Toscano Italia due

How did I get here, traipsing around the countryside in Italy? 

As I said in my first email, in the back of my mind I’ve been planning this trip since I was 4 years of age, always asking my Italian grandmother how to say this or that. She came over when she was about that age from the Italy/Switzerland border. Evidently there may be some famila d’ Ravenello (means radish) in Milano.  
But the funding for this trip came directly from the sale of Mr. Hoodoo, my 1960 VW Transporter (double door walk-thru panel van that I kept stock/original 36 hp, 6 volt battry. 
Half the money from the sale fortified my cabin and allowed me to purchase the final pieces and parts to finish the lavender project at Rosalie Ranch (my 20 acre spread purchased w/$$ mom left me on her death.)
The other half went to creating this incredible life experience/trip to Italy.

I have been taking lots of notes and feel like I could write my own handbook for the novice traveler to Italy. 
I have been researching this trip since the dog died in early February. I’ve listened to Italian in my pick up every single mile I have traveled since then, pasted words in Italian on every little thing in my tiny cabin (and still I cannot speak it – but I surprise myself when I do get my point across out in the country villages where English is not spoken by many.) I have had so many coaches for this trip; it was like every time I turned around someone else I know has been here or been often. And google translate has helped immensly!

And still…it’s always the little things, isn’t it, that trip you up?

I thought since all my internet service in my off grid sitch comes by way of Verizon I certainly didn’t want to pay them extra to secure a foreign country option on my plan. The research I did assured me that wifi is everywhere in Italy and it was easy enough to leave the phone in airplane mode and tap into free wifi when you need it.

However, most the ‘free’ wifi either has a time limit, only available if you buy something (at a bar or restaurant,) or has been promised in the convents (yes, you can rent a room in a monastery for the same price as a B&B – under €60,) or Air BnBs in which I have stayed, all of which have had either weak or non existent signal strength.

My phone is a lifeline to me back home in Montana. I have no t.v. and only one radio station on my solar radio. I am a texting junkie and admit that I tune into facebook like it is t.v. mostly for entertainment when I am lonely or need a laugh. Even tho I live in a rustic situation I fully embrace the communication technology I do have. Being without the convenience of it here has caused many moments of panic. Trying to set up places to stay on the nights I didn’t book something has been akin to a nightmare. I’m getting the hang of it tho; when I do get wifi I jump on and unfortunately spend many hours searching to fill the missing holes instead of writing in my travel journal. At least it’s written down in email land.

So many choices on Air BnB and so much misunderstanding about Italian ‘communes’ = county in America. Many of them large in area size and have the same name as the big city in them. Sorano for instance. I thought I booked tonight’s Air BnB in Sorano, literally 9km (less than 5 miles from my most southerly destination) is actually in the northern most part of the Sorano commune, some 35km away. Not much on an autostrada (freeway), but autostrada doesn’t go where I’m usually headed and these tiny connecting roads can be a lot of work -Attento! So it did throw a little hitch in my 
git-along.

Getting explicit directions on how to find your Air BnB  from your host who has very little English ain’t no cakewalk either. 

I have found nothing about these very practical matters in my research.

Not having access to my phone to either call someone to talk me down from the ledge of a panic attack or the dregs of loneliness, or just to confirm a place to stay has caused far more trouble than its cost is worth. I suppose I could switch it up but I kinda git the hang of things now.

When I went to France in 2004 I was told at the Tourist Info Station that it is no problem to rent a car. Just walk in there, lay down your carte du credit and off you go. It was that simple just outside the walls of Avignon. I figured the same here in Italy especially since it was past peak tourist season. Wrong.

I wore my 30 pound (only piece of luggage brought) pack on my back for the mile hike to the rental car section of town near the Arno river from the convent up near the Duomo/Catedrale (cathedral). I understood that it is cheaper to rent a car in the city than it is at the airport. Evidently so did everyone else.

I thought I secured one online while sitting out front of the Duomo in the rain after checking out of the convent – bless them, their Internet no worky that day.

