Renting a car and driving in Italy is a full contact sport…and at its worst at the Fiumicino airport in Roma! After a week of business meetings in the dreary UK (sorry, my UK friends but it rained ALL week), I was headed for the motherland! I found a little apartment that had wireless access in my beloved Montalcino which allows me to work while here. (And I constantly remind myself how blessed I am to be able to do so from afar. Grazie, grazie, grazie.) I arrived in Fiumicino airport ready for battle. The rental car facility in the airport is a nothing short of a marathon hike, with 30 pounds of luggage in tow. Once at the rental car offices, you then must battle the crowds to take a number and wait your turn…and wait, and wait. How can it possibly take this long to rent a car?!?! Having done this many a times, I know to just adopt the proper mindset and simply wait it out in peace. Finally, they call number 91 ..but wait, it changed again to number 92. Charge! After a race with number 92, I get to the counter first. After another 15 minutes, my car keys are in hand and off I go to pick up my car. But of course that was too easy. The rental car person never wrote down which space the car is in – so now another 20 minutes go by as they hunt on 2 floors for my car. Mama mia! And finally my little car arriva – a very cool new Cinquecento 500. Perfetta! Boy these Cinquecentos have come a long way. I have memories of a few business meetings in Europe with a sales rep who owned a Cinquecento – in we would pile with our knees up to our chins. We would arrive at the customer and all pile out like a little clown car :o). But this one is cool – black, spunky and fun to drive. So off I went to Montalcino!
The drive to Montalcino takes only a few hours. It used to take me 3 or so hours but I realized today that I have become a bit of an Italian driver – when did that happen?? My first trips to Italy behind the wheel were rather white-knuckled rides. I remember getting to my destination with knots in my shoulders and fingers white from fear. The drive on the A1 can be a bit fierce with loads of monster trucks hurtling their way to parts north. But as I drove to Montalcino today, I realized that it has become (almost) comfortable driving in Italy for me – windows rolled down, radio blaring from the car. Even speeding and passing like an Italian – did that speedometer really say 140 km? And did I really just pass that little Ape on a two lane road? No white knuckles, no shaking foot on the clutch as I drive up and down the hills towards Montalcino! Wohoo! (Shhh, I even flashed my lights at a car in front of me for going too slow in the passing lane. Giggle).
I arrived at my little hotel and found my host, Simone and his wife, waiting. He quickly asked where the other person was – hmmm,” chi?” (who?) I asked. “Michela and Michele”, he said, which sent me into a fit of giggles. My name in Italian is Michela, in English, Michele. However, Michele is a male name in Italian. I had written a few emails to the hotel in Italian which I then signed as Michela. A few other emails were in English and signed Michele…..so he was expecting a Michela and a Michele :o)) When I opened the door to my apartamento, I found the beautiful torta above made by his mother – made lovingly for both Michela and Michele – which sent me into another fit of giggles. What a beautiful surprise …now I just have to figure out how to eat it all this week?!?!? All is now right with the world – as I type, I am sitting on my little balcony, sipping a glass of 99 Brunello, overlooking the fortress of Montalcino. The sun is slowly sinking down into the slightly hazy horizon over the stunning Sienese valley. The little birds are swooping around the rooftops, riding the drafts of the breeze. La dolce vita indeed. Buona serata, tutti – good evening, all.