Buonasera!… again… and again…

By Ernie Witham   |   September 19, 2019
The Tuscan village of Castiglione d’Orcia

Turn right,” Jeeves, our Garmin GPS told us. Right would have taken us over the cliff.

“Jeeves is lost,” I said. 

“Swell,” Pat, who was driving, said. We were trying to get back to the tiny Tuscan village of Castiglione d’Orcia where we were renting an Airbnb just inside the Porta, the entrance into the walled town built in the 1300s. I was a little concerned about the plumbing, but it had been updated since the 14th century. There were no goats in the village either which was nice. 

The trouble was the Porta was at the very top of the steep hilltop village near the castle. On Day One, the caretaker’s daughter had shown Pat how to get there. Now on Day Two, she couldn’t remember. Neither could Jeeves, who had been shipped to us from England to Santa Barbara via FedEx. Fortunately the FedEx driver had not asked Jeeves for directions.

“Turn left, then right.”

“Didn’t we just do that?” A car came whizzing by us. Italian drivers have one speed. Fast. If you are driving, say the speed limit, and they come up behind you on what the guidebook refers to as “torturous mountain roads,” they simply pass you. Cars coming the other way? Eh. 

“There!” I yelled excitedly, spotting the tiny sign pointing up one of those previously mentioned “torturous mountain roads.” Pat took the turn, downshifted into first gear. Our little rental car did not like hills, information we could have used much sooner.

“Ding ding ding.” Jeeves for all his faults was a stickler for speed limits. 

“Says on the screen that you are doing 31kmh in a 30kmh zone.” A Porsche, much too large to be anywhere in Southern Tuscany flew passed us with centimeters to spare. Pat sped up. “Ding ding ding.”

Castiglione d’Orcia has about 2,000 residents. I think they stay living there because it’s too hard to leave and find your way back. 

“Turn left,” Jeeves said. This time we did and entered the village on the main drag, Borgo Vittorio Emanuele. Yay! We went several hundred yards and spotted a group of older men and women sitting on a bench discussing the day’s events in excited Italian. A classic scene. I smiled at them.

“Oh-oh!” Pat pointed at the red sign with a white dash in the middle. We knew from past experiences this meant do not enter. There was a car coming right at us. Pat started to back up, but an old man with a cane was ambling across the road. There was a small parking lot behind us and Pat started inching (centimetering?) toward it. Apparently not fast enough for the other driver as he passed us on the driver’s side in what seemed like too narrow a gap. He didn’t even look at the stone wall or our mirror, just directly at us, as if we were from another planet. The ladies on the benches seemed to enjoy the whole thing.

“Turn left, then left,” Jeeves said. 

Pat got us turned around. We turned from Via Del Fosso to Via Roma onto Borgo Vittorio Emanuele this time in the right direction. In the main part of the village locals sat outside L’Appalto bar and restaurant. They watched as we drove by. We passed by the benches with the old people again. They stopped talking about the day’s events and watched as a new topic of conversation – us – drove by. We came to the end of the road turned several times and ended up back in front of L’Appalto again – a complete circle. I did my best Italian shrug.

“Turn right,” Jeeves said, which would have put us into the fountain. We had no choice but to continue on Borgo Vittorio Emanuele and pass the older folks a third time. I wanted to explain that we were Americans, but somehow I think they knew that. Pat pulled into the tiny lot we had turned around in and shut off the car.

“I say we park here and walk to the house.”

“Continue on route,” Jeeves said. I shut him off.

“We’ll figure this out tomorrow,” I said. 

Behind us one of the Italian woman said something to her friends. It might have been. “Good luck with that!”


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