Chapter seven

Day31 Wednesday 31st December.

Another clear blue sky. We just cannot believe the weather in Belluno where we came to see snow as well as people. The first big snow fall in 5 years occurred last week. This was followed by clear blue skies and no wind.

After a coffee stop and goodbye with Maria Terese and Idilio we took the red road South for our new destination, Modena.

The first hour or so was full on snow fields so the sight-seeing was excellent and there were small pockets on Northern slopes, well after we left the mountains.

Leaving the autostrada at Modena South we headed into the city to park the car and walk around the hotels. The city has been around for about 2300 years but has been knocked down rebuilt twice I think, abandoned at least once after being wiped out in a flood and the current version is about 900 years old.

We walked the main street for about 2 kilometres checking all side streets and found only one dodgy hotel and it was closed. Unbelievable. By this time it was after 6pm and had been dark for a fair while, although most of the shops were open and there were a lot of people about, including small groups of youths setting off firecrackers (;double-bungers’ we used to call them when I was a kid) you could hear from 3 blocks away.

Julie asked a man sitting behind the till at the cake counter in a coffee shop about hotels and he turned out to be an American. He recommended the Central Park Hotel, only a short stroll from here.

Another 2 kilometres later, still walking away from the car, we found it well away from all the interesting bits.  The man on the desk said the best he could do was 140 euro. We said “no thanks” and walked all the way back to the car.

By the time we got going again it was 7 pm and we drove around for 20 minutes. At one stage we followed a “bed” sign for a couple of kilometres and found a hospital.  Although we saw a few “hotel” signs, we never actually saw any hotels. After getting completely lost, we found the centro area again and spotted another ‘hotel’ sign.

This hotel was one we actually found and Julie went in to take whatever we could get. It turned out to be some sort of famous home for the Duke of somewhere and the English Queen stayed here a couple of hundred years ago etc. The price was 139 euro and no way they would drop or even include the 5 euro for the internet.

I told them as the room was 500 years old we should get a discount but they weren’t having any of that. The receptionist gave us directions to a recommended, not too expensive eatery, but the competition, like for hotels, was scarce.

We stumbled across another osteria (cheap and cheerful restaurant) close to her recommendation and rather than spend another 15 minutes in the cold, we took a table.

Prices seemed reasonable, $11 for duck pasta, $10 for rissotto, but after a bottle of wine, coffee, 2 lots of cover charge it still cost $71, in fact twice the price of the same quality a few nights before in Bologna.

The air was alive with fire crackers going off all around and the sound echoed down the otherwise quiet streets. The number of loud bangs steadily increased as the night wore on and maybe the volume too.

Walking back to our hotel it was raining, cold, cold rain. The road surface was now crunchy underfoot. At midnight, the small war of crackers reached its climax.

Day32 Thursday 1st January09.

Modena to Lucca

We thought we left the snow behind. It’s New Year’s Day and all is quiet. It should be too as the early morning was interrupted several times by what sounded like the Italian version of Gaza with new gun battles breaking out occasionally.

Looking out the window at 8.30am, the snow was falling steadily, covering the diesel box and all the other cars on the street in a white overcoat. No little flakes that disappear on contact this time, just one more piling on top of even more. Really nice.

The journey today is short, just 160 kilometres to Lucca. We take the red road, this time because that’s the only road. Funny how quickly you get used to a choice of roads.

The snow on the windscreen had still not moved from where the wipers had pushed it aside, when we started climbing. All the streets of Lucca that we saw on the way out had already seen the snow plough and the highway was also clear.

Everything else though was covered by snow. As we climbed the snow gradually became more pronounced and the road narrowed and became more twisted.

Soon we were looking at signs that indicated that chains were now compulsory, but we saw plenty of cars not wearing them. We pressed on and although it was not snowing, the cloud sometimes brought us to very short visibility and the road was icy and slippery.  ‘Nimble’ and ‘sure-footed’ are not expressions likely to be associated with our Kanga diesel.

Every 20 minutes or so we came across the snow ploughs cleaning the road and spraying salt onto the road surface. The pace was slow, but we had so little distance to travel, that seemed to suit us fine.

