Today I had the bright idea that we should go for a ride in the Tuscan countryside. So, off I went in search of a rental car. After a quick walk a couple of blocks down the street to rental car alley, I walked into Avis looking forward to walking out with a shiny new mini-Fiat or something molto Italian.
Unfortunately, it being a holiday weekend, Avis was out of not just the Euro-specials, but all of their cars. So was the Eurocar shop. And the place next door to it. From door to door I went with the same answer from all of them. They’re all in a row so the rejection was quick and easy from one to the next.
My last stop was into some no-name hole in the wall. They gave me the same answer as everyone else: “No cars.” When the signore saw my dejected face, he offered, “But we do have one scooter left.”
Given that the weather has varied between cold, luke-warm and raining for the past few days, the idea of roaming the countryside in a scooter wasn’t what I was thinking. Before I could give it much thought, another customer walked in behind me also looking for that one last operable rental vehicle in Florence. I decided, what the heck, “I’ll take it. Grazia. Si Vous Plais. Per Favore. Gimmie the Scooter.”
Before I go on, I should explain that the Italians have taken scooters to high art. Everyone rides a scooter. Actually, I’ve seen many people driving cars, but I’ve yet to see an open parking spot so the issue isn’t so much driving cars as it is stopping them. Instead, both the rich and poor, male and female, young hip and old staid all putt-putt about town. I shouldn’t say that. The scooters here are almost as big as the small cars (which are puny to be sure). Some even have full canopies to protect their daredevil drivers.
Now I expected to get one of the luxurious scooters that were parked out in front of the little rental car shop. Something with a good sized engine and ample space for me and the wifey to hang on in back. Here’s what I was expecting from Guisseppi’s Maxirent Palazio:
Instead, we walk to the end of scooter row and I see this puny two-wheeler that calls a moped “daddy.” I ask what about those other ones? The signore tells me in broken English, “Oh this scooter is perfect for a ride in the city!
But I’m going to the country.
“Oh, this scooter she is perfect for a ride in the country.”
Meanwhile I’m looking to see where the candid camera is hidden.
So off we go. It’s been twenty years since I’ve ridden one of these things. I’m a little nervous to be relearning my scooter skills on an underpowered hamster wheel in the middle of the perpetual rally car race that is Florence. Miraculously, we make it out of the city and out into the hills. Even though the point was to get lost, we even managed to get lost in the right direction.
We’re soon rewarded with winding roads and beautiful views. Man I want one of these things! (Except with 750 cc’s, a fat tail pipe, and a sissy bar so that my old lady can lean back in her black tassled leather pants.) I now understand what people mean when they talk about a Tuscan color palette. Mottled olives, grays, dark greens, and mustards dotted the hillside.
What’s great is that all the mile markers are in… kilometers. So something that’s 10 miles on the sign away is actually only 6. Before we know it, we’re getting lost in little towns with only one road and just enough signs to confuse Americans who rarely leave the interstate.
The air was cold, but the feeling of not knowing where we were going and the possibility of discovering something new made it easy to forget that my Hugo Boss jacket was much better looking than it was practical. Up we climbed into the mountains until we came to this little restaurant high above a valley.
And here’s a photo of the menu in case you might want to phone in an order. I had the ravioli with the insalate. Yes, it was as good as you might imagine. Fresh. And perfectly accompanied by a glass of Chiante - from a local vinter seeing as we were in the Chiante region.
Then it was back on the road. After awhile, the cold air and the fact that I shared a small seat with Jen tempered the excitement that I’d felt earlier. It was time to point the scooter north.
But the views were sublime.
I don’t have any photos of the last part of my story. I was too busy holding on, fighting the cobblestones and traffic. Getting back into the city was an epic. It’s truly a city where you can’t get there from here. Major streets would just end with no way out. The problem is that much of the central part of Florence is off-limits to cars.
Actually, it’s off-limits to some cars but not others. Given that I don’t read Italian nor do I subscribe to their Formula One driving habits, I alternately felt like the smallest head of cattle caught in a stampede or a salmon swimming against the stream (with my demise awaiting me).
By the way, Italians have great respect for the right of way of pedestrians and other vehicles. They believe you have the right to get the hell out of their way. This was a right that I duly exercised and somehow managed to survive.
Tomorrow is Easter. They light the fireworks in the church which in turn light fireworks outside amid throngs of people. Should be yet another thing the likes of which I will never see in the USA.