San Gimigniano. Sample gelato from place in square with blue neon sign. Mmmm. Place friends recommended for lunch closed. Drive to Colle di Val d’Elsa. Locate Ristorante Arnolfo. Fantastic lunch. Drive along road to Casole d’Elsa in attempt to locate cristal factory. Factory closed. Take backroads to Volterra. Visit Etruscan museum. Back to Cortine via backroads north of Volterra. Bail near San Gimigniano as dusk sets in. Suffering from postcard scenery overload anyway. Return to Cortine via main S.Gimigniano-Poggibonsi road, and SI-FI. Dine just outside San Donato.
Day 6 – Sunday, May 21, 2006
Depart Cortine 11ish. Go south to Castellina in Chianti, east on 429 back through Radda. Follow route 408 to Montevarchi. Connect with route 69 to Arezzo. Take route 71 north to Bibbiena. Route becomes twisty pass through mountains. Wow. Motorcyclist coming around curve in our lane nearly lands on my head. Pulls off fancy move at last minute and we all clean our underwear. Join E45 highway at Bagno di Romagna, and follow it through Cesena to Ravenna. In Ravenna, join route 309 north to Venizia. Arrive Venice around 7 PM. Park car in Piazzale Roma (got told it was only for monthly parking but they found room). Take traghetto number 41 to Santa Alvise, where hotel concierge talks us to the hotel via our mobile. Arrive Residenza Cannaregio. Dine in Cannaregio.
Day 7 – Monday, May 22, 2006
Explore Venice on foot. Wander somewhat aimlessly. Visit Ca’ d’Oro, Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace. Dinner at pizzeria in Cannaregio.
Day 8 – Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Visit Murano. See glassmakers. On to Burano. Lovely colourful fishing village. Take next to last traghetto to Torcello. Another dinner in Cannaregio.
Day 9 – Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Museum day. Visit Ca’Rezzonico, the Frari, and Ca’Pesaro. Get caught in thundershower – no gondola ride. Lose contact lens on traghetto. Lovely dinner in Cannaregio.
Day 10 – Thursday, May 25, 2006
Retrieve car. Leave Venice via A4 Autostrada to Milan. A4 much better than A1. Lunch at Sirmione on Lago di Garda. Take back roads (route 11) from Sirmione to Bergamo and Como. Mistake. Roads not so nice and crowded. Traffic a nightmare from Bergamo to Como. Traffic a parking lot from Como to Varese. Arrive Varese, realize forgot map in Vancouver. Retrieve directions via mobile call to our ex-pat friends. Arrive at our friends’ villa in Varese without too much trouble, by “not thinking too much” as the road changed names 6 times in 2 km. Dinner at villa.
Day 11 – Friday, May 26, 2006
Driving tour along shores of Lago Maggiore (Laveno, Luino). Return early to villa. Visit Essalunga grocery superstore. Relax on porch once back at villa. Dinner at villa again.
Day 12 – Saturday, May 27, 2006
Automatic gate to villa breaks and opens only halfway – not enough to get car out. Spend two hours looking for keys to unlock hydraulic rams and debugging gate circuitry. Finally locate keys and blown 5 Amp fuse. Drive to Milan. Visit Duomo, climb around on roof. Shopping on main drag. Wow – packed. Wow – pricey: 600 euro Vergelio shoes and 6000 euro Prada bags. Find a FNAC on Via Torino but no fuses. Find a less pricey outlet for Vergelio shoes on same street and buy more reasonably priced 130 euro shoes. On return to Varese, spot a Le Roy Merlin off the highway (equivalent to Home Depot). Fuses? Spend 30 minutes trying to relocate it via Italian backroads. Find 2.5 Amp fuses but no 5 Amp. Return to Varese. Get gate working. Hooray! Dinner on shores of Lago di Varese.
Day 13 – Sunday, May 28, 2006
Gate still working. Phew. Depart Milan Malpensa via Alitalia at 10:30 AM for London Heathrow. Depart London Heathrow 3:45 PM for Vancouver. Arrive 5:45 PM Vancouver Intl.
Trip too short. Need to spend 4 months in Tuscany learning Italian and taking cooking classes. :-)