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October, 2009:

Tunnels & Bridges


Two things we learned during the drive from Milan to Montignoso:

A- Chris is one of those distance drivers, who can drive for hours and hours from point A to B and then straight to K to Z, without necessarily needing to be anywhere, or stopping for a decent bathroom or restaurant. You just need to give him a good co-pilot to navigate the tiny roads of Tuscany at 9 pm and find a bed & breakfast that he knows nothing about but passionately feels we need to go to.

Well, you get the picture…

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We had a pretty good breakfast at our hotel, packed our suitcases (one per person, except he is allowed a guitar as well for some reason, yet my shoes stay behind!), and got on the road. We didn’t really know where we were going, except that we were heading south with a few potential places to stop by or to stay in: Parma, La Spezia, Portovenere, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Montignoso. It took us about 25-30 minutes to actually get out of the city and get on the highway in our little Lancia.


If you know me, you know I like cheese. Consequently we had to see where parmigiano reggiano comes from, and we happened to be in the area, so our first stop was Parma. What a beautiful city it was! We parked the car and walked around for a couple of hours, checked out an abundance of restaurants only to be told to wait for 1 hour for a table. These Italians all eat lunch at the same time!

We ended up walking around the streets and just simply absorbing the beauty around us. Little trivia for you here: University of Parma is one of the oldest universities in the world!

Since we couldn’t eat in Parma, we got back on the road after grabbing a few snacks from a supermercato.

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The couple we had met while having lunch in Milan had recommended the La Spezia/Portovenere area. We thought we could go there and stay the night there if we like it. We could then go to the Cinque Terre area the next day.

Portovenere was, how should I say this, full of tourists of the age group that wear nylons with rubber sandals (you know what I mean?).

Needless to say, we left the area after having some delicious ravioli with some Moretti by the sea side.

Our final back up plan for the day was a bed & breakfast/spa Chris had found online, and it was already 6 pm!

Praise the iPhone & Google Maps! We had no idea where this place was, the directions on their website described the route from Rome, and the paper map we had that Stefanie’s dad had given us didn’t go far enough. We called and made a reservation over the phone (we asked her to email us the directions, but by the time she sent them after our second call to remind her, two hours had passed by and we were almost there) and got on the road.

The entire drive felt like we were either in tunnels or on bridges; it’s quite amazing engineering (yes, I am impressed by stuff like that). Once we left the highway, we traveled another 30 minutes or so on country roads and finally made it, and the place is nice, phew!

We are staying at Borgo La Fornace, about a mile from Montignoso. It’s only been around for a year. It looks like they converted an old building to a spa and built apartments and private residences around it. They have a good restaurant, nice & clean rooms and lots of open space. We will stay here for 2-3 days and then head to another bed & breakfast in a winery that is really close to Florence. While we are here, we’re enjoying the little towns around this area.


Today we went to San Gimignano per Vladi’s recommendation, and you have to have to have to go there if you are ever here.


But more about that later. Now we’ll heat up some left over food and wash it down with some red wine from Chianti Hills.

Ah, Italia Mia!

Yes, from the moment we hit the motor way in our Fiat-like rental, we are saying to ourselves…. “AH!!! Italia MIA!” There’s something about topping out a four cylinder at 80 MPH on the highway that just makes you feel more masculine … I get it now.

Every once in awhile I would roll down the window and honking the horn at no one, I would yell out a few nonsensical words, that with the right accent and the right hand gestures, could be taken for curse words! Ah Italia Mia, I get it… it just feels good.

As we drove into Milan, Ozlem navigated me in with the help of our trusty iPhone, whom we have taken to just calling “i.”

Along the way, Ozlem noticed that on the map there were several towns with the name Olona, my mothers maiden name; BAM! just like that I am Italian… It all makes sense now, my love for leather jackets, my passion for small cars that continuously break down and spew fumes into the cabin and the environment, and of course the rinsing of my mouth after I brush my teeth with a nice 2005 Sangiovese blend (a habit I have taken to only recently, but it seems quite natural).

We checked into our hotel, which was cool.

The next day we walked around the city with no other plan other than to fulfill Ozlem’s desire to see it ALL… on foot! We discovered two things: One, I am what you would call a sprint walker, one who walks quickly from point “A” to point “B” and then needs food, a drink, and a nap and will not be ready to do it again until tomorrow or perhaps the next day; Two, Ozlem is what you would call a distance walker, they can go all day from point “A” to point “Z” and absorb all the interesting facts in between, they seldom need rest and if fed periodically, they can go for days before admitting fatigue.

Exhausted or not… see a park… mats out!


In the evening, with feet aching and legs numb, we took the tram to a restaurant down the street. AMAZING food amongst the chaos. There was a beautiful old man, I presume the owner, who’s job it was to hug and welcome familiar guests, as well as to walk around to each table and look at the order and then rush into the kitchen to expedite the items after they had already come and we had eaten them. How was I to know what he was asking me!? He spoke to me in Italian and I answered him in Spanish and we both acted like we understood each other…. that’s what worldly Italian men do… Ah, Italia mia!

Half way through dinner a truck pulls around the corner blasting Mexican music. In the back of the truck were a few girls wearing SHORT Mexican skirts and dancing; on the side of the truck was a logo for what I assume is a popular whisky in Mexico. The girls began throwing out hats and out of no where, from all the bar-cafe’s that lined the street, people of all walks of life rushed the truck for their free hat. It is unbelievable what constitutes a good idea after a few drinks.

As we sat and watched in disbelief, I saw the Carabinieri (the police) advance on the truck. The intimidating Carabinieri until that point had just been standing around on the street corner watching the passerby’s .

As we watched the scene unfold, I said, “ah ha! Busted!!! There’s no way that driving around with half naked woman on the back of the truck and blaring music at high volumes while littering the streets with free hats is legal, there’s no way!”

Imagine my surprise when through the crowd the Carabinieri emerged with hats in hand and a look of satisfaction and accomplishment on their faces. Ah, Italia mia… I get it!!!

That night, we slept well and the next morning we had an amazing breakfast before we hit the road…. destination, a place on the coast, suggested the couple sitting at the table next to us at lunch the day before. Ah, Italia MIA!