Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Viva Italia: Day 1 - Getting there

The drive from Switzerland to Italy is one of the most picturesque routes we've driven. The mountains rise up majestically on both sides of the road, and the views filled me with such joy and wonder. It was a fantastic feeling.

There are tons of tunnels on this road-- some have windows on the side where you can glimpse the scenery. The largest tunnel is St. Gotthard, named after a Catholic bishop. It's the third longest road tunnel in the world. It's 15 km or 9 miles long, which is fine, really, unless you're claustrophobic. I took this opportunity to do some carschooling, so I told the kids the story about St. Juniper-- one of my favorites, and I was hoping we'd run into him in Rome. I like to think of him as the naked Saint, because as legend has it, he took the vow of poverty so seriously that he gave away his own clothes.

The kids also kept themselves busy in the car reading, singing, snacking, and apparently carving carrots with their teeth. Honestly, it was a talent I didn't know my children had.

Moonshine's candlestick (ala St. Juniper story); Sunburst's fox and bird

We stopped at some stores near the Swiss/Italian border to do a bit of shopping, and our GPS got mighty confused and turned us in a bevy of directions. Ever since she tripped us up in England we've given her the moniker "Wrong Way Rhonda." We even have a little song we sing to tease her when she gets lost, fully knowing it's our fault that we choose to follow her directions. With her guidance we couldn't find our way out of a teacup, let alone back onto the highway out of the shopping center. Somehow we entered Italy through a back door, hardly knowing we were at the border until they were staring confused at our license plates and then waving us through. American license plates are pretty handy in this part of the world, as no one quite knows what to make of them. Those days will be behind us soon enough, I think, if we can finally pass our inspections. But that's another story.

The path we took through northern Italy was mountainous and curvy-- kind of a hold onto your hats deal. Italian drivers are nuts!! They took these curvy mountain paths at ramming speed, so it was no surprise to us when we came upon an overturned semi in the road. The traffic slowed down out of necessity, but once it passed the wreck, traffic was cranked back up to dangerous speeds. Accidents are just a roll of the dice, I guess, to Italians. To us, having survived one a few years ago, I have to say we are a bit more cautious.

Onto Genoa, which we saw through the windows of the car. Beautiful city! It seemed appear out of nowhere through the nooks and crannies of the mountains. Here they build everything close together in amazing pastels, crammed right down in the valleys next to the sea. Every time we came upon a valley it was a feast for our eyes.

We camped that night in a small village on the Mediterranean. The campsite was nestled into a rocky outcrop in the hillside. The architecture was wonderful, but the terrain reminded me a lot of growing up in the southwestern US.

There's something laughable about setting up your tent on the only available patch of dirt-- which wasn't really dirt at all. It was mostly gravel and burrs. But we were tired, it was late, and we wanted to take our dinner down to the beach to catch the last glimpse of the sunset. Amazing! Truly, truly amazing! We had finally arrived at the Mediterranean Sea!


  1. Yes! It totally reminded me of Mexico! (A fact I will be sure to remind the next Italian relative who bemoans Mexicans "stealing American jobs")

  2. Sara, this brings back many memories of my travels in Europe when I was a child! Beautiful pictures.

  3. Oh how I would love to be in those mountains! So wonderful that you get to explore such a beautiful old world!

  4. What an incredible trip. It's so interesting to read your words and stunning pictures too.Those mountains are truly incredible. We've heard from relatives that have visited Italy about those crazy drivers! We found the same thing in Spain....and pedestrians that simply stroll into the middle of the road!
    Love the carrot carving very much!

  5. Anonymous2:24 AM

    You have uber talented kids! I'm still cracking up at their carving carrots with their teeth!! You take such great photos and have such terrific narrative; I feel like I'm on this trip with you.


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