What’s the harm in Garmin? Listen up

Window
View of the Mediterranean from our window in Castiglioncello

Sunday, July 2, 2017: Technology is such a boon to travelers – except when it’s not.

Praise to Garmin for getting us from Montepulciano to Castiglioncello on the Mediterraean coast of Italy. We sailed through small towns and around Siena and Volterra with our pleasant Garmin lady announcing every turn and roundabout. While eating fish and pasta on the main drag of Castiglioncello we turned to Booking.com to find the Residence Macchiaioli. We were attracted by its promise of a pool and free parking. It was a ways out of town, but we had the lovely Miss Garmin to aid us.

Pool
The pool at the Residence Macchiaioli

Then it came “when it’s not” boon time for technology.

The winding roads above Castiglioncello proved a challenge for that Garmin bitch. The “car” on the display never quite kept up with where the real car was on the road. In a tight spot with many twists and turns, the Garmin stutterer wasn’t always in sync with us. In fairness to her, I don’t always agree and tend to strike out on my own, like down a one-way street the wrong way, which almost resulted in a motorcyclist becoming a bug splatter on our windshield. This came during a grocery shopping trip that took way longer than anticipated – parking nearly impossible to find, identifying and/or finding the foods we wanted complicated by our ignorance of Italian and then spending a frustrating hour trying to find our way back to the condo on the hill above town.

Me with scarf
With the Citroen in Montepulciano

Our rental car was a Citroen, a French automobile that only spoke German when we picked it up in Rome. But the dashboard icons were easy to understand — at least they were until they started to disappear. We missed the fuel gauge most of all. We could still see how fast we were going but had no idea of how far we could go.

The next day, we recruited help to recover the gas gauge. Celina, the gracious hostess at the residence, couldn’t figure it out, but she brought on an international board of consultants. A German woman dragooned from the pool could speak English to me but could not read the owner’s manual, which was entirely in Italian. A Polish vacationer, who now lived in England and spoke some German, brought three languages to the front seat of the car to puzzle over the dashboard. Her husband had only Polish and some English in his linguistic quiver, but language might not have been what hit the target. I had already tried random icon pushing, but he found the right combination and not only brought the gas gauge back to the surface but was able to give the Citroen an English lesson. That was especially helpful in keeping everyone calm (me especially) when the car’s many shrieking alarms sounded. Open a door without setting the parking brake  produced the loudest and most disarming blare with the longest and least understood explanation flashing in orange on the German version of the dashboard. At least when it was in English, I knew what I had done wrong. I’m sure the German version emphasized the word “dummkopf” many times, thankfully not translated into English.

Residence
Residence Macchiaioli

While the most modern technology brought the most frustration because of our lack of familiarity, this was a day when the old  world piled it on as well. We never got the front door key to work and left a back door unlocked so we could come and go. The gas stove didn’t work until we found the main valve to turn on the supply to the apartment. The water shut off mid-morning, but by “signing” with others at the pool we learned that the problem was throughout the building, not just in our unit. Fortunately, water was restored in time to head off caffeine deprivation and before we had to pantomime toilet activities.

Despite the challenges, we loved the Residence Macchiaioli and stayed for two days, visiting the beach at Cecina, chatting with Celina and checking in with our Polish-English auto whisperer, who responded to a late-afternoon inquiry on how he was doing by answering, “A little drunk, but OK.”

Salud!

Beach
The beach at Cecina

 

 

A taste to remember for all time

Cole with food
Cole at lunch with Kathy’s “Taste of Tuscany” spread out before her. She chose a glass of local Nebbiolo to accompany the meal.

Friday, June 30, 2017: One of the dangers of having a helpful, English-speaking staff like that at the Hotel Grifo is that you will become an English-speaking chauvinist, expecting that everyone in the streets of a foreign country has bowed to your perceived prevalence of the lingo your colonial power spread. My fall into that linguistic trap was checked by the driver who took us from the hotel to the car-rental agency at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport. He showed up in an immaculate, navy blue suit that matched his shiny Mercedes. We got in and I told him, in English, where we wanted to go.

“My name is Luigi, mister, and I speak Italian,” he retorted.

Those were his last words in English, but we pleasantly gestured and pidgin’d all the way to the airport where we got the car, a Citroen with a dashboard display in German. Viva la diversidad!

The main event of the day came after we arrived in Montepulciano, checked into Albergo il Rondo (thanks for the recommendation, Robin) and followed the innkeeper’s advice that sent us to the restaurant L’Altro Cantuccio.

Fortunately, we were given a menu in English, or the hour we spent trying to decide among all the good items on it would have stretched out even longer. The plan had been to stop by one of the recommended restaurants, have lunch and then explore Montepulciano, a Tuscan hilltop town known for its red wine. But this rainy day turned into one of those shape-shifting travel experiences that make being away from home worth the jetlag, crowds and expense.

Each of us found multiple items on the menu that sounded good to us, which is when the dining pre-game becomes strategic: “If you order that, can I taste it? I’ll give you a bite of mine. Or you could order this, and I could order that and we could share.”

The young waiter appeared several times, answered questions, filled water glasses and disappeared back into the restaurant.

It was raining and we were outside but under cover. A few tourists and locals were climbing the street to the upper parts of the village. We were happy to sit and watch them until the finally-decided-upon menu choices began to appear.

Brulee
Creme brulee with pecorino cheese and quenelles of blended capers

For me, the best came first, and it was something I had never heard of and took some courage to order: A savory crème brulee. Not the sugar-crusted dessert, but a pecorino cheese souffle with a balsamic reduction and delicious mounds of blended capers and herbs. If I could choose a taste to have in my mouth for eternity, it might be this.

This meal would turn out to be the best of the trip, relishing each bite, sharing tastes as agreed upon and occasionally chatting with passersby looking for a good place to eat. We were happy to recommend the table next to us.

Cheeks
Beef cheeks, crowned with crisp slices of Jerusalem artichokes and caramelized figs and  mustard cooked into a schmear of “jam”

The main course brought me beef cheeks with Jerusalem artichokes served with caramel mustard fig. Cole had grilled lamb covered with house-cut potato chips and served with mint-spiked white beans. Kathy chose the Taste of Tuscany: a saucepan of fresh roasted tomatoes and garlic, toast with pate and a jar of “crispy panzanella” salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and croutons in olive oil and wine vinegar. I hate to rate any U.S. agricultural product as second best, but the tomatoes in Italy were consistently the freshest and tastiest, second to none.

Dessert (cheesecake di ricotta and white chocolate) and espresso, and it was now late in the afternoon, still raining and the top of Montepulciano could wait for another time. It was nap time.

Lamb
Cole’s lamb was served artfully over splashes of a balsamic-wine reduction