Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Goodbye Renault, Hello Seat and the UK

The car saga continued, the Renault just did not appreciate having a new tire and being clean. We set off from the Taylor's to drive up the Mosel river road and then over to drive down the Rhine. All was going well until Beth said I hope the car problems are behind us. I assured her that all was well and we would have no problems for the rest of the trip. Soon after, a wrench symbol appeared on the dash and a message in French that said something about an injection controller problem. We pulled off the road to look at the owner's manual, which of course is in French, but it did not provide us with anything we could understand. When I went thru the restart sequence, the car always does a number of checks before starting. It gave us a big OK, so down the road we went. Of course, the problem light came on again. But after a 'reboot' it said it was OK, it did not seem to have the same power, but we thought it might fix itself with a few more kilometers.

We had a very nice drive along the Mosel and a very scenic drive along the Rhine. We knew we were probably going to have to call Renault on Monday to let them know that the car was giving us this message, but it kept going away so we didn't think there was anything seriously wrong. How wrong I was, both about no further car problems and nothing serious.

The water level in the Rhine river is lower than most people can remember. People are able to walk almost to the middle of the river and the channel for the transport boats is very narrow and I was told they can only take partial loads. We took a few pictures of the numerous castles along our way and stopped in Bacharach. Beth thought she remembered that this was the town that Laura and Lisa had stayed during their Europe trip in 2002. We found a place to park and walked thru the town and then went up a street and found the pension that they stayed in. We went to the door and asked the owner if she remembered Laura and Lisa. She was very nice and thought she remembered the two girls. We then went to a Rick Steves recommended ice cream store to have Spaghetti Ice. We bought the Kinder size since we were scheduled to attend a dinner party later in Wiesbaden.

We started on our drive to Wiesbaden and along the way the Renault showed us the injection message again, but this time in red! This was not a good sign but since we were close to the dinner party location we continued on. Once there, I contacted Renault and told us what the car was telling us. They suggested waiting a half hour and doing a reboot to see if the message would go away. It did not. Renault told me that the next step was to get the car towed to the nearest Renault dealer. The Taylor's were attending this dinner party given by Peter Yaeger who next year will have worked at Stripes for 50 years which is amazing. It was a fun time with very good wurst and more than enough varied liquid refreshments. The towing company came and I drove the Renault onto the flatbed tow truck. We would ride home with the Taylor's and deal with the car on Monday.

After many calls with Renault in France, with the Renault dealer, with Renault in Germany, and then with a car rental agency, we ended up with a replacement car, a Seat Leon. Early on during these discussions, we were told we could not take a rental car overseas to the UK. I asked if we took it on the Chunnel train it would be ok since it would be underwater. They were not amused. When the rental person delivered the car they wrote on the rental agreement that we could take the car to the UK. We finally left the Taylor's after four and headed to an ibis hotel in Aalst, Belgium. The next morning, we got online to look for what ferry to take. I learned that there was one from Oostende directed to Ramsgate, England. It is a longer boat ride, but less driving on both ends, plus since we will be returning within 48 hours, we only have to pay the one-way fare.

We drove the few miles from the ferry to my cousin Jane's house and had a very nice dinner and visit with her family. We even got to watch old home Marquesen family movies. It was neat to see my Mom, Jane's mom and dad and my grandpa as the movies were from the 50's and 60's. We got to bed late but the visit was well worth it. Tomorrow, we expect to tour a bit in this corner of England, if I can remember to stay Left!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Another dessert too pretty to eat, but Beth had no problem.

Dessert is almost too pretty to eat

Goulash soup in Darmstadt

Zermatt parking ramp, clean is a Swiss compulsion.

The Matterhorn

In line to load onto the train ferry

Our cabin in the Lauterbrunnen campground - what a place!

Thursday 26 May thru Sat 28 May

We drove from Lauterbrunnen to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn one more time. This provided a new experience, or two, for us. When we put Zermatt into the GPS, it asked if we wanted to avoid a ferry, but there was no water showing on the route to Zermatt. We learned that we were going to take a 15-minute ferry ride on a train. This was a very dark, somewhat noisy and bumpy ride thru a very long tunnel. Another new experience.

We continued the drive to Zermatt until we ran into a sign that said we had to park and take a shuttle train into the town of Zermatt. We parked in a very new and spotless parking ramp. They were actually power washing the floor above where we parked, the floors were painted - when have you seen a parking ramp in the US with a painted floor? No wonder things are so expensive in Switzerland. We paid our 26 CHF to ride the shuttle train and soon arrived in town. It is still very picturesque and nice that there are very few vehicles. We walked thru the town looking for the best spot to take pictures. We had to wait awhile for the clouds to clear so we could see the top of the Matterhorn. We took a few pictures as the weather was again beautiful.

We got back on the shuttle - a very nice and nearly new train, then paid a few more CHF to get out of the parking ramp and headed for Germany. Our plan was to get to Darmstadt/Greisheim in time to find a place to stay for that night. We got to ride the train ferry again and were doing great until the front left tire went flat while we were doing 120 Kph in the left lane, just South of Thun, Switzerland. The Renault handled this very nicely, the car did not swerve at all towards the median guard rail. We pulled onto the shoulder, the tire smelling and showing a number of cuts in the side, but no damage to the wheel.

I emptied the trunk, set up our warning triangle, and put on my bright yellow safety vest. I took out the spare and learned it was a full-sized tire, but with a 80 Kph max sticker on the wheel. I changed the tire and loaded all of the stuff back into the trunk. We got off the highway at Thun and called Renault to see what we were supposed to do. They told us that punctures are not covered by the insurance and that we would have to buy a new tire. They gave us the directions to the Thun Renault dealer. We drove there and talked to the service manager, or Kundendiensleiter. Herr Sandro Mani was the nicest, most helpful person. He gave us the choice of buying a new tire, for $250 CHF (over $300), but we would have to wait till Monday, or he would take a tire off a used car with 8000 Km, but for the same price as new. The mechanic, looked at our spare and said it was H rated which he said was good for 190 Kph. Tirerack says a H rated tire is good for 210 Kph or 130 mph. Since the Renault will not go that fast, I decided to drive to Germany on the spare as we had lost enough time already.

We got as far as Rust, Germany when we decided to get a place to stay. It was already 8:30 PM and we needed to find a Pension before they closed. We found one near Europa Amusement Park for a reasonable amount that provided us a breakfast. The room was quiet and the shower and breakfast was great. We drove towards Darmstadt, stopping at Bensheim to see if we could find the house where our friends, the Klinkams, lived while we were both living in Germany. We actually found it easily and took a picture. We drove to Darmstadt, stopping to see that the Germans have done nothing with the US military buildings since the Army left town. We drove downtown and parked in the car park under Luisen Center. We had Goulasch soup at the Rathaus restaurant and it was just as good as we remembered it.

We did a little shopping and even had personal help to find a store by an employee of Sport Hubner, who took time from his break to walk us to another store that he thought might have what we were looking for. We then drove to Griesheim to see our old house. As we were leaving, Herr Haake, our next door neighbor, came home and we talked for awhile. Then Heidi Tobin, our old American neighbor, came home and we talked with her. We then drove to the old Stripes location to see how depressing the emptiness was. We stopped at the Pension Postkutche and were lucky to find Kathy Page at home. We talked with her and her daughter for a while and then headed for Viernheim to meet Elli and Pasquale, the friends with one of the Ferraris we met in Italy.

We met them at the RheinNecker Shopping Center and got into their car to drive to a special restaurant. This restaurant was outstanding, with a wonderful menu. It was hard to make a decision as the menu was large and varied. Elli did a great job of interpreting the menu for us. Every item we chose was delicious, as was the champagne, and wine and dessert. Elli and Pasquale went far beyond just being friends by not allowing us to pay anything for the outstanding meal. We left the restaurant after midnight, after meeting them at 6:30 at the shopping center. To say we had a good time is putting it too mildly. The conversation was as good as the food even though we had to converse in English due to our lack of language skills. We think Pasquale knows and understands more English than he lets on, but he was very patient to wait for Elli to interpret. I hope we can return the favor some time. It may mean we have to make another trip to Europe, which we would certainly love to do, or they would have to travel to Minnesota.

