All of this should have been on video and put on YouTube. It would have matched the Griswalds’ adventures. When some friends asked us to join them at a lovely Tuscan hotel, Villa Le Barone, near Greve in Chianti, we jumped at the chance. Having worked in the travel industry for some time, I usually do all of the planning. First, where the hell is this place. Secondly, how the hell do you get there. And finally, how long do we want to stay. To answer the first question, I went to their web site, http://www.villalebarone.com/, to see how far they were from the major cities of Rome and Milan. 3 1/2 to 4 hours by car. Flights from the states get in early in the morning. Did we want to drive the whole way or take the train to Florence (about 2 hours) and then get a car which would make the drive 50 minutes to an hour. We opted to drive the whole way. See the scenery. But, the flights back leave mid-morning. We opted to fly into Milan and then on the way back, overnight at an airport hotel. This would give us a leisurely drive back to Milan. We decided to stay 8 nights. Oh the best laid plans of mice and men. I booked the flights, the car and the airport hotel (thank you Tripadvisor.com for the hotel recommendation).
We had last been in Tuscany 10 years ago for our niece’s wedding. We didn’t know it at the time but the toll workers on the A1 highway had a scam going. I guess they did this only on those cars that were driven by A: foreigners and B: had driven a long way on the toll road hence a higher toll. They would take your money, jump out of the booth, write down your license tag number and then get back in the booth. Unbeknownst to the driver, they took the money and stuck it in their pocket and then reported you as having not paid. How did we know this? Three years later we get a letter from lawyers for the toll road saying we not only owed the toll but had a 50EU penalty attached for a total of 100 EU. That’s about $133.00. It must have been some scam because it was written about in National Geographic Traveler. Did we pay it? Hell no. But, hmmmm, we’re now going back to Italy. What to do? Well, since my husband’s name was on the ticket, I would drive. We’ve all heard horror stories about what the Italian legal system is like. The rot in jail scenario. Off we go. Ciao baby! Nice flight, long wait at the car rental counter. Hear me loud and clear readers…do not skimp on the money and not get the GPS. GET IT! You’ll shoot yourself if you don’t. You’ll shoot your partner first and then yourself. We finally get the car annnnnnddddddd… it’s a stick shift. I knew this. I really did know this. Driving a stick shift is not like riding a bike. When was the last time I drove a stick shift? How about when I was 21 or 22 in my Ford Falcon. You do forget how to drive a stick shift and not only that, they have these new fangled stick shifts. 6 gears! WTF?! I should have asked the attendant how to use the stick shift but I did the manly thing and didn’t ask. After a few lurches and a few stalls, we’re out of the parking lot and turn on the GPS and promptly get lost…