But once I hoofed it all the way over there – so relieved to be getting a car so I wouldn’t have to carry this damn pack anymore (what the hell would I have done if I had brought more than this one bag? Spent a lotta cash on taxis, but only if I could have communicated where I needed to go, which I didn’t know exactly…) – the internet’s (and friend’s) best reviewed company Euro-Car explained to me they’d need two days to confirm my info/line me up with a car. “No car for you today!” But, but…
Try the competition down the block they suggested. There were 30 people in the Hertz lobby. All of us waiting for over an hour only to be told they ran out of cars. It was up to a real shady looking local outfit or Avis. While waiting some more I gave up the idea of getting to LaVerna that day to light a candle for my dog and in my head began to reconfigure my entire trip which would mean paying cancellation fees at all the places I did manage to confirm.

That’s usually when things happen. When you give up. 

And really, every single guide book you refer to has the most primitive information about the process itself. Friends on facebook were aghast that I had not figured this all out stateside. But then every single person that coached me had as much detailed info as the guide books. I got nothing in the way of the best companies to rent from, the consideration of leasing one for longer periods, or where to get one, and no one, not even Avis whom I finally rented one from (for double what I would have paid had I reserved one in advance) explained to me what in the hell the road signs mean! What do they mean??!

I’ve been driving my adorable teeny car all over Tuscano for a week solid and I still see some signs and think ‘WTF does that mean?!’ No lie…

One friend told me to ‘Drive it like you mean it!’ And I’m here to tell you if you don’t then you better get the hell out of the way. I can’t tell you how often I just pull over to let them pass. For such warm, helpful, patient people they drive like crazies.

When you look at a map of Tuscany, and you’ve never driven here you think ‘My hell, how will I ever make it all the way to the next point?’ And in the time you’re thinking that you’re practically there! Kilometers are such short distances compared to driving Montana miles! And hey, I’m going 80! Oh right, it’s really only 40 some-odd mph. And I only weigh half what I do in the states. Why the hell didn’t America follow Jimmy Carter’s lead back in the 80’s? God we are a buncha dolts.
Speaking of dolts, how’s that neck and neck race for the presidency coming? I haven’t seen a newspaper or heard any newscast for a solid week. Not one damn thing about it. I highly recommend you try that. It’s quite refreshing!

One friend said Italy is the land of disaster. But really the disaster I have experienced to this point has all been my own doing.

Italians, like anybody have their own particular way of doing things. And you really can’t know how until you get here and do for yourself. Like I said, a recon trip.

It was a rough week, I need a vacation from my vacation! But this morning was the first morning I felt like I knew  the routine. Not so much panic. 
And you couldn’t shake a stick at the incredible things I have seen – like the town of Cortona, or the Duomo in Orvieto and the very precious little village of Civitta. And the people, damn, I gotta say, pretty special. After two days with my first Air BnB hostess I felt like we’d been friends for 30 years. 
Like tonight: Directions to the Air BnB were so messed up in translation, I found my way to the town by map and road signs alone, and people I’m telling you, these are the craziest little winding tertiary mountain roads! I knew directions to her place would be no better once I got to the town. So I stopped at the only bar open on a Monday night. The sun had just gone down, and rain begun to pour. I figured I’d use their wifi, drink a digestivo (oh dear, a new habit) cuz I ate some ravioli while in Civitta. Since her directions were so off I hoped she’d come rescue me, lead me to her place. The bar was packed. There were two other women in there. And guess what? No wifi. Panic. I settle up to the bar and drink my limoncelo. Then I ask, in English cuz I can’t think in Italian in panic mode, ‘Could you make a call for me?’ The barkeep immediately refers to a man, hey help her!

You speak English? No. Ok. The other two gals leave. All eyes on me. ‘I’m looking for Cristina.’ The tension breaks. Of La Contea Degli Angeli? They all ask in such fast lingo I barely understand. Si! Omg, you know her? Si, they say. C’mon, I take you, the guy says. I follow you! Ok!

I can feel my mother rolling in her grave… It’s just like it was in my late 20’s when I’d  head out to the coast in that 1960 VW Bus (ya, I had that bus a long time.) No contact but hand painted post cards…potential trouble lurking…I follow this guy right back along the same road I’d come in. And there it is, the tiny little sign I never would have found in the rainy dark. We both stop, we get out. He points, we shake hands. I am ecstatic. He knows it. And we go on our separate ways. 
Ya gotta love a small town. Even if it is a bajillion miles from home in an Italian countryside.

My daily mantra: Everything’s fine.
Don’t be scared. 
Just keep moving…

I think it’s working. 
More to come…

Photos below:

Mia Machina 
The precious village Civitta

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