Monday, July 27, 2015

Driving in Tuscany: The Italy Diaries, Part V

Street in Fiesole

One of the reasons we chose Fiesole as our base in Tuscany was to have easy access to Florence. Florence has changed since our last visit in the mid 1990’s—-more cars, more traffic jams, and far fewer parking spaces. We quickly discovered that driving in Florence is a major challenge and parking is practically impossible. We found the pedestrians even scarier than the drivers. They would dart out into the streets seemingly unconcerned about their safety. We had one near-miss.

Our first drive into Florence was a nightmare. Signage was bad, street signs were lacking, and it took us over an hour to find a parking space. We would have taken a bus into Florence and avoided all this, but there is no long-term parking in Fiesole and we had no place to leave the car. Since our rental property was at the top of a steep hill, we couldn’t leave our car there because there was no way we could walk up and down that hill to get to the bus stop. We had no choice but to drive into Florence.Fortunately, Rick is a quick study and by the time we left Florence he was easily navigating the streets of Florence.

What really made our lives easier was our discovery of what we called “the secret parking place” which we stumbled upon by accident. From the road it looks like a little parking lot jammed with cars. However, behind these cars is an opening to a long narrow parking lot strung along the old city walls, with about a half mile of precious parking spaces. There were always spaces available, so when we drove into Florence we parked there and either walked or took a cab to our destination. Of course our secret parking place was no secret to the locals. We heard no language other than Italian in the parking lot and saw no people other than ourselves carrying tourist guides.

If there is a next time in Tuscany, we will be carfree.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ferrrara: The Italy Diaries, Part IV

Castello Estense, Ferrrara

After our trip to Italy in the Fall of 2014 I wrote a few blog posts abut the trip( See So happy to be back in Veniceand Verona’s Magical Old Town.) But then I got so involved in politics and then gardening that I never finished posting my Italy notes.

My last post was about our trip to the incredibly beautiful Lake Garda.
We wanted to stay for forever at the lake side Villa Giulia but considering how expensive the wonderful hotel restaurant was, it was just as well we had to move on.

Then off to Ferrara. On my 70th birthday, I got an unpleasant surprise. I got an email from the hotel in Ferarra telling us that we didn’t show up last night and would be charged for the no-show. I checked my email confirmation and it turned out we had the date mixed up. I had booked for 9/29 rather than for 9/30 as I had intended. We got a room for 9/30 but would have to pay for both nights. Rick and I have been traveling together for over 30 years and have never screwed up the dates like this. What a horrible thing to happen on one’s 70th birthday--confirmation of how we’re losing it!

Our brief stop in Ferrara convinced us that we were too old for these one night stops. When we were younger we did lot of hopping about from town to town. But now we don’t have the energy.

Given our fondness for staying in medieval old towns, locating a hotel can be a real challenge. After we’ve settled into our hotel there’s at most a few hours of daylight left for sightseeing, and the next day we’re on the road again.We promised each other this would be the last trip with one-night stops.

Of course, the down side of staying 4-5 days in one town is that you're usually doing a lot of driving back and forth to nearby towns. Also when you are using one town as a base to visit towns in a region, you usually don’t get to see those other towns at night—essential to really get the feel of the town. But then you’re not dealing with the hassle of constantly changing hotels. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

We chose Ferrara because it was mid-point between Lake Garda and Fiesole. Ferrara was not a town I fell in love with but perhaps with more time I would have discovered more of its charms. The major sites are all within walking distance of each other, but we only had time for the cathedral and a brief walking tour of the old town. We did discover a charming reasonably placed restaurant in the cloister of Santa Anna Church. And our hotel, Horti Della Fasanara, situated in a very large garden was so charming, I didn’t mind so much that we paid for it twice thanks to our reservations mix-up.

Hotel Horti Della Fasanara
There are always mishaps in traveling but they’re particularly annoying when they are your own fault.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The hydrangeas are back!

Nikko Blue is back

2014 was the year without hydrangeas—or at least without my beloved hydrangea macrophylla AKA mopheads. Unlike the mopheads, the lacecaps can apparently survive the most brutal winter and I did have lacecap hydrangeas in 2014.

I was really afraid that the exceptionally cold winter of 2015 would mean another summer without hydrangea macrophylla. To my great relief that did not occur.

One of the fun things about hydrangea varieties--the color varies depending on where you plant them. Endless summer is purple in my front yard
Endless summer is blue in my back yard