John & Brenda's Excellent European Adventure - Part Deux travel blog

Mount Blanc From The Italian Side Of The Tunnel

Our Toyota Auris

Penny The Photographer

The Aosta Valley

Wine With Bill On The Patio

Dining At Restaurant Il Ponte

Il Ponte Dinner

Our Bedrooom In Il Rifugio

My Office In Il Rifugio

July 18, 2011

Having managed the night’s nature break traffic fairly well, we woke up after a good night’s sleep to go see about the hotel’s €10 buffet breakfast. We found 12 touring motorcyclists from Nottingham, UK in the breakfast area with empty coffee mugs and disappointed looks on their faces. Apparently the hotel’s primo coffee machine (espresso, cappuccino, lattés, etc.) was broken and the night desk clerk was making coffee with a standard 10-cup drip carafe. Needless to say, production was exceedingly slow and consumption was high. We rationed out half cups over the next 45 minutes of breakfast time until most of our coffee craving was fulfilled.

The bikers were planning to go to Switzerland but the forecast in the Alps was horrendous with heavy thundershowers and high winds. The last I saw of them, they had their maps out and were looking at Milan as an alternative. Apparently there was to be no adjustment on our bill for the breakfast malfunction so we hit the road, chalking it up to just one more story for the road.

The e-mail from our B&B hosts the night before asked us to arrive before 3:00 or after 6:00 p.m. as they had some business with a lawyer in town and could not change their appointment. The B&B was in Pieve di Compito near Lucca in Tuscany, which meant a drive of 566 kms for over 6 hours, so getting there before 3:00 was out of the question. We took our time leaving the hotel and would take our time on the road as well…not necessarily my style but not a problem.

We had chosen the area for our B&B after Cheryl’s glowing report about their visit to Lucca in her Blog during our cruise stop in Livorno. Our fastest route would be via the famous Mount Blanc Tunnel and I had been looking forward to that from an historical perspective. Little did I know that we would have to pay a toll of €38.60 for the privilege as we entered the tunnel with the mountain shrouded in clouds on Swiss side. The tunnel has a speed limit of 70 km per hour and you have to maintain a 150 metre spacing for which they provide bright blue lights to indicate the separation. Trucks are thermo-scanned prior to entering as another of the safety measures put in place after the horrendous truck fire in the tunnel in 1999 that killed 39 people.

We exited to bright sunshine on the Italian side with spectacular views back to the mountain and the Aosta valley below. We stopped for lunch in one of the many service areas along the toll road shortly after exiting the tunnel, where they had all the facilities of a small town and where Brenda got a great deal on a bottle of Scotch. We drove down the long valley toward Genova (Genoa) and then along the Mediterranean coast with not much to see because of all the tunnels; disappointing in fact because we passed just above Portofino and St. Margherita. We thought Switzerland had lots of tunnels but we must have gone through 100 of them between Annecy and Lucca, many 1 km long or more.

We arrived at our difficult to find B&B, Il Rifugio, at 5:45 and were not necessarily impressed at first blush with the neighbourhood and environs. However, our hosts, Bill and John, arrived 20 minutes later to show us to our rooms and we were suitably impressed at the work they had done in converting their beautiful 4 century old house. As we enjoyed a glass of wine on the patio with Bill in his gorgeous garden, the nearby church bells rang the hour and half-hour, reminiscent of our time in Fouvent-le-Haut with Rosmarie.

Il Rifugio’s house dog, Aldo (before they moved here from Hawaii, he was called Maka'i), had a sneezing fit, which indicated, apparently, that he was hungry. Bill prepared dinner for Aldo but he couldn’t have it until he said, “I love you”. I expected Aldo to just bark but instead he growled something that sounded decidedly like “I love you” (OK it was more like “Ah yuh woo” but it was close enough)…it was like something right out of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Bill had made dinner reservations at Il Ponte Restaurant, just down the hill from Il Rifugio, and we left just before 8:00 to be there. Our great dinner included pasta Del Mari for Brenda, ravioli for Penny and steak and frittes for me. During the course of the meal, we met Irv and Natalie from Tacoma, Washington at the next table and had a great conversation with them. It turns out they were born Italian and moved to the US for 45 years before returning to Italy in the past couple of years. They now live in Lucca and have visited Vancouver in the past many times.

After our fabulous dinner we enjoyed late night wines in the garden, reflecting on how we were loving Tuscany and our temporary home here.

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