Leif Pettersen – Bringing the crazy back to Tuscany!

I’m on the home stretch. Just under a week to go on my Tuscany road research. It’s been pretty great all around; sunny and in the upper 70s each day, the longest uninterrupted stretch of great food and wine I’ve had in my whole life and I haven’t had any near-death experiences (yet). Basically the opposite of Romania and Moldova, in every respect. Though to be fair, I didn’t get bed bugs (twice!) or food poisoning in Romania or Moldova, so there’s that to consider.

If you’re wondering about the title of this post, I’m not actually referring to the sizable, blue, smoky vapor trail of crazy (with a hint of coffee), that I’ve personally left behind in Tuscany over the past three weeks. I’m talking about the nuts who are working in the hotels and year-round tourist offices, that I’ve dealt with, meaning that eventually some lucky Lonely Planet reader is going to have to deal with them as well.

In all fairness, most of the Tuscan crazies I’ve encountered have been unsuspecting, off-season caretakers who were just a week away from being relieved of duty by the high-season staff when I blew through town, with serious plans to retreat to whatever cave they live in during the summer. So, a large number of these cookies will be out of sight when most people totting the LP guide to Tuscany and Umbria roll through the area. However, a notable percentage seem to be the owners, particularly in the obscure hilltop towns, that get like four guests all summer. There’s some real doosies up in them thar hills and they’re gonna either unknowingly entertain or creep out whoever decides to make a wacky, off-the-beaten-path stop during their Tuscan tour.

These people come in all shapes and sizes. To start, many Italians have the same cerebral disease as Romanians, that being when asked a yes-no question, they answer with a 10 minute lecture, usually involving a short rant about the government, and never really answer the question. (e.g. Question: “Do you have internet that guests can use?” Answer: “You know, when I opened this place in 1987, there was no such thing as the internet and the government said that in order to have a two star rating I had to have a fax machine. So I bought one for 956,567,500 lire and do you know how many faxes I’ve received in the last 20 years? Two, that’s how many. It was a gigantic waste of money, but I suppose the president’s son owned a fax machine factory or something, so that’s why they had the law. Good thing he didn’t own a helicopter factory, eh? Hahahaha! So! Do you want to see our new cabinets?”)

Then there’s the poor people who have been trapped in their little, 400-person towns their whole lives in order to help keep the family hotel running and never got to go to university or travel or meet eligible people of the opposite sex. One lady about my age, who was only partially successful at dressing herself that morning, was going around her six-room hotel labeling everything with a fat, pink magic marker when I stopped by. During the lengthy, one-sided interview that ensued after my first question (“How much is a single room?”), she insisted that I change the name of the hotel in the book from “Hotel Bella” to “Hotel Bella di Maria Luisa Juanita Fajita Bartoli Spaghetti”. Apparently, after a lifetime of helping her parents maintain the hotel they had finally retired, handing the hotel over to her, and feeling a certain sense of long-awaited entitlement, she wanted to rename the hotel after herself. Her full name. All of it. Even though it still just said “Hotel Bella” on the marquee (though perhaps not after she finished with the pink magic marker that day). I’ve changed the names here to protect the innocent kook, but you’ll know her when you see her – she’s the one who goes around with her overalls only 1/3 of the way on, revealing most of her black, jockey-cut, Calvin Klein panties and an open shirt with a matching black, cheap bra. She also likes to stand so close that she’s always in physical contact with you. Sleep well!

And this is only a taste. I don’t want ruin the suspense of your Tuscan vacations after all, but be warned, just like in Romania, it’s best to travel in Italy with a very solid, undefeatable sense of humor regarding the weird and hopelessly absurd, like this sign that I encountered while trying to find Sovana:


One week from today I’ll be back in Florence wondering where the hell I’m gonna live during my write up and drinking all the impulse-bought bottles of wine that have been collecting in my trunk during the trip. Yeah, I’m gonna be that guy, who sits half naked in the TV room all night, drinking straight from the bottle and telling 19 year old Australian girls that he’s David Beckham’s brother.

Next week, the “Best of Tuscany” and the “What Happened?” lists. I know you all like lists and these are definitely gonna swirl your yogurt.

Finally, one last Italian-to-English phrase translation I learned this week: “Opening hours 9am-7pm” = “Opening hours 9:20(ish)am-6:35pm or whenever my boyfriend picks me up”