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February 17, 2002
Pontemazzori di Camaiore: an Italian villa (Russell)

The border between France and Italy

We finally -- and reluctantly -- departed from Vence, Nice, France, our friends Jean-Charles and Cecilia, and their children Alexandra and Jean-Luc, on February 16th at about 2:30 PM.  Our journey would take the scenic France autoroute and Italy autostrada along both the French and Italian coastal Rivieras, but Cecilia had warned Gail that the numerous tunnels would be interspersed with numerous bridges surrounded by high cliffs.  Gail therefore took the driving chores (she prefers to be behind the wheel -- and in control -- on precipitous mountainous roads) while Russell navigated.

Before we left France, we had invested in cigarette lighter adaptors for the boys' Game Boys, as well as a new cigarette lighter adaptor for Russell's Nomad Jukebox (the first one, purchased in the US, had stopped functioning months ago).  Having three appliances necessitated purchasing a 3-to-1 cigarette lighter adapter, which in turn necessitated a cigarette lighter adaptor extension cord.  With all of the gizmos hooked up -- as well as a link cable between the Game Boys and the cassette player adapter for the Nomad Jukebox -- the inside of our car now looks like a wired geek's paradise.

Nevertheless, during our four-hour drive from France to Italy, the boys happily played their Game Boys in the back while the adults listened to classical music in the front (despite our entering Italy, Gail refused to listen to any opera).  We skirted Monaco, crossed the transparent border from France into Italy, passed through Genova, and made our way south along Italy's west coast towards Livorno.  Gail counted no less than 178 separate tunnels (ranging from 300 metres to more than 2 kilometres in length) and an equal number of bridges along the way.

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One of the 178 tunnels we passed through (note the houses on top)

By 6:30 PM -- well past our predicted arrival time of 5:00 PM -- we left the autostrada and switched from the road atlas to the directions supplied by the Rentvillas service in the US.  Needless to say, they were not entirely accurate.  However, this was further compounded by the fact that we were now driving in Italy, where nothing is standard.

Russell (navigating): "Did you see that sign to turn right for Camaiore?"
Gail (driving): "No, I didn't."
Russell: "Well, it was laying in the bushes.  It looks like someone knocked it over with their car."

After more than several wrong turns in the dark, we finally made it to our destination of La Fornace in Pontemazzori, a suburb of Camaiore a half-hour west of Pisa.  The building looked exactly like the picture from the Website, and we were greeted by an older man and woman who spoke no English.  Apparently, they live on the ground floor and rent the upper floor to tourists as a self-contained villa.  Using sign language and Italian, they gave us a guided tour of the place and showed us how everything worked (this included handing Gail the instructions for the washing machine -- in German).  Using sign language and some gibberish that vaguely resembled Italian, we signaled that we understood.  They bid us "buonasera" and left us to our own devices.

Emptying our entire car up the two flights of stairs into our villa was not fun, especially in the dark.  At about the time that Russell was taking off his shoes, Gail realized that tomorrow was Sunday -- the markets would be closed -- and we had no food.  Russell was ssent out to find a grocery store that was open on a Saturday evening at 8:00 PM in the middle of Italian farm country, while Gail went ahead and cooked some of our emergency ramen noodles for the boys.  Russell actually came back victorious about an hour later, having purchased some groceries at a small market in town and some bread at a local bar.  (The woman at the bar, misunderstanding Russell, thought that he wanted a sandwich and hacked the first loaf of bread to pieces.  Luckily, she had one intact loaf of bread left that she could still sell him.)

After dinner, we made ourselves at home -- the boys were in one bedroom with two twin beds, while the adults were in the second bedroom with a double bed.  Our first night in Italy was marked by several memorable things:

  1. The skylight over Russell and Gail's bed didn't close all the way, so light streamed in all night.
  2. Gail didn't sleep much anyway, because all night long it sounded like someone was holding motorcycle races in the next yard (Russell, on the other hand, can sleep through anything).
  3. The open skylight over Russell and Gail's bed didn't close all the way, so an even brighter light streamed in when the sun came up.
  4. Gail didn't get to sleep in anyway, because at 8:00 AM on Sunday morning, the church bells rang no less than 150 times (Russell lay in bed counting them).

But sure enough, when we woke up, we were in Italy.

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The view from the autostrada (the white stuff on the mountains isn't snow -- it's Carrara marble, the kind used by Michelangelo)


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