The Punches

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Andrew and I consider ourselves at our very best when traveling. We’re into (cautious) adventure; we like to learn stuff; we love to wander and find ourselves in restaurants/b&bs/towns not mentioned in the guidebooks. We like to hang out and play card games and to sleep in – even in Italy, where there is so much to see we really should have gotten up at 6 am every day. We are often so relaxed while traveling together that very little can stand in the way of our good time.

On this most recent trip, however, we did encounter a few snafus that almost made us lose our cool. Europe by car is not for everyone. Lots of people would be scared out of their wits to get on the Italian Autostrade in a snazzy little Fiat wagon with psychotic Italian drivers on all sides, and even the bravest adventurer might opt for a cell phone and/or one of those automated Magellan gadgets that tells you where to turn to find your agritourismo. But not us.

No, the ever-intrepid Kintzes took to the Autostrade with gusto, armed only with a detailed map of Tuscany, a bag of apples and a tank full of diesel. At first, we fared well. We made it out of Pisa in one piece, found our first agritourismo after only three or four wrong turns, and discovered a convenient 45-minute train into Florence from the small town where we were staying that would keep us and the Fiat safely away from city driving.

On our first day of sight-seeing, we walked from 10:30 am until 10 pm. We looked at art and architecture until our eyes crossed.  But it was on the night’s last train from Florence to Montevarchi that our luck began to turn.  Once on board, Andrew promptly fell asleep and I engrossed myself in the Frommer’s guide to make a plan for the following day. After what seemed like a very short time, I thought I heard a faint announcement saying something about Montevarchi, but I was in a daze. I woke Andrew up. He confirmed (groggily) that we’d reached our destination, so we hopped up, gathered our things, and headed for the door. Yet, when we tried to open the door, it wouldn’t budge. We pulled and pushed and banged. No luck. Minutes later, the train started moving again.

This was a very, very bad thing. The train’s next stop was Arezzo – as far away from Montevarchi as Florence, and, in October, a tiny, forgotten place. I guess it is probably beautiful – most towns in Tuscany are – but when we finally reached it at midnight on our first day in Italy, it might as well have been Hell’s second circle. There were no buses to be seen, no hotels in sight, no cabs lined up at the taxi stand. We were a good 40 kilometers from our agritourismo,  no trains were going back that way until the morning, and both of us were so tired we felt like we might cry.

Eventually, we did find ourselves a cab.  He was one of only two cabbies in the whole city, though, and he spoke only Italian.  He also did not seem to be thrilled about driving two American tourists 40 ks to a train depot.  After paying him the $75 fare (so much for souvenieres) he dropped us off about a mile’s walk from the Montevarchi train station.  By the time we got in bed, it was close to 2 am.

Of course, such things are to be expected when traveling; we’d just forgotten how to compensate for them.  After a few more snafus (getting lost, nearly getting smushed by a number of cars & scooters, encountering a very drunk, tip-hungry houseboy at one of the cottages we rented, and marching with 200,000 to Assisi (more on that later)) we learned to appreciate – at least in retrospect – the surprises and stories that might emerge from such adversities.

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