After 2 hours we had still not reached the halfway point and our average speed was only 30 k’s. The drive was interesting and very photogenic, so much so, we had to download our cameras onto the laptop to make room fore more photos.

About 1.30 we reached the pass, a ski town called Abetone, that was packed with holiday makers. The road was only one lane wide in many places and included pedestrians, buses and campervans.

We saw people stop on the road exactly where they were driving, click on the hazard lights, get out, open the boot, take out a shovel and start digging a path into a parking spot. You just have to drive around them when someone crawling along in the opposite direction, stops to give you room.

(Hazard lights in Italy may appear on the vehicle in front of you at any time and it means a large concrete block has materialized on the road, so you should drive around. It happens a lot, almost always outside a shop the driver needs to visit.)

We eventually passed the pass and headed down the mountain on the second half of the drive. Near the bottom we stopped for a sandwich by the road side and then continued, only getting to Lucca at 3.30pm, some 5 hours after setting out on our “easy” 160 k run.

As we have been daring to do before, we ignored the no entry signs and drove into the old city, crawling along with the more obedient visitors who had already organized their accommodation.

After 2 hours of walking and asking at the few dodgy hotels we could find, we gave up and began the arduous task of finding our way out, inching forward behind pedestrians who completely covered the narrow roads. Only us, the odd taxi and a couple of genuine residents coming home. As usual, we felt a little out of place.

We drove around in the dark for a while and ended up at the railway station, completely by accident, and there in front of us were the parking bays for the Rex Hotel. By this stage a bed in a brothel would have been acceptable. As it turned out the rooms were good, the rate fair and the hospitality excellent. It also included unlimited, though timed, internet access.

We didn’t realize it until we booked in, but the hotel was only 100 metres from the old city wall, so after settling in, we walked across the road, back into the city, to find dinner. Pity we didn’t do this 3 hours ago.

The old guy that helped book us in, was the owner, full of beans and hospitality. His wife was snoring in the lounge chair before we went out at 7pm. He seemed chuffed that I had made some effort to communicate in Italian, even if he thought I was German.

Day33 Friday 2nd January09.

 Lucca to Firenze

 At breakfast, my new old mate tells me he has only had the pub for 2 years and he is 92 years old. Can you imagine buying at pub at 90? I thought he must have owned it for 30 years at least.

We hit the little yellow road that will take us eventually via many kilometres of back lanes and sidetracks to the holiday house of Giacomo Pucini by Torre del Largo. Although the world’s most famous opera composer has been dead since 1924, you could be forgiven for thinking he was still around by the deference given his name. I think most of the population of this fairly small town ride on his coat tails.

We have been fans of Pucini, like millions of other people, for many years. Did this small town by the lake really provide inspiration for Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and all the other brilliant musical scores by this great man?

We bought a CD and a book on Toscana (Tuscany). I even had my photo taken with Jack’s statue.

Afterwards, we took a quick look at Livorno, the industrial capital of the area, one of Italy’s largest ports and launch point for services to several major islands and other European destinations. From here, the run to Florence is standard fare.

Florence was not hard to find but the bloody street was. After much frustration trying to follow directions to the hotel we had booked, we found the street and the hotel.

The pub is run by Robert, a tall, young and very energetic Pom, and his wife. A very strong English accent from someone of African origin still seems exotic and as charming a couple as you could meet.

They were very helpful, especially organizing the car to be taken away for the night. Good bloke.

The hotel is on the upper floors and quite adequate. After settling in we took a walk down the street, about 150 metres and ran smack bang into the Cathedral, one of the master pieces of world architecture.

I was as gob-smacked this time as last. Huge, beautiful, green marble, overpowering. I can just stand there and look. Too big to photograph of course, its better to buy the book with the profession photos already done.

The queue is extremely long and as luck would have it, we ‘accidentally’ got mixed up with an organized group that was just entering from the other side. I am glad we did not queue, as the interior is not worth the wait, although the climb to the top may be. We didn’t take that either.

Another long passegiata and surprisingly, a cheap dinner at a little family restaurant not more than 100 metres from the hotel, almost in the very centre of Firenze (Florence to you).

The day finished well.

Day34 Saturday 3rd January09.

