The kids were bored and carsick and my wife was quietly fuming. We had just passed through a tunnel leaving the beauty of the French Maritime Alps into the Piedmont region of Italy. Our collective anticipation at nearing our destination quickly deflated. What stretched before us was not anything like the way one pictures Italy. Instead I felt like we had become victims of some quantum glitch and ended up in Nebraska by mistake. Flat, featureless farmland stretched endless before us. Gone were the beautiful villages. Olive groves- gone. Charm and romance- gone, gone, gone.
It all began several months before as we planned the itinerary for our time on the Riviera. As I now do for all trips I started to look around the region for beer. Thanks to the Beer Mapping Project I found that although there were no worthwhile beer destinations near us in France, that in fact the world famous Baladin was less than 200 km (123 miles) away. According to Google Maps the trip should take three hours. Since we had a rental car I thought- hey that’s not too bad- we can stop off in some villages along the way for some sightseeing and culture. I had even hoped to stop off at nearby Birrificio Troll to maximize the beery return of the day.
And so I made my case to the family and they grudgingly assented. In looking at our calendar we opted to travel on a Sunday. This would come into play later as we realized that most of Italy, including gas stations, is closed on Sundays, especially in the month of August. We got an early start leaving about 9 am. We very quickly got off on a bad foot, missing the highway exit past Niece. But we were soon back on the correct road. Nevertheless, navigation was challenging. Turn offs were not clearly marked or not marked in a way we could readily comprehend. Yet in spite of these initial delays I was confident we could still make it there in less than four hours.
Upon entering the mountains we stopped off in the village of Sopsel for some sightseeing and lunch. The early afternoon sun heated the car as we set off for the next leg and I was beginning to feel an ember of anxiety starting to glow in the pit of my stomach. I had no idea of what lay ahead.
The roads out of Sopsel got more and now winding and narrow. Soon we started to wonder if we had gotten off on a goat path by mistake. We would climb and navigate hairpin turns up to what appeared to be a summit and start to breathe a sigh of relief only to find that another peak appear before us. In the efforts to avert full scale mutiny I attempted to keep everyone focused on the breathtaking scenery of streams and ancient olive groves set on terraces cut into the rock. From time to time we would stop to look over the edge or for a necessary pee break.
Two hours later the signs for the tunnel that would lead us into Italy was finally in sight. Along the way I had begun to speculate that Google must have been calculating the projected travel time for a helicopter and not a car.
Then all traffic ground to a halt. Apparently the tunnel only allowed for one way traffic. We sat for more than 20 minutes as the cars wound their way out of Italy. By the time we finally started moving it was well past three. I had begun to seriously consider giving up and heading back to a village we passed a few miles back that seemed to be setting up for a festival in honor of a local saint. But my stubborn gene kicked in and over the silent and sullen objections of my family, we pressed forward.
My efforts to raise everyone’s spirits with the promise of the beauty of Italy were soon dashed as the monotony of Nebraska, I mean Piedmont, stretched before us. I began to wonder if we would ever get there and if we did, would it be worth it?
To be continued next week….