Tuesday, May 26, 2009



We have a long drive ahead of us today so we have breakfast at 7:00AM when the dining room opens. They are serving the typical European cold breakfast with eggs and bacon as an extra cost. We order the eggs and bacon, but the bacon is so salty neither of us can eat it. After breakfast, we walk across the street through a gate in the walland into the old part of the city to explore a bit.We walk to St. Mang’s Monasteryand then along the street below the Castle and back to the hotel. The buildings and streets are very German lookingand it is a pleasant walk watching the village come to life.We then hit the road by 8:30AM.

Our route takes us into the beautiful Austrian Tirol area, across and through the mountains and on to Innsbruck. We say through the mountains because there are highway tunnels everywhere, some as long as three kilometers. The scenery is beautiful and what you would expect; snow capped peaks,Bavarian style houses with beautiful paint detail around the doors and windows, colorful flowers everywhere in the valleys and a castle on most mountaintops.At Innsbruck, we turn south to head up over the Brenner Pass into Italy.

The highway up the pass from Innsbruck is a marvel of engineering but construction delays spoil the trip with the constant need to slow down or even stop. Many stretches of this highway are built along the sides of the pass and not into the rock. These sections are supported by pillars or cantilevered. The effect is very pleasing, as one does not see the scars on the hillsides so common when highways are constructed without this technique.At the top of the pass is the border with Italy and we start down the long grade to the valley below. We did not measure it but we must have driven at least 100KM down the valley from the top of the pass before hitting relatively flat ground. The Italian side of the pass, at least higher up, has the same problem with frequent construction delays but further down the mountain we encounter fewer delays. It is just now spring here and they are repairing winter’s damage to the roads.

From the pass, we drive south all afternoon on the A1. Truck traffic, both in Italy and
Germany is very heavy. Fortunately, the trucks are restricted to the right lane and cars stay there except when passing. No one drives in the extreme left lane so there is always space to pull out and pass. The speed limit in Italy was generally 130KPH or 81MPH. We stayed up with the flow and generally drove 140KPH (87MPH) and got as high as 158KPH (98MPH) in one stretch just to stay up with the traffic flow and not be run over. The ruins of mountain top castles and fortresses are even more frequent on the Italian side.The approach to the pass was heavily guarded at one time. As we drive deeper into Italy and out of the mountains the houses change from the Austrian Tirol style of white plaster gables with red tile roofs to earth tone plaster and orange or brown tone tile hip roofs. There are a mixture of dairy farms and vineyards as we head south.

We make it to the exit for Camucia and Cortona about 3:30PM and spend the next hour and a half trying to follow our host’s directions and find CasaLena in Cantalena. We go up the mountain, following the written directions and get lost. We go down the mountain and start over. We go back up the mountain, carefully following the directions, and get lost at the same point again. We promise ourselves that, if we ever find the place, we will write a set of directions that non-Italian speaking guests can follow. Direction writing is not our host’s long suit.

Finally, we go down the mountain to Camucia again and accost a man, who looks prosperous while washing his Mercedes, and ask directions. He is very cordial, speaks good English and knows exactly where we want to go but, without a map, cannot give us detailed directions. He points up toward the mountains to our east and says Cantalena is on the backside of them. At that point, we do not understand what he means. He offers some marker points for which we should look and we head off again.

This time, we keep on going uphill, along and past the Cortona city walls, and finally find a restaurant that appears in our written directions. From then on, it is seven kilometers to our house. The first four kilometers are up a winding one and a half lane wide paved road. Then we turn off on a white gravel road for another three kilometers. This road is truly one lane and we are not sure what one would do if two cars meet as it is straight up on one side and straight down on the other for most of its three kilometers. Fortunately, we have no such problem and find the little community of Cantalena with no further trouble.

We now understand what the man in Camucia meant by the house being on the backside of the mountain. Looking up from Camucia, it looks like Cortona sits on top of the mountain but we continue on up the mountain, past and behind Cortona, for several more kilometers and then run along a ridge top before heading back down the backside of the mountain on the one-lane road. Cantalena is truly on the backside of the mountain from Camucia.

The parents of the man who owns the house meet us. They possess very little English but are very gracious and show us the important things about operating the house. Between their Italian and limited English, Dick’s Spanish and mutual goodwill and laughter all goes well.

By now, it is 6:00PM and there is no food in the house. More importantly, there is no wine. We get back in the car and head down to Camucia once again to get gasoline and grocery shop. Fortunately, we know from our host’s directions that there is a large grocery in town. Thirty minutes later, now thoroughly familiar with Camucia, we arrive at the COOP. It is amusing, fun and frustrating to shop, as we possess very little Italian. Where are the eggs, as they are not kept refrigerated in the store? What is Italian for eggs (ouves)? Where is the butter (burre)? Dick found the vino with no problem but knew none of the wines offered by label.

€119.37 ($163US) later, we leave the store with food and staples for the rest of the week. That is, except for meat, more bread, more wine and more vegetables. Even at that price, it is much cheaper than eating out. In addition to our food, we leave the store with bourbon, wine and coke, basic staples of our diet.

With a full tank of gas and food for our bodies, we head back up the hill to our Italian farmhouse. Fortunately, it is not yet dark as we both agree that we would rather not drive the last stretch of one-lane road in the dark. By now, it is 8:45PM and we are tired and hungry. However, several glasses of wine and a salad and pasta with cheese sauce put us back in good humor, which had been lacking on both our parts for the last several hours. By 10:30PM, we are well fed, the kitchen is clean and the bed is calling.

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