Blue sky but very cold and windy. Today is our first slow wander about in Firenze centro as last time we were here, our hotel was on the other side of the river and a fair way out of town. The other things against us last time were bulk tourists and a public holiday for the Italians so it was rush and push.

We strolled up to the old bridge again (Ponte Vecchio) and this time it was not crowded, although that is a relative thing here. We watched the cat and mouse game between the illegal street vendors and the local police for a while, tried to stay out of the shade where possible and ogled the gold and jewellery shops. It is certainly different to see so much jewellery on display. There are literally hundreds of cases each containging hundreds of fine expensive gold jewellery items. I am not sure how much it is all worth, but a lot of stuff had some big numbers on them.

Lunch and a siesta put us right for a longer walk, so we ventured out again about 5pm to catch up with the fat man, the Osterio owner who gave us a bottle of his home grown wine to take home last year.

A passegiatta like this takes quite a while as these places don’t even open their doors until 7.30 and that’s to cater for the early diners. After much strolling, window shopping and sips in bars along the way, we finally arrived for dinner.

The usual thing happened, the place was empty when we walked in and 5 minutes later it was so packed it was hard to get served, or in some cases even get in the door. This has occurred so many times in different towns, in bars, restaurants and shops, we were thinking of working on commission.

The welcome was warm, the meal excellent and we met some new young friends with whom we spent a pleasant hour and a half. They are from near Rome and have taken the long weekend for a short holiday in Florence.

The fat man gave us all bibs to take home, I haven’t really looked at them yet.

Suitably fortified by a bottle of red, the walk back to the hotel was brisk.

Day35 Sunday 4th January 2009.

Our hotel. Today we are visiting ‘David’ the most famous statue in the world. It seems we have chosen our hotel well, for position anyway, as Academia, Dave’s place, is only 50 metres from here.

We have the Duomo, the emotional heart of Florence only 150 metres in the other direction and it would seem hard to be more centrally located.

The hotel is basic and suffers from the pong that appears to accompany most old buildings, not in the rooms but in the entrance and hallways. We have found it in every town and city and it seems to penetrate the very walls of the buildings. I am sure the locals don’t notice it anymore.

Our sleep in is getting worse, 9am today. After breakfast, basic, basic breakfast, we must attend chores, like washing clothes. These mundane things are often the opportunity for memorable experiences, like the time we visited a laundromat in Venice and a local couple accompanied by their sightless relative came in to do their washing. I had always wanted to meet a genuine Venetian blind man. This too, promised to be an opportunity for a new experience, but alas, not this time. I know it sounds mundane, but this laundromat is around the back of Dave’s place, so it was not long after, we popped in to see him.

It was a bit naughty, but I couldn’t help taking a snap, even though the eagle eyed attendants kept calling “no photos”. I have the flash turned off anyway, so no harm done. I couldn’t help thinking that when I look in the bathroom mirror, that David and I look slightly different. His hands are bigger than mine. Other than that, we both have a fine physique although I’ve had a hard time convincing anyone else.

I was also interested in seeing one of the first pianos ever made and which was invented here. In concept, the old harpsichord is a string plucker. The new instrument, invented by the Duke’s instrument maintenance man, Christofori, was the pianoforte, where the stings are struck with a hammer giving the operator control over the volume. Hence the name, piano (soft/slow) forte (strong/loud).

This upright version is one of the first, built by one of Christo’s  successors, a combination of the modern upright, and the grand.

After the afternoon nap, Julie did some solo shopping while I tried to organize some of the 1,000 plus photos we have taken. After meeting up it was passegiatta time and then back to the first night’s restaurant. It was freezing when we left, but that was encouragement enough to stop off at the coffee shop across the road for a tackle warmer.

An early night, (here that’s 10.30pm) for tomorrow we rescue the diesel box and head closer to Rome. Only 2 more sleeps to go and it’s all over.

Day36 Monday 5th January 2009.

Leaving Firenze, the hotel check-out is painless and soon the garage man arrives with the diesel box. The brief time needed to pay the man, put the two suitcases in the boot and then get behind the wheel was enough to make my hands so cold, I had to put my gloves back on to drive. At minus 4 in these cold canyons the lightest breeze makes it intolerable to have anything exposed for more than a minute or so.

