FAILURE TO LANCIA . . .

or . . .

HOW RENTING A CAR IN ITALY TAUGHT ME TO SOLVE PROBLEMS. With my billfold.

at the lancia grill, panicale, umbriaPANICALE, Umbria, Italy – It’s a Saturday. And a civilized, but somewhat early departure. We’re spending the day with Paul and Betty. He’s an Italian wine importer back in the States. They had just blown in from Rome for two intense weeks of wining and dining their way across Italy. And on this particular day we had our tourist plates heaping full. So, chop, chop, let’s go.

We jumped in and fired up the renta-Lancia and . . . WHAT’S THAT NOISE? Better yet, what’s that eerie silence? Key goes in here, turns to the right. Still. Way too quiet. Especially in Lancia Central. No door lights, no seat belt warning ding, ding dings, no radio hum. No, nothing.

Maybe it’s jet lag but Paul’s as baffled as I am. And he has two Prima Donna Lancias he drives daily in Maine. But yet, he throws up his hands at the utter lack of logic here. Did I mention that this car is literally brand new? Exactly zero miles on it when he picked it up in Rome. Zero. Picked it up, turned it on, drove it here non-stop and parked it.

So. There we were. Standing in the shadow of the tower of the contessa’s palazzo, kicking pieces of gravel around the parking lot. And recalculating our finely tuned plans for the day. And thinking of the tone of voice we hope Paul can take with the rental company when he gets them on the phone. About that time, our neighbor Bruno drives by in his 30-year-old, used-to-be red, Fiat Panda. I wave my hi-how’s-it-going, garden-variety wave. I really couldn’t do the omg-save-us! wave. He fixed our howling mad, guest potty two days ago. Gratis. And well, I just couldn’t seem this needy, this soon. Which worked out fine. He waved and kept going, anyway.

There is a God. And he’s got his avenging angel Bruno backing up the one-way street toward us. “Che succede ragazzi?” What’s happening? Where are we off to? Since you ask: We’re headed nowhere, Bruno. Not with this rig. “Open the hood” he says. Ok, I guess we could have gone that far, maybe. He points at the battery, gives us a “What on earth did you do THAT for?” look, rolls his eyes and said “AntiFurto.” Which becomes our new fun Word of the Day and means anti-theft device. And it is what Bruno is calling that iPad sized thing hanging off to one side of the battery, just bristling with important-looking wires. Yes, I was gently nudged out of Iowa State’s Mechanical Engineering program at a young age. It is clear even to me that the idea spot for this AntiFurto to be would on the top of the battery.

gmb pensive Midge castiglione del LagoSo, why was it laying down there in the first place? How did that happen? Which is exactly what Bruno still wants to know as he picks it up, mounts it back on the battery, and cranks its big lever, locking it back in place. He makes that international hand motion sign for “Uh, turn the key?” We do that and it is all systems go. Thanks, Bruno. He shook his head, gave us a sympathetic “good luck” wave over one shoulder and he was gone. Before we can think of some other trouble for him.

And we were left thinking: surely we could have been so much more manly and guy-like if we’d just had coffee first? Yeah, that’s it. So off we go to GMB (in the zona industriale, Castiglione del Lago) to solve that problem. Which, if you haven’t been there, trust me, GMB is sufficient grounds for getting on a plane and curling up with that inflight magazine for a few hours. For me, it is the sweet, pastry-filled center of the known coffee-drinking world.

Happily our truculent Lancia actually got us there. Coffee’d up, there remained the one true test, can it get us back? As it turns out, no, actually. To be fair, it did start when we asked it to. And we were soon barreling up, up the twist-y turn-y hill road past Villa Le Mura when Paul swears he heard a little mechanical “THOCK.” Motivation ceased, our theater went dark. Which was an awkward moment since, as I implied, we going UP hill. Did our AntiFurto fall off again? Is there some sort of fighter jet ejection seat devise that blows this big honking device physically off the top of the battery at road speed?

antifurto italian for anti theftHmm. Did you know they have dayglow roadworker vests in the side pockets of these cars for just this kind of event? We figured that out well after I’d guided Paul backwards down a hill, into a farm driveway totally commando, sans light up vest. Next time, we will use the vest, I think pessimistically.

