QUI, ALLO!

Its been several days and hundreds of miles since the last time I had the time to collect my thoughts and recount some of the more memorable places and people we have seen and met.

I write today from my sun chair on the patio of our Gite in the Luberon Valley.  The Luberon is an unbelievable wine growing region in the South of France.  I will speak more to this area and our accommodations in a blog I intend to write tonight.  Suffice to say that I have not felt this relaxed in a long long time.

We landed back in Rome on Sunday afternoon and made our way to Thrifty Car Rental for our customary Italian 90 minute wait as the Thrifty employees tried to up-sell every one of the 30 Asian couples that got there ahead of us.  I don’t even think they knew what they were signing but many of them will be surprised to learn they have actually purchased their new rental car. When they leave to go home I wish them luck with fitting their new wheels into their wheelie luggage. It will be a challenge given the thousands of dollars worth of Fendi, Armani and Prada items they are soon to also power buy from reputable North African gentlemen.

Once free of the mayhem, we walked to find our car and to our surprise and trepidation it was a “Blanco Fiat 500”.  I thought it was torture climbing in and out of the car we had in the UK.  Well it turns out that Anthony (our 500) was no such thing.  Sure small, but easy in and out and relatively peppy.  I mention peppy as those of you who have traveled on the highways and byways of Italy will know, the drivers are just a little aggressive.  It is kill or be killed.  No-one has patience and no-one stops for pedestrians.

We got out on to the Autostrada heading north, as we had booked an AirBnB in Siena for the night.  Ninety minutes of hair raising F1 driving later and we were there in the ancient walled hill town that hosts the Palio horse race and is such a beautiful must not miss bucket list place.

We met Sylvia our host and got the 411 on all the things to do.  I had been here in the past so I was ready to get at it.  We walked straight to the Campo and took in its sights, smells and soon after sounds.  Just as we got orientated we could hear off in the distance the band and voices of a Contrada (neighbourhood group).

They appeared from the north east with the flags up front, then the drums, then the male voices and then everyone else.  I don’t know for sure but I assumed that this contrada won the Palio last and this was a celebration and bragging rights parade.  We sat in a Campo osteria and ordered a typical light supper consisting of bruschetta with a meat and cheese plate.  That was accompanied with pane de casa and two Peroni Rosso beers.

Once done we made our way to the Duomo and I took my time to take a ton of photographs of the Cathedral in all its black and white marble splendour.  Then back to our place and early to rise.  On the road to Pisa and then on to San Remo.

Pisa is something I had always given a miss in past trips as I thought it would be swarmed with tourists and not up to much.  Wrong on one account.  Yes it is swarming with tourists but on the contrary it is a site to see.  It is amazing to see up close.  It is not what I thought and I was very impressed by everything especially the lean.

What I don’t want to leave out is that we drove to a parking lot literally less than two minutes walk from the tower.  We paid one euro to park and the rest was free (the memories).  Go there.  See that!

We left Pisa Northbound towards the Italian Riviera and the City of San Remo.  Busy, beautiful, manic, loud, crazy, traffic, hairy.  We got into our AirBnB & immediately went out to the supermarket to get a few things.  Had a quick look around the harbour and back to sleep.  A long day.  Actually I would never advise anyone to stop there now that I have been myself.  Give it a miss.

We got up early and were on the upper corniche to Monaco.  Yes, now we are talking.  Order, clean, sophisticated and absolutely stunning in every way.  We parked in the centre of Monte Carlo and began our 4 hour trek from place to place which included all the hot spots.  I am sure Angus fancied himself James Bond for a few moments outside the Casino.  The opulence was unreal. Every luxury brand and every luxury / super car imaginable.

It is so hot here in the South of France that eventually we had to stop for refreshments and believe it or not I broke the rule for the first of 2 consecutive times.  I never stop at any multi national chains when travelling.  I like the local mom and pop places that serve you right and you can make a personal bond with.

Suffice to say that I have just been to the nicest Starbucks in the world.  Period!!!  It sits adjacent to the Fairmont hotel in a perfect position to gaze out to the Med or to watch the Grand Prix if you had your timing right.  Incredible experience and the prices were the same as home.  That, along with the next embarrassing moment I must divulge was also reasonable in price.

Did you guess right? Have you ever found yourself in France or Belgium and thought to yourself, I want a Royal with Cheese?  Yep, it happened!  We walkede into McDonalds and we had the meal deal.  This was also the most modern south facing McDonalds in the world.  Adorned with Picasso prints and the most modern furniture, not your average Mickey D’s. Tray in hand, sat near a Picasso in an Eames chair.  Gross with some gross on top, but good for the 10 minutes it was in my gob and yet to digest.

From there it was back to find Anthony and on to an incredible highway that took us along the coast to Cannes, San Tropez and then inland through the vineyards and olive groves of Provence.  This it it ladies and gents.  Nirvana times ten. A good hot with a chilled vibe.  I may not be at work next week.

Until next I write!

Mark

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