Finding Florence, Leaving Her
One nice thing about the Florence airport is that it is right on the freeway, and you do have to pass all the exits for Florence when you are headed south, but honestly it’s no big deal. Traffic? Sure, but at least it’s moving. The infamous “annuallare” around Rome often looks very much like the parking lot in the Rome airport. In Florence, you can pick up the autostrada literally outside the airport. Be looking for signs as soon as you pull out. They will be the green A1 (yes, fellow Amerigo-ans, it is just like the Steak Sauce) signs. You want to go south if you’re headed to Umbria, so follow the signs indicating the direction of “Roma”.
We love the ritual of stopping at the first Auto Grill we come to on the A1 Autostrada del Sole and loading up on cappuccinos, spremutas (the juice of three or four blood oranges squeezed, fresh-from-the-fruit, into your tall, thin glass), either pastries or sandwiches, depending on time of day, and then settling in for the hour and a half or two hour trip to Cortona or the Castiglione del Lago / Lago Trasimeno area. Surprisingly, good food in these gas station rest stops. Beats the heck out of the Sbarro’s on the Maine Turnpike.
Once back on the road you will notice, with great frequency, the handy mileage; (ok, kilometer) markers. They are dark brown and square-ish in shape with big white numbers on them.
After you see signs for “Arrezzo“ start paying attention to the numbers on those brown signs because around number 274 you will be exiting. You should be looking around for signs alterting you to Valdichiana, or Trasimeno or PERUGIA. Bettole and Sinalunga get a mention as well.
When you see the enclosed big green sign, that is absolutely where to get off. (see our photo gallery again) And it is absolutlely where I wouldn‘t recommend stopping and taking photos. What was I thinking? But do get off here if you are hoping to land near the lake or the Castiglione del Lago region. Follow signs to Perugia until you have the chance to go to Castiglione del Lago. There is another town that starts with Castiglion in the area, so stay sharp. You want the words “del Lago“ too. Turning on 71, you will be going straight south and will start to see the lake almost immediately. “Are we there yet?“ Almost there, kids. Not far at all to Castiglione del Lago, now.
It always seems longer going back because we don’t want to leave! But when we do, we just get on the A1 autostrada going north, direction “Florence“ and keep going for the same couple hours it took to get here in the first place. There are several “Firenze” exits but, never fear. Just let them go by. And keep watching the road marker signs (square brown ones with big white numerals, again) looking for the numbers to keep getting smaller this time and when they get down around 210, watch for “Florence North“ (Firenze Nord) signs. And we watch for the billious green “Our Lady of Perpetual Ugliness“ church. On the right. Can’t miss it. Swoopy and sooty, A treasure of Renaissance it is not, but it is a good landmark and the Firenze Nord exit you want is just past it.
There are actually airport signs aplenty, but they crop up mostly after you’ve taken the Firenze Nord exit for the airport, a bit late in my book. Not much of a trick from here on, but don’t totally let your guard down, as the final bit is a little counterintuitive. Imagine you are on the right leg of a long bobby pin shaped road leading to the airport. The airport is almost beside you as you exit (it‘s over on the other side of the freeway – to your left) but you just follow the signs straight for a couple blocks. I know I have it licked when I see the huge blue and yellow IKEA sign looming up on my right. Curve all the way around to the left at the top of the bobby pin, following the many signs, and come back down the other leg. The airport is just casually sitting there, waiting for you, on the right.
See, that wasn’t too bad. Now, drop your car off in the lot, remember to get your jacket out of the back seat, N-O-W drop your keys off at the Arrival building where you got them, check in at the Departures building and then – treat yourself to the best coffee in Italy. It‘s upstairs in the Departures building and I do allow time for it. The pastries are fine, the spremuta is red orange and juicy, but for me, their cappuccino is my dream cappuccino – it seems to be all warm, highly caffinated, perfectly froathed foam, no apparent liquid espresso and I have no idea how they do it, but a big Bravo to the whole All-Amerigo cappuccino crew there at the airport lounge. One last sip, and we’re gone.
Ciao, Florence. See you next time.