We were up at 4:30am this morning as we needed to leave for the airport around 5am. We dragged our bags from the hotel up to the terminal (and I specifically said ‘up’ because it seemed to be uphill the whole way. This being Portugal, the check in counters were not yet open though they were meant to open 2 hours before the departure of the flight (which was leaving at 6:45am so they should have been open from 4:45am). We checked in our 8 pieces (no light traveling) and even though some of the bags were over their weight limits the guy checking us in didn’t seem to care. Time is relaxed in Portugal and so are regulations (fortunately). We flew from Lisbon to Milan and I was expecting the flight would be empty given that it was a 645am flight and who travels from Lisbon to Milan anyway? But I was wrong – the flight was packed full.
We landed in Milan at about 10:15am and then waited for our luggage for almost 30 minutes. We had moved from Portugal to Italy where time seems even less important (if that is possible). It is not that the airport was extremely busy – it was just that no one seemed to be working. Eventually the bags appeared and we headed to get the cars (again two station wagons so that we could fit the luggage in). Stephen and Michael went to get Italian SIM cards and eventually at about 12pm we finally left the airport and hit the road south to Tuscany.
What I quickly learnt about Italian driving is:
(a) speed limit sign posting is non-existent – you have to telepathically guess it seems what the speed limit is (or in our case look it up on the internet)
(b) use of lanes is entirely optional – fading over a lane or changing lanes with or without indication is perfectly acceptable
(c) just because there is a stop sign doesn’t mean it applies to motorcycles
(d) if there is a 3-lane highway, everyone uses the middle lane except if you want to overtake then you use the left lane – the far right lane remains unoccupied except if a car is using it to enter onto the motorway and then move into the center lane
(e) there are thousands of cars in Italy and they were all on the road today
It was a VERY long and strenuous drive. Almost 5 hours (when we thought it would be about 3 hours 30 mins) and with constant traffic on a two or three lane highway. Add to that the driving tactics of Italians and you could never say it was a leisurely drive.
We stopped twice on route to Rufina (the nearest town to our Villa) at the services on the motorway. The services are themselves a little chaotic and after ordering our lunch and paying from the one point we then weren’t sure whether they charged us for the drinks or not (and we couldn’t check because the lady who did the sandwiches took the slip). After much debate we decided to just walk past the cashier and see if they said anything. They didn’t. We are still none the wiser – we might have rightfully paid for them or we might have stolen 7 cool drinks. Not sure we will ever know.
We had to stop at Rufina today to buy drinks and lunch for tomorrow. There is only one supermarket and as we were arriving we discovered that Daniel (my favourite nephew 🙂 ) had just arrived on a train into Rufina as well. He asked whether we could give him a ride to the Villa. We reluctantly consented. And then when we pulled into the supermarket it turned out that my Dad, my sister, my brother and my cousin were all there as well. From that you can tell that it is a week of family reunion on the cards. After doing the necessary greetings we managed to get our food sorted out and then headed up (and I do mean ‘up’) to our villa.
It is a 21 minute drive from Rufina to the villa (Estate Petroio). We had been warned about the road but no warning could truly prepare you for it. In England it would have been deemed to be a Health & Safety hazard and all traffic would have been prevented from driving on the road. It is a narrow single track road and you just pray that you don’t meet any cars coming down. I met 3 on the way up – one of them being my brother-in-law going to fetch his daughter and son-in-law from the train station. We also met the owner’s wife and she had to actually get out of her car and explain to me that she couldn’t reverse and so I had to pull over and then I watched them pass within millimeters (no exaggeration) of our car. At this point I was no longer concerned about Helen driving behind me and came to the conclusion of it being every person for themselves.
Fortunately we made it safely up the hill and to the Estate. It is a sprawling estate and we have the whole place to ourselves. Given there are 32 of us (I think) you can understand why we need the whole place. We are spread over four buildings and over the next week I will try to give you a perspective of the estate and how it is all situated. As it turns out, Helen and I are in the main building and we have Daniel (did I mention my favourite nephew?) and Michael with us on the same floor. There are numerous other bedrooms also in the building but it is a labyrinth and finding a room can be easy and then seemingly impossible the next time you look for the same room. We have 3 kitchens in the main building and so far I have only found 2. Not sure how many other people are staying in the building but most of the girls are here as well.
It is also sweltering hot. When we arrived it was 35 degrees and that was at 5:30pm. Most of the younger generation and a few of the older generation headed straight to the pool (of which there are actually two). There was not a lot of time to unpack and cool off before dinner as dinner was starting at 7pm. The dinner tonight was split into three tables – one large table of cousins (and girlfriends and husband) and then two smaller tables of the older generations. Dinners catered by the owner and his chef and tonight it was vegetable crudities & bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar followed by Risotto (with Parmesan cheese) and then Wild Boar (didn’t know you got tame boar) with broccoli and mashed potato. That was the part that mattered to me because afterwards their was Tiramisu with strawberries (which I don’t eat so I don’t really care about!). It was really good food accompanied tonight by Petroio’s own Chianti wine and finally concluded by Port (which I brought in from Portugal). Apparently there is a substantial amount left over and we can eat that for lunch tomorrow so not sure why we bought lunch at all it seems!
It was a lovely meal with good company and enjoying catching up with family we hadn’t seem in a while. Looking forward to the week ahead.
Until tomorrow …
P, H (because she handled the drive so well today), M (because he navigated so well), O (because I she said I owed her to move up after some comments I made), S, L & C