On The Road

If you looked at the video from my last post you no doubt observed that traffic is a little heavy at times. But what really adds spice to the Italian driving meatball, is mopeds. Regardless of how many lane shifts there might be in any rotary you will find mopeds winding though rows of vehicles with only centimeters to spare. And, they will come at your from both the left and the right. Once you understand that driving is really just a high-stakes video game, then you are ready for the Italian highways.

Our goal was to pick up the A-11 Autostrada heading out of Florence. Autostradas are like our turnpikes. By some miracle, and by following the somewhat shaky blue dot on Google Maps, we suddenly found ourselves at the Autostrada on-ramp. We got our ticket and off we went! We were pleased to find what turned out to be a very well-maintained modern highway. Even better, most drivers behaved themselves quite nicely. The speed limit was around 60 mph, so everybody kept it at about 70, just like here. Occasionally someone would roar up behind us and then tailgate, but our years on I75 have well prepared us for that kind of stuff.

We decided that, since we would be close, we would visit Pisa and check out the tower. It’s about an hour and a half ride to Pisa and, unfortunately there are several exits into the city. A sign with, say, a picture of a leaning tower at any one of those exits would have been helpful. We realized there was not going to be one when we were about 10 miles north of town. So, we turned around, always fun on a turnpike, and found the exit that seemed most likely to get us there. After a considerable number of missed turns and other mishaps, we eventually found a very small sign with the tower and an arrow.

When you need to make a lot of turns in a very small area, the Google Maps blue dot arrives a little late to the party. So, suddenly, and without explanation, we found ourselves driving straight down the center of a designated tourist pedestrian area with diners on either side looking up from their pasta wondering who the hell had authorized that car to be here. And, with an equal degree of curiosity, we were wondering how to get the hell out.

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This is the street where, minutes before, I found myself to be a hazard to pedestrian navigation.

Finally, when all hope seemed to be lost, Dianne spotted a side street, upon which we quickly turned. Even better, within a block someone pulled out of their parking space and left it for us! Even better than that, our little faux pas went entirely unobserved by local law enforcement!. Still, as I pulled into our little space, I wondered for the second time this morning if renting a car was such a good idea.

So we headed down the street, turned a corner, and there it was!

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Now, I have to admit that my expectations were a little low for this visit. I mean, it is an image that has been around since even my childhood, and I remember when it appeared that a few more millimeters of subsidence would bring it down, the government jumped in and ran some kind of steel shaft through it so it would stay put. I was not all that excited.

But, when you actually see it, well, it is impressive. For one thing, it is immaculately clean, the marble is gorgeous, and the building itself is massive.

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You do have to wonder, steel shafts notwithstanding, how it has survived though the centuries.

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True of everywhere we went in Italy, Pisa was packed with visitors. Here, for example, is some dumbass tourist pretending to hold up the tower.

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Uh, wait a minute. I mean some people were clever enough to create the illusion that they were holding the tower up! Yes, Italy brings out the creative genius in us all!

So, after a pleasant visit in Pisa, which, by the way is very beautiful city worth visiting even if the tower falls over, we headed for the coast. Except, we could not find our way back onto the Autostrada. Instead we took a road similar to our state highways for the trip up north. By taking the state route we accidentally ended up going though this town:

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The marble that Michelangelo turned into masterpieces came from here. In fact, Michelangelo himself came here to select marble.

And to this day, it is still being quarried.

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What a great side trip that turned out to be!

Not long after leaving Carrara we found our way back onto the Autostrada and soon we were in La Spezia heading for the Cinque Terre.

In reviewing my recent posts about Florence I see that I neglected to comment on the very fine shopping available in that city. Jewelry, of course, was abundant, along with clothes, shoes, food, and all the other stuff you would expect. We, sadly, had little room in our luggage to bring back much, so I was often in a quandary about what to bring back for my friends. Fortunately, a little gift shop on the Piazza Michelangelo solved the problem:

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