Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria

Trip Start Nov 27, 2005
Trip End Jan 27, 2006

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

18 January, 2006

Last weekend, we took three days and headed north from Lazio - up through Umbria into Tuscany and Liguria.

We picked up a little Fiat Punto at Termini station on Friday morning and made our way out of Rome through the morning traffic. Not something I would advise. The round-abouts were an especially entertaining diversion. They don't even paint lane lines on the roads in Rome - there's no point. The basic technique for driving in Rome is to poke the nose of your car into whatever space is available in front of you. Lateral moves are made gradually without regard to whatever is already there. There are surprisingly few damaged cars and amazingly little horn-blowing or other overt signs of hostility. Once you get your nose in front, you have right of way. On round-abouts, it gets fairly complicated but since everyone drives like a complete wally, it doesn't matter what you do. Anyway, we got out of town without major incident and made for Siena.

The Autostrada is a different story altogether. Left lane is for the BMWs, Alfas, and Mercedes going at 150-180 km/h and the right for the rest of us. I was generally tooling along at 130-140 (with a surprisingly willing and smooth 1200 cc motor and 4 passengers...). The challenge is that everyone drives at different speeds and when you go around someone, you have to be very careful not to pull out in front of someone 300 meters back who is going 50 km/h faster than you are.

As we headed up into the hills we passed numerous mediaeval walled towns perched up on the tops of hills and ridges. They seemed to grow from the rock, seamlessly with their crenulated castles and bell towers. We lunched in Siena and moved on to San Gimignano. We all would have liked to spend more time there as it was a fascinating little place with an amazing crop of towers. It seems that all the major families of the town were in a constant competition to see who could build the most impressive and tallest tower. It's kind of a mediaeval miniature Manhattan. Lots of interesting little shops as well. On to Pisa. We got in late in the evening and found ourselves a place to sleep and something to eat. We walked down to the piazza and the kids got their first look at the famous tower in all its glory. We went back the next morning for the obligatory photo session and a better look in the morning light. The tower is interesting but the whole setting is what is really exciting from an architectural point of view.

Our next goal was the Cinque Terra on the Ligurian coast. These are 5 villages, clinging to the steep slopes above the Mediterranean, connected by a walking trail known as the Via del Amore. Between each of these villages, you pass through olive groves, terraced vineyards and orchards - always with the beautiful sea at your side. In the Summer, this place is overrun, but in Winter it's quiet and peaceful. The farmers are trimming their vines and repairing stone walls and the few walkers have the sea to themselves. We arrived in Riomaggiore, the first of the villages in the late morning and found a friendly and comfortable place to stay. We quickly set off for a walk along the pathway through the villages. We were blessed with a gorgeous day - warm and sunny. As the light was fading we caught the local train back to our starting point and turned our attention to finding some dinner. The choices in winter are fairly limited - we ended up having pizza with a bottle of local wine. Yum.

Next morning we did a bit more exploring and watched the fishermen rowing their little boats out for their day on the water. We then headed for Lucca - another walled Tuscan city with lots of little narrow winding streets and shops full of yummy local produce and specialities.

Then back onto the Autostrada for another harrowing race back to Rome and the even more nerve-wracking drive back to Termini to return the hire car. It was great to get out of the Big City for a weekend and see a bit of some of Italy's other faces.
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prabakara on

italian journey
your blog is very nice.thanks for taking the time to write. really enjoyed reading the details of your trip.

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