FLORENCE, But Not my Auntie

With an easy and on schedule train ride we arrived to Florence in Tuscany. Claudette and I walked around the neighborhood with the train station a bit looking for transportation options. This was one time where we had failed to adequately plan ahead, and we got bitten badly in the pocketbook for it. All eight of the car rental places we came across had closed a few hours before our arrival at 1:00 PM on this Sunny Sunday afternoon. The bus station was an additional two hour wait and then a two km walk after that. Hmmm… That left us with only the option of getting two taxis which cost 76 euros each… OUCH! We had heard so many stories of how easy it was to get around anywhere (well, ALMOST anywhere we now knew) in Italy really easily by train. The truth is that there are so many pocket towns and villages, that if you are not specifically staying on a train route, then the options quickly fly out the window. The literature we looked at during the online booking regarding “getting there” was sparse. It only offered vague driving references, but made no mention of bus or train connectivity. Unfortunately the price (of $800/week) was so cheap compared to everything we had looked at that I urged Claudette to jump at booking it before we had fully digested the possible transportation problems. We didn’t even consider that we were arriving on a Sunday and that the car rental places would be long closed. The landlords described the extreme lack of transportation options to us on the phone, but only on the morning of arrival. Big “Oooops” on that costly little oversight of planning. In the end we took a taxi through the gorgeous countryside to the apartment. The roads are narrow, twisty, and with steep ups and downs to accompany the windy, twisty narrow little roads. All drivers we “met” drove in the center of the road until they saw an oncoming vehicle and then they veered sharply to their edge only just before a spectacular crash! This continued on a constant basis after we got the rental van as well.

After another taxi ride of 70 euros just to get groceries we decided to get a rental car right away and off I went back to Florence via a 30 euro taxi ride to some other close by town and then a half hour train ride. Luckily I already knew where to the car rental places were and I was back home with a shiny new Ford mini van in barely a couple of hours. It is a “Galaxy” model and is really nice. Enough so that we’d Love to buy one in Canada if they were only available. It is similar to the new Ford Freestyle, but is a little roomier and handles way better.

I mentioned in a previous post about the good and bad of being in the surrounding beautiful country side of Tuscany just outside of Florence. It was good because a hotel room in or near Venice was cost prohibited beyond belief! Also, booking the same place for a week straight gave us a much better price. The bad part was that we were about a 30 minute drive to the Florence train station, and there was no local commuter train close to our “town” of Montelbano. (You will never find it on a map, so don’t bother to look. The surrounding area of gentle rolling hills with all sorts of house, small apartments and other buildings dotting the landscape really makes this province as beautiful and picturesque as we’d often heard. The roads were well thought out and pretty fast though, even with the switchback turns and narrowness. Those little local roads only last for about the last 10km of a journey though, with very decent two way or even six lane blacktop for all other major connections.

In all of the little towns and villages we passed through or saw in Tuscany there was a bit of a small (10-30 units) apartment building boom. Small scale construction was everywhere, and we couldn’t figure out why, or what type of economy supported all these small towns. After asking around, it seems as though these all all bedroom communities of Florence whose majority of the populace commutes to work in the big city every day. The place we had booked was a three story apartment built into the side of the hill with a swimming pool, (not open until May sadly). This place had two three bedroom suites on each of the top two floors and five single room suites on the bottom walkout floor. One of the top suites was rented by a German family whose husband worked in Florence. We were paying $900/week for our suite, but I’m not sure what kind of long term rate they had negotiated for theirs. In the middle of nowhere with well water and no phone lines (and sketchy cell service) and a 20 min bus ride to school for the kids I wouldn’t be paying much, (no matter how spectacular the view!). I chatted with the couple a bit one day though, and they repeatedly said that they considered themselves VERY fortunate to have found that place to live in. They were also trying to convince the landlord to sell them that suite. Their offer was 300,000 euro!!! ($500,000 !) and they considered that well worth it. Sheesh!

We did lots of relaxing and didn’t get back to Florence to see all of their churches and museums. Besides our two day trips to Venice and Pisa, we traveled around the back roads a bit just enjoying the countryside. We did go to a town about 20 minutes away with lightening fast internet. We checked mail and uploaded a bunch of old pics and some blog posts from the kids. The interesting thing was that he had two rooms full of about twenty computers each. The place was run by two Chinese guys and was almost three quarters full of Chinese people playing games or chatting. That was more Orientals than I’d seen anywhere outside of China since China. Not a single Italian though, and only one other Caucasian tourist came in as we were leaving. Very odd we thought for a town of around 10,00 or so.

Away from this thriving metropolis of around 10,000 and closer to our collection of barely two dozen buildings, (50 people at best I’d imagine) were some peculiar road signs. It was funny to see so many road signs before steeper hills indicating that tire chains were required in snowy or rain conditions. When we asked around, we were told that there hadn’t been snow here in many, many years. While this winter (and indeed, still the Spring) had been the coldest one in many years, my queries of any snow were apparently, quite laughable.

Comments are closed.