Tuscany! Almost There!–(A Travel Journal)

Day 2 (Monday) In Which The Gates Family Tunnels Through Switzerland and Finally Arrives at Their Destination

Morning in Lucerne. A quick walk down several blocks found us at a grocery store and gave us an understanding of the high prices at local eateries. Thankfully bread and cheese is enough of a staple to still fall in the reasonable price range. We gathered some tasty items and headed back to our “budget” hotel for their breakfast: croissants, bread, cheese, yogurt, muesli, milk, coffee. The Swiss have the best yogurt and cheese ever. We eat a hefty breakfast when traveling and pack bread and cheese for lunch. This allows more time for seeing the sights. Upon returning to our hotel, we discovered a grocery store two buildings down. We needed the exercise anyway.

Mid-morning we found out the auto repair shop wouldn’t get to our van till afternoon. (See notes to self, day 1) We knew the vehicle had not been driven and should only require draining and flushing, but they have protocol to follow and have to check the whole system. Good thing we bought full insurance! Now we had to decide whether to spend the day where we were or get another rental. The next available van for one-way drop off was an hour away.

That’s how we got to add Zurich into the list of cities visited.  An hour long taxi ride on Swiss motorways with a Spanish driver in a German made vehicle, and we got our new mode of transportation. This one was a compact seven passenger, diesel. Poor Jack got to ride in back with luggage piled on the seat next to him. He didn’t complain. Give him an ipod and a good book and he will sit anywhere. Really, though, it’s a good thing the three squeezed in the middle seat are close!

All aboard! We were off and headed south. Italy, here we come!

Another day for driving, this time up and through the alps. There are tunnels everywhere, like a land plagued with giant moles. Architectural genious moles. It was astonishing. At times we’d barely exit one tunnel, catch our breath and head through another.  Yes. We did try holding our breaths as we drove through.img_4759

Theory 1: The game of holding your breath while traversing a tunnel  was invented by a Swiss mother trying to keep her squabbling children quiet while driving over the river and through the hills to Grandmutter’s house.

Theory 2: A Swiss man invented the game while trying to kill off his biggest competitor. Can’t you hear him? “Hey! I bet you can’t hold your breath all the way through!”

We, however, are not so competitive. I also have an aversion to having our driver (my hubby) turning blue and passing out at the wheel. The longest tunnel was 17 km. (a little over 10 miles)!

Talk about breath taking. When not going through tunnels, the Alps have got to be some of the mosimg_6921t beautiful mountains in the world.  Today on an even grander scale than yesterday: more snowy-capped mountainimg_4803s reaching for the clouds. The lush green valleys are dotted with villages, farm houses and churches. There are enough waterfalls to provide electricity for a city the size of New York (ok, maybe for a few minutes), and large windswept lakes with white capped waves throwing mist across the road.img_4806 The sky was gray, but it being overcast cast no shadow on the beauty around us.

Coming through one tunnel, we noticed a switch. All the signs changed from German to Italian. We had reached the Italian speaking side of Switzerland. (Switzerland is divided into three regions: French, German and Italian.)

(By the way, signs don’t always mean what they sound like they mean.)

It was downhill from there. Literally downhill. We were leaving the alps.

Border control. More smiling men in uniform waving us on. Bummer. Didn’t get our passports stamped here either.

How am I to prove I’ve actually been to these countries?

The day has been a drizzly one; gray skies messing with the contrast necessary to creating beautiful photography. The natural eye captures so much more. This makes it hard to share the beauty with those back home. On the flip side, it also allows the viewer (me!) to remember the sights with increasing beauty as the years go by. I am writing as much down as I can in order to remember that it is indeed as wonderful as any recollection may insinuate. Drizzle and all.img_4814

Unfortunately, the sun sets early. Our drive south toward Montecatini Terme was shrouded in hazy night with ghostly trees and homes appearing mysteriously in the midst of the blackness out my window.

I peered out, anxious to spy some Roman ruins. They’re everywhere out there. At one point I got all excited and nearly woke my kids to “Quick! See the aqueduct!” But, alas, it was just a highway overpass.

The traffic here is less to my liking than in previous countries, so I spent a good bit of time typing away on my iPad, allowing my husband the freedom to drive without my verbal assistance. Don’t know how he manages to stay safe without my help.

Astonishing or not, my husband flawlessly maneuvered our vehicle through miles of mountains without running into or over anyone. As we got closer to our final destination, my son Elijah called out, “Hey, Mom. There’s your aqueduct.” Tragically, by the time I got my phone camera out, the ancient structure was beyond reach. No pic today. Maybe tomorrow.

Montecatini is a beautiful little town, not heavy with tourists. We felt like we got to experience a “normal Italian city.” As we drove in we were mimg_4820et by Christmas lights strung across the streets. Our hotel (http://ercoliniesavi.hotelmobilesite.com) was a pleasant surprise, especially considering the amazing budget deal we got for this trip.img_4816 Outdoors, we were met by white curtains hanging over an outdoor seating area. Up the entry way the doors opened to a marble foyer enhanced by floral arrangements and comfortable seating areas. The lady at the desk greeted us with a “Buonasera!” and cheerful welcome, making us feel like long awaited friends. Our rooms were simply, but tastefully decorated. Twelve foot ceilings with floor to ceiling draperies. Wood shutters over the window can be opened allowing an unobstructed view of a tiled patio below. A queen size bed with a white duvet trimmed in red, and all white furniture including a wardrobe instead of a closet complete the simple, elegant comfort. All with unusual spaciousness.

Dinner. My youngest son’s primary concern from the moment we park the car. We headed down the street, around a corner where brilliant yellow leaves of a Ginkgo tree drew our attention,img_6923 we found a little outdoor restaurant now enclosed in a plastic weather patio. My pizzeria owning son and his wife ordered—Pizza! So did hubby and younger son, leaving only two of us to be adventurous. They make a killer spinach ravioli with walnut and cream sauce. Things noted: Tipping is not customary in Italy. Instead, there is a table charge of a set amount per person at the table, here it was 2 Euro. There is no charge if you stand and eat at the counter. Also, if you ask for water, you purchase it by the bottle. Mineral or Natural. I may be into doing things as the natives do, but having my drink taste like Alka Seltzer does not improve my dining experience.

That’s it for day two. Who knows what adventure day three will bring! Come back again tomorrow and see!

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