Monday, May 28, 2012

Driving Lessons

On our first afternoon in Italy, we drove to the grocery store on the most narrow, twisty road I have ever driven on before.  Just in front of the store, with cars parked on both sides of the road, I gently nicked the side-view mirror of a car parked to our right while trying to avoid getting hit by a car zooming down the other side of the street.  Panicking, I pulled over and said to Mr. Oil, "Oh my god. Did we just hit that car? What do we do now?!"  I saw a man who had been standing on the side of the road watching us start walking toward us. Afraid that he was the owner or was generally going to yell at me for being an incompetent driver, I drove away.  But we still needed to go to the store, so we turned around and went back, and I parked on the opposite side of the street, where it seemed less likely that our car would be demolished while we were inside.  The man came over again, and said, "Don't worry! The owner isn't even here! And anyway, this is Italy! This happens all the time!" 

Welcome to Italy, indeed.
View from our apartment. So you can imagine what it takes to get up there!

Remarkably, I learned to drive the tiny, twisting "streets" of the Amalfi Coast during the week we were there.  My strategy was generally to pray that the other driver had better depth perception that me, and to never, ever look out the window as the giant tour buses careened past within inches of us. Fortunately, we had also had the good sense to purchase a Garmin GPS before our trip, and had loaded up the Italy maps.  This was the best decision we made for the entire trip.  No navigation issues, we just relied on Gracie to tell us where to go.  Yes, we named the Garmin.  Aside from the generally pleasing alliterative aspect of the name Gracie, we actually named her Gracie Belle Taylor, after the youngest daughter of Coach and Tami Taylor in the best TV series ever, Friday Night Lights.  This way, we could remember to channel a bit of Coach and Tami's excellent marriage vibes whenever we spoke about where to go next.  Gracie Belle got us through some rough times.  But you know what they say - Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose. 

We love you Gracie Belle!

One travel tip for parents with toddlers - get the audioguide.  It is worth six additional euros for your kid to be distracted enough that you can actually see whatever site you're at!   Baby Oil really enjoyed the audioguide at Herculaneum, though the man in the rental booth clearly thought we were nuts when we told him we wanted one for our son.  He looked at Baby Oil and said, "Well, maybe he is too young?"
Italians LOVE babies.  I mean, the French really like babies quite a bit. But the Italians LOVE them.  Everywhere we went people would ruffle Baby Oil's hair, and smile, and interact with him.  Restaurant staff were friendly and helpful, and Baby Oil made a lot of friends in Italy.   And in case we needed anyone to confirm that we have a particularly cute child, we have the Lost Camera Incident.   In Positano for the day, we stopped at a hotel to ask directions to our lunch restaurant (Bruno, which by the way, has an AMAZING pasta with pesto - one of our top dishes we ate the whole trip!).  An hour or so later, wrapping up our lunch, the restaurant received a call for Mr. Oil. It was the hotel.  Had we left a camera there? 

Yes, in fact, somehow we had left our very expensive camera with its additional lenses sitting in this random hotel lobby.  We ran back to the place to retrieve the camera.  The concierge looked at Baby Oil and said, "You know, I see many people, but this one is unique! So I looked at the photos on your camera, and I knew this was the camera for the people going to Bruno!"  Thank you Baby Oil.  You have totally earned your gelato today.
On the beach in Positano, post-camera retrieval.

Now, everyone knows that Italy has great food.  And I've already discussed our pasta binge and amazing pizza experiences in my last post.  But I would like to call attention to a more questionable area of Italy's cuisine - baby food.  In many stores, there were simply no vegetables to found in the baby food section.  Fruit, and many, many jars of pureed meats.  And not just chicken or fish, mind you.  Apparently, Italians feed their babies pureed horse, rabbit, and lamb, along with more typical chicken, beef, pork, and turkey.  Shockingly, I did not subject Baby Oil to this particular Italian trend.  Also curious - why can you start rabbit at 4 months, but horse not until 6 months?

One day, we headed to Maori because we had read that there is a big market there on Fridays.  Well, there was a market, but only the kind that sells cheap underwear and denim from the 1980s.  A total bust, we let Baby Oil wander around the town for a while, and he thought it would be fun to check out the local barber shop and watch a man get a shave. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden Baby Oil was receiving his first ever hair cut in Maori, Italy with a 75+ year old barber who spoke no English.  Both the barber and his wife got a huge kick out of it, and Baby Oil seemed to have a good time.  And you can't beat five euros for a hair cut!

If there is a silver lining to walking up 201 stairs from your car to your apartment, it is that it sure makes it easier to eat more pasta.  Actually, the real silver lining was the amazing view, the virtual silence save for a few roosters, and knowing that you really are staying in a place where even the horse stops at the bar for a drink.

Next post - Under the Tuscan Raincloud. Get excited.