Finding our way out of Florence is easy, especially as we have developed a “sense” of traffic flow and the Italian logic of signage, which is quite different to what we are used to in Australia. The arrows do not point the way, they point to the road horizontally, (except sometimes, when the arrow actually points the direction).

This is especially confusing when approaching roundabouts where the road you need is immediate right, but the sign (one of several) points left. That’s because the sign post is on the right of the roadway and it is pointing left, at the road that will take you to the right and you have 1.4 seconds to read them all and make a decision before the following traffic runs over you.

As we were passing through the Chianti region, we took the opportunity to stop for coffee at a small town that Geoff Walder liked and told me about. Its name is Radda in Chianti.

We had a coffee there in his memory.

Much of the area south of Florence reminds me of parts of the Australian countryside except for the snow covered mountains in the background and driving on the opposite side.

We travelled mainly on the red road to a lakeside village called Bolsena and found nearly all the hotels were closed for the winter.  Very few tourists were in view and traffic was very light in this village. The Hotel Royal 4 star took us in but they only had dialup internet and could not understand the problem. I explained to the receptionist that she could also ride a horse to Rome, but it would be a little slow. The dialup was the same and face-to-face conferencing was going to be a bit difficult at 15 cents a minute.. She smiled and “of course” quite a bit, but did not see the connection, no pun intended.

It was a little early for a passiagiata, but we started one anyway. The prices were really cheap and by the time we had spent $9, we were due for little lie down. The smell of smoke was strong from all the home fires and with little wind to disperse it, it was actually a little acrid.

About 6.30 we had another go, chatted with one young lady in another bar who told us of her ambition to buy her own Trattoria next year. We asked if it was always this cold so far South. She seemed shocked we could think this was normal. At minus 4, it was the coldest day for 6 years and snow was predicted.

Not long after, we ended up as the early openers at the osteria that our receptionist had recommended; Osteria del Borgo Dentro. The meal was simply outstanding. In fact we agreed that we cannot recall a better meal anywhere. Ever.

Given our experiences over the last month, it was not going to be hard to exceed our expectations, but these boys did it by such a wide margin, it really was a huge surprise in this tiny village.

Well the promised snow did not come, and at 7.30am the next morning, our second last day, it was a healthy 3 degrees plus and we can smell smoke on our clothes from walking the village last night.

Now, to find a bed close to Rome for our last day.

Day37 Tuesday 6th January 2009.

Yesterday, we double checked the opening hours of the Post Office in Bolsena during our passiagiatta, so with expectations of getting our gear packed and shipped home, we rattled the doors at 9.15am.

Not a soul in sight. In fact, aside from a few church goers, there were few people about anywhere. A bit noisy with all that bell ringing going on and where was everyone?

Bugger. It’s Epiphany, a public holiday in Catholic Italy. No post today and only a few hours tomorrow to get to Rome, say goodbye to the diesel box and get on the plane. Great.

There is not of lot of Italy left in this direction to drive. We hit the red road down the coast to Cittavecchio but we seem to be there too soon. We can feel the holiday closing in and everything arriving before it should. It is only lunch time and we are already close enough to Rome to drive it in two hours or so.

After a walk around the waterfront, we slowly make our way further South, stopping off at a marina for lunch. About 2pm we found a small hotel in a little town called Marinella. There is a very small piazza next to the hotel and locals are gathered for some sort of community celebration.

The hotel is only 40 metres from the ocean and our room overlooks the back garden and the water. It is very peaceful.

Our passigiatta today has a purpose and that is to find a cardboard box suitable for shipping our booty home, providing we find an open post office tomorrow.

Lucky we don’t have children to embarrass, two Australian refugees ratting through the cardboard boxes outside the local supermarket. Still, we find what we came for and scurry off back to our hotel with the prize, one pre-owned banana box.

Drinks in a few bars is educational and gives time to reflect on the advantages of large populations overcoming the need to be good in business, or even to pretend that running the business is anything but an endurance.

We are early for dinner, a crime we have committed many times already. The restaurant ‘owner’ a cantankerous old bugger, tells us that there are no pizzas today (this being a public holiday) giving us the strongest impression that they are about to close and would you kindly bugger off.

Not to be dissuaded by such argument, we tell him we don’t care, just feed us something. A few minutes later the real owner turns up and sends dad out to pick up some rubbish. He informs us regretfully that Dad is right, there is no pizza tonight (thank God, I am so sick of pizza) but he could cook us a steak.

For the next hour we watch as 20 people come in and be told there is no pizza tonight and all thank him for the bad news, shake his hand and bugger off.

We are now certain that the sooner we eat this steak and bugger off ourselves, the happier he will be. But, this is Italy and that is not even close to the truth.

By 9.30 the restaurant is full and so are we. We have been introduced to a resident American female-escapee from the Twin Towers episode with two big pommy guys she introduces as her house guests. They want to buy us beer.

The owner wants to adopt us and keeps bringing things to the table for us to consume, the poms have conceded they will never beat the Australians at anything and the two year old daughter of a couple at the next table thinks Julie is her Nonna.

The police have been and collected dinner for the whole station, it has started raining and if we don’t escape soon we will end up back at the Yanks place as she is quite a good piano player she reckons.

Let me go home, I need a holiday.

Day38 Wed 7th January 2009.

We are greeted by a drizzly overcast sky, a suitable ambience to match our mixture of sadness and expectation now that the holiday is over.

Our pre-owned banana box is packed tight with ceramics and clothes to provide cushioning against the tender care of Italia Post, tenuously held together with half a roll of the entirely and inappropriately named sticky tape.

We located the local post office only 500 metres from our hotel during last night’s passiagiata and so with great confidence and hope in our hearts, we lugged our treasure up to the post office doors.

We arose early this morning to allow time to pack the diesel, pay the hotel, get to the post office and achieve the wrap-and-consign chore.

From here is it about a 90 minute drive to Rome, and we need time to refuel, time to spend re-tracing our route to the car park, time to hand over and time to attend to the inevitable Italian paperwork. By 11.30 am.

We could not have prepared ourselves for the sight that greeted us. The local Post Office was standing room only and a forbidding machine with multiple tongues hanging from its intimidating face, commanded that we select a ticket, with the seemingly implied threat of ‘at your peril’.

We elbowed close enough, and Julie, brave girl, selected one from the slot that may have described our business with Italia Post. Or may not.

With ticket in hand, a quick scan of the area showed to our dismay, a total absence of products that one would expect to use in the consignment of packages to distant parts.

We quickly summed up that here, we definitely could not buy a substantial substitute for our so-called sticky tape. While I deserted the scene to find suitable tape, Julie found a place to stand away from the push of late arrivals trying to enter the already packed room.

No need for heating in this building. By now is was raining and I scurried along the street hoping to find a shop that might sell sturdy packaging tape. I have no idea how to describe sturdy packaging tape, but with a brave heart, I approached the proprietor of a likely looking shop.

After considerable gesturing and grunting we established my need and he kindly directed me across the road. A repeat performance of the aforementioned gesturing and grunting, did indeed produce exactly what I needed and with a deft dodge and weave and an unlikely fleetness of foot, I quickly got back to the other footpath with barely a horn tooted in my direction.

Sixty seconds later and only slightly out of breath, I forced my way into the resentful heaving mass of bodies and astonishingly found Julie standing way up front at the counter bearing the look of ‘the rabbit in the headlights.

She had selected just the right ticket and apparently few of the customers were there for parcel post. Unfortunately I had learned no Italian words for this particular situation but received the message immediately that our banana box was just not up the presentation standard required by Italia Post.

Now I know that the Italians put great store in their personal appearance, the presentation of their shops, cars and almost everything except the exterior of their houses, but parcels?

No, they are not kidding, it must be covered in brown paper, no other colour will do. I can feel my watch burning a hole in my wrist but I resist the temptation to pass this tidbit of information to the resigned-to-his-fate chappie who has been trying valiantly to use both of his English words to assist ‘Our Lady Of The Scales’ who has even less knowledge of our mother tongue.

