The two big trees

Trip Start Jun 24, 2011
Trip End Aug 25, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Saturday, June 25, 2011

We arrived in Rome 30 minutes early, which is about as much sleep as I'd had on our eight-hour flight from Atlanta.  We collected the bags and headed to the Hertz rental counter. For some reason, I had low expectations getting our car, but everything worked fine.  While at the counter I asked to add Dean as an additional driver.  He doesn’t like to drive in Atlanta, and I know he surely didn’t want to drive in Italy.  But, since he doesn’t drink wine, and that’s all I could think about doing in Italy, he WAS going to drive.  The agent informed us it was 7 Euros/day for an extra driver, and I was willing to hand over my wallet, when Dean gave me this look as if saying, "surely that’s too much to add me, you can just drive."   Well, I reluctantly passed on adding him, and with the thought of us driving a standard transmission on narrow, winding country roads in a foreign country, it was probably a good decision.   

It’s been 14 years since I’ve driven anything but an automatic transmission.  We didn’t get off on the right foot as I was quickly reminded (as the car jumped forward), that the clutch must be engaged to start the car.  As it all came back as we were making our way in our Ford Fiesta down through the parking garage to exit,  we ended up behind a couple where it seemed the man driving hadn’t driven a manual in 28 years!  Poor guy stalled several times on the way to the exit, but seemed to be getting the hang of it.  Now I was starting to feel pretty good.

Just before leaving the US I decided to order a new Garmin GPS with North American and European maps.   We already had a Garmin, but had no idea if it had European maps, so I took the safe route.  I was leary about using the Hertz GPS as I’m not a fan of the ones in the States.  The Garmin works great., and has saved us many frustrations no doubt.

About 2.5 hours after leaving Rome airport, we arrived in Cortona, a beautiful hilltop town in Southern Tuscany, made famous in Frances Mayes’ book “Under the Tuscan Sun.”   The hotel, Relais Il Falconiere was beautiful.  It sits below the hilltop town of Cortona in the foothills.   It’s quiet, peaceful and has a gorgeous view of the valley – vineyards, sunflowers, olive trees and villas as far as the eye can see.

While waiting for our room, too tired to venture out, we ordered a light lunch on the terrace overlooking the Tuscan valley.  Turns out our waiter (from Cortona) lived in Atlanta and Athens, GA for one year.  He  was in GA with his ex-girlfriend who was studying at UGA and he worked at an Italian restaurant on Peachtree Street (naturally).  After the delicious pasta meal, our room was ready.

Before retiring for a quick nap, I found a highly recommended restaurant in our guidebook.  I pointed to "La Bucaccia” (afraid to mispronounce it) and asked the friendly woman at reception to make a reservation.  When she said “Ahhh, La Bucaccia, very good,” I breathed a sigh of relief.

Off to our room we went.   

The 23 room hotel, made up of several buildings (main house, annex, wellness center), dates back to the 17th Century.  The biggest skeleton key I’ve ever seen opens our door  (not so quietly I might add).   You can just feel the history.  Dean thought he could smell the history too, commenting that the elevator smelled like his Grandpa Oscar – not of Cortona but of  20th Century Miami Beach!

Grandpa Oscar notwithstanding, what a wonderful place this is – a nice tranquil oasis! Sad to think of only staying three nights here.

Getting hungry, we headed into town for our 7:30 reservation.  Very early by Italian standards, but having flown the previous night, we knew we had to eat soon.

Getting to the restaurant in town was more of a challenge than we thought.  We were directed out the same way we came in, but were advised by the helpful lady at reception, to “turn left at the  big two trees” instead of turning right to the main road.  Simple enough.  Dean seemed to get it, and hearing his confidence I pretended I understood.  Who wants to question something as simple as turning left at two big trees?  So off we went.  After ambling down the narrow one lane dirt road (with two stone walls on either side, fearing we’d have to back up to Florence if any car came our way) we came to a stop sign. In front of the sign was a madonna and child monument.  We should have stopped to pray for wisdom in navigation. Dean said “let’s turn left” This was the opposite way to the main road which might have made sense but there weren’t any “two big trees” that we could see.  “I think she said something about a stop sign,” he said.   We committed to the left turn and kept going higher and higher up a mountain.  Cortona was up a mountain, so made sense.  The road kept getting narrower, and the gravel slowly turned into dirt.  The road got windier and steeper.  It took about 5 minutes to realize we needed to turn around.  But how do you turn around on a one-lane, made for Smart cars, road?   Very carefully.  Dean was convinced I’d pop the clutch and we’d go careening over the side. Meanwhile, a dog (in a fenced-in yard) caught our whole predicament,  and was watching in amusement, barking to its owners to come out and watch the two lost Americans.

We finally made our way back down, past the stop sign and the Madonna and Child to find the two big trees.  Of course.  How silly.  Once we saw them, it made sense.  They were two big trees.

Once we got to Cortona and parked, we had some time to explore before our dinner reservations.  I love dogs, and noticed the cutest bulldog in a cafe/bar so I wandered in to take a picture.  I think it was the owner's dog and she was quite pleased I wanted a picture of her pup Nelly.   But...she wasn't quite cooperative (the dog, not the owner) so I had to chase her around trying to snap the right shot.  Everyone was trying to get Nelly to pose.  It was such a scene that Dean had to walk outside.  My perseverance paid off, and after 7 tries, I got a nice shot.  I wasn't going to give up.   After my "prize" shot (here prize means I settled for a shot where she wasn't moving), we wandered through the main square,  Piazza del Repubblica, and saw a wedding just finishing.  A bride and groom were atop the main stairs of the square...what a a great place and evening for a wedding. 

La Bucaccia was a beautiful little restaurant located just off the main square. While this restaurant certainly felt “old world,” complete with beautifully exposed stone walls, technology found its way there – with a digital picture frame with rotating images proudly displayed in the dining room, and hand-held computers for ordering and payment.  The computers seemed to be adding some efficiency but every once in awhile you’d hear the owner curse the hand-held device – a necessary evil.   The meal was fantastic – a starter of cured meats, Tuscan steaks  for the main and a bottle (for me) of some local Cortona Sangiovese red.   Great meal topped off by the obligatory gelato eaten on the steps of the church in the main square.  

First day was a success, and no problems finding the two big trees on our way home – even in darkness. 
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Richard Evelyn on

(a) arguing about who's going to drive; (b) popping the clutch on a Ford Fiesta in Italy; (c) Grandpa Oscar = LOL :)

Loni on

I so want Dean to be a part of this whole adventure
he's cracking me up !!!
Have fun guys !!! Love ya

Moo Voo Helloo on

I'm with Loni. Can you just drag Dean with you everywhere you go? He's high comedy!!

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