So we left Ottawa at 5pm and drove to montreal, where we had the regular 3 hour airport nightmare, and we flew Air Transat, which is a special level of hell.  Terrible food, hard seats that are too narrow to fit anyone comfortably.  It was 8 hours of being in a cattle car.  When we arrived at Rome, we had to go pick up our rental cars.  For some reason, this took an hour of waiting while the one person at the rental counter processed 6 people ahead of us.   Finally we got our rental cars, and were on our way.

A note about driving.  I’ve only driven once in Italy before, and that was relatively comfortable, but after driving with my parents enough times around Rome, I got the feel for the particular challenge that is driving in Italy.  I was, I admit, somewhat eager to take up the challenge.  After a few days I’d decided that the trick to driving in Italy was to realize that nobody really wanted to hit you, even though it really looked like they did.

Dad and I drove the two rental cars, and we knew that the first bit was going to be all relatively easy freeway driving.  Liz was up front as my trusty navigator, and it was fine getting to the M25 (the big ring road around Rome).  I saw the exit for the road to Florence, but Dad didn’t.  Unfortunately I was “following” him, as he supposedly knew the terrain.  I think he realized shortly after the exit that he had missed it, and we turned off into the Italian equivalent of a truck stop.  I had the 1st of many delicious Caffe Macchiati (It’s not what you get at Starbucks, it’s just a shot of Espresso with a little milk) and a Panini which is so far (well into the second week) the best sandwich I’ve had all trip.  Dad was able to ask for the way to get back to the road to Florence, and then we were on our way again.

Liz knew that we were going to a small village near Cortona, and she had the map out and was checking it regularly against our progress up the road to Florence.  At a certain point, she said “If I was leading I would have turned off by now”, so I signalled Dad, and we pulled into a gas station for a palaver.  It turns out didn’t have a map or his GPS out, and had, well, not much of a plan.  We decided to turn off at the next exit and take secondary roads back to Cortona.  After a few more wrong turns, we managed to find our way to Cortona and get on the road to Mercatale, with Liz navigating.  David, one of our fellow travellers, really wanted to get to a grocery store, and, passing by one in a small town called Pergo, the seven of us in our party descended on this small town grocery like a pack of kids in a candy store.

Fully provisioned we then set off up a steep twisting mountain road that, in Italy at any rate, is two lane.  After driving over the range of hills behind Cortona, not really sure that we were going anywhere, we dived down the other side of the hills into Mercatale, and thence onto the villa that we had rented.  The Villa was…

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10 May 2011