Safely off the road and parked in the tall grass, we now know enough to pop the hood and sure enough, the rascally Anti-Fur Toe has jumped ship, again. We do what Bruno did, again. It starts, again, and we were soon on the phone telling the rental company to park this one where the sun don’t – oh just get us another one. Please.

havinga-gas-with-lanciaThey were happy to trade us it turns out. But only if we would take life and limb in hand and drag this bad dog to Arezzo. Arezzo?! I’ve been as lost as I ever want to be in Arezzo. It’s an actual town. It may even be a city. I remember well trying to worm my way thru Arezzo to their monthly antique fair a year ago. So, I was tepid about adding this side jaunt to a program that had already taken on shades of Amazing Race reality TV show.

We got there. But only due to Paul being able to drive and coordinate with his smartphone’s nav system at the same time. The system worked. We arrived at the car rental office. We had just talked to them and now the office was securely locked? When we found the operator, and did the key swap, he said, pointing, that our car was “down by the city park.” And yes, yes it was. Right under the Circus Coming to Town billboard was the twin of the Lancia we rode in on. Same color, same model. But yet. We have ignition! The key turns AND the motor turned on.

But, so did the annoying Danger Orange light on the dash shaped like Aladdin’s Lamp. We realized this about half way back across Arezzo, headed out of town. Something new to not relax about. OK, page 22 of the manual, something about that being the Must-Change-Oil-Right-Now light. Oh, good, pop the hood. Well, it’s got oil. Full as a tick, in fact. And you know what? We are so not stopping to change the oil on this back-up rental beater.

Later that same day, by then more closely approximating midnight, we were coming back from a seven course feast at a friend’s osteria in Siena, when Paul said, “Huh, look at that. No more warning light!” To which I was able to proudly reply, “I know. I fixed it” “Where was I?” Paul said unbelieving. “How’d you do that?”

“I fixed it with my billfold,” I replied. He gives me a look. Then looks back at the dash where he notices my billfold propped up in front of the light.”

Another travel problem solved. You’re welcome.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland
pinkpoppie
PS: As you can see we did stop to smell the poppies in the midst of all these adventures. Worth whatever it takes to get to that sweet spot, isn’t it?

Picture Italy on instagram.

CORTONA & rosescortona350, cortona, italyEVERYWHERE, ITALY– You say you want more pictures of Italy? See our latest instagram shots That gallery is growing.

Instagram is too fun. Latest app for our brava iPhone, seems wicked user-friendly. I mean, if Stew can do. So can you.

Just add wi-fi, it’s a snap. Click the picture, adjust it, caption, send. Ta da!

This picture was taken just before a shower, running to the car in the parking lot at the foot of the escalator in Cortona. OH, you don’t know about the escalator parking trick there? Makes Cortona even more of a dream.

See you (on instagram) in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

TO THE FOUR CORNERS OF ITALY. AND BACK.

look-both-ways, trieste, bevagna, italyTRIESTE, ITALY –The lost province of Istria fading out of sight in our rearview mirror, we were headed through Friuli-Venezia (FriuLIVEnezia as the posters remind you) then the Venato. Then another hyphenated province, Emelia-Roman this time, then Tuscany, and finally “nostra” Umbria. It was five or six provinces in seven plus hours but leisurely, sunny, well-caffinated “don’t-miss-any-AutoGrills-at-all” kind of hours.

Barely paying attention, we were watching the lush landscapes roll by, and thinking The Big Thoughts. The ones we all think in quiet moments of a long trip when our minds on autopilot. When SUDDENLY like a EURIKA moment, it dawned on me: We’ve been everywhere, man, we’ve been everywhere. Over the years we have managed to see Italy from Reggio di Calabria and Siracusa in Sicily in the South – to Chivasso in the North (just below Lugano in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland). And from Genova and Torino in the West to Trieste in the East.

I think we can safely say we’ve pretty much done Italy top to bottom. And now add, the left to the far, far, almost in Slovenia, right.
coffeeandwine, Tavernelle, Bevagan, italy
BUT, WAIT. THERE’S MORE.

That revelation came to us the first week of our trip. But, oh so obviously, in between those four corners there’s things we will admit we’ve missed. For Example: just the other day, we went to a mid-morning! wine tasting at San Clemente Vineyards outside Montefalco. Hey, it is Eleven AM, somewhere. But, such are the rigors of traveling with our wine-importing friend Paul Turina of Turina Italian Wines. Back on the road, it dawned on us that we could take our friend Andrea’s (of Masolino’s in Panicale) advice and See Bevagna.