They gave us a ride back to our car and we headed for Enkenbach-Alsenborn to Chris and John Taylor's house. We were low on diesel fuel but thought it would be no problem as there are many stations open 24 hours on the Autobahn. We started driving at 80 mph as the car told us we could go 67 Km and the GPS was telling us we only had 50 Km to go. It wasn't 20 Km down the road that the gauge read empty and the computer was reading blanks for the distance we could go until we needed to stop for fuel. We slowed down to 100 Kph, 62 mph, and drove thru the darkness waiting to see the welcome sight of gas station lights. Another 15 Km down the road we dropped to 80 Kph. We did not want to run out of gas and experience getting a ticket for that offense, plus be stopped by the side of the road for who knows how long. We saw an Autohof, a service area off the Autobahn that was open. We drove in and put 56.3 Liters into our 60 Liter tank. We had lots left, why were we concerned?

We got to the Taylor's house at 1:30 AM and since we had a key, were able to enter and get to bed without waking them. The next morning, we headed out for the Kaiserslautern area to see if we could find a tire to match the other 3 on the Renault. Chris had done some on-line research and we went to a couple of stores, but they said they could not get the tire until Tuesday or Wednesday . Chris decided to try the second ATU store just to see if they could do better. Initially, they gave us the same news. We asked if the tire was available in another ATU store in Germany. He showed us the list of stores with this tire in inventory but all were 400 to 600 Km from where we were. But then as we were about to leave, he said that he found one in Mannheim, just an hour away. He called the store and reserved the tire for us and we set off to solve the tire problem, which would then allow us to continue our trip on Tuesday to England. We found the store, GPS system worked great, and while they were mounting the tire we went to McDonald's for lunch. This McDonald's had free refills of Cokes which we had not seen in Europe on this trip.

We got the tire and came back to the Taylor's. I mounted the tire, put the spare away and gave the car a sponge bath, mostly trying to get 6000 km's of bugs off the front off the car. Tonight, Chris is cooking dinner for us, but unfortunately, John has to work, so he will be home late. Tomorrow, we plan to drive to the Rhein and Mosel river valleys to see lots of castles and beautiful scenery.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music by Beth!

Beth and Jim taking a break during walk in Murren, Switzerland

Scene during our walk above Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

Riva del Garda harbor

Our farm hotel in Arco, Italy, near Riva del Garda

Scene from inside chapel dedicated to cyclists in Magreglio, Italy

Scene in Bellagio Italy

Greg, Valeria, Giacomo, and Eduardo

Friday 20 May thru Wed 25 May. Italy and then Switzerland

We packed and cleaned the house in Nicola. It rained a bit that day - the only rain we have seen since we arrived in Europe. We were happy that the movement of stuff from the house to the car was downhill this time even though the cobblestones were just as bumpy as ever.

We drove to Chieri which is close to Torino to visit with Beth's nephew and his family. I met Greg's Italian wife, Valeria, for the first time and Beth met the newest member of the Greg Read family, nearly 1 year old Eduardo. They also have a three year old, Giacomo, who speaks Italian and English. We visited downtown Torino where they were having a parade as part of the celebration of Italy being a country for 150 years. Still hard to think of these European countries being younger than the USA, but they were independent city states until the 1860's.

We went out for a nice dinner sitting at an outside table. The food was good and it was fun watching Giacomo interacting with a couple at the next table and then dancing when a guy playing the violin stopped by our table. Of course, we had a gelato on the way back to the car.

The next day, we went to Greg's school for an international day. This is understandable since it is the International School. There were examples of food available from a number of countries where the students are from. It was fun and the food was good but it was very warm. Greg and Valeria cooked a very nice barbecue and pasta dinner for us that evening. We said our goodbyes the next morning and headed North.

We stopped for awhile in Bellagio, which was nice and scenic but overrun with hotels and shops. We continued on to Riva del Garda, per a recommendation from Laura who had at one time stayed there, and found a nice place to stay. We spent the evening downtown and had a nice lakeside dinner. The next morning, we were provided a very good breakfast and headed further North. We entered Austria and bought our windshield sticker which allows us to use the Austria highways for 10 days.

We got to meet a very nice Austrian highway patrol officer when I was confused when he put his lights on behind me and waved his lollypop sign out the window. I followed him off the highway and parked where he pointed. He came over and told me I was not who he was stopping, but it was the truck passing in the middle lane which was restricted to cars only. He thanked me for stopping and he sent us on our way.

We drove to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland to the Camping Jungfrau site. The reception office was closed, but by asking in the restaurant we were able to rent a bungalow for two nights. It is nice with a kitchen, living room, bath and two bedrooms. On Wednesday, we took the cable car up the hill and then walked for about six hours to Gimmelwald and back. It was so scenic, it is hard to take it all in. We were tired and happy to take the cable car back down the hill. The campground restaurant served us an outstanding schnitzel dinner with a salad, fries and a dessert. We are full and happy to be off our feet. Tomorrow, we head further North to Germany and then to England before catching our flight in Paris on the 4th of June.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Performer in Florence

After dinner in Torino

Last spaghetti dinner in Nicola

The family of the future Marquis of Maraspina

Maraspina castle in Fosdinovo

Castle Maraspina in Fosdinovo

Ruins of amphitheater in Luni

Beth in Lerici

Beach in Lerici

Florence before the crowds


Shopping bridge from Uffizi Gallery

Florence before the crowds

Shopping bridge in Florence

Florence from parking lot Piazza Michelangelo

Nicola from neighboring hill town

Shepherd and flock along the road near Carrera

Mille Miglia in Maranello

Mille Miglia in Maranello

Mille Miglia in Maranelo

Mille Miglia In Maranello

Mille Miglia in Maranello

Friday, May 20, 2011

Thursday, 19 May, Sarzana and Castles

We drove to Luni Archeological Site that is only 8 miles from our house in Nicola. Entrance fees were waived for us older folks so we wandered around viewing all the items they had uncovered. It must have been a pretty impressive town, founded in 177 BC, before it was destroyed by whomever was the next ruling group. They had no English guide or on the individual signs, so our interpretation of what we were seeing was pretty limited. The guide book mentioned that the site was noted mainly for the remains of its great amphitheater, which could seat 5000 spectators but there were no signs at the museum site about the amphitheater. We found it by driving in the direction that it was shown on the map in the guide book. In the middle of cultivated farm fields sits this large arena. The little parking lot was chained off and the gates into the area were locked. It is the most impressive part of this old city and is not part of the exhibition.

We then drove to Sarzana based on a writeup in an Italian Riviera guide book. We were there on a market day. All of the open areas were filled with vendors selling clothes, kitchen gadgets, tools, toys, etc. We visited all of the spots mentioned in the book. The Cittadella, the fortress, was not open as it is being used as the site for an on-going concert of accoustical guitarists. It was still impressive from the outside and one could picture it when there was water in its moat.

We had our snack lunch in the parking lot under a pine tree with cones that were bigger than softballs. Luckily, none dropped either on us or the car. Then, it was on to some of the recommended hill towns and their castles. The first was the Fortress di Sarzanello located at the top of a hill road paved with cobblestones that were a real test of the Renault's suspension and our teeth. It was an impressive structure and open for self-guided tours. We wandered all over this place before leaving for the hill-town village of Fosdinove with its restored castle that is a private residence, but open to visitors.

The GPS took us up the steepest and narrowest road possible to reach this town. We learned later that there is a much better road, which we took after our visit. We bought our ticket, which came with a self-tour guide in English. The lady who sold us the ticket showed us the first couple of rooms and pointed out where to go after the first four rooms on that level. Then she called for a gentleman to come and talk to us. He came over and he spoke very good English. He talked abit about where we should go and asked if we were staying there for the night. He also asked if we paid to get in. We said yes and he told us we should have talked to him first.

Later, we learned he is the son of the owner of the castle, the marquis Filippo Torrigiani Malaspina, whose family has owned the castle since 1340, and restored it, completed in 1960.
During our tour, we ran into the son's wife and one-year old daughter. They are both lawyers who live in the castle for six months during the summer, and live in Florence for the other six months. She was very friendly and showed us many other rooms of the castle. She said they were married in the castle and she has lived there for six years. We mentioned that it must be a challenge to have a toddler running around in a place with so many places that can be dangerous, especially the number of stone stairways. She said it was a constant concern, but she has help during the day when she is working.

When we mentioned we were staying in Nicola, they both mentioned that they knew the lady who owns the resturant at the end of the square. We thanked them for their hospitality and we mentioned to ourselves how lucky we are to meet such friendly people that are willing to share a bit of thier lives with us. We drove down the hill, by the better road, which seemed to go on forever. Fosdinovo is at 500 M above sea level so it is a long road to reach sea level, before we then climb the hill to Nicola which is only at 181 M. Another fun and interesting day all within 20 miles from Nicola. We are so thankful to the Kohler's for allowing us the use their house.

Friday will be a non-travel day as we wash clothes, go shopping to replenish supplies we used during our visit, clean and then pack. Saturday we will go to Torino to visit Beth's nephew and his family. At least this time we will be dragging our suitcases down hill to the car. We made a reservation on Monday night in a small family run farm near Riva del Garda. This will be our first stop as we slowly work our way back to Germany.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wednesday, 18 May - Lerici

We got a late start on Wednesday since we had such a long day on Tuesday. We do get senior discounts here too on tickets to museums and castles, so we aren't lazy, just older. Entering the city, we saw one of those traffic limited signs so were afraid to go much further to find a place to park. A man moving his cars said - in sign language - it was okay that I park on the street. It had white markings on the ground which means it's free parking, so we left the car there and walked the half mile down the hill into the harbour area.

It's a beautiful spot with an imposing castle overhead, many resturants with mostly outside seating, and many boats in the marina, both commercial fishing boats, as well as pleasure craft. We walked here and there and everywhere. Found a bathroom, which is always a priority as they are sometimes few and far between. This one was under the watchful eye of a lady asking for 20 cents for each use. We watched some teenagers play a game of basketball with a soccer ball while they were paddling kayaks. It was a game of 2 on 2 and the paddles could be used to either help or hinder the ball on its way to either of the two nets that were about 6 feet above the water.

Quite a lot of people, mostly women, were lying on the large flat rocks that were there to protect the harbour. We walked around the bay and then saw there were beaches. Most were of the private variety with the umbrellas anchored into the sand in neat rows. At the far end, about a mile around, we saw there was a public beach. We then walked back to the main area and looked for a place to have dinner. We did not want to pay a table charge, so we got a pizza from a little place and were able to use his little table outside his shop without charge.

We then waited around until we felt it was time that we deserved a gellato. We also were waiting to see what time people came out to eat. They don't come out till about 8:30. About that time, we started up the hill to see if our car was still there. It was, but someone in a Chevy SUV had parked in front of us on this hill leaving me 4 inches to maneuver. I had a garbage container of some sort about 6 inches behind, so the fun began. Immediately upon putting the car in reverse, it was a steady beep telling me I was going to hit something if I moved backwards.
With Beth's help and at least 9 back and forth moves, we were able to get the car out of there and be on our way home.

We're still looking for a place that has WiFi so we can attach some more pictures. Not sure when that's going to happen!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tuesday 18 May, Florence and Volterra

At 4 AM, the alarm sounded telling us to get up and get going so we could be on the road early to meet our 8:30 reservation time at the Accademia Museum where the statue of Michelangelo's David is displayed. We actually found the free parking lot easily with the help of the Renault's GPS. Now it was cool, 10 C, (50 F) and early, only 7:30, but we still had to catch a bus into the center of town, and then find the museum.

A bus was waiting in the parking lot, which was one of those mentioned in Rick Steves' book. We hopped on, bought our ticket, and then wondered how to know when to get off. It loaded up with people as we made our way into the city. Many had suitcases, so we thought it must be going to the train station and we would get off there. We did, and then tried to decifer where we were on the map and which way to go to the museum. We finally found it after a couple of detours and a stop for a couple of pastry treats.

The line for those with reservations was fairly short. We met some people from Florida and talked to them as we waited in line. He works for some medical products company based in MN. The musuem was not that impressive except for the David statue, which was magnificient.

We then made our way through the maze which is Florence, watching that we didn't get hit by a bike or scooter, to the Uffizi Gallery. Our reservation was supposed to cover both places, and after some confusion on what line was for what and for whom, we were able to purchase our tickets. It was one impressive building and outstanding art collection - almost too much for one whom is not an art history person.

We then toured Florence and had a Panini and Coke for lunch. We waited in line for the Duomo and toured it. At about 3:30, we caught the bus back to our car and then took a few pictures as that lot provides a great view overlooking the town. We had decided to go to Volterra as it is not too far from Florence.

We got there and into the parking ramp in time for an English hour long walking tour of Volterra that is mentioned in Rick Steves' book. We went along with a couple from Coventry England and a couple from Chile. The couple from Chile were using the Steves' book on a Kindle which they found to be easy to use and a great help during their tours of other cities.

The tour guide is from Holland and gave a good overview of the history of the city that was ruled by the Etruscans, the Romans and then by the people in Florence. At the start of the tour, she had us look at all of the older locals sitting on the stone benches around the bus stop. She said they were there every day with the men sitting together under the tree at the far end while the women were sitting together closer to the buildings. She mentioned that one of the men went on vacation somewhere and sent a postcard to his friends and he addressed the card, in Italian of course, as "The guys sitting under the tree, Volterra, Italy" and it was delivered successfully. After the tour, and then some more wandering thru the city, we headed for home.

The Italians certainly enjoy their leisurely way of life, late start to the day, close their stores from 1:30 to 3:00, go out for a late 2-hour dinner at 8 or 8:30. This leisurely pace applies to all areas of their life, except when they are on their scooters or in their cars, then they are transformed into racing drivers emulating their favorite Formula 1 or Moto drivers.

We have now over 4200 Km on the car, over 2600 miles, and we still are going thru Switzerland, back to Germany, and then thru France, to England and then back to Paris before we head back home. It will definitely be a used car by the time we turn it in on June 4th.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sunday and Monday, 15 & 16 May

Sunday was kind of a stay-at-home day. Sleep in, two loads of wash, and a trip to the grocery store. We also drove up to the neighboring hill town of Ortonovo. We thought we should visit it since we see it every time we look across the valley from Nicola. The drive up to that town is longer and has many more narrow, space for only one car stretches than the drive up our hill. We had to back up once near the top of the hill on our way back down, and that is an experience in itself in this Renault. It is very difficult to see out the back of this car. It does have the warning sensors in the back bumper, but that does not help me to try to back it up in tight places. For that, Beth must be my guide, and she does a very good job of telling me where to go.

When we got back to our parking lot, we heard people talking in English as they were unloading themselves and a couple of kids from their big Mitsubishi SUV. We told them that we had not heard anyone else speaking English in Nicola. There was a lady about our age, two 20-something year old sisters, and a three year old boy and a one year old girl. One of the girls was married to a guy in the Air Force, stationed at Aviano Air Base, but currently in Afghanistan. We helped guide them up the hill and into the center of town, right by our place. The three year old boy started to act up, he was tired and wanted to ride up the hill in the stroller, but there was no way on the rough cobblestones that was going to work. I offered to carry him, and picked him up from the stroller, and he was fine with that. We and the mother were amazed that he would go with me, but she was thankful.

We showed them our house so they could get an idea of what the insides of these hill town houses might look like. We mentioned that the kitchen on the top floor was done originally to help protect the rest of the house in case of a fire in the kitchen. We talked for awhile and then they went on their way.

Monday was a driving day. We drove on two roads that were mentioned in one of my car magazines as great driving roads, and that they were. Curve after curve after curve and all either up or down some fairly steep hills. It was mostly a 70 Kph (44 Mph) limit and that was sometimes too fast for many of the corners. Beth had her "brake" on many times. We were wishing we had the Miata over here. But even in our diesel Renault, it was a fun time and cheaper than the Autostrada; plus, we got to see some interesting castle ruins and some beautifully kept castles too. Of course, it being Monday, they were all closed.

Tomorrow, we will be on the road at 5 AM to get to Florence for our reservation at the Accademia museum that has Michelangelo's David statue, and the Uffizi Museum to see Italian Renaissance paintings. We are expecting a hoard of tourists and aggressive vendors. Hopefully, we can find the free parking lot right outside the city mentioned in Rick Steve's book, with enough time to either take a bus or walk to the museum for our 8:30 reservation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Back to Maranello for Mille Miglia

We drove to Maranello, home of Ferrari, to watch the parade of 150 Ferraris preceding the older cars in the Mille Miglia. We had read of a concours d'elegance that was supposed to occur during the day, with the cars scheduled to pass thru town about 5:30 PM.

We hung around town watching the events staged by the local fire dept. and had a pizza and salad lunch at the place where we have been able to access the internet and send pictures to our blog. No concours event was ever found. We toured the local shops that specialize in Ferrari stuff. Anything you can imangine can be had in red with a horse on it or the word Ferrari. At the Ferrari shop, they should provide second mortgages based on the prices they were asking for their items. You cannot buy a Ferrari watch for 10 euro, like you can a Rolex - just ask Beth.

The cars started arriving as scheduled, but one to three at a time, not a continuous parade. After the first 75 to 100 Ferraris, we were anxious to see the older cars that were participating in the tour. One should not have a blase indifference about another Ferrari or two or three passing by, but we saw more Ferraris in one day than we will see for the rest of our lives. But the sound the cars make was well worth the trip. A police woman was trying to tell them to slow down on one road, while on the next street two 20-something year old Italian guys were trying to get them to accelerate to film the cars with a great sound track.

The old cars started coming and they were neat to watch. A lot of the drivers and passengers were dressed in clothes that matched what they might have worn when these cars actually raced in this event. We stayed until the last cars came through and our camera battery died. We left for the two-hour drive home to find many of the roads closed that the GPS system wanted us to use. They were closed to allow the Mille Miglia cars some clearer roads. We finally found a way to the Autostrada and headed home. Pictures will be added once we find another WiFi spot for our iPad.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Becoming friends with the Germans driving the Ferraris

Friday the 13th - Hill towns and Ferraris

We drove towards San Gimignano and enjoyed the beautiful scenery that is Tuscany. The town was busier than we remembered, wall to wall tourists. Had fun getting the car into the Fiat 500 sized spot in the lot. We walked around the town and took pictures of the remaining towers. Bought some things to bring home and a couple of donuts to eat. We bought some salami made from wild boar to have with our snack lunch.

We left town with the idea of driving aways and then taking pictures of the town from a distance. Once we were at the bottom of the hill, we could no longer see the town. We took a gravel road that headed up the hill to see if we could see the town from the top of the hill. We found a working farm that has olive groves and vineyards. We talked to a young blonde who came out of, what we later learned, was the building the farm used to sell their wines. She confirmed that this was a winery and olive oil business.

We drove down the hill and used the farm's summer sales area as a picnic area. Halfway through our lunch, a couple of red Ferraris, a 358 and a 430, headed up the road. They stopped near us and one driver asked us if the winery was open. We said yes, but we were surprised they were going to drive those cars up that dusty and very bumpy road. Before the driver left, he said this farm's wines were "benissimo". We finished our lunch and decided to go back up the hill to see if they made it up the hill and to taste the wines.

The cars were parked near the wine sales building. We parked and went to see the wines. The couples asked us if we wanted to join them. Both couples were from Germany. One driver was born in Italy but now has a paving base preparation business near Heidelberg. The other driver has an electrical contracting business near Dusseldorf. The blond girl, who we learned is from British Columbia, came out with six glasses and two bottles of wine, a red and a white. We sat and enjoyed the wines and talked. One of the women had very good English, the others understood most of the English, except for the driver who went to school in Italy before moving to Germany at age 17. They told us they were going to Monteriggioni where they were staying that night in the castle hotel. They asked if we could come there at 5:30 or so and ask at the desk if the people with the Ferraris had arrived. They said we could then have a drink together.

We had had Monteriggioni in our GPS before we took the gravel road, but decided to go see another town they recommended, Greve in Chianti. We took a tour of the wine making buildings and bought a couple of bottles of their wine. We drove through the beautiful Tuscany countryside to Greve in Chianti. Finally found a parking spot and set off to town when we saw a parade of tractors going into the center of town. Our new friends with the Ferraris came around the corner and told us there was a protest against some garbage facility. We toured the town and watched some entertainment for the kids. We left for Monteriggioni.

We only had coins for parking for an hour and said that would be enough. We went into the beautiful walled city. Very small and could not walk the ramparts since we were so late. We decided to stop at the hotel and say good bye to the Ferrarri folks, just to thank them for being so friendly and hospitable. They were in the lobby and we talked about where each of us were going to watch the Mille Miglia on Saturday. They were going to Siena, while we planned to go to Maranello. Another German couple had joined them after flying down from Frankfurt. He is a well know scientist in fluidized bed engineering, who had recently presented papers in San Diego and Seattle. We turned down their invitation to join them for dinner since we had a 2 hour drive home, and also so they did not have to speak English. We had a good long Minnesota goodbye, exchanging email addresses and set off for the drive home.

We arrived home safe and sound - a Friday the 13th driving in Italy without incident. We should have bought a lottery ticket.

Mr. Verrazzano in Greve in Chianti, standing by during protest about garbage facility


Inside Monteriggioni

San Gimignano


Winery tour near San Gimignano

Ferraris at Winery by San Gimignano


San Gimignano

Beth in San Gimignano

Scooters - fond memory for Laura of scooter hitting "Kleine Blau" in Florence

Sign in Pisa before Beth bought her "Rolex"