Saturday, May 13

Breakfast at the Villa was okay, but not as good as the one in Varenna. The servers here rolled the buffet cart to our table and served us. The room is used for both breakfast and dinner, and is quite elegant at night.
After another leisurely morning we took a short taxi ride to the Hertz office in Siena. Maritza had pre-paid for our car with AAA, $378 for the week. The only additional charge was adding me as a second driver, 32 euros, to be paid at the point of return. The Siena office closes at 12:30 pm on Saturday and is closed all day on Sunday; therefore, we encountered a bit of a line when we arrived at 11:20 am. After waiting for 30 minutes it took an additional 40 minutes to actual get the car—there was some confusion about the deductible. We had documentation that the deductible was 100 euro although the young man behind the counter insisted it was 900 euro. That was eventually worked out. Then we were given a slip of paper and told to mark all the damage on the car onto the paper. Well, the cars in the lot were all in a sorry state. Ours was not too bad, but we asked him to do it for us and it took a while. He noted every minor dent and tiny, little scratch. We were given a diesel that got good mileage.

While we were at the Hertz office we offered sympathy to a man who was getting another car as he had put the wrong gas in his first vehicle. It was a Ford Fiesta and he just assumed it took regular when it actually took diesel. He made a costly mistake, but had a good attitude about it. Moral of the story: check what type of gas your car takes or you may find yourself stranded and out a lot of money.
Maritza did the driving and I was the navigator. I drove a manual for 14 years, but I’ve been driving an automatic for the past five. Maritza still drives a manual at home. I must say, she did an excellent job and we managed to do a lot of touring without incident, although we both held our breath the first time we took a hairpin turn with a large truck coming towards us in the opposite direction. The roads we traveled were sinuous two lanes—one lane in each direction—no shoulders. The Tuscan countryside is beautiful, but frustrating for me, the shutterbug. You can see it, but you can’t stop to get the shot. Red poppies dotted the landscape, olive trees and vineyards lined up waiting for me to do my thing, but opportunities were limited at best. Even if an opportunity opened up to stop, there would be someone tailgating, too dangerously close to try to pull over. I would just have to be happy with my memories.

I had printed out directions for our numerous destinations for the week on, but they were not of much use. The towns do not post street names, the roads only occasionally give numbers. The way to get around is to follow the signs pointing to a town. Between these signs and the traffic circles, it is rather easy to get around.  I had a great map of Tuscany by The Rough Guide, waterproof and plastic—very easy to read. I took removable color tabs and marked all the towns we would be visiting. We never got lost.