Bevagna is half an hour from Panicale. But, yet. We’ve never been there? How can that be? Walking through its gates we knew were someplace quite different. Different look and personality from any Umbrian town I’ve seen to date. Small, walled, lower buildings, on a plain rather than a hilltop as are many walled towns. Medieval overtones everywhere. Including one 14th century fountain that actually mirrors the one in Panicale. Just as Andrea had promised.

It was a dark and stormy day as they say in Peanuts. The word “cold” could be thrown in for good measure. But it was still a lark to shop about, have a nice lunch, see their museum (lots of Roman artifacts) go to their theater and then for the finale see the town’s pride: a huge black and white aquatic themed mosaic floor of a Roman Bath. This big floor was only a third of the whole bath system, the cold room. It was saved because someone built a house over this part at some point in Post Roman history. It was just re-discovered about 1900. Honey, look! I pulled up the carpet and there’s another darn Roman mosaic in this room too. Che sorpressa!
bevagna, italy, ape, geraniums, theater, tower And then, we met a charming British artist having a show of his ink drawings in a renovated church/gallery. And then, when asked, he pointed us down a nearby alley to his favorite restaurant. Which proves that when you are out and about, the best plan can be – no plan at all. Sometimes translated as Stay Loose. Which we did!

We certainly had no idea at our coffee that morning in Tavernelle that we’d be enjoying Bevagna for lunch. And just as our original destination of Montefalco had passed us to Bevagna, Bevagna was passing us on to Bettona. We were headed away from Bevagna on a back road outside of Torgiano, when we looked up and saw a towered village on a hill high above us and Bettona signs pointing right at it. That’s even closer to our home. How did that get there? Really no idea. But we’re saving Torgiano and maybe even Bettona for another day. Maybe we’ll discover them with our next round of company. Stay tuned.

Are we having fun yet? Yes, yes we are. I think we can safely put this whole day in the Win Column.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

Ah spring. When the first tiny Fiats pop up.

Midge and her Fiat 500C come out on a spring day

It is a sure sign of Spring in Maine when motorcycles and convertibles peek out from under their winter covers. Last week, inspired by day after blissful day of seventies and sunshine weather, some of us even took the snow tires off our daily drivers. And coaxed their little red Fiat and little green Ape out of the barn where they’d been happily hibernating.

And, of course, it snowed and snowed last night.

But all those early, and fleeting signs of spring, certainly do have us counting the days until we arrive in Umbria. Look out Panicale, here we come, ready or not.

By the way. We ARE ready!

We miss our roses when we are apart. And, in truth they do only come out for a week or two. But what they lack in longevity they make up for abundance and punctuality. They spread out over the pergola in a sea of yellow, regular as clockwork on May Day. And this year, on May first, we’ll be there when they come out.


DO WE HAVE VIDEOS SHOWING WHY WE LOVE ITALY IN SPRING?
WHY YES, YES WE DO:

Here are our Lady Banks Roses on Display on a typical but magical May day a year or so ago in Umbria.

And here is May Day luncheon outside Siena (with our buddy Al Fresco and a few of his fair weather friends) at the Spannocchia estate in nearby Tuscany.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Bringing Italy home with us

If you are like us, you get a taste of Italy and you don’t like letting go. We just got back from Italy but some part of us feels that we’re still there basking “Under The Tuscan Sun.”

But! Did we tell you we’re working on a way to stretch out that “being there” feeling? That’s why we’re helping start the first ever Italian Life Expo in Portland, Maine. June 9-11th at the Ocean Gateway right on the harbor, across from lead sponsor Auto Europe’s world headquarters.

madampresidenteDozens of exhibitors including generations-old, but undiscovered family vineyards from Lake Garda to artisans in copper from Montepulciano, prosciutto and cheese makers from Parma to tour operators from Siena, so many shiny objects to hold your attention.

Here’s Midge outside Spannocchia who, with Institute for Italian Studies, are lead presenters of the Expo. One day last week, after this picture was taken, Midge, Paul Turina of Turina Italian Wines, and other board members went into Siena for a festive dinner at Antica Osteria da Divo by Chef Pino di Cicco. Everyone came back raving about him and counting the minutes till they could see him again at the Expo.

Good times coming. If you are in New England this June, the Italian Life Expo may be your ticket to Italy. It’s never been closer.

Tickets go on sale this weekend. Check it out.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland