To say at that moment that I was not liking Italy would have definitely been an understatement. Ana and I, after a wild breakneck ride on the Autostrada from Bologna, becoming stymied by construction outside of Florence, and turn around on the confusing roads south of Montelupo, were spent and just needed to find the hotel and collapse.
That’s it. That’s all we wanted, simply to crumple into a heap for the night. In the morning we’d take stock of things, and gain a new lease on Italy. Travelling somewhere different is a bit like that. When challenged, a body tends to cling defiantly to those old familiar ways. Lost in Montelupo, that’s exactly what I was doing. I knew with some perspective I’d let go of those American patterns and begin to truly experience Italy, but now was not that time.
The Arno river neatly separates Montelupo from Capraia. Each town is dominated by opposing castle walls, now churches that face each other from high promontories, from which the Pistoeisi family, which ran rough-shod over the river and roads through the valley, went to war with the Fiorentinis in 1250. Searching that evening for our hotel, I wondered how those ancient animosities might manifest themselves in the present. Turning a sharp corner past the town center into yet another roundabout, traffic ground to an abrupt halt in a line of about a dozen or so vehicles. The reason: the towns are separated by elevated turn of the century railway tracks, built obviously in an era when rush hour was all of about a mule-drawn wagon and a hand full of peasants with push carts.
Stunned into silence, I reckoned the single artery connecting the two towns was roughly the size of my patio door back home. There was literally enough room for a single vehicle to pass by, with just enough to spare to keep from scraping the rearview mirrors against the old stucco walls to either side. No lights. No signs. Just two apparently opposing armies of traffic at either end, in some sort of stand-off, negotiation or synchronization I had yet to decipher.
Ana, seated beside me, summed the situation succinctly in a singe word. “Seriously?’
Suddenly someone on the Capraia side blinked or sneezed, or hesitated. I don’t know which. It didn’t much matter. In that brief moment of opportunity traffic poured through the breach from the Montelupo side. Not wanting to be left behind, I dropped the car into gear, gunned the engine and raced through the tunnel, the last before the Capraians exploited a space behind me and charged into the opening.
Still stoked from my little victory I failed to notice the hotel. Ana, still amazed we’d made it through was looking at me, and missed it as well. It took a couple more passes before she cried out and pointed across the dash towards the unassuming little hotel. In the days to come we’d certainly learn a lesson about book covers and judging and things, but that would have to wait. Turning off the road into the tiny little driveway, we were just happy to have arrived.
Tomorrow: Part Three, Hotel L’Fiorino