Many of the customers have the best part of their lives behind them and most of these are seated. Presumably old age encourages early risers and they are the first-comers. The rest are standing patiently, but all seem to be in the place where I left them 15 minutes ago and it seems they are content to spend a considerable part on their day in the entertaining warmth of the local post office.

An old man sitting close to the front, is grinning a toothless smile and enjoying the show. Maybe it is our masterful handling of the language that has so impressed him.

There is nothing else for it, but to go careening up the street again, in what is now, heavy rain, to find a ‘brown paper’ shop.

The front door is packed solid and my chances of a fast egress by that means appears to be low. That’s when I spotted the other door, the one with ‘exit’ on it, but in Italian of course. I recognized it immediately.

What I failed to see was the ’emergency –  alarmed’ part of ‘exit’.

I studiously ignored the sirens as I walked quickly, but not too quickly in case they thought I was escaping with something, back up the street hoping that the kind soul who sold me the tape would, by some miracle, also sell brown paper.

To my great relief, he had just the item and a quick jog had me back at the post office in a few breathless minutes. The alarms had been turned off.

I guess the locals had a mixture amusement and wonder at how these doddery touristi made it thus far, but they graciously allowed me entrance.

By now Julie was the star attraction at the parcel counter and my toothless friend was almost beside himself with glee. No one mentioned the alarms.

It took us less than 10 minutes to apply the compulsory brown paper and tape, wrapping, twisting and turning until all sides were neatly crease-folded, with just the right amount of packing tape applied equally on all sides.

Julie’s contortions in the confined space at the front of the queue probably stirred some distant memory in the toothless one’s past judging by his mesmerized expression.

In the end though, I must admit, it did look a treat. The parcel, that is. Now all we had to do was get past the Lady With The Scales. A mere 160 euros please.

‘What?’ I gasped, that’s nearly $400 for a parcel. ‘Please check your scales, have you got your thumb on it, nay, your whole bloody hand? Is there a cheaper freight?’

Resigned to my fate, with shaking hand I passed over my almost exhausted credit card. ‘Oh no’, she said ‘we don’t take cards. Cash only.’ We understood that clearly enough, including the resigned tone.

I have just run a half-marathon getting to this point and now they want cash? You must be kidding.

But.. I know we can do this, we must do this, so together this time, arm in arm, metaphorically speaking, we head for the door leaving the parcel with our new friends who seem to have developed a certain familiarity / fondness for our handsomely dressed banana box.

Our toothless pensioner is nearly weeing himself with glee, not doubt is some expectation of another entertaining episode.

We are mightly relieved to find an ATM right outside the door, however our emotional rollercoaster takes another sharp hit when we discover it doesn’t work.

Which way to turn? A passing soul, lovely lady, nodded wisely that the ATM doesn’t work and said something about ‘mesi’ (months) but I was not listening. ‘Which way to another’? is all I wanted to know, NOT how bloody long it hasn’t worked. Poor thing she was only trying to help.

It was just another 100 metres to our rescue point. For a few desperate minutes, the machine would not talk to us, maybe it didn’t like the colour of my card, maybe it was too early in the day for it, but eventually, with money in sweaty hand, we made our way back to the Post office.

By this stage we were almost on friendly terms with some of the customers, most of whom hadn’t moved since we first entered. It seems a long time ago.

Our Lady Of The Scales smiled when I did the most appreciated gesture in Italian trade. I gave her the exact amount and you could see the gratitude on her face.

With lots of smiles, best wishes and handshaking, we said goodbye to all our new friends and headed for the door. Again. Alas, poor ‘ole toothless’ looked a little glum at the prospect of no further entertainment.

It was a short sharp drive to Rome and we found the car hire parking spot with ease. After anticipating that we would be lost for an least half and hour, in the event, we drove straight to it. Amazing.

The next part was astonishing. Handover was nothing more than our assurance that we had no trouble with the deisel box and it was full of fuel. That was it. For beaucracy-loving Italy, that was truly amazing.

The rest is plain plane travel, 30 hours in time but half a day in world time scale. The trip home did not produce the much-anticipated jet lag. A most satisfactory end to an outstanding trip.

The End._______________

Epilogue

I won’t pretend to know that I understand the Italian psyche, but these past 5 weeks have been interesting, educational and given me some small insight, and unexpectedly, a clearer view of Australia.

Italy is mired in problems that won’t go away soon, from corruption, to lack of ambition, or more correctly, lack of discipline, immigration, political and justice issues to name a few.

For all that, there are many things I have come to admire, especially their practical attitude to rules, their relaxed attitude toward visitors, (legal and otherwise) and their passion for their heritage among others.

I expected to be asked for the things I liked about Italy and trotted out the usual, heritage, food, and scenery etc answers. I was unprepared for questions about things I preferred about Italy over Australia.

Over the decades there are only two things about Australia that have crept in that I really hate and the more I think about them, the more they are really the same problem; the “Nanny State”.

The Italians obey the rules, generally, however this is in the context of their special circumstances. Should the rule disadvantage them or be contrary to their special circumstances, they ignore it with the full approval, or at least understanding, of their fellow citizens and the tacit approval, or at least tolerance, of the authorities.

They obey when it serves a reasonable purpose, but ignore the rule when it is irrelevant. This applies as much to taxation, rubbish removal, road rules as it does to queue jumping or paying full price.

Their authorities appear to have the same attitude, enforcing the law only when ignoring it will create a clear and immediate danger to the rest of the population. Taken to the extreme of course, this can also lead to corruption.

It was difficult to explain either the “Nanny State” (our obsession with eliminating all risk in all things and demanding protection from having to accept responsibility for ourselves) or its consequence ‘Naughty boys are punished’ (to seek out and punish all disobedience, no matter how minor the infringement or how small the benefit).

‘Nanny State Rule No.1, You Must Be Protected, even from yourself’ encourages the belief that someone else is responsible for your safety. One day they make a rule to stop you climbing a tree. Do nothing, that’s the safest way. Get caught and you will be punished. I felt embarrassed to explain its pervasive creeping into our way of life.

I never expected to feel more ‘free’ in Italy, under less scrutiny, less likely to be punished for some mistake.

Driving

Driving in Italy is pure joy. There is a choice of roads to suit your mood and the time you have available. The AutoStrada is there for quick results but the map’s Red roads are more fun. The Yellow roads are more interesting and more challenging. The Little Yellow’s are not for the faint-hearted.

Aside from the AutoStrada, nearly all roads go through the towns along the way and the by-pass has not been seen as desirable here. Even 4 lane Red roads can occasionally contract with little notice to the width of a single lane between houses.

Yellow roads can be little more than a lane with an average speed of 30 kilometres an hour and double the distance of the AutoStrada.

Traffic lights are found only on a relatively few large intersections in the cities and perversely, in the smallest villages where only one vehicle can pass through at a time. The red light is twice the size of the others, perhaps in the faint hope that the Italian drivers will stop.

Parking uses the concrete block principal described elsewhere and winding down the windows to retract the external rear view mirrors is often required to squeeze between vehicles.

Coming home brought this into focus almost immediately, less than an hour’s driving time after arrival, we had to wait in a queue for 20 minutes while every motorist was breathalized. The police officer gave the rationalization that they found someone over the limit.

He saw no need to expect that this individual was in mortal danger of killing someone, the possibility was enough to expect that hundreds of people should patiently wait to be inspected in case they too had the potential to be dangerous.

Worse, there was no need to employ any other method, just stop the whole population and inspect them all. I detest this lazy and arrogant attitude.

Driving became a chore immediately I drove out the Brisbane airport gates. I joined the mobile parking lot that passes for driving here and patiently waited for my destination to arrive.

I was attentive to every rule no matter how small. For example, your wheels must completely stop turning at a stop sign and the slightest excuse will guarantee a fine. That is Nanny’s little rule and punishment for transgressors will be meted out.

I will miss the 5 weeks of the pleasure of driving in Italy that I had not felt for many years. I will miss the feeling of freedom.

Food

While I enjoy Italian food, I was not impressed by Italian cuisine. In fact, we had only one excellent meal and a few that were adequate, but would not rate a mention in Australia. The variety available at the snack level is laughable with a choice of pizza, sandwich or pastry.

On our first trip I thought maybe this was due to visiting the tourist areas, but we found lack of variety, lack of type and a sameness from the Alps to Sicily.

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