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tuscany - june 1 - june 8

On the last morning in Florence we bid goodbye to the Regency. We had been advised earlier that leaving a tip for the hotel staff is a thoughtful thing as hotel personnel, especially housekeepers work long and are paid poorly. We gladly left some Euros along with a thank you note written in the tourist dialect of Low Italian. We then cabbed it to the EuropeCar rental agency where we queued up to rent our Alfa Romeo 159 Turbo Diesel. The first thing I noticed in the rental office was it was crowded. Secondly, the staff wished like hell that they were somewhere else and, thirdly, that they had scribbled a note on the wall saying “No More Maps!”.

driving in tuscany ...

swallows

“Laps” reminds me to comment that in every city, town, hamlet at which we stopped there were swallows. Lots of swallows. They were very entertaining to watch early in the morning and at dusk as they hunted insects. It appeared that they would race, flying laps around the town square at supersonic speed but never colliding.

The rental lady appeared to struggle to be friendly but she pulled it off. (Few Italians were overtly grumpy. ) Alas, it was only eleven AM and she had a long way to go. But that was going to be someone else’s problem, not mine. When the details were done I asked if she could tell me how to blow town in the direction of Siena……Of course, no problem and she drew me a map. The track resembled the sickle part of the former soviet flag. Do a 270 around the perimeter of the town, shoot out this way and you’ll be fine. Well we tried that and ended up making several laps around Florence before we found our way to a back road and out of town.  Not the “right” way out of town but we were out of Florence.

That was our first exposure to Italian signage (or the lack thereof) and the Italian Rotary. Not a group of community minded business people but the traffic rotary so beloved by the Northeastern U.S. They work well and save the price of an expensive stop light. And, we found, they are placed at important intersections where there are, perforce, lots of signs. Often we would come to a rotary and, not knowing which way to go and needing to read all the signs, would stay in the rotary for several complete laps until we could read all the signs and figure out at which point we should exit the rotary. Worked quite nicely, though the locals thought we were nuts.

tuscany and montebenichi ...

We finally found a good four lane highway (not the toll road – Autostrade) headed south toward Siena.  Posted limit was 110KPH. We made good progress and, with a very detailed map of Tuscany (the area between Florence to the north and Siena to the south, the area of Chianti wines) we soon headed off into the country via the scenic route.

Tuscany is a whole lot like northern California, especially our foothills and maybe is mostly like the areas in the upper Napa Valley or Lake County. It is hilly. It has tree (oak / chestnut) cover and brush with interspersed vineyards and olive groves. It is greener than here but not by a lot. There was some hay being grown but we saw no sign of farm critters….no sheep, goats or beeves and that seemed odd. Maybe they thought of us as rustlers and were hiding their herds. Italy has the biggest beef animals in the world, the Chianina, giant white oxen-like animals that produce really good chops but for our visit they were hidden. The air is probably cleaner but we aren't sure about that. The roads are certainly narrower. The people fewer. I liked that.

The first interior town we came to was Radda-in-Chianta (a hyphenated place, sort of like Jenner-by-the-Sea) where we located, in order of discovery, a nice public restroom, a pay phone and a restaurant where Martye had a sandwich that was one of the top 10 best meals on the entire trip.   Radda, like most of the towns on the area, was old and small but equipped with several excellent eateries. From there it was down a winding two lane road past Castle Brolio (a major Chianti exporter and home to the Iron Duke, Bettino Ricasoli, who is credited with the modern day ‘recipe’ for Chianti wines and whose family is today, one of the richest in Chianti) and on to San Gusmé. There we found a road sign pointing to our destination, Montebenichi. We took the road indicated but soon turned back convinced that we were in someone’s driveway and / or were about to drive off the edge of the earth while elderly Italian women looked on with poorly disguised mirth.

Continuing on the paved road we soon came to the turn off to Rosenanno. This was another dirt road but it looked more inviting so we took it. In a couple of miles we were deep into the country side and could spot widely scattered Tuscan homes (villas, estates?) many very upscale. The ‘town’ of Rosenanno was a non-entity, just a narrower spot on a narrow road with a group of a few homes, a tiny, possibly abandoned chapel and maybe a mail box though we didn't see it. As it would turn out, over the next six days, this road would be our access route to the northwestern part of Chianti.

A mile or two past Rosenanno the country opened out a little and, looking to the east we could see a high hill with buildings on them which had a familiar silhouette.... Monetbenichi and the Castelletto….we recognized them from the pictures on the website (www.castelletto.it). Our goal.