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A Very Italian Road Trip

Venice, Italy

Around Anghiari

All the best planning in the world cannot account for the weather.  Everyone wants something different from the weather – farmers want the perfect blend of rain and sunshine, construction workers want cloudy and not too warm, and tourists want clear skies and bright sun.  While our Roman friends were here, we were hoping that the unpredictable weather here would allow us quality outdoor time, but that was not to be.  It was chilly, not cold, but not terrace weather.  Our first full day had overcast skies which promised rain later in the day so we struck out in the morning for a quick tour of Anghiari.

Cynthia, Peter, and Ann in Anghiari
Cynthia, Peter, Ann

As we were starting our tour, we met our landlord, Peter.  This dapper 85 year old never misses an opportunity to charm women and he was in heaven with Cynthia and Ann.  A new audience is where he shines and he was in prime form entertaining them.

Walking the ancient streets of Anghiari is one of the pleasures in life for me.  Every time I turn a corner and see a curving staircase carved from the stones or enter a 600 year old church, I feel reverent.  I always love to see how people experiencing it for the first time react.  The Romans were in awe of our little town and got a real sense of why we love it so much here.

The tour concluded with a pizza, followed by gelato.  What tour would be complete without that?  Our favorite gelato place just started serving it again two weeks ago after the winter hiatus.  This is a puzzlement to me because even though it is cold and dreary in the winter, sometimes I still want gelato.  In Anghiari this is a treat reserved for warm weather and I guess that somehow makes it even more precious.  But the American in me wants it when I want it, not when I can get it.

Andrea the Wine Guru

You might remember that Steve and I did a winery scouting trip a few weeks ago to make sure our guests got a quality experience.  We were so impressed with Andrea Baccheschi at Agricola Fabbriche Palma winery that we came back with the Romans.  Andrea makes wine come alive and explains the entire process in a way that even wine dummies like me can understand.  One of the things that I love about this particular winery is that it’s small and doesn’t have that commercial feeling that I’ve gotten at other wineries.  Andrea gave us a wonderful tour followed by a typical Tuscan spread of meat, cheese, and bruschetta.  And the wine.  We tasted three of their wines, a white and two reds, and a bonus tasting of vin santo (a sweet dessert wine) and grappa (think moonshine).  If you’re ever in the neighborhood of Lucignano, I would highly recommend you plan a visit here.  You won’t be disappointed.

The Road Trip Begins

This is where I started getting anxious.  After our relaxing days around Anghiari, we piled in the van for a trip to Venice and Florence.  Because we decided to drive to Venice, we thought staying in Mestre just across the lagoon from Venice made the most sense.  Parking is almost non-existent in Venice and with the nine passenger van, I thought it best we not venture there.  It sounded so easy to hop on a train or bus and make the short ride to Venice and not have to worry about a car.  Doesn’t it?

The Romans wanted to see the Adriatic coast on the way over, so we asked our friend Michelangelo for a recommendation on a good place to stop.  He gave us several possibilities and we settled on Milano Marittima, mainly because it looked to be the closest to our route.  We were glad we did.

Italian beach towns are all remarkably similar (we should know – we’ve been to about three of the thousands of them).  Modern hotels jamming the property next to the beaches, cabanas for changing and storing your personal items, and beach side restaurants with views to die for.  We parked the van and walked to the shell-laden beach, touched the Adriatic, and decided the time was right for lunch.  We had a wonderful lunch right on the beach under the beautiful sun.  Life was indeed good and we reluctantly got back in the van for the trip to Venice.

Stormy Weather

The forecast was for rain in Venice, but our experience at Milano Marittima made us hopeful that it would blow over and the sun would follow us.  That was not to be the case.  As we got close to Venice, the wind started blowing furiously and made the dry fields turn into dust bowls.  Clouds of dust blew across the road, almost obscuring our vision in places.  Then as we were crossing the lagoon, the dust clouds blowing across us turned to dark clouds above us and the rain started.  The rain lashed in horizontal sheets against the van.  The lagoon was violent – choppy and agitated as the wind churned the water and the rain added to it.  We drove on.

The rain subsided long enough for us to get in our hotel and walk to the bus stop.  Again, we had high hopes that maybe the worst was over and we could enjoy a nice evening in Venice.  On the bus, the wind and rain started again.  Our plan was to walk to San Marco piazza, see the Rialto bridge, then have dinner.  We got off the bus, pulled out the map, and started our trek.

If you’ve ever been to Venice, you know that getting lost is half the fun.  It’s almost impossible to follow a map because every street twists and winds in a comical way that has you ending up at a point around the corner from where you started.  You think you’re on the right path when you suddenly come to a dead end or a canal.  Strolling through Venice is wonderful when you have all the time in the world and when it’s not raining in sheets and so windy that the little umbrella you brought can’t hold it’s own.  That’s right, the wind was so fierce umbrellas were turning inside out, rendering them useless.

If you didn’t have a hood (like me) you were a drowned rat (like me).  Puddles collected in the dips of the stone streets submerging our feet with each step.  We were freezing and soaked to the bone when we decided to abandon our search for San Marco and stop in the nearest bar for warmth and a much needed drink.  We crowded into the bar, so relieved to be out of the storm, and regrouped.  Our map was a soggy mess as we tried to determine our location and we decided to stay in the bar until it was time to go to dinner.  Gradually we started to thaw out and warm up.

A couple sat down next to us and she recognized our Southern accents.  We struck up a conversation with Anne and Mike from D.C. who are now living in Bath, England.  Mike is in the Air Force and is stationed there.  They took a cheap flight to Venice for the weekend, and like us, were disappointed that the weather was so bad.  She is originally from Anderson, S.C., so that’s why the Southern accents attracted her.  We had a lovely conversation with them and found out that her father was a POW with John McCain in Vietnam.  She and Steve shared lots of common acquaintances due to her work in government and politics.  A delightful encounter on an otherwise dreary evening.

A stroke of luck was that we were relatively close to the restaurant.  The downside was that it was still storming.  I was able to get my umbrella up this time, though.  Soaked again, we dried out over a wonderful dinner.  By the time dinner was over, so were we.  We abandoned seeing anything of Venice for returning to the hotel and a hot shower.  The rain had stopped, but it was still cold and the streets were waterlogged.

First impressions are important and I’m afraid Venice did not make a good one on the Romans.  Of all the cities in the world to be in during a storm Venice ranks among the worst.  Even the water taxis weren’t running because of the weather.  Foot power was the only way to get anywhere on this night.  Rain is one thing, but this was something else altogether.  Misery is the word that comes to mind.

The next day dawned clear and sunny, but we had Florence in our sights and said our goodbyes to Venice.  Maybe another time, but for this trip Venice